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Actress-producer Olivia Wilde and the producers of successful indies Bachelorette, The Place Beyond the Pines and Beasts of the Southern Wild talked about the business of independent film at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Tatiana Siegel moderated the Tribeca Talks: The Producers panel that, among other topics, explored the challenges of financing and casting films with no guarantee those movies will see the light of day.
Wilde just produced her first narrative film, Meadowland, which is premiering at Tribeca on Friday, and the actress explained what drove her to start producing.
“Once you’ve spent a bunch of your life making movies, you learn a lot of lessons and you feel that you understand the process and you feel that you know how things should be done and you really want to facilitate the good stories,” she said. “I’d been working for 12 years as an actress, learned from some really fantastic producers and I felt that it was time that I use those lessons and turn it around and try to help someone I really respected, in this case, Reed Morano, our director, make our film and her directorial debut.”
In terms of specific producers she learned from, Wilde cited her Her producer Megan Ellison, who let Spike Jonze make the film he wanted to make. “I watched her very closely,” she said. “I noticed the differences between her and maybe some other producers I had worked for.” She also talked about how she observed basic problem-solving techniques from producers she worked with on TV shows: “I had a lot of time to learn about the nuts and bolts of producing from them and how to really handle a crisis.”
Now that Wilde has produced, she doesn’t plan to stop.
“Now I can’t help be that pushy and nosy when making a film. Once you actually understand that you can effect change and you can help the right decisions get made and push good movies through and find them financing and fight for them and stand up for them, then you really want to do that,” she said. “There are so many stories out there that need to be told but just need that last element — they need people to fight for them.”
Her experience on the project, which initially came to her as an actress, also gave her some new, sobering insight into the casting and financing process.
“Once you see those lists with all of the actors, listed by value, and you’re like, ‘Where am I?…Oh, gosh,'” she said as she pretended to scroll through a long list.
Still, she urged aspiring producers not to make story or casting compromises just to secure financing.
“Let’s say you’re making a film and the male role isn’t as big as the female role and the financier says, ‘Well if we bump up this male role, we might get a bigger male actor and then we can make this movie.’ I think it’s really important resisting that and sticking to your guns and telling the story you really want to make,” Wilde said. “And if you can’t get an actor to accept that small role, they’re not right for that role. Don’t change your story to try to beg actors to be a part of it. If it’s a good story, they’re lucky to be a part of it.”
Place Beyond the Pines producer Alex Orlovsky, who also produced Half Nelson and Blue Valentine, shared that sentiment, recalling how with the Michelle Williams-Ryan Gosling film “literally 30 or 40 actors” passed on the project in the several years he and director Derek Cianfrance spent trying to get the film made.
“Wait, be patient, the right version will get made when the timing’s right,” he said. “Don’t just make it so that you can say you made a movie.”
Wilde also advised producers to be creative and clear when making offers to actors.
“Make sure you allow the actor to really understand what they’re being offered and who the director is,” she said. “I just can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed on something because it just wasn’t presented to me in the right light and then later seeing it being made and being like, ‘Wait. What?…I didn’t know it was that!'”
Bachelorette producer Carly Hugo also shared her own difficulties securing financing for her David Oyelowo starrer Five Nights in Maine, showing the Tribeca audience the first footage from the drama.
“We brought the film basically to everyone for financing, hoping to find one or two companies who could come in and do it together. It was just too difficult. It was just pass, pass, pass,” Hugo explained. “It’s hard to be pitching knowing that people aren’t responding to it. It makes it really discouraging, but we had to start from scratch and figure out the best way of doing it, which, in our case, was to assemble a lot of grants…We ended up assembling small investors in the $25,000 a piece range, which means we now have however many people that is, which is a lot of people to manage, but it is what it is…That is not a model that is easy because then the film becomes about financing.”
But Beasts of the Southern Wild producer Matt Parker, who has often worked with Hugo, noted that most films in the million-dollar-budget range typically get about half of their money from grants.
Parker, like the other producers shared some of his future projects, explaining that he’s finishing the digital effects on a Luke Wilson film and is developing a stop-motion animation feature.
Hugo is working on family drama, Faith, based on the New York Times best-seller from a few years ago. The film, which takes place in Boston in 2001, centers around the oldest brother in a family, who plays a Catholic priest who’s falsely accused of molesting a child. The story is told from the younger brother and sister’s perspectives and concerns questions of trust.
Orlovsky is waiting for the next script from I Origins‘ Mike Cahill, which he is expecting to be a humanist view on what would happen if humans and aliens interacted. He’s also working with The One I Love‘s Charlie McDowell on his new film The Discovery.
Wilde is producing the “great, weird girl comedy” FML, co-starring Jenny Slate.
Those interested in hearing full audio of the event can do so here.
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