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Since being forced out as Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman three years ago, Amy Pascal has quickly found her footing as a producer, having produced two of the films that have been nominated for the Producers Guild of America’s Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures Award this year — The Post and Molly’s Game.
And when producer Barry Mendel, a nominee for The Big Sick, asked her at Saturday morning’s annual PGA Nominees breakfast what she’s learned as a producer that she didn’t know as a studio executive, Pascal answered bluntly, “Everything you think you knew as a studio executive is complete bullshit,” to a big round of laughter and applause. “I think I should have been fired much sooner,” she joked.
Producers of each of the 11 films nominated for the PGA’s top award gathered at The Hollywood Reporter-sponsored event at the Steve Tisch Cinema Center at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills to trade stories about how their respective films found their way to the screen.
After PGA national executive director Vance Van Patten welcomed the capacity crowd, PGA president Gary Lucchesi moderated the discussion. Citing a quote in which The Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro had said of his decision to tackle an unconventional sci-fi fantasy, “I’m 52 years old. Let’s go where it’s not safe,” Lucchesi said, “Every one of these producers made a movie that’s not safe.”
Some of the projects came together quickly. Pascal explained that on the very day she first read Liz Hannah’s screenplay for The Post, she optioned it, and then the next day Fox’s Stacey Snider, who’d also read the screenplay, called to say she’d like to be involved as well.
By contrast, Peter Spears recounted how he and his producing partner Howard Rosenman spent 10 years pursuing a film adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel Call Me by Your Name, enlisting James Ivory first as executive producer and then as writer, attracting the interest of director Luca Guadagnino and then assembling foreign financing.
J. Miles Dale related that the inspiration for Shape of Water went back even further — to when del Toro first saw The Creature From the Black Lagoon as a kid, and, disappointed that the creature didn’t get the girl, vowed to one day remedy that situation.
Deborah Snyder explained that in the case of Wonder Woman, the producers had a character and an actress in Gal Gadot, who first introduced the superhero in 2016’s Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice, but then had to go through the process of finding a screenplay that would serve as a solo vehicle for Wonder Woman. She also testified, “We made a conscious decision to have a female director,” which drew applause.
Graham Broadbent told of how writer-director Martin McDonagh had actually written Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri before the two collaborated on 2012’s Seven Psychopaths, and that he’d written it specifically for Frances McDormand.
In the case of Dunkirk, Emma Thomas said, “It’s a story everyone knows. It’s almost how we define ourselves as British people,” but that filmmaker Christopher Nolan didn’t want to tell a conventional battle movie but more of a survival tale, “almost an experimental movie with very little dialogue.”
Get Out had its origins in a conversation producer Sean McKittrick had with Keegan-Michael Key while they were working on another movie. Key suggested McKittrick meet with his Key & Peele partner Jordan Peele. McKittrick and Peele met for an introductory coffee, where Peele pitched him the premise for Get Out, and, McKittrick said, “we bought it at the table.” McKittrick urged Peele to write the screenplay, which he then later decided he also wanted to direct.
In telling of the beginnings of The Big Sick, Mendel explained that his producing partner Judd Apatow first met writer/actor Kumail Nanjiani at the SXSW Film Festival, which Apatow was visiting to promote the first season of HBO’s Girls, and when he and Apatow subsequently met with Nanjiani to hear his ideas for The Big Sick, they were immediately taken because it was such a compelling story.
Evelyn O’Neill didn’t need an introduction to writer/director Greta Gerwig, since she’d been serving as her manager for several years and knew she’d been working on a screenplay set in the actress’ hometown of Sacramento, California, but when she finally read Gerwig’s script for Lady Bird, she was still amazed, enthusing, “The script was incredible — she had such a clear vision.”
Producer Mark Gordon admitted that if it had not been for the interest of Aaron Sorkin to serve as first writer, then director, of Molly’s Game, he would have found that project a tougher sell, saying that when he was first offered Molly Bloom’s memoir about her days as a poker princess, “if it had come to me without the knowledge that Aaron was interested, it would have been harder.”
And Australian-born actress-turned-producer Margot Robbie confessed that when she first read Craig Gillespie’s script for I, Tonya, she didn’t even realize it was a true story, but was struck by the fact that “the script felt very original, very rebellious. It broke all the rules.”
The producers will meet up again on Saturday evening when the PGA Awards ceremony is held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
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