Variety FYC Fest: Oscar-Nominated Producers Share Storytelling Journeys Behind ‘Maestro,’ ‘Spider-Verse,’ ‘Flower Moon’ and More

Rexa Vella

Variety FYC Fest: Oscar-Nominated Producers Share Storytelling Journeys Behind ‘Maestro,’ ‘Spider-Verse,’ ‘Flower Moon’ and More

The producers behind “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” “Maestro” and more Oscar-nominated films sat down to break down their respective projects at Variety FYC Fest: The Producers. The conversations were moderated by Variety’s senior artisans editor Jazz Tangcay and senior awards editor Clayton Davis.

‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ Producer Daniel Lupi on Filming in Oklahoma, Striving for Authenticity

Producer Daniel Lupi became involved in “Killers of the Flower Moon” after the script was rewritten to center the relationship between Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone), contrasting from the original version of the script where DiCaprio was playing FBI agent Tom White. Lupi said Martin Scorsese described the new version as a “who didn’t do it.”

“He wanted to go right into the emotional core of the story and not be Tom White coming in and saving the day,” Lupi said of Scorsese’s intent for the film.

Filming in Oklahoma allowed the team to immerse themselves in the past. “The location where we blew the house up was one block away from where the real house exploded. And so you got to realize that a lot of the Osage and their relatives, they had such a connection to these places,” Lupi said. “We were trying to service the movie for Marty. And Marty … wanted to tell a true story and represent history in terms of what happened to the Osage, so it was pretty amazing being in Oklahoma.”

Beyond the filming locations, Lupi discussed the role authenticity played in all aspects of the filmmaking process from the casting to the dialogue. He wrapped up the conversation by recalling the first time the movie was screened in front of 10 Osage elders.

“At the very end, the chief and some of the main members turned to Marty and Leo, and it was a very emotional moment where they felt like Marty had portrayed the story in their lives in the proper way,” Lupi said. Watch the full conversation above.

The Historical Research On Leonard Bernstein They Didn’t Film (But Still Utilized) in ‘Maestro’

A friend once told producer Fred Berner that every movie is like a biopic, “it’s always about somebody, and you hope there’s something there that you can find out.” For Berner, the process of working on “Maestro” started with researching the things that Leonard Bernstein accomplished, from conducting a symphony in an Egyptian desert to hosting a concert with Louis Armstrong. Though these events were ultimately not in the final Netflix film, Berner explained that the research helped build an emotional through-line to shed light on what motived the creator.

“I realized that Leonard Bernstein embodied all of these contradictions, so whether it was, am I gay or am I straight? Or is it classical music or is it popular music? Or am I a composer or am I a conductor?” Berner said. “The answer is yes! I went like, ‘Okay, there are all these inherent conflicts, let’s just throw them on the wall and see which one informs each other.’”

Berner worked with fellow producers Martin Scorsese, Josh Singer, Amy Durning, Steven Spielberg and Bradley Cooper to curate and arrange these events in Bernstein’s life into a narrative that would “have some emotional impact.” The answer came in focusing on the relationship between Bernstein and his wife Felicia, played by Carey Mulligan.

Berner also broke down two pivotal moments in the film the Ely Cathedral performance and the Snoopy scene, which he said “are [each] very special because they’ve been earned and because on some level as an audience, you’re waiting for them.” Despite the difficulties that came with producing the film, what kept Berner committed to “Maestro” throughout the long journey was his love and appreciation for the story.

“Somewhere in my being I realized that Lenny would be a great big silver screen persona to many, many years later when it became Bradley … it was smooth from entity to entity because everybody still always revered Lenny. Everyone was in service to that,” he said.

The 8-Year Journey to Film ‘Io Capitano’

Director, writer and producer Matteo Garrone described the eight-year process of bringing the film to the big screen. The motivation behind this Oscar-nominated story, centered around two Senegalese teenagers who embark on an exceedingly difficult journey from West Africa to Italy, was the realization that, often, the public is only exposed to one side of a migrant’s journey — when the boats arrive on the shores of Sicily.

“We wanted to put the camera on the other side to tell the story from their point of view, so to make a reverse shot, to give to the audience the possibility to live this journey through the eyes of the protagonist,” Garrone said.

To maintain authenticity in the story, Garrone collaborated on the script with those who had previously made the dangerous trek and cast former migrants as extras.

Reflecting on the central message of “Io Capitano,” Garrone said the film is one about hope: “It’s about the desire that every one of us has to look for a better life to discover the world.”

The Producers of ‘Society of the Snow’ Explain How They Worked Alongside the Plane Crash Survivors to Tell Their Story

Based on the book by Pablo Vierci, Netflix’s “Society of the Snow” is centered around the true story of the 1972 Uruguayan plane crash that left survivors stranded in the Andes mountains. Producers Belén Atienza and Sandra Hermida revealed that the film’s journey to being released on Netflix was a decade in the making.  

“It took us more than 10 years. In these 10 years the industry of film business has changed, a lot different partners came along,” Hermida said. She added that it was a challenge to find support for a film shot in Spanish without recognizable actors in the cast.

