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2011 SBIFF Producers' Panel: Movers and Shakers

with SBIFF

Video: The Pixar creative process

Top producers discuss the struggle to get a picture funded, ratings battles, making a dramatic film based on a real life event, and more.
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2011 SBIFF Producers' Panel: Movers and Shakers
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As a presenting sponsor of the 26th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, puts you in the front row of four fascinating panel discussions with some of Hollywood's top filmmakers, including a number of Golden Globe, Emmy, Grammy, and Academy Award winners and nominees.

Moderated by Patrick Goldstein from the Los Angeles Times, these six producers cover many topics not often discussed in the entertainment press. The struggle to get a picture funded, ratings battles with Motion Picture Association of America, where the lines are drawn making a dramatic film based on a real life event, and working with a difficult director. They offer amazing stories of perseverance and triumph.

This panel includes Darla K. Anderson (Toy Story 3), Iain Canning (The King’s Speech), Alix Madigan (Winter’s Bone), Todd Lieberman (The Fighter), Mike Deluca (The Social Network), and Jamie Patricof (Blue Valentine).


The Pixar creative process

(audience chatter) Announcer: Welcome to the Movers and Shakers panel, the producer's panel. Let's start right away. Please welcome Jamie Patricof, Blue Valentine; (applause) Alix Madigan, Winter's Bone; (applause) Todd Lieberman, The Fighter; (applause) Mike De Luca, The Social Network; (applause) Iain Canning, The King Speech; (applause) and Darla K. Anderson, Toy Story 3. (applause) And please welcome our moderator, Patrick Goldstein, a columnist with the Los Angeles Times, The Big Picture.

Patrick Goldstein: Thank you. (applause) Hey, thank you everybody for coming out. We appreciate it. I am sorry; I am a last-minute replacement. We were going to have Charlie Sheen hosting the panel. Mike De Luca: Oh, I'm leavin'. Todd Lieberman: Oh, that's an easy joke. Patrick: He was unavailable, so I am going to do my best. I have done my homework. We have an incredibly diverse assortment of films represented by our producers today, but I thought I would start with a few questions for the one producer who is in the Guinness Book of Records.

I know she is going to be totally embarrassed, but that's my job is to pretty much embarrass everybody up here. Yes, they actually have a category for the highest box office gross per film, and Darla has produced four of the great Pixar movies, starting with A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., Cars, and Toy Story 3. (applause) Mike: Impressive. Todd: Yes, it is.

But what interests me is that of all of the people on the panel today, you are the person who actually works full time at a studio. Darla K. Anderson: I am glad you finished that sentence. Patrick: It's a studio that, as we know, has never made a bad movie, and I think I am certainly curious about if you could explain a little bit, in the big picture, of how does Pixar manage to make hugely commercial movies without sacrificing any quality? What's the process that goes into that? Darla: We have been likened to old studio ways, in that most of us are employees.

We have been there--I have been there 18 years. And all of the other principals are still there. Randy Stanton and John Lasseter and Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich, all of us have been there almost 20 years, since the very beginning. So, I think it was, first of all, this fortunate accident that we were all in this right place at the right time with the right kind of passion. And by the way, when we all showed up at Pixar back then, nobody understood what computer animation was.

None of us were making any money at all. We were very extraordinarily poor, and so it was interesting that we were all drawn to the same thing, much like any of indie folks are. It was a very under-the-radar kind of place to be, and everybody told me not to go to San Francisco if I wanted to make or be successful in movies in any way, shape, or form. So at any rate, so all these people that were attracted to the passion of storytelling, the passion of this interesting new, pioneering technology, are still there.

So it's a very collaborative place, but I think of a lot of that collaboration is born out of this DNA of folks that were drawn to it of their own volition, excited about the same kind of the things. And so when we are working on all of our films and we show our films to each other, there is kind of a healthy competition, where we certainly are very self-competitive; we all want to make the best movie we can. But everybody helps each other, and so it's an extraordinarily rare place to be, I think, in that there is that much longevity with the same kind of creatives who can speak, now, shorthand to each other.

