Producers up early for guild breakfast

Herskovitz moderates round-table discussion

Despite an 8 a.m. start time, this year’s PGA nominees and guild members alike showed up for an early morning spread, sponsored by Daily Variety, Saturday at the Westside Pavilion’s Landmark Theaters.

“I didn’t know producers got up this early,” joked Ted Mundorf, CEO of Landmark.

PGA president Marshall Herskovitz moderated a round-table discussion with the five nominees, saying his goal was to “make it a producer’s centric event.”

Kathleen Kennedy (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), Charles Roven (“The Dark Knight”), Brian Grazer (“Frost/Nixon”), Bruce Cohen (“Milk”) and Christian Colson (“Slumdog Millionaire”) all weighed in on their respective pics and the challenges they faced in getting each film made.

Kennedy described the 18-year-process of translating “Benjamin Button” to the screen as stop and go. She credited director David Fincher, who also showed up for the event, as the driving force behind the film.

“It became an extremely collaborative effort,” she said. “With this type of project you need all the experts weighing in.”

Referring to the pic’s heavy reliance on visual effects, Kennedy said there were several times when the project seemed dead in the water.

Asked if indie hit, “Slumdog Millionaire,” encountered its share of roadblocks, Colson quipped: “I don’t know where to begin.”

Once primary distrib Warner Independent shuttered last year, Colson said he was forced to find alternate financing even though the pic was in its latter stages of production. Fox Searchlight eventually took over and allowed the team freedom to finish the pic on their own terms, he said.

Roven said while WB’s “Dark Knight” managed to avoid such “horror stories,” the production team, including Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas, had to juggle big-budget expectations and dramatic merit.

“We had to make sure we weren’t losing the drama of the characters,” he said.

Likewise, Grazer said for him and co-producers Ron Howard and Eric Fellner, the challenge in making “Frost/Nixon” came in translating the stage play to the screen.

“It’s really not about action,” Grazer admitted of the original play. “It’s really only about ideas.”

But ultimately, Grazer said “Frost/Nixon” is a thriller that stays true to the original work of screenwriter Peter Morgan and to the images of David Frost and Richard Nixon.

For nomineess Cohen and Dan Jinks, producers of “Milk,” Cohen said staying true to history also took top priority. In fact, many of the film’s locations were shot where the actual events first took place, and most of the production was re-created to mirror its original locales.

Cohen said “Milk” was “in the truest sense a passion project” for everyone involved, especially screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and helmer Gus Van Sant.

All five nominees echoed Cohen’s sentiment throughout the discussion, emphasizing the importance of collaboration in filmmaking.

Colson was quick to credit the success of “Slumdog” to helmer Danny Boyle, while Grazer made note of “Frost/Nixon” director Ron Howard, yet the morning’s focus never veered too far from the role of the producer.

“In order to tell unique stories, you’re taking risks,” Kennedy said, “and it’s the producer left holding the bag making certain those risks were worth it.”

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