As a co-founder of the New Media Council, and long-time member of the Producers Guild of America, I am sometimes able to benefit from certain opportunities that make me fall in love with filmmaking all over again. This morning was one such opportunity.
Tonight marks the 23rd annual Producers Guild Awards, precursor and controversial bellwether to the Oscars. A select few members of the Guild are able to attend a breakfast gathering, on the morning of these awards, to meet and hear from the Producers of each nominated Feature Film. It is an intimate and convivial get-together, and always illuminating.
Despite the assumption by many that Producers focus mostly on the fiscal value of a film, when pondering which box to mark on their voting ballot, the conversations this morning were only momentarily focused on financing, and largely concerned with the creative and operational processes of bringing a story to the screen.
What struck me almost immediately was how collaborative and connected to one another these producers had been on these projects, during the past year: Kathleen Kennedy was the impetus for both War Horse and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, while Spielberg catalyzed the realization of The Help. Amusingly, everyone on the panel credited Brad Pitt with some aspect of their production, even though the actor/producer was unusually restrained in his remarks re. friend George Clooney (strongly involved in two of the nominated films).
Even more compelling were some nuggets of wisdom and info dropped by individuals, during the course of conversation:
When asked why he made the movie, Spielberg answered “I made the movie to get to that scene where the German and the Geordie free the horse from the barbed wire together”.
8 horses were used to portray the central character in the film, with two (“Abraham” and “Finder”) carrying the heavy acting load.
Midnight In Paris
Woody Allen‘s scripts are largely devoid of stage directions. Just dialogue. The visual is only revealed during production. More startling still is the fact that Woody Allen doesn’t write a thing until full financing is obtained. This film was made for $18 Million, all of which was obtained on his name alone. Only when the money was in the proverbial bank did Mr. Allen begin the scriptwriting process, which consisted of well over a month of “just thinking”, followed by 4 short weeks of longhand writing, and then typing up the draft (which Woody had to do himself, since nobody else could read his writing). Unlike most of the other productions, Woody Allen’s films have no rehearsal whatsoever, and every scene is shot on location (no studio shoots).
Casting drew strongly from Kristen Wiig’s compatriots at the Groundlings Improv company, and the original script was strongly augmented with rewrites culled from improv rehearsals. These revisions were themselves then altered dramatically in production, where additional improv took place. In essence, the film worked with 3 scripts as a result: two written, and one unwritten. The resulting 1,200,000 feet of film shot is testament to the production’s desire to capture the very brightest moments of performance and storytelling.
Each producer had favorite scenes in their respective film. Some examples:
- Jim Burke particularly enjoyed when George Clooney’s character in THE DESCENDANTS, Matt King goes into the ancestral family home and opens the curtains, letting in the light, and showing us the family photos, thereby giving himself and us an insight into his place in the family history.
- Ceán Chaffin was deeply impressed with the final scene in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, when Rooney Mara’s character, Lisbeth Salanader, realizes some important truths, and the actress silently shows everything going on in Lisbeth’s mind, in that painful moment.
- Brunson Green’s favorite scene in THE HELP was at the end, where the main character is about to walk into the room to be fired and confront Hilly.
- Graham King’s favorite moment in HUGO was when the scholar, Rene Tabard, goes to George Méliès’ apartment and screens the film for his wife.
- Grant Heslov was struck most by the restaurant kitchen confrontation scene between Ryan and George in THE IDES OF MARCH
- From an acting perspective, Brad Pitt especially enjoyed the trading scene in MONEYBALL
Two particularly telling comments came from Mr. Spielberg. In response to a question as to whether any of the producers would now consider shooting a silent film, given the success of THE ARTIST, Spielberg admitted his surprise and delight at that film’s success, saying “I didn’t think silent film was possible in the 21st century, until The Artist” – testament to the fact that we never need lose opportunities for learning, no matter our experience. Later, when asked what he looked for in submissions, Spielberg strongly decried any notion that writers should submit supporting materials (Sizzle reels, previz, storyboards) when pitching their work. Spielberg asked that he and his fellow producers be given enough credit to fill in the gaps with their own imaginations, which would always be far superior to whatever one might supply in the way of pre-visualizations.
When compared to this evening’s upcoming glitzy and impersonal gala affair, attended by thousands, I think I and my peers got the better part of the deal, as we spent a relaxed morning in the presence of some very talented and unquestionably devoted stewards of creative storytelling.
- Gary Lucchesi (President, Lakeshore Entertainment)
- Thomas Langmann for THE ARTIST
- Barry Mendel for BRIDESMAIDS
- Jim Burke for THE DESCENDANTS
- Ceán Chaffin for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
- Brunson Green for THE HELP
- Graham King for HUGO
- Grant Heslov for THE IDES OF MARCH
- Letty Aronson for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
- Brad Pitt for MONEYBALL (Producers Michael De Luca and Rachael Horovitz were also in attendance)
- Steven Spielberg for WAR HORSE (Producer Kathleen Kennedy was also in attendance)