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NOAH HAWLEY - COVER STORY

Posted By Chris Green, Thursday, March 31, 2016

Admit it. You saw the ads. Fargo is a TV series now? How is that supposed to work?

Of course, if the films of the Coen Brothers have taught us anything, it’s that the universe indeed works in mysterious and unlikely ways. And true to form, here we are. Multiple Emmys and Producers Guild Awards later, FX can proudly show off the unlikeliest adaptation in recent memory, a reboot of a story that was never intended to be a franchise, and arguably the best show on television. In this magazine, we talk about "vision” a lot, often enough that we worry that the word starts to lose its meaning. But we don’t know what else to call it, other than pure creative vision, to plunge into a singularly self-contained feature film and find an entire TV universe inside. In this case, the vision belongs to a gentleman named Noah Hawley.

Regular Produced By readers know that TV showrunners come from all walks of life. Noah Hawley can chart the progression from musician (struggling) to novelist (well regarded) to screenwriter (successful). His career in television provided him with essential resources at every stage: a year writing for Bones to learn the craft; a first series, The Unusuals, which aired only 10 episodes, but gave him the opportunity to create and run a show; a second series, My Generation, also one-season-and-out, paired him with TV veteran Warren Littlefield, who’s served as his right-hand producing partner ever since. It was Littlefield who first sparked to Fargo, and sensed what Hawley could do with the story. The rest, well, that’s history, you betcha.

Produced By editor Chris Green caught up with Noah Hawley while the producer was busy on location in Vancouver. Kindly carving out an hour before the production day got rolling, Hawley proved more than ready to dig into the nitty-gritty of producing television in general and Fargo in particular, whether discussing how to handle network notes, his approach to creating tension through the use of music, or the privilege of enlarging upon the pitiless but humane spirit of a Coen Brothers classic.

Not every writer becomes a producer or a showrunner. How did that process unfold for you?

At one point I was between books, so I wrote a script that I sold in a pitch. Paramount had optioned my first book, so I ended up adapting that as well. Basically, within six months, I had three feature deals, which was a huge left turn from writing fiction. And then at a certain point—because my motto is "What else can I get away with?”—I started talking to the TV reps at ICM. Out of those two meetings came two pilot deals: one at CBS and one at FX. I soon realized that if any of those shows ever got picked up, I should know how to produce television, right? So I came to LA and did some staffing interviews and went to work on the first season of Bones with Hart Hanson, because he told me I would learn how to produce on the show.

Right. So as part of your first encounters with the industrial mechanism of making TV, how did Hart help acclimate you?

Hart was a great mentor because he taught me that there’s a process to this, to being entrusted with a huge sum of money to make something for a large audience, and then to still try to make something that reflects your artistic drive. I think Hart’s style played into my natural inclination as well. I’m not a battler. You rarely win in the long run by fighting every single thing. Hart sort of taught me how to "manage up,” if you know what I mean. I think the thing that most writers don’t realize is often half of your time as a showrunner is spent managing network and studio notes, which is way, way, way too much time to spend when you have a show to make. So the key is: How do you do that in a way that allows you to get what you want while making them feel like they’re getting what they want? A lot of it is figuring out what does the note really mean? A note is often a symptom, a referring pain. They think that they don’t like this scene, but really it’s because something earlier wasn’t set up properly. They often aren’t experts at diagnosing the problem. They just feel the pain. I mean, a useful note is "This is confusing.” or "I know what you’re going for here, but I don’t think you got there.” A note is not "I would do it differently.” That’s not a note. But rarely is the best response to stamp your feet and yell. Sometimes the right solution is not to engage with the note. You see how serious it is. If they keep bringing it up, you can address it down the line if you have to.

When I was doing My Generation, we had a scene where Mehcad Brooks’ character was stationed in Afghanistan. He’d been shot at earlier in the hour, but he was telling his wife he was coming home ... no matter what they threw at him, he was gonna come home.


Noah Hawley (right) on location for "Fargo" with cast member Angus Sampson
I’m a big fan of catharsis, that idea that you can build emotionally to a release. So for that moment I picked this song that worked perfectly, because it starts [as one thing] and it builds into [another thing]. Paul Lee’s note came back that the song wasn’t right, that it was too sad. I was confused. I mean, it’s not a sad song. It has this driving, uplifting part. So I went around and around with them about how A) it’s the perfect song and B) like, why do you even care? Why does it even matter, on some level, what the last song of the second episode is? It’s not like you’re going to have a massive groundswell of audience leaving or arriving based upon that piece of the thing. But I was determined to get what I wanted.

Now, in the very beginning of the song, when it’s quiet and more emotional, the singer is singing the words, "I’m sorry.” And I finally realized that it was just those words—"I’m sorry”—at the beginning, that were establishing a tone I didn’t intend. That was where the note came from.

So I had the composer put a piece of score in the beginning to replace that early part of the song, and then it built into the second half of the song, and the score was sort of no less emotional but it just didn’t have those words in it. I even sent an email to Paul, including the lyrics to the song, and showing how positive they were. And I got to use it. On some level, it felt like a complete waste of my time—literally hours and hours that were spent analyzing the problem and figuring out how to address it. But it was important to me and so I did it. Every season has hundreds of examples like that.

If you don’t get what you want, it’s your fault, on some level. Sometimes they’ll never give in, and it’s a losing battle. But I start from the assumption that there is a creative solution. I just haven’t thought of it yet.

how did Fargo come about? How did this 20-year-old movie, fondly remembered, but without a lot of common currency, get turned into award-winning long-form television?

Well, MGM had just come back from the ashes one more time. Warren Littlefield had been looking at their library and Fargo was a property that had some possibilities. It was interesting to me, but it just didn’t feel like broadcast was the place to do it. You’d just end up making Picket Fences, which is fine, but it’s not what the movie was. So it sort of went dormant and I kind of forgot about it until Warren told me that it had been set up at FX with no writer. I just happened to be going into FX the same week about another project. And so the discussion turned to well, how would I turn Fargo into a TV show?

And I said, "Well, it’s not a TV show for a couple of very clear reasons.” I mean, one of which being it’s this crazy and violent and very odd case at the end of which Frances McDormand gets into bed and tomorrow is gonna be a normal day. That’s her reward. And the reason that we watched that movie is because that was the one case in her whole career that was that bad. And if she woke up tomorrow—the start of the next episode—and there was another crazy Coen Brothers case, A) you couldn’t call it a true story anymore and B) it would start to become ungrounded and less believable.

Why is the movie called Fargo, after all? It’s set in Minnesota. Only the first scene of the movie is set in North Dakota, and yet the movie is called Fargo because the word itself is evocative of a place, this northern frontier. As Joel and Ethan said, it’s Siberia with family restaurants. It’s where you can have the Swedish meatballs at the buffet and then freeze to death in the parking lot.

So what if Fargo was also a type of true crime case where truth is stranger than fiction? An anthology series works perfectly in that world because it’s the sensibility that remains but the story changes.

How receptive was FX to an anthology series?

The first season of American Horror Story had done well for them, so they were open to it. What I like about FX is that "Fearless” isn’t just their brand; they legitimately want to take risks and break new ground. If you’re trying to differentiate yourself from the whatever, 52 other broadcasters or outlets, you can only define yourself by the quality of your programming. So, yeah, they were very receptive.

So how did you approach turning that pitch into a story that lived and breathed on its own accord?

