Emmys: Movie and Miniseries Producers Reveal 10 'Pinch Me' Moments

9:00 AM PST 06/17/2014 by Ray Richmond
HBO
"The Normal Heart"

Exec producers of "Flowers in the Attic," "The Normal Heart" and others tell THR about a moment where they said to themselves, "Damn, I love my job!"

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Colin Callender, executive producer
THE WHITE QUEEN, STARZ

➻ We had been on the verge of the start of production but couldn't find the right actress to play the title role. We auditioned actress after actress in the U.K., Australia and the U.S., known and unknown, but we couldn't find anyone. On the day before the start of rehearsals, with the role still uncast, we began to talk about delaying production when our casting director came in with an audition tape from an unknown actress in Sweden, Rebecca Ferguson. There was something very special about her, and we decided to roll the dice and cast her as our White Queen. I remember watching the first set of dailies, which was a scene between Rebecca as the White Queen and Janet McTeer as her mother, and I knew then we had discovered a new star. Rebecca was spectacular. We had dodged a bullet and scored a bull's-eye! I remember the adrenaline buzz watching the footage and thinking it was moments like this that make it all worthwhile.

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Merideth Finn, executive producer
FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC, LIFETIME

➻ My production partner, Michele Weiss, and I really rushed our preproduction to get everything ready for this film. We were still adjusting to the faster pace of TV. The biggest task for the movie, in our minds, was designing the attic, because we'd be spending so much time in there and it had to be right. But we were excited to be working with James McAteer as our production designer. We knew he really understood how to make something feel gothic and foreboding. That attic in the original film had made a huge impression on me as a kid. It felt like such a nightmarish place in my own head. But we needn't have been concerned. The moment the attic was finished, I got to walk through it and pick up all of the objects -- and it was perfect. That was an amazingly special five minutes for me. I had a chance to allow my imagination as a fan to go wild.

Dede Gardner, executive producer
THE NORMAL HEART, HBO

➻ One moment taught me how real life trumps anticipation. During production, [co-executive producer] Dante Di Loreto and I went downtown in New York to pick up [Tony-winning playwright and The Normal Heart writer] Larry Kramer. We're on 13th Street shooting the scene where Ned [Mark Ruffalo] gets fired by the GMHC. There was a lot of anticipation in Larry witnessing it, in our wanting to get it right and really be accurate and expecting it to be hugely emotional for everyone. We were supposed to go by cab. But it was a beautiful fall day, so we decided to walk. We're pushing Larry in his wheelchair, walking uptown through the West Village while he's taking it all in and talking about how it used to be, what was the same, what wasn't. We're traveling up to 13th for about half an hour, and it was genuinely awesome. Just an amazing thing that I'll always treasure.

Warren Littlefield, executive producer
FARGO, FX

➻ It's March and we're on location in Calgary shooting Fargo. It's 2 in the morning and roughly 20 degrees below zero. The snow is coming down pretty hard. Most people know how to get the hell out of here and into a warm bed. But not me, because Billy Bob Thornton is sharing stories with me. The man is an amazing storyteller. He pulls you in with his sense of color and detail. And he's telling me [about the time] he's convinced he will die by a Komodo dragon. In this story, he's on a boat going up the river in Cambodia, crossing into Laos. In the dead of night, he believes he has malaria. He finally makes it to a hut, crawls inside, falls down on the mat. Total darkness. Then he hears the sound of his boots being pushed across the floor. "Oh God, this is it," he thinks. "The Komodo dragon!" He's sure this is his last night. I finally crawled into bed myself at 4 a.m. I never wanted that night to end. It doesn't get any better than that.

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Neil Meron, executive producer
BONNIE & CLYDE, A&E/HISTORY

➻ Every day that I was on the set and got to watch Bruce Beresford direct was a revelation. Bruce was in such total command. He's a producer's dream. He's so prepared, and the actors and crew totally respect him. Trust me, that isn't always the case! I love my job the most when the stars in the universe kind of align the way they should, and that's how it was when we got Bruce for Bonnie & Clyde. But let me go further. When we first received this script, it said "Emile Hirsch-type" -- never in a million years thinking we'd get the real deal. Then we did. And then to also involve people the caliber of William Hurt and Holly Hunter, I mean, I felt like this project just had guardian angels watching over it. The entire experience made me feel grateful for my job.

