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Produced By December/January 2016
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Produced By Magazine December/January 2016 Issue

 

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DAVID HEYMAN

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 4, 2016

David Heyman would be the first to admit that he’s been fortunate. The son of a celebrated producer on one side and a legitimate film finance pioneer (go ahead, look it up) on the other, Heyman’s path into the entertainment industry was a pretty well-paved one. It wasn’t the family name, however, that first spotted the potential in a children’s novel titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but an instinct for story that had been honed through years of work as a producer and studio executive.

From the moment he plucked then-unknown J.K. Rowling’s manuscript off the slush pile, and subsequently through eight feature films, four directors and two Albus Dumbledores, David Heyman was the faithful steward of the big-screen existence of Harry Potter. When it was all over, he had produced one of the most revered and beloved film franchises of all time. Since its conclusion, he’s continued to collaborate with top talent from the potter films, most notably director Alfonso Cuarón, with whom he shared an Oscar nomination (and won the PGA’s Darryl F. Zanuck award) for the boundary-pushing Gravity. Subsequently he also put on screen such diverse stories as the family-friendly Paddington, the powerful holocaust tale The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, and next year, writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s stark period drama The Light Between Oceans.

This season finds him in production mode, producing the potter prequel Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, set for release next year starring Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne. It was during a long, night-time car ride from the Fantastic Beasts set in the north of England to his home in London that David Heyman caught up with Produced By, covering even more ground via conversation than his driver did on the m1.

So what were your early experiences in the
industry like?

I grew up with two parents in the industry. Both are passionate, committed and tenacious and I was exposed to the highs and lows of the business from a young age. I learned a lot from them. My mother, Norma, produced Dangerous Liaisons and many other films. My father, John, is a pioneer in film finance and was once an agent to stars like Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Harris, so you can only imagine the chaos in the Heyman household.

I worked as a runner on various films, like Ragtime and Lords of Discipline. After I graduated college, I travelled to India and ultimately ended up as a runner on A Passage to India, which was a fantastic experience. I actually doubled for Alec Guinness in one scene. At 21 years old I didn’t look very much like him but I probably had more energy than he did cycling around in southern India with spectacles and a turban. I was a huge admirer of director David Lean and the humanity in his films, his ability to combine the intimate with the epic. He had worked as an editor before becoming a director, and he had literally edited the film in his head before he shot it. While working in post-production, I saw that he had often shot only what he intended to use in the final film. If an actor wasn’t going to deliver a line on camera, he often wouldn’t film them saying it!

he knew what he wanted.

Yeah. It was an incredible privilege to watch him work. After that, I moved to New York to work in development with my father. Around that time, I was approached by Lisa Henson, a friend from university, who had just been promoted to VP at Warner Bros. and was looking for someone to replace her. She asked if I had any interest in moving to LA. I didn’t know whether LA would be my home forever, but it certainly would be an invaluable experience to work in the system as opposed to on the fringes, which was where I was.

Lucy Fisher, Lisa’s boss, visited NewYork and we met and got on, and she asked me to work with her. It was a terrific opportunity and education. One of my tasks was doing story notes. During my first week, two of the projects I covered were Police Academy … I can’t remember which, Police Academy 4 or 5

Well, they’re all so distinctive.

[laughs] Yeah, exactly. The second was GoodFellas.

Really? That was your first week? Police Academy 5 and GoodFellas?

I’ll never forget having to do those story notes. The GoodFellas script was remarkable, but I managed to muster a page of notes to justify my job and gave them to an executive … I’m not going to say which executive it was, but it wasn’t Lucy! They said, "These are good, but you’ve missed the most important note of all: How do we introduce Henry Hill in the most sympathetic light?” and I said, "But it’s a Martin Scorsese film. They’re not about sympathetic characters. They’re about characters who may be unsympathetic, but you come to understand through the course of the film why they are as they are.” Didn’t matter; I was told to include the note, which I did. Martin Scorsese and Irwin Winkler ignored it completely, and Henry Hill was introduced in GoodFellas exactly as he was in the script.

For how long were you at Warners?

I started at Warner Bros. in January ’86. In October ’87 Roger Birnbaum offered me to be a VP at United Artists. I was 26 years old and it seemed like an offer I had to accept. I spoke to Lucy and she asked that I not leave. But I was young and foolish and impetuous, and took the job anyway. I was there for eight months, then the writers’ strike happened. [laughs]

Whoops.

And as the last person hired, I was the first person fired. That lead to a period of travel and reflection for me. By the end of it, I thought, you know what? I want to be a producer. A young producer, Neal Moritz, who had pitched to me when I was an exec, suggested we work together and we partnered for around five years. We worked out of his house in Westwood. We really complemented each other. Neal harbored no doubts. I questioned everything. We could say exactly what we wanted to each other without being offended, because it was all about getting things done. And we trusted each other. We still do. It was brilliant.

At the time, I was really interested in urban films, and obsessed with hip-hop. Carhartt jacket, hoodie, Timberland boots. You wouldn’t believe it now looking at me, but yeah, that was me. My closest friend, Peter Frankfurt, gave me a script by Gerard Brown and Ernest Dickerson, who was Spike Lee’s cinematographer. Several years earlier, I had tried to persuade my father to finance She’s Gotta Have It, but hadn’t pushed hard enough! I read the script and loved it. Juice wound up being financed by Chris Blackwell. We went to New York and began the casting process, with Ernest directing. One of the people who we cast was a rapper named Tupac Shakur. He came in with another rapper called Shock G, who was auditioning. Shock G didn’t work out, but Tupac asked if he could try. And just hit it out of the park. Everybody’s jaw dropped. He left the room, shut the door, and then stuck his head back in and said, "By the way, you’d better give me the part because I know where y’all live.” And he shut the door again. He got the part. He had a wicked sense of humor. I adored him and respected him in so many ways. But he was self-destructive. I’m still sad that he’s no longer with us.

Anyway, it was such an exciting time. We were shooting up in Harlem; I’d never produced a film before. We were working with a great cast and crew, from whom I learned so much. We ultimately sold it to Paramount and actually did quite well.

Sounds like a very invigorating way to
start a career.

After that, I made a couple of other films. And frankly, they were not "me.” I didn’t want to live in LA anymore. I wanted to leave because in some way I felt that LA was "winning.” [laughs] Which is ironic, because Neal is now one of the most successful producers in the world, and I’ve been pretty lucky myself. We’ve done better apart than we did together. But I hope one day Neal and I will work together again.

So I left LA, went first to New York and then London. It was the time of Cool Britannia. There was Oasis and Blur and Trainspotting and Four Weddings and a Funeral. It was very alive. Warners gave me a first-look deal which allowed me to pay for my overhead and a small office that I’m still in today. I set out to be a bridge between the U.S. and U.K. and decided to make books a central part of my business. One, I’m a voracious reader. Two, books had probably the best ratio of development to film at the time. At the time, the British books weren’t so aggressively pursued, so I thought I could distinguish myself.

Ned Tanen, head of Universal in the 80s, once gave me some wonderful advice. He said, "If you want to work in the film industry, you should get a job in distribution.” I asked, "Why?” He said, "Because nobody else wants to do it.” The point that he was making was: don’t follow, lead. You’ve got to look for ways to differentiate yourself and not do what everybody else is doing. Anyway, I went around, met editors, agents and publishers. We had three shelves for incoming manuscripts and screenplays: priority, medium priority and low priority. Tanya Seghatchian, my very bright development executive, read an article in a trade publication about a book that hadn’t yet been published. She called the agent. The book came in and sat firmly on the low priority shelf for a couple of weeks before Nisha, my secretary, who only read material from that bottom shelf, took it home. At our Monday morning I asked, "Anybody read anything good?” And Nisha replied, "Yeah, I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” I said, "Hmm, not sure about that title. What’s it about?” "It’s about a young boy who goes to wizard school,” she replied. My interest was piqued.

I took it home that night and I fell in love. I couldn’t put it down and there began my Potter odyssey. I sent it to a friend of mine at Warner Bros, Lionel Wigram, whom I had known since I was 14. He responded, but I’m not sure many others at the studio really got it at the time. It hadn’t yet become a phenomenon. I think they thought, "Listen, we invested this money in Heyman. Let’s give him a shot.” They had no idea if it was going to pay off. Neither did I. I thought if I was lucky, it might be my Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I had no idea that it would become what it became. What I did know was that I connected with it. It made me laugh. It moved me. I related to Harry and the characters at Hogwarts. We all, in our own way, feel like outsiders. And no matter who we are, no matter how successful, no matter how happily married we are or what good friends we have, there are times where we feel alone. At least I do. And I felt that story was something that people could connect with. It was about something: being true to yourself. It was about loyalty and friendship and fighting prejudice and so much more.

