OSCAR MOGULS: Jeff Robinov Q&A

The Deadline Team of Nikki Finke, Pete Hammond, and Mike Fleming have spent recent days interviewing the studio moguls to gauge their perspective on this very close Oscar race:

Warner Bros
12 Nominations: 8 Inception, 1 The Town, 2 Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One, 1 Hereafter

DEADLINE’s Nikki Finke: Obviously I can’t believe that Chris Nolan was not nominated for Best Director for Inception.
JEFF ROBINOV: Me, neither.

DEADLINE: What was it like at Warner Bros when they announced the nominations? Was it funereal?
ROBINOV: I think we were all disappointed for Chris, more than Chris was for Chris. Chris doesn’t take any of this personally. At least in my experience of him, he’s very sanguine about the whole thing. I just felt very sorry for him because I thought that he deserved it and I know Barry Meyer and Alan Horn and everybody else at the studio felt the same way. Plus, we all had a tremendous amount of pride in the film. You become very protective of it, very parental in a way.

DEADLINE: How do you explain this snub — again?
ROBINOV: He’s never really had, and his movies never really had, the critical support that some of these other films have had. As you go through a lot of the nominations, frankly, it’s just confusing. All of them are good movies and all of them are well directed, but none of them faced the challenges that Chris faced. In some ways it’s similar to what Jim Cameron did with Titanic, and what Jim did with Avatar, they both involved a lot of technological challenges. As for story, Inception is complex and multi-layered. What the actors have to do to keep you in that movie and help you follow that movie, Chris talked a little bit about it last night when he did his acceptance speech at the DGA as one of the nominees. He said that their performances kind of go unnoticed behind the spectacle. It’s really their performances that ground the spectacle and take you through the story. For whatever reason, that’s not translating. I really don’t have an explanation for it. I really don’t understand it.

DEADLINE: This year it seems to me that the Academy didn’t take into account technical achievement as well as story. Many movies that had both were not nominated or considered frontrunners. You could even go back to last year’s Avatar loss.
ROBINOV: At least Jim got a directorial nomination for what he did on Avatar. For whatever reason, the voters are not connecting with the effort it takes to mount this kind of production, and the complexity of the level at which it was executed is not being recognized. I’m not saying the other movies are not deserving of their recognition. But certainly Chris should be in that.

DEADLINE: Part of it might be that Academy members are not seeing these movies in theaters where you get the full incredible experience.
ROBINOV: That may be true. I go to see movies in theaters. I don’t have a screening room. And all the Academy movies that were nominated that were potential contenders, I went to see in the theaters. So I think it’s a much different experience in the theater. I think as an Academy member you have a responsibility to really engage in the process.  Part of engaging in that process and part of evaluating that process is being in a theater, with an audience, watching it play. For people who can’t see it in the theater for whatever reason, I think it’s good that they get to see it however they see it. But the other thing I would say is, these other movies also play smaller on those screens. If you look at something like The King’s Speech or Black Swan, those movies also get smaller in the process. I don’t know that Inception suffers any more in that process than any other film in that respect.

DEADLINE: Explain to voters why they need to give Inception another look.
ROBINOV: I would say that from a studio point of view — and to a large degree they are supported by the studio system —  you have to acknowledge what a risky film this was, given the price and the complexity of it. And we’ve certainly been rewarded commercially for the risk. It’s shocking that people in the industry don’t understand the technical, directorial challenges associated with executing this type of film. To juggle all those pieces in the way that Chris does, I don’t understand how they can overlook that. I like the other movies that are nominated. I have no rap against those movies. I’ve seen them all, and I think they were well-directed, and the performances were all really great. But I think if you ask David Fincher to compare Inception in terms of the complication to The King’s Speech or The Social Network, I think he’d acknowledge that the challenges are much, much greater with an Inception type film than in keeping the audience engaged with a talking-head movie basically like The King’s Speech. True, they don’t have action to fall back on. They don’t have visual effects. So that’s challenging. But Chris has another level of complication in his filmmaking in the same way that James Cameron does, and he certainly deserves to be acknowledged for that. That is the best version of what I can say – I don’t understand it.

