Producers: In their own words

Folks behind the films talk about the process

“127 Hours”
Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, John Smithson
ORIGINS: “It’s a true-life story based on Aron Ralston’s book ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place,’?” explains Christian Colson. “Danny wrote this great treatment on spec and met with him early on, but Aron was then very committed to any film version being done as a documentary feature and effectively passed. Danny and I went off to make ‘Slumdog,’ and around Oscar time we decided to revisit the project. This time Aron was a lot more receptive.”
FUNDING: “We went back to our collaborators from ‘Slumdog’: Fox Searchlight and Pathe. Danny has an overall deal with Searchlight, I have one with Pathe, and there’s also a side deal that enables Searchlight and Pathe to jointly finance the slate of films Danny and I develop. It just felt sensible, correct and also smart not to break up a winning team unless we had to — and that also applied to all our heads of department.”
HIGH HURDLES: “We had to get the budget right as it’s not an obvious sell, and we shot in a very remote, hostile location.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “The first star aboard was Danny. And if we hadn’t found James Franco, we wouldn’t have made it.”

“How to Train Your Dragon”
Bonnie Arnold
ORIGINS: “It’s based on a series of books by British author Cressida Cowell, which were optioned by DreamWorks Animation,” Bonnie Arnold says. “We felt it’d be great source material for a film, and we then started to adapt it. “
FUNDING: “It was completely financed by DreamWorks Animation. The budget was worked up based on what we thought the movie would cost.”
HIGH HURDLES: “Finding the right take on the material was the biggest hurdle. Adaptations are not always that easy, as a great book doesn’t necessarily translate word-for-word into a movie that works. The book was a smaller story than the studio was looking for. They wanted a broader-appeal type film, so the big challenge was opening it up and making it more of an action-adventure. That’s where the writer-directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who did ‘Lilo & Stitch,’ came into the picture. They had the right take on the material and retained all the great characters and sentiment of the original story, while giving it a more cinematic quality.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “Gerard Butler came on as Stoick, then others followed. We had a lot of the elements in place before Chris and Dean came on.”

“Rabbit Hole”
Nicole Kidman, Gigi Pritzker, Per Saari, Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech
ORIGINS: “Nicole Kidman, who was in Nashville at the time, read a review of David Lindsay-Abaire’s play and thought it sounded amazing,” says Blossom Films’ Per Saari. “I flew to New York that night and saw the show in its opening week. We met with David, and it was clear everyone was on the same page — namely about David working collaboratively and adapting himself.”
FUNDING: “I knew we could do it for well under $10 million,” says Olympus Pictures’ Leslie Urdang. “Olympus could cashflow the estimates plus the New York tax credit. Odd Lot Entertainment/Affinity offered to join as producers making an upfront investment in the movie.”
HIGH HURDLES: “One of the biggest challenges was to be able to make creative deals with the talent,” says Urdang. “It was extremely useful that Nicole set the bar. It took a long time to hammer out a deal with Nicole’s reps that made sense, but once that was in place, the other actors’ deals followed suit.”
DOMINO EFFECT: With Nicole attached to star, “John Cameron Mitchell read the script and showed such passion and insight, it was clear he needed to make it,” says Saari. “Nicole called Aaron (Eckhart) and begged him to squeeze his four weeks of work between two other projects he had committed to.”

“Another Year”
Georgina Lowe
ORIGINS: “The way Mike Leigh works on all his films is unique,” Georgina Lowe says. “He creates the characters from scratch once he’s cast and then spends a lot of time in rehearsal and researching, as there’s no script to start with. In this case, it was five months of character research and creation, and then extensive improvisations and rehearsals and working on a script.”
FUNDING: “We’re very lucky in having supporting people — the U.K. Film Council, Film Four and Focus — who came on board as sales agents and financiers. We have to be fully financed by the time we’re casting, and while getting financing is never easy, people want to support his films.”
HIGH HURDLES: “One of the most important things to Mike is getting enough time to work in the unusual way that he does, and getting those five months before you even start filming isn’t easy on a small budget. And then we tried to shoot four seasons in just 11 weeks, which was quite risky.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “It doesn’t really apply, as he announces all his cast at the same time. Lots of actors love working with him.”

