Producers reveal genesis of Oscar hopefuls

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INTO THE WILD (Paramount Vantage)
Producers: Sean Penn, Art Linson, Bill Pohlad

"Sean had spent years wanting to do 'Into the Wild,' but it was impossible to get the rights because the family didn't want it to be a movie. But finally, about 10 years after first asking, he got a call from the mother saying he could do it. I've known Sean since we worked together on 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' (1982) and am in awe of him, so when he said, 'We can option this for not a lot of money. Want to do it with me?' I said yes. Isn't it amazing how hard my job is?

"I had worked with Emile Hirsch on 'Lords of Dogtown' (2005) so I knew he was up-and-coming, and after Sean talked to him, he was Sean's only choice as well. And CAA suggested that we talk to Bill Pohlad and John Lesher (at Paramount Vantage), and they were interested, so that was easy. We never considered doing it as anything other than an independent movie. I've been at this long enough to know that if I went to a studio and said, 'Sean's directing, and it's starring Emile Hirsch, who you've never heard of,' the reaction would be, 'Who are you kidding?' It's tough enough if you're Jerry Bruckheimer.

"We spread filming over about seven months to accommodate weather changes. We knew it was going to be rough terrain and difficult weather, but the cinematographer, Eric Gautier, is as fierce and unflappable as Mr. Penn, and David Webb, the assistant director, is someone you would want to go to war with. But it was still a tough thing.

"Sean pushed himself harder than anyone. He's got this thing that separates him from most people, which is that he doesn't have an ounce of pander in him. Very few people in this town go about things so fiercely and with such integrity."


THE KITE RUNNER (Paramount Classics/DreamWorks)
Producers: William Horberg, Walter Parkes, Rebecca Yeldham, E. Bennett Walsh

"The movie was shot in the very far west of China, in Xinjiang province. We could not shoot in Afghanistan (where much of the book takes place) for insurance and safety reasons, and because the country has been destroyed. But in China we were able to find this city, Kashgar, which had a very substantial, preserved old town that had mosques and was just a fantastic stand-in for old Kabul. It was like taking a time machine back to the 16th century.

"We had to go up into the mountains to shoot and there was no place to sleep. It was zero degrees and the toilets and showers all froze. But Marc Forster is one of the most unbelievably organized directors and was able to keep the movie pretty much on schedule.

"We had a fantastic casting director, Kate Dowd, and she went to Kabul and spent several months going into the orphanages, the schools, where she found the boys. There wasn't any real system there in terms of papers or identification, and it took several months to make it happen.
 
"On the day of the (controversial) rape scene, the boy came to Marc and expressed some discomfort and Marc explained he wasn't going to be made to do anything he wasn't comfortable doing. (Then, fellow producers) Rebecca Yeldham and Bennett Walsh went back to Kabul in February and had a meeting with the boys and the guardians, and I think we were able to defuse a few myths -- it was even speculated that we would put full-frontal nudity into the film!

"(Resolving the controversy) has been a slow, unfolding, incredibly complex process. We felt our absolute obligation was to do everything we could to protect the boys. A lot of planning went into trying to create some way by which they could be out of the country at the time the movie is released here. That is what is happening now. The studio has been unbelievably understanding. It's a considerable investment in doing the right thing."


MICHAEL CLAYTON (Warner Bros.)
Producers: Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox, Steven Samuels, Kerry Orent

"Tony Gilroy and I started talking about the project before I made 'Syriana' in 2003, and while George Clooney was always Tony's first choice, George didn't want to work with a first-time director. But when I got back from making 'Syriana,' Tony said, 'Please, just get him in the room with me, and I'll convince him.'

"(Executive producer) Steven (Soderbergh) and a couple other people also told George he should meet Tony, so they made a date for coffee at George's house. I said to Tony, 'Call me when it's done,' and one hour went by, and then two, and then three. After what turned out to be an eight-hour meeting, Tony called me and said, 'I think he's in!'

"Once George said yes, it was all very easy. We had already done a budget, and one of the great things about having a huge movie star to anchor your movie is you can get the best people for the roles, like Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson, rather than caring about who's meaningful in what territory.

"We were incredibly prepared, so there weren't many surprises. It was the year of a crazy snowstorm in New York, but if you're prepared to dodge and weave, it's all fine.

"The most challenging thing was actually getting the law firms to let us film in their offices, since you can't pay them enough to make it worth disrupting them. Let's just say George, Sydney Pollack and Steven all signed a lot of letters to firms, telling them how much fun it would be."


NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Miramax)
Producers: Scott Rudin, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

"When I got the (Cormac McCarthy) book in manuscript, I felt that almost the only way to make it was with Joel and Ethan Coen. The book deals with issues of fate and destiny and good and evil; it needed filmmakers that were sophisticated and intelligent and highly literate, and, at the same time, it needed giant moviemaking know-how.

"It was developed at Paramount under my (first-look) deal there, and in between that time and when the script came in, I was in the process of moving my company to Disney and Miramax, so my hope was the companies could share the movie. At the same time (Paramount Vantage president) John Lesher was trying to put together the Paul Thomas Anderson movie ('There Will Be Blood') and looking for a partner, and I went to (Disney Studios chairman) Dick Cook and (Miramax president) Daniel Battsek and said, 'This is a great opportunity to get in business with these remarkable filmmakers.' So we put together this double partnership on those movies.

"That was complicated, because whenever you try to put together a partnership between two companies that are both in the distribution business, you get into issues of who has which territory and rights of approval. In the end, Miramax has domestic on the Coens' movie and international on (Anderson's), and vice versa. But it took about four or five months to (do the deal), and I was leaving one studio for another, so there was a lot of stuff to navigate.

"It was a very physically ambitious movie for a very limited price: $30 million. But Joel and Ethan are unbelievably organized, and the script is remarkably close to the finished movie."


THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paramount Vantage)
Producers: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi

"After we finished 'Punch-Drunk Love' (2002), Paul (Thomas Anderson) took some time working out what he wanted to do next. He had come across the novel 'Oil!' He was never intending to turn that into an adaptation; he just started writing scenes and was really pleased with the way they were going. That process went on for maybe two years. It was a long time in its gestation, and the rights to the book were tied up. It was a long process working it all out.

"Paul wrote it for Daniel Day-Lewis, unbeknownst to him. We sent it to him when it was about three-quarters of the way through, and he and Paul met and they hit it off. Then we tried to get the money together. It was pretty hard. It is a big, epic landscape with a small, intimate story, so it fell between an art house picture and a studio picture in terms of its budget range. We were with Universal for awhile; it was too big to be a Focus picture, so we were going to do it as a hybrid between the two. At that point we were trying to make it for around $50 million. We went into a stage of developing it and researching it and putting budgets together, but ultimately it didn't work out.

"That was crushing. But it enabled us to get a lot further along in the project. I was trying to set it up and then (Anderson's agent) John Lesher left Endeavor (to become president of Paramount Vantage), and he desperately wanted to make it. He needed a partner and Miramax got involved, but they couldn't make it at more than $35 million. We had to cut the shooting days; we had to think on a smaller scale. It was quite complicated.

"We had looked all over California for the main locations, and we really weren't finding what we needed for a turn-of-the-century setting. Then we came across these pictures from Martha, Texas, and found this private ranch, which had a private railroad running through it. It was just amazing. It was hands-down creatively the right look. Financially, we had to make that work, because at the time (the state wasn't) doing any tax rebates. The shoot was 60 days.

"Daniel Day-Lewis pretty much stayed in character through the shoot -- he talked in that same voice (that of a gruff Texas oilman). He stayed in character, but it didn't seem weird. You pretty much got used to him like that."


3:10 TO YUMA (Lionsgate)
Producer: Cathy Konrad

"When I was first working with Jim (Mangold) in 1995 on 'Cop Land,' I asked him what else he'd be interested in making, and he said he wanted to make a movie about Johnny Cash and he wanted to make '3:10 to Yuma.' We went on to set up 'Walk the Line' at Sony, and when they decided not to make it, we reminded them that '3:10' was in their library, and they said, 'Let's develop that.' Ultimately, they decided not to make it either. But we had a script and decided '3:10' would be our next film regardless.

"Our first choice had always been Russell Crowe, but he was committed to Baz Luhrmann (for 'Australia'). Then Tom Cruise showed some initial interest, but after 'Mission 3' he took a career respite. Then Russell fell out of Baz's movie. I remember Jim and I were shooting the pilot for (ABC's) 'Men in Trees' in Vancouver, and Russell called and said, 'Let's do it.'

"We had a star and a $50 million budget, but no studio. Ryan Kavanaugh (of Relativity Media) called and said he wanted to make it, and Lionsgate agreed to distribute it. Even so, the financing didn't come together until three days before principal photography began. Jim and I financed preproduction with such a small amount of cash I wouldn't have thought it was possible.

"The shoot was grueling. We thought we would be able to start shooting in Santa Fe in the summer, but we didn't begin until the fall, and then we filmed into the winter. On New Year's Eve, a snowstorm literally buried the set. Jim and I joked that it took sitting through six or seven screenings before every frame didn't make us wince and say, 'Oh God, remember that day?'"
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