DEADLINE: How do you campaign for an Oscar for a movie like this, or any movie?
ROBINOV: I think that there’s a combination of things. With Inception, it came out in July. We didn’t have the benefit of riding that publicity wave that came out for movies in current release. So we had some catch-up to do. It’s possible that we should have started the campaign at a higher level. Not just the campaign itself, because we did start that fairly early. But start it at a higher level with more spent. It also takes a lot of the participants involved, and that’s a timing issue, for them to be out there in front of the movie. Chris is prepping Batman and producing Superman, Leo’s getting ready for Hoover. Everybody is collectively off doing other things. It makes it harder to have a complete campaign.

DEADLINE: And yet here was the most anticipated movie of the summer…
ROBINOV: I think the movie came out early for sure, and I don’t think that helped us. If you are going to be completely honest about it, there have been movies that came out earlier, like Gladiator which I think came out in May, and it won Best Picture. To be really honest, I probably personally overestimated the critical and the Academy support just based on the box office and the response of the media at the time. I took for granted that there would be an understanding, given that the Academy are industry people, of the level of skill that it took to execute the movie to the level that Chris executed it.

DEADLINE: Is it because he’s not yet a member of the club?
ROBINOV: He’s clearly a member of the director’s club, and they are a big part of the people who vote. He’s been very successfully commercial. He’s young and just turned 40. Maybe given the level of success in his body of work, they don’t feel it’s his time. I don’t know.

DEADLINE: I know it took Spielberg forever. I know it took Scorsese forever.
ROBINOV: It doesn’t seem right. It just doesn’t. What Chris did was just a harder needle to thread, and Chris did it. There is an age factor to the Academy, and my understanding is that they skew older. I don’t think Inception plays as well to an older audience as it does to a younger audience. I just don’t think it does. The King’s Speech is very much like The Queen. Aside from the fact that they are English characters, and some English actors, it’s the same scale film. I would say that, and again it doesn’t diminish it as a film, but The Social Network could have been a play. There is no version of Inception that could have been a play. It is pure cinema. It does challenge the audience in a way that I think the other films don’t. It challenges you to use your attention. It challenges you to think. It calls for you to be very present in the movie. The other movies tend to pull you in emotionally, they are very successful in that way, but they don’t demand anything of you.

DEADLINE: What are you going to do during this Phase II to campaign for Inception?
ROBINOV: Obviously, we are going to be as aggressive as possible.

OSCAR MOGULS: Brad Grey Q&A
OSCAR MOGULS: Amy Pascal Q&A
OSCAR MOGULS: Harvey Weinstein Q&A

  1. I couldn’t even finish reading this Q&A, I’m so annoyed I just moved here from New York City and conduct business regularly in Washington D.C. I am shocked and dismayed that this town is far more political than our own nation’s capital.

    Chris Nolan NOT being nominated for best director is total bullshit. His films are commercially and artistically successful. You all sling your balls around here like you’re hip to the ways of America, but the truth is that the Hollywood petri dish is fast becoming ossified. Where’s the new perspective?

    1. That’s funny, I couldn’t finish reading this Q&A either, but not for the reasons you stated. I couldn’t believe how the same point was made again and again ad nauseum by Robonov that Inception was complicated and therefore its director should have been acknowledged. He states “voters are not connecting with the effort it takes to mount this kind of production”.
      I’m supposed to connect with the effort?
      Voters didn’t connect emotionally to the story, and without that connection, the director doesn’t get nominated.

      1. Yes, because a King who needs to give a speech but can’t because of his stutter…man, we can all connect to that!

        1. Indeed, we can, which is the strength of the King’s speech. True, most people don’t relate to monarchs. However, we can all relate to the fear of public speaking. Most of us have probably been called upon to make a speech at one time or another in our lives.

          It doesn’t take much to imagine how amplified that fear would be if one suffered from a speech impediment like stuttering.

          And then imagine, on top of that, that you have an entire nation looking to you for guidance and inspiration at one of the most dire moments in its history.

          That’s the genius of The King’s Speech. It’s constructed so that audience members *can* relate to a king who who needs to give a speech.

          And they did.

    2. HA! I barely was able to get through this interview myself, but after reading the first two,I felt compelled.

      I thought the EXACT same thing about more crappy politics.
      Alas, it is what is.

      With all the money involved…I suppose, it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

  2. why isn’t Nolan nod as best director? it’s a huge action blockbuster out during this summer and no real campaign

    why no nod for Dicaprio? he acts the same character in Shutter Island & Inception ,the movies are out too soon and the other nominees are more interesting

    1. Amen. Two hours of expositional mouthpieces explaining a movie to me.

      And I say that as someone who is a great admirer of Nolan’s previous films (Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Batman–all wonderful movies) and a huge fan of original science fiction.
      Inception is exactly the kind of film I would love to love, but it had a weak story, terrible characters, and an annoying, incessant soundtrack.

      And before all you fanboys chime in that I must be some sort of moron baffled by its complex plot–No, I had no trouble following it. How could you *not* follow it with characters explaining it every step of the way?

      I am actually glad of this film’s box-office success because I believe it will spawn more movies like it (except better plotted and written).

      But I can’t believe it was nominated for best screenplay.

  3. I love Robinov’s tone here. He’s trying very hard not to say ‘Academy members are a bunch of Anglophilic old farts who’d rather see a play than an actual film’. My guess is that one of the reasons that The Social Network plays so well with the Academy is that it allows them to have their aesthetic cake and eat it too; it’s an old-fashioned film about a hip subject.

  4. I’m paraphrasing Mark Kermode on this – Inception was the most “directed” film of 2010. How the heck Nolan wasn’t nominated remains a mystery. I can understand Fincher, Aronofsky or Coen bros being nominated but Russell for The Fighter? It was a good “nuts and bolt” piece of work but felt more like a TV movie.

  5. Robinov is making the same argument as all the “Inception” apologists — it’s so “complicated.” Well, Rubik’s cubes are complicated too, doesn’t mean they make for great filmmaking.

    “Inception” was an empty vessel that missed all of the important emotional cues — we’re supposed to care about DiCaprio’s DESPERATE urge to see his kids? Why? We never even see their faces! We never see them interact with their father! Mal never felt like a real character either, and her epic love with Cobb was never established or argued convincingly. Their neuroses were exposed for all to see, never their love (it takes more than a flash-forward shot of old people holding hands).

    Yes, Nolan made a “complicated” film that checked a lot of boxes, but he completely dropped the ball on the emotional cues, which is what make people truly love a film and get behind it. This was not tragic snub.

    1. “Well, Rubik’s cubes are complicated too, doesn’t mean they make for great filmmaking.”

      Yeah, that made sense.

      1. I think by “Rubik’s cubes” HW pretty clearly meant “solving a Rubik’s cube” or watching/filming someone solving a Rubik’s cube.

        If you couldn’t follow the logic of that fairly straightforward analogy then you most certainly couldn’t follow “Inception.”

    2. Hi HW,
      While I enjoyed “Inception” for an action and original movie, I completely agree with you on its utter lack of emotional resonance. I just saw “Vanilla Sky” this weekend for the second time and realized that was a movie ahead of its time. While its not quite as creative as “Inception” in its story mechanics, it actually makes you care for its characters. I didn’t care about a single character in “Inception.”

    3. Your rational is the same as the idiotic and moronic Academy members who kept Nolan off the Best Director Nominee list.

      You and those Academy member elitists have ZERO credibility or accountability for snubbing Chris Nolans work on Inception.