“The King’s Speech”
Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Gareth Unwin
ORIGINS: “It originally came to us as an unstaged play, with the idea that we’d become the Australian co-producer and help in the U.K.,” Iain Canning explains. “We loved it, as did our sister companies, Transmission in Australia and Momentum in the U.K., and we worked with the writer on a couple of versions of the film script. Geoffrey Rush had already been sent the script — to his house, not through CAA — and we came onboard and began doing deals.”
FUNDING: “It pre-sold amazingly well. We pre-sold some territories to the Weinstein Co. and also went through Transmission and Momentum. We needed to cashflow those pre-sales, and we had a gap and tax credits, and did it through the Aegis Film Fund. We then had an equity position and had two equity investors, the U.K. Film Council and Molinare, who did the post.”
HIGH HURDLES: “The intense pressure we were under to close the financing at a time when many people believed that any British historical drama was not in vogue.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “Geoffrey Rush committed first, and based on that and the script, we financed the film and got everyone else.”

“True Grit”
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Scott Rudin
ORIGINS: “The Coens had always loved the Charles Portis novel, which is very different from the original movie,” Scott Rudin says. “After ‘No Country,’ there was a lot of speculation about whether they’d make an actual Western, and they came to me with this. There were very complicated rights situations that had to be worked out, and then we went to DreamWorks while they were still part of Paramount, so there were then even more complications when they left Paramount, but we managed to keep Spielberg’s involvement as a producer, which was important.”
FUNDING: “Paramount financed it all. It was very inexpensive, and everyone worked for next to nothing — the same way we did ‘No Country’ and the way the Coens do almost all their films.”
HIGH HURDLES: “The physical production — the weather, the harsh terrain of the Southwest. There were huge issues about getting snow when we didn’t want it and vice versa. It was very physically arduous and taxing.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “It’s all about the Coens. We got everyone we went after because no one doesn’t want to work on one of their movies.”

“The Fighter”
Dorothy Aufiero, David Hoberman, Ryan Kavanaugh, Todd Lieberman, Paul Tamasy, Mark Wahlberg
ORIGINS: “Dorothy Aufiero got the life rights and brought on writers Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson,” says Mark Wahlberg, who also stars. “David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman came on as producers and got it set up at Paramount. “
FUNDING: “We couldn’t get it done (at Paramount),” says Wahlberg. “So we asked Paramount to allow us to take it out and get the movie made elsewhere. (Then) Relativity financed the film.”
HIGH HURDLES: “The biggest hurdle was putting together the director and cast,” says Wahlberg. Adds Lieberman, “The actual making of the movie was challenging because we had limited resources. We couldn’t afford to build sets or lay tracks, and shot the whole movie steadicam.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “I was the first actor attached,” says Wahlberg. “David O. Russell convinced us that he was the right person to direct. In searching for someone to play Dicky, I saw Christian Bale at our daughters’ school and knew he would be perfect. Thankfully, he agreed to read the script and jumped in right away. Melissa Leo was someone I suggested to David and the other producers after seeing her in ‘Frozen River.’ David brought in Amy, since they’d been talking about working together before.”

