Deadline is live at the The Contenders 2014 at the DGA Theater on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. A number of studios and distributors today are showcasing their upcoming films for this year’s awards season with talent, directors and creatives in tow. Click through to read our live blog.
We are here live at Deadline’s Contenders 2014 at the DGA Theater on Sunset. Pete Hammond is up speaking with the creatives from Weinstein Co.’s awards slate: St. Vincent, Begin Again, Big Eyes, The Imitation Game and more.
Ted Melfi, director of St. Vincent says “The job of finding Bill Murray is once you find Bill Murray, the job goes downhill.”
Melfi on discovering Jaeden Lieberher, the kid in St Vincent: “We sifted through 1,600 kids to find Jaden who can go toe-to-toe with Bill Murray. We found him in a Superbowl car commercial where he was being bullied. He was from Philly. He came in, auditioned for us and killed it.”
Melfi says, “When I brought Jaden to set, Bill just shrugged.”
Melfi says, “Bill told me, ‘I don’t want to know the kid until I know the kid.’ After he did a scene with him Bill told me, ‘The Kid is really good. He might be better than me.'”
Tim Burton’s Big Eyes looks great: Amy Adams faces off with Christoph Waltz.
Dominic Patten speaking with Bonnie Arnold, producer of DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2. Arnold on Jeffrey Katzenberg, “He says if you’re not coming in on a Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday (to work).” Arnold informed Katzenberg about the book during a weekend. She says this is a first that an animated sequel actually ages up its characters, five years later.
Dean DeBlois, director of How To Train Your Dragon 2 says, “People ask me ‘Why
would you kill off the father in the film and release it on Father’s Day? When I was 19 my
father passed away, my life has been culmination of lessons of how to be a man. This film is a tribute to parents’ heroism.”
Below, an art concept from How to Train Your Dragon 2.
Coming up: Focus Features to show off Boxtrolls, Theory of Everything, Kill the Messenger.
Kill The Messenger is a story about journalism.
Scott Stuber, producer of Kill The Messenger:“This was one of the first projects I became interested in as a producer (after leaving Universal). I remember Peter Landesman, the screenwriter, pitching me the screenplay for an hour an d half when I was on the set producing The Kingdom in Abu Dhabi. That was 2006 and that’s the life of a producer.”
The story of Kill The Messenger took place an hour and half from where star Jeremy Renner lived. Renner plays investigative reporter Gary Webb. Budget was $10.4 million.
Plot of Kill the Messenger: A reporter becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign that drives him to the point of suicide after he exposes the CIA’s role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California. Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb.
Jeremy Renner on prepping for the role of San Jose reporter Gary Webb: “I didn’t want to dredge up a lot of questions about their dead father (Webb). I avoided the family. I was given videos. ”
Scott Stuber on Kill The Messenger, “This film says something about going against a higher power, one that has money and power to squash the truth. While this story is from 20 years ago, it’s more releavant now. The U.S. was selling drugs in our cities to fund a war.”
Scott Stuber: “Reporters don’t verify (information) anymore. What’s first is what matters now, rather than what is right.”
For Theory of Everything screenwriter and producer Anthony McCarten, he has no regrets that the film took 10 years to make vs. 2 with other talent. It was worth waiting for director James Marsh and star Eddie Redmayne. It took 8 years to secure rights to Jane Hawking’s biography which the film is based on.
Theory of Everything producer Lisa Bruce, “Most people thought Stephen Hawking was American, that he was crippled with the disease his entire life.”
Anthony McCarten, screenwriter of Theory of Everything: “Someone is going to make an incredible movie about that guy (Stephen Hawking) one day. In 2004, Jane Hawking’s biography came across my desk. It was one of those
moments in my career, where I said, ‘I’m going to chase this thing’…. I got on a train to Cambridge to see Jane and pitch her my concept for the movie. …Unifying
principle in this movie is time and I didn’t imagine it would take 10 years to
get this film made.”