    4. Nolan haters are so predictable with their weak ass one dimensional arguments.

      Academy voters and the Nolan haters have ZERO credibility or accountability as far as I’m concerned when it comes to Chris Nolan and him being snubbed.

  6. Inception was highly stylized but ultimately hollow. It’s a movie about NOTHING. It’s the film equivalent of a puzzle box. If Nolan was nominated, then the Wachowski brothers and Alex Proyas should also have been nominated for The Matrix and Dark City (from which Nolan blatantly lifted Inception).

    1. Exactly, Neil Blomkomp directed IMHO one of the best films I’ve ever seen and I’m not a sci-fi fan at all and didn’t get nominated and District 9 had more heart in the first 5 minutes than Inception had in the whole film. Nolan will get nominated when he directs something people can connect with.

      The Dark Knight was saved by Heath Ledger dying. Heath delivered an incredible performance that was made more urgent by his untimely death. But it was like he was in a different film from all the other actors. And it was 30 minutes too long.

      Special effects do not a great film make. I would argue an indie filmmaker with 25 days and a ticking clock always has more challenges than a studio director with 100 days. You have to be way more surgical and prepared. David O. Russell over Nolan any day.

    2. I love the matrix but how deeply did it go? How uch attention did it require. How big was the pay-off? Inception deserved to get nominated if not win. You saying that audiences didn’t connect with the film?
      TDK was great because of Heath Ledger’s death. Go look at IMDB’s top 50. Where the hell is The Social Network? 130. Inception? 7th.

      It was the same scenario with The Dark Knight and Slumdog millionaire. What movie will be remembered as a bar-raiser and one of the best of the decade?
      The Beautiful Mind cleaned up at the Oscars when Memento was competing. What is looked back on today as being one of the all tiem greatest.

      As time goes on, Inception will get better and better with repeat viewings. The Shawshank Redemption wasn’t as popular up0on it’s release. Looking back, it feels like a whole different film to its audience now.
      Later on, the audience and critics alike will realize how incredible inception is just like the movies mentioned above do.

  7. The Coens could have directed Black Swan. Russell could have directed The Social Network. Aronofsky could have directed The Fighter. Fincher could have done King’s Speech, Swan, Fighter and True Grit. Hooper? Good job, looking forward to your future work. But none of them could have executed Inception and have it make that much money. It’s okay if Nolan doesn’t get a directing oscar because he’s still Christopher Freakin’ Nolan.

    1. I honestly can’t imagine the Coens doing Black Swan, and yeah all of those directors could have made those films but they would’ve made it in their own unique way. And remember how at one point Arofnofsky was supposed to do The fighter but instead he did The Wrestler?

    2. Not sure I agree with your premise, but I certainly disagree with your conclusion. No other director could have made “Transformers 2″ quite like Michael Bay did either, and that sure earned a ton of money. So Michael Bay deserves an Oscar?

      The fact that the Coens “couldn’t” have made “Inception” is pretty irrelevant. They wouldn’t have wanted to in the first place.

      1. Yeah, because the Coens couldn’t make Inception. Instead, they come up with their same ol schtick of simple minded storytelling and filmmaking.

  8. Nolan has created a film about “dreams” but they look like VIRTUAL REALITY and where the characters had to keep explaining what was happening every five minutes. Since Nolan is so fond of copying other movies, then he should have used Lynch’s Mulholland Drive as a reference.

    1. Spot on! I love it that in the single scene with Ellen Page where we actually get the cool dream-like shit, Cobb is all “But we can’t do that! We have to make it look like normal life!”

      And then we’re give a lame James Bond snowmobile chase instead and a few shootouts that look exactly like the shootouts and snowmobile chases in about thirty other movies..

