Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video An ongoing relationship with the director, part of 2012 SBIFF Producers' Panel: Movers & Shakers.
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Patrick Goldstein: Mike has a really interesting background. Mike used to run a studio. He ran New Line Cinema, in what I would say were its glory days. And so I am kind of curious of your perspective having watched a movie being made when it was a Paul Thomas Anderson movie or Farrelly Brothers movie, but now how is it different for you as a producer on set? Mike De Luca: I was way too lenient with directors when I was an executive. I got criticized a lot about my old boss for-- with Paul, I went into the patron-of-the- arts mode, which is anathema for someone at a publicly traded studio. But as a producer, I still feel like my job is to--I mean as a producer of studio movies, I mean when I do movies for Columbia or a big studio, I do feel a responsibility to the studio. I know what those meetings are like, about how they arrive at those budgets and what home video looks like now and where-- what those--they call them PNLs, what these PNLs look like.
So you walk this line to try to support the vision of the filmmaker and get the movie done efficiently but also with some artistry and preserving why everybody is doing it in first place, but also protect the investment of the studio, which just keeps them off your back anyway. So I always, I try to just come with the honest information to the director these days, as a producer. Here is how far we can go, and here is where you see me. Here is how far you can go and then you see them. Let's keep it me and then we will all be happier, and you just kind of come with relentless honesty about that.
I have been lucky as a producer--I haven't worked with a lot of (bleep). New Line, there were few that cured me of being the patron of the arts. Tony K. Patrick Goldstein: Tony K. And also the other thing, that some people here have had kind of repeat experiences. So they have a--what they call in Hollywood, a relationship with the filmmaker, Graham. Graham started working with Scorsese on Gangs of New York, and produced the Aviator, The Departed, and now Hugo.
But how does all that--does that shared experience actually help, when there are problems to be solved? Graham King: No. No it does. Of course it does. I mean you build a relationship, and it's about producer and director knowing each other's boundaries and having the chemistry. And some directors, there are producers, and they get involved in all aspects of the set. Marty is one of the directors who doesn't. He comes out of his trailer and he goes behind the monitor.
So producing is a lot more involved with his films than it is with some other film- makers, and so you are talking to the head of each department every day. And especially on Hugo, again, every day we would meet and try and figure out how we are going to get through the day and what we are going to do. So, but the relationship, I remember on The Aviators, at the first couple of days of shooting and I am sitting next to Scorsese and he does a shot, and he says, "What do you think kid? What do you think of the shot?" I was like, yeah, right, I'm going to tell Martin Scorsese about what we just shot.
But he actually really does love collaboration and opinions and ideas, and so now I know that. We talk all the time, and I always say that this man singlehandedly made my career and taught me so much about filmmaking. So he is so into detail in his life, in his movies, and everything he does. And again, as a producer, if you know the director and know the DNA of what makes him up, then you try and balance that.
I know that he loves to talk. We all know he loves to talk, right? So on this movie, we would have a lot of directors and actors and people come to the set to visit because they had never seen anything. So Peter Jackson would show up and it's like him and Marty get together by the monitor and everyone is waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting, because they are talking. And then it went on like that. So then I kind of quickly went, okay, no more visitors to the set. I don't care who it is. No one is going to visit. They can visit him weekends or at night, but they are not doing it on set.
Because with Scorsese, just sort of says, "So how is it going," and there's forty-five minutes gone. So it's like little tricks like that that you learn by having a relationship and knowing who it is. Patrick Goldstein: Jim, you actually worked with Alexander on Election, correct? So you must go way back. Again how did that, did that pay off? Jim Burke: It does. I mean, I have known him for a long time, and we have a company together, a production company, and we share a same love for certain sort of film.
And yeah, so like Graham was saying, there is shorthand, and you know when to support him and when to leave him alone. And he does ask you for your opinion, he asks certain people for opinions, and he wants to hear it. And at a certain point you feel safe in giving it to him, and regardless of his response. Patrick Goldstein: And what about when you have to deliver bad news? Jim Burke: I do it and he know, and I just--he knows my, what I do, and he knows that I don't like giving him bad news, but that I have to do it for all of our good.
