The first weekend of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicked off with two panels. The Producers Panel followed by the Writers Panel.
The drive from LA to Santa Barbara was problem free, an easy 90 minutes to be precise. The infamous 405 freeway and then north on the 101 moved smoothly the entire way. The only thing that seemed to be unpredictable was the weather. A clear LA sky turned into some fog, followed by light rain. As I hit Ventura, about fifteen minutes away from Santa Barbara, an interesting ominous mist descended in the sky, reminiscent of Arrival. Villeneuve would be proud.
My leisurely drive from LA got me to my destination just in time for the Producers Panel moderated by Glenn Whipp at the Locaro Theatre. Todd Black (Fences), Angie Fielder (Lion), Jordan Horowitz (La La Land),Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures), David Permut (Hacksaw Ridge), Adele Romanski (Moonlight), Aaron Ryder (Arrival), Kimberly Steward (Manchester by the Sea), Arianne Sutner (Kobu and the Two Strings), and Julie Yorn (Hell or High Water) were on the panel — a great line-up notable for the even split of five men and five women producers.
Permut said he had first heard about Hacksaw Ridge over six years ago, and he liked the idea of honoring Desmond Doss as a man who stood by his convictions. Yorn said there were some obstacles to getting Hell or High Water made, but once it was in production, the aim was to get the film out before the election. The film was about two brothers who rob banks to pay off a lender so the character’s motivations are directly connected to the economic fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. As for her attitude about producing she said, “It’s egoless and you do it because you love it.”
Jordan Horowitz talked about the challenges of getting La La Land made. He said the idea for La La Land was something that director Damien Chazelle had conceived long before Whiplash but studios were hesitant. “We had a look book. We had a robust package. People liked the script, and the material. They liked the package, but no one wanted to make it.” It wasn’t until after Whiplash that people actually because interested in the film. “Lionsgate said they would make it and they understood how to sell it.”
Adele Romanski said she believes in the notion that films get made when they are ready. She called Barry Jenkins with another personal idea she had in mind, but Jenkins nixed that for Moonlight. Whipp asked her what she liked about being a producer and she told the packed Locaro Theatre, “I control my own destiny. I get to make what I want, and I get to decide.” When asked about what advice she would give anyone who wants to be a producer, Romanski said, “Watch lots of films, not just the blockbusters, watch cult films, and the classics.” She pointed to Horowitz and said, “La La Land references lots of old films, so it’s amazing what you learn watching everything.”
Ted Melfi added, “Take an acting class and get inside that mindset.” He suggested using smartphones to make a short film to feel the pain of the filmmaking process. “Learning makes you invaluable.”
Permut said what he loved about being a producer was the ability to seek and foster diversity. “We can find the next good filmmaker, the next good writer, the next good actor.” He added. “It’s a great reward.”
Diversity remained a major talking point for the panel. Arianne Sutner said, “It starts with the creatives. We have the means to look for talent.” She also pointed out that at LAIKA, their first film, Coraline featured a female protagonist and no one was interested in distribution. Proving the naysayers wrong, Coraline earned over $100 million at the box office. Melfi added, “We have to take responsibility. Our crew was 35% female. The average crew is made of 25% females.”
Ryder agreed and pointed out that both Arrival and Hidden Figures, both of which have been hugely successful at the box office, have female protagonists and both are films that audiences are responding to enthusiastically.
While loitering around between panels, I was told about Handlebar, a quaint non-chain coffee shop that has lines going out of the door. This place serves great tasting coffee that would make any Italian proud. They’re a bit pricier than your average Starbucks, but the taste of good coffee is worth every cent.
This became my go to place for the weekend.
The Writers Panel was up next, featuring Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water), Eric Heisserer (Arrival), Rhett Reese (Deadpool), Theodore Melfi(Hidden Figures), Phil Johnston (Zootopia), Mike Mills (20th Century Women), and Luke Davies (Lion) with Anne Thompson as the moderator. Thompson talked about their challenges, writing processes, and how they got on board for their respective projects.
Afterwards, I headed back to the hotel to check-in and get ready for the evening’s Virtuosos Awards. The event was held at the Arlington Theater and fans were lining the streets hoping to get a glimpse of the stars being honored. Dev Patel was a crowd favorite as he met fans and took selfies.
Inside, Access Hollywood’s Dave Karger sat down with the winners and briefly talked about their films and characters.
SAG Winner Mahershala Ali said his character Juan blew him away. “Who you see on screen was essentially on the page.” He also surprised the audience when he revealed to Karger that Alex Hibbert did not know how to swim when they shot that incredible scene where Juan teaches Little to swim in the ocean.
The winners were invited out in alphabetical order. Naomie Harris said she doesn’t smoke or drink, so for the film’s latter scene when Chi’ron comes to visit her and she’s trying to light the cigarette, she didn’t know that director Barry Jenkins had pulled Trevante Rhodes aside and told him to take the cigarette out of her hand, so what we see on screen in that moment was improvised on the spot to come to her rescue.
The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg demonstrated his sense of humor. “I got an email from Kathleen Chopin and I thought it was from from a Nigerian prince because it had Meryl Streep’s name and question marks, like ‘would you consider reading this?’ I went home and was crying because I play the piano as well. This was meant to be.”
Stephen Mckinley Henderson who stars opposite Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences said he had three dreams that had all become a reality. He told Karger he had wanted to meet boxer Muhammad Ali, he had wanted to appear in an August Wilson play, and he wanted to work with Denzel Washington. Henderson has now achieved all three dreams. He told the audience. “Just stay on the train. It’s going to come to the station.”
Loving has earned Ruth Negga an Academy Award nomination. “What I love about our film is that maybe people like me will be educated… This is not just a black story. This is not just an American story. It’s my story. It’s the world’s story.”
Dev Patel told the audience that Garth Davis made him keep a diary, something he had never done before. It was meant to help him get into character, and it worked. “It was a process of introspection.” He said.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in Nocturnal Animals said he was surprised when his name was called that night, and he was concerned he wouldn’t make it to the stage before the music was already playing him off. He spoke about the darkness of his character and how he deliberately tried to push co-star Jake Gyllenhaal. But the role took a toll on his psyche. He spent hours watching dark shows about serial killers and murderers and it began to affect him deeply, personally. One night after shooting the abduction scene, he called a friend and asked if someone could please come take him home. He needed to feel “that comfort and security.”
On that rather gloomy note, the awards had all been handed out, and after a brief visit to the after-party it was back to the hotel for some shut-eye. I needed to feel some comfort and security.
This was my second film festival so here’s me coming at it like a pro. Have a notebook, take notes, or record the panels so you can type up notes later. If the film festival has an app, download it. It actually comes in handy for maps and scheduling. The Santa Barbara Film Festival allows you to add events to your Google calendar. As I’m only here a short time, I knew I wouldn’t get to do everything, and you can’t do it all at a film festival. My first day was panels and the awards. Day two will be for movies. I have to say, a super early start meant I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow.