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DAVID HOBERMAN & TODD LIEBERMAN - After Two Decades as Hollywood Workhorses, The Mandeville Films Partners Hit The Jackpot in 2017

Posted By Chris Green, Wednesday, January 3, 2018

There are all kinds of ways to create a wildly successful creative partnership. Plenty of people cherish the romantic image of partners as joined at the hip … one-mind/two-bodies collaborations between lifetime colleagues who came up through the trenches together. But the truth is, the essential commonalities in a great partnership aren’t the biographical details, but the bonds that come from a shared sensibility, work ethic and passion for storytelling.

No one is going to mistake David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman for brothers; your first appraisal is more likely to be uncle and nephew. Hoberman is older by 19 years, the son of an ABC radio executive, who got his start in the ABC mailroom, delivering mail to fast-rising execs like Michael Eisner and Barry Diller. After a career that wound from Norman Lear’s Tandem Entertainment to the early days of ICM, Hoberman found himself once again in Eisner’s orbit. Working under Eisner and Jefrey Katzenberg at Disney, he was a key part of the executive team that led the studio to its late 1980s/early 1990s resurgence. After a decade at the studio, which saw him rise to become President of the Disney Motion Picture Group, he moved to the other side of the production divide, creating Mandeville Films and setting up shop with an overall deal on the lot. The company’s office remains housed there to this day.

The same year that Hoberman moved into that office, Lieberman arrived in Los Angeles, a theater kid with a degree from UPenn and hustle to burn. He quickly found a home in distribution at Summit Entertainment, where he earned a reputation for shrewd instincts, championing the company’s acquisition of hits like Memento and American Pie. Only four years after moving to Hollywood, Lieberman joined Mandeville, first on a temporary basis and soon thereafter as a kind of junior partner. After a mostly successful decade of producing mid-budget studio comedies, the duo took a left turn, teaming with independent filmmaker David O. Russell for the boxing-themed family drama The Fighter. The movie was a watershed for all concerned, rehabilitating the director’s reputation and earning Mandeville a new measure of critical acclaim and industry respect, as well as the producers’ first Oscar nominations.

Hoberman and Lieberman pivoted back towards Disney, breathing new cinematic life into The Muppets franchise, the success of which allowed the studio to trust them with the live-action reboot of its animated classic Beauty and the Beast. The result is 2017’s biggest hit to date, a film whose domestic box office take currently sits at No. 8 of all time, and which has grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. Mandeville saved its second act for the fall, releasing the Jake Gyllenhaal Boston bombing recovery drama Stronger and the modern classic kid-lit adaptation Wonder; the two films have earned the producers some of the best reviews of their careers, with Wonder establishing itself as the sleeper hit of the season.

What began as a mentor/protégé relationship has long since become a partnership of equals. Produced By grabbed the chance to meet up with Hoberman and Lieberman on the Disney lot this fall, in the middle of their company’s biggest-ever year.


IN THE EARLY STAGES OF MANDEVILLE, HOW DID YOU GUYS DEVELOP A WORKING RELATIONSHIP? DAVID, DID YOU HAVE ANY INKLING THAT THIS GUY WAS GOING TO BE YOUR PARTNER FOR 20 YEARS?

DAVID: I was thinking about that as we were sitting here—what would my professional life be like had I not hired Todd? Obviously, it’s impossible to know. But Todd was just a really good executive and I could count on him. If I asked him to do something, I knew it would get done. And then it just became what it became. It’s like one of those stories; you look around and it’s been 17 years. When you’re in a relationship for 17 years, you’ve been through everything with that person. I’ve been through his midlife crisis, he’s been through my divorce, we’ve shared our lives with each other.

TODD: Yeah, we trusted each other. Certainly for the first many years I was kind of drafting of David … learning, absorbing and figuring out what the business was. And I think I was providing something different for him. But then at a certain point you become contemporaries more than mentor/protégé, and it just naturally evolved. It’s a job, right? And then the job turns into something and so you end up figuring out a different relationship. So the success on the business side has equalled the success on the personal, emotional side, and those two things together make up something that’s really hard to force.

DAVID: I think if you look at Hollywood, there are very few partnerships that last. There was no way to foresee that this particular relationship would do so, particularly given that he was in every way my junior, you know? A lot of people become partners because they grow up in the business together. So this one, I think, is particularly unusual.

YEAH. IT DOESN’T HAVE A LOT OF OBVIOUS MODELS OR PROGENITORS. SO HAVING BEEN AN EXECUTIVE AT DISNEY AND THEN MOVING INTO A PRODUCTION ROLE, HOW DID YOU LEVERAGE THAT KNOWLEDGE OF THE STUDIO TO GET THE COMPANY OFF THE GROUND IN THE EARLY STAGES?

