SBIFF Oscar Directors Panel: Aronofsky, Ferguson, Granik, Hooper, Russell, Unkrich

by Justin Lowe
February 9, 2011 3:14 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood
During the final panel of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 5, Variety’s Peter Bart led a discussion among directors of Oscar-nominated films, including Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), documentarian Charles Ferguson (Inside Job), writer-director Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), David O. Russell (The Fighter) and Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) before a capacity crowd at the city’s historic downtown Lobero Theater. Justin Lowe reports (video is below).

SBIFF falls “right at the peak of that pagan ritual known as Oscar season,” Bart pointed out before tartly questioning the filmmakers about casting and shooting their movies, the perils of awards season and how success is affecting their plans for the future. First he wanted to talk financing: “If you had twice the budget and twice as long to shoot your film would it have turned out better?”

Seated next to Bart, Aronofsky didn’t hesitate to quip, “It would have been better because I would have gotten paid"--if the film’s $13-million budget had been fully financed at the original $30 million level. He added that Black Swan turned out as well as it did because “we pushed the limits of that $13 million every day.”

Winter’s Bone director Granik, the only woman on the panel, related how the low-budget film was shot with $2 million, in part by using practical locations, a small lighting package and a fleet documentary-style crew that could move quickly and re-set shots. “I don’t think it would have made it a better film” to have $4 million, she said. “A frugal budget was commensurate with our goals.”

Although he was working with a Pixar-sized budget, Toy Story 3 director Unkrich said, “we had many limitations upon us, many of them self-imposed,” in order to force the crew to be more resourceful and creative. “I just knew there was a possibility I’d go down as the guy who ruined the Toy Story movies,” he recalls. However, when “people told me it was their favorite of the three films, [it] meant the world to me.”

Bart also asked how the filmmakers were being affected emotionally and professionally by the pressures of the recognition they’re receiving, with awards shows, public appearances and panels to attend. “I think the greatest risk is that you can be paralyzed by it,” Hooper observed. “You have to go back and connect with the stories you love” to get re-energized. Inside Job director Charles Ferguson (who co-wrote his previous doc, the Iraq-war film No End in Sight) is now writing a narrative script – a thriller. “If I could make Chinatown, or something like that, I’d be in heaven,” he commented.

Hooper's main rival on Oscar night Feb. 27, David Fincher (The Social Network), was not able to attend as he was filming The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

[Photo by Jensen Sutta.]

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