  9. I wonder if this year they’ll have a major campaign for Deathly Hallows Part 2. It is the last film of the franchise.

  10. I’m shocked that everyone is shocked. “Inception,” like “Memento” before it, was a simple card trick dressed up as a “too-smart-for-you” brain teaser for the numbed minds of the techno-geek/film-freak set. A magician’s trick that, when given a little thought, vaporizes and loses every bit of its dazzle and faux mystery once you get the gimmick.

    Move along, folks, nothing here to see.

  11. Robinov gives some rather telling statements and shows that he’s a mensch by conceding that, perhaps, the Oscar campaign for ‘Inception’ could have been launched earlier and been more impassioned. Big ups for saying that on the record, dude!

    I also totally empathize with his frustration with the fuddy duddies in the Academy who SHOULD have nominated Nolan for Best Director. Their logic is just confounding. That said, a major failing of ‘Inception’ — and Robinov did not address it here — was shortcomings in the script that could have made the stunning visual impact of the film exponentially more resonant. People have discussed this in other threads here before — Nolan’s excessive use of exposition; underwritten characters; emotional cues that didn’t pack the punch they could have. All of this is not to diminish from the overall movie but I think in very much the way Avatar’s script underminded a visual and somewhat indelible cinematic feast, the same also holds true for ‘Inception’ Nolan’s own script prevented him for hitting a home run. He hit a solid double and stretched it to a triple.

    But Robinov, for his candor, comes off here as a pretty cool executive in my book. Thanks again for the great interview, Nikki and the Deadline gang.

  12. Speak for yourself HW. I found Inception to be both visceral AND emotional – I was genuinely moved. I was also moved by 127 Hours, King’s Speech and Of Gods and Men. We don’t all agree on Nolan’s film but I can guarantee that of all of the films in the Best Film category, Inception will be still talked about in 20 years time.

    2010 was a great year nevertheless. Maybe not a golden age of Hollywood but damn close

    1. “We don’t all agree on Nolan’s film but I can guarantee that of all of the films in the Best Film category, Inception will be still talked about in 20 years time.”

      I suspect that’s why the haters are in such a lather over the movie; deep down they know it’ll be remembered far longer than their 2010 favorites.

  13. Go see Avatar again. Another example of suck. Inception was awful filmmaking. Like Green Zone. These film are phony bells and whistles.

  14. Jeff Rabinov is a sleaze in every way. I think the movies WB at are dark, hollow and only of the moment. Just like Jeffrey. Inception was a miracle and I doubt from their upcoming slate we will see the likes of it again at WB. No films of courage, heart, nothing for women are on the horizon except for the Rudin,Daldry film. In a Warners film there is a rarely a scene with two women. If there is they are always talking about a man. Fails the Bechdel test every time.

    1. Warners makes movies for Jeff. And Jeff doesn’t like a lot of people. His world view, his emotional point of view is very limited therefore his films have very little to say.

      Sad that he has so much power to achieve so little. His films may make money. But they have very little to show beyond that in terms of originality and creativity.

    1. I wish “grown ups” in the Academy and the “grown up” biased Nolan HATERS would put aside their biased hate and realize the other nominees for best director couldn’t touch what Nolan did with Inception, if they were given the chance.

      “Haters” is a term used to call someone who has an obvious biased warped opinion.

  15. Wow, there’s a lot of hater here, anyway i’m in the camp believed that christopher nolan deserved that director nod. There’s a shit lots of argument to support that he should have at least be nominated.
    – The fact the film used practical effect in this day and age is so rare — he could have easily made it an abstract dream like cgi film. No, he didn’t, look at the hallway sequence that scene alone will be copied for decades.
    – Sorry i’m agreeing on those who said inception could have not been made without nolan, money wise or vision wise. If you gave that script to any director, it could have turned into a mess. And no one could have persuaded the studio to support a film like inception it was a risk.

    It really sad that a standard film like king’s speech or even the fighter (i think it has a better chance than the social network) wins because it doesn’t offer nothing new to the cinema and i doubt they will be remembered in a couple years. While film like inception is so ahead of hollywood, honestly in this day and age did anyone expect a smart original film to come from hollywood. Inception represents everything that right with hollywood, and will become the standard for blockbuster in the years to come

  16. Nolan certainly does something very well, he is a master technician who knows how to deliver a blockbuster and makes some very visually exciting films.

    All that being said, he has some glaring weaknesses as well; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a fully realized, layered and believable character in ANY of his movies. His characters are there to serve plot and whatever device he’s interested in at the moment. Some of this may be attributable to his shortcoming as a writer, but nonetheless, for a director, this is a pretty glaring shortcoming.

    As others have pointed out, his films leave most people quite cold emotionally.

    Just saying, Nolan will continue to wow and amaze a certain segment of filmgoers and buffs, but until he can create convincing and rich characters and deliver emotionally-moving stories (in the way the other nominated directors routinely do) he will continue to be a technical wizard who delivers “smart” blockbusters…but not a truly great director.

    1. That’s a weak argument, you could say the exact same thing about hooper and Russell film. As both of their films are actor’s film, so the actor’s should get the recognition, not the directors.

  17. If you think actors deserve the recognition for “actor’s films,” you clearly know nothing about the job of the director. The director’s number one job is to get great performances out of the actors. Period. End of story. A film with great acting is a great accomplishment for a director. Everything else is bells and whistles.

    And my point is that Russell and Hooper (and the other nominees) have made films with great and memorable performances of rich and dynamic CHARACTERS. Which are what’s missing from Nolan’s films.

    1. Actually that 1/4 of the director’s job, their main job is the telling a story. I’m saying you can’t diminish Nolan because his film focus on visual aspect and not character driven, that not what every fucking film needs. This is why I hate the academy, they look down upon a certain films because it has to much success or is a blockbuster or is not character’s driven. Some of the great film are not character driven. A film should be analyzed as a film not what it should have.

      1. You are correct that not every film is character-driven and that there is a place and an audience for a film that focuses on “visual aspect.”

        However, on the whole many MORE audience members go to the movies to be emotionally moved, to experience a character’s journey vicariously on a wish fulfillment or empathetic level, etc…

        Directors who excel at making these types of movies and shaping memorable characters and performances tend to be rewarded more at all levels of the process — with audiences, with critics, with voting Academy members — than the directors who don’t. This is not to say that any one type of director is objectively better at their job or more skilled, but it does mean the Nolan devotees should be able recognize which type of director he is and should not be shocked, SHOCKED, when he gets “snubbed” by the Academy.

        1. Sorry when the man gets nominated by everyone, look at every critic group, golden globe, bafta, dga, the a fucking snub, and it first time to happen since baz lurham a decade ago. Nolan just broke a record because he is the first person to have 3 dga and still not have a director’s nom. There is no deny that every other group thought he should get nominated, but the academy, that cruel

  18. The Academy members logic regarding the snub of Nolan is completely WARPED!

    That goes along with Nolan haters and their biased warped logic (if you can call it that) as well!

  19. I think the point that Jeff, and Tom Rothman in his interview, are trying to make is that directing INCEPTION and directing KINGS SPEECH are really two completely different jobs. That doesn’t diminish either film. KINGS is masterfully written and executed. We need to acknowledge the effort that it takes to navigate an INCEPTION-level film.

    Nolan would have to make decisions regarding VFX plates, multiple cameras, pre-viz, gimbals, advanced blocking/mo-cap, while trying to stay faithful to multiple layers of story. At the same time he would be directing a large cast of talent and guiding a large crew with an expensive churn each day. It is a different gig than directing a masterful walk-and-talk. Aronofsky is about to find out. Fincher knows it.

    I think the triumph of KINGS is that it shows the lifting of the human spirit in a time when people need that and those films can’t be found. This should be a time when we discover our modern day Frank Capra but we haven’t.

    That said, I will always vote for an AVATAR or INCEPTION because I appreciate the quality and quantity of work to make them.

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