DAVID: I knew the formula. Basically, our group started the Touchstone comedy tradition. I loved Disney movies and I knew how to do that. So that’s just what I naturally did. The thing that was interesting about Disney at the time is that our slate was so varied that we didn’t have the same identity as Warner Bros. or even Paramount in those days. We never really worked with the biggest movie stars because the studio didn’t want to pay them. We did a lot of movies with DeVito, we did a lot of movies with Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn … we had this sort of regular troupe and it was just a lot of fun. It was an easy transition for me because I knew how to do what the studio did at that time.

YOU CAME INTO YOUR OWN WORKING FOR MICHAEL EISNER AND JEFFREY KATZENBERG… WHAT LESSONS DID YOU DRAW FROM THEM THAT HAVE STAYED WITH YOU?

DAVID: Jefrey was all about the work. It wasn’t about dining out or having fun, even though we had fun. It was about doing the work and it taught me a work ethic that I’ve lived with since then. We used to be infamous for our script notes; sometimes they were as long as the script. That kind of rigorous approach gave us the ability to develop scripts that people wanted to make. That started with my training under Jefrey and Michael. We worked as hard as anybody could work. I mean there was that famous quote, “If you didn’t show up on Sunday, don’t bother coming in on Monday.” We’d arrive at work with our car headlights on and we’d leave with the headlights on. So it was a very rigorous but fun environment.

SO TODD, IN THE SAME SENSE THAT DAVID LEARNED AT THE FEET OF KATZENBERG AND EISNER, YOU VERY MUCH LEARNED AT DAVID’S FEET. WHAT WAS DIFFERENT ABOUT WORKING WITH DAVID?

TODD: I’d never worked in development. When I was at Summit, I was reading scripts but generally scripts that were already in production. Going to film festivals and watching movies, I was able to start articulating what I liked and didn’t like about finished film. But I had no skill set in what a three-act structure was or breaking down a script. So the idea of sitting in a room with a writer for three or four hours at a time was very foreign to me. It took me a while to understand that process and, frankly, get the patience to be able to do it well and be very granular about certain things. You can look back at my old school report cards and they all say the same thing: if I don’t like something or I’m not interested, I don’t apply myself. So I have to love it in order to sit in a room with a writer for three or four hours at a time. I have to love it.

SO MAYBE THE QUESTION IS ABOUT EVOLVING YOUR OWN INSTINCTS AND YOUR OWN TASTE. HOW DID YOU LEARN TO RECOGNIZE WHAT YOU LOVED AND BRING THOSE INSTINCTS TO BEAR IN A PROFESSIONAL CONTEXT?

TODD: I remember how when I was a kid, the movies that I would really respond to were the ones where I was moved emotionally, even if it was a comedy. I think back to some of the early John Hughes films or some of the early Amblin movies, that you had this feeling like the story was entertaining, but there was also something more … you came away from the experience with something that followed you out of the theater. I wasn’t able to articulate that until much later in life, but when I started looking for material and finding writers and things that I thought would be valuable for the company, that’s what I was looking for. We started doing comedies, and the first thing that I brought to the table here was a movie that ended up becoming Bringing Down the HouseIt started of as a spec called Jailbabe.com, and it was kind of a raunchy comedy with some funny set pieces. And through the course of development with all kinds of different executives, obviously David as well as Todd Garner at the studio, it evolved into something very different. But that movie, as much as it is kind of a broad comedy, has a heart and soul to it at the center, and it connected with audiences.

So over the course of years I was trying to figure out what that all meant, and I came to kind of a revelation at a certain point—people in our position have an ability to tell stories that compel behavior or move people in a certain way. So I started focusing in on what that meant and started personally looking for things that just, frankly, moved me emotionally. And if you look at a lot of the things that we involve ourselves in—not all of them but a lot of them—there’s an inspirational uplift, something at the end that leaves you feeling a little better than when you went in to the movie. I think that’s always been my personal taste, but over the course of checks and balances and trial and error, those are the things that I personally zero in on and I think both of us share that philosophy.

DAVID: Right. I remember when we had Pretty Woman in test previews, watching the audience react to that, or Beaches where you could literally hear the crying and the sobbing and people taking out their handkerchiefs. Or Dead Poets Society; the silence when that character committed suicide. I realized then what an impact the movie business has on people and has on their lives, and what it means to be entertained and emotionally moved and all that. And that’s like a drug. You just want to keep doing that.

SO HOW DO YOU PURSUE THAT OUTCOME? HOW DO YOU WORK TO ORIENT YOURSELVES DURING THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS TO POINT YOURSELVES IN THAT DIRECTION?

TODD: That was part of the revelation to me, how significantly you can alter the shape of a story just by sitting and brainstorming and talking. Sometimes you don’t come in with the idea that’s going to do it, but through the course of discussion with your partner or a writer or something, in that room, something generates. I remember when we were sitting and developing The Proposal, which we developed for ages. I can’t remember who was exactly in that room, but an idea came up about changing the structure of the story by changing how many days the story took. And we realized that by adding one day over the course of that story, it would change the entire dynamic of the film. And I remember, similarly, when we were developing The Fighter. It was maybe because of a budgetary constraint, but [writer/director] David Russell said, “Let’s just take out the entire first act.”