“He is not based on a real guy, but maybe I can find him in my ether,” Chad Boseman talking about his upcoming role in Black Panther. He’s here at Contenders to talk about his role playing James Brown in Universal’s Get On Up.
Peter Cramer, Co-President of Production at Universal
Pictures, said the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner taken
prisoner in WWII, had been floating around for decades, but Laura Hillenbrand’s
book, Unbroken, cracked the code. “That was our way into it,” he
Lisa Bruce, producer of The Theory of Everything, remembered sitting at a screening with the biopic’s subject matter, Stephen Hawking. When the lights went up, she recalled, caretakers dabbed his eyes from crying. Ten minutes later, he typed to her, “It’s broadly right.”
Chadwick Boseman, recalling playing James Brown in Get On Up, said one of the highlights of the movie was “getting on stage and having groupies screaming at you. We all want that.”
Get On Up director Tate Taylor on why he picked Chadwick Boseman. “I liked his stillness. I had him read one scene, as a 63-year-old, and he was profound. He said, ‘Aren’t we going to dance or anything?’ I said no, we’re good Then thought to myself, ‘I hope he can dance.'”
David Oyelowo, who played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the drama Selma, first read the script in 2007. “I knew I would play this role, in this film, before I died,” Oyelowo said. “It was an odd thing, because the director at the time disagreed.” After convince Oprah Winfrey to join the project as a producer, the film came together, he said.
Selma director Ava DuVernay, said she opted for snippet of King’s life, centered on his time in Selma, as opposed to a broad biopic. “Someone will put (King’s story) into a two-hour opus some day. But it wasn’t going to be me. (Selma) was a great chance to pluck a time out in a big life.”
Jeremy Dawson, producer of The Grand Budapest Hotel, said that the toughest element of the project was making the hotel — and the era — seem authentic. “This time doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “It was before Europe was crushed by the second World War. Wes and I drove around for weeks in Europe, looking for the right place: every mansion, castle, ramshackle hotel we could find.” The crew settled on a department store on the German-Poland border.
Birdman‘s story of a washed up cinematic superhero has drawn innumerable comparisons to star Michael Keaton’s own journey. But producer John Lesher says it’s actually more about director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. “Michael is a very different guy” from the character, Lesher said. “Alejandro says we all have our Birdman, the voice that keeps us up at night and tells us what we want to here. I think the movie is more about Alejandro.”
Bruna Papandrea, producer of the Reese Witherspoon drama Wild, said one of the film’s biggest hurdles was in portraying the depth of realistic female characters. “The challenge is always finding roles for actresses that are complex,” she said. “That’s what really attracted Reese, to be seen in a different light that’s not always likable. She was always seen as the good girl, and she wanted to explore the complexity and humor of this character.”
Birdman producer John Lesher on selecting Michael Keaton for the lead, “He was one of the first to personify a major superhero (on screen), but he has the amazing ability to navigate comedy and drama…It was a difficult part for an actor to play because of the amount of lines. Michael had to know all his lines and hit his
marks. He was rusty at the beginning, but by third or fourth day of rehearsals
he was our man. It was scary (with him) at first. We weren’t sure.”
Phil Lord, co-director of The Lego Movie, had to re-learn the rules of animation to make a cartoon about bulky blocks. “We’re attracted to bad ideas the way some women are attracted to bad boys; you think, ‘We can fix them.’ You had to get used to the rules: you can’t bend the arms, you can’t do anything you’d do sitting at a table. But maybe we captured the spirit of the creativity” of the toy.
While The Lego Movie was a WB property, co-director Christopher Miller said the studio occasionally had to scale back the filmmakers’ designs. “The great thing about Lego is you can put Batman with the Lone Ranger on the Millennium Falcon. We had a Justice League scene, but had to cut it. DC has other plans for its characters.”
