Filmmakers share notes on triumphs, travails of film biz

Even the most proven Hollywood producers have to work hard to overcome their own skepticism as they shepherd their movies towards finish line.

Letty Aronson, speaking at Saturday’s Producers Guild of America awards nominees breakfast, recalled her doubts when Woody Allen told his longtime producing partner and sister about doing “Midnight in Paris,” which became his biggest box office grosser.

“I said to Woody, ‘Who’s going to come to see this film?” she noted.

The event, sponsored by Variety, took place at the Landmark Theater in West Los Angeles, half a day before the PGA’s award of its Darryl F. Zanuck award for top feature. Steven Spielberg (“War Horse”) and Brad Pitt (“Moneyball”) provided star power with Spielberg admitting he decided to adapt the play after spouse Kate Capshaw had seen a performance.

“My wife said, ‘You’ve got to do this,” said Spielberg, provoking a big laugh from the crowd of more than 300.

Pitt allowed he’s still learning the ropes of dealing with producing challenges. He recalled that he had asked Sony chief Amy Pascal for a second chance after she pulled the plug in 2009 a few days before the start of shooting due to concerns about Steven Soderbergh’s script.

“I’ve never played that card but I felt I had a responsibility to the people who had done all the work on it so far,” Pitt noted. “I had a few sleepless nights.”

Pitt also gave credit to Pascal for staying with the project, saying, “Amy doubled down when the odds were telling her to get out.”

Graham King, nominated for Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” admitted that the 3D pic was the most challenging of the more than 20 features he’s produced. “It was the 3D, Sacha (Baron Cohen), the kids,” he added.

“Bridesmaids” producer Barry Mendel admitted that director Paul Feig shot a massive amount of footage — 1.2 million feet — in order to be assured that the comedy was captured.

“We kept finding that the humor is so elusive so we shot everything three different ways,” he added. “I think that you need great editing for comedies.”

Cean Chaffin conceded that she found shooting “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” particularly nerve-wracking since Steven Zaillian’s script wasn’t yet completed. “Thank God it was Zaillian,” she added.

In many cases, panel members said, timing’s crucial. “Ides of March” producer Grant Heslov recalled that he and George Clooney had originally set up their adaptation of the stage play when Barack Obama was running.

“We didn’t think that a very cynical look at politics would play well at the point when Obama had been elected,” he noted. “About a year went by and we said maybe we can do this.”

With Warner Bros. no longer backing the project, Clooney and Heslov headed to the American Film Market to raise funds for “Ides,” which wound up with a $12.5 million budget. “George would spin the plates and I would occasionally interject a joke,” Heslov said.

“The Artist” producer Thomas Langmann offered high praise for helmer Michel Hazanavicius, citing the advice of his father, filmmaker Claude Berri. “He said there were three answers — the director, the director, the director,” he noted.

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