“The Social Network”
Dana Brunetti, Cean Chaffin, Michael DeLuca, Scott Rudin
ORIGINS: “It came from a book proposal written by Ben Mezrich, and Dana Brunetti and Mike DeLuca had developed it,” Scott Rudin says. “They took it to Sony, I got my hands on it and we all agreed to collaborate. Aaron Sorkin came on and wrote a brilliant script very quickly, and we then went to David Fincher who was the first and only person who ever saw it.”
FUNDING: “It was entirely through Sony. They loved the script from the first draft and wanted to make it in a sane and responsible way, in the same kind of financial way we did. So once it was agreed we’d do it with David and everyone, we came up with a financial structure that worked for everyone and pulled it together. But it meant everyone taking huge cuts. No one got paid to do it. It was a ‘for love’ project.”
HIGH HURDLES: “The biggest issues were dealing with all the legal issues of Facebook — what we legally could and couldn’t do and say. Everything was sourced and vetted and required an enormous number of lawyers. That process began before the script was written and went up until the movie’s release.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “Fincher. Once we had him, everyone else followed.”

Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas
ORIGINS: “Chris (Nolan, who also produced) had been interested in the subject matter of dreams and the nature of reality for a very long time,” Emma Thomas explains. “About 10 years ago, he wrote 80 pages, which gradually turned into the film over the years, so it was a very long process.”
FUNDING: “We were lucky in that we were coming off the success of ‘The Dark Knight,’ and when he finished the script, we went back to Warner Bros. We don’t have a deal with them per se, but we have a great relationship with them, and they all read it and really got it. So they jumped onboard and said they’d finance the whole thing, but then Legendary also came onboard as a partner.”
HIGH HURDLES: “The huge scale of the film and the tight schedule. We had an extremely short prep period. The studio only read it for the first time in March, and we began shooting in July, which for a film of this scale, filming all over the world, is pretty incredible.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “Once Leo came on, that set the tone for what the movie was, and the rest was smooth sailing.”

“The Kids Are All Right”
Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg
ORIGINS: “It was just around the time ‘Laurel Canyon’ was released in 2002, and we began to think about what would come next. Initially, it was called ‘Inland Empire,’ and it focused on a sibling relationship. Then we brought in Stuart Blumberg, and that’s when the actual story took shape,” says Jeffrey Levy-Hinte.
FUNDING: “Celine Rattray (at Plum) wanted to invest in 2009. We thought we were in good shape, but it was difficult to get all her investors onboard. Then she closed a deal with Philippe Hellman from UGC and brought in all these executive producers. And then Gary Gilbert came in as the last piece, but he didn’t sign on the dotted line until we started shooting.”
HIGH HURDLES: “It was just money. Making the movie was so easy and beautiful. If there were problems on set, they all seem too trivial compared to the excruciating, deliberating painful process of financing.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “Julianne Moore signed early on in 2005. Then Annette Bening came on board. (For the male lead), we loved Ruffalo, but at the time, he was shooting. So we went this crazy circuitous route, and ultimately, Ruffalo saved the day about three weeks away from shooting.”

“Toy Story 3”
Darla K. Anderson
ORIGINS: “We had wanted to make ‘Toy Story 3’ for a long time. As soon as the Disney/Pixar sale happened, we immediately began working on it. In 2006, we gathered virtually the same team that had created the first two films and went out to a place called the Poet’s Loft in Tomales Bay, a small cabin where the idea for the first ‘Toy Story’ was hatched, and then we set about coming up with a new story worthy of those first two films.”
FUNDING: “Our films are fully funded internally by Disney/Pixar.”
HIGH HURDLES: “Story has always been and will continue to be our primary filmmaking challenge at Pixar, and this film was no different since there was so much pressure. By the time this film released, it had been 11 years since ‘Toy Story 2.’ We were getting letters from fans saying things like, ‘Don’t ruin my childhood!’ John Lasseter had a story idea in mind for years, and within 30 minutes at that Poet’s Loft retreat, we realized it didn’t work. That was the most frightening and challenging moment of making this film.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were the first to sign on. The entire film has been like a big family reunion, and having the gang together again helped to ground us at the beginning of the filmmaking process.”