Katherine Waterston, co-star of the crime drama Inherent Vice, took a lyrical approach to getting her worldview set to the 1970’s, when the movie is set. “You do so many things to trick yourself into thinking you’re inside the character,” she said. “I wouldn’t listen to any music after the 1970’s (the daughter of Sam Waterston was born in 1980). I’ve always had an attraction to that time. It was a moment when the country could have gone a different way.”
American Sniper’s tale of veteran Chris Kyle, regarded as the nation’s deadliest sniper with more than 150 confirmed kills, didn’t have a book to act as a foundation. Instead, screenwriter Jason Hall met with Kyle met with the soldier and his buddies before Kyle was murdered in 2013. “It was a tough room,” he said of the first meeting. “These weren’t guys who were trained to come home. I didn’t know if he was going to make it back to society. But when I saw him see his wife and kids, I saw the lights flick on. I could see his life before the war.”
The WWII drama Fury takes place largely on a tank. But director David Ayer said he didn’t want to get lost in artillery. “They’re usually stories of battle,” he said of war films. “They’re not about the emotional lives involved, or the fingerprint it leaves on the soul. I wanted to show soldiers with live PTSD. There’s a psychic frustration.”
Fury co-star Logan Lerman, whose character had to be turned into a killer for the WWII drama, said actors spent nearly three months together to learn about living in a military family. “Basically, (the crew) broke us down over the three months,” he said. “They deprived us of sleep, gave us impossible tasks to accomplish. But the biggest thing is we had to rely on each other. That’s what boot camp really taught.”
Jon Bernthal spent months fighting zombies on The Walking Dead, but it was nothing compared with living in a tank for Fury. “The preparation process was unlike anything I’d done,” he said. “(Director) David (Ayer) demanded we become proficient at understanding the tank, cleaning it, learning about 75-year-old armor. But what David really wanted us to do was open up, to understand each other.”
The key to keeping in character for Fury? Remembering your rank. “We kind of kept the ranks we had in the movie,” Logan Lerman said. “Brad was our sergeant, so he was the sergeant on set. But I think we all saw the leader of troops as (director) David (Ayer).”
Mr. Turner is as much a film about the personality of artist J.M.W. Turner as it is about the classic artist’s work. Which meant, for director Mike Leigh, getting star Timothy Spall to convey elements of both. Leigh had Spall study art for two years with an personal tutor. “If he couldn’t paint, the option would be to have a close-up on the actor’s face, and a close-up of someone else’s hands. And (Timothy) was good. He ain’t no Mr. Turner. But he’s good.”
Bennett Miller made a name for himself as a director chronicling real people in movies such as Capote and Moneyball. He returns to real world for Foxcatcher, the story of the murder of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) by multimillionaire John du Pont. Bennett said he’s drawn to true tales because it allows him to play reporter — in this case for three years. True crime “is usually dominated by bad news and infotainment,” he said. “I wanted to spend some time looking at the human side of what happened.”
Bennett Miller spoke about how he settled on comedian Steve Carell to play sociopath-rich guy John du Pont: “His name was submitted to our project and I paused on it in a peculiar sense. Nobody expected that du Pont ended up doing what he ended up doing. It was important that the actor himself would surprise (in playing this role). He had to be credible when it happens. Spoiler alert: bad
things happen. Steve is a comic, which is to say he has a dark side which he doesn’t
share with the world. There’s an aspect of Steve guarded from the public…I’m attracted to comic actors doing dramatic roles.”
Damien Chazelle, writer-director of the $3.3 million jazz drum flick Whiplash, would like you to know this is not his movie. “I one in college, but it had no budget,” he said. Co-star J.K. Simmons, who plays a surly jazz instructor in the pic, couldn’t miss pass up the timing. “This had a budget?”
Deadline’s The Contenders series inhabited the Director Guild Theater Saturday and boasted a raft of clips on the DGA’s impressive screen. But J.K. Simmons wasn’t so impressed from the stage, where he had to craine to take a look at Whiplash footage. “The view sucks up here.”
