Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Oscar Nominated Producers Tell All in Santa Barbara

The panels at the Santa Barbara International Film Fest include talent and crew from some of the year's best movies and they're always one of my favorite parts of the festival. This year's Movers and Shakers Panel included: Finola Dwyer of Brooklyn, Steve Golin of Spotlight, Ed Guiney of Room, Jeremy Kleiner of The Big Short, and Mary Parent of The Revenant.
Here are some takeaways:

Weather Problems: While filming The Revenant in Canada, there wasn't enough snow, and they kept awaiting a big storm that never came. As temperatures rose, they tried trucking in snow from higher up in the mountains, using wheelbarrows to bring it on set. But it was melting in front of them. Knowing they couldn't CG in snow, they wrapped and started post production along with pre-production, searching for where they were going to find "geography that not only had snow, but also matched the film," Parent explained. It came down to the wire. Inarritu was forced to edit the film without an ending for now. It was August by now and the search was narrowed down to the few places in the world that have snow on this time - New Zealand, and South America are two of them. "The only issue with New Zealand is that the trees are very different. It would have been very costly to take all those trees out, and put different, trees in, it just wasn't possible" Parent explained. The crowd laughed.  

No Such Thing as Overnight Success: Steve Golin worked on both Spotlight and The Revenant. The Revenant was 10 years in the making, and Spotlight was 5. "It was just coincidental that they happened at the same time and are coming out the same year...Once in a while you get lucky and you get one that goes quickly but most of these are a long haul." Golin said that a movie with a logline like Spotlight is not easy to get made, so it becomes about the stars attached. "It's really about getting that first person in there, and then trying to make the schedules work with all the different people." Mark Ruffalo was the first person in. Mark told producers and agents he didn't care about money, he wanted to do it. "Once that happened the other dominos started to fall" said Golin. 

Golin is friends with Inarritu, and once Michael Keaton had finished Birdman, Golin asked Innaritu if Tom McCarthy, the director of Spotlight could see an early cut, with Keaton in mind. "That helped the momentum of that. All things are kind of oddly intertwined."

Movies with Meaning: Golin talked about his surprise that the Catholic church chose to show Spotlight to the Bishops in Rome. "What has been really gratifying about this movie is that a lot of victims have come forward and told us their stories and I think lot of people have come to terms with it, and realized they're not alone." McCarthy still gets emails daily thanking him for the movie and admitting what happened to them too.

The Big Short producer Jeremy Kleiner talked about how even though the 2008 economic crisis was a seismic event, "I think still remains rather mysterious to people. Like, 'what was that?!' We're still living in the wake of that and the film I think is part of that," he said. The project had been floating around Hollywood for a while before director Adam McKay became attached. The story goes that After Anchorman 2, McKay's agent asked him 'what do you want to do?' And he said, 'The Big Short.' "He had made Anchorman, Taladega Nights, maybe not the person you would expect to make this movie" the crowd laughed. "And yet maybe he's the perfect person" said Kleiner.  "Producing is such a peculiar vocation and one of the morals of the story is, sometimes half the battle is staying alive long enough for something positive to happen to you." Brad Pitt had a relationship with "Big Short" author Michael Lewis because of Moneyball. "Like Moneyball it's about heretics. There's this conventional wisdom about X, and then these people think otherwise. I think the screenplay presented itself as a serious film about a serious subject." Because Adam McKay's work has a subversive element, he was the perfect fit. Anchorman was subversive, and Kilner also mentioned, "You're Welcome America," the Broadway show where Will Ferrel plays George W. Bush. "The idea of approaching this topic with his brand of sense of subversive humor and his techniques-- his films are very structurally audacious and take chances, but they are very precise at the same time. It was a really exciting match. I feel like it's the film he was born to make and that he's been wanting to make his whole life." McKay is passionate about the idea of "systems of power that claim to be in the right but are fooling people or pulling the sheet over people's eyes. He relished the opportunity to break that down and lay bear what happened in this country and around the world and say, 'people are taking your money.'"

