10 best picture noms OK by PGA panel

Nominated producers talk filmmaking, award season

With its first-ever slate of 10 nominees for best feature, Producers Guild of America president Marshall Herskovitz has asserted that the decision’s working out well.

“Many people thought that expanding the category was cynical but I think it’s very exciting,” Herskovitz told a capacity audience of 300 Saturday morning at the PGA’s panel discussion for nominees at the Landmark at the Westside Pavilion. “The nominated films don’t fit into a movie genre and they’re not like other films.”

“Avatar” producer Jon Landau sounded a similar theme, characterizing the ten finalists as provocative and “bigger than their genre.”

The PGA followed suit last year when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences opted to expand the nom slate for the Best Picture category to 10. The PGA’s winner of the Draryl F. Zanuck award will be announced Sunday at the Hollywood Palladium.

Other participants in the panel included Lawrence Bender for “Inglourious Basterds,” Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker,” Finola Dwyer for “An Education,” Lori McCreary for “Invictus,” Jason Reitmas for “Up in the Air,” Jonas Rivera for “Up” and Sarah Siegel-Magness for “Precious.” Producers for “District 9” and “Star Trek” didn’t attend.

Asked about the biggest challenge faced by each producer, Landau responded by saying, “Convincing everyone that people would want to see blue people.”

Bigelow recounted that obtaining permission to bring black powder, model guns and pyrotechnics into Jordan for the “Hurt Locker” production represented a serious hurdle — even to the point of considering smuggling via Beirut before a myriad of meetings resolved the problem.

“I drank more tea than I ever have in my life,” she added.

McCreary said obtaining life rights from the multiple participants portrayed in “Invictus” was complex and noted that Nelson Mandela’s daughter signed off after seeing the pic at its Beverly Hills premiere last month.

Siegel-Magness recounted that “Precious” represented a particularly difficult challenge in finding backing but noted that the process of doing so had helped elevate the film. “You need to tackle topics that make you feel uncomfortable,” she told the audience.

Reitman credited his father and fellow producer Ivan Reitman with surmounting the problem of making the film in such a way that it would resonate amid the economic recession. He said that using people who had actually lost their jobs — recruited in Detroit and St. Louis — as many of the terminated employees in the film was crucial.

“When we had actors doing that, it didn’t feel real,” Reitman added. “So we asked them to say what they had said or what they wish they had said when they were fired.”

Reitman said a turning point in “Up in the Air” came when one of the terminated employees asked if the person doing the firing would be taking his kids to Chucky Cheese on the weekend. “I never would have written that line but that was the moment when the film stopped being a mirror reflecting me and became a mirror reflecting them,” he added.

Landau said the key moment when he realized “Avatar” was going to work was when he saw the first finished scene with Zoe Saldana about to shoot an arrow. “We knew that what Zoe had done as an actress meant that the film would work,” he added.

Panelists also expressed strong support for 3D films and for audience previews with Rivera noting that “Up” was screened every four months before audiences of Pixar employees throughout development. “They have great notes,” he added.

Variety was a sponsor of the event.

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