PGA chief calls out studios, WGA

Herskovitz urges sides to consider big picture, as nominees did

Marshall Herskovitz, president of the Producers Guild of America, called upon the AMPTP and the WGA to set aside their self-interest and reach an agreement that will end the strike in his address Saturday at the PGA's annual nominees breakfast.

Herskovitz said that neither the WGA nor the AMPTP "can honestly say they've done everything they can to resolve this strike."

Noting that the strike has caused hardship throughout the industry, he addressed the two groups, who have returned to informal talks but have not yet resumed formal negotiations. "The time has come to look beyond the needs of their organizations," Herskovitz said. "They should apply themselves to solving the problem."

Herskovitz said that in his role as PGA president, he had previously declined to comment on Hollywood's current labor strife.

The PGA, headed by exec director Vance Van Petten, represents the interests of producers by working to secure health benefits, police credits and improve working conditions and is not a party in the current talks. The AMPTP, while it is informally referred to as "the producers," actually represents the studios and production companies that are currently discussing a new contract with the WGA.

But Herskovitz explained that he was moved to speak out after moderating the panel made up of producers nominated for the PGA's Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures, which was announced Saturday night at the guild's annual awards banquet at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Scott Rudin, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen took the prize for "No Country for Old Men."

Herskovitz said the producer's job, as demonstrated by the panelists, is to always look at the bigger picture when facing problems in bringing a film to the screen. He argued that the AMPTP and the writers have pursued objectives that benefited their respective organizations, but now they need to take a bigger-picture perspective to solve their differences.

The panel, held at the Highlands nightclub at Hollywood & Highland, was presented by The Hollywood Reporter and the PGA. In introducing the event, Erik Mika, THR's senior vp, publishing director, described the nominated movies as "thinking films, smart films, that made an impact across the globe."

Hailing the nominees, Herskovitz observed that "the last couple of years have in many ways been a repudiation of the studio system."

That was evidenced in the history of each of the films discussed.

Both "No Country" and "There Will Be Blood" became realities when former agent John Lesher took over as head of Paramount Vantage in 2005.

Rudin explained that "No Country," his 65th film, began its development history when his top exec, Mark Roybal, brought him the Cormac McCarthy novel, which Rudin then took to the Coens, who agreed to write a screenplay but did not immediately commit to directing.

Rudin brought the project to Paramount, where he then had an overall deal, but an executive there turned thumbs down. "That executive is now selling air conditioners in Dubai," Rudin joked.

When Lesher arrived at Paramount shortly after Daniel Battsek took over as new head of Miramax Films, the project got a new life, with Miramax and Paramount Vantage agreeing to share production costs.

Meanwhile, as producer Daniel Lupi recounted it, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson had been developing "There Will Be Blood" before he even acquired rights to the Upton Sinclair novel "Oil!" on which it is based. As Anderson's agent, Lesher had first taken the project to Focus, which passed it on to parent company Universal, where it was first budgeted at $70 million, then rebudgeted at $50 million, a number that made the studio uneasy.

In his new role at Paramount Vantage, Lesher agreed to take on the movie — again, in partnership with Miramax — and it was ultimately filmed, using some of the same Texas locales as "No Country," for $35 million.

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" began life at Universal, when the company was owned by the French company Vivendi, when producer Kathleen Kennedy optioned Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir and hired Ronald Harwood to write the adaptation. Initially, she took the project to Johnny Depp, who was interested, though his schedule ultimately precluded his participation. But Depp mentioned it to director Julian Schnabel, with whom he'd worked on "Before Night Falls."

Eventually, the French company Pathe agreed to fund the film, later acquired for U.S. release by Miramax, as "a smaller, independent version with a cast that we hoped would surprise people," producer Jon Kilik said.

Casting also was critical for "Juno." Mandate originally optioned Diablo Cody's spec script, which it brought to John Malkovich's production company Mr. Mudd, which had produced the teen-oriented "Ghost World." The producers then took the project, ultimately filmed for less than $8 million, to Fox Searchlight.

With Jason Reitman on board to direct, the producers realized that they would have to cast a relative unknown in the title role, because as producer Russ Smith joked, "the only known 16-year-old girls in this town are in rehab." So they cast young Canadian actress Ellen Page, figuring that they could use marquee names in casting the yuppie couple looking to adopt Juno's baby — the roles that went to Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman.

Of the nominees, only Warner Bros.' "Michael Clayton" was a pure studio film, though it required outside assistance in financing from Boston real estate developer Steve Samuels.

Reelz Channel, a presenting sponsor, recorded the panel, which will be carried online at ReelzChannel.com, while Lufthansa supported the event as a contributing sponsor.
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