DAVID: I remember that. It was a budgetary thing.

TODD: Yeah, it was budgetary. But in a way, the development process triggered by that budget constraint completely changed the movie. I remember thinking, ‘Well, how’s that going to work?’ And then you talk about it and realize that it kind of works.

DAVID RUSSELL DOESN’T WORK IN THE KIND OF DISNEY FORMULA MODE THAT YOU GUYS MAY HAVE MADE YOUR REPUTATION IN. IT SEEMS LIKE AN UNLIKELY PARTNERSHIP.

DAVID: Yeah, it was an unlikely pairing. David had a reputation at that time. But I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know why or what or how, but it was probably one of the best collaborations we’ve had in working with a director. He was open to every suggestion and inspired everybody to want to make the best movie that we could make. He works very differently than most directors that I’ve worked with.

TODD: He does.

DAVID: Particularly on set. He’ll interrupt in the middle of a take and give notes, “Try this … try that.” The Fighter wasn’t a big-budget film, so we had to move quickly. We were sort of scrappy in how we made that film. But David turned out to be a great collaborator and great director and that movie got him back on his feet. It was a blast, that whole experience. It really was.

TODD: Deciding to move forward with a movie like that was a very conscious decision. You mentioned some of the comedies we’d done before, and I thought of this as the evolution of a company, expressing a desire to grow and get into different things. So it was a conscious decision to pivot into a different realm that we’d never been into before. It turned out really well and allowed for movies from there to happen. Frankly, The Fighter is what allowed for movies like Wonder and Stronger.

HOW DID DAVID COME INTO YOUR ORBIT? DID YOU PURSUE HIM? DID HE PURSUE YOU?

DAVID: We were interviewing a lot of directors and we came down to a few. David had a relationship with [Mark] Wahlberg and I think Wahlberg asked us to meet with him. We liked him. And I remember in that meeting we said, “Well, what would you do to the script?” and he said, “Like, nothing. It’s great.” And of course, we ended up completely rewriting the script. [laughs] I always say producing is about making choices, and the biggest choice you make is the director choice. And that one turned out okay.

TODD: He became like a close friend, too, to both of us. There have been lots of times where he’s asked us to come and help produce another one of his films, and there was always a schedule conflict. But we love the guy.

SO GIVEN THAT THE PRODUCER’S JOB OVER THE COURSE OF PRODUCTION IS TO SUPPORT THE DIRECTOR AND GIVE THE DIRECTOR THE TOOLS THEY NEED, WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WORK WITH A GUY LIKE DAVID, WHO HAS A VERY UNIQUE STYLE?

TODD: I think you have to earn that person’s trust so that when they have—and he does—thousands of ideas, you can be a sounding board to filter ones that might be valuable or allow for a different perspective that might be valuable. I mean it was David who said, “This script needs humor in it.” That tone came from him. His approach is almost like jazz music, where there’s no linear approach to it, you just kind of hear your way through it. To a certain extent, you can control that as much as you can control that.

SOMETIMES YOU DON’T WANT TO CONTROL IT.

TODD: That’s right. I think part of producing is knowing when to step in and knowing when to step back. It’s as much knowing when not to do something as it is when to do something.

DAVID: True in life, as well. [laughs]

SO IN TERMS OF THE STUFF THAT THE FIGHTER ALLOWED YOU TO DO, YOU MENTIONED WONDER AND STRONGERHOW DID YOU GO ABOUT EXPLOITING THE LEVERAGE YOU GOT?

TODD: One thing we’ve heard a lot is, “We don’t know where to kind of categorize you guys. Your movies, The ProposalThe MuppetsWarm BodiesBeauty and the Beast—they’re literally all over the place.” And we say, well, that’s reflective of our taste; we don’t want to just focus on just one thing. So I think what The Fighter allowed us to do is focus more on things that we just loved as opposed to finding things because they were going to get made.

DAVID: I think, also, people accept you as more serious filmmakers. We’ve had a few of those kinds of successes. Beauty and the Beast is the first all-out blockbuster. As my dad said, “Never peak too early.” So it was rewarding to have that at this time, because we hadn’t had one. We’d had a lot of success, but not that big, billion-dollar movie. I think that changes peoples’ perception of you. So you just keep doing what you do. I do think that the diversity of our slate comes from the diversity of being at a studio. I just looked at it like a studio executive. If you look at the movies we’ve made over the course of years, it would resemble the slate of a studio. So I think that was a big influence on the direction that we took.

WITH BOTH BEAUTY AND THE BEAST AND THE MUPPETS, YOU GUYS FOUND YOURSELVES PRODUCING STORIES AND CHARACTERS THAT WIDE SWATHS OF THE PUBLIC ARE DEEPLY ATTACHED TO. THAT WOULD SEEM TO CREATE A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRESSURE ON THE PROCESS. HOW DID YOU BOTH NEGOTIATE THAT?