So after a lengthy negotiation, on the eve of the U.S. publication, Warners optioned it. We met a lot of writers, and heard different takes. One wanted to set it in America; that was not an option! We finally hired Steve Kloves. He was an unusual choice, I suppose, because he hadn’t written any family films. But that wasn’t an issue for me. He was a sophisticated writer, who wrote rich, layered characters. Also, he was brilliant at capturing an author’s voice and the most important thing was to retain the spirit of Jo Rowling’s writing. When they met, Jo immediately liked him. So we had our screenwriter. As Kloves was writing the films, the books became wildly successful. All of a sudden they were No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list. Now there’s all this pressure as he’s trying to finish the script. At the same time, Jo, who had written the first two or three novels essentially without any expectations, now had all this expectation. And she was struggling as she he had written herself into a little bit of a hole on Goblet of Fire but had a firm publication date! They really bonded through that shared experience and challenges.

Kloves delivered the script towards the end of 1999 and it was wonderful. Warners green-lit it immediately. We met a few directors and decided on Chris Columbus. He was such a passionate fan and wanted above all to be respectful of Jo and true to what she had written. Chris was beyond generous to me. He embraced me as a partner in the process and I learnt so much from him. The first person we hired was Stuart Craig, the great production designer. Then we began casting, scouring the U.K. to find our three young leads. By June, we felt like we had good options for Ron and Hermione but we didn’t have our Harry. We even, out of desperation, expanded the search to the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. We looked everywhere. And here we were, less than 10 weeks before filming. It was a scary time indeed … we were making a film called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and we didn’t have our Harry Potter.

One evening, Kloves and I went to the theater and seated in the audience, I noticed this boy with big round blue eyes. He seemed an old soul in a young body. And then this voice called, "David, great to see you.” Sitting next to the boy was his father, an agent I knew called Alan Radcliffe. The play started but I paid little attention to what was going on up on stage. I kept on turning around and looking at this boy. When the play finished, I went to find Alan and his son, but they’d gone. So the following morning I called ICM and asked if Alan would allow Daniel to visit the studio to meet Chris. Alan said, "Why don’t you meet him first, and then we can decide.” So Dan, his mum and I went out for a cup of tea and we spent two hours chatting. Dan had this incredible energy. He was so curious and intelligent—a curiosity and intelligence that have helped make him the actor he is today.

Afterwards Alan agreed that Dan should meet with Chris, who really liked him—actually Chris had spotted him in a production of Great Expectations but been told that he didn’t want to audition for Potter—and brought him in for the final auditions. Chris looked at three kids for each part, in different combinations. When we screened the footage, it was clear to all Emma and Rupert were our Hermione and Ron. But there were some who weren’t so sure about Harry and so I suggested we sleep on it. The following morning we watched the screen test again and Chris announced, "It’s Dan Radcliffe.” Phew! We couldn’t have done better! A couple of days later we had to do a press conference and the journalists were asking all sorts of inappropriate questions. I’ll never forget, one asked Rupert, "So how much are you making for this?” and this 12 year old boy quips, "You know, I don’t know how much in Muggle money, but I do know in Knuts and Galleons, if you want.”

Then we cast the other roles. Every adult we approached wanted to do it because their children or grandchildren wouldn’t have it otherwise. Richard Harris agreed because his granddaughter, Ella, said she wouldn’t talk to him if he said no.

We made the first two back-to-back, we prepping the second as we were posting the first. Chris did a brilliant job. I wouldn’t be sitting here today having a conversation with you were it not for Chris. He cast our three leads and so many others, chose Stuart and many of our department heads and helped create the film world and an atmosphere and culture in front of and behind the camera that lasted till the end. And he directed two beautiful films.

How did you settle on Alfonso Cuaron to direct the third film?

Towards the end of the second film we had to decide on who would do the third. I wanted Alfonso. I had loved his first film and also A Little Princess, which Jo had loved, too, so I enlisted her support. It may have seemed strange to look at Y Tu Mama Tambien and think, this is the person to direct Harry Potter. What would Harry, Ron and Hermione get up to in this film if this man directs it? But it was a great film; it was clear to me that he was the right director. Y Tu Mama Tambien was about the last moments of being a teenager, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was about the first moments of being a teenager. Alfonso understood the nuances of teenage life and the way that teenagers communicated. And in A Little Princess he had shown an imagination that was perfect for our world. If this series was to go to the end, we needed to shake it up, to have a visionary filmmaker to make it his own. And that was Alfonso.

And so the films were growing up, just like our young actors. The third film, in terms of box office, was the least successful, but it was more mature, more contemporary and that led us in a direction we continued on till the end.

Alfonso decided that he didn’t want to direct the fourth film, so we hired Mike Newell. We hadn’t had a British director yet, which was surprising given how British (yet universal) the books were. Mike was a really good actors’ director and it was important, as the young cast grew, that they continued to be challenged. He was a wonderful director of romantic comedy and thrillers, both of which were essential elements of Goblet of Fire.

And then came the fifth film, and the Potter world was becoming more political. It was very important that we imbue the film with the spirit of a political thriller as the kids come together to form an underground revolutionary movement, a bit like the French Resistance. And so we hired David Yates, who had made Sex Traffic and State of Play, two dynamic political thrillers for the BBC, directorial tour de forces that were amongst the best TV I had seen. And he brilliantly directed the last four films in the series.

One of the things I’m proudest of in the Potter series is that in each film a director’s vision shines through. Jo Rowling’s voice is front and center, clearly, but each director channeled that voice and has made their films their own. Without that voice, a film is a blancmange and I am not a fan of blancmanges. A director with a vision is essential, even, or maybe especially within a franchise. Having said that, we never approached Harry Potter as a franchise. We were simply trying to make each film the best it could be!

While making the Potters we had marriages and divorces, young ones beginning school and graduating, people who just started off in the business on the first film worked their way up to become heads of departments by the end. It was an amazing thing to be a part of. We were like a family—mostly functional, sometimes dysfunctional—but a family. The last day on Potter was a very emotional day … Lots of tears and hugs. We’d seen births, deaths and the entire cycle of life. So it was an emotional moment.

I can imagine, especially having lost people along the way.

Yes. We had indeed. As we were finishing the eighth film, I was approached by Alfonso, who was and remains one of my closest friends, about Gravity. It took me not a moment to say yes. Alfonso is a master filmmaker and to work with him his a privilege. It’s hard, but it is a privilege. He pushes everything, everybody to the absolute limit. I am a better producer for having worked with Alfonso Cuarón. He’s a truly brave filmmaker. He dares one to fail. He dares himself to fail. But he never does.

Alfonso doesn’t want to direct a film he knows how to make before he starts working on it. In Gravity, which was set entirely in space, he wanted to create an immersive experience, with long, unbroken shots. Given this, how were we going to create the illusion of Zero G? The answer was ultimately to develop entirely new technology specifically for this film.

We began with a lengthy period of R&D. Alfonso and Tim Webber, our inspired VFX Supervisor, and a stuntwoman went up on the Vomit Comet (the airplane NASA uses to train astronauts) to get a feel for movement in a weightless environment. Alfonso and Tim loved the experience, but the stuntwoman threw up the entire time.

And we tried the traditional approach of hanging actors in suits from wires, but it quickly became clear that this was too limiting. Sandy Bullock is one of the most gifted and committed actors I have ever worked with and dealt with countless challenges on the film. But even she could not have hidden the effects of gravity or have endured hanging upside down for hours on end! The breakthrough came in two stages. First, Tim Webber suggested that we only shoot the faces of the actors and that everything else be created in the computer.

Second, one of our two executives, Chris deFaria, asked, "Why don’t you have the camera go around the actor sitting on an office chair?” The principle of what Chris suggested was right, but the solution was wrong. It made perfect sense that all the motion be created by the camera, the actor would hardly have to move at all. We began working with a two-ton robot with a camera at the end of it, the same kind of robot they use in manufacturing cars, which could make repeated movements with great accuracy. Part of the problem was now solved, but we were still struggling to move the lights quickly or precisely enough.

That was when Chivo [Emmanuel Lubezki], our genius cameraman, along with Tim Webber came up with the lightbox, a 9’x9’ box made up of LED panels, on which was screened what Sandy Bullock was meant to see and which provided the light source. There was a tilt-rig for the actor in the center of the lightbox, and track leading away. on which was the robot.

The long shots were sometimes composed of 20, 25, 30 separate shots. Because the end of each shot had to connect with the beginning of the next, all the camera movements had to be absolutely precise. So the entire film was prevised and prelit and camera movement, tilt-rig movement, light movement were all preprogrammed.

We had no idea how we were going to make Gravity at the beginning. We had to explore. We went on a journey. And at times you go, "Oh, no. Is this really gonna work?” But ultimately you never lose faith because Alfonso is a pioneer, he’s bold and brave. And together with his creative partners Tim and Chivo we believed we would get there in the end.

At the beginning of the preview process, the film wasn’t testing well because it had none of the backdrops. When you’re showing the film to people with grey bodies and no environment it’s not quite as immersive as you might like! [laughs]

Yeah, not quite.

But when we went to Venice and screened it for an audience as a finished film for the first time the response was extraordinary. Alfonso’s courage had paid off.

While we were in the last stages of postproduction and the beginning of the awards season, I began producing a film called Paddington, working with a wonderfully imaginative writer-director, Paul King. He was very much like Paddington himself … warm and generous and very funny. We developed it at Warners but they put it in turnaround. We took it to every studio and they all passed. The French company, StudioCanal, ended up financing it. And now I’m in post production on Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans, starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz, and in production on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I’m afraid I can’t really say that much about.