That’s the challenge of it, right? It’s not that they asked me to remake the movie or make a sequel to the movie. It’s like they said, "Here’s a painting of a city. We want you to paint the same city but with different buildings.” You know what I mean? None of the characters are the same, and it’s not the same story. So what is it? It’s something that has the same feeling to it, but what is that? So, on some level I had to distill what it was that made that movie, that movie.

How did you answer that for yourself?

It’s sort of not "articulate-able.” A lot of it is instinctual. Knowing that Joel and Ethan were very happy with the script was very encouraging. Having their work as a model gave me a certain leeway that I could say, "Well, look. It’s not that I want a 10-minute parable sequence in Episode 5 but, I mean, it’s a Coen Brothers movie, right?” There’s certainly precedent there. At the same time, it’s not about idiosyncratic choices just for their own sake. It’s about internalizing that there’s no such thing as melodrama in a Coen Brothers movie. You never have a moment of purple melodrama. And yet, in their best films, there’s still emotion. I mean, look at Fargo. In the end, there’s a sense of human dignity and beauty that comes through even though they never once tried to play to the audience’s emotions. So then the question becomes: How do you effectuate that? From a filmmaking standpoint, you have to figure out, how does the camera move? How are we lighting? Editorially, how are we putting this thing together? On a production level, I’ve always taken pride in creating an environment for the artists that feels supportive and where everyone knows that we’re all going to do our best work and then go home to our families.

Well, there’s "doing your best work” and "doing your best work while on location in a frozen wasteland.”

It was well below zero for most of our production calendar. There’s very little stage work on Fargo. It’s not a TV show where you have a lot of standing sets and you keep going back to them. So we’re out most days. And there’s a lot of story to move through, so it’s this constant jigsaw puzzle. We had to figure out how to do that the first time, and then the second time I went ahead and made it bigger with more moving pieces and more locations. I think we had three extra days or an extra week added on to our production calendar, but not a lot. Most problems you can solve one way or another if you put your head to it the right way. I think that Colin Bucksey won an Emmy for Episode 6 of our first season, which was the blizzard episode, with two huge action sequences in it. Of course, it was sunny for most of that blizzard so that entire blizzard is just special effects, which is a testament to John Ross, our VFX artist.

It’s like a military operation on some level. What it comes down to is having the confidence in your prepping and planning. I choose every extra. I’m involved in every decision that gets made on the show. I sit with every department and have a sense of how everything looks and how it all works. We encourage all of our directors to storyboard the bigger sequences. If you know what you’re looking for, and you know when you’ve got it, you can make good time. But you have to know.

And not only do you have to know… your team needs to know as well. I know that producers give tremendous thought to "casting” the crew and department heads. What was that process like for you?

Well, it’s tough. We got lucky in some places, and in other places we had to make real adjustments. You come across a certain attitude sometimes, often among groups where people are accustomed to doing low-budget things. There’s a sort of "good enough is good enough” attitude, right? "It’s just a chair, what does it matter?” You know what I mean?

Basically, you’ve got to weed that right out. You’ve got to tell people, "I want your best ideas. I want your most creative ideas. This isn’t that show where ‘good enough is good enough.’ This is the show you’ve been dreaming about working on, where you finally get to express yourself as an artist.” At a certain point you realize that some people want that, and other people just want to punch in and punch out. And so you have to weed that out. So I’m not precious about that. That’s not to say you fire people capriciously. You give people a chance to do their best work. But if they can’t, you’ve got to make a change.

Noah Hawley on the set of "Fargo" with cast members Colin Hanks (seated left)
and Allison Tolman (seated right)
Right. That feels like AN even more demanding mandate on this particular show, which comes out of a specific authorial voice that everyone is already familiar with. It’s not like you have the luxury of making up your voice as you go.

Certainly, we have these sort of rules that we go through. There’s stuff that you don’t see in Joel and Ethan’s movies. They don’t pull focus between a foreground actor and a background actor. You’re going to either cut to a different shot to highlight that actor or you’re going to let the actor be out of focus. The camera moves on the track in very traditional ways. They very rarely use steadicam. They certainly don’t use handheld. In general, it’s a pretty classic approach to filmmaking


This year I think I asserted a slightly more aggressive style because I felt like it suited the period and the material—a little more fast-pushing our dolly out in some places, that kind of thing. But I understand my responsibility to Joel and Ethan and their work, and it’s an honor to get to speak their language.

given the critical and audience response, whatever expansion the second season represents seems to have worked for everybody. How did you approach doing something that continues the emotional, thematic thread that the movie and the first season have started, but widens the scope?

You can’t be afraid to throw it all out and start again. I like to joke that the first bad idea was to make the show in the first place, and the second bad idea was, once it worked, to throw it out and start again. The minute that you know you’re making terrible decisions, you’re just sort of liberated [laughs]. But what I have that a lot of other people don’t have is a canon of films that I can refer to. Not that Joel and Ethan have mined every nuance of every story, but all of their films are reference points for me. There are dynamics or themes that occur in their work that suggest a good jumping off point.

What I’ve found is there’s usually a catalytic event. In the movie Fargo it was that a guy hired these people to kidnap his wife. In my first season, it was a man who had been bullied by everybody ends up in the emergency room sitting next to another man, who’s very much his opposite. Where do you go from there? In the second season, it was a woman who ran someone down and then drove home with the guy sticking out of her windshield and started dinner. And then you think, well, that feels like the right story, the right tone, so now what? I felt like I could build a story around that. What does that story want to be?

But even musically, once we started editing, I realized I couldn’t put any of our music from the first season into this second season, because they’re totally different stories. In our first year, the musical sound of tension we had was this sort of "washing machine sound” that would rise and fall, a very steady mounting pressure. And then in the second year, when things get stressful, they get more chaotic. Anything could happen. So we have these horns that come in. It’s a much more anarchic sense of tension. All of that comes by building the whole thing block by block.

But it’s a process, and as much as FX and MGM were 100% behind starting over, there’s still a ghost in the room, in that we made a show that won every award that they have, and now we were throwing it out and starting again. The first hour of the second year feels nothing like the first hour of the first year. It doesn’t do the same things. So it took an act of faith on everybody’s part, which was to trust me, we’re going to get there. It’s going to work. But I was probably the only one who was 100% confident of that, because I saw it in my head.


I do want to ask you about one of the most decisive borrowings from the original film which is your "This is a True Story…” opening titles. What do those titles mean to you? What do they do for the story that follows them, a story which pretty definitively did not happen?

Well, it’s interesting. When I went into the network that first meeting, I said, "What we have to figure out is: What’s our Mike Yanagita?” Do you remember that character from the movie?

The Asian guy who she went to school with, right? They had lunch or dinner or something.
Right. So we’re in the middle of our movie and this guy calls her, "Hey, Margie. It’s Mike Yanagita. We went to high school together.” And then she ends up having this very awkward lunch with him where he talks about the high school girl he married who died of leukemia and how he’s just so lonely. She finds out later that he made that whole thing up and the wife actually has a restraining order against him.

The first time you see it, you’re wondering, "Why is this in the movie?” My answer was that it contributes to the "true story” quality of it, because the only reason you would put that encounter in the movie was because it "actually happened.”

The true story thing allows us to play against the archness of crime, of crime movies on some level. Calling something a true story liberates you from those clichés of plot that seem to dictate every story ever written as basically white hat versus black hat on a collision course. In real life, things don’t play out like they do in the movies. When people think something is true, smaller moments become more dramatic and sort of allowed.So when you say something is a true story it allows you to make those left turns.

