Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video Women as Collaborators, part of 2012 SBIFF Women's Panel: Women in the Biz.
Madelyn Hammond: So Melissa, I want to talk though a little bit more about the producing in general and about been collaborative, but having the voice so that you can get what you need, if it's additional money that you need for a scene or if it's something that you feel is important to make the film successful. How important is it to find that voice, and is that something that came naturally to you or that you had to develop? Melissa Cobb: For sure that was something I had to develop when I came to Hollywood. I was really, really the most shy person you ever met as a child. And I really, in order to get what I wanted to have happen on the films, I really had to work very hard to have a voice in the room. And I think part of it, now that I'm responsible for a giant movie with hundreds of people on a crew, my strength to do that really comes from feeling responsible for those people.
You know, knowing that each individual artist may have worked for two or three years, and if we need something to make the movie better or we want something to kind of achieve the director's vision, I'm fighting for them. I'm probably still not as good as fighting for myself. But fighting for other people, and I think that for sure is a quality that you need to have. Madelyn Hammond: And I think that probably in terms of fighting for things, you probably had to do a lot of that too, Leslie, when Beginners was being made. Was it an easy type of thing? Or I imagine if you were pitching this, it was probably not the easiest thing to get off the ground.
Leslie R. Urdang: Well, I'm very fortunate right now. I've been an independent producer my whole life, but at the moment, I have a financing partner who is--we can invest equity up to a certain amount of money in our own films. Beginners was one where I knew describing it was not going to bring a great deal of equity investment. It's about a lost young man looking for love and a 75-year-old man who comes out of the closet and then dies.
So it was not a-- Madelyn Hammond: Write a big fat check on that one. (laughter) Leslie R. Urdang: But I read the script, and I said, "I have to make this movie." And I just loved it, and I cried. And I had recently lost my mom, and so it really touched me. So I persuaded my financing partner to finance the whole shebang on this one, because I knew if we did it for a certain number, we were not going to be too terribly exposed with its success or failure, and it ended up being a--we got lucky. It was a good bet.
Madelyn Hammond: And how you do feel with all the great accolades that Christopher Plummer is getting? Madelyn Hammond: That's got to make you feel beyond-- Leslie R. Urdang: It's so great. I adore him. He was a pleasure on the set, filled with stories, filled with--he is a gentle- man, he's funny, he's smart. He came to set eagerly every day, and I kept saying, "Oh my God, it's Captain von Trapp," you know. I wanted him to be everything when I was a little girl, and he is--which he hates The Sound of Music. He'll be the first to tell you that he loathed doing that movie. You're not even supposed to bring it up on the set.
Julia Louis-Drefus: Did you ever ask him to sing edelweiss? (laughter) Leslie R. Urdang: Oh. No, I should have, but he's-- because the first thing he will tell you is don't even bring up the name on the set, The Sound of Music. But he is really enjoying this, and it's a great, great pleasure to see him being rewarded for this movie, and I think the body of his work. Madelyn Hammond: Yeah. It's so great this year, too, with Max von Sydow who is in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and then Christopher Plummer. It seems like this is just their time, and age doesn't seem to be a factor. It's about experience, you know? It's great, got to make you feel really great.
So Denis, I want to ask you little bit about Pixar, because to me that sounds like one of the most amazing places to work, but a strong corporate culture. Denise Ream: That's interesting. I actually in some ways feel there was a stronger corporate culture ironically at Lucasfilm, which is interesting because it's a privately owned company. Pixar is about trying to really make great movies, and that is really nice to have everyone focusing on that.
So I have to say, I was--I mean it's always really hard when you're--I have experienced of not working freelance. I worked consistently as a staff person for many years. So when you are going from one place to the other, you really need to take the time to get to know the people around you and the culture. And it was a very welcoming place, and it doesn't feel overly corporate, I am very happy to report. Madelyn Hammond: Was it hard when you made the transition from ILM to there after being at ILM for so many years? Denise Ream: Yeah, yes it was.
You know, I again, I am an observer. I probably take longer to sort of get the lay of the land than most people, so I took my time and I was very careful to not go in there and say, "Well, at ILM we did dot dot dot," which is super irritating. So it took me a while, but again, everyone was very generous with their knowledge and sort of how things are done there.
