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The Producers Guild Nominees. Which Film Would Be The Hardest To Get Made?

I thought it might be interesting to look at tonight's Producers Guild nominations NOT as Oscar predictions -- they're always that since the industry end game is the Oscars -- but as what they're ostensibly intended to be: awards honoring producers who shepherded certain movies to the screen. The nominees...

Grant Henslov and Ben Affleck working on "Argo"

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures


  • Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Grant Heslov for ARGO
  • Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey, Josh Penn for BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
  • Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone, Stacey Sher for DJANGO UNCHAINED
  • Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh for LES MISERABLES
  • Ang Lee, Gil Netter, David Womark for LIFE OF PI
  • Kathleen Kennedy, Steven Spielberg for LINCOLN
  • Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Jeremy Dawson, Steven Rales for MOONRISE KINGDOM
  • Bruce Cohen, Donna Gigliotti, Jonathan Gordon for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
  • Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson for SKYFALL
  • Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Megan Ellison for ZERO DARK THIRTY

Producing is a very mysterious job from the outside looking in. Every film's producers have different jobs ahead of them based on a) what kind of project it is, b) how much fighting they'll have to do to get it made creatively and financially and c) whether they'll be separate from or very tied to the artistic decisions -- notice that only 50% of the nominated teams include the director of the film in question so some of these producers have far more influence on the final product than some of the others.

Barbara Broccoli with her Skyfall talent

No film has an easy road to movie theaters but if you remove your feelings about which of these ten films is "the best" from an artistic and/or entertainment standpoint and start thinking about what the particular challenges might have been, it feels like a different contest altogether, right? more...

Barbara Broccoli, for instance, entered the Bond family business when she was 17 (she's 52 now) and she's has been toiling away on the franchise ever since, leaping through many fiery hoops over the years (remember all the MGM financial and legal troubles that?) to keep the series going. Even if you have issues with the franchise during her reign -- roughly speaking, the Brosnan/Craig years -- you have to admire how well executed this whole 50th anniversary celebration/production was! On the opposite end of the spectrum, how the hell would anyone get a film as alien, poetic and all around amazing as Beasts of the Southern Wild made with no stars no obvious selling point and no well-oiled machinery making the distribution part a snap (as so many of these films already had)? 

So those are the two films I'm most amazed by from a producer's standpoint. But obviously it's tough to judge a producer's work but for what's in the finished film... which everyone than credits to the director. Awards are a strange business! 

For the curious among you as for as Oscar-correlation statistics go, we don't have much info to go on. We've only had Oscar's new larger Best Picture pool (with fluctuating rules) for the past three years: In 2009, 8 of the PGA's nominees went on to Oscar nominations with the Academy replacing Invictus & Star Trek with The Blind Side and A Serious Man (upgrade); In 2010 9 of the PGA's nominees went on to Oscar nominations with the Academy replacing The Town with Winter's Bone (upgrade); In 2011 7 of the PGA's nominees went on to Oscar nominations with the Academy replacing Bridesmaids, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and The Ides of March with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Tree of Life (upgrade?). While Oscar is hardly as blockbuster averse as the media likes to pretend, the PGA is definitely more friendly to them suggesting that Skyfall is in the weakest position to translate its PGA nod to an Oscar nod. And who knows what Oscar will do with Django Unchained? Will they like it? I know that people are crazy about it right at this moment but you have to admit that it's more genre pulpy than their tastes usually run. Did Inglorious Basterds mark a sea change with Oscar voters (who previously mostly ignored Tarantino outside of Pulp Fiction) or was it just too big to ignore in its year?

Their other categories...

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures:

Travis Knight moving "ParaNorman" about


  • Katherine Sarafian for BRAVE 
  • Allison Abbate, Tim Burton for FRANKENWEENIE
  • Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner for PARANORMAN
  • Nancy Bernstein, Christina Steinberg for RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
  • Clark Spencer for WRECK-IT RALPH


I'll admit right up front that I have far less of an idea about what the producer of an animated feature might have to do. In some ways the journeys of animated films to the screen strike me as not so different than the old Studio System as we understand it today. Well oiled machinery, an art factory if you will, is in place to produce "product" on a very specific timetable (like Pixar's one film a year schedule) since animated films are almost always produced in-house rather than acquired.

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures

  • "A People Uncounted” (Urbinder Films) Producers: Marc Swenker, Aaron Yeger
  • "The Gatekeepers” (Sony Pictures Classics) Producers: Estelle Fialon, Philippa Kowarsky, Dror Moreh
  • "The Island President” (Samuel Goldwyn Films) Producers: Richard Berg, Bonni Cohen
  • "The Other Dream Team” (The Film Arcade) Producers: Marius Markevicius, Jon Weinbach
  • "Searching For Sugar Man” (Sony Pictures Classics) Producers: Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn

 Interesting that only two of these films (Gatekeepers & Sugar Man) are in the running for the Oscar.