The audience has their expectations because they think they know how these things play out. So you can use those expectations to steer them down a different road. Again, because I don’t have melodrama available to me, we try and invest the simplest moments with that kind of power. It’s how, in the second season, Patrick Wilson’s daughter made him an ashtray at school and gives it to him when he’s just had a bad day. And he gets a little teary. Now, on paper, the scene isn’t that. To allow the dignity of these characters to come through in the most dry and simple ways makes the story more powerful than writing these big emotional turns that are manipulating the audience. On a filmmaking level, it allowed the Coens and their camera to take a much more objective role. I think on all those levels, the true story device allows us to present this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction idea in a way that always has to be grounded and credible while at the same time pushing those boundaries.

- photographed by Peter Host

This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Produced By magazine

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OPEN DOORS - The Legacy of Debra Hill Continues To Change The Face Of Hollywood

Posted By Tamara Krinsky, Thursday, March 31, 2016
In November 2015, an article in the New York Times by Maureen Down took a deep dive into the state of women in the entertainment industry.  The statistics presented where frustrating and depressing.  The piece stated that in both 2013 and 2014, women were only 1.9% of the directors for the 100 top-grossing films.  A study by professor Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University reported that in 2014, 95% of cinematographers, 89% of screenwriters, 82% of editors, 81% of executive producers and 77% of producers were men.  This is despite the fact that in the same year, women made up 50.8% of the U.S. population

The one bright spot in this maddening set of figures is that female representation in the producing ranks is slightly better than in most other areas of the business. As more voices have spoken out about correcting the inequity of men versus women in front of and behind the camera, both in regard to pay rate and simply the number of people filling the jobs, mentorship is often brought up as a key factor of the equation. And if you ask some of today’s most prolific female producers about pioneering mentor figures, one name comes up over and over again: Debra Hill

Hill’s body of work includes both commercial and critical successes, such as the Halloween series, Escape from New York, Clue, Adventures in Babysitting and The Fisher King. She passed away in 2005 at the age of 54 after a battle with cancer. While she may not be entirely responsible for the better-than-average representation of female producers in the industry, one could make an argument that she had a significant influence on getting more women into the producer pipeline. And it’s not just because she made a point of encouraging other women— it’s also because she was a fantastic producer. She didn’t just open doors for her colleagues—she demonstrated how to expertly do the job once they walked through them, thereby helping to set them up for longevity in the business.


Producer Debra Hill and friends on the set of "The Dead Zone", 1982. Getty.
Hill earned her crack producing skills by doing practically every job on set before taking on her first producer title. She started as a PA on documentaries and worked her way through many different departments, including script supervisor, assistant director and second-unit director. Her big break came in 1978 when she co-wrote and produced Halloween with director John Carpenter. The film, purportedly made for about $300,000, had a domestic gross of $47 million. This made her one of the very first independent female producers with a bona fide box office hit. 

As she progressed through her career, Hill maintained her passion for the process of moviemaking. Many of those she worked with and/or influenced, such as Stacey Sher and Gale Anne Hurd, have commented on what seems to be Hill’s defining legacy:

There’s no above and below the line— it’s all one crew moving forward, trying to get there and make the day. Every person on a film or TV crew is essential to that project’s success, regardless of their title or role on production.

Sher, whose producing credits range from Gattaca to Erin Brockovich to The Hateful Eight, was Director of Development at Hill/Obst Productions in 1985 and eventually became Vice President of Production. "I think she was an unbelievably detail oriented, hands-on producer,” said Sher. "She kept track of every nickel of every petty cash receipt. She certainly had a great sense for story—she cowrote the Halloween movies with John—but I think that while she had a great story sense, she made production more creative. She found creative solutions and always looked at things from a directorial and producer’s point of view.”

At Hill’s memorial, Barri Evins, who served as President of Debra Hill Productions from 1995–2001, provided an example of this when talking about their attempt to make a film version of the television series Sea Hunt. During a meeting, special effects experts laid out complicated plans for filming the project, which was set in the world of scuba diving. After listening to all of their ideas, Hill laid out a much simpler plan using a small tank, green screen and specific lighting package. Described Evins, "Their mouths dropped and there was utter silence. And after a moment they said, ‘We think that would work.’ I honestly don’t think they’d ever been in a meeting with a producer who turned around and said to them ‘No, I don’t think so. I have a different idea and I’ve thought it out.’”

In addition to her deep knowledge of physical production, Hill was known for her generous and affectionate nature. This manifested itself in every aspect of her career, from her work on set to her support of emerging women in the business.

"Debra was inclusive and supportive of other women,” said Sher. "I also saw the ‘protect your space at the table’ mentality in Hollywood. I don’t think it’s true anymore. We’re going to see more and more women coming into the business, with every Lena Dunham, Sofia Coppola and Amy Schumer. You can’t be what you don’t see. I really believe that now. I saw women who had my job, so I knew what I wanted to do.”

Hill’s friend Gale Anne Hurd added, "It was more than mentoring. She looked at all women, regardless of where you were on the ladder, as equals. It was less of a mentor/mentee relationship than a ‘We are all sisters and we are all equal, and we should share our knowledge, share power.’”

Hill and producer Lynda Obst did just that while running Hill/Obst Productions together at Paramount Pictures in the 1980s. During her remarks at Hill’s posthumous Celebration of Life, Obst described the landscape when the two of them began working together. "When we met in the ‘80s, there was no Women In Film. There were very few women in film, in fact. And no women producers. There was no women’s networking. There were executives, and at that time if one was fired, one would be drafted to take her place.”

The two producers met while Obst was working for Peter Guber and Hill came to her with the pitch for Clue. "By the time I had met her, she had done every job on a movie set, including making hit movies,” said Obst. "One of the first female studio heads initiated some early ‘girls club’ networking —the late, great Dawn Steel—and suggested that Debra and I become partners. She saw the yin/yang of us. Debra knew everything about physical production and I knew development.” 

Adventures in Babysitting was everyone’s first movie but Debra’s, and she generously taught us all. A key thing among a thousand things she taught me is that a set is where a producer belongs. Not on the phone or at the studio, but with the director, with the crew, making the movie that you’d nurtured.” 

Hurd, whose long list of producing credits includes The Terminator, Alien and The Walking Dead, said the most important thing that she learned from Hill was to always be thoughtful and supportive regardless of how frustrated you might be.

"Everyone should be treated with respect,” said Hurd. "That’s why I think Debra was so important as a positive role model because she could be tough, but she was always kind and caring. Very rarely did she let the slings and arrows that we face every day in this business get to her. Many of the rest of us had to become tougher and tougher to give as good as the guys. And she never did that. She was able to really maintain that level of grace that the rest of us just aspired to.”

Paul Reubens had a similar experience working with Hill, who produced Big Top Pee-wee, which he cowrote and starred in. He said that on a particularly difficult day on set Hill pulled him aside for a chat. "I don’t know if you realize this,” she said, "but you dictate the mood of this whole set. You are the star of this film and you wrote this film, and [if] you come in in a bad mood, it just spreads so quickly.”

Remarked Reubens, "And that was something I didn’t know. That’s something I have been able to take with me from that movie and has helped me—and probably all the rest of the people who have to work with me—quite a bit.”

Hill’s desire to help succeeding generations of producers has continued beyond her death in the form of the Debra Hill Fellowship, which was established by the PGA in 2005. The Fellowship is awarded annually to "a man or woman completing an accredited graduate program in producing, and whose work, interests, professionalism and passion mirror that of Debra Hill.”

Hurd announced the Fellowship at Hill’s memorial service. "With Debra, giving a hand to the women who followed her wasn’t an afterthought to her success. It was an article of faith. Despite a career’s worth of critical and commercial successes, I firmly believe that if Debra had found herself 20 years later to be the only woman producing feature films, she would have been profoundly disappointed.”

