THR's Producer Roundtable: 7 Behind-the-Scenes Players on Saying No to Directors, What to Do When Studios Kill Projects

 Jessica Chou

Letty Aronson, Tim Bevan, Jim Burke, Chris Columbus, Michael De Luca, Kathleen Kennedy and Bill Pohlad explain how movies really get made.

THR: How much can a studio executive help and hurt a film when it's being made?

Bevan: Stacey is like the old-fashioned type of studio executive in that she comes from a creative background. But there's a trend in Hollywood at the moment where studio executives are coming from more of a marketing background, and that is challenging. Stacey would always have the five best script notes and know as much, if not more, about the film than the director did and wasn't frightened of the process. I think one of the problems of marketing executives is that they don't understand how films get made and they're a bit nervous. And that is not the most efficient way to be a studio executive. 

De Luca: Courage is always an admirable quality.

Kennedy: Anything in excess of two or three pages [of notes] is way too long and they're not identifying what the core issues are in the story. They're getting into a lot of nitpicky detail that, frankly, in the long run always gets ignored.

Burke: The challenge with notes is when you get 10 bad notes in a row to keep yourself open to the 11th. 

THR: Would any of you like to produce the Oscars?

De Luca: Sure. That sounds like fun.

Kennedy: Producing the Oscars sounds like fun? (Laughter.)

De Luca: I'm a glorified fan, and I've watched the Oscars since I was a toddler. I still look forward to watching them every year and it just feels like you'd be part of history.

Kennedy: And you want it to be good.

De Luca: Sometimes the musical tributes [are bad]. One year there was a musical tribute to editing. I think those are hard. I would cut down on the musical medleys and tributes and do more film clips. Obviously, I'm not going to get the call anytime soon. And I used to like when they had all the nominated songs performed by the original artists. They don't do that anymore.

THR: Your jobs are all-consuming. What do you do in your personal lives to take a break?

Kennedy: I collect books. I have a huge collection of Jules Verne, but I also have a really interesting collection of voyages and explorations around the world. And I have two teenagers right now who take up most of my time.

Columbus: Baseball. That's why I loved Moneyball, because it feels like a Capra-esque version of what a baseball film should be. Also, it's corny, but my family is an obsession. Even coming here today [a Sunday] was difficult because Saturdays and Sundays to me are sacred. Even when I was doing Harry Potter, I said, "I'm not working Saturdays and Sundays." It was a philosophy of Spielberg's as well. I always remember Steven saying, "That's the way to do it. Separate yourself, so no calls at home. Nothing at all." I lead a boring life in San Francisco. I have a great time whenever I am here [in Los Angeles]. I have a lot of friends, but I would destroy myself. So living in San Francisco, I keep a great balance.

THR: Do you feel that you've made big personal sacrifices for your job?

Kennedy: Yes. Trying to balance your kids is always hard because this is a very, very time-intensive job. When they're little -- I don't know if you all did this -- but you can take your kids with you. And then they get older and it's a negotiation. And [husband] Frank [Marshall] and I both do this job.

THR: Does that make it easier or harder?

Kennedy: We just see the kids, we don't see each other. (Laughter.)

Columbus: There are pluses to being able to have my kids with me. I mean, when my daughter was 11 I could bring her to the Great Hall at Hogwarts [on Harry Potter]. I never do anything that cool now, particularly now that they are teenagers and older. But there are perks in the film business with the kids. You work very hard for a specific time and then you have a long time where you're off, and you may have weeks where you get to spend time with family. My philosophy in filmmaking is like when Michael Corleone says, "Can a man ever truly lose his family?" That terrifies me. Almost every film I've ever made is about someone losing their family, and I've taken that attitude in my personal life. I don't want to lose my family. It's the most frightening thing in the world.


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