What’s it like to be back in Jo Rowling’s world?

Oh, it’s great. The story takes place 70-plus years before Potter. It’s inspired by a book that Jo wrote for comic relief. It’s "authored” by a man called Newt Scamander, who’s a magizoologist, and it’s a story of his adventures in New York in the 1920s. It’s funny and thrilling and fresh and original, and features adults, not children. I think it will be enjoyed by Potter and "non-Potter” fans alike.

You really think it might appeal to the five "non-Potter” fans that are still out there?

[laughs] I hope so. It’s rich and resonant, and fun and moving. It’s a really delightful mix. And its great to be back in Jo’s wizarding world and to be working with David Yates again.

So what advice would you give to younger producers starting their careers today?

I would offer a couple of pieces of advice to a young producer.

I would recommend a young producer think beyond film. Don’t give up on movies. Movies are wonderful and I hope they never die. But as a story teller, think about television, think about short form-content, think about video games, look at other ways to tell stories. A producer in 10 years time is going to be looking at a very different landscape than a producer today.

As a producer you are only as good as the artists with whom you work, so you must seek out that extraordinary talent, find it, nurture it and support it.

Most important, you’ve got to listen to your gut. And if you believe in something, don’t give up on it! Gravity was a project that many thought wouldn’t work. Paddington was rejected again and again and again. Potter was rejected by many agents and publishers. My father told me about how Winston Churchill, at the age of 90, hobbled to the lectern to deliver a speech to graduating students. "I have just nine words of advice to give to you,’ he said. "Never give in! Never give in! Never give in!” So … never give in!

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TWO SHOT: Hateful Joy. Old Pals Richard Gladstein & Jonathan Gordon Share Some Stories

Posted By Administration, Monday, January 4, 2016

Twenty-odd years ago, Miramax Films was deep in production on Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Richard Gladstein had brought the project to the company as its new head of production, having previously executive produced Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and sold the finished film to Miramax. While on the set of Pulp, Gladstein’s lifeline back at the office was Jonathan Gordon, Harvey Weinstein’s assistant; two years earlier, Gordon had been a senior at Northwestern. Through the ups and downs of getting a modern classic over the finish line, the pair became friends.

Gladstein left Miramax a few years thereafter to form FilmColony and produce full time, ultimately scoring a pair of Oscar nominations for The Cider House Rules and Finding Neverland. Gordon stayed on, rising through the Miramax ranks to serve as Co-President of Production up until the split with Disney in 2005. After a stint as President of Production for Universal, he found his groove as the go-to producer for writer-director David O. Russell, nabbing a pair of Oscar noms of his own, for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.

This year, Gladstein rode with Tarantino again, producing The Hateful Eight along with Stacey Sher and Shannon McIntosh. Meanwhile, Gordon was on set for Russell’s Joy, working with fellow producers John Davis, Megan Ellison, Russell and Ken Mok. In a twist of fate, both films open on Christmas. But despite the dictates of the calendar, there’s no sense of competition between the friends, who sat down at Little Dom’s in Los Feliz to knock back some drinks, catch up, and share stories about working with a pair of the most iconoclastic filmmakers working today.


Richard Gladstein:
So what stage are you guys at now?

Jonathan Gordon: We’re locking picture, which is sort of a relative term. David will keep finessing the film until you pull it out of his hands. It’s what makes him great to work with; the ideas never stop. How does Quentin work in the editing room?

R: Fred [Raskin] creates his assembly while we’re shooting. After taking two weeks-ish off after the completion of shooting, Quentin comes into the cutting room and goes straight to dailies, starts cutting, Scene 1, as though the editor’s assembly doesn’t exist. I don’t think he ever watches the editor’s assembly straight through.

J: David doesn’t either. He has never watched an assembly, ever. Sometimes the studio will ask, when are you going to watch the assembly? And he says, "What are you talking about?”

R: Quentin may refer to the assembly at times because he’ll suggest something and the editor says, "I already did it that way, check it out.” But Quentin studies dailies endlessly at his house, at night, and comes in very prepared to cut. He’s so damn secure that there are certain things that he doesn’t shoot that you, as a producer, expect him to. With a less experienced director, you might quietly suggest, "Don’t you want to get this angle, or go closer?” But Quentin, he knows his movie in his head completely. "I’m never cutting to that. It’s unnecessary.”

J: David also knows exactly how he wants to cut things while he’s shooting, but in post he also loves pushing the footage to its limits, making sure nothing is left on the table.

R: As a producers, you learn something on every movie, and then you bring it along to your next movie. So we get taught by Quentin or David or whomever. I remember on The Cider House Rules, we had a scene where Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron are in a theatre watching a movie. We shot the scene and [director] Lasse [Hallstrom] then says, out of nowhere, "Can we change their shirts, please? And change her hair just a little bit? Have them switch seats? I just want to get a quick shot.” And I’m wondering, "What for?” He said, "I don’t know. What if we want to show that they’ve gone out a few times? Or create a montage of dates? This way, I have a shot of them going to see another film on another day.” That’s brilliant.

So that’s something I can bring to other movies, suggest to the director, "Y’know, while we’re here, why don’t we grab another shot like x y or z, just in case we need it to show x y or z?” And the director says, "That’s a great idea. Where’d you come up with that?” I tell them, "Lasse Hallstrom.” I love Lasse!

J: David sort of did the inverse of that on Silver Linings Playbook. Mark Bridges, our costume designer, kept proposing all of these different changes for Bradley [Cooper’s] character and David told him, "Keep him in the same fucking t-shirt. I don’t want him in anything else.”

R: Because then he could move scenes around …

J: Exactly. There were so many scenes that got shuffled around, and it allowed him so much more creative freedom. Then we went to do American Hustle and every actor had like 17 changes a day.

R: Quentin’s material is written so structured and ordered that I don’t recall him ever moving the order of scenes. Not in Dogs or Pulp and definitely not in Hateful.

J: So okay, default question here, what was the biggest challenge of producing Hateful Eight?


R:
Snow. Weather in general, really, and schedule. And of course the cold and moving our horses and stagecoach around. I was worried that shooting in 70mm would slow us down, but it never did … We did a million tests and worked out the kinks in prep. But a six-horse team pulling a stagecoach? That’s about the length of four cars. It’s really difficult to maneuver, the turning radius is probably twice that of a mack truck. And you can imagine, if the camera is here and the horses are going from A to B, how do you get take two? How do you bring a six-horse team, with stagecoach, back to one? You stop, unhitch horses, walk each horse back. You need a snow truck to pull the stagecoach back. That’s a long fucking time between Take 1 and Take 2. On top of which, you also don’t want to mess up virgin snow with footprints and tracks. A lot of the time, we just moved the camera and Take 2 will have a slightly different background.

J: Right. And this whole time it’s cold, and the conditions outside aren’t enjoyable. And you lose your momentum …

R: And of course the light changes. And the horses? In snow, their legs can break if the snow is deeper than their knees, because the ground beneath the snow is often rocky and not flat. So we figure out ways to pack down the snow to where it’s deep enough for us to do what we want to do but not too deep to hurt the horses. There’s no way we’re hurting a horse. In fact, some of the horses that were on Django are actually on this movie, because Quentin really liked those horses. He’s all, "Can we get Leche back? I love Leche. Leche was so cool.” He’s not gonna hurt a horse. No way.

So what about Joy? Was there anything more difficult than the other movies you made with David?

J: Well, under any other circumstances I wouldn’t have the same answer as yours, but I do. It was snow and schedule. We shot in Boston, which had the coldest winter with the most snowfall in as long as they’ve been recording the weather. It was this biblical amount of snow.

R: And Telluride had its lowest snowfall in 25 years.

J: Yeah, we had heard that you guys needed snow. It was kind of a running joke that we should find a way to send you some. Because even though the snow was good for us aesthetically, since a lot of our movie takes place at Christmastime, from a production standpoint it was a nightmare. The week before we started shooting, the snowpack had accumulated so much on top of our stages that the roof collapsed right on our mill where our sets were being built. Fortunately a friend who we had worked with before was doing an HBO show in Boston and he let us finish building some things at his mill. Then the first day we were supposed to start shooting the movie, we had to shut down because there were 30 mile an hour winds and it was snowing so hard that it was actually unsafe to keep the crew outside. It was so hard for us to get out of the gate at the beginning. It really slowed everything down for David, who always likes to jam as much as he can into a day.

R: OK, get this, it’s the very first day of our pre-shoot, with no actors except James Parks, who plays the stagecoach driver. We had found this meadow that was just crazy beautiful … The sky, the way the two meadows came together with the trees and the vista, it was awesome. When we looked at it a few days before the shoot there was nothing on the ground, but the forecast said snow. So Quentin says, "I want to start with this shot. If it snows over the weekend the way it’s supposed to, on Monday morning this is going to be spectacular.” And lo and behold, it snows all weekend. Monday comes, we show up at our spot. They’re setting up the camera and crane, everything is perfect. The horses are getting in place. We’re just about ready. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, a crew member in one of our snow cats comes driving …

J: Oh, no, no, no …

R: … right through the middle of meadow, through the middle of our damn frame! Over fresh virgin snow. We all can hear the motor before we see him. We’re waving our arms, shouting, "Stop!” but he can’t hear us.

