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Elisabeth Bartlett is blogging the festival scene from Cannes to Los Angeles.
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Where Should Films be Going? From Some of the Best - Produced by 2012 Notes

Game Changers: Where Should Films be Going? A panel including Ceán Chaffin, Michael de Luca, Mark Johnson, Doug Wick, and moderator Michael Shamberg opened Day 2 of the Produced by Conference by attempting to answer that question. 

Ceán Chaffin (Producer & partner of David Fincher- Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo): "We don't have tentpole movies." The audience is harder and harder to find. "We make something we want to see." 

Doug Wick (Producer of The Great Gatsby, Memoirs of a Geisha, Jarhead, Gladiator) "The ABCs of how you find a good idea, acting, the basic challenge is still the same even though the financing is now different."

Michael De Luca (Producer of Moneyball, The Social Network, L.A. Noir, The Sitter) : "The bar is raised for movies that can work theatrically. The bar has been raised to make better movies."

Mark Johnson: "It's a really exciting time as producers. We have to be more inventive and resourceful than we have in the past. The movies that I'm proudest of took me longest to make."

Moderator Michael Shamberg (Producer, Contagion, Reno 911) asked the panel about dream projects. De Luca says, "Moneyball is my dream project and it took 8 years." De Luca found it relatable, about a midlife crisis and how "he didn't need to carry a chip on his shoulder to vindicate mistakes of the past...You go with your gut and hope that it translates."

"You really have to be resourceful and inventive. Every day you start a new movie you're starting from scratch. There is no yardstick that says, 'This is how we do this.'" Chaffin: "Studios DO want to make good films. They also gotta keep their jobs, You gotta hit em at a sweet spot after a good quarter when they're feeling risky."

What is the trick to period films? "Why is that story about NOW?" What will resonate now? De Luca: "Good period pieces are timeless."   

Wick said it took more than a year to negotiate rights to The Great Gatsby. Then they heard Baz Luhrmann was trying to get the rights too and eventually they worked together. Wick spoke of the challenges in making The Great Gatsby. "How do you show a party that a new generation will want to go to? Fundamentally, theatrically, you have to achieve that." 

Ceán Chaffin spoke to pushing the film technically. You have to push it technically to make a film better. How do you make a film better digitally?  "You get more takes. You don't have the pressure that you have with film. Digital is a clean way of working."

De Luca talked about working with David Fincher on The Social Network. "He's a once in a lifetime filmmaker. He elevated it to high art. That's what he does with everything he namkes. He takes a genre film, and makes it high art. 

Doug Wick spoke on getting Gladiator greenlit: "There's always a little bit of good fortune and serendipity" when you make movies. "We had a copy of an 1870s french painting of an arena: Ridley Scott saw it, liked it, read the script."

On 3D: Ceán Chaffin: "We think it should be applied to something very specifically."

Shamberg prompted the panel: "If it's too fresh it's too weird, if it's too familiar it's too stale. Most films are a balance of both. What's the combination you listen for?" 

Mark Johnson: "That's a good question. Lots of good scripts never get made. You can only have so many pet projects, because they are potential heart-breakers.  

Wick commented on the making of his recent film, Lawless. "We had a lot of trouble getting it financed, we couldn't get studio financing," he said. "But in the old days with a cast like that (Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Shia LaBeouf) it would have been easy."

Shamberg: "Studios are fearful.  How do you manage their anxiety? What have you learned that helps you?"

Ceán Chaffin: "What you learn is that experience counts. You've kinda proved yourself. People trust you more." 

Mark Johnson had a different take: "Experience doesn't count for that much. What's fun is that each movie is different. It doesn't necessarily have reverberations to the next movie.  

Chaffin: "We got Social Network because it was cheap enough to take a risk on and Amy was in a really good mood about Spiderman."

An audience questioner asked whether recent success of women in lead roles means female protagonists are coming back. "We've gotta see a success without a book tied to it," commented Chaffin, the only woman on the panel. 

Another good audience question: How do you trust your gut after a film you really believed in fails? 

Mark Johnson talked about how he knew in his gut that Little Princess was almost a perfect movie, it was a great team, yet it got almost no business. He spent 6-7 months not knowing how to proceed. "I realized that not all of them work; not all of them resonate. But you pick yourself up, and go again." 

Michael De Luca remembered how Gary Ross once told him, "'Everyone has flops, not everyone has hits.' You just keep hoping," he says. 

Doug Wick says he always thinks of Irving Berlin There's No Business Like Show Business. "There's an optimism in people who survive a long time in the business," he said. "Despite insecurity, etc. there's a moment when you call Judy and Mickey and say 'lets put on a show.'"

Ceán Chaffin talked about Fight Club. It's a huge success, a cult classic, a great movie, but it failed miserably theatrically, though it made a lot of $ in DVD sales. "It's an anomoly that way." 

The panel talked about how you go through stages of grief. Underperformance, blame game & dodge, hindsight. But, 

..."The point is that the films you are passionate about are sometimes game changers." 

Shamberg finally asked, "What keeps you going?"

Mark Johnson: "I love it as much as I did when I started."

Michael de Luca: "For me it's really personal. Being around storytellers is extrememly therapeutic for me."

Doug Wick: "There are few jobs where you face the problems that we do. If you get up in the morning and face those kind of problems, how bad can it be?"

Ceán Chaffin: "We've all talked about luck today. To get luck you have to believe.  Kathleen Kennedy had Benjamin Button for 18 years." 

Shamberg asked the panel to break it down. "What does a producer do?"

"We're always the optimist," said one. "You have to provide something. It's about getting there and getting dirty."

"It's being the emotional pilot," said another. 

De Luca: "Being the cool head in the room, keep things moving forward."

Johnson: "To support the director. My career is based on spotting the right director for the right project." 


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About Elisabeth

Bartlett Elisabeth
Blogging about the festival scene from Los Angeles

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