Robots. Superheroes. Animation. They’re all well-traveled conventions in Hollywood. So for co-directors Chris Williams and Don Hall, Disney’s Big Hero 6 had to look alien, yet familiar. “We looked at every robot ever made in Japanese pop culture,” Williams said of the adaption of the popular series. “And knew we couldn’t do any of those. We had to create a ‘futurish’ world.” Their solution? A hybrid city that plays as Hero‘s backdrop that Disney hopes will appeal to American and Asian moviegoers: San Fransokyo.
The Contender’s afternoon emotional punch came from IFC’s footage from Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which featured clips from the 12-years-in-the-making pic, along with behind the scenes interviews with the actors. Stars Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane were visibly shaken seeing the reel. Arquette, who teared up on stage, said she had a unique gut reaction to the movie: She wasn’t sure she wanted it released to the public. “It was such an important experience in our lives, and you can work really hard on a movie, but it doesn’t mean the public or critics will love it, too.” She said. “Richard made so many choices that were against the norm, I didn’t know if people would understand it the way he does. He believes in the truth of the moment.”
Says Shailene Woodley about The Fault In Our Stars, “It’s hard in this day and age to make a movie about two kids with cancer, particularly where the lead actress has no makeup and a tube in her nose.”
Shailene Woodley on the reaction she’s rec’d from Fault in Our Stars: “Teenagers went to see it, then they saw it again, then they brought their parents, then the parents brought their parents — it becomes a family affair. It deals with concepts that all of us can relate to. When people mention to me, people feel so inclined to tell me their stories, how it healed them in some way, or brought back memories from things,or made them grieve over something they lost.”
Matt Reeves, director of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, found human inspiration for his story about primates. By watching his newborn son, “I could see he was understanding through his eyes, without saying anything,” he said. “That changed the way I looked at Caesar (embodied by Andy Serkis) and the movie.”
Patience is the key to making a CGI-heavy film like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. “We had to wait six months to see our first shot of an ape,” director Matt Reeves said. “And we had thousands of scenes with apes. I had faith because it worked with Rise,” the original.
Trent Reznor has worked with a palate of sounds for his band, Nine Inch Nails. But the co-composer worked with a live orchestra for Gone Girl, the first time he played conductor. “It felt older. We used analog versus digital, old synths. It felt natural to have real people in the room. It was different for a control freak like me.”
Shailene gracefully skirts the awkward Ansel question: "We went from brother & sister to lovers & now we're back in the brother-sister game"
— jen yamato (@jenyamato) November 1, 2014
Peter Chernin, producer of Exodus: Gods and Kings, went to the future to go back in Biblical time. “The level of effects that have evolved since The Ten Commandments, which were rudimentary at the time, allowed us to recreate Egypt, the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea — all in the furtherance of reality.”
Don’t expect Exodus to be a religious documentary, “Literalists will be unhappy with us,” producer Peter Chernin said. “But people who have respect for people’s beliefs, I believe they are going to be happy.
“I was ready to disappear,” says Jennifer Aniston about prepping for her role as Claire Simmons in ‘Cake’.
Jennifer Aniston and director Daniel Barnz made surprise appearances at The Contenders to conclude the panel and hawk the widower drama Cake, a script Barnz discovered while judging a screenplay contest. “It’s our little love project,” Aniston said. “When I read the script, I was ready to disappear.” That included wearing no makeup to convey the hardships of the life of her character, Claire Simmons. “It was so empowering and liberating to just put scars on my face.”
Jennifer Aniston gives a shout out to keeping production here in California: “This is our industry, we should be able to make our movies
here.” Cake was shot here in LA over 25 days.
Plot synopsis for Cake: Claire Bennett (Aniston) initiates a dubious relationship with a widower while confronting fantastical hallucinations of his dead wife.
Like Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars, Jennifer Aniston also didn’t wear makeup in Cake. “So fabulous, and so dreamy and empowering and liberating,” said Aniston on not wearing makeup for the role of Claire. “The only time I had to sit in the makeup chair was just for scars.”