Producers Guild Nominees Share Notes at Annual Breakfast: "Protect the Film at Any Cost"

2019 PGA Nominees Breakfast - Group Shot-H 2019
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for THR

Jim Burke, Alfonso Cuaron, Graham King, Raymond Mansfield, Ceci Dempsey,  Lynette Howell Taylor, Andrew Form, Kevin Messick, John Penotti and Kevin Feige attend the 2019 PGA Nominees Breakfast on January 19, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. 

Nominees from the 10 films nominated for the PGA Award — from 'Black Panther' and 'A Star Is Born' to 'Roma' and 'Vice' — traded war stories at the event, from scheduling disasters to last-minute makeup scares.

“My job was to protect the film at any cost,” Graham King, producer of the hit biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, said of confronting the biggest crisis on his movie — when, with 16-17 days left in principal photography, Fox, the studio behind the pic, decided to replace director Bryan Singer. He explained that Singer, whose mother was ailing, wanted to put the production on hiatus, but the studio insisted on moving forward.

While King was talking about a very specific and unusual situation, the definition of his job he volunteered might well have been offered up as a motto which all of his fellow producers could adopt as their own. 

King made those remarks during the Producers Guild of America’s annual Nominees Breakfast, which took place Saturday. Producers from all 10 films nominated for the PGA’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award gathered at the event, which was held at the Skirball Cultural Center and sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter. Lucy Fisher, who serves as PGA president along with Gail Berman, moderated the panel, during which producers shared behind-the-scenes stories of what it took to bring their respective films to the screen.

As Fisher quizzed the producers about the various challenges they faced, they revealed the variety of obstacles and unexpected developments a committed producer must be prepared to overcome.

Bradley Cooper, for example, spent a year on his voice so he could speak in a lower register that would match that of Sam Elliott, whom he wanted to cast as his brother in A Star Is Born. But then, with the film well into preproduction and heading toward a tight 42-day shoot, it looked as if the busy Elliott’s filming dates wouldn’t work out. "Bradley was like, 'I don’t know if I can make this movie if I don’t have Sam,'" recalled producer Lynette Howell Taylor. Part of the solution involved the production building a special set that could accommodate Elliott’s schedule.

While Christian Bale committed early on to playing Dick Cheney in Vice, director Adam McKay promised him that they wouldn’t actually go ahead with the film unless they got the makeup just right. But, according to producer Kevin Messick, the first attempt didn’t work, and so Bale spent six months with makeup artist Greg Cannom to perfect the look, and it wasn’t until the weekend before filming was scheduled to begin that Bale and McKay were satisfied with the results.

Crazy Rich Asians producer John Penotti admitted that when that production first began scouting locations in Singapore, the film’s title was a problem. Despite the popularity of Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name, it hadn’t crossed over into the vernacular, and Penotti was asked, “Are you making fun of us? Is it a joke?”

In the case of Black Panther, an unexpected problem developed on the massive Wakandan set, where the warriors battle against the backdrop of towering waterfalls, which was constructed in Georgia. Huge lights were employed to mimic the African sun. But, said Marvel’s Kevin Feige, after one day of filming, dazzled by the lights, the cast was suffering from an effect akin to snow blindness.  “We just blinded the cast of Black Panther and 300 extras,” Feige remembered thinking to himself in horror. And so, as filming continued, cast and extras were all provided with sunglasses, which, he added, looked very cool.

Andrew Form, one of the producers of A Quiet Place, admitted that that horror film’s first test screening was a disaster. Visual effects hadn’t been inserted into the movie. And instead of seeing a horrific creature, audiences were treated to the sight of the movie’s star and director John Krasinski playing the monster himself. And so when Emily Blunt raised a gun to kill him, the audience burst into laughter. “It was our darkest time,” Form laughed.

As producer Jim Burke recounted it, Green Book was greeted with a diametrically different test screening. Universal held a screening of the first cut of the film, running slightly over two hours, in a theater in Long Beach, California. The filmmakers looked at the auditorium nervously, since the audience looked like a The Fast & The Furious-type crowd. But then, to their relief, the film scored 100s.

As for the persistence required in bringing a movie to the screen, three to three-and-a-half years seemed to be a happy medium for many of the productions nominated this year. But for The Favourite producer Ceci Dempsey, it was a lot longer than that — she first received the spec script that would eventually lead to the film in 1998. On the other hand, BlacKkKlansman took a much speedier route. “We were greenlit and in production in under a year,” said producer Raymond Mansfield, noting that the combination of Ron Stallworth’s book about his experience infiltrating the KKK, the momentum of fellow producer Jordan Peele’s hit Get Out and Spike Lee’s interest in directing all created the momentum for “a package that was just too enticing.” 

Since Alfonso Cuaron wore multiple hats on Roma — not only was he producer and director but also writer, cinematographer and editor — the filmmaker joked about the split personalities he sometimes inhabited on that movie’s set. “The biggest challenge was the director. He was difficult,” Cuaron quipped. “I tried to do as much as possible of what the director was demanding,” he added. “There was a constant conversation that wasn’t pleasant.”

The PGA will hold its 30th annual Producers Guild Awards on Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where the winner of the organization's Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures will be revealed. The full list of nominees includes:

Black Panther
Producer: Kevin Feige

Producers: Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Jordan Peele, Spike Lee

Bohemian Rhapsody
Producer: Graham King

Crazy Rich Asians
Producers: Nina Jacobson & Brad Simpson, John Penotti

The Favourite
Producers: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, Yorgos Lanthimos

Green Book
Producers: Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga

A Quiet Place
Producers: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller

Producers: Gabriela Rodríguez, Alfonso Cuarón

A Star Is Born
Producers: Bill Gerber, Bradley Cooper, Lynette Howell Taylor

Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Kevin Messick, Adam McKay