Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline.

Deadline’s 3rd annual The Contenders event kicked off this morning at the shimmering new Wallis Annenberg Center For the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, simultaneously launching the 2013 awards season precisely four months before the 86th Academy Awards. The spotlight fell on seven different studios/distributors and 22 films competing for awards consideration, with an overview of the Weinstein Company‘s impressive offerings getting things started in a highlight reel that felt like an Oscar contender in itself. An assortment of TWC writers, producers and directors were on hand to share anecdotes and tidbits with Deadline’s Pete Hammond, including Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler, Lee Daniels’ The Butler producer Pam Williams and writer Danny Strong, August: Osage County director John Wells, and the directors of the acclaimed documentaries 20 Feet From Stardom (Morgan Neville) and Salinger (Shane Salerno). Hammond quipped that TWC was so stocked with doc contenders this year that of the 151 eligible entries, “149 felt like they were from Weinstein.” Wells recalled how Osage County co-star Meryl Streep showed up to the first table read of ther script having memorized it and going off-book. “Everyone was like, ‘Wow’,” he recalled. “It was, ‘OK, game on’.”

Related: PHOTOS: Contenders 2013 Gallery

During a session promoting the Roadside/Lionsgate feature All is Lost starring Robert Redford in what the actor has called the most challenging role of his career, sound editors Richard Hymns and Steve Boeddeker marveled at how the film – with abundant action, a single star and minimal dialogue – was literally a sound editor’s dream. And during the following panel for the Focus Features hopefuls Dallas Buyers Club, The Place Beyond the Pines and We Steal Secrets, the morning theme of patience being a virtue came to the fore. Dallas Buyers Club producer Robbie Brenner calmly discussed how her film’s journey from script to screen spanned some 20 years – and nearly fell apart at the last minute when Canadian financing dried up. Emcee Hammond remarked that the film’s ultimate financiers were in the fertilizer business. While Place Beyond the Pines wasn’t quite a two decade struggle, director Derek Cianfrance shared stories of his challenges and the serendipity that went with landing star Ryan Gosling. “I asked Ryan if there were anything in his life that he wanted to do but had yet to achieve,” Cianfrance related. “He said, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to rob a bank.’ I was like, ‘Hey man, I can make your dreams come true’.”

Oscar Isaac guitarOne of the morning highlights found Oscar Isaac – star of the forthcoming Coen Brothers folk music-themed period feature Inside Llewyn Davis from CBS Films – singing the live tune “Green Rocky Road.” The film’s executive music producer T-Bone Burnett related how he saw the audition tape with Isaac and remarked, “We’ve found our Hitler.” Isaac, for his part, noted to Deadline’s Mike Fleming that he essentially sold his soul to the devil to land the role – a sentiment to which the packed house at the Annenberg could seemingly relate.

Related: Deadline’s Contenders 2013 – Afternoon Panels

During the following Paramount Pictures session, the audience was treated to an exclusive clip from its theatrical Labor Day as well as a brand new trailer for Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street that’s now earmarked for a Christmas Day release. Screenwriter Bob Nelson dropped by to hype his new Alexander Payne-directed film Nebraska, which he noted took a full 10 years of gestation. “I told Anexander, ‘Let’s wait until (co-star) Will Forte is old enough for this role,” Nelson quipped. “What a lot of people don’t know is that he lost 150 pounds for this role.”

Next up was the Fox Searchlight Pictures contenders Enough Said starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini, and the universally acclaimed 12 Years a Slave. Of the latter, its composer Hans Zimmer was moved to observe that he often hears that the relentlessly gritty, realistic film about slavery from director Steve McQueen is extremely difficult to watch. “But what’s wrong with that?” he asked. “It challenges the audience and makes them think.” The final Contenders morning session celebrated Warner Bros. and its awards season candidates Gravity, Her and Prisoners. Hammond was moved to ask Prisoners screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski, “What kind of sick mind comes up with this?” Guzikowski could only respond, “That’s what my wife asks me all the time.” Meanwhile, Jonas Cuaron, co-writer with his father of the blockbuster hit Gravity, noted that were he to ever be stranded in space, he too would want to have George Clooney close by. And in perhaps the most ironic exchange of the morning, Her director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema was asked how he gave the film such a distinctive Los Angeles look. “Well,” he admitted, “the secret is that we shot parts of it in China.”

THE CONTENDERS continues this afternoon with Sony Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, Walt Disney Pictures, Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation.