The Deadline Team of Nikki Finke, Pete Hammond, and Mike Fleming have spent recent days interviewing the studio moguls to gauge their perspective on this very close Oscar race:
Sony Pictures Entertainment
17 Nominations: 8 The Social Network, 1 Salt, 1 Country Strong, 1 Animal Kingdom, 1 Another Year, 1 Barney’s Version, 1 Inside Job, 1 In A Better World, 1 Incendies, 1 The Illusionist
DEADLINE’s Nikki Finke: How do you think this awards season has been in terms of quality, quantity, excitement?
AMY PASCAL: My own feelings about it are that this is one of the most exciting times we’ve had in the business for a long time. Because all the movies that we tell ourselves we can’t make — ballets, westerns, dramas, everything that are the hardest things to make — those are the movies that are not only winning awards which is fantastic, but also those movies that are commercial. We won’t see a fascinating season like this for a while.
DEADLINE: What do you think of the competition?
PASCAL: I like all the other movies.
DEADLINE: Well, I’ve had people say to me, ‘Oh, Kings Speech is a great HBO movie’…
PASCAL: Everybody says that stuff.
DEADLINE: If it comes down to The Social Network vs The Kings Speech, why should people vote for your movie over the other movie?
PASCAL: I don’t want to campaign, you know? That’s not my job to say why people should vote for The Social Network and not something else. I think we have a lot of competition. I think the other movies are really good. There are performances in all the movies that are astonishing. There are virtuosos directing them. But Social Network is a different kind of movie. It breaks different kinds of barriers than those movies were trying to do.
DEADLINE: At what point in this project did you get into the process?
PASCAL: Actually, the way that it happened was we had made 21 which had been a project at MGM, and Elizabeth Cantillon had brought that over when she came to be an executive here. And through the relationship that we had with Dana Brunetti and Kevin Spacey and Ben Mezrich we got an early look at the proposal for the book Ben wanted to write about the origins of Facebook. Scott Rudin was the one who thought Aaron Sorkin should write the screenplay. We all knew Aaron but it was Scott’s relationship with Aaron so he’s the one who contacted him first for sure. We all felt pretty lucky to get Aaron. And Aaron came in with a fantastic take on the material, but at that point Ben hadn’t finished the book.
DEADLINE: Did it occur to you that maybe you should wait and let Ben finish the book?
PASCAL: No, because Aaron and the filmmakers had a very good take on the story they wanted to tell.
DEADLINE: What at that point was your relationship with Scott?
PASCAL: Scott and I had been working together from the 1980s. He was the one who convinced me to be a studio executive for him at Fox. In terms of Sony, when he had his deal at Disney we always kind of had a second look deal with him. But you know Scott has such excellent taste and he makes so many great movies that he and I have always been going back and forth in trying to work together.
DEADLINE: So it’s all coming together and obviously a big concern must have been ‘Oh my
God, we’re writing about this really rich powerful guy. What the hell is going to happen to us?’
PASCAL: Oh, you mean when we were making the movie? Well, here’s what I think the real challenge was. You have to make the main character likeable. They’re allowed to have like one flaw, but they have to be likeable. And what Mark Zuckerberg did to protect the thing that he was building was to do things that he had to do. I never felt he was unlikeable, but definitely Mark Zuckerberg is not your traditional hero. And I think that’s why Jesse Eisenberg’s performance is so wonderful.
DEADLINE: People feel strongest about the Andrew Garfield character, Eduardo Saverin.
PASCAL: Andrew, or Eduardo, is definitely the heart of the story. He’s the emotional character who wants the relationship and is betrayed. But you know what’s so beautiful is when they were making the film, Jesse and Andrew became like best friends. And so they’re so adorable together. You know all of them, Justin Timberlake, Arnie Hammer, they’re like a little gang now.
DEADLINE: People have said to me that if David Fincher doesn’t win best director for The Social Network it’s only because he’s so “unpopular” around Hollywood.
PASCAL: I’ve worked with David a couple of times. We are now on our third movie together. Ever since Panic Room he’s been developing things at our studio and The Social Network was the first thing that came together that we did together. And David is definitely an iconoclast but David expects people to work as hard as he does and he holds people to a standard that he holds himself to. And that’s really the way it works. First of all, I think David has a much bigger heart than people give him credit for. Those of us who know him well know that secret about him. He doesn’t like the marketing process. He doesn’t embrace it. He doesn’t necessarily embrace everything everybody wants him to do. He is very David.