Lucienne Papon, SVP, Scripted Television, ITV Studios America, was the first recipient of the Debra Hill Fellowship in 2005. She had just graduated from UCLA’s MFA producing program and was concurrently working as a creative executive for a production company based at Sony.

"The boost of this award was all about me being at a place where I was at the bottom of the totem pole but I had potential. It was a validation that I had some of the qualities that would help me prevail in this business at a time when I wasn’t so sure,” said Papon. The grant she received allowed her to join networking organizations like Film Independent and Women In Film, as well as to option material.

"When I think about Debra’s legacy, it’s all about tenacity and passion,” said Papon. "I think that you have to really love this business and love the messiness of collaboration and love storytelling and love every job in the process—but it’s hard. I still had plenty of meetings well into my career where I was the only woman in the room. So I appreciate her devotion and commitment to our own authenticity, to speaking up with her own power and most importantly, to never being afraid of rolling up her sleeves in doing the work. I think the legacy of Debra Hill is that you do whatever is asked of you to tell the best story you can and find the audience where they are. I think that’s the foundation of producing.”

2010 Fellowship recipient Jacob Jaffke was inspired by Hill’s passion for collaboration with writers and directors. A horror fan himself, he has worked with writer/director Ti West on several films including The Innkeepers (2011) and The Sacrament (2013). Said Jaffke, "I’m not saying that we’re Hill and Carpenter yet, but they’re definitely a duo that we emulate.”

Like Hill, Jaffke worked his way through a number of jobs on the call sheet before earning his first feature producer credit on Sleepwalk With Me, a project cowritten and codirected by, and starring comedian Mike Birbiglia. Jaffke directly credits the Fellowship for the opportunity to produce the film. He came out of Columbia’s graduate film program with a large amount of debt, was living paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have the liberty of cherry-picking his projects. He described himself as, "a gun for hire, working on whatever projects I could to pay the rent.” The Debra Hill Fellowship changed that.

"I think the most valuable thing the Fellowship gave me was the ability to try out my own path and pick my own projects,” said Jaffke. With the money from the Fellowship in the bank and his bills paid, the young producer was able to pass on several films he didn’t believe in and instead wait for the script with which he wanted to make his mark. Sleepwalk With Me served him well, going on to win a number of awards, including the Best of NEXT Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Jaffke was nominated for the 2014 Independent Spirit Piaget Producer Award, and currently​heads​ development for Eric Newman and hisStudioCanal–backed production company Grand Electric.

Hill’s effect on successive generations of producers extends beyond those she personally worked with or those who received money from the Fellowship in her name. PGA member Lotti Pharris Knowles (Chastity Bites, I Am Divine) cites Hill as one of her heroes in the business. A self-proclaimed "horror freak,” she came of age watching Halloween after school every day while her mom was at work. "Sometimes I would have to stop at a certain point because I got too freaked out,” she said, "but I just was obsessed with the teenagers, the dialogue, the building of tension—it’s just exquisite.”

Knowles already had aspirations of being an entertainer by junior high. She described how at some point during her multiple watchings of Halloween, "It hit me that there was this woman’s name who had cowritten the film and produced it. This made me realize that I could be something beyond just a movie star—there were other options in the entertainment business. Debra Hill was this person that I could look to and say, ‘Oh, women are doing this and it’s cool and I can do it too.’ By the time I was about 12, 13, 14, I was telling everybody I was going to make horror movies when I grew up ... and here I am.” Knowles is currently working on a variety of projects, including The Black Rose Anthology, a horror series featuring female directors of note. 


How vital was Debra Hill to the PGA?  Vital enough to serve as the
subject of Produced By's first cover interview, back in 
2000.
One can imagine that Hill would be thrilled to hear that her body of work and reputation have served as both encouragement and as an example to the next generation of producers. She was honored by Women In Film in 2003 with the Crystal Award. During her acceptance speech, she said, "I hope some day there won’t be a need for Women In Film. That it will be People In Film. That it will be equal pay, equal rights and equal job opportunities for everybody.”

When asked for a reaction to that statement 12 years later, Gale Anne Hurd paused and said, "We still need Women In Film.”

Hurd then went on to say that there have been inroads but, "It certainly isn’t reflective of either the diversity in this country or the gender equality in terms of actual stats of the population. There are now a lot of women who are shining a spotlight on the fact that it continues to this day. Women are paid less. Given less credit. And it hasn’t changed as much as we would have liked. But at least the discussion is now part of the zeitgeist. Debra began that.”

 

-Tamara Krinsky is an Emmy award-winning writer/producer, actress and broadcast host. She recently hosted the PGA’s coverage of the Producers Guild Awards.

 

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INSPIRE TRUST: Trust Inspiration - Julie Goldman And The Art Of The Doc

Posted By Kay Rothman, Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ever wish you could get inside someone’s head who has the guidance you need? You know, when you’re struggling with especially tricky challenges? Lucky for us, Julie Goldman (with whom I just worked on Amazon Prime’s The New Yorker Presents) graciously opened up with some invaluable insights. Here are some choice bits of what I learned from a whirlwind tour of Julie’s thoughts, experience and professional priorities…

For those readers who are not familiar with her impressive body of work, Julie is a prolific producer. She founded Motto Pictures in 2009. Since then, Motto has specialized in producing and executive producing documentary feature films. Working as creative producers, Motto is the company behind over two dozen films that have won awards and been distributed throughout the world, including: Life, Animated, Weiner, Best of Enemies, 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets, Manhunt, God Loves Uganda, Art and Craft, Gideon’s Army, and Buck. The team at Motto – producers Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn and associate producers Sean Lyness and Marissa Ericson – work to ensure that each film is carefully guided throughout the filmmaking process, the festival run and to all distribution platforms worldwide. Julie recently received the 2016 Amazon Studios Sundance Institute Producer’s Award recognizing "bold vision and a commitment to continuing work as a creative producer in the independent space.”
Creative Producer = Director, right?

With television, the Creative Producer is the Director. I’d say with feature documentaries, it’s still very auteur and director–driven but the director can’t direct in a vacuum. When we work with a director at Motto Pictures, we act as something to push against, a point of resistance for the creative process to work against. We work with really strong directors who have very specific creative visions and then we help them break down what those visions are, and most importantly, will those approaches achieve the goals of the film. Sometimes it’s a process of working with the director on the creative vision for the film. Sometimes it’s finding a way to get their creative vision made into the film. So the scope of my producing activity depends on the person who is directing, but the objectives are always the same – finding the right balance for the film.

Choosing from the myriad of festivals and online venues:

For me, it’s always "See what’s coming and try to stay ahead of it.” Right now it feels like we’re in a golden age of documentary. There are more and more companies looking to embrace feature docs. Yet there’s also a kind of downturn. The grosses aren’t as high as they were at the box office, so are distributors going to pay the same kind of money for the films? It’s always been up and down in the doc world. But we’ve been more steady than regular indie fiction film has been. There’s of course, HBO—the gold standard that’s been there for docs from the beginning of cable television. But there are so many others now. We just did Life, Animated with A&E IndieFilms, which was a great experience. And Discovery is now making a commitment to documentary features. Nat Geo is making a commitment. Netflix and Amazon are suddenly bringing a huge influx of, not only financing for films, but more of an ability to get your film to different platforms. Right now it feels pretty incredible. And the material is bottomless. That is the beauty of documentary. It’s about what’s happening right now, out there in the world, or what’s been happening and is still happening, but whatever it is, it is truly stranger than fiction.

