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While several of the producers taking part in the annual PGA Nominees Breakfast, which was held today, applauded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for moving to address diversity issues within that organization, they pointed out that change really has to start at the beginning of the production process and not when awards are handed out at the end of it.
“I think the things the Academy has just made is a great step,” Alejandro Inarritu, a nominee for The Revenant said, “but the Academy really is at the end of the chain.” He went on to say, “Hopefully, active change, positive change, they can start at the beginning of the chain.” He added, “The complexity of the demographics of this country should be reflected not only at the end of the chain,” noting that “cinema is the mirror where we can all see ourselves.”
That sentiment was seconded by Sicario’s Basil Iwanyk, who observed, “I think that a big mistake is just to focus on how the Academy votes and not work backwards to about how movies and television are generated.” As “a white guy,” he admitted, “I don’t have that experience in terms of feeling left out.” But, he continued, “I felt that the rage toward the Academy was justified, but that’s not the problem. The problem comes much earlier in the process.”
Scott Bernstein, one of the producers of Straight Outta Compton, who stood in on the panel for producer-director F. Gary Gray, who was stranded on the East Coast by the snowstorm, first told of how a white test audience was won over by the movie after watching an R-rated trailer and realizing it was about the creator of Beats by Dre and then commented that “movies are not exclusive, they are inclusive. That’s what all these stories represent. And I’m not saying the Academy is inclusive or exclusive. We’ve all made movies up here that reflect the world.” He added, “This conversation has begun.”
Speaking of the responsibility that producers themselves have to address the issue in their work, The Big Short’s Dede Gardner summed it up, saying, “It starts with us. It’s a position of tremendous power.”
PGA president Gary Lucchesi moderated the conversation, which took place at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre in Hollywood and which was sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter. Participating were producers from all 10 films nominated for the PGA’s top film award. They also included Kristie Macosko Krieger from Bridge of Spies; Finola Dwyer, Brooklyn; Andrew Macdonald, Ex Machina; Doug Mitchell, Mad Max: Fury Road; Michael Schaefer, The Martian and Michael Sugar, Spotlight.
Much of the discussion involved the nuts-and-bolts challenges that producers face in development, financing, casting and production, with Lucchesi teasing out the commonalities among the movies.
Mitchell explained, for example, how Fury Road initially was set to shoot in the desert in Australia, but when a drought and then a subsequent flood turned that desert into “a flower field,” the production moved instead to Namibia. And Schaefer got a laugh when he then explained that in looking for locations for The Martian, which ultimately filmed in Budapest and Jordan, his production first scouted Australia only to stumble upon that same flower field.
Lucchesi also pointed out that when it came to casting three of the nominated movies — Brooklyn, Ex Machina and The Revenant — all cast Domhnall Gleeson. Joked Inarritu before praising the actor’s talent, “He was very cheap by the way. ”The PGA Awards themselves will be held this evening at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel.
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