You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Producers open up at Santa Barbara

Panel a bright spot at film festival

Five of last year’s most successful producers gathered to swap stories at a panel Saturday that was one of the bright spots of the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s rainy opening weekend.

With the writers’ panel having been canceled due to multiple illnesses, it was left to the producers to inject some spark into the proceedings. Moderated by Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times, “Movers & Shakers” featured Oscar nominees Daniel Lupi (“There Will Be Blood”) and Lianne Halfon (“Juno”); veteran James L. Brooks (“The Simpsons”); and partners Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (“Hairspray,” “The Bucket List”). The producers held forth on issues including budget, casting choices, the importance of tone, test screenings and marketing.

Having both helmed and produced pics like “As Good As It Gets” and “Terms of Endearment,” Brooks was the sole panelist who could speak firsthand for the writer-director. “The dream is to have a producer who will die for you,” he said. “I haven’t found anyone save myself who will do that yet.”

Longtime Paul Thomas Anderson collaborator Daniel Lupi came off as a close approximation of Brooks’ fantasy. Along with producing partner JoAnne Sellar, Lupi was able to offer Anderson total creative freedom and full protection from studio interference, provided he stay on budget — a condition with which Anderson had always complied. “The studios have less to say if you’re financially on track,” he said of their strategy.

A smaller budget also worked well for Halfon, who said that “Juno” was initially projected to cost double its eventual $7 million pricetag. But the producers managed to slash that budget by casting largely unknowns, yielding a huge payoff (domestic B.O. stands at $100.2 million to date) and affording sophomore helmer Jason Reitman the creative control he craved: “A more modest budget,” Halfon said, meant “less group filmmaking.”

From Halfon’s perspective, Fox Searchlight was “like the promised land” in terms of its marketing approach to “Juno.” She recalled a marketing meeting that went so well she was astonished to discover she had absolutely no objections or corrective advice to the studio’s plan.

Zadan and Meron credited their experience with Harvey Weinstein on “Chicago” with teaching them everything they needed to know about how to market a musical. Working with New Line’s marketing department on the “Hairspray” campaign, the producers insisted that they “would never disguise the fact that it was a musical,” said Zadan, but instead opted to use the genre as its selling point. By contrast, “Sweeney Todd’s” trailers had consciously played down the singing, a move that apparently left filmgoers confused.

Determining its precise tone was crucial to “Hairspray’s” success. Along with helmer Adam Shankman, the team opted for “heightened reality,” said Zadan, “rather than campy and over-the-top,” which worked on Broadway but would have been distracting onscreen. All agreed that tone was the most essential and sometimes the most ineffable element of a successful production. “Nothing bedevils me more,” said Brooks. “Tone is everything. But sometimes it’s elusive right up to prost-production.”

Often a film’s tone falls into place as a result of casting. Such was the reason, Zadan and Meron said, that they fought for John Travolta to star in “Hairspray” over initial studio objections. Anderson, for his part, penned “There Will Be Blood” with Daniel Day-Lewis is mind; certainly the project is unimaginable without him.

The same is true of “Juno.” Without Ellen Page’s sensitive and sardonic performance, it’s virtually impossible to conceive of it as remotely the same film. Finding the perfect tonal balance was key, Halfon recalled. She described fighting to include a scene in which Juno weeps alone in her car, a moment that balances the teen’s otherwise ironic approach to her unexpected pregnancy and overturned life.

Halfon said that research screenings had been instructive: “sometimes they confirm your instincts; sometimes they prove you wrong.” Zadan, Meron and Brooks concurred. Lupi, on the other hand, told a different tale. Never one to go the conventional route, Paul Thonas Anderson holds out for a more gratifying, if perhaps less scientific, sort of test screening. He’ll complete his film, said Lupi, “and then he will show it to the people he likes.”

More Film

  • With PGA win, 'Green Book' is

    Oscars: With PGA Victory, 'Green Book' Becomes Best Picture Frontrunner

    Save for a pair of recent back-to-back discrepancies in “The Big Short” and “La La Land,” the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Theatrical Motion Pictures has been a fairly reliable barometer for the annual Oscar season outcome. At least, ever since both the PGA and film Academy expanded their top categories, sharing the [...]

  • Peter Farrelly30th Annual Producers Guild Awards,

    PGA Awards: 'Green Book' Wins Top Feature Film Award

    “Green Book” has won the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award as the top feature film of 2018. The 1960s drama-comedy topped “BlacKkKlansman,” “Black Panther” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite,”  “A Quiet Place,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born” and “Vice. “When you make ‘Dumb and Dumber’ you never expect to get an award,” [...]

  • Netflix HQ LA

    Andy Gruenberg, Veteran Film Executive, Dies at 68

    Veteran film executive Andy Gruenberg, who most recently oversaw theatrical distribution at Netflix, died suddenly on Friday. He was 68. Gruenberg worked on classic films like “Ghostbusters,” “Karate Kid” and “Silverado” while at Columbia Pictures in the 80s and 90s. He then moved to MGM where he served as exec VP of distribution. There he [...]

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Author Tony Mendez arrives at the

    Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Depicted in 'Argo,' Dies at 78

    Tony Mendez, the former CIA technical operations officer who orchestrated the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran and who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award winning film “Argo,” has died. He was 78. Mendez’s book agent, Christy Fletcher, announced the news on Twitter Saturday morning. “Early this morning, Antonio (Tony) [...]

  • Glass Movie

    'Glass' to Rank in Top 3 MLK Debuts With $48 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is on its way to a solid debut with an estimated $48 million for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split,” the Universal superhero thriller should bring in around $41 million from 3,841 domestic locations over the Friday through Sunday period. The estimates are [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content