TODD: I think, as a creative person, you kind of have to go in a little bit with blinders on and not let that stuf in. For both of those, I realized how revered they were, certainly, but you don’t actually absorb—or at least I didn’t absorb the pressure until after the fact. Because if you absorb the pressure during the course of it, you’re second-guessing decisions and saying, “Well, is this the right thing because of something the fans said?” Then you lose a little bit of the creative plan.

Hoberman on the set of Traitor with cast Don Cheadle
Hoberman & Lieberman (center) on the set of The Proposal with cast
Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds (left) and director Anne Fletcher (right)

DAVID: I never look at it that way. You can’t look at that big of a picture. You can’t let yourself go, “Oh my god, we’re taking this crown jewel of the studio and we’d better not mess it up.” You have to put all that aside—which I do; I’m able to compartmentalize—and just do what you always do on every movie, which is to service that film. Because if you let all that stuff come in to your thinking, you’re not going to take chances, you’re not going to allow your creativity to flow and you’re not going to succeed.

TODD: It’s easy enough to say you shouldn’t make decisions out of fear—easier said than done, for sure—but in circumstances like these, it’s almost essential, I think.

GIVEN THE IMPORTANCE OF THE “DIRECTOR CHOICE,” HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT BILL CONDON AS THE GUY TO HAND BEAUTY AND THE BEAST OFF TO?

DAVID: Actually it was a pretty easy choice because he loves theater. He wrote Chicago, he wrote and directed DreamgirlsHe had done the Twilight films at Lionsgate, so he’d worked with visual effects. He had the whole package, really. He was familiar with all the Beauty and the Beastthat were in theaters going around the country. He was a true aficionado and truly loved the story. And he came in with some really good ideas as a writer. So it was actually kind of a no-brainer for us.

SO IN TERMS OF CREATING A WORLD AND REIMAGINING THIS ANIMATED CLASSIC AS LIVE ACTION, IT’S ONLY RECENTLY THAT THE INDUSTRY HAS EMBRACED THIS KIND OF REBOOT. OBVIOUSLY AFTER BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’S SUCCESS, WE’RE GOING TO BE SEEING A LOT MORE OF IT. HOW DID YOU GUYS APPROACH THAT CHALLENGE? WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THOSE PRODUCERS WHO ARE NOW LOOKING AT REMAKING ANIMATED MEDIA ANIMATION AS LIVE ACTION?

DAVID: Well, I would say that if you’re doing it just to fill the coffers, then that’s not the way to approach it. I think Bill and we were really looking to figure out how to make it our own. There are things you can get away with in animation that you can’t get away with in live action.

JUST AS AN EXAMPLE, LIKE WHAT?

DAVID: Like, who was Belle’s mother and what happened to her? [laughs] Who was the prince’s father, the king, and what happened to him? How’d he get this way?

WE NATURALLY ASK DIFFERENT SETS OF QUESTIONS WHEN WE’RE LOOKING AT LIVE ACTION VERSUS ANIMATION.

DAVID: Yeah. You’re held to a more realistic way of approaching a story. Another one: Gaston can’t be as broad as he was in the animated film. So I think that was the challenge. Bill had come up with this idea about the role of the staff—that they were going to become inanimate objects if the curse wasn’t lifted. So they had their own story. But our mantra was always: Let’s do something that we can be proud of, where we’ve made a contribution to a classic, as opposed to just copying that classic.

TODD: Exactly. You have to add something to it to justify it being a live action theatrical release above and beyond the fact that we’re just updating the technology. This would be another element to it, so again, going back to the idea of moving audiences: I think it was important to accentuate some of the dramatic storylines, back stories and things like that, that added to the emotional experience. I vividly remember seeing the animated film with my girlfriend in 1991 and leaving that theater feeling totally romantic and emotional. I approached it from the desire to replicate that feeling without specifically copying the movie. I think that was the goal and I think we accomplished it. Obviously the box office speaks for itself, but there were so many people calling, just saying, “Thank you so much. I took my daughter” or “I took my kids” or “I took my Mom.” It seemed to have that generational feeling, the same way that the movie did back 20-some years ago. And that’s really gratifying. 

YEAH, I’VE GOT TO THINK THAT HAS TO JUST MAKE YOUR DAY. OBVIOUSLY YOU GUYS GOT TO BE ON TOP OF THE WORLD FOR A SEASON, BUT HOW ARE YOU LOOKING TO CAPITALIZE OFF OF THAT AND WHERE DO YOU GO FROM THERE?

DAVID: You want to do it all over again! [laughs] It’s such a great experience that you do want to repeat it in some way, shape or form. Not that we weren’t always looking for stories that can do that kind of business, and people are maybe more likely now to approach us for those kinds of films.

