Producers Guild of America president Lucy Fisher set the tone early today at the guild’s annual awards nominees’ breakfast, as hundreds of thousands of women were taking to the streets all across the country for the third annual Women’s March.
“Happy Women’s March Day,” she told an enthusiastic crowd of 400-500 gathered at the Skirball Cultural Center. “Hopefully, there will be a few more of us up her next year.” Only two of the 10 nominees on stage were women.
She also noted, however, that half of the nominated films – Green Book, Black Panther, BlackkKlansman, Crazy Rich Asians and Roma, featured “racial themes,” which may be a record for the PGA Awards. “Happy Martin Luther King Jr. weekend,” she added. There were no black or Asian-Americans on the panel, however.
The annual breakfast comes ahead of tonight’s PGA Awards at the Beverly Hilton.
Fisher started off the panel session with a perfunctory question about how long it took each producer to bring their projects to the screen. Answers ranged from one to 20 years, although Graham King joked that Bohemian Rhapsody had been in the works since 1942. It actually only took 10 years, he said, noting that all the major studios had initially passed on it.
King also noted that the biggest problem on Rhapsody was that he lost his director, Bryan Singer, with just a few weeks left of shooting. “His mother was very sick,” King said. “He said, ‘I want to hiatus the film,’ and the studio wanted to finish the film. And my job is to protect the film at any cost and that’s what I was there to do.”
Vice producer Kevin Messick said that producer-director Adam McKay got the idea for the film about Vice President Dick Cheney on the day of the 2016 PGA Awards. “Vice started three years ago today,” he said.
Lynette Howell Taylor, producer of A Star is Born, said it took her producing partner Billy Gerber nine years to get the film made. “When he first approached Bradley (Cooper), he thought he was too young for the role at the time,” she said.
Cooper agreed to direct four years ago, and after seeing Lady Gaga in concert, knew that she would be his star. “But he had to fight so hard for her,” Taylor said, because this was to be her first major film role. “She had to shoot a test scene to convince the studio that she could act.”
A Quiet Place got started with a spec script in July of 2016, and went into production a year later after a regime change at Paramount, said producer Andrew Form.
BlackkKlansman, however, may have set a modern record. “It was greenlit and in production in under a year,” said producer Raymond Mansfield, which literally made the audience gasp. With Spike Lee attached to direct, he said, “The package was too enticing to resist.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Cici Dempsey said that The Favourite had been in the works since 1998 – which also made the audience gasp. “We had a very long process,” she said. “We had just about every hurdle you can imagine on this film – not once, but twice.”
Crazy Rich Asians took two to three years, said producer John Penotti. “Jon Chu came in to direct in 2016 and shooting started five months later.” Green Book took 3 1/2 years, said producer Jim Burke.
Fisher then asked the panel to discuss the darkest moments they experienced getting their films made – noting that a former boss had once told her that every film has one, and that hopefully, it’s not on release day.
“No thanks,” said Burke, whose Green Book is as an Oscar frontrunner, but has received some negative press recently in the run-up to the Academy Awards nominations which come Tuesday. The film’s director, Peter Farrelly, has had to apologize for jokingly having flashed his penis on the set of There’s Something About Mary back in the 1990s, and Green Book star Viggo Mortensen had to apologize for using the N-word recently while trying to explain after a screening of the film that no one says the actual word anymore.
Also, during the film’s Oscar campaign, screenwriter Nick Vallelonga had to apologize after an old tweet resurfaced in which he’d signed onto Donald Trump’s discredited claim that Muslims had celebrated in New Jersey after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Sources say that Green Book producers feel that some of their competitors in the Oscar race have been behind the opposition research aimed at hurting the film’s Best Picture chances.
Feige revealed that Black Panther’s cast went temporarily snow-blind while filming a mountain scene. “We snow-blinded the entire cast and 300 extras,” he said, but noted that they quickly recovered.
Roma’s Alfonso Cuarón, who directed and produced the film, got the biggest laugh of the day when, commenting about his dual roles, he said that “The biggest challenge was the director. He was difficult. The producer and the director hated each other. It was a constant conversation that was not pleasant.”
PGA national executive director Vance Van Petten got off the lamest jokes of the day. Welcoming Walea Constantinau, the lei-wearing commissioner of the Honolulu Film Office – which is a sponsor of the breakfast – he said, “She is the only one that is being leid.”
And as the automatic blinds were being lowered in the Cotsen Auditorium, he joked that “gas” would soon be filling the room. This was followed by a five-minute delay in the program as a circuit blew out before clips of the nominated films could be shown. “This was all planned,” Van Petten assured the crowd, before adding: “Not really.”