You might suppose the most interesting aspect of the Producer’s Panel at SBIFF this year derived from the fact that each member had been nominated for a best picture Academy Award, as fest chairman Douglas Stone reminded us at the start. And, better, because the panel reflected such Oscar diversity ranging from big studio nabobs like Kathleen Kennedy (Lincoln) to first timer Dan Janvey, who piloted Beasts of the Southern Wild. And it was a thrill for us to see the faces that will soon grace award-night TV talking about topics like story, filmmaking, sour finances, and the paucity of women directors.
The panelists overused buzzwords like “journey,” though the winner for frankest opinion expressed went to Debra Hayward who produced the Tom Hooper musical Les Miserables and readily admitted to being “savaged” by critics, but proudly proclaiming, “I can’t pretend it isn’t gratifying when it makes a lot of money at the box office.” And that admission earned her a round of applause too.
But the biggest thrill that ran through the crowd came from an older citizen at the microphone during the always-dodgy Q&A session. “My wife and I are fans, we’re not in the movie business,” he said. “And we just want to know what a producer is. We see all these credits for first producer and second producer and we were just wondering if you can explain that?” The crowd went wild and the panel laughed along. Kennedy provided the best explanation that real producers — not the fake ones who get credit simply because they supplied money or book rights — ought to be considered like CEO’s of corporations responsible for everything from development to ancillary marketing.
Higher realms were possible too. Kennedy argued that no topic was taboo for studios nowadays as long as there was passion attached. “I think that the audiences always step up,” she said, adding that almost anytime genres like westerns or drama are not being made, a door seems to miraculously open. “Those always turn out to be the next movies that audiences love.”