Festivals are for selling, no wait ... they’re for marketing, no wait ... umm ... confused ...

It depends on the festival. And it depends what you’re looking for for each film. Going to Sundance this year — with Life, Animated — we were looking for distribution. With Weiner, we had just signed distribution with IFC Sundance Selects. So for that film it was really just the initial bounce of getting it into the world. There was really insane publicity happening with the New York Post and the Daily News cover pages before anybody had even seen Weiner. Quite an unusual experience. For Life, Animated, doing the festivals was about getting interest from international markets, and it was also the prestige of having it at Sundance and the ability to announce it to the world. Receiving Sundance’s 2016 U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was like the cherry on the cake. It was the perfect launch. And then we had sorted out all of the international deals enough to have it in Berlin at BFM being sold already.

On deciding whether the story should be short form or long form:

Motto does a lot of short form. This year alone we’ve done three shorts. The subject drives what the length should be a lot of times. Sometimes you can capture the essence of the story and have it feel like it’s a full film. And other times you have themes and stories that just need more time to explore and tell.

Beyond formatting, on storytelling itself — that no documentary is the complete record. It’s not an archival transcript. It’s a point of view. We’re not saying something that is untrue. But it’s not the total story. It is never everyone’s side:

Otherwise it’s just a document that is going to be pretty dry. That’s fine for some people who want to make those films. But I think the idea for us is to make features where people can go either to a theater or to television or online and have an immersive experience. I’m not talking about shorts which also kind of mix genre as well. But for features, you want to make something that people are going to be able to completely get absorbed by for 90 minutes. It’s the same thing as any kind of storytelling. You want to do it in a way that’s going to be engaging to an audience. Like you said, I’m not going to make up a whole other crazy story that’s not true, but what I’m going to do is use different material, take from different genres, and create new art.

On getting the story subject’s trust:

Putting yourself in their shoes is probably the most important thing. What would you want to be assured of, what would you want to know about these people who are coming into your life so that you could really trust them? You have to have a lot of empathy when you’re working to gain someone’s trust because a lot of times producers say, "Oh, yeah. Just get them to sign.” No. They’re giving a real gift to you in opening their lives and trusting. And I take that very seriously.

They weren’t judged. They were respected.

Yes.

 

And taking that trust one step further ... On whether or not the story subjects get to see the finished piece before it’s out in the world — (I mean, what if they say, "Ooh, take that out. I know that the camera was rolling buT… ” And that’s your great moment they want nixed. Then what?):

I think people get kind of lost in the moment a lot of times and they say things that they don’t even really think about. And then when they see it in the finished film they are kind of shocked. So you have to be really persuasive in explaining why it will be important to other people when they see the film. We’ve had some tricky situations. One time we cut something out when we had done a series because it would’ve potentially really embarrassed the subjects in front of their children and embarrass the children publicly. And that was really the only thing they objected to. And we cut it out, even though it was tough, structurally, for the film.

In terms of whether or not the subjects even see the film before it’s released—it depends on the film; it depends on fact–checking, and it depends on the arrangement that you make at the beginning with people. We had the film Manhunt about CIA operatives and analysts. And the three main people came to Sundance and we had agreed to show it to them before the first public screening. And we said, "You can watch this now. But it’s going to be a very different experience to have your first viewing of this film be with an audience that will embrace you and the film” I always assure them. And this is true. I find that subjects tend to be much less self–conscious at a screening with an audience than they are watching the film for the first time alone on a television. It’s too much like a magnifying glass. If you’re watching yourself on a screen all alone, you are going to pick up everything about yourself that you don’t like. It’s going to become very personal. It’s not going to be about the film experience. If you can watch it with an audience, for the most part , it’s going to be gratifying. The film’s subjects feel acknowledged rather than analyzed. Validated. One of the subjects who was very vulnerable in the film … I sat with her; we held hands during the screening, and she cried a lot. And then when it was over she was so happy. She said, "I’m so glad we waited and saw it in this way, with this audience.” She could feel the respect. That was something that she had been really hoping for, for a long time.

On leaving it in (even when I make my case, the subject really wants something out and I need to say, "No, we have to leave it in”):

Yes. We have had that. And that’s really tough. That’s really a painful situation to know that the subject is unhappy with what’s in the film. But a lot of times it’s really a subjective experience that they’re having watching it. And what we try to do in that situation, is have other people who are around them who they trust, see the film with them. Because with the kind of closeness that they have to the person, but with distance from the film itself, that’s often a way that people can be kind of convinced, "Okay, well, no, you don’t look like this.” or "You’re not saying that.” or "It’s not showing your story this way. You’re seeing it this way but, me as one of your confidants, can tell you, ‘No, it’s not coming across that way.’” And that makes all the difference.

On how making these kinds of decisions, having these kinds of sensitivities, having a clear, respectful vision of something you’re working on shapes you as a person, not just as a producer:

The people who’ve allowed us to enter their lives and make films with them/about them, have been a big influence on me. There’s first of all, the spirit of people who are fighters and who are struggling and who are relentless in trying to make change. Those people are exhilarating to be around. And there’s the people who are so special like Bishop Christopher from God Loves Uganda. You just feel this aura from him. What he’s doing is so pure. And his devotion to it is so pure. It’s incredibly inspiring. Over and over and over again I’m inspired by the people who we make films about. And I just feel so lucky that they trusted us and that we have this continuing relationship as well. You meet these extraordinary people from all different backgrounds, telling all different kinds of stories. It’s an incredible privilege to be able to connect with them in any way and especially to really tell their stories.

And there you go. Wish granted.



There’s a hybrid effect that sometimes happens with fiction and nonfiction in documentaries. The boundaries are really being pushed, which is very exciting. Not every documentary is going to be all verite. Not every documentary is going to be all talking heads. It’s going to be some mix now. The idea of creating something that takes a page from fiction and has something that’s immersive …that’s very different. That kind of grey border is going to continue. We did a whole animated film in Life, Animated that’s a completely separate thing that you could take out and you have an animated five–minute film. But it’s broken up in the feature very, very deliberately and with great intention. But back in the day that would’ve been like, "Okay, you’re out. That’s not the strict documentary rules.”


{ Good collaborations}

Bring this to the table:

I really look at these films as a group of people coming together to make something that is going to be profoundly moving, or else to move people to action, or to have an incredible artistic experience. There are so many different ways that you want these films to connect with people, but to do that you have to have the right kind of chemistry between the people who are making it. You want to have an editor who is somebody who wants to hear your ideas and talk things through. You want to have a DP who’s going to be somebody who is flexible and open. You want people to bring the best of what they have to it, to share their individual unique vision, but also be fluid in the way that they work with others. We tend to telegraph that idea when we work with people, and because of that, it tends to be very collaborative. It tends to really bring together a very, very strong team. It’s a field of play that everyone can participate in. It’s not about hierarchy. It’s about who’s bringing great, compelling ideas and who is figuring great, imaginative ways to execute those ideas.

Leave this at the door:

Ego. If your ego is at the center of how you move through the world, you are not going to be a great collaborator, obviously. And you don’t want your ego leading the way anyway. It’s a way to rob yourself of the benefit of the gifts and talents of others. That’s why collaboration is so wonderful when it works without a lot of ego gumming up everything. Being intransigent, being set in your ways, being defensive, not open to other people’s ideas but also needing to claim everything as your own, is just totally exhausting and I actually feel bad for people who are slaved to that sort of method of work. It’s not for me. For those kind of filmmakers, it’s "one and done.” Maybe you work with them once but you never work with them again.








