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For original work, producer is the real deal

Innovative film talents are drawn to Steve Golin

HOLLYWOOD -- First as the cofounder of the groundbreaking Propaganda Films, now as the head of Anonymous Content, 49-year-old producer Steve Golin has been one of the few people in Hollywood with the vision to see beyond the nearest horizon.

Golin and partner Joni Sighvatsson, who launched Propaganda Films in 1986, were perhaps the first to recognize that the new art form created by MTV -- the music video -- would spawn a dazzling new generation of visually oriented filmmakers.

Propaganda quickly became a home for the most sought-after young video and commercial directors. One of its first discoveries was David Fincher, then an unknown video director. Not long afterward, a young filmmaker showed up with a reel containing a Donny Osmond video and a spec Coke commercial. Golin watched the clips and told Michael Bay, "Nice to meet you. You're hired." After seeing a couple of skateboard videos he liked, Golin brought Spike Jonze into the fold.

Blessed with a keen eye for new talent, Golin helped discover a slew of gifted video and commercial directors who've made the leap to features, including Antoine Fuqua, Gore Verbinski, and Alex Proyas. His latest success: Michel Gondry, director of the acclaimed film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

Golin's new firm, Anonymous Content, launched in early 2000, continues the cutting-edge tradition. Housed in a series of buildings carved out of old warehouse space in Culver City, Calif., Anonymous Content looks like a media-age version of a Renaissance artisan village. It's a rarity in today's sequel-crazed Hollywood: an oasis for talent and original material.

Anonymous is actually made up of several interlocking companies. Its film and TV division has produced "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Showtime's "The L Word," and the Adam Sandler comedy "50 First Dates." Anonymous also represents a host of directors for commercials and music videos, including Fincher, Mark Romanek, and Guy Ritchie, and it produced the BMW Internet mini-film series. Its management division represents such top filmmakers as Wong Kar-Wai and Lars Von Trier, and such actors as Patricia Clarkson, Tony Goldwyn, and Omar Epps.

"Steve connects with filmmakers in a way I've never seen: He's a Pied Piper for creative artists," says ICM agent David Unger, who represents several Anonymous directors and got his start as Golin's assistant.

Whether Golin can convert all this creative energy into a workable economic model remains to be seen. Anonymous has to generate its own material; it no longer has a "first-look" deal with Focus Films that would provide financial support for its production wing. Anonymous relies heavily on its commercial division, which has a stable of 30 top directors and generates roughly $100 million in revenue each year, to keep the company afloat.

Being independent suits Golin's style, especially after his experience with Propaganda. After the company became a success, Golin and Sighvatsson sold the company to Polygram. But when Polygram was sold to Seagram in 1998, Golin's backers were fired and he lost control of the company, exiting in 1999.

In January 2002, while struggling to put Anonymous on the map, Golin discovered he had a rare form of bone cancer. For the next six months, he spent part of every day at the hospital. He had several regimes of radiation and chemotherapy, as well as surgery to remove his left shoulder blade.

Though he's been free of any recurrences, he acknowledges, "Every time you get a cough or an ache and pain, you get worried."

He doesn't let temperamental artists drive him crazy anymore. "I can go, `Either don't behave this way or let's not work together anymore,' " he says quietly. "I've learned that you don't have to be in business with everybody."

He's also learned not to put things off anymore, he says: "I'm a lot more appreciative of the time I get to spend with my kids. I used to say, `When I'm 50, I'll take time off and learn how to play golf.' But now that I've lost my shoulder blade, it's a little late for that. You don't see a lot of one-armed golfers, do you?"

Like all good producers, Golin is always on the hunt for good material. One of the books on his office coffee table is "Pattern Recognition," a new book by fabled cyber-punk novelist William Gibson. Golin's development executive badgered him to read the book for months. When he finally read it on a plane, he was hooked. Anonymous optioned the book on a Friday. The following Tuesday, Peter Weir called to say he wanted to direct it. A new Anonymous project was born.

"It's all about material," Golin says. "We have all these great directors at our company, but they could all be my best friend and if I don't have good material, they're going to go off and work somewhere else."

Golin also has canny instincts about helping artists communicate their vision. He spent endless hours in the editing room with Gondry, prodding the director to make his "Eternal Sunshine" characters as human as possible.

It's no wonder artists see a kindred spirit in Golin. "People want to work with Steve because they trust him," says Charlie Kaufman, who wrote "Being John Malkovich," directed by Jonze and coproduced by Golin. "He's a very real guy, and he's always been creatively helpful."

If Anonymous succeeds, it'll be because it's a company loaded with talent -- and in Hollywood, everyone wants to be where the talent is.

But Golin knows that his quest for originality goes against the grain in today's Hollywood. "I admire producers like Saul Zaentz and Scott Rudin because I think we're alike -- we have to make movies we care about," he says. "But getting them made is tough. You have to be thick-skinned because you get kicked in the teeth so many times."

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