Producers of some of 2009's memorable films share stories


Jan Chapman, "Bright Star"
" 'Bright Star' is a story that relies very much on the seasons. We were shooting in England and we never knew what was going to turn up. There's a scene in the film where Fanny Brawne gets a long-awaited letter from Keats and she goes walking toward a field of bluebells and lies in them in total rapture. We'd seen the field in preproduction and knew it was a possibility that the bluebells would bloom, but it that it would only happen within certain days. We needed to be ready or the whole thing wouldn't work. And when those bluebells came out of the ground, that was a special moment. Sometimes nature conspires to assist you as a producer. When I look at Fanny lying in those bluebells, it reminds me of being in love when I was young or the way I see young people today reacting to love. It makes me feel joyful, alive and full of possibilities. There is nothing like experiencing that first 'being in love' feeling."

Dan Goldberg, "The Hangover"
"We shot the scene on top of Ceasars Palace first -- where the guys all toast Justin Bartha. We had no proof that this cast would be interesting together whatsoever. Zach Galifianakis was this quirky, weird, interesting performance artist, but there was a lot of nervousness about him because he'd never done anything big. Would he be able to deliver a real character? If you watch Zach in other movies, he's always a short-shrifted character. So when we got to the toast and did the coverage on Zach, he suddenly he slowed it down. He wasn't comedic. He was sincere and real as he invited the guys to be part of his one-man wolf pack. He really got into this guy's psyche. It transcended the script. For me it was about this guy who found his place, who took center stage and who owned the moment -- a small moment, but he made it into a huge moment. After that he just became that character. It led to all the other guys falling in to place and you really felt they were a group. For us as filmmakers, we looked at each other and said, 'Wow, this is gonna work.' "

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Jon Landau, "Avatar"
"I showed Sam Worthington finished material that we had captured on film about a year or so earlier. We sat down in a screening room at our stage in Playa Vista and he started watching himself onscreen in his avatar form. We were trying to make these characters the 21st century version of prosthetics -- and making sure the performances came through. I was nervous because we made a promise to the cast that, when they saw the movie, they would recognize themselves. Sam watched and giggled. He was saying: 'That's me! That's my expression, my lips, my blinking! It's me!' Next time he was in town, it was for the 'Terminator' premiere. He brought a bunch of friends from Australia with him and they all came to see the material. It was like having a bunch of rowdy college students in that screening room. They were yelling: 'That's Sam!' They were talking back to the screen, watching the friend that they grew up with playing a character that didn't look like Sam, but so clearly was."

Lori McCreary, "Invictus"
"Morgan (Freeman) and I had been trying to get Nelson Mandela (as a character) in a film for a long time, so Morgan has been studying him over the years every time he had chance to be in the same room him. I'm not sure Mandela actually knew all those times he was being studied. One time, we saw him before we started shooting and Morgan walked in to the room in character. I was holding my breath because even I hadn't seen Morgan do Mandela yet. Morgan walked in with that same gait Mandela has. It's a very specific gait due to one of his knees being hurt. Mandela was sitting down and Morgan went over to him, bent down, just like Mandela does, shook his hand and said a line that had actually come out of Mandela's mouth in 1995. Mandela's accent is different because it's actually more of a cadence than an accent. I finally let my breath out when I saw the grin on Mandela's face from ear to ear. An almost guttural laugh came out of him. That was a moment for me. I felt, in the world of moviemaking, we were on the right track."

Jonas Rivera, "Up"
"Casting Ed Asner was really cool. Carl Fredricksen is a curmudgeonly old guy, but we knew we had to balance that with appeal and make him likable. We watched a lot of Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau movies to see how they balanced that so delicately. When we met Ed, we knew he had a touch for humor and timing. We had a little maquette -- a 6-inch-tall sculpture -- made of Carl. We came down to Los Angeles to meet with him and he came walking in. We set the maquette on the table and Ed says (low gruff voice): 'You want me to be HIM?' We say, 'Yes, this is Carl.' He says (grumpily): 'Well I don't even look like that!' We looked at each other and said: 'There's Carl!' "

Ivan Reitman, "Up in the Air"
"This was a unique situation for me because, for the first time, I was producing a film that my son (Jason Reitman) was directing. That was really tricky and required a realignment of our parental relationship. One time, he was annoyed at me after some meeting we had with the studio where I spoke how I'd normally speak as a producer who's made some 40 movies over the last 39 years. I saw him alone in the parking lot afterward and he seemed annoyed. He said: 'No other producer would have spoken that way. You assumed you could because you're my dad.' I realized that he was right. I wasn't being smart or sensitive enough to the situation. It's really hard shifting from being a dad to being a producer. It was one of those things I had to learn in the process. We've always had a good relationship, but this turned into something closer and even more intimate. We had to overcome this new way (of) being together. I had to learn to set aside any of the dad stuff altogether and really focus with him, as I would as a producer, and give him the room he deserves as a fabulous director. As a result, the two of us are closer to each other than we've ever been."

Sarah Siegel-Magness, "Precious"
"We were closing the deal with Lionsgate and it was after Sundance. I was at my sister's wedding in Cabo San Lucas and it was sunset. My phone just kept ringing and ringing and ringing. I literally worked through the vows. I was actually in the wedding. I tried to be as respectful as possible and hide my cell phone in my dress. Right before she said, 'I do,' I had to step away with my cell phone and close the deal. People kept asking me, 'What are you doing?' The crazy thing about Hollywood is they don't care what you're doing. They don't care if it's in the middle of the night or your sister's wedding. If the deal needs to be closed, the deal needs to be closed. We were just hashing out all the final details because we wanted to close it as quickly as possible after Sundance so we could make an announcement. I was pacing back and forth on the veranda, looking at the ocean, trying to close this whole deal. It literally closed before she got married so we had two things to celebrate that night."

Finola Dwyer & Amanda Posey, "An Education"
Dwyer: "When we went to L.A. and were in postproduction, we were editing the film and did a test screening. In that screening, we could feel that the movie was going to work. We still had some things to change on the cut but we knew by how the audience responded that the film would work. That was a very significant moment because you can't always tell. It was the film's first exposure outside of the U.K. and we could feel from the audience how they stayed with it."
Posey: "It's a very British movie and this was the first time we'd shown it in America to Americans. We could tell the audience was taking it to their hearts. It felt a little magical because we got a sense that the movie was going to work across the Pond. It was very gratifying to feel because we always believed it was a very universal story."

Lawrence Bender, "Inglourious Basterds"
"The way (Quentin Tarantino) casts is, it's just him and (me) in a room. There's no casting director. At the end of the day we cast two roles, so I was feeling pretty good. But he was a little off. I couldn't tell why. At 7 o'clock the next morning he calls me down to his hotel room and he says, 'You know, I might have written a role that can't be cast. We might have to pack up and go home and I'll publish the screenplay as a book. I can't compromise on this role.' People had come in and they were great in German, great in French, but it's like poetry in all three languages. And he was still cash-flowing the movie because to make our date we had to cash-flow the movie until we made our deals with the studios. So I said, 'Here's how much money we would spend in the next week. Why don't we just focus on this one guy. In a week, if we can't find him, we'll pack up and go home.' That took the weight off his shoulder. A couple hours later -- now, understand, Quentin knows every actor walking in the room, even though they're German -- and in comes this guy he's never heard of, Christoph Waltz. And he starts in French, and he goes to English, then he goes to German, and halfway through Quentin and I are looking at each other with our jaws dropped. Oh my God, we found our guy. So he leaves. And I said to Quentin, 'Why didn't you just give him the role in the room?' And he said, 'Well, we gave ourselves a week.' "