Movie Magic: Brooklyn, which has no star director or star power took 12 different financiers to make. Whatever it takes! "It's not high concept, it's not genre, it was never gonna be an easy film to finance," said Finola Dwyer. It was a co-production with the UK, Canada and Ireland. Though it takes place in Brooklyn, it was filmed in Montreal. "Montreal and New York share a lot of the same architecture. The architect of the empire state building did a department store in Montreal. It's a small city, it's very easy to get around. We had 30 days of filming in 3 countries so that was essential." The crew did have to film in Brooklyn for a little while because of its distinctive brownstones.  "It took 6 months of negotiating with SAG to let us come to America and film for two days without being a full SAG movie" said Dwyer. They had to use snow machines in May. Those scenes you see of Saoirse Ronan walking in Brooklyn in different seasons? They were all shot in one day. We had to put a lot of leaves on trees in post production too. Especially in Ireland. We don't have a lot of leaves on trees. We have harsh winters," she said with a chuckle.

Filmmaking in a Cocoon: Room was all about "Creating a cocoon around the creative process. Protecting it so we could make it the way we wanted," said Ed Guiney. It was filmed in sequence. "Not just because we had a young boy, but it's always a much nicer way to make a film," says Guiney. "The first half of the movie in the room is very intense and challenging for the cast so creating an environment where Brie [Larson, star] and Lenny [Abramson, director] and Jacob [Tremblay, star] could work on the story together to give it in the intensity it required" was key. They built the set 3 weeks prior to shooting so that the three could spend time there before the crew moved in. "That was a really precious time I think, where they were able to get to know the set and props. Brie and Jake bonded together and created a magical relationship together. We tried to create this atmosphere that leavened the intensity. So although it was very intense, the atmosphere around the set was kind of familial, warm, and lighthearted. I think it really, really helped. Guiney said they always joke because they thought it would be so easy to make this film since it takes place in one room, when it reality the shoot was not short of complexity. The whole first half of the movie takes place in a 10x10 space. "We had a rule that the lens of the camera would never be outside of the walls of the room, it gave it this intensity."

On Saying "No": Moderator and LA Times film writer John Horn asked what it's like for producers to say No.

Mary Parent: "It's not about saying No. No movie is going to be easy or difficult, there's always going to be challenges. As a producer, you always want to anticipate as many of those as possible. But inevitably stuff happens, and you want to make choices together that protect the film."

Golin: "The most important thing is that we make the best movie we can make. None of us are doing this for money, I can guarantee that. The director is the captain of the ship without question, and usually the producer has to manage that and get them the best movie they can. If it's just about the money and the movie's no good, what's the point of it? It's really about trying to help that filmmaker to make the best film possible."

Dwyer: "I agree. There's always a solution. You reinvent the wheel every time. Every director is different. Every film is different. So much is out of our control. As producers we like to think we are in control of everything but we're not."

On the impact of Nominations and Awards Season:

Ed Guiney: "It has a really big impact on the life of your movie. We went from 80 prints to 800 prints the week after the Oscar nominations came out. And our box office has doubled.  It's a challenging subject matter and its hard to get people to go to the theater and see it. We were really confident that once people engage with the film and see it it’s a really powerful movie and very life affirming movie. Having the recognition has had an incredible impact on our movie and we're incredibly grateful for that."

Mary Parent: "It has for us as well. Having 12 nominations... The academy is a brand and a stamp."

Golin: "I think that's [potential for Oscars] is why a lot of movies get made."


Kleiner: "The academy and the role that they play in society as far as creating a forum and a standard that means something to the world gives films a place in culture."

Oscars so White, Male: John Horn: "How do you guys go about making a wider array of stories so that people can see their stories on film and be validated?"

Kleiner: "It’s not just an important conversation but a necessary one...I think as Alejandro and my business partner said in interviews, the Academy is at the end of a long chain of decision making. As producers, it's our responsibility to pursue a wide range of stories and not have an ideological rigidity about what is gonna work and not work, and not internalize those ideas about what kinds of stories deserve to be told."

Golin: "The whole community needs to look at what the whole world looks like and what America looks like and make movies that are representative of that. This controversy has been a wake up call. It's unfortunate that it takes a controversy to get there but… if the movies themselves are more diverse I think the voting will take care of itself."

Kleiner: "It seems the consequences of not hitting a home run are greater if you’re a female director, minority or person of color. It’s hard as it is to get movies, but there are examples of people where the standard is higher."