“Black Swan”
Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Brian Oliver
ORIGINS: “There was a script written by Andres Heinz set in the Off Broadway theater that was originally set up by Phoenix Pictures, and they brought it to Darren (Aronofsky, the director) and Protozoa,” says Scott Franklin. Aronofsky switched the setting to ballet and spent the next decade developing it.
FUNDING: “We had it set up with Fox Searchlight, but they wanted to wait, so we started preproduction with another company funded up to $1 million. Then the bottom fell out. And we went back to Searchlight and said, ‘If you don’t come in now, it’s not going to get finished.” But they needed a partner, and eventually Cross Creek became involved right when we were on the verge of being shut down.”
HIGH HURDLES: “We had a 42-day schedule that was overly grueling, shooting five to 10 pages every day. There was not one day that we coasted. It was brutal on the dancers, on the actors, on the crew.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “The first person attached was Natalie (Portman). Darren actually met her 10 years ago at a Howard Johnson in Times Square before there was even a script, and she was in. Then the first person we officially brought in was Mila, who was cast over iChat.”

“Winter’s Bone”
Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Anne Rosellini
ORIGINS: “It’s based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell,” says Anne Rosellini. “We got the manuscript as galleys prior to publication, fell in love, optioned it and proceeded to adapt it into script form.”
FUNDING: “Ultimately we funded it through a private equity, but we first went down the road of trying to get a production company onboard. We came very close with one company, but they pulled out inexplicably at the last minute, so we hit the pavement again and found a private equity investor who was willing to do it at half the budget and give us a lot of creative control, so it worked out for the best.”
HIGH HURDLES: “Debra (Granik, the director) and I are from New York, and we’d never been to the Ozarks, which is a very specific location. So the big obstacle was, how do we penetrate this culture and community? Where do we even start? It took us three years of research and making trips and connections to find our locations and the right people and gain their trust.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “The key was finding Jennifer Lawrence, though she was one of the last leads we cast. The rest fell into place quite easily.”

“The Town”
Basil Iwanyk, Graham King
ORIGINS: “It came to me through another director who had the rights to this book ‘Prince of Thieves,’ but we couldn’t agree on what movie to make, so Warners and I gave him time to set it up somewhere else, but he couldn’t. So we mutually parted ways, and that’s when we went to Ben (Affleck).”?
FUNDING: “Warners financed the whole thing and brought in Legendary as partners. That made it very easy.”
HIGH HURDLES: “The biggest obstacle for me was getting this key location, Fenway Park. It’s an iconic ballpark and this film’s about robbing the stadium, so it’s integral to the story. You can’t cheat Fenway, so without it we’d have been in big trouble. But Ben was instrumental in us getting it, being a Boston boy, a Red Sox fan and so on. And that was a very big deal to me, that he got them to let us shoot there.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “Ben was the key. He wrote it, starred in it and directed, and he was adamant about playing Doug. Then he came up with these great names — Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall — not the usual run-of-the-mill names studios approve, but smart names and great actors.”

“Shutter Island”
Bradley J. Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Martin Scorsese
ORIGINS: “The original seed was a conversation I had with James Vanderbilt, who wrote ‘Zodiac’ for me,” Bradley J. Fischer says. “He’d read Dennis Lehane’s novel, and, knowing me well, thought its themes of madness and insufferable anguish spun by an unreliable narrator whose soul and identity had been irreparably shattered would be something I’d find appealing.”
FUNDING: “We built it outside of the studio system, where we could guide the creative process ourselves without having to answer to anyone else. We hired Laeta Kalogridis to write the script, then sent it to Marty and Leo, who both committed to making it their next film. With the script, director, star and budget in place, Paramount committed to make the movie.”
HIGH HURDLES: “From uncooperative weather — sunny skies when we were supposed to be in the middle of a hurricane — to juggling a multitude of locations spread around the state, which would have to be stitched together to constitute this one island and mental institution.”
DOMINO EFFECT: “Martin Scorsese brings the absolute best talent in the business. Every single department head has won at least one Academy Award. That’s the level of talent you get when Martin Scorsese says ‘yes.’?”

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Being the change | Mandeville throws hat in ring | In their own words