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CREATIVITY IS LEGION - Jay Williams Seeks The Perfect Union Between Rising Storytellers And The Demanding Digital Audience

Posted By Spike Friedman, Thursday, March 31, 2016

Creative ambition and the financial realities of new media are forces that often find themselves in conflict with one another. Dig a little deeper and you find other structural tensions, such as the audience-driven trend towards fan/creator interaction versus the artist’s single-minded pursuit of a unique creative vision. But at Legion of Creatives, Jay Williams and his team are betting on these oft-diverging forces coming together in symbiosis, and the early returns are promising.

For Williams, who came out of Disney’s marketing division, storytelling and audience development have always been of a piece. Having started his career working on brand integration efforts, Williams saw these commercial efforts as an opportunity to develop his creativity. "I was really fortunate, as I got a chance to hone my craft for storytelling,” Williams said of his early experience, "but I also learned how important brands were. What I realized early on was just because you’re a marketer doesn’t mean you’re not creative.”

Even early in his career, Williams’ work often sat in the digital space. And we’re talking early, in digital marketing terms; his first experience with digital promotion was working with CBS and Prodigy. "It was all text,” he explains. "And we did a ‘watch and win’ with the CBS fall season. This was early for digital. Murder She Wrote was still on the air.” While his current company works with cutting-edge digital tools, the goal then was the same as it is now: encouraging savvy audiences to invest more deeply in stories by using technology.


Jay Williams (right) with fellow PGA member and vice president
of Disney/ABC Television Group's Digital Media Studio, Chris Thomes
In 2000, Williams came out west to work in Disney’s creative content division. "It was a group within Disney Studios, that lived in the space between TV spots and trailers,” Williams explained. "It’s the other great content that can be developed around the stories we’re producing at Pixar and other Disney properties.” This effort pushed back into digital and early iterations of mobile content. "It was about the innovation. Where can we take the storytelling? Our work went from a passive experience to a very interactive experience.”

After spending some time post-Disney on the ad agency side, again working on creative content, Williams moved over to work for Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci at K/O Paper Products. "Hands down, two of the most creative writers I’ve ever met. I learned so much from them about the creative process,” says Williams. But that learning was a two-way street, especially when it came to the marketing process. "Once a script is complete, a lot of the old guard of writers think, ‘okay, my job is done, I’ve written this.’ Whereas today’s writers are like, ‘Now I can actually communicate with the fans! I can take that fan base to a whole new level.’ And we had some really early success with that on Sleepy Hollow.” The fans weren’t the only ones who noticed; the TV Academy recognized Sleepy Hollow with its 2015 award for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media User Experience and Visual Design.

After K/O dissolved, Williams found himself in the new position of being able to strike out on his own. Partnering with Orci, screenwriter Noam Dromi, and Sleepy Hollow cast member Orlando Jones, Williams formed Legion of Creatives as a response to what he saw as the needs of writers and producers in an increasingly digital entertainment landscape. To Williams’ credit, he remains steadfastly focused on the quality of the work he’s fostering. "We’re interested in premium digital content. The ‘premium’ really comes in with the scripted part, bringing in the best writers from movies and television, people who really know how to write stories.”

Legion of Creatives also finds success in a model that fits somewhere between traditional television production models and independent film. Specifically, by keeping costs down through tight production timelines and the use of technology, Legion of Creatives is helping its partner artists work in new ways. As Jones explains, "Jay’s focus on new technology to empower creatives together with a reframing of storytelling formats has the potential to disrupt production models that are starting to strain as the media landscape becomes increasingly fragmented.”

That instinct towards disruption informs the content itself, and Legion of Creatives functions as a collective looking to tell stories that traditional models won’t tell.Inspired by the success of Sleepy Hollow, a show with a diverse cast that told authentic yet fantastical stories, Legion of Creatives is pursuing partnerships with creative talent across the spectrum. "In digital, we’re telling stories you won’t find elsewhere,” asserts Williams. "We feel part of that model is bringing different audiences in. Digital is a great place to do that. And unlike on TV, you can connect on the platform where your show is actually airing.” With Sleepy Hollow specifically, Williams also cites overwhelmingly positive fan feedback on the diversity of the show.


Williams (left) with Legion of Creatives co-founder and co-president Noam Dromi
at the 2015 Emmy Awards
Furthermore, by engaging with a wide spectrum of fans directly, Williams is carving out room for new voices. "It’s really important to find partners who tell authentic stories. Whatever our creative conceit may be, our creative partners have lived it. And they have a unique perspective on it.” One partnership is with disabled performer Katy Sullivan, an actress who Dromi met while working on Dolphin’s Tale. "She is incredibly talented,” says Williams, "and we have a project we’re working on now with her called Legs that’s about what it’s like to be a 31–year-old woman who happens to be disabled trying to make her way in life. It’s just an honest, unapologetic look at her experience.”

Connecting with fans also means partnering with entities such as xxArray, a company that allows fans to scan themselves in a photo booth with 150 still cameras, and become part of the show’s cast. "Instead of doing your crowd scene with nondescript CG people,” Williams explained, "we can fill it with fans. And now you have fans that want to watch and see that they’re in the show.” This is new territory. LoC is currently using the technology on its new season of Tainted Love featuring Jones, and the response has been exciting. "A lot of fans are asking, why haven’t we been able to do something like this before?”

For Williams, his passion in creating content is driven by the fans. "Part of having a partner like Orlando is that we understand the fan base. He always takes the time for his fans. He goes the extra mile. I’ve learned how important that is. When you talk about the increasing bifurcation of audiences, the question is, how do you go about building an audience? You do it through loyalty.”

To that end, he’s pushing his projects to utilize the sort of technology that can put the fans into the action, which for LoC means staking out a position in the vanguard of virtual reality. Sleepy Hollow was among the first shows to have VR content associated with it, and as that technology develops, Williams wants his team developing for it. "The mistake a lot of people make with technology is it becomes a crutch.” Instead, Williams asks, "How can you use technology to actually supplement the storytelling, so your production value becomes greater?”

As this hybrid production model matures both at Legion of Creatives and elsewhere, it will organically attract partnerships with more traditional media powers. Legion of Creatives is collaborating with ABC as they develop their digital platform, while also working with companies like eOne on international distribution, and figuring out the different ways to move content across borders. "Something that’s a digital series here in the U.S.,” said Williams, "can be a movie in the international market.”

The question then becomes how to fund premium content. "You hear people talk today about there being too much content,” Williams muses. "For me, there’s still not enough good content.” For Legion of Creatives, this mandate carries serious implications for content creators. Having that seat at the table demands an investment beyond simply writing a script and handing it over. It’s a chance to change the game. "Digital is a different place,” Williams smiles. "It’s fun to be able to write the rules instead of frankly, playing by everyone else’s rules.”

- Illustrated by Elena Lacey

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¡Viva Las Películas! - New Data Confirms The Growing Size And Appetite Of The Hispanic Theatrical Market

Posted By Pete Filiaci, Thursday, March 31, 2016


Imagine yourself sitting at home on a Thursday night after dinner, watching your favorite TV show and texting friends about the upcoming weekend. You want something to do on Friday night, and one of your friends recommends looking at the showtimes at the local theater to select which film would be the best choice to kick off the weekend. It’s easy to imagine this scene playing out every week in homes all across the country. What is perhaps less recognized is that this scene plays out with much greater frequency in the homes of Hispanic Americans.