J: You’re like Michael in The Godfather when his wife’s about to turn the key in the car!

R: Exactly! Too late! There’s nothing we can do. The guy pulls right up to the camera where we’re all standing, and hops out of the vehicle and he’s like "Hey. What’s happening?”

Quentin was crushed. He made us bring everybody, the entire crew, up to camera from basecamp. Everybody slowly gathered and Quentin said, "I’m calling it. We’re all going home. And this can never happen again. If you see virgin snow you do not drive in it, you don’t step in it, you don’t touch it. Okay? Never again.” And we scrapped the first day of shooting.

J: That was the first day?

R: The first day. That was just a bad karma day. That same day—this has never happened to me before in the history of my life—my friggin’ alarm didn’t go off. So I wake up to a phone call from [fellow producer] Stacey [Sher], "Richard, where are you? We’re out in front of your apartment in the car.” Bad karma. I mean, I got there in time, but on the first day of shooting, you want to be there before everybody gets there. You’re not rolling up late; that’s rookie shit. I’m not letting the director get there before me. Or the AD. Or the DP. My movie? Never gonna happen.

J: With David we have this ritual called the "van meeting” which we started on Silver Linings. David always wants to go through the day’s work on the way in to set, so every morning we drive in in the van together. When we get to set, we pack everyone into the van—producers, AD, DP, camera operators, production designer, script supervisor, sometimes even the actors. When it’s cold, everyone’s got big jackets on, doesn’t matter, we’re all packed in. And even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s like the best thing. David says, "Let’s go through the whole day right now.” Because he knows that the second you walk onto set and everyone’s chatting and eating their breakfast, the creative focus naturally dissipates. He wants to make sure everyone knows exactly what the day’s plan is and to have potential obstacles flagged and solved in that intimate creative environment, not once there are a hundred people walking around all focused on their part of the production.

R: Every day?

J: Every single day. Come visit our set on any given morning and you’re gonna just see a van with steamed up windows idling in the cold.

R: Quentin doesn’t do that. On the list of people he would like to talk to before he sets up his first shot, the producers are not on it. Until he sets up the first shot, and probably until he shoots something, he doesn’t want to talk to me. He only wants the DP, the AD and his actors.

J: On any movie, it’s all about anticipation. Working with David, I think I’ve become better at that. Even though he may surprise me creatively, I know how he wants things to run. I know when he wants to be spending more time with the camera. I know when he wants to be closer to the actors. I know what he’ll sacrifice if push comes to shove. I can kind of anticipate it on the day. And I know we’ve got to leave a little room because he comes up with so many ideas in the moment. Jennifer [Lawrence] lip synching "Live and Let Die” in American Hustle was an idea he had the night before we shot it. On Joy there was a day where literally an hour before call, he decided to incorporate elements into the scene from a set we had shot weeks earlier.

R: And the art department is like, "Really? You serious?”

J: I’m calling everybody on the way in to work … the production designer, the costume designer. And yeah, in that moment you want to say to him, "Are you kidding me?” But what he comes up with is so inspired you find yourself getting excited about what the idea can be. David thrives off of that energy. I think you can feel his exuberance and and love of cinema in every frame. As a producer you have to allow the room for those things to happen because that kind of inspiration … that’s the magic.

R: You see also the way the actors respond to these guys. They follow them to the ends of the earth. That exuberance motivates everyone, and it’s contagious, it creates this bubbling brew.

J: In Joy there are a number of days where we had our entire cast all in one scene—Jennifer Lawrence, De Niro, Bradley, Edgar Ramirez, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd—people with more years of acting experience, nominations and awards than you can count. And on set with David, they all have this excitement like it’s the first day of their first movie. When David wants to try the same scene in a few completely different ways, they know it’s going to let them stretch as far as they can go. David gives them chances to surprise themselves, which is such a gift. Jennifer always says that the key to working with David is to just be his paint and trust him to do the rest, and I actually feel like that’s true in no matter what capacity you work with him.

R: Same deal with QT. Everyone trusts him completely. And we’ll do anything for him. He makes everyone better. I think that comes from QT trusting us and his actors. It’s always reciprocal, always a collaboration … but QT is the leader, the arbiter, general, for everything.

J: David actually says, "I don’t know,” a lot. If he’s got an actor who’s saying, "I’d rather do it this way.” He’ll say, "Listen, in the time that it’s going to take for us to argue about who’s right, let’s do it your way, and then let’s do it my way, because I don’t know what’s better. You may be right.” And the best part of it is when you see those scenes cut together and there’s both takes in it. I love that you have these directors who are at the top of their game—and not just the top of their game, more like at the top of the game—and they are confident enough to say, "I don’t know.”

R: Sometimes, with writer-directors, actors can feel stymied because the writer can have a fixed idea in his mind of what that actor is going to do. On one film that I did a bunch of years ago, a very prominent actor who was in the movie wrote a note afterwards to the writer-director and said, "Look, now that we’re done shooting, I just felt that I should share that I didn’t have a great time making the movie. It felt to me that there wasn’t a director on the set, but the writer was on the set all day. If you have the entire film fixed in your head, you’re not leaving room for us to do our job.” And he was right. There was no director; the writer was in the way.

And yeah, there are those crazy brilliant sets and days. And Quentin’s sets are tops. There’s a scene in Hateful where Sam Jackson delivers one of those uber-brilliant Quentin monologues. Everyone tracked when they were gonna shoot that and everyone found their way to set to watch. There were actors who showed up who weren’t even working that day. There was this buzz … "We’ve got to watch this.”

They did the scene, and it was mesmerizing. When Quentin cut, all the other actors, and the crew started clapping. Everybody was saying it was like a master class, and it was. It was a master class of writing, a master class of directing, a master class of acting, a master class in filmmaking. It was a ballet. It was music. It was a full blown orchestra. And it was just Sam talking. I actually cried. A tear went right down my face. We work so hard, but once in a while, you’re just a full blown spectator with the best seat in the frigging house. It’s a gift.

J: Whether you’re an actor or you’re a cinematographer or a designer or a producer, moments like that are the ones which completely fulfill that first desire you had to do what you do. As you go on in your career, things happen and sometimes you lose sight of why you originally got into it. But when you’re in the presence of that, it instantly all comes back to you.

Because we have the same thing as you described with Quentin. The actors never leave the set on David’s movies. Nobody goes back to the trailers, no one does any of that stuff. Everyone stays, because it’s this feeling of: this is the best that it gets. That’s why everyone shows up, because the kid in them is alive again, remembering, "This is what I wanted to do. This is why I’m here.”

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THE BURDEN OF BEASTS: How Do You Produce A Searing Drama About African Child Soldiers? With Great Difficulty.

Posted By Matthew Dessem, Monday, January 4, 2016

As Cary Fukunaga tells it, his new film has an origin story nearly as serendipitous as Lana Turner getting discovered over an ice cream soda. While meeting with producer Amy Kaufman about his 2009 feature Sin Nombre, an executive saw he was carrying a copy of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel Beasts of No Nation, the harrowing story of a boy’s conscription as a child soldier in Africa. The book was "reading material on the subway,” says Fukunaga, but when the executive told him, "I want to make that into a movie,” Fukunaga replied, "Well, I want to make it into a movie, too.” Nothing else about the film’s journey to the screen came as easily.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. Kaufman, a Boston native whose pre-Focus Features career included stints with Scott Rudin and Miramax, knew she wanted to work with Fukunaga from their first meeting. In fact, she obtained a copy of his script for Sin Nombre through back channels when it seemed he’d set it up elsewhere. Kaufman ended up producing it and the two bonded over a challenging shoot in Mexico. But Iweala’s novel presented another level of difficulty. "It’s not a movie that fits most models for people who finance movies,” she says candidly. Fukunaga wrote a screenplay for Focus, but the project was soon put in turnaround. Neither Kaufman nor Fukunaga was ready to give up, and when Focus let its option on the novel lapse, the pair optioned it with their own money. "It was a difficult decision at the time,” Kaufman says, "because I think it was probably a significant percentage of what I had in the bank.”


At first it seemed like a bad bet. "We submitted it all over town to everybody that made sense and we were rejected,” says Kaufman. But then another unexpected moment of serendipity moved Beasts of No Nation forward, when Kaufman received what she describes as "the craziest phone call” from a new production company, Red Crown Pictures. The company had been founded in 2010 as a partnership between Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Daniel Crown, with Riva Marker as President of Production. Taplin Lundberg came from indie film royalty: her father, Jonathan Taplin, entered the industry by producing Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, an experience that made a huge impression on his daughter. "I grew up romanticizing what film producing is,” she admits. "You know, you find someone off the street and then they become Martin Scorsese. And I think the first fifteen years of my career would prove that is not the case.”



