Producers panel brings Oscar nominees to town

The Santa Barbara film festival's Movers & Shakers panel included, from left, moderator John Horn, Bruce Cohen, Debra Hayward, Dan Janvey, Kathleen Kennedy, Stacey Sher and David Womark. MIKE ELIASON/NEWS-PRESS
The Santa Barbara film festival’s Movers & Shakers panel included, from left, moderator John Horn, Bruce Cohen, Debra Hayward, Dan Janvey, Kathleen Kennedy, Stacey Sher and David Womark.

Six of this year’s Oscar-nominated producers took the stage for Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s third panel, the always popular Movers & Shakers event.

On an overcast Saturday morning, the Lobero Theatre was quite full with film fans who had come to see the less-recognizable but very important faces behind this year’s best films.

Moderated by Jon Horn, who also sat down on Wednesday evening to interview Quentin Tarantino, the panel featured Bruce Cohen, “Silver Linings Playbook”; Debra Hayward, “Les Miserables”; Dan Janvey, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; Kathleen Kennedy, “Lincoln”; Stacey Sher, “Django Unchained”; and David Womark, “Life of Pi.”

Of the panelists, Mr. Janvey is the youngest and newest to the game. And yet, working with a low budget, he had calmly taken on the job of “flooding a whole town” and figuring out how to create the giant, magical boars seen in “Beasts.”

It was an indie version of the job Mr. Womark did with “Life of Pi,” which required the imposing trinity of working with animals, children and water.

But the common denominator among most of the panelists was Ms. Kennedy, who worked with Steven Spielberg for 30 years and has a resume stuffed with some of Hollywood’s most popular movies.

Many of the panelists had worked with her over the years. Mr. Janvey joked that he felt left out.

As an example, Mr. Cohen started his producing career with “The Flinstones,” executive produced by both Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Spielberg.

He told the story of sending rushes of “The Flintstones” to Mr. Spielberg to approve while the director was in Europe shooting “Schindler’s List.”

Mr. Cohen felt a bit embarrassed because of the disparity in subject matter between the two films, but Mr. Spielberg affirmed he needed some levity after work.

Mr. Cohen also told a long anecdote about Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” and Tallulah Bankhead’s habit of not wearing underwear. The story promptly brought the house down.

Mr. Horn asked about the role of the producer and dealing with directors. Mr. Janvey said that he banished the word “no” from his vocabulary. Instead, he feels his job is about suggestions and choices.

Mr. Womark had an even longer example of dealing with Ang Lee. The director wanted to shoot at least one day on the open sea, and though Mr. Womark was against it, he let the director have his way. The ensuing problems proved Mr. Womark right without having to forbid the director his request.

The producers were asked about the limitations of time and money. But most producers said their directors thrive on such things.

Mr. Tarantino still considers himself an indie director from his “Reservoir Dogs” days, said Ms. Sher.

David O. Russell had a 153-page script and only 33 days to shoot “Silver Linings Playbook,” but used that fact to figure out an easier way to film his ensemble drama, Mr. Cohen said.

The panelists were asked about particular moments in producing that made the job worthwhile.

For Mr. Womark it was watching “Life of Pi” in India with an audience that reacted very differently. For Mr. Janvey it was screening “Beasts” in the Louisiana town where they shot. And for Mr. Cohen it was screening the film at Walter Reed hospital.

But everybody agreed that producers must be devoted to the project in the long run.

“If you have that passion for the story,” said Ms. Kennedy, “You have to dig deep and ask yourself those questions. Do you believe in what you’re doing? And if you do, keep doing it, because you’re probably right.”

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