DEADLINE: Someone at Paramount once told me a hilarious anecdote about David and how he refused to bow down to Oprah just to have her publicize his movie Benjamin Buttons. And everybody was saying to him, ‘But this is so important. You don’t understand,’ and he’s like ‘I don’t give a damn about Oprah’.
PASCAL: Right, well I don’t know about that story. But we didn’t have problems like that and David has been a great partner on this movie. And the very difficult thing of course is that as all this awards thing was starting he was already in Sweden shooting The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
DEADLINE: That’s the best thing that could have happened to all of you.
PASCAL: I think it was definitely the best thing that could have happened to him. I think he was very happy to avoid all of the awards campaigning. Here’s the thing about David: he’s very shy. I don’t think he likes getting up in front of people and public speaking. I think he’s really comfortable on a movie set. I think he is a born director in every sense. And he likes putting forth the people who work with him, not himself.
DEADLINE: Talk about what it was like working with Aaron.
PASCAL: I have to admit it was very easy working with Aaron, because we had one meeting with him and he said was he was going to do it, and then he delivered his script a couple of months later. And I think Scott Rudin probably worked really hard with him on the script. But by the time I saw the script it was virtually perfect. There was no drama. Michael and I definitely greenlit when we read it. It was that clear to us. And when he gave it David, none of us made any changes pretty much.
DEADLINE: And what was it like working on the movie with Scott. I know he’s been working very hard during this awards season to put his reputation for brutality behind him and now come across as warm and fuzzy. But you worked for him. I’m sure you had to dodge a couple of ashtrays.
PASCAL: Well, everybody who knows Scott has to dodge a few ashtrays.
DEADLINE: So is Scott evolving and finally growing up?
PASCAL: You know, I was looking at him when he was on stage at the Golden Globes and it struck me for the first time really, maybe it should have before, but Scott has become a real statesman in our business. I thought he was quite gracious and eloquent despite the fact that he was super nice about me, too. But when I looked at him, I thought how in the old days David O Selznick and all those people were the statesmen of the movie business because they made films. And then more recently people who’ve become statesmen in this business have been the business people. And that’s been true for the last probably 20 years. But I think Scott is the first statesman in a long time who is that because of the films that he has consistently made and the way he has pushed the envelope and supported writers and directors in a way that I think other producers haven’t.
DEADLINE: But hasn’t the once powerful role of producer declined because the studios really control everything and directors have all the power?
PASCAL: I just don’t think that’s true. It doesn’t work that way at this studio. We believe in our producers, we rely on them, and they do all the hard work. They get none of the glory but they do all the hard work.
DEADLINE: At what point in this process, whether the first time you read Aaron’s script or the first time you started seeing dailies, did people start mentioning the word Oscar?
PASCAL: Well, I want to say one thing about this, OK? This was a $40 million movie that was about a bunch of really cool dudes at Harvard creating Facebook. Never once until people started seeing the movie did we think about it as that kind of movie. Never. I mean, we didn’t make it because of that. Never even thought about it until we saw the film and then obviously the film was a really good movie.
DEADLINE: But Terry Press who is known for aggressive Oscar campaigns was brought on pretty early in the process. So somebody at Sony must have said to themselves, Oscar.
PASCAL: Well, the movie was a really good movie and deserved everything that it could have. Let me go with that. But we didn’t make it for that reason, that’s for sure.
DEADLINE: And when you hire somebody like Terry Press for an Oscar campaign for something like Social Network what are you hoping or expecting her to do?
PASCAL: This is a little bit of a new experience for us, this whole Oscar thing, as you well know. To me it seems like it’s about getting people to see the movie. It doesn’t seem like it’s about relationships or whatever because I don’t know what good that does anybody. I think the recognition that this is getting is because it’s really good.
DEADLINE: There was so much curiosity about the movie and about Aaron’s script that Pete Hammond reported about how the early Social Network screenings were just packed. So you didn’t have the problem that a lot of other movies have which is just getting people to screen it.
PASCAL: I think people are always really interested in what David is up to. I think he is a treasured filmmaker in our business because he’s always trying to push the envelope in one way or another. He is unafraid. I also think people had read Aaron’s script and knew how good it was. And also we put together this fantastic collection of young actors that probably seemed really sexy to everybody. And definitely I would like to put those actors in every movie we are making — Andrew Garfield and Rooney Mara and Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg. I mean, we’re going to keep working with all these guys forever.
DEADLINE: One publication which shall remain nameless wrote a whole story about how it’s been something like 23 years since Columbia Pictures won an Oscar…
PASCAL: Ah yes, that story I’m familiar with.
DEADLINE: How will you feel if The Social Network breaks that long string of losses for Best Picture?
PASCAL: It will feel great. But it feels great already.
Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.