'Call Me by Your Name,' 'Wonderstruck' Producers on Ensuring a Safe Space on Set

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
'Call Me by Your Name'

The producer of 'Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri' also talked about the film's timeliness at the Produced By NY conference.

In light of the many sexual harassment and assault allegations that have been made over the past few weeks, the producers of Call Me by Your Name, Wonderstruck and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri used some of a panel discussion Saturday at the Producers Guild of America’s Produced By Conference NY to talk about ensuring a safe space on set for actors, particularly ones filming intimate scenes.

“There’s a lot of intimate moments in this movie and when we were shooting that, it was always a consciousness of … how to do that in a way that was respectful of [the actors] creativity, but also their privacy,” Call Me by Your Name producer Peter Spears said of his film, which tells the story of an American professor (Armie Hammer) who begins to develop romantic feelings for a graduate student (Timothee Chalamet) while they cohabitate in the student’s family’s northern Italian home.

Spears noted that the particularly intimate scenes in the movie were treated with nothing but respect for the actors involved. From a technical standpoint, the production team guaranteed that only the necessary workers would be on set during the filming of intimate scenes.

“In our case it was the actors, it was the director and it was the camera person. Every other person is gone and away from the set when that’s happening,” he said. Spears went on to explain that the cast's comfort was always a top priority on set. 

“We wanted the film to have a sensuality about it, and we wanted the film to be sexual," he said. "The day-to-day and nuts and bolts to that were how to do that in a way that was respectful of the artists.”

Spears added, “I’m grateful that we had an understanding on our set that this was the way we were going to make this movie.”

Chalamet, who was also part of the panel, said that he greatly appreciated an on-set “environment that’s conducive to creativity” while filming intimate scenes. The actor emphasized that a positive vibe on set can change the whole filming experience. “Just speaking from the perspective of being in front of the camera and being able to see that performance, I’m lucky to be working on things with producers that are generally passionate about the projects they’re working on,” he said.

Wonderstruck producer Christine Vachon, of Killer Films, said she's typically present for the filming of "sensitive" scenes and makes sure the actors know they can approach her if they're uncomfortable.

“When we know we’re going to be filming a sensitive subject matter, usually sex scenes or nude scenes, we make sure the actors know that I’m there,” Vachon said. "Sometimes they’d rather talk to me than the director because I’m female or because they’re still a little nervous about the director. I try to establish those lines of communication early and often, so that the actors do feel that.”

Vachon added that it is a producer’s responsibility to ensure that both the cast and crew are comfortable.

“I think that we’ve all sort of examined our practices in the past few weeks, and I do feel like we’ve tried very hard at Killer because we’re a very female-run company,” she said. The producer noted that she has not encountered many complaints on the sets of her films, but she is always responsive when they arise. “We try to make sure we listen and call producers. Keep an eye on the ground, the set, to sort of make sure that there’s not real toxicity happening,” said Vachon.

The producer also added that the male-dominated aspect of the entertainment industry is why she has always kept a close eye on her talent. “Even though I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress in having more women DP’s and more women as department heads, certainly on our films, most film sets are mostly male,” she said. “It’s still the way it is, so we just try to pay a lot of attention.”

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri deals with racism and violence toward women, which producer Graham Broadbent said made the film, which is set to hit theaters Nov. 10, feel particularly timely.

“These weeks make it very contemporary,” Broadbent said. “I sit here as a storyteller. I produce films because I like stories and I want stories to be made. The weird thing that comes with it is that responsibility for the best for the film … to make the best creative film, to have the best time, to make sure people are well looked after.”

To ensure that there is a positive tone on set, Broadbent relies on those behind the scenes to make sure everyone on set is happy. “I wouldn’t sit around a place that wasn’t all right,” he said.

The comfort of the talent in Step was particularly important to director-producer Amanda Lipitz because the documentary deals with teenage girls of color on a high school dance team. The film consists of all female subjects, while the crew consisted of two men.

“I wrote up a set of guidelines before anyone dealt with any of the young women on the team,” Lipitz revealed.

Some of these guidelines included not walking into rooms with closed doors and to know everyone on the dance team’s names.

“We were inside people’s homes and it was very important that they would trust us and that we made them feel comfortable with not just me as the director and the producer, but then my crew,” she said. “Anytime anyone felt uncomfortable, it was the priority to make it right.”

The panel, the first in two producers' master class events during the conference, also featured Wonderstruck composer Carter Burwell, Three Billboards production designer Inbal Weinberg and Step editor Penelope Falk. It was moderated by producer Bruce Cohen.

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