And he, as they say, he takes it like a man. But it doesn't happen that often, I have to say. I mean, in terms of--the bad- news stuff usually I think what you are referring to is about money and things like that. That kind of bad news doesn't--because we don't ask for a lot in today's climate, and so even though I think twenty million bucks is lot of money to make a money, the people at studios think of that's a cheapy, and it is.
And so when we sort of do some business at the box office, I have gotten so many hugs and people wrestling my hair up and things like that because it's profitable. They love us. Patrick Goldstein: Letty, I guess you have the longest relationship here, of anyone on this podium, with Woody. So being brother and sister is that a plus? Letty Aronson: Well it's a plus because I speak to him at least twice every single day, normally, even when we are not working.
So I am like part of the whole fabric of the making of the movie. But I do think the producing relationship, the more you know the person gets better. Things that worried me at the beginning, like Jim was saying about all the planning, ours doesn't have all that planning. For example, Woody does not go to the tech scouts. He does not pick the shot beforehand. He shows up that morning-- we know where we are going to shoot obviously--and then we will say, "Okay, it will be this direction. We will do this, and we will do-- Then there is few hours break to light it.
At the beginning that made me nervous because it takes a long time to light and if he comes in--we can't light everything. We don't have the money for it. So there is always a delay. But after the first couple of films, I knew that it would work. It's just the way he has to work. He is not sure how he will feel when he gets there that day. Or he doesn't like to shoot in sun. If there's sun, we have to work on the shady side of the street or we have to put up all the silks and that takes time. But I know that so when it used to worry me, it doesn't worry me anymore because he knows there is a schedule and we have to keep to it. And if he looks at the day's work and he says, "I don't know if I am going to get all of this today," that's okay, because we have built in some other time. Other things if we are in one location for several days, we pick up time.
So after the first couple of films, you know what to be nervous about and what not to. Patrick Goldstein: I keep a little log of like all the quirks and eccentricities of filmmakers. I have never had, "does not like to work in sun." That's a new one. Letty Aronson: Oh, that's a big on, that's a big one. Patrick Goldstein: But is there--the producer is often cast as the heavy, because you are ultimately the adult in the room, in a wonderful fantasy world that is a movie set.
Is there an art to delivering difficult, bad news, not just to the filmmaker but to someone who is running one of the-- if you have someone that's not working out in one of the departments, based on-- has your experience doing this over and over, has that helped you figure out the art of diplomacy? Mike De Luca: I think people are always about honesty, so I find when you do have to deliver bad news, if you treat it like ripping a bandage off, not brutal like, "You suck, this sucks because of you, go away," or "Can you speed up, you moron? You are going too slow." It's never pejorative; it's just kind of you come with the honesty, and you just kind of deal, jump in. I hate delivering bad news. I like to be liked too much, so I find that I have to jump right into the deep end of the pool and come with it quick, because it's easier that way for me.
Moderated by Patrick Goldstein (Los Angeles Times columnist for "The Big Picture"), the festival lit up the marquee with a panel of Oscar®-nominated producers you'll certainly see on the red carpet on February 26, 2012. These professionals cover a wide range of films, from huge-budget effects movies to smaller, ensemble-casted dramas. Graham King (Hugo), who marks his fourth film with director Martin Scorsese, tells how they worked together to shoot their first 3D film—and their first with kids and animals. Mike De Luca (Moneyball) needed to develop a working relationship with Major League Baseball, who had final cut on his film. Bill Pohlad (The Tree of Life) talks about the 10 years it took to green light his film and the obstacles along the way. Jim Burke (The Descendants) worked with director Alexander Payne to put every dollar on the screen while shooting in Hawaii, known to be an expensive location. Letty Aronson (Midnight in Paris) shares the unique working relationship she has with director (and brother) Woody Allen.
Despite the impressive resumes of all of these producers, getting every one of these feature films to the screen presented new challenges.