Hollywood has had a prominent place in American life for generations. Going to the movies remains an escape from everyday life, a break from the truths we face every day: bills, work, child care responsibilities. The allure of visiting a communal space with a large screen dedicated to this beautiful art form remains one of those reachable goals that most people and families enjoy sharing with friends and/or family. For Latinos, this is true to an even greater extent. According to NRG’s 2015 Moviegoing Report, Hispanics are 10% more likely to be moviegoers (85% versus 77% for non-Hispanics). Additionally, they are more frequent moviegoers, seeing an average of 8.6 films per year versus 7.2 for their non-Hispanic counterparts. When you combine this with the fact that Hispanics attend in bigger groups (55% of Hispanics attend with three or more people versus 42% of non-Hispanics), it’s indisputable that this population packs some powerful box office punch.

Driving Box Office Sales

"No longer can the domestic market sustain the budgets of studio projects on its own,” says Deborah Calla, Chair of the PGA Diversity Committee, and Women’s Impact Network (WIN). "It is clear that in order to maximize profit, movie studios need to speak directly to the various cultural groups that make up the population [of the United States].” According to Nielsen, Hispanics generated $2.3 billion in box office revenue last year, which is 21% of total sales. For a demographic group that represents nearly 18% of the total U.S. population, that’s impressive. "We know that Hispanics are a loyal movie -ticket -buying group,” says Calla. "If targeted with specific and culturally significant campaigns, [Hispanics] will support a studio film with greater presence and expenditure.”

As more marketers recognize and market to this consumer, Hispanics continue to flock to the movie theater to enjoy the experiences of being completely engaged with and often enthralled by, the big screen. More than half of Hispanic moviegoers (53%) say they go to the movies for the big theater experience. This is a fact that movie studios and producers should take much solace in, given a media landscape that allows for viewing or enjoyment of every form of media, essentially from the palm of your hand. The act of visiting the movies and enjoying the experience in totality—from the convenient ticket kiosks, to the refreshments counter, to the luxury seats—is something celebrated by Hispanics. A recent Mintel report on moviegoing noted that Hispanics over-index across the board when it comes to spending on the extras, such as advanced tickets, reserved or premium seating, theater snacks, beverages and even full meals. And then, of course, there’s the spending on the content itself. NRG tells us that Hispanics are much more likely to see movies in 3D as well as seeing more titles in 3D annually when compared with non-Hispanic audiences.

Every studio head or marketing director works hard to deliver an impactful opening weekend. If that’s the case, targeting Hispanics with advertising in-language could be the recipe for success. Calla notes, "When the [advertising] messaging is targeted to the Hispanic community in their native language, in a culturally-appropriate way, there is a feeling of inclusion and acknowledgment. The greater returns reflect and justify these target-specific campaigns.”

Hispanic audiences tend to visit the theater on opening weekend more than any other demographic segment. According to NRG, 45% of Hispanics go to the movies on opening weekend versus 33% of non-Hispanics. Another important factor to consider is the power of word-of-mouth among Latinos. Hispanics are very social, and the impact that has on the ways in which they share information about products they love—including films—is notable. Hispanics are more likely to be convinced to see a movie in theaters (45% Hispanic vs. 42% non-Hispanic) and will pass along what they’ve heard about a movie more frequently (52% vs. 45%).

A Diverse Hollywood Reflects a Diverse America

As powerful as their current box office impact may be, Latinos likely will have an even greater impact in the years to come. Because Hispanics are more highly concentrated in the younger age groups, they account for nearly a quarter (24%) of all ticket sales among millennials. Given their relative youth, Hispanics have more effective years of buying power than non-Hispanic whites, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans. In fact, the window is an estimated 20 years greater than non-Hispanic whites, per Nielsen, due to a much younger median age combined with a greater life expectancy. What does this mean? It means more opportunities to target them across their lifetimes as moviegoers who attend with their families now, and who will one day take their children and grandchildren to the movies.

The social experience of moviegoing is another big draw for Latinos. Not only do they tend to go with family and friends, as the most active users of social media, they are also most likely to post about movies. In fact, Hispanics are 36% more likely than non-Hispanics to share their thoughts about films across social platforms. "The social experience of moviegoing is clearly a key driver for Hispanics,” says my colleague, Hilary Dubin, Vice President of Business Development at Univision Communications. "Our research community, Univisionistas, an online research panel of over 5,000 members, tells us that 47% go to the movies because it’s an entertainment activity they can enjoy with family and friends.”

As much as Hispanics are already the most frequent moviegoers, there may be even more opportunity to drive additional attendance. Dubin notes, "Our Univisionistas tell us that they want to increase their moviegoing. In fact, 74% of the panel would like to go to the movies more frequently.” That increased appetite for entertainment may entice even more films to market to this consumer. It’s time to think beyond the genres that are most closely associated with Latino moviegoers.

Films across the genre spectrum have enjoyed success with Latinos. Horror films, family-friendly fare, and action blockbusters all do exceedingly well among the cohort. But a diverse taste across a multitude of genres is becoming more and more prevalent. In fact, according to NRG, Hispanics over-index on being fans of every genre—from action/adventure to art house/independent. "One clear way studios are trying to target minorities with their products is through casting,” says Calla. "Putting actors on-screen who represent diversity creates ways for audiences to see themselves represented, and as participants in cultural storytelling.” Consider the success of Straight Outta Compton, or Furious 7, the latest installment in one of the most lucrative movie franchises in history. These titles buoyed a historic year for Universal Studios, one in which the studio grossed nearly $2.5 billion overall and commanded over 21% of market share during the same time frame—tops among all distributors in the United States, according to boxofficemojo.com.

It is crucial to note that both Universal titles have incredibly diverse casts with people of color in prominent starring roles. If the media we watch is a mirror to our world, reflecting the diversity of characters and people all around us is not only the right thing to do morally, it’s proving to be a sound business strategy too.

The Case For Multiculturalism

Latinos are avid moviegoers; this much is true. But according to a study released by the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, they may not be finding the characters on the screen—or the opportunities behind the camera—that accurately reflect America’s makeup.

The study, which is called the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, found Latinos are among the least represented speaking roles in film and TV, even though they make up about 17% of the U.S. population. Out of more than 11,000 speaking characters surveyed in film and TV, 5.8% were Hispanic or Latino.

The case can be made that this illustrates the need for a systemic change that starts even before the director’s chair or the producer’s chair. It starts in the writing room where small armies of dedicated writers, thinkers, comedians, and creatives are developing the stories, words, and images that the actors on-screen will deliver. Lacking that diversity in the development process will most likely result in a lack of diversity in the finished product.

Given the avidity of Latino moviegoers, Hollywood is clearly already delighting these consumers with its exceptional storytelling. Latinos are contributing more than one out of every five dollars spent at the box office. Just imagine how much more box office potential there is to be had from these enthusiastic attendees if they start seeing more films that acknowledge their experiences, reflect their values, mirror their faces and echo their voices.

- Illustrated by Elena Lacey

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SHORT TAKES: LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 31, 2016


Q: What’s the coolest place you’ve ever shot?

Gabriel Marquez
Executive Producer, 
Manhattan

I shot a documentary series in a gold mine in the Western Australian Outback that was both terrifying and exhilarating. It was about a mile underground, took about 45 minutes to drive down to, and was well over 100 degrees with 20 pounds of emergency gear on everyone. It was like shooting on another planet, and gave us a real appreciation of what it means to be a miner.


Dana Offenbach
Producer, 
The Girl Is in Trouble

Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro. This is by far one of the most beautiful and sexiest places I’ve ever been to. Body image doesn’t conform to American standards and the freedom from that is in full effect everywhere you go. That carefree sexiness seeps into your footage naturally.


