The producer’s panel at the Santa Barbara Film Festival was a powerhouse assemblage of people responsible for bringing us some of the best and most lauded films of 2019. Five of the six panelists are Oscar-nominated and two of them are nominated for two films each. David Heyman, double Oscar-nominated for producing both Marriage Story and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, double Oscar-nominee for The Irishman and Joker, Oscar-nominated Carthew Neal of Jojo Rabbit, Kwak Sin Ae, Oscar-nominated producer of Parasite, Andrew Miano, producer of The Farewell, and Pippa Harris, Oscar-nominated (and PGA winning) producer of 1917. Amy Pascal, Oscar-nominated producer of Little Women, was sick and couldn’t attend. It was quite an astounding conversation, moderated by Los Angeles Times’ Glenn Whipp.
Here are some of the highlights:
On what the greatest challenge of filming 1917 was, Pippa Harris quickly cited the challenges with lighting. Having to maintain a consistent look over the course of shooting made for many stressful days. “It was an odd rhythm. It’s hard to get used to and hard to not panic.”
The audience was riveted by Harris’s explanation of one of the many logistical nightmares a producer deals with on a regular basis. The crew had to build a barn in the middle of the English countryside, which they had planned to tear down after filming. A group of swallows had other ideas, as they had chosen the barn to make their nests. And ecological consultant informed the crew that the barn couldn’t be struck until after the eggs had hatched. So, as soon as the eggs hatched and they were ready to break down the barn, they discovered yet another group of birds had moved in, so they had to wait for those to leave as well.
In a similar story that made the audience visibly gasp, Harris told of the digging of the trenches for the movie, which was hard enough, but, to follow through with their commitment to put everything back they way they found it, they had to not only fill in the holes, but match the exact type of soil in the exact order it was dug up.
“When I look back at it now, I wonder why we ever agreed to do this,” Harris said, smiling.
As for Tillinger Koskoff, who is nicknamed “the gangster of New York” by Joker director Todd Phillips because of her famous expertise in navigating the ins and outs of shooting in New York City, she is only the second woman ever to have two movies nominated for Best Picture in the same year.
The Irishman took 12 years to get to screen and would have never made it, if they hadn’t found the studio willing to dig deep to fulfill director Martin Scorsese’s vision. “Had it not been for Netflix, The Irishman would never have seen the light of day.”
Regarding the controversy swirling around Joker, even before it was released, Tillinger Koskoff said, “we didn’t set out to make an irresponsible movie. We set out to make a character study. We made a provocative film, not an irresponsible one. Once people saw it, audiences saw what we were going for.”
“I commend Warner Bros for taking a chance and sticking up for it,” she said.
Tillinger Koskoff provided perhaps the best advice of the day when she gave a tip to the audience, which included many film students. When congratulated on the massive financial success Joker has achieved, Tillinger Koskoff advised, “to all your aspiring producers out there, here’s a piece of advice: get a good back end. I didn’t.”
Parasite producer Kwak Sin Ae, who started as a writer for a South Korean movie magazine, says director Bong Joon Ho was a fan of her writing, so he asked her to produce Parasite, only her second feature film.
“People paid attention to him even before he was in film school.”
“After Snowpiercer and Okja, he wanted to return to Korea to make a pure Korean film with Korean actors.”
The audience gave impressed and hearty applause when Kwak told them that not only was the house featured prominently in the film designed and built just for the film, but so was the entire street and basement apartment where the Kim family lives. She further astounded them when she said the production designer was so committed to authenticity, he even brought in real bugs.
Jojo Rabbit producer Carthew Neal agreed with moderator Whipp that director Taika Waititi showed great courage for casting himself in the role of imaginary friend Hitler. “He didn’t enjoy doing it, but he felt it was an important message. Plus, being Polynesian, he knew he wasn’t really playing Hitler.”
Neal noted how the current political and social climate allowed this film to be made. “In 2010, nobody wanted to make it, but in 2017, the world was different.”
Director Andrew Miano of The Farewell told a story that ended up getting the biggest laugh of the night with the crowd and showed one of the many nuances of the job of producing. When recounting his experiences of shooting in China, he mentioned that, one day, there was a car that was blocking the shot, so the crew just went over and lifted the car out of the way. “We can’t do that in America.” Similarly, there was a tree blocking another shot, so they just cut it down. Again, not something they can do in the U.S. Whipp, sensing a callback to Tillinger Koskoff’s reputation for being able to get anything done in New York, looked over to the Joker producer and asked what she would have done if there had been a car blocking her shot and she just shrugged with a mischievous look on her face, and the audience howled with laughter.
David Heyman, twice nominated for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and Marriage Story, noted the different styles between directors Quentin Tarantino and Noah Baumbach. “They are both perfectionists and relentless in the pursuit of their vision, but Baumbach’s sets are much quieter.”
Speaking of difficulties shooting in some locations, Heyman retold the story of how, when he was not getting approvals from the city of Los Angeles to shoot on Hollywood Boulevard, Tarantino insisted on coming to the next meeting to do the convincing himself. Wanting to make a grand entrance, he locked himself in a broom closet, waiting for the meeting to near the end before emerging. The meeting took much longer than expected, however, Heyman said, so Quentin Tarantino was stuck in a broom closet for over an hour, just to make a grand entrance. Yes, the approvals were given.
Heyman notes another similarity between Tarantino and Baumbach: neither director allows a cell phone on set. The audience loved that.