Producer Daniela Taplin Lundberg on location with
writer-director Cary Fukunaga (left) and 1st AD Jon Mallard

One of Taplin Lundberg’s first ventures was Plum Pictures, where her work on Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right was what she describes as "a light-bulb moment for me … If you’re gonna make a movie you should really try to say something and be bold.” With theater owner Daniel Crown and Riva Marker, who’d been overseeing post-production at Plum Pictures, they formed Red Crown, dedicated to "artistic, director-driven material.”

Director-driven material requires directors, and at an early retreat, the Red Crown executives made a list of "real talents that the whole world doesn’t know about yet.” Cary Fukunaga was high on the list. One of the company’s creative executives, Alish Erman, had been an intern at Focus and recommended Fukunaga’s script for Beasts of No Nation; the other principles at Red Crown read it and called Kaufman out of the blue to set a meeting.

Looking back, Marker describes that initial sit-down at the Bowery Hotel as "one of these wonderful meetings where you didn’t know it was going to happen … Daniella and I came in with rose-tinted glasses.” Kaufman and Fukunaga were thrilled that someone wanted to make Beasts of No Nation, but there was a problem. As Marker recalls, Fukunaga told them "I can’t make this movie right now. I know what it would require of me … I’m gonna go do this thing for HBO, and when I’m done with that, that’s when I’d like to find my window.”

That "thing for HBO” turned out to be the first season of True Detective, and Fukunaga rapidly went from being a "real talent the whole world doesn’t know about yet” to a household name among the series’ passionate fanbase. But Beasts of No Nation was close to his heart, and as True Detective shot, Red Crown went about the difficult business of finding a way to make it happen.

As it turned out, the delay wasn’t a bad thing. "It took us three years to prep the film, and we needed those three years to prep the film,” says Marker. In 2013, Fukunaga was able to attach Idris Elba for the role of the Commandant, the leader of the military unit the main character fights for. "I’ve never seen such a quick and easy yes,” says Kaufman. Even with a star, however, financing for a film about such a difficult subject wasn’t forthcoming. Crown describes it as "the type of film that most people felt like they really needed to see in order to pre-buy.” When it became apparent that there would be no foreign pre-sales, the producers swallowed hard and put more on the table.

"We just decided to go for it,” Taplin Lundberg explains. "We believed in Cary and we thought, this is what making movies is about. You fight for the ones you believe in. So we went for a straight equity play, which most financiers will tell you, you never do.”

Producer Amy Kaufman with Abraham Attah
Scarily enough, raising the money turned out to be the easy part. Settling on filming locations was harder, not because they were difficult to find, but because they were hard to insure. Fukunaga wanted West African locations to match the novel; the film’s bond company favored Kenya. The matter was settled when Fukunaga, Kaufman, and line producer Peter Pastorelli arrived in Kenya to scout locations the day before the Westgate Mall terrorist attack. Suddenly, insurance was unobtainable for Kenya, and Ghana became the most stable option. Half-Ghanaian Idris Elba was able to trade on his reputation there to make some crucial introductions, including Tony Tagoe, an experienced line producer who became the production’s local fixer.

Plenty needed fixing. The production needed the cooperation of the Ghanaian military—"a lot of paperwork, a lot of different departments and ministers who didn’t like each other,” says Fukunaga. Everything had to be done in cash; everything cost more than anticipated. Pastorelli lost 45 pounds over the course of the production. Fukunaga contracted malaria. And as the shoot loomed ever nearer, the film still needed its lead actor to play the child soldier at the center of the story. Casting director Harrison Nesbit finally found Abraham Attah on a school soccer field. For Fukunaga, casting Attah was the biggest risk of a risky shoot; with only two weeks to work with him, he had to trust that the untrained young actor could handle a transformation that would have been taxing for performers with years of experience. Attah would have to "start off being this sort of light, fearless, fun kid, and end looking like he’s seen the weight of the entire world.” Once more, the production rolled the dice.

Things didn’t get easier once cameras started rolling. The shoot’s greatest single challenge turned out to be the most basic one: providing sufficient food and water for the cast and crew. Catering companies didn’t exist in the area, and transporting provisions to remote shooting locations comprised a full-time job. "Simple things there were not simple,” summarizes Crown. But despite the hardships, the production took on a camp-like atmosphere for the young actors playing the child soldiers, replete with dance parties and soccer matches. Fukunaga made a point of showing the cast and crew footage of their work, which was particularly motivating for kids who’d never acted before.

It also helped motivate the producers. Taplin Lundberg remembers being blown away by the first scene she saw, of Attah pantomiming television shows through a set with a missing picture tube. She’d been worried the film would be bleak, but, seeing Attah on screen, was thrilled to see that "there was as much love and levity as everything else Cary’s great at.” Marker was equally relieved to see they were on the right track. "As worried and stressed as we all were about keeping everybody hydrated,” she recalls, "and making sure that no batteries exploded from the camera and that the military arrived with the artillery that we needed—we never worried about the movie that Cary was making.”

The confidence that early footage built with the producers came in handy as unanticipated costs mounted. Crown, who’d been on location for most of the filming, traveled back to the United States mid-shoot to participate in one last round of fundraising. "I was so excited by what I had seen,” he says. "I wanted to let Cary run with this as much as we possibly could, and not let the budget restrict him.”

But even with more money, things were touch and go—some scenes had to be shot on a smaller scale than originally envisioned, and as with any film, eventually time ran out. On the last day of shooting, Fukunaga tried to work through a list of shots they’d missed earlier. He got about halfway through. "It got dark,” he recounts. "We had one scene we could do in the dark, and that was it. It was a pretty rough feeling—knowing that whatever’s on the hard drives right now, we’re going to have to make a movie out of that.”

To say the very least, they managed. None of the production stresses show on screen. The finished film is phantasmagoric, anchored by brilliant performances from Elba and Attah. Taplin Lundberg remembers seeing the assembly cut: "It felt like the best thing I’d ever been part of.”

But the best film in the world doesn’t mean anything if audiences don’t see it. The plan had been to partner with a traditional studio for a theatrical release; however, Netflix’s offer to distribute the film was the last unexpected moment of serendipity for Beasts of No Nation. The offer was nearly twice the film’s budget, enough for all the film’s investors to make a profit. But it wasn’t entirely about money; the producers also knew a traditional platform theatrical release for the film would be a difficult.

"It gets lost in the fray that this is a movie about child soldiers,” Taplin Lundberg notes, "and the only star in it is Idris Elba. It’s very difficult subject matter. We were thinking to ourselves, this is one of the best things we’ve ever been a part of, but what is the marketing campaign for this? How does Fox Searchlight turn this into Juno?”

With Netflix, they found a partner with something to prove: that a simultaneous streaming and theatrical release could be a success. As a result, their film would get the full benefit of Netflix’s publicity muscle. The gamble paid off: Beasts of No Nation got 3 million views in its first two weeks—the first time Netflix has ever publicly announced viewing numbers. Fukunaga, who’d wanted a film in theaters after True Detective, knew they’d made the right call when he started hearing raves from people who lived nowhere near an art-house theater. "What you ultimately want from a film,” he makes clear, "is for people to watch it and to experience it.”

But before the Netflix release brought the film to millions of homes, there was a very special theatrical screening: the world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, which marked the first time the producers would see the film with an audience. The five-minute standing ovation spoke for itself. "As a producer,” says Marker, "you’re hoping to make movies that make an impact. It was just one of those moments you won’t forget.” But for all the producers, making Beasts of No Nation was its own journey—rewarding, challenging, life-changing—long before any audience saw it. As Kaufman puts it, "There are lots of different kinds of movies you can choose to make. You can sit in a room or you can get on a plane and go look around somewhere you’ve never been.”

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DEALMAKING: Negotiating Your Share. In This Business, A "Fair Price" Is A Moving Target

Posted By Stephen Marinaccio, Monday, January 4, 2016


When we’re hired as producers we commonly make the deals for those on our crew, from the director and cast to the production assistants. However, when it comes to making our own deals, sometimes it can be a bitter and painful experience. How do you go out on your own as a producer? When you start your own project how do you know what’s even in the right ballpark? How much is too greedy and what’s so little that people will think less of you for being suspiciously humble? How one goes about determining this theoretical number is a bit more elusive. What follows are some general guidelines and information upon which to draw a conclusion for your comfortable range. Armed with this insight, you may be better prepared for the next time someone asks you, "What is your rate?”

The crux of our apprehension to make a great deal may be that we have a high opinion of our skills and why would anyone not want to pay us what we feel we are worth, or the opposite that we feel we could simply be lucky to have the job and any money is better than nothing. The real skill in negotiating comes from understanding what a reasonable number is which not only fits within our own needs, but also the paradigm of the project in hand.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE
NEGOTIATING WITH

There is no shortage of value for doing your research. Before approaching a person or company for a job, before focusing on a particular project, before your first meeting with someone—do your research on them. Using your personal contacts, IMDb.com, LinkedIn.com and other online sources to find out peoples’ history and connections will help you. Know a bit more about the project or person’s history and resume. It may be possible there are other people you mutually know.

