2011 SBIFF Producers' Panel: Movers and Shakers

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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, lynda.com 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).

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The Pixar creative process

- Welcome to the Movers and Shakers panel, the producer's panel. Let's start right away. Please welcome Jamie Patricof, Blue Valentine. Alix Madigan, Winter's Bone. Todd Lieberman, The Fighter. Mike De Luca, The Social Network.

Iain Canning, The King's Speech, and Darla K. Anderson, Toy Story Three. Please welcome our moderator, Patrick Goldstein, columnist with the Los Angeles Times, the Big Picture. - Hey, thank you, everybody, for coming out. We appreciate it. I'm sorry, I'm a last-minute replacement.

We were going to have Charlie Sheen hosting the panel. - I'm leaving. - He was unavailable, so I'm going to do my best. I've done my homework. You know, we have incredibly diverse assortment of films represented by our producers today. I thought I would start with a few questions for the one producer who's in the Guinness Book of Records.

I know she's 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 Bug's Life, Monster's Inc., Cars, and Toy Story Three. - Pretty impressive. - Yes, it is.

- But, what interests me is that of all the people on the panel today, you're the person who actually works full time at a studio. - I'm glad he finished that sentence. - It's a studio that, as we know, has never made a bad movie, and I think I'm certainly curious about if you could explain a little bit 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? - Well, we've been likened to old studio ways in that most of us are employees. I've been there eighteen years, and all of the other principals are still there. Amanda Stanton and John Lasseter and Pete Doctor and Lee Unkrich. All of us have been there almost twenty 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.

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 the indie folks are. It was very under-the-radar kind of place to be. Everybody told me not to go to San Francisco if I wanted to make or be successful movies in any way, shape, or form.

At any rate, all these people 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 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 kinds of things. So now, when we're working on all of our films, and we show our films to each other, there's 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. So, it's a extraordinarily rare place to be, I think, and that there's 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're dysfunctional in many ways, trust me, but we all are rooting for each other, like most families, and we help each other.

That's the long answer. - I understood that you brought in your key returning cast members, especially early in the process in Toy Story Three to see the early story reels. Why'd you bring them in early and how did that help them or help you? - Typically, Pixar ... There's 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've made just is ...

It just isn't really good until the last minute, it really isn't, and so there's 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 re-writes, but typically, we don't share our big, chaotic mess with them because it'd be terrifying to them to think that they were in such a big mess. Anyway, they really are. You think that after we do one film, the next one you think, "Okay, now I know what I'm doing," but the creative process just brings you to your knees.

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 making a movie is that no matter what, no matter how many times you've done it, no matter if you bring back the same cast, it brings you to your knees, it just does. But, in this case, in Toy Story Three, we felt like we had known them for many years. We thought maybe we could trust them to be a 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, and we thought that that might would help their process, which it turned out that it did, but that was a good gamble.

- 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. - Right, well, you know, it's very interesting. Again, you kill yourself on these films. You work on it for many years, and the one thing that I'd say, again, computer animation has a little bit different than live action processes, we can ultimately control what we're 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 actor's very much imbue the life and soul into these characters.

We have the luxury of doing a few more retakes, I think. With Randy, it's different. We have zero control at all, and that always shocks us every single time. 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. Then he goes off and writes it, and you show up, and there's a hundred and ten piece orchestra sitting there, and you hope that it's ...

The music completes the emotional storytelling and through-line, so you just hope and pray. And as producers, standing there looking at a hundred and ten musicians, going, "Okay, I hope this really works because "this is an inordinate expense and a lot of pressure," but it worked out. - Mm-hmm. Ian, let me take things over to you for a minute. I think we knew sooner or later there would be a Toy Story Three, but I had the pleasure of interviewing David Seidler, the screenwriter of The King's Speech a while ago, and it was not always clear that there would be a King's Speech.

One of the great sort of origin story about the movie is that David Seidler had, through a third party, had gone to the Queen Mother, the widow of King George, and asked permission, essentially, to tell this story. She had, in essence, said, "I would prefer "you would wait until after my death," and then she lived to be a hundred and one. So, he really had to wait.

He actually began this project, as I remember him telling me, basically as a stage play. 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. - No, that's right. I've got to thank the Queen Mother for living to a hundred and one. Otherwise, I wouldn't have got to produce it. It was very unclear, and it's such a good thing for David in a sense that he waited.

But then, two generations ago, if you'd make a film about the current monarch's father, then you could be beheaded, so we had to be quite careful. No, I was brought the stage play by Gareth Denman. We've got a producer who's over there, wave. It was brought to us because we, a company that I set up with an Australian partner, Emile Sherman, is seesaw, it's a UK and Australian company, so we were brought it because, from a financing point of view, it could be a co-production.

Then also because maybe there is something in the Australian-British dynamic that sums up our friendship as producers as much as the film itself. So, David had it 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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