I enjoy the award-season THR roundtables not only because I know some of the players, but because I don't know some of them. And you always learn something. For example, at the producer's gathering, Eric Fellner of Brit top production firm Working Title actually finances a batch of movies every year, either via distribution partner Universal or foreign sales; he's running a pretty big operation, so he's coming from a very different place on such films as "Anna Karenina" and "Les Miserables" than the other producers in this group, who are working to realize the vision of their filmmakers. (Video below.)
The best tidbits:
Fellner admits ruefully in the interview that Working Title not only crunches numbers through various formulas to see if producing a movie on a given budget makes sense, but that there have been times after the fact that it's been all-too clear that a movie could have been far more successful if it had been made for less. "Les Miserables" was green-lit (at a reasonable $61 million), with Tom Hooper insisting that the actors would sing live–but nobody knew until they saw the film if it would work.
Smoke House's Grant Heslov, who writes and produces with partner George Clooney, and in this case developing and producing Ben Affleck's "Argo," admitted that if Clooney had directed the movie it would have been less tightly wound and thrilling. Smoke House pushed against the idea that doing the Embassy uprising for the opening was unaffiordable expensive. Even the producers didn't realize how crucial that scene would become.
Philippa Boyens, writer/producer of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" with Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, says they all wanted to see what Guillermo del Toro's version of "The Hobbit" would have been. When after 18 months of MGM-bankruptcy-induced limbo and no green light Del Toro left the movie, Jackson stepped up to get it made. It would have been very different she said. Everyone was working toward his vision. And then they worked toward Jackson's. It's a pity Del Toro left. A lot of people would have liked to see that movie.
Stacey Sher, who works with Quentin Tarantino, was ready to shoot "Django Unchained" in a Mammoth, California ski resort location, but no snow was falling for the first time in 100 years. After several days of anxiously tracking weather reports, the production had to pick up and move the set to another state.
Joanne Sellars had to pull the plug on "The Master" (which Universal passed on initially) with five financeers lined up including Bill Pohlad ("The Tree of Life") and Warner Bros., because Paul Thomas Anderson hadn't gotten the script where he wanted it before he had to start a play in Australia. (By then, usual suspects Miramax, Warner Independent and Paramount Vantage were all gone.) Then she met Megan Ellison, who said she wanted to finance "The Master" herself. Much of the fine-tuning in the editing room was focused on what worked best in the movie: the relationship between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. You don't say no to a director like PTA, Sellars said. You offer him several problem-solving options.
Sellars worst experience on a movie was in 1993, when River Phoenix died three weeks shy of finishing "Dark Bood." The movie, 19 years later, has been reassembled with voiceover narration by director George Sluizer and screened at the Netherlands Film Festival (here's The Guardian review). Sellars wanted nothing to do with the reconstruction because the family wasn't behind it. "It was a three-hander," she said, with Phoenix, Jonathan Pryce, and Judy Davis. "Like a stage play."