If you have a pulse, you’ve seen something Mark Gordon’s produced—likely, multiple things. Over a long and varied career, Gordon has been involved in both high-profile films—Speed, Saving Private Ryan, The Day After Tomorrow, Source Code—as well as TV shows—Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, and now Ray Donovan, the Showtime series whose second season debuts this Sunday. (Along the way, he’s also found time to co-found a tech startup, Career Sushi, with his former assistant.)
How does Gordon find time to do so many things at once? As he explains in this interview, the secret of being a good—and prolific—producer may be to have a finely honed sense of when you’re not needed.
FAST COMPANY: You’ve got a wide-ranging career. How does it cohere? Is there a hidden logic underneath it all?
MARK GORDON: I wish I could say there was. When you’re beginning, you’re just trying to get things made one at a time. It was just a question of finding the things that I loved, and trying to convince other people to finance them. The interesting thing is to make sure you’re not a victim of your own success. Once you get the opportunity to do more things, the tricky part is to be able to find a way to make multiple things and to not diminish the quality of the things you’re making. It was a real learning experience for me, to be able to know when to come in, and when to leave people alone.
For someone having their first taste of professional success, how do they learn to restrain themselves as projects come along?
For me the hardest part was learning that there’s something between being 100% engaged in something and not being engaged at all. As a producer you’re able to work on many different things. The struggle for me was to say, “Okay, there’s got to be something between all or nothing. You’ll develop something, then someone else will take the lead, and you’ll not be able to participate 100% of the way you might have done in the past.” I had to learn how to touch things just when they need to be touched. I learned to be where I’m needed when I’m needed. It’s like the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm. You produce based on the needs of the show: sometime that means being super involved, sometimes that means being not very involved. Shonda Rhimes doesn’t need me every day helping her make Grey’s Anatomy. You can’t feel the need to just go over there and mess around with stuff either because you can, or because you feel guilty, or because it’s expected of you.
Maybe it’s because I’m Jewish. (Laughs.) I always feel I should be doing more, no matter how much I work, how much I do. A lot of people are driven by some sort of neurosis. I try to give as much as I can to whatever I’m doing, but I always feel I should be doing more, and I think that’s where the guilt comes in. I always wish I could give 100% to everything I do, but like Max Bialystock says in The Producers, there’s only 100% of anything. I have no more than 100% of my time.
How does this play out with Ray Donovan?
[Showrunner] Ann Biderman and I worked very closely to develop the script together. She was incredibly collaborative. It was one of the most joyous experiences that I’ve had developing a piece of material. I was very involved in the making of the pilot, the casting of the show, the hiring of the director, and working in the editing room with Ann to get the show to a place where we felt it was really good. I was probably a little more involved last season than this season. Again, once you’re on a clear path, my involvement is less, because she doesn’t need it. I look at cuts and share my thoughts, but we’re sailing smoothly. So I’m less involved on a day-to-day basis, and presuming the show continues to have the success that it’s had, I’ll probably be less so the following year. Knock on wood.
This interview has been condensed and edited.