YOUR WORK and COMING TO
THE TABLE

Knowing your strengths is key to explaining what you can offer to a potential employer. When sitting with a studio or pitching your own project to an investor, be sure to highlight your experiences and how they can relate to the project at hand. Don’t assume they’ve done their homework on you. Have you worked in Europe and this project is all about castles and is looking to shoot there? Have you worked on a lot of VFX-heavy projects, and this new one has three full CG characters?Along with the research you do from the previous section, know a at least a bit about the needs of the project.

Along with your knowledge, a benefit to a project can be the team of crew and vendors you bring to the table.Use opportunities on your current projects to get to know key position crew and vital vendors. You can also seek out key crew you have never worked with and offer them a lunch to get to know them. Let these people and vendors know who you are and what you are doing. When it comes time, bringing the right crew and vendors to the project can help give you an edge.

THE BUDGET, YOUR RATE
AND PAYMENTS

It does nothing for either side to begin a conversation with an idealistic percentage or flat rate when the budget for the project does not fit it. You may be used to making $6K a week for 25 weeks producing films with $3 million budgets. So you might divide $150K by $3 Million and deduce that you "should” be earning 5% of whatever budget film you work on. But if you are doing a project for $100K, which will already be fighting to put as much money on the screen as possible, it might be too burdensome for that budget to handle paying a single producer even 5%. On the other end of the spectrum, let’s say the project is $100M. Now, 5% feels significantly off-base to pay a producer (because virtually nobody makes $5 million as an undeferred producer fee).

Consequently, a locked percentage number regardless of the budget is needlessly inflexible and largely impractical. Options to be considered in light of the difficulty with establishing a percentage is either a flat or weekly rate for the project.

Flat rates would pay you a total sum over the course of the project. Commonly, this pre-negotiated amount would be paid over an agreed-upon period and include all work rendered for a set of agreed duties. That may all sound like a lot of wishy-washy unknowns; however, this is where you need to know what you are expected to do on the project, how long you expect to be involved with the project and then finally, what those are worth to the project. Thinking of all these items and how they all interact, you should be able to come to a mutual agreement.

BENEFITS AND PARI PASSU

Aside from your base rate, you may need to consider (keeping in mind all practicalities of the project) any additional benefits. These include, but are not limited to, your per diem, box rental, paid ad credits, travel class, hotel room and car rental type and/or having a personal assistant to sort away the green M&Ms.

These items might be granted to you in a way that is on-par with other similar crew types—mainly department heads. In my experience, the best way to approach these benefits is to simply ask and be prepared for rejection or a balance against these from your proposed rate. There are general practicalities which should be observed, such as the budget level of the project and your relationship with the investors or other producers.

PROFIT PARTICIPATION

Another aspect of being compensated for your contributions to a project may come in the form of profit participation. There are countless factors that can affect whether your points end up being worthless or worth millions. Having an experienced attorney as a friend can be very helpful here. In general, learn about the entire revenue waterfall and your placement on it. Try to get "most favored nation” status with respect to deal terms (so that you and the big players are sipping from the same pool, even if they have bigger cups). But keep in mind that since most films lose money you should be wary of giving up too much actual payment in favor of "points.” These are therefore a risk to you, but if you believe the project will do very well—especially because of your expertise and what you are bringing to the table—it could be a great way to ride the upside.

ESTABLISHING YOUR BASELINE

Over time, you will establish a bit of normalcy to what you charge for your services. Use this as your baseline. This baseline can serve as the conversation starter for future projects. That said, you will always need to keep in mind the parameters of the project to curtail your desired compensation to what the budget can support.

In closing, there are a lot of factors to think about when considering what you feel you should be paid. With a bit of practicality and forethought, you’ll be prepared to begin a focused negotiation. Good luck.

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DIAMOND VISION: Brian Oliver Brings A Ballplayer's Instincts To Producing Feature Films

Posted By Michael Ventre , Monday, January 4, 2016

Handsome, fit, personable, Brian Oliver looks the part of an all-conference infielder at UC Berkeley, which he once was. You could easily imagine him as one of the earnest young guys on the bus peppering Crash Davis with questions about life in the major leagues in Bull Durham.

The baseball reference is important here because, while Oliver never made it to "the show”—though he did distinguish himself in semi-pro ball and had fun doing it—the producer of such big-screen titles as Black Mass and Legend learned some invaluable lessons during his days on the diamond.

"Baseball is one of those sports where, if you fail seven times out of 10, you’re successful and you’re a .300 hitter,” says the president of Cross Creek Pictures. The film business, he continues, is a slate business, where "one’s going to do great, one’s going to do OK, one might lose a little money, one will be a home run, one will be a single, one will be a double.

"And by playing baseball and having to fail most of the time as a sport for a lot of my life, it teaches you the ups and downs and to keep it even keel with everything.

"There will be times when everything will be going good in the film business,” he added, "and there will be times when everything will be going bad. You can look at any studio in town and see that it’s very cyclical. So you just have to keep your head up, keep doing it, and just make sure you’re winning more than you’re losing.”

Oliver can’t boast Ted Williams numbers in cleats, but he’s killing it in loafers.

Along with his Cross Creek team, Oliver has presided over the psychological thriller Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman; The Ides of March with George Clooney and Ryan Gosling; and the Formula One drama Rush, top-lined by Chris Hemsworth. This year alone, he’s released the Whitey Bulger crime drama Black Mass, with Johnny Depp in a command performance; Legend, the story of British gangsters the Kray brothers, starring Tom Hardy; and the adventure-thriller Everest, with Jake Gyllenhaal heading up a strong ensemble. Next Valentine’s Day brings the much-anticipated release of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

It’s that even keel developed in the batter’s box that has helped Oliver ride the peaks and valleys of a notoriously fickle business and still maintain focus and enthusiasm for the next project.

"With success, sometimes it goes to people’s heads,” he says. "And they start changing their business model, or thinking they know more than they do. This business is one where knowing what you know is important … Just keeping to your business plan and the type of projects you want to do. Don’t drink your own Kool-Aid.”

Oliver, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, received a bachelor’s degree at Berkeley and a law degree from Whittier College, with the intention of becoming a sports agent. Instead, he got a job at William Morris and transitioned into film. "I always loved film,” he says. "I always thought it was a great way to go escape reality for a couple hours—the lights go out and you can enter someone else’s world.”

He says the agency life served as a terrific introduction to the position he now holds.

"I just did an interview with a kid (who wanted) advice on how to get into Hollywood,” he explained, "and I say the quickest way to get into the business and learn who all the players are—how everybody lines up, who does what, how, where, when—is at an agency.

"At William Morris, I came in from outside Hollywood,” he continues, "and had to learn the movie business really fast based on that. Also by working at an agency you can see every aspect and you can decide which way would be right for you. That kind of pushed me toward the film production side.”

Rick Hess, a former agent at William Morris, mentored Oliver and eventually brought him along to Propaganda Films. "He was a guru of putting film financing together and being one of those guys who can make something out of nothing,” Oliver says of Hess.

Oliver, along with investors Timmy Thompson and Tyler Thompson, started Cross Creek Pictures in 2009. It began solely as a production company, but has since added film financing to its banner. Its first picture, Black Swan, brought an Academy Award to Portman and garnered four other nominations.

"Our taste is somewhat distinct,” Oliver says. "We obviously like true stories. We like stories about lead characters in conflict or chaos. I think books are often great sources of material. That said, there’s not a specific type of movie that we look to do. We try to find good stories that are worth telling. People always ask me, ‘What type of material are you looking for?’ and my answer is always, ‘the good kind.’”

Case in point: Black Mass, directed by Scott Cooper. "Brian’s had a lot of success with the types of films that will get me out of the house and into a theater,” Cooper explains. "Brian optioned the book many, many years ago and knew the story inside and out. He was always a great resource for getting me to meet the right people as I was shaping the narrative into the resultant film.

"Making any film is hard,” Cooper added. "Making a film like ‘Black Mass’ is next to impossible. So having a producer who doesn’t say, ‘This is impossible,’ is just what I want to hear. Brian was very supportive in bringing my vision to the screen.”

The same persistence by Oliver and his Cross Creek partners was evident on "Legend,” made with help from producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. The November release of the long-gestating project—in which Hardy plays a dual role as both menacing British brothers—brought great satisfaction, says Oliver, but it was also "strangely anticlimactic.”

"It’s like you work on something for so long and it finally makes the big screen and there’s such an excitement and nervousness and everything that comes along with a movie being released,” Oliver says. "And then after that it’s the quiet after the storm. Then you’re on to the next thing. It’s a month of craziness, and then calm. Then another month of craziness, and then calm.

"And then if the movie warrants it,” he continues, "the movie comes back around when people start talking about awards. Each film we do is like being on a team. You’re on that team and you play your year out—because it usually takes about a year—and then you go to a new team. It’s a weird feeling because it’s a sense of excitement but disappointment leaving all these people you worked with for a year.”


Oliver says that having a financing arm at Cross Creek is a nifty advantage, but it comes with a caveat.

"As a producer, the hardest part of the financing side of a movie is to find the equity needed. Having some of that equity going in makes it easier,” he says. "It’s kind of the glue you can pull all the other things together with. You have your foreign sales contracts, your tax rebates, your domestic distribution. Having the equity in the middle kind of allows you to make it all stick and turn it into a film.