Atienza said of the journey, “We were about to lose the rights. I mean, we were one week away of losing the rights and in that moment we got a call… I have to say that Netflix was very supportive from the very beginning.”

Notably, “Society of the Snow” was made with the support of survivors of the plane crash, which Atienza said “totally informed the tone of the story and the way of telling the story.”

The filmmaking team traveled to Uruguay to speak with the survivors of the plane crash, gathering 40-50 hours of material to work with.

“We let them talk and talk and talk because they really needed to bring out a lot of things that happened to them and that no one really had listened to until that point,” Atienza said.

Finding the ‘Charm’ in the Epic ‘Spider-Verse’

“If you work with people that are geniuses, you’re going to make really good movies,” Amy Pascal said of her “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” colleagues Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, who are also writers and producers on the film. “And the thing about these guys is their brains are different than anyone else’s. Their talent is to the skies. Their charm is everything.”

In conversation with Clayton Davis, Lord also praised Pascal’s producing prowess, acknowledging that she knows what should be at the heart of a story.

“Amy knows that these movies, they can have all the whizzbang flying around that you want, but if they aren’t about people and their relationships with one another, then it’s all meaningless. And that’s the thing that she’s been trying to teach us since we made our first movie together,” he said.

“Across the Spider-Verse” is the hit follow up to “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which follows teenage Miles Morales as he meets several other web-slinging superheroes from various dimensions. Miller discussed the team’s approach to the much-anticipated sequel.

“We all knew that you had to do something different. And so it was hard to figure out a story that was going to be a new chapter for Miles that felt like it had a beginning, middle, and end, that he would grow as a person, that Gwen would grow as a person, that the parents would all grow as people, that everybody in this movie has an arc, even though it ends on a cliffhanger and Miles loses the entire time. He actually is coming of age and growing and getting stronger,” he said.

The group also discussed animation as a form of cinematic storytelling and the unique opportunities it presents as an artistic medium.

“There’s so much intimacy in animation,” Lord said. “There’s so much looking and listening that goes on frame by frame — how people behave, what they do when they’re not saying a line. And we’ve got everyone’s focus on that. And I think the movies that Amy has made and that we are trying to make — they’re big budget movies, and they’re audience pleasers, but they’re really focused on those intimate moments.”

The Producers of ‘The Barber of Little Rock’ On Discovering Their Subject

Directors and producers John Hoffman and Christine Turner knew they wanted to make a film about the racial wealth gap. During their research, they stumbled across Mehrsa Baradaran’s book “The Color of Money” where they learned about CDFIs, or community development financial institutions, and how they serve unbanked communities. After reaching out to the director of the CDFI fund, she introduced them to Arlo Washington, the film’s subject.

“She said, ‘There’s this guy, he’s got a converted shipping container that he runs the loan fund out of on the parking lot of his barber college, and you have to meet him.’ Of course, that person was Arlo. And as soon as we met him, we knew this is our guy,” Turner said.

Hoffman explained that because they spent a long time developing trust with the people in the film, they were able to get a lot deeper with the subjects in a limited runtime.

“We’re able to say a lot in a short amount of time because of the intimacy that we established with the people that we were following and the depth of conversation that we were able to have,” he said.

As for what he hopes people take away from the film, Washington said he wants people to “know that there is hope,” with Congress taking steps to support communities with CDFIs through appropriations.

“I’d like for everyone to know the importance of being banked because it costs more to be unbanked than it does to be banked … If we take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. And if we liken that to people, the pennies, the quarters, the nickels and dimes, it all adds up,” Washington said. “If we could include the low and moderate income community members and their dollars, get the money from under the mattress, get it out of the shoebox and get it into the system, then we have a stronger economy because we all need each other.”

How John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Christmas Song Inspired A New Story from their Son Sean Lennon Ono

John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s beloved holiday song “War Is Over! (Happy Xmas)” was first released in 1971. More than 40 years later, their son Sean Lennon Ono has given their work new life by executive producing and writing an animated short film that tells the story of two World War I soldiers, fighting for opposing sides, who strike up a joyful game of chess via carrier pigeon.

“I actually was trying to come up with an idea for a music video for a while,” Lennon Ono revealed. “But everything we came up with seemed kind of boring or unnecessary because the song was so famous already. It didn’t seem like it really needed visual accompaniment in the kind of traditional sense of a music video.”

Then Lennon Ono met writer and director Dave Mullins. “At the first meeting, Dave and I basically started kicking around ideas that wound up being the basis of the film that you see,” he said.

As the animated story unfolded, the team kept coming back to one question: where would the iconic song play in the film?

Producer Brad Booker said, “I always say the song was a puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit. We kept trying it at different places… So it was one of those things that I think we finally got it to the place where it needed to be. But it wasn’t until we got (composer) Thomas [Newman] to come in that it was truly the lynchpin where everything just completely settled in and locked into place.”

Newman crafted an emotional score for the film in just two weeks.

Lennon Ono said of the “War Is Over!” song placement, “I think it turned out to be the best thing about the film — is that it sort of leads into the song and when the song finally drops, there’s so much context in the story and the emotion of the plot that it resonates better than I think any of us could have asked for.”

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