That's not to say that I didn't sort of question the process, which I actually do think is important to filmmaking. But they were very kind and generous and gave me a lot of slack. Madelyn Hammond: Good, that's good. And that's what you need to get your--to get into it. Madelyn Hammond: So Julia, I've got to ask you about Picture Paris. Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Yeah. Madelyn Hammond: What kind of brought you to it? What inspired you? Anything to do you with your little French ancestry going on there? What was it? Julia Louis-Drefus: Yeah, to a certain extent. My husband, last year our oldest son went off to college, which was a big transition for us as a family, and it was sort of the launching-off point for my husband who wrote the film and directed it.
It's about a woman whose youngest son in this case, goes off to college, and she becomes compulsively obsessed with going to Paris the day after he leaves, and that's what she focuses on. And so that's the film, except things that you wouldn't think happen happen. I mean, big things happen that are shocking, I hope. And so that's how it began, and then all of a sudden Brad wrote this, and I thought, "Oh God, we should do this.
But we know what this movie is. We have a very strong creative idea for the whole picture. And let's just make it." And we'd never made a film independently before. Brad has worked in films before, as have I, but always through studios and so on. So the idea of doing this independently was hard, but I have to say it's thrilling. And we did it for a dime and with a very tiny crew, and we shot it in LA and in Paris. And it was an exhilarating experience, I have to say.
I mean it was hard work for sure, but we called in a lot of favors. It certainly hearkened back to our theater days in Chicago, in terms of the, you know, who does what well? Ask them to do it, you know. Who has a coat we can use? Borrow his coat. That's what the experience is like. But it was a thrill. Madelyn Hammond: But isn't that cool? It's almost like camp. It's like you can't fail because it's nothing--it just works. You just call in favors, and it's like the family and everyone is pulling together. Julia Louis-Drefus: Yeah, and it's nice to have your vision kept intact from an artistic point of view, and that certainly did happen with this.
So we sort of tested the waters. It's a short film, and it premieres tonight at the Metro if anyone's interested. And but it's a long short. It's twenty-nine minutes, as a matter of fact. Madelyn Hammond: Are you hoping maybe this could develop into something else if it works out? Julia Louis-Drefus: Well, we are working on another project that we also want to make independently, but really this was, from a creative point of view, it was just to test the waters. Can we do this? Does this feel manageable to us? And it certainly did. It's incredible! Julia Louis-Drefus: That's great. Madelyn Hammond: Absolutely incredible! Madelyn Hammond: Can we do this and not fight and still stay together? And everything worked out there.
I know, sometimes when I hear about couples working together, I think it's so amazing, in terms of how they do that and do it well and share that vision and everybody has their own thing, so. Julia Louis-Drefus: Yeah, except I didn't really mean as a couple. I meant really as can we do this? Can we make this film the way we want it made? Does that make sense? Julia Louis-Drefus: And so, and keep the integrity, make it seem authentic. Madelyn Hammond: Integrity. And that was, I didn't know. We didn't have anybody telling us what to do. We just followed out instincts. It was phenomenal.
Madelyn Hammond: That's so great. That's exciting! Julia Louis-Drefus: Yeah it was exciting.
Moderated by Madelyn Hammond from Madelyn Hammond & Associates, the Creative Forces: Women in the Business panel features five talented producers whose films have been nominated for multiple awards—from drama and comedy to animation and independent short film. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Picture Paris) talks about her short film written by husband/writer Brad Hall. A multi-award winning actress, Louis-Dreyfus describes her journey to the other side of the camera as producer. Dede Gardner (Tree of Life) tells us why Fox Searchlight Pictures chose not to include images of star Brad Pitt while promoting the film. Melissa Cobb (Kung Fu Panda 2) talks to the organic process of producing an animated feature that allows an ongoing evolution of the story during production. Denise Ream (Cars 2) also shares her journey in feature animation though the creative juggernaut that is Pixar Animation. And Leslie Urdang (Beginners) talks about the experiences of working with legendary actor Christopher Plummer, who was presented with the Modern Master Award at this year's festival.
These powerful forces in feature filmmaking offer an inside look at why women are no longer excluded from any role in production they choose. All it takes is desire and a lot of hard work.