"But it’s a double-edged sword: As an independent producer your job is, ‘How do I, at all costs, get this movie made?’ As a producer with financing, it’s like, ‘How do I put this movie together and have it make sense financially?’ At the end of the day, when you’re putting your own money or your fund’s money into a movie, it needs to work. The movie needs to make money in order to continue with that business model.”

When it comes to the February 14 release of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Oliver is supremely confident that prosperity will follow, so much so that on one particular day, he spent all morning on the phone with the studio, planning the sequel.

"Sony loves the movie,” Oliver says of the big-screen mash-up that stars Lily James and Lena Headey. "It was a project that I always liked and not just because it’s a zombie movie and not just because it’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s the idea that you can mix those two genres and make a movie that kind of works for both audiences.

"And my biggest excitement for the movie is that (director) Burr Steers gets the credit he deserves for what he did,” he added. "It’s a very difficult proposition to pull that off. He made a movie that not only are we proud of, but that people will be really, really receptive to.”

Steers says Oliver’s perseverance was crucial to the movie’s existence.

"It wouldn’t have gotten made without him,” the director says. "The first thing he did that made it real was to name a start date. The movie starts to crystalize when everyone realizes it’s a real movie. Then it gets momentum. If you don’t have that going, it doesn’t come together. He just had the guts to say, ‘This is how you make movies.’ You set a date, it’s a real movie, and people become attached to it and it miraculously comes together.

"The other thing he provides is the trust that, if something happens, you know he’ll fix it and make things work. He provides a great deal of confidence. That’s what you need to have.”

These days, one of Oliver’s greatest challenges is attending his kids’ baseball games without spending the whole time doing business.

"I try to be at all of their games and not be on the phone the entire time, which is very hard to do,” says Oliver, who dotes on sons Aidan, Julius and Liam and daughter Ariana, along with wife, Amira. "It’s kind of tough managing a career in Hollywood and having a family, because our job doesn’t end at 6 o’clock. It just doesn’t. You can’t be one of those people who turns off their phone and doesn’t check it. I wish I could, but I can’t. Especially when you have movies in production. It’s kind of like being a doctor. You’re always on call.”

Or like being a ballplayer. Winning today’s game is great, but you’ve got to put on the uniform again tomorrow. It’s a long season, after all.

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TO BE REAL: The Rise Of Virtual Reality

Posted By Brian Seth Hurst, Monday, January 4, 2016

I am in a Dystopian World.  Something has happened that has altered the course of society. I am watching a woman, bereft over the loss of her husband and desperate to be with him again. To get there she dons a pair of Mad Max-style goggles. The shot changes and suddenly I have become her. And I am lying in bed face to face in the morning light with her husband brought to life again, looking into his clear, loving and content blue eyes as he asks me (as her) "What would you like to do today?” The effect is nothing short of stunning. I know not only why she loves him but also why she misses him, and I can actually "feel” the experience. I am in a head-mounted display at the Kaleidoscope Virtual Reality Film Festival and in the world that independent VR Filmmaker Connor Hair has created in his 12-minute film, Real. Hair, by moving from 2D stereoscopic into 180° VR has succeeded in the emerging art of VR storytelling and what I have come to call "immersive forward moving narrative.”

Virtual Reality certainly is not new but shifted in 2014 when the barriers to commercial access came down for both filmmakers and consumers. Two significant developments seemed to light the wildfire that has swept though not just Hollywood but also other business verticals from medicine to education and journalism: This was the launch of mobile-phone based VR with the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition HMD for certain Samsung phones in December of 2014 and the launch of Google Cardboard in June of 2014. Suddenly consumers didn’t have to wait for the much-talked-about Oculus Rift (set to release first quarter 2016) or the HTC VIVE (slated for limited release this Christmas and full release in the first quarter), both of which will be tethered to a PC; or the Sony PlayStation VR experience connected to the game console, expected sometime in the first half of 2016.

Mobile VR could bring the experience to the masses. TechCrunch estimated in May that more than 1 million units had been shipped. You can easily add another million to that units distributed free by the New York Times in its quest to be more journalistically relevant. The NYT VR platform launched the first week in November with The Displaced, a collaboration with VR production company Verse. And yes, Google Cardboard is made of cardboard, and lenses, as a relatively inexpensive and often given-away-free HMD. But the Cardboard spec is the basis for many other forthcoming plastic HMDs including Mattel’s brilliant View-Master VR available now.

Like it or not, VR is real and it is here to stay. It’s still the Wild West with a general lack of standards, best practices and business models and a host of technical issues that touch every point on the content value chain from production to distribution. And yet, the challenges are being solved at a truly rapid rate as investment pours into the tech side. Leading global consulting firm KZero Worldswide estimates that including hardware and software, the consumer virtual reality market will be worth $5 billion by 2018. The market buzz is so loud you long to get inside a VR HMD just to escape. VR is a hyper-accelerated market. There may even be a bubble forming. It seems not a day passes without a significant announcement. If you think being inside a VR experience can be dizzying, try tracking the developments on behalf of clients who are clamoring to create VR experiences and immersive narrative. Welcome to the Wild West.

Backing up Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR (both technology and studio), Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook Town Hall on June 30, 2015 "… we're working on VR because I think it's the next major computing and communication platform after phones. In the future we'll probably still carry phones in our pockets, but I think we'll also have glasses on our faces that can help us out throughout the day and give us the ability to share our experiences with those we love in completely immersive and new ways that aren't possible today.”

Facebook and Google are going head to head. Both companies have enabled 360 video uploading and YouTube now allows you to click an icon when watching VR content optimized for Cardboard. In May, Google announced Jump, which includes the GoPro Odyssey ($15,000) 360 camera array and a cloud-based stitching system. (Stitching is the use of software to integrate all the footage from cameras into a spherical video.) Other significant developments include the Disney-led $65 million investment round in Jaunt, a very busy VR start-up that has a proprietary camera, stitching software, work flow and a studio; and a new joint venture between Digital Domain and Canadian start-up Immersive Media called IM360 which touts an all-in-one VR creation hosting and distribution platform. New 360 Video/VR distribution companies Vrideo and Littlstar are well funded and have become the home for VR creators.

PowerhouseDefy Media—home of brandsSmosh, Break andAddicting Games—has partnered with VR camera maker360Fly(available at Best Buy for $399) for aVR Platform, which among others things will be the home for "interactive originals.” There is quite a selection of lower-priced consumer cameras that have onboard stitching which are not only great for experimenting. They are great for VR previz.

In the same busy week, Los Angeles-based andSpielberg-advisedthe Virtual Reality Co.announced the launch of the VRC Recording Studiobuilt to capitalize on the rapidly emerging trend of 360 music videos. Vrse (led by Chris Milk and Emmy® Award winnerAaron Koblin) positioned itself to become "Virtual Reality’s next HBO, PBS and Pixar,” with the hiring ofRdio CEO Drew Larner as its next COO, Re/code observed. And finally, adding a little "blue” color to the mix, TechCrunch heralded the arrival of the eJaculator as "a VR-Based pleasure machine for the lads.” Seriously.

Creatively, things are all over the place in a fertile ground for experimentation. While the physical and psychological effects of VR are being researched by educational institutions such as theStanford Virtual Human Interaction Laband theUSC Institute for Creative Technologies,VR pioneers likeJohn CarmackofOculusare rapidly solving tech challenges. New companies from tool set creators and software, to camera and rig companies, to studios and agencies seem to be popping up almost daily, drafting behind the giant speeding truck that is VR.

Finally there’s the content. It’s also exploding. Some of it is extraordinary and groundbreaking and some of well … not so much. It seems a little early for VR Awards shows but we’ve got them. Coming from brands, studios and TV networks we have mostly immersive experiences meaning you are just standing in place "looking around” with some bit of narrative and some fall into the gimmick category with one offs for fun and promotion. As with anything new, money is coming from marketing and advertising budgets. More than 100 brands from Lexus and Coke to Marriott and Toms Shoes have jumped in, as has ABC Family, Fox Sports, NBC, SyFy and HBO.

Then there are of course the games. Lots of games. It seems the most artistry is happening in the independent VR community. TheKaleidoscope VR Film Festival that recently toured the U.S. is solid evidence of this and the coming VR Film Festival in Las Vegas during CES should provide a great glimpse of the VR storytelling future. Both innovation and imagination are at work here from art to immersive narrative.

So, what does this mean to us as producers? Technology, regardless of its capability, is nothing without content, and by that I mean it is nothing without great storytelling. A note of caution here in that VR filmmaking is an entirely different animal. VR storytelling is literally a new discipline and genre that is being learned on the fly right now through trail and error. I liken it to the time when storytellers took over the motion-picture camera from the engineers and the artistry of cinema was born.

One opportunity, however, is clear. Aaron Luber, head of partnerships for Google’s Cardboard, pointed to our opportunity best. "Content is a big question mark right now. This is where we've got a big bottleneck in terms of just the ability to create content … as well as ideas. Content is one of the most critical pieces of the type of thinking we need to be having in VR today.”This brings me back to Connor Hair. An award winning cinematographer, he is a hacker in every great sense of the word. He is not constrained by the traditional "language” of film nor is he so enamored of the technology that he forgets that the story is what matters. Yet he understands the inherent power of the technology to move the audience. And after all, isn’t that what every storyteller wants do to? His work is an example of technology in service to that story.

