6. The Audience Knows Best – Filmmakers get so deeply involved in their projects they often lose a degree of perspective, sometimes not regaining a measure of objectivity until they’re able to share the movie with an objective audience. “You don’t know what you really have at first,” Cohen remarked. “You don’t really find out until an audience sees it.”

Santa Barbara: Daniel Day-Lewis
Santa Barbara: Daniel Day-Lewis

On “Sliver Linings Playbook,” director Russell and the producers used more than a half-dozen preview screenings to gauge audience reaction and fine-tune their edit in the cutting room. Facing a high level of expectation and uncertainty adapting the beloved novel and stage musical “Les Misérables” to the screen, Hayward concurred: “You don’t really know until you put it up before an audience,” whether a movie really works for viewers.

7. The Measure of Success – After months, and often years, working on a movie from development through release, producers sometimes find it hard to step back and evaluate their accomplishments, so for some it’s worthwhile having a flexible definition of what’s successful. “If you made what you set out to do, then you’ve done your job,” was how Janvey simply put it. Hayward and others gauge success in part by audience response to a movie. “It’s really wonderful that you’ve made something that audiences are really loving,” she said about public reaction to “Les Misérables.”

Sher acknowledged some mixed reactions to depictions of slavery in “Django Unchained,” but noted that Tarantino’s unique tone and style made many viewers “feel safe” about the horror of the onscreen violence. “All of the rules and conventional wisdom were being broken,” she recalled. “It’s so gratifying to see audiences respond to the film” that way.

8. Where Are the Women Directors? – Industry studies have repeatedly demonstrated the under-representation of women in above the line filmmaking roles, particularly among directors. It’s “such a complicated question,” observed Academy governor Kennedy, a former PGA president and one of three women on the panel of six producers. “It’s not just an issue of discrimination or a glass ceiling. It’s far more complicated than that.” The other women panelists (all of whom are also parents) agreed, noting that once production begins, directors are committed to their roles, which often separate them from their families, and that can be a particularly difficult situation for female directors. “I just think it’s easier for a man to step away from his family and go and make a movie,” Kennedy concluded.

9. Passionate Filmmaking – For producers just starting out in the business, the career path ahead can appear daunting, and even veterans sometimes have their doubts. “You just have to keep the bar really high,” commented Cohen, who sees sales as one of a producer’s primary roles. “You have to have passion and belief in what you’re selling to be successful.” Kennedy agreed that commitment is a key characteristic for success. “Ask yourself do you believe in what you’re doing and if you do, then you’re probably right.”

10. Surviving in the Business – After some initial success, most filmmakers face the dilemma of converting that good fortune into a long-term career. All of the panelists have impressive track records, which provide the kind of momentum that leads to Oscar nominations. Sustaining that level of accomplishment is an ongoing struggle, however. “You just have to be really passionate,” about a project said Sher, particularly with shrinking budgets. “You just really have to be ready to live and die for your movie.” From an indie perspective, Janvey said that “The challenge for independent filmmakers is to make as many features as possible without getting sucked into the studio system.”