Ahead of tonight’s Producers Guild of America awards ceremony, the annual breakfast with nominees for the Darryl F. Zanuck Award at the Skirball Cultural Center.
The theme of the panel, moderated by PGA President Lisa Fisher, was Steven Spielberg, named as one of the producers of his musical “West Side Story.”
During the conversation, the two-time Oscar-winning director – for ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993) and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998) – shared with the audience that he will never helm another musical. his career, although he’ll be involved as a producer on some. He is currently co-producing the musical adaptation of “The Color Purple” with Fantasia Barrino and Danielle Brooks in the lead roles. He directed Alice Walker’s 1985 adaptation, which was nominated for 11 Oscars and won him his first DGA award, although he failed to secure an Oscar nomination for Best Director.
The adoration for Spielberg and the overall gratitude of all the nominated producers was beautifully pronounced at the event.
In response to a question about how producers can succeed and get into the business, Spielberg responded by saying, “The smartest thing I do is hire women. I always have and always will. I believe in the power of the producer. You are not just the leaders. You are therapists. I rely on someone stronger than me to produce.
He reflected on the challenge of securing the rights to ‘West Side Story’, walking to lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s home saying, “His dogs were sniffing my crotch, and I was afraid to push them away [as] I didn’t mean to offend him.
He was able to achieve his goal saying it was an opportunity to keep the story of Romeo and Juliet alive for another 30 years. “My favorite channels are TCM and Criterion Channel, but they don’t get the highest ratings.”
A representative from each film nominated by the Producers Guild took the stage for the in-person event – Todd Black (“Being the Ricardos”), Philippe Rousselet (“CODA”), Mary Parent (“Dune”), Tim White ( “King Richard”), Sara Murphy (“Licorice Pizza”), Tanya Seghatchian (“The Power of the Dog”), Julie Oh (“Tick, Tick… Boom!”) and Spielberg (“West Side Story”) – while Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”) and Kevin Messick (“Don’t Look Up”) both appeared virtually via Zoom.
Fisher began by thanking everyone, telling the movie producers in the room that they had “conquered”: “They tried to kill us but couldn’t.”
She also highlighted the diversity of this year’s crop of nominated growers, which includes nine female growers. Fisher said nearly 50% of the guild is made up of women.
Support from streaming giant Netflix was also a common talking point among its three nominated films.
Tanya Seghatchian reveled in the genius of her production team, especially “Power of the Dog” director and screenwriter Jane Campion. The rights to Thomas Savage’s novel had passed through many hands over the past 55 years, including classic actor Paul Newman, who would go on to play lead character Phil Burbank, played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the final film.
Julie Oh’s charisma shone brightest onstage, speaking of the journey to bring composer Jonathan Larson’s musical: “There’s a reason there’s a Wikipedia page for development hell.”
Oh attended one of five performances that took place in New York with Lin-Manuel Miranda. She was initially unaware of the show and was surprised that the rights were available.
Kevin Messick spoke about “the urgency of climate change” in “Don’t Look Up” and how Adam McKay wrote the film with Jennifer Lawrence in mind. Most poignant was his response for the toughest production day; “The worst day was January 7,” referring to the insurgency’s attacks on the capital.
Todd Black talked about wanting to make a movie about the life of Lucille Ball in 1995, but the comedian’s children didn’t want it at the time. He also shared that he knew “Aaron Sorkin was the right person to write it” regarding the eight-year journey to make the film.
Philippe Rousselet began his opening remarks by acknowledging a good year for movies. Discussing the journey to have “CODA” made, and ultimately sold at Sundance for a record $25 million to Apple, he said, “It was the most amazing journey of my life as a producer.”
Mary Parent had watched the rights to “Dune” pass through different hands, waiting for the right opportunity to seize the moment. This moment came after several “rough passes” from various studios. It was while filming “Godzilla” (2014) that she pitched the production to Alex Garcia, selling the project to Legendary in 2013. She also talked about seeing an interview with Denis Villeneuve where the director shared that he wanted to direct an adaptation. of the famous novel since the age of 14, knowing at that time that she had found her director.
Parent almost hinted that “Dune: Part II” is “not a sequel”. That’s half the story.
‘King Richard’ producer Tim White recalled seeing real life Richard Williams, who is played in the film by leading best actor Will Smith, holding signs at a tennis match in Miami in 1999, long before he knew he wanted to make movies. Along with her brother and producing partner Trevor, the couple emailed Venus Williams saying they wanted to tell the Williams sisters’ story, but received no response: “The odds [were] against us,” White said. “We have absolutely no access to the Williams family.”
Sara Murphy spoke about the story of “Licorice Pizza” that has been ruminating in writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s mind for a long time. She talked about Anderson spending a lot of time with producer and former child actor Gary Goetzman, on whom Cooper Hoffman’s character Gary is based, following the death of Oscar winner Jonathan Demme. Murphy said one of the hardest parts was “getting Gary to sign a life rights agreement.”
Branagh defended his three producers – Laura Berwick, Becca Kovacik and Tamar Thomas – and recalled the availability of each during the pandemic. He heard from two of his stars, Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan, hours after sending them an initial email regarding the project. Branagh also recalled showing the semi-autobiographical ‘Belfast’ to his family: “There was enormous uncertainty. The hardest time was showing this personal story about my family, to my family. My brother saying that the things I say had happened to me, had happened to him.
The PGA Awards take place tonight at 8 p.m. PST.