Steven Spielberg cited the hit Netflix Korean drama Squid Game as a game changer for the industry. Spielberg was among the nominated producers for the PGA Awards Zanuck Award speaking on a panel Saturday Morning at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles.
“Squid Game comes along and changes the math entirely for all of us,” Spielberg said. “Thank you, Ted [Sarandos].”
Spielberg pointed to the Netflix CEO, who was sitting in the audience. His Squid Game comment came during a discussion about the importance of movie stars in casting. Spielberg noted the cyclical nature of the star system, crediting the streaming world with allowing unknown actors to anchor series.
“A long time ago it was domestic stars that brought the audience into movies,” Spielberg said. “Today, it’s interesting, unknown people can star entire miniseries, can be in movies.”
Spielberg, nominated this year for producing West Side Story, added that the international market still requires known stars. Squid Game, released on Netflix in 2021, ushered in a wave of interest in Korean dramas and their stars.
Also on the panel was Being the Ricardos producer Todd Black. Though his film stars Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem, Black a name star could support a lesser known ensemble.
“What’s interesting is you can mix and match them also,” Black said. “It’s really wonderful to be able to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to have a star in a smaller role. I’m going to have an unknown in the lead role.’”
Black also produces the Apple TV+ series Servant – which stars Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint, Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbel – and Peacock’s Dr. Death which starred Joshua Jackson, Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin.
“Now, you can go to the streaming service or the studio and say, ‘Okay, well, I’ll get name the name to play for three days in this role but I’m going to go with a total unknown,’” Black said. “Nine times out of 10 if the script is good enough and the budget is small enough, you can pull that off.”
Spielberg agreed that landing a big star could help sell a studio or streamer on less orthodox casting.
“They do need an anchor,” Spielberg said. “If there’s an anchor they’re familiar with you can surround them with lesser known faces.
The panel also included CODA producer Philippe Rousselet, Dune producer Mary Parent, King Richard producer Tim White, Licorice Pizza producer Sara Murphy, tick, tick… BOOM! Producer Julie Oh, and Power of the Dog producer Tanya Sighatchian in person. Don’t Look Up producer Kevin Messick and Belfast producer/director Kenneth Branagh appeared via Zoom.
Murphy said writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson wrote Licorice Pizza with Alana Ham in mind. He had directed Haim’s music videos. Murphy said he tried to talk himself out of casting Cooper Hoffman until he couldn’t deny it.
“They did audition a bunch of kids for the Gary role,” Murphy said. “It was funny because originally it was written to be quite younger. Alana had chemistry reads with kids and nothing was feeling right. It was kind of awkward. Paul got the idea of Cooper and avoided it and avoided it and avoided it.”
Murphy said that when Anderson asked Hoffman to read lines with Haim, the chemistry they developed led him to offer Hoffman the role.
CODA, which stars deaf actors Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant. Rousselet said it was important to cast authentic actors in the story of a deaf family with one hearing child (Emilia Jones). Rousselet said keeping the budget low allowed them to cast those actors.
“We decided to make the film the most authentic way as possible,” Rousselet said. “That meant shooting the movie with deaf actors, that meant shooting the movie in an area of the country where it’s not easy to shoot in Massachusetts. Basically, it was a very challenging process for all of us but what an outcome.”
The Producers Guild of America Awards are tonight.