The David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television:


  • "American Horror Story” (FX) Producers: Brad Buecker, Dante Di Loreto, Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy, Chip Vucelich, Alexis Martin Woodall
  • "The Dust Bowl” (PBS) Producers: Producer Eligibility Pending
  • "Game Change” (HBO) Producers: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Jay Roach, Amy Sayres, Steven Shareshian, Danny Strong
  • "Hatfields & McCoys” (History) Producers: Barry Berg, Kevin Costner, Darrell Fetty, Leslie Greif, Herb Nanas
  • "Sherlock” (PBS) Producers: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Beryl Vertue, Sue Vertue




The Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Drama:


  • "Breaking Bad” (AMC) Producers: Melissa Bernstein, Sam Catlin, Bryan Cranston, Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Mark Johnson, Stewart Lyons, Michelle MacLaren, George Mastras, Diane Mercer, Thomas Schnauz, Moira Walley-Beckett 
  • "Downton Abbey” (PBS) Producers: Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge
  • "Game of Thrones” (HBO) Producers: David Benioff, Bernadette Caulfield, Frank Doelger, Carolyn Strauss, D.B. Weiss
  • "Homeland” (Showtime) Producers: Henry Bromell, Alexander Cary, Michael Cuesta, Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Chip Johannessen, Michael Klick, Meredith Stiehm
  • "Mad Men” (AMC) Producers: Jon Hamm, Scott Hornbacher, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Victor Levin, Blake McCormick, Matthew Weiner


The Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Comedy:


  • "30 Rock” (NBC) Producers: Irene Burns, Kay Cannon, Robert Carlock, Vali Chandrasekaran, Luke Del Tredici, Tina Fey, Matt Hubbard, Marci Klein, Jerry Kupfer, Lorne Michaels, David Miner, Dylan Morgan, Jeff Richmond, John Riggi, Josh Siegal, Ron Weiner
  • "The Big Bang Theory” (CBS) Producers: Chuck Lorre, Steve Molaro, Faye Oshima Belyeu, Bill Prady
  • "Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO) Producers: Alec Berg, Larry Charles, Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Tim Gibbons, David Mandel, Erin O’Malley, Jeff Schaffer, Laura Streicher
  • "Louie” (FX) Producers: Dave Becky, M. Blair Breard, Louis C.K.
  • "Modern Family” (ABC) Producers: Cindy Chupack, Paul Corrigan, Abraham Higginbotham, Ben Karlin, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Morton, Dan O’Shannon, Jeffrey Richman, Chris Smirnoff, Brad Walsh, Bill Wrubel,Danny Zuker


The Award for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television:


  • "American Masters” (PBS) Producers: Prudence Glass, Susan Lacy,Julie Sacks 
  • "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” (Travel Channel) Producers: Anthony Bourdain, Christopher Collins, Lydia Tenaglia, Sandy Zweig
  • "Deadliest Catch” (Discovery Channel) Producers: Thom Beers, Jeff Conroy, Sean Dash, John Gray, Sheila McCormack, Bill Pruitt, Decker Watson
  • "Inside the Actors Studio” (Bravo) Producers: James Lipton, Shawn Tesser, Jeff Wurtz
  • "Shark Tank” (ABC) Producers: Rhett Bachner, Becky Blitz, Mark Burnett, Bill Gaudsmith, Yun Lingner, Brien Meagher, Clay Newbill, Jim Roush, Laura Skowlund, Paul Sutera, Patrick Wood


The Award for Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television:


  • "The Colbert Report” (Comedy Central)Producers: Meredith Bennett, Stephen Colbert, Richard Dahm, Paul Dinello, Barry Julien, Matt Lappin, Emily Lazar, Tanya Michnevich Bracco, Tom Purcell,Jon Stewart
  • "Jimmy Kimmel Live” (ABC)Producers: David Craig, Ken Crosby, Doug DeLuca, Erin Irwin, Jimmy Kimmel, Jill Leiderman, Jason Schrift, Jennifer Sharron
  • "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” (NBC) Producers: Hillary Hunn, Lorne Michaels, Gavin Purcell, Michael Shoemaker
  • "Real Time with Bill Maher” (HBO) Producers: Scott Carter, Sheila Griffiths, Marc Gurvitz, Dean Johnsen, Bill Maher, Billy Martin
  • "Saturday Night Live” (NBC) Producers: Ken Aymong, Steve Higgins, Erik Kenward, Lorne Michaels, John Mulaney


The Award for Outstanding Producer of Competition Television:


  • "The Amazing Race” (CBS) Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Elise Doganieri, Jonathan Littman, Bertram van Munster, Mark Vertullo
  • "Dancing with the Stars” (ABC) Producers: Ashley Edens Shaffer, Conrad Green, Joe Sungkur
  • "Project Runway” (Lifetime) Producers: Jane Cha Cutler, Desiree Gruber, Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum, Jonathan Murray, Sara Rea, Colleen Sands
  • "Top Chef” (Bravo) Producers: Daniel Cutforth, Casey Kriley, Jane Lipsitz, Dan Murphy, Nan Strait
  • "The Voice” (NBC) Producers: Stijn Bakkers, Mark Burnett, John De Mol, Chad Hines, Lee Metzger, Audrey Morrissey, Jim Roush, Nicolle Yaron, Mike Yurchuk, Amanda Zucker


You know what is so odd to me about television awards? If you get a job on certain TV series you can just add PGA or Emmy nominee to your resume before the nominations are even announced, before you've even done any work even!, because the same series are always nominated. Movies are so much more volatile when it comes to "honors" -- it's a new contest every year -- and maybe that's another reason I like them so much better. 

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Reader Comments (19)

Unbelievably happy to see both Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts pick up nominations, as neither of those films would seem like the kind of thing the PGA normally goes for. And then they ruined my goodwill with those depressing TV categories. Sigh.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

Agree with TB, and especially thrilled about Beasts. Happy for Skyfall too. I was beginning to think Best Exotic Marigold was going to sneak in for BP (and it still could), but there was definitely an argument for it to be here, so maybe it's not as strong as I was thinking. Then again, it's definitely hitting the Academy sweet spot, so...

If Beasts loses all else, I can atleast be happy for this honor. Well deserved.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I think Django will get in based on the timing. It had buzz while the ballots were out whether people saw it or not. But as a film, it's not their cup of tea at all.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

I love that you've written this article, because I was just thinking when I read the nominees that if there was an award for 'Best Producer' as well as just 'Best Picture' the award would probably go to different films (or should, but actually probably wouldn't given how films can just sweep...)

If it was me, I'd give it to Barbara Broccoli. The producers of 'Beasts Of The Southern Wild' surely had a much harder task, but it would be the perfect place to honour Bond on it's 50th anniversary, and as you said Nat, the whole year was orchestrated perfectly, and the film didn't disappoint either, which never hurts. The way I see it, the main part of her job was to make the decision to get the best talent possible together and then actually do it, which is what happened.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Jack

Nat: Why are half the mentioned films on this list, exactly? If it's supposed to be honouring the work of the producer, why are so many films with the directors or writers involved in production work mentioned? Wouldn't a completely honest list have that as an actual rule? (Directors or writers as credited producers disqualify the nominee.) I know that's a trend these days, but I like the idea of it being about still producing quality work while director and producer have the possibility of actually butting heads. I'd love to see that list. The Avengers, Magic Mike and Looper would DEFINITELY be on that list. The remaining two nominees would probably be between these four: 21 Jump Street, The Hunger Games, Haywire and The Grey. (Sorry, but a lot of the best material these days has either the director or the writer involved in production work. Sorry, Cabin in the Woods.)

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

And there are your Best Pic nominees...... Maybe minus Beasts, Skyfall, and Moonrise???.... When can we get back to 5 pics ????

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

If we're talking about struggles, I would imagine Katherine Sarafian had the hardest time getting her animated film made. It's a period story with thick accents, a female protagonist, and a plot driven by the actions of women. The men are all comic relief while the women actually set a story about feeling feelings and embracing family. Talk about a hard sell in Hollywood.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

I love this way of framing the PGA... Nathaniel is so good at dutifully passing along the day's big news item while immediately turning it into a think-piece that's actually fun to ponder. As Jean Reno so pretentiously says, "Bravi!"

I haven't even seen Zero Dark Thirty yet, but if we're talking degree of difficulty, sensitivity of subject matter, careful shepherding of inevitable PR quagmires, and steering a dark, war-themed, Middle East-set enterprise with a huge, sub-star cast led by a taciturn female cipher into the Xmas box office, where it seems to be igniting -- and resulting, too, in a movie so strong that it trumped many contenders in a really strong year for the bulk of the critics prizes -- I honestly can't imagine voting against it. Even if i remain partial to <I>Beasts.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Let's not forget Cameron Mackintosh, who shepherded 'Les Miserables' through 20 years of development, could have thrown it to any body at any time (remember the terrible Liam Neeson/Geoffrey Rush version of the novel in the 90s?) but held out until he had what would seem to be the absolute perfect cast (the film isn't out in the UK yet so I haven't seen it) and what could at least be called an interesting and suitable (for this stage in his career and for the kind of film they wanted it to be) choice of director.