TODD: The Fighter started it, and then Beauty and the Beast has moved it to a different level. What it does is allow you to narrow the focus and pick projects you want to do. But it also makes you push yourself to strive for excellence. Once you’ve gone out there with something that was so well received, both critically and commercially, you want to top it. So you have to scrutinize the projects you have and scrutinize the development and scrutinize the filmmakers even more and just making sure that every time we’re going after something we’re trying to do the very best version of it.

THAT MIGHT BE A GOOD SEGUE TO TALK ABOUT WONDER, WHICH IS OBVIOUSLY A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF MOVIE AND ONE THAT’S NOT NECESSARILY AN EASY STORY TO TELL. THERE ARE ALL SORTS OF WAYS YOU CAN TELL THAT KIND OF STORY WRONG.

TODD: Yeah. That was a book that David and I both read right as it was being published, and we fell in love with it. We both read it overnight, we called each other and said, “I don’t know how we’re going to get this movie done, but we have to get this movie done.” It was a message we had to get out in the world. We had no idea if the book was going to become big or not, but this was a movie we had to make. Thankfully, the book became gigantic and allowed for that momentum to push through and got the movie made. But we heard an extraordinary number of takes from writers and filmmakers. And most of them were, frankly, “Let’s not show his face,” or “Let’s wait til the end to show his face.” “Let’s get rid of the multiple perspectives.” “Let’s tell it linearly.” 

 But we kept thinking that the best asset we had here was the book. As hard as it’s going to be and with as many people telling us that we were crazy—and they did—that this movie that would never get made because of this kid’s facial difference, we just kept thinking the only way to make this movie is to do it in the way that the book’s doing it and honor these kids who have this facial difference. The book at this point is a modern-day classic, and I think now, if we had changed the book to a significant degree, we would have gotten throttled.

DAVID: The surprise of that experience was that it seemed like a pretty simple kids book. It’s a pretty simple message, a pretty simple story about a kid going through one year of fifth grade, but it turned into a very difficult adaptation. Like Todd said, people had all different kinds of ideas of how to do it. What we ended up deciding was that all we have to do is tell the story in the book. If we do that, we’ll be in good shape. And that turned out to be the right decision.

TODD: Sometimes—and this is where it becomes really challenging—you’re going to have writers and directors come in who want to put their own stamp on something. And so we needed someone to come in there and basically take what was so brilliant about that piece of writing and translate it from the written medium into the visual medium, as opposed to changing things to a degree to have ownership of that story. Thankfully, between [writer] Jack Thorne and [writer/director] Steve Chbosky, those guys revered that book. But we had so many people coming in saying “Here’s why you need to do it differently” or “Here’s the imprint we need to put on it.” That sometimes is an alluring proposition. But maybe the less cool idea is just take what’s written and put it up on the screen. In this case, it was the better version.

JUST TO BRING IT BACK AROUND TO THE BIG PICTURE, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL A YOUNG OR EMERGING PRODUCER WHO’S LOOKING TO GET THEIR FIRST FILMS MADE OR GET THEIR FIRST STORY DEVELOPED OR FIND THEIR FIRST DEAL SOMEWHERE? WHAT SHOULD BE THEIR TOP PRIORITY AS A STORYTELLER, AS A PRODUCER, IF THEY’RE GOING TO BUILD A CAREER?

TODD: Building along the theme of what I’ve been saying this whole time, don’t be scared of your own taste. Really understand what you love, because the only thing that’s going to move things forward is passion and fight. People say “no” all the time, but what I like to say is I can’t be the only person in the world who feels this way about this particular story. So there are other people who love it too, and you just have to find those people. Don’t pretend and don’t try to figure out what other people’s tastes are; know what your own is. I’m still learning, frankly. Every day, there’s a new experience and a new challenge.

DAVID: Because this is Produced By magazine, I wanted to share this experience. I learned how to produce a movie on a film I did called The Negotiator. Prior to that, I may have been involved in a couple of movies, but I really didn’t know how to produce until that movie, and I always give that movie credit. F. Gary Gray, who had done Friday and Set It Of was the director. Gary is a peculiar director. Sometimes you don’t know where he’s coming from or what he’s doing or why he’s doing it, and I remember we used to come in in the morning and Gary’d say, “Okay, I want to do this, this, this, this, this.”

And then he would leave and we’d look at each other and say, “Well, we can’t do this, this, this, this and this, so what are we going to do?” And the DP, AD and I would sit around and figure out what the day would be, how we were going to shoot it, what we were going to tackle. And then we’d come back and tell Gary, “Here’s what we’re going to do to try to accomplish what we think you want.” We did that on a daily basis, and that’s when I learned what the job is. I was with those key people, and we all gathered to structure and create what the movie was going to be, and then it was up to Gary to shoot it. That was an extraordinary revelation for me, working on that movie, and it helped that it turned out pretty good. It wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, but there are other reasons for that. But the movie turned out good and I could be proud that I contributed ideas. That’s the movie where I learned what the power of a producer is, what the job of a producer is and how a producer can affect a film.