Greg Mottola, director/ executive producer
CLEAR HISTORY, HBO

➻ I pretty much felt that way every day on Clear History. A typical example was a scene that had Larry David, Bill Hader and Michael Keaton in a car, riffing endlessly on the most inane subjects imaginable. There was a take when Larry started doing a hilarious impersonation of Michael's character, a rummy named Stumpo, that completely killed me. Directing Larry is also not the same as other actors, because he's always acting and writing at exactly the same time. As in Curb Your Enthusiasm, there were no scripted lines in Clear History. It was amazing watching Larry hatch a great idea right in the middle of a take -- and how adroitly he can keep spinning it. Larry sees the things that most of us sort of miss. He's a master, and it was like going for my Ph.D. in comedy.

Alison Owen, executive producer
DANCING ON THE EDGE, STARZ

➻ I'm watching production in this amazing location, and we have a 13-piece jazz band playing. That first day, I felt like I had taken a ticket back to the 1920s. The band was literally based on an early version of an American jazz band coming overseas to dazzle royalty. It was such a beautiful re-creation of a time we'd never seen before. It was just such a privilege for me to walk onto the set in the morning and travel backward in time. It was created so faithfully and with such detail that it took my breath away. And it was that way pretty much every day. When you're involved with such a glamorous and beautifully stylized period piece, it's like it heightens all of your senses. I felt amazingly fortunate to be a part of something as special as that.

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Jessica Pope, executive producer
BURTON AND TAYLOR, BBC AMERICA

➻ I'm going to cheat and say there were really two moments. It was all about the casting. We had been going through endless reads to cast Burton. The actors would take those lines and never sound like they were in your imagination. It was just a nonliving, nonbreathing experience. Then suddenly Top Gun shows up: When Dominic West came in to read, it was as if actual royalty had joined the table. He just brought it and owned it. And it was just, "Wow!" Similarly, Helena Bonham Carter absolutely nailed Elizabeth Taylor's vocal quality. It's a very specific cadence. Helena simply wasn't afraid to just completely go for it. She so captured the essence of the woman that you would stand there and it'd take your breath away. During each of those reads, Dominic and Helena allowed me to experience the moments when Pinocchio goes from a wooden puppet to a real, breathing boy.

Andrew Steele, co-writer/executive producer
THE SPOILS OF BABYLON, IFC

➻ One day during production, I woke up about 5:30 in the morning to go for a shoot up in Malibu for this beautiful California beach scene. I get to the set and there's crew all around. Our director, Matt Piedmont, is talking to Tobey Maguire right there on the sand. The cameras are all getting set to shoot. I'm taking in this scene when I suddenly think, "Oh, my God -- this is what I imagined Hollywood to be in the most infantile way back when I was 12 years old, growing up in Iowa." I've been in the business for 25 years but had never been involved in a shoot on the beach like this. It was something I could once barely have dreamed about. The fact that Spoils of Babylon was merely a cheesy spoof of this kind of sweeping melodrama and not the real thing was kind of irrelevant. It was comical and ridiculously exciting all at the same time.

David Zucker, executive producer
KILLING KENNEDY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL AND KLONDIKE DISCOVERY CHANNEL

➻ The emotional charge in telling compelling, historical stories is in the authentic, first-hand realization of the experience. As Killing Kennedy and Klondike were based on true events of courage, heartbreak and resilience, the productions aimed high in the replicas and in the reality they served up. As we sought to capture the spectacular peril of the Canadian Rockies that the Klondike gold-seekers traversed, our director, Simon Cellan Jones, ordered up a massive avalanche, which, while "controlled," unleashed such immense and overwhelming power that the life-and-death stakes -- where lives turn in a moment's time -- literally exploded before us. Because we were determined to capture every intimate angle possible, we wound up losing a few cameras in the process. But we were left with a primal reverberation that was equally chilling and exhilarating, not to mention one that looked positively awesome on film.

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