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Jack

Joseph - I agree. I don't know if it'll actually get a best picture nomination, but the timing is definitely right, it reminds me of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo last year. Plus previous success with Inglorious Basterds is helping Django a bit, I feel.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

Maybe you should learn to restrict yourself to talking about actresses, musicals, and all the other topics you always write so eloquently and nuanced about instead of constantly obsessing about the two things you have absolutely no clue of: Tolkien adaptations and Bond movies.

"you have to admire how well executed this whole 50th anniversary celebration/production was"

No, I don't have to. The most important part of this execution was the film itself, and this woman and her half-brother had the temerity to celebrate the anniversary year with a movie that diverges so fundamentally from the Bond formula that it makes Licence To Kill look like the epitome of Bond traditions.

"So those are the two films I'm most amazed by from a producer's standpoint."

As far as Skyfall goes, you're quite easily impressed. Wilson and Broccoli are in control of almost everything, have gigantic wealth behind them, and make movies that are bound to make a profit. Surely there are producers who'd wish to work under their conditions.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

Travis Knight is super hot. You should totally try to get an interview.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue -- I concur.

Willy -- seriously what is your deal with Bond & me. You are so antagonistic about this. A lot of Bond super fans (like Deborah, our friend) really like the Craig films and Skyfall. In fact the Craig films are doing pretty well in the reader rank polls (to be published in full when Skyfall comes out on dvd) and I was impressed to see that most of the people who submitted ballots had seen EVERY Bond film so it's not like these aren't Bond fans. And almost everyone loves Casino Royale and Craig. Just not sure everyone agrees with you that there's been some sacrilege committed. Now of course it doesn't matter if other people agree are not (one should always speak one's truth... just as long as one realizes it's only a singular truth)

January 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Even I like Casino Royale, but that's not the point here. The point is that the systematic destruction of the Bond formula has become the trademark of the Craig era, and if Deborah claims that she does not see "that there's been some sacrilege committed", then she's so hurt that she can only stand it by living in denial. I for one just can't understand why the Wilson-Broccoli-Craig defenders insist so perversely on making statements not about the cinematic quality of the Craig films - where their opinions could rest undisprovable - but about the "continuation and celebration of traditions" where the history of the franchise shows them up with ease. What a sick situation is this? Imagine Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford making an Indiana Jones film without hat, whip, and leather jacket, and everyone praising them for the way they celebrate their franchise tradition... Yes, that's exactly the problem I have when reading countless comments on the Craig Bond era. His movies are not Bond as we've always known him, and there are more than twenty films to prove it.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

Ya know, if those actually do end up being the Oscar nominees, I will be THRILLED. I'll be even MORE thrilled if they swap out Skyfall for Amour (or Anna Karenina or Cloud Atlas, but I've resigned myself to the fact that neither of those are happening). But serioiusly, that looks like the best lineup in years. Not a true dud in the bunch (Les Mis may or may not be great, but the REASONS it is or isn't are at least interesting to ponder and discuss/fight over).

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

hi nat,here is julianne moore filming carrie.


January 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermark

Hands down, Les Miserables. You know that would have turned into a GLEE inspired hot mess of epic proportions (don't get me started on the fact that Taylor Swift was considered for Eponine at one point!). To have the guts to do that particular show in the way it was filmed with those raw vocals was ballsy. And it could have flopped big time like PHANTOM and RENT. But it didn't.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlejandro

If by "hardest to get made" you mean the hardest to get greenlit and financed, I'd say "Beasts" and "Moonlight." If you mean the hardest to organize and put together in terms of casts, crews, sets, locations, and post-production, I'd say "Zero Dark Thirty" and then "Life of Pi." It seems to me that the bigger studio productions, like "Pi," "Skyfall," and "Les Miserables," have the backing of whole organizational structures, so although they may be the most complex to film, they also have the most inherent support. I'm of two minds when I hear about material like "Les Miz" taking decades to get made: on the one hand, it must be extremely hard and somewhat random; on the other hand, part of what makes a great producer is getting off your ass and getting people together fleetly and without drama. There are always talented people around; I doubt that Tom Hooper is the best of all possible directors in the last few decades.

If I had to vote for one, though, I'd go with "Beasts," not because I think it's the best of the year but because it's the only one in this group about which I think it was a miracle that it was even made. The rest of the movies were inevitable once the directors (on the strength of their current reputations) were secured.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

Though I guess you can say it was a miracle that Beasts was even made, the producers and director of the film had complete control of the film and had money from grants provided by Cinereach, so they didn't have to worry about getting production money or an intervening studio. They did have to stay within a limited budget. And then they were lucky enough to have Fox Searchlight doing their promotion.

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel Oak

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