Cannes 2021 – Meeting with producer William Horberg

Date of publication: 07/10/2021 – 08:30

Sean Penn’s new film is inseparable from the personality of its producer, William Horberg, also the originator of the Netflix miniseries The lady’s game. Here he tells us about its genesis and talks about his new projects.

In what conditions Flag Day has it been shot?
William horberg The film was shot in Winnipeg, Canada, where we found various filming locations reminiscent of the American Midwestern landscapes of the 70s and 90s, also going to shoot with a small crew in California. As the story takes place over many years and seasons, most of the filming took place over 7 weeks in the summer of 2019, but we also called in backups during the fall (1 week) and l winter 2020 (a few days) for the sake of authenticity. Post-production was done in Los Angeles. As we were shooting on super 16mm film, we called on the Mels photochemical laboratory in Montreal, which is the last to develop and process film in Canada.

What is the main difficulty that you encountered during this adventure?
WH Our biggest challenges have been financial. Intelligent, adult and independent cinema feature films are under considerable pressure in the markets. The scenario did not correspond to the themes usually dealt with by independent cinema. It covered a span of 25 years, lots of filming locations and characters, big crowd scenes, stunts, a house fire, etc. which was complicated compared to the funding we were able to get together. . Shooting in Winnipeg with a mostly local crew assembled by our partners at Buffalo Gals Productions has been a key factor in our ability to bring everything to life on screen. The other crucial element was the extreme dedication of Sean and the entire crew, who made many sacrifices out of love for this story and his vision for the film.

How do you see your profession as a producer?
WH Cinema is a team sport. I have been fortunate to have very experienced production partners in the person of Jon Kilik and Fernando Sulichin, an experienced director in Sean Penn, and a fantastic core team including cinematographer Danny Moder and senior assistant director. John Wildermuth, who happened to be Sean’s neighbors, and spent a good deal of their time pre-planning the film. Each producer has a compass that points in the direction of what the film needs to be the best it can be creatively, logistically, editorial, and with a filmmaker like Sean, you mostly try to support him as much as possible, to solve as many problems as possible before they get to him, especially when he wears two hats, as a director and a lead actor, as was the case on this film.

What stage of production are you most passionate about?
WH Personally, I like to set up projects, work with the screenwriter and / or the writer-director to put the story in shape, and then to rewrite the story until its final version, over the editing, the music, the mixing. I’ve spent decades on the road around the world shooting movies, but at this point in my life, I don’t find being on set the most interesting part of the process. And I’m sure it suits others better.

How have you seen your profession evolve since your beginnings in 1990?
WH I belong to the baby boomer generation who grew up loving cinema. In my youth, you could only see movies in the cinema or on television, and only when they were available. It made every encounter with a movie a little more special. I studied at the conservatory of music, but I left to start a business and run a cinema in Chicago that showed old films and foreign films. This was in the late 1970s. I am convinced that these two elements determined my subsequent career in Hollywood: by shaping my entrepreneurial spirit and by giving me a sense of musical structure, composition and character. improvisation. I still feel like an outsider, but after 40 years I am working with MGM. Things have changed incredibly since I arrived in Los Angeles in the early ’80s, but the fundamentals of storytelling and working collaboratively with creative artists, meanwhile, remain immutable.

Do you think that the popularization of new technologies is likely to change your conception of cinema?
WH I have a limited background in new technologies. I am more interested in books, writing, art, visual composition, musical elements such as rhythm and tempo, in short all the facets that storytelling can take. Technology has democratized the ability for anyone to tell a story through a visual medium and to make it accessible to anyone and everyone. It’s also created such a tsunami of content that it’s harder than ever to ignore it.

What impact has Covid-19 had on you and this film in particular?
WH We had to overcome exceptional challenges adapting to work remotely when everything closed in March 2020. In particular, our Icelandic fitter who had to return to his country on one of the last available flights. As I mentioned, we shot on film and our lab was in Montreal, so when the borders closed and the lab closed, we stopped being able to access what we had shot, even though we were right in the middle of our digital effects work. So we had to stop everything and wait for everything to reopen. We had invaluable help from Stefan Sonnenfeld of Company 3, Formosa Sound and our post-production manager Dana Mulligan, to help us get to the end of the road that brought the film to a close.

Do you think that this pandemic is likely to change your conception of cinema and could possibly act as a source of inspiration in the future?
WH Inexplicably, the pandemic marked one of the most beneficial times of my career. The Lady’s Game was uploaded to Netflix overnight in 190 countries and over 30 languages ​​to become the most-watched miniseries in Netflix history. So, while my roots are in the cinema and I hope that the future will continue to integrate this collective experience of meeting all together in the dark to share a moment of relaxation on the big screen, I also agree to the diversity of content, to the flexibility of formats and to the global access to viewers that streaming services allow today.

What are your projects ?
WH Usually, I have no idea what will happen next, until the filming has actually become a reality. The screenwriter and director of Lady’s game Scott Frank and I are working together on a new project for Anya Taylor-Joy. I’m trying to pull a wonderful Latino love story from Francisco Goldman’s bestselling novel Say his name with Benicio Del Toro. I’m developing a mini-series based on Stephen King’s novel Revival with Australian director Zak Hilditch. Dean Parisot and I also have a wonderfully funny original script written by Topper Lilien that Richard Jenkins absolutely wants to play. Hopefully one or more of these projects will result in a respectable sized screen.

Jean-Philippe Guerand

© photo credit: Allen Fraser © Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

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