 - feature photography by Kremer Johnson Photography

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Two For The Show: Producing Veterans and First-Time Collaborators, Todd Black and Jennifer Fox Join Forces for Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Posted By Spike Friedman, Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Roman j. Israel esq., at Its heart is a cinematic collaboration between its writer/director Dan Gilroy and its star/producer Denzel Washington. Gilroy wrote the film with only Washington in mind, saying publicly that if Washington had not accepted the role he would not have proceeded with making the movie. Washington, who plays the title role, is in nearly every shot of Gilroy’s film, realizing the intricately layered character of roman with a meticulously crafted performance. The film is an undeniably unusual, deeply affecting, character piece. It’s that rare studio film that surprises in both form and content, filled to the brim with the sort of moments that can only arise when two artists are working with each other at the top of their respective games.

Behind the scenes, the film was just as much a collaboration between two producers, PGA members Jennifer Fox and Todd Black. Fox effectively came with Gilroy, with whom she produced his debut directorial effort Nightcrawler in 2014. She has a long history working with both Dan and his brother Tony, and a deep trust forged through years of collaboration to bring truly sophisticated mainstream cinema to the screen. Black meanwhile has a personal relationship with Washington that goes back 27 years and has been working with him since producing Washington’s directorial debut Antwone Fisher in 2002. It was Black who first gave Washington the opportunity to work behind the camera and with whom he has forged a de facto partnership that has extended deep into each others’ careers.

Having two producers with that much power, experience and history with the artists involved could have led to any number of issues. Instead what arose was a true partnership, without which one of the year’s most idiosyncratic and affecting films never would have been made. Like Gilroy and Washington, their styles meshed effortlessly in bringing Roman J. Israel, Esq. to life.

The partnership between Fox and Black on the film started inadvertently at Gilroy and Washington’s first meeting. As Fox tells it, “There was a scheduling mix-up, and Dan was in a lobby in a hotel waiting for [Washington], calling me every 15 minutes, saying, ‘He’s still not here, what should I do?’ And I said, ‘Keep waiting. Just keep waiting.’ I couldn’t reach Denzel’s agent because it was a Saturday, and I didn’t have his cell phone, so I called Dan’s agent and his answer was that we have to call Todd Black. And so we got Todd on the phone.”

Black jumps in, confirming that he remembers the moment vividly: “I was in my backyard. I had just cleaned up some dogshit.”

 And in that moment, the producorial partnership was forged. “Within a minute, the problem was solved,” says Fox. “The meeting happened. All was well. But it was at that point I knew, ‘We really need Todd on this.’”

Jennifer Fox on location in Los Angeles with writer/director Dan Gilroy

Neither Gilroy nor Washington started of directing their own work. For Gilroy the process was a matter of gaining the confidence to do that work, something Fox brought out of him. “Dan gave me an unproduced script that was great, called Free,” Fox recalls. “It was about a runaway slave. It had this very commercial bent to it, but it dealt with very serious, tragic, historical situations, and he did it with such grace and elegance. As we started interviewing directors, I listened to Dan talk and at the end of one of these meetings, I said, ‘Dan, you need to direct this.’”

For Gilroy, this was a breakthrough. And while Free did not end up going into production, Fox and Gilroy teamed up to develop the script that became his directorial debut, Nightcrawler. It was a project that was able to get a star attached in Jake Gyllenhaal, and with Dan’s brother Tony onboard  as a producer, financing came into place. The film was an immense success critically and financially, more than tripling its budget at the domestic box office alone, while earning Gilroy a Best Original Screenplay nomination.

On the heels of his frst feature, Gilroy had the opportunity to direct a number of different projects. But he was set on telling the story of Roman J. Israel. Fox explains, “Coming of of Nightcrawler, he had a moment, people were looking forward to what he’d do next. He turned down a lot of things that were offered to him where he could have been paid more money, and he stuck with this. We talked about it at length, and I’d say ‘It’s a risk,’ and he’d say ‘I’m a gambler, and I believe in this.’”

For Washington, the opportunity to work behind the camera was brought to him by Black. “I bought the rights to my friend Antwone Fisher’s life,” Black recounts, “and I paid him out of my honeymoon money, $10,000, which was a lot of money to me then, to write a screenplay. I was dealing with Washington’s then agent, to get him to read it. It took years, because at that point Denzel was doing movie after movie after movie. Finally he read it. His agent said he wanted to meet but that he wasn’t interested in starring in it—he was interested in directing it. And I considered and decided I was open to that, and in fact, it was interesting to me.”

Todd Black relaxes on set with cast member and
fellow producer Denzel Washington

“Everyone wanted him as an actor in that moment,” says Black. “He had never directed anything. But I was interested because oftentimes you find certain actors make brilliant directors. And that’s how it started for us. It was his predilection to go down that road, and it was my openness and interest to hear what he wanted to do.”