It's not perfect. I mean, like any family, we are dysfunctional in many ways, trust me, but we all are rooting for each other, like most families, and we help each other, so that's the long answer. Patrick: So I understood that you brought in your key returning cast members especially early in the process in Toy Story 3, to see the early story reels. Why do you bring them in early, and how did that help them, or help you? Darla: Well, typically, you know, there is this illusion I think, because at the end of the day when we have a successful film, people are impressed by that.

But the making of our film, like any creative endeavor, is a big, giant mess. And really, every single film that we have made, just is--it just isn't really good until the last minute. It really isn't. And so there is a lot of terror involved. So we don't usually tell the actors all of the mess of it. We bring them in. We have them record. They see a ton of rewrites. But typically, we don't share our big chaotic mess with them because it would be terrifying to them just to think that they were in such a big mess.

So anyway, so you know, they really are. You think that after we do one film, the next one you think "Okay, now I know what I am doing," but the creative process just brings you to your knees, and it just does. It's just the way it is. You wrestle with it. You try to tell the best story, and that's the cool thing about a making a movie is that no matter what, no matter how many times you have done it, no matter if you're bringing back the same cast, it brings you to your knees. It just does. But in this case, in Toy Story 3, we felt like we had known them for many years. We thought maybe we could trust them to be part of our process.

And we had a story that was kind of hanging together a little bit better after the second year, so we showed them the reels. We brought them and we showed them the reels because we thought it might give them a better context, because they come in every so few months. We thought that would might help their process, which it turned out that it did, but that was a gamble. Patrick: And the other thing I think of with the Toy Story films is Randy Newman and his great work on the score. What's the collaborative process like with the composer, especially Randy Newman who's obviously done a lot of work with Pixar over the years? Darla: Right, well, you know it's very interesting.

Again, you kill yourself on these films. You work on them for many years, and the one thing that I would say again, computer animation it a little bit different than live-action processes. We can ultimately control what we are doing more. We don't have weather, and if we didn't get the right performance, we can call the actor back in, and we can help craft some of the performances. Even though the actors very much imbue the life and soul to these characters, we have the luxury of doing a few more retakes, I think. And with Randy, it's different. We have zero control at all, and that always shocks us every single time, as with any composer.

We try to--we bring them in very early. We show them the rough cut. We tell them what the themes should be or what we think that they should be, and then he goes off and writes it, and then you show up when there is a 110-piece orchestra sitting there and you hope that it's--because the music completes the emotional storytelling and through lines, so you just hope and pray. And as producers, you stand there looking at 110 musicians going, "Okay, I hope this really works because this is an inordinate expense and a lot of pressure," but it worked out.

Patrick: Iain, let me take things over to you for a minute. I think we knew that sooner or later there would be Toy Story 3, but I had the pleasure of interviewing David Seidler, the screenwriter of The King's Speech, a while ago. It was not always clear that there would be a King's Speech, and one of the great sort of origin, story about the movie is that David Siedler had, through a third party, had gone to the Queen Mother, the widow of King George, and asked permission, essentially, to tell this story. And she had, in essence, said, "I would prefer you would wait till after my death," and then she lived to be 101.

So he really had to wait. And he actually began this project, as I remember him Patrick: telling me, this is, basically, as a stage play. Iain Canning: That's right. Patrick: So, tell me a little bit about when you came into the process, and how, I think, from hearing David tell the story, he wasn't sure it would ever become a movie. Iain: That's right. I mean, I've got to thank the Queen Mother for living to 101; otherwise, I wouldn't have got to produce it. (laughter) But it was very unclear.

It's such a good thing for David, in a sense, that he waited. But then two generations ago, if you would make a film about the current monarch's father, then you could be beheaded. So we had to be quite careful. I was brought the stage play by Gareth Unwin, my fellow producer, who is over there. I can wave. And it was brought to us because we-- the company that I set up with an Australian partner, Emile Sherman, See-Saw, is a UK and Australian company.

So we were brought it because, from a financing point of view, it could be a co-production, and then also because maybe there is something in the Australian-British dynamic that sums our friendship as producers as much as the film itself. So I mean, David had, I think, as originally, he always wanted to do it as a film, but he sort of had his own block in the way of turning it into a screenplay straight off and ended up writing it as a play.

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