One other note, I had the privilege of hearing conflict journalist Christian Stephen, creator of the VR short documentary Welcome to Aleppo speak recently. He declared VR the most important journalistic tool he has ever had. Why? Because it brings the audience right into the story he tells. It’s no longer just a story, it’s the experience of story.

-Brian Seth Hurst is Co-Founder and Chief Storyteller of StoryTech where he works with networks, studios and storytellers in all aspects of VR from strategy and packaging to production and distribution.  He is also creator and executive producer of the forthcoming "determiNATION" from Bunim-Murray productions.
-Top/Header image is courtesy of Helen Situ/NextVR

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GREENLIGHTING LOUISIANA: Producing Films 10 Years After Katrina

Posted By Matt Hundhammer, Monday, January 4, 2016


The Sound of air reverberating through brass echoes in the damp, still air under a morning sun; the smell of buttery croissants dances with the chatter of New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood. This is Louisiana. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge inundated the state, Cajun energy is on the rise.

This rich cultural melting pot of French, African and American cultures is redefining itself with experimental civil reengineering and blank-slate opportunity. With open arms the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development has welcomed the creative minds of the day, pushing tax credits and other stimuli to attract film and television productions to its gulf shores.

The film and television industry has answered the call by returning to Louisiana to film world class productions in state-of-the-art facilities while creating a positive environmental, social and economic impact on a state in the throes of recovery.

Chris Stelly, Executive Director of the Louisiana Office of Entertainment Industry Development, says the growing number of film and television productions filming in Louisiana has been key to its revitalization. "In October of 2005, when nobody was hiring, the film and TV productions stuck with us,” Stelly told us. "They hired Louisianans, invested in our communities and acted as a catalyst for the rebirth of our state as a hip, creative and attractive location for motion picture productions.”

The state’s incentives, which include up to 30% transferable tax credit on qualified in-state expenditures including resident and non-resident labor and an additional 10% payroll credit for in-state labor, are bringing in the largest names in film and television. In 2005, Louisiana attracted 10 large productions to film within the state; today, it is recruiting more than 100 projects annually.

Productions are amplifying their positive impact on the community by integrating more social and environmental initiatives into the process. From food donations and celebrity appearances, "these small measures are making a big difference,” Stelly says.

Louisiana brings a significant value proposition to studios while giving productions an incredible opportunity to extend a helping hand to post-Katrina revitalization efforts.

Production Environmental and Social Initiatives Support Louisiana’s Rebirth
Here are just a few of the environmental and social initiatives on recent productions in the state.

Universal Pictures’ Jurassic World
Environmental Initiatives: Through the filming of this world record-setting feature film, the production drew inspiration from the NBCUniversal Sustainable Production program to integrate environmentally-conscious practices into daily set routines. The production office strongly encouraged the set crew to save paper by requesting hard copies of lists and schedules only on an as-needed basis.

By defaulting to digital distribution, the film reduced paper use by 50% compared to similar-sized productions. The printing reductions also boosted security around the highly-confidential production environment, while simultaneously cutting printing costs and conserving natural resources.

For more information on reducing paper use on set check out Nine Ways to Reduce Production Paper Use.

Social Initiatives: While filming in New Orleans, the production office forged a new partnership with Second Harvest of New Orleans, a non-profit on a mission to end hunger in South Louisiana. Through daily communication between the production office and the donations coordinator at Second Harvest, hundreds of meals worth of food were successfully recovered and donated to local hunger-relief organizations. At the end of a meal, catering packed up excess prepared food onto disposable trays and handed it off to the receiving agency.

At wrap, the greens department received approval to coordinate and organize the donation of several palm trees and other plants used as set dressing to the Audubon Nature Institute of New Orleans. The donation assisted with the beautification of a local non-profit and kept the plants and trees from entering a landfill.

Paramount Pictures’ Daddy’s Home
Environmental Initiatives: Throughout filming, the Daddy’s Home production operated with a low paper directive, encouraging digital distribution of dailies, double-sided printing and recycling throughout departments. Additionally, Klean Kanteens were ordered for all crew members, reducing waste from plastic water bottles and paper cups.

A no–idling policy was strictly enforced throughout the production with empty trailers triggering generators to shut off.

Social Initiatives: Upon wrap the production made set asset donations to the Salvation Army, the Green Project, The New Orleans Mission, Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity.

Sony Pictures Screen Gems’ When the Bough Breaks
Environmental Initiatives: In addition to standard green production efforts, during pre-production, the Screen Gems studio office in Culver City worked closely with the production office in New Orleans to make sure there would be as little on-set waste as possible. In preparation, the art and construction departments pre-arranged recycling methods for various materials and set assets after use. Reusable water bottles were purchased for the cast and crew to avoid disposable plastic bottle use.

Social Initiatives: Over the course of the production, 354 lbs. of prepared but unserved food were donated to a homeless shelter, creating 272 meals and reducing landfill-associated CO2 emissions by 269 lbs. Upon wrap, the production donated a tree to be planted for each day of filming to the New Orleans City Park. Additionally, more than 70 items including four live oak trees, 20 camellias, six ligustrums, 40 azaleas and a refrigerator were donated to local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. Furthermore, in an effort to normalize sustainable behavior, reusable coffee cups, dishes and grocery bags were used on-screen.

A decade after Katrina, there’s a new light on the state of Louisiana. Setting environmental and social initiatives on the front end and measuring success with dedicated tools like a carbon calculator or food donation tracker will ensure the continued improvement of industry efforts in Louisiana and beyond. ¢

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MENTORING MATTERS: Who's Your Guru? Half The Battle Is The Courage To Ask The Right Questions

Posted By Bhavani G. Rao, Monday, January 4, 2016

After 15 years in entertainment, I took a three-year sabbatical. A lot of that time was spent having long talks with my dad in hospital rooms. One day he asked what my ultimate career goal was. "TV drama showrunner/producer,” I said without hesitation. Dad gave it some thought then offered me a piece of advice: "Go find yourself a guru.”

Three years later, after my dad’s passing, his words stuck with me, especially after the PGA mentoring program came to my attention. Where better to find a guru? After a great interview with the Mentoring Committee, I received the news that I was matched with mentor Shannon Gaulding.

Not going to lie—I did a happy dance.

Shannon had worked on some of my favorite movies, including Immortals, 30 Days of Night and Spider-Man, and had held several executive positions. Her extensive background in production made her the perfect mentor. Above all, Shannon knew drama! Most of her movies involved complex characters, and it takes a strong producer to bring them to life on the screen.

At our first meeting Shannon didn’t flinch when I said my goal was to become a TV drama showrunner. For our next meeting, she asked me to prepare a list of everything I was working on. After getting all my ducks in a row, I went in for our second meeting. Shannon listened in earnest to all the projects I brought in, and spent a couple of hours giving me real feedback about what on the "Bhavani Entertainment” slate (which was what I started calling it after our meeting) was working and what needed more attention. The next steps involved creating a "pitching road map” to production companies as well as finding more writers, who had worked on similar shows.

Finding credited writers to work with had not been easy for me, but Shannon knew just how to help, and referred me to a colleague who had come to see her at her office recently. The key lesson: The only way to get something is to ASK for it. Some doors will open easily and others will take time, but the essential first step was to swallow my fear and to go out and ASK. My current slate of pilots is a direct reflection of her advice.

Shannon has been a great mentor, wonderfully encouraging and never once telling me "it can’t be done.” At the end of our mentorship period, Shannon sent me an email letting me know that I can reach out to her at any time and she would be there.

Dad was right. After so many years in entertainment, I needed a guru … not necessarily a spiritual guide, but someone who could translate the world in a way that would lead their students to their ultimate goals. Thank you Shannon, for being a true mentor and guru to me. I hope that one day, I can pass that knowledge along to others.

- illustration by Christine Georgiades


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CONFERENCE CALL: What Should We All Talk About At Sony This Summer?

Posted By Short Takes, Monday, January 4, 2016

With Produced By: New York in the books for this year, we’re looking ahead to next summer’s Produced By conference at Sony Pictures Studios!What topic or subject matter should the PGA be planning a session about?


ANDREW FIEDLER
Supervising Producer, Good Vibes

A SAG-AFTRA Paperwork Workshop—not a workshop on becoming a signatory, but actually how to execute the paperwork. When do I submit Schedule G’s? When do I submit information/materials? When do I have to wait until I have all forms? And how do I best document my production?



TRACI CARTER HOLSEY
Producer, The Boots

From pitch to post—a step-by-step overview of producing independent film. Speakers would range in experience from millions to micro-budget, delivering a nuts-and-bolts session on making content market ready.



JETHRO ROTHE-KUSHEL
Production Supervisor, The 81st Annual Academy Awards

I would love to see a panel on creative producing. It would include a case study demonstrating how a single project was conceived, developed, pitched, financed and distributed, with a look at the creative producer’s specific roles throughout the process.

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