From there a partnership emerged based in a mutual sensibility. “As a producer, it’s about the specifics,” says Black. “It’s about the details. That’s what Denzel expects. As an actor that’s the world he lives in: the details. He applies the same principles to producing. And he expects you as a producer to be that exact same way.” Black has produced all three features that Washington has directed, along with a host of others in which he has starred, because Washington recognizes that the producer’s approach is sufficiently detail-oriented to match the rigor that Washington brings to the entire creative process.

In fact, the similarities between the ways that Fox and Black work made their efforts on the film thoroughly complementary. As Fox says of her colleague, “He could not have been more respectful. I’ve told him, ‘I could not be more lucky to have you!’ It’s so great to have someone who does what you do, who understands the struggle of it.”

“We’re both super hands-on producers,” testifies Black. “We don’t phone it in. We’re there. There are a lot of producers that are great producers, but they only go to the set to do a photo op or two. That’s fne. That’s a way of producing. That’s not a condemnation of it.”

Roman J. Israel, Esq., is, like Gilroy’s previous scripts, a challenging and complex story. As Fox remarks, “With Dan’s work, there are layers and layers of depth. It’s material you can interpret and reinterpret.” That depth requires immense specificity in all aspects of production. But it’s also the sort of work that attracts the talent needed to realize that vision. “It’s such rich material,” Fox adds, “it attracts great actors and artists and great crew.”

The setting of the film is crucial, as the story it tells is as much about a gentrifying Los Angeles as it is the intricate legal plotting that exists in the foreground of the story. “From the beginning,” Fox explains, “Dan had this concept that Roman’s apartment was a place being overtaken by this brand new shiny building coming up next-door. As we started scouting and picking locations, we found that there was this constant motif of construction cranes all over our city. It feels like there’s a crane in practically every scene. And we didn’t need to create that.”

The film’s real-life locations are crucial to its success. On top of which, getting to work in Los Angeles was something that both Fox and Black relished. “I hadn’t shot in Los Angeles in more than 10 years,” says Black, “so it was fantastic!” Despite Los Angeles being the locus for so much of the entertainment industry, it does not play itself on film very often. “It hasn’t been overshot,” says Fox, “so you can find incredible locations that are not overly familiar. I find it fascinating, and you get to look at places that you would never have an opportunity to walk into.”

One particular incident stood out for Fox as exemplary of the process of shooting in LA. “We’re shooting a scene where Roman puts money in a dumpster in the rain,” recalls Fox. “There are supposed to be rats running by. And it was actually raining that day. And we were actually standing in the rain, watching actual rats run by our feet. And my thought was just, ‘We’re so lucky to get to do what we do.’ And then the next morning I realized, ‘Wow, last night I was totally psyched to be in a freezing cold alley in the pouring rain, with rats.’”

When it came to working in tandem, Gilroy and Washington meshed beautifully. “It worked very organically,” says Black of the process of collaborating on set. “We didn’t really have any hiccups, because Dan was so clear with his script going in.”

That clarity allowed Washington to do what he does best, which is think like the producer he is. “He also thinks like an audience,” adds Black. “He has taught me to always see the big picture. Always. You gotta make sure you’re seeing how something is going to feel for the audience.”

Fox notes how unusual that approach is for an actor to take with their work. “There’s a tendency for a lot of actors to think about the work for their role, their part.” With Washington, the process is different. She adds, “Sometimes there’s such nuance to [Denzel’s] work that in the moment, you don’t quite understand why something is happening. Then when it comes together later you realize, ‘Oh, he knew exactly why he was doing that,’ that it was part of a whole. It almost feels instinctive, like it’s this sort of innate, incredible cinematic IQ.”

This led to an organic working environment where the planning involved allowed both Gilroy and Washington to flourish as creators. They were able to bandy about choices as small and specific as Roman’s taste in music, because everything was set up for them to be able to dig further and further into the specificity of the character. And so the unusual and idiosyncratic path the character takes through the film is matched with the true depth of humanity that is necessary to tell that story. 

 As Black puts it, “You don’t get to tell human stories as producers anymore. You have to have special effects and visual effects. As a producer, you rarely get to tell stories about human frailty. Human drama. The stuff we’re all around, every day. Pure humanity. To get to put that on the screen in 2017, released by a big studio? That’s pretty rare. “

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Power Player: Funny and Fearless, Showrunner Courtney Kemp Knows Exactly Where the Buck Stops

Posted By Sarah Sanders, Wednesday, January 3, 2018

It is roughly two minutes into my interview with creator, showrunner and producer Courtney Kemp, and she has already discussed red lipstick, offered me lunch and plunged into an insightful critique of misogyny in Hollywood. 

“There were definitely certain issues, especially early on, with being the definitive voice and having to say the buck stops here, even if I am wearing lipstick and a skirt,” she says. “It’s still my show. I’m still the showrunner.”