On Producing: 
John Horn: "If we run on the assumption that actors get all the glory, directors get all the credit, what do producers get?"

Parent: "I love the process. I love being able to support great artists and the most satisfaction I get is having someone tell me that my support has made a difference, knowing that I’m in there helping towards achieving a goal. I don’t think any of us are glory seekers, I don’t think that's why we do what we do. I think we also get a lot of out of it."

Kliener: "I think it's the greatest job, maybe for a combination of reasons that are not all entirely rational. When I saw Do the Right Thing as a 13 year old...the affect it had on my life  somehow changed the trajectory of what I wanted to do. To be a part of these films that may have an impact on the way people think, and with our film which I think is about values, and what we as a culture value and what our incentive structures are, if that somehow could make its way into someone's mode of thinking, and scramble their brain in such a way where they might make a distinct choice like that, I think we live and hope for those sorts of things happening. That's not rational maybe, but it’s exciting."

Guiney: "I like the company of people in this industry. They’re the people I gravitate to and people whose values I share. I guess it is a very exciting thing to be involved in an enterprise where you take something as wonderful and powerful as Emma Donoghue's book and to try and give cinema-goers a similar experience, to bring that piece of work to a bigger audience and different medium-- that’s been incredibly exciting. I’ve never really worked in another business but I think it’s a business where people are tested, and their loyalties are tested, and their goodness as people is tested, and I think when you really see that, you form very strong bonds with people, and that idea of working in a family really resonated for me in terms of my professional life."

Golin: "For me its about storytelling...finding the story we want to tell, finding the writer, finding the filmmaker, putting the actors together, and the satisfaction of doing that process from the ground up. Generally I get involved in movies from the ground up and see it all the way through the end. In the case of Spotlight we knew it was going to be very difficult movie to get made but we felt it was very important. As I get older I want to much more be involved in movies that have social significance. I don’t really care that much about who gets the credit. The actors and director deserve it; they are the reason movies get made and the ones who do the bulk of the work. But the satisfaction of telling the stories and knowing that it wouldn’t happen without us is enough."

Dwyer: "Working with talented, inspirational people is a privilege. The satisfaction of taking something all the way. It doesn’t get better than that."

Inspiring Words
John Horn: "There are perhaps some aspiring producers in the audience. You’ve made it sound like a pretty decent career. What advice would you offer?"

Parent: "It is the greatest job. But you have to be passionate and you have to believe and you can’t give up. A lot of times making movies, more often than not it will fall apart or it won’t happen...being a dog with a bone... and also work with really talented people. Whether its people that are already successful, or discovering new voices."

Kleiner: "If you feel as if you don’t fit into any other facet of society (a laugh from the crowd) then you’re probably on the right track. Another thing is... it’s a mysterious vocation, the reasons for success are very peculiar and almost don’t obey rational laws. I think we’ve all benefited from fortunes smiling on us in strange ways. The ways that things fall into place are not always clear. There's a lot of emphasis placed on the individual will, and I think that is a strong component of this. The other part is somehow being in alignment with other things like where the culture is going, and what stories seem to be emerging as stories worth telling. The will, but also that humility and receptivity to other factors as well."

Guiney: "Make things. So many people spend so much time talking about making things. I've come up with my contemporaries in college. We were bound by a mutual interest and passion. People think money is the limiting factor in our business, and it is, but in a way the rare thing that’s hardest to find is talent. I almost think of producers as prospectors for talent- the new voices, people with utterly interesting things to say. Something that’s going to stand out. For producers, try to find those people around you who you think have something interesting to say."

Golin: "The most important thing is the story. There’s a lot of money out there frankly. It’s tougher than it used to be, but really its about passion, about what the story is. You have to really be passionate because its not going to be easy. And Jeremy's right sometimes things come together, but its really about being very tenacious, not taking no for an answer, being very thick skinned because generally you’re rejected many many times. It’s about being very patient and very impatient simultaneously. Generally it makes sense to have a few things going at one time. You need tenacity."

Dwyer: "And take risks. With Brooklyn, people said 'Oh we’ve had those: immigration stories,' but I said 'we’ve never had it from a female perspective.' But we really really believed in it. Take risks, don’t take no for an answer... Take risks, its one of the best things you can do."

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