Bennett Schneir
Producer, 
Ouija

The FedEx sort facility for Cast Away. You’re in this vast building. All around you, above and below, tens of thousands of packages rolling through a never-ending labyrinth that looks like something M.C. Escher and Rube Goldberg dreamed up over beers. What made it the coolest was Zemeckis’ camera following just one single package through the infinite.

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MENTORING MATTERS - Always Moving Forward: Moving From Nonfiction To Scripted Features

Posted By Karyn Benkendorfer, Thursday, March 31, 2016

I knew from the time I was 11 years old that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I have had many amazing opportunities in the industry including working at the studios—directing, writing and producing for nonfiction television and documentaries. I’ve also had opportunities as a member of the PGA. One that I’m most grateful for has been participating in the Mentoring Program.

After optioning an original theatrical screenplay, I wanted to find out more about the process of how to get a feature film made. What does it take to get a film from script to screen? How do you make that crossover from producing nonfiction television and documentaries to feature-length fiction films?

As part of my "quest for knowledge,” I applied to the PGA Mentoring Program. I vividly remember the day I found out that my mentor was Lauren Shuler Donner, whose impressive credits include You’ve Got Mail, Free Willy, The Secret Life of Bees, and X-Men. I was thrilled. I reached out immediately to her office to set up a meeting, then started preparing my questions and doing my research. I wanted to be respectful of her time and knew that I needed to go in well prepared.


We met at Lauren’s office. I have to admit, at first I was a bit nervous, but once we started talking, I quickly felt at ease and the conversation flowed naturally. Lauren asked me about my work as a nonfiction/documentary producer/writer and about my other projects. She was supportive and insightful and encouraging. 

Lauren helped me to understand how the skills I have as a nonfiction/documentary producer and writer translate to working in feature film. For certain, I knew I’d bring to the table dedication, tenacity and loyalty, along with a keen sense of humor and the ability to roll with the punches. She was open to my many questions, and I appreciated that she was so forthcoming. Our conversation was exactly what I had hoped it would be. After our meeting, I knew I was on the right track and I just had to keep at it and move forward, even if it took years.

As our mentoring period came to an end, Lauren graciously offered to help me in any way she could and left the door open for continued communication. I honestly can’t thank Lauren enough for her time and encouragement. She helped me realize the possibilities we have as filmmakers and that with persistence, our dreams can come true.

I am grateful to my Guild and to my colleagues who dedicate their time to the Mentoring Committee. It is an invaluable program! Thank you.

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ABOVE AND BEYOND - Paying It Forward

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 31, 2016

Co-chairs of the Mentoring Committee for nearly eight years, Meta Valentic and Jill Demby Guest, are deeply appreciated for their hard work.

Jill volunteers because she understands what it’s like for a newcomer to enter the industry. When she first started out, she had the good fortune to encounter a generous mentor who motivated her to do things she never dreamed were possible. "Volunteering on this committee helps me to ‘pay it forward’ by offering mentoring to many others,” she states. Meta, also a member of the PGA Women’s Impact Network and a participant in the Diversity Committee’s Producing Workshop last summer, backs up that sentiment. She doesn’t hesitate to pitch any potential volunteers reading this magazine: "You will meet your fellow PGA members and have a great time. And you will probably learn something new about both the industry and yourself! You never know what may come out of it—I’m currentlyworking on two features with producers I met while volunteering for the Guild.”

Jill primarily produces nonfiction content and is currently working on a documentary feature film as producer, writer and director. She’s also notorious for honing her storytelling skills at theatrical venues all over LA and NYC. Meta continues to keep herself busy producing independent feature films, shorts, and web series that focus on emerging filmmakers and diverse stories, while also serving as an AD on a network television series.

The Producers Guild of America salutes these talented women for their passion and generosity.

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BOSPOAT - Best On Set Photo Of All Time

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 31, 2016
 
PGA member Josh Siegel is one of the producers of Shot, a forthcoming feature starring Noah Wyle as a guy who—you guessed it—gets shot. The film, a critical look at the consequences of gun violence, was, um, shot inLos Angeles, in November and December, 2015.

"Our AD had just called ‘cut’ on rehearsal for the pivotal scene in the movie where Noah gets shot,” Josh recalled for us. "Everyone went off to do their thing. That’s director Jeremy Kagan in the hat, conferring with our script supervisor, Genie Babcock. And Noah decided to just kick back and chill in the middle of the sidewalk. He’s actually right on his mark for where he falls to the ground after he gets shot in the scene.”

Producing-wise, this is not necessarily a bad thing. A movie star lying supine in the middle of the set is easier to find when you need him than one who’s locked in his trailer.  And an actor who’s comfortable enough to recline on some concrete probably isn’t about to suggest major dialogue changes.Honestly, given those placidly folded hands and relaxed, splayed-out feet, we suspect Noah Wyle may be on to something here.

At the very least, this is a man who knows how to keep it loose and fun on set, even when he’s about to get shot.  Accordingly, some BOSPOAT props for the sort of offbeat professionalism we love, and for Josh, who knows a good moment when he sees it. 

We know what you’re thinking. "Best of all time? No way. I’ve got an on-set photo way better than that.” If that’s the case, we dare you to prove it. Submit it to BOSPOAT@producersguild.org. Before you submit, please review the contest rules at producersguild.org/bospoat. Because no matter how great your photo is, we have no desire to get sued over it.

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Advocating Heresy - From The National Executive Director

Posted By Vance Van Petten, Thursday, March 31, 2016
I’ve heard it from dozens of producers over the years, and most of you out there know that it’s true: the quality of your pre-production dictates the quality of your production. Many producers are at their very best during prep—working the phones, securing talent and locations, and hustling for sufficient financing for their budgets.

In fact, producers during prep are so locked in on their efforts on behalf of the project, that they sometimes neglect one extremely important element: their own deals.

I am not a producer by trade. But I am an attorney, one who spent years representing creatives, and then more years representing the studios. And on that basis, my admonition to every PGA member is: Protect yourself and protect your credit. Before you start formal prep on your project or render any valuable producing services, make damn sure you have secured your own contract. (And yes, this means that your deal is in writing!)

Based on the correspondence I’ve received, this does not seem to come naturally to producers, even very good ones. A great producer, it’s widely thought, is one who always puts the project first. Momentum in this business is everything. It runs against a producer’s every instinct to do anything to slow the momentum of her project, especially over something that she has a measure of control of ... like contract details. We can work that stuff out later, she thinks, once the show is on its feet and running.

NO. Just ... no. That jumbled logic unfortunately makes perfect sense to most producers—and it’s incredibly dangerous. Again and again and again, I hear from PGA members who put at risk their credit, their compensation, and even in worst-case scenarios, their personal savings, because they serviced their project’s needs at the expense of their own. That decision leads to very smooth productions, and very brief producing careers.

This is not obvious to every producer, but I am here to advise you that your project is less important than your career. When a producer defers these negotiations, he sells himself short. You’re a producer. You’re a professional. Your time and services are valuable. Your career is worth standing up for, even if it means an uncomfortable conversation with your investor(s) before the money is in the production account.

Have those conversations ahead of time and remember the adage, "An oral contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on!” Above all, don’t be bullied into putting yourself at risk by signing any personal guarantee of revenues, even if the project falls apart because of it. I know that’s heresy, but trust me, you’d rather be hunting for a new investor than for an affordable bankruptcy lawyer.

As your Guild, we cannot provide members with individual legal advice, but we can refer them to attorneys who have experience representing producers’ interests. If you’re a PGA member and need a referral, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

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