That show, which Kemp created, is the critically acclaimed Starz drama Power, currently in production for its fifth season and considered to be the network’s most watched original series to date. (The latest season averaged around 8 million viewers per week—for reference, that’s a number topped in premium cable only by HBO’s Game of Thrones.) The series marks her debut as a creator and showrunner, though she has been producing and writing for years for shows including The Bernie Mac ShowInjustice, and The Good Wife.

People are often surprised to learn that Kemp—who is direct but warm, with a big smile and mischievous laugh—is at the helm of Power, a gritty New York drama full of drugs, guns and gangs. “Im a black woman showrunner,” she states. “Which means sometimes that goes along with, ‘What? Youre a showrunner?’’’

“I think being a woman actually has been harder than being of color,” she continues. “I think that both things do define who I am and my experience on the planet. But being taken seriously as a woman, given the content of my show—my race was always going to make me a more authentic voice for people and make people trust me with this subject matter, or in this world with these characters. But my gender often was a challenge.”

Among those challenges: the frustration with others asking her to speak “as a woman” about sexism and misogyny, most recently in terms of the ongoing exposure of a deep history of sexual assault in Hollywood.

“I think we are ignoring a lot when we talk about this as a womens issue,” she says. “Its a power issue.”

Courtney Kemp discusses a scene on the set of Power with cast
member Omari Hardwick. Center: EP Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson

While she’s glad that the voices of those who have been exploited currently are being heard, Kemp admits she’s not optimistic about recent events having a lasting effect. “This is going to be a brief window I think, where this is going to be taken seriously. I think that we will snap back. Because everything is cyclical,” she says, though she quickly adds that she hopes she’s wrong. She is adamant, however, that any lasting change will require work by everybody.

“We have to not look at it as a binary and look at it as everyone’s responsibility,” she counsels. “I always get the question: ‘What can you do, as a woman?’ And it’s like, well, ask everybody.”

In fact, Kemp hates being asked her stance on anything “as a woman,” something she has spoken about at length. “I just hate gender essentialism, racial essentialism, essentialism in terms of sexuality or gender status … I hate all of that.” She instead values individual experience and emotional truth, both of which lie at the core of her beliefs about storytelling.

“You can’t say that because someone is a straight white man that they don’t understand. Because you don’t know what they understand. You can’t say because someone is a black woman that she can’t write, you know, the Lance Armstrong story,” she says firmly. “Thats the thing that I think is sort of my rallying cry, that writers can write anything.”

While the factual backgrounds of stories may require research, Kemp is insistent that what matters most when writing characters is accessing their emotional truth, which everybody experiences. She describes the wide range of characters she writes as all fundamentally coming from different parts of herself.

“Because when you’re writing at 2 in the morning, you only have yourself to draw on,” she explains. “You can’t really call anyone else and wake them out of a sound sleep and be like, ‘Well what would you do?’ So you really have to go for emotional truth.” And that, she insists, “knows no race, no gender, no color, no sexual orientation. Hurt, heartbreak, pain, struggle, triumph: they don’t know any thing to do with the person or the race, gender, et cetera of the character … The outside of the character isn’t what people are connecting to anyway.”

As with challenging sexism offscreen, Kemp believes a storyteller’s power to tell any story means the responsibility for crafting the still-scarce “strong female character” is on everybody. “When people ask me, ‘Tell me about how you create such strong female characters,’ Im like, ‘Ask the guys that. Why they dont. Why they choose not to.’”

Kemp herself is about to send another powerful woman to screens across the country, having recently announced her next project: the series Get Christie Lovewhich secured a pilot production commitment with ABC in a competitive bidding war this autumn. The show is inspired by the 1974 TV movie and subsequent series Get Christie Love, which starred Teresa Graves as an undercover CIA agent and was the first drama on network television to star a black woman. Kemp has been striving to remake the historically important project for years and has vivid memories of first seeing the original. “I was like: This woman is a badass. And she’s black, and she’s powerful, and she doesn’t care. She’s not hung up. She has freedom.”

Kemp first began working on a remake several years ago, right after her father passed away, partly in order to work through attendant feelings of helplessness. Working on the strong character of Christie was in part an attempt to answer the question, “How do I get my power back?” However Kemp temporarily shelved Christie when Power took of on Starz.

Kemp is cautiously hopeful about Get Christie Love’s prospects, explaining, “I think it is a good time for a black woman to be on TV—y’know, speaking multiple languages, kicking ass, being vulnerable, having a complicated love life.” She also believes that “There’s a space and a time in the culture for a black woman showrunner to have multiple shows on the air,” as has been proven by Kemp’s soon-to-be-colleague at ABC, Shonda Rhimes.

She’s very pragmatic about the reasons for that time and space, however. “People actually want this content right now because they think they can make money. Because the only color that matters in Hollywood is green. So when people are like, ‘Oh, is it more open now?’” Kemp laughs and continues, “No! People know how to make money!”

Kemp created her production