Produced By conference held at Disney Studios

With studios focusing increasingly on tentpole franchises, producers of such titles face increasingly daunting challenges.

That was the constant theme of the opening panel at Saturday’s Produced By conference at Disney Studios in Burbank, the third annual event organized by the Producers Guild of America. Titled “Raising Your Tentpole,” the sesh drew about 400 attendees.

“Studios are spending up to half a billion dollars so the pressure is enormous,” said Ralph Winter, whose resume includes the “X-Men” and “Star Trek” franchises. “They keep trying to top themselves.”

Marvel Studios prexy Kevin Feige told the audience that Marvel’s latest projects — “Thor” and the upcoming “Captain America” — had to balance the concerns of the core fan base with the need to succeed financially on a worldwide basis. He noted that the movie “Thor” was preceded by 600 issues of the comic.

“So you often have an extremely loyal and hardcore fan base but that’s a very small percentage of the people who are going to see your movie on its opening weekend,” Feige said.

Lauren Shuler Donner, whose “X-Men: First Class” opened Friday, urged the audience to draw upon complex characters and plot lines within the source materials.

“Within the ‘X-Men’ world, there are so many stories to follow,” she noted. “In films, the characters need to be rich and complicated like Wolverine. He’s complex and tragic.”

Panelists also stressed that studios want as much certainty as possible in terms of recognizable stars, directors or concepts.

Feige admitted that “Thor” star Chris Hemsworth and “Captain America” lead Chris Evans aren’t household names yet.

“The marquee name is the star,” he added. “We took a chance on Robert Downey Jr. In ‘Iron Man,’ where the suit is the star.”

Shuler Donner urged listeners to remain persistent and making themselves the indispensable element on a project. “You have to figure out a way to get them to say ‘yes,'” she added.

Winter followed by reminding producers of their status on tentpoles. “You’re a cog because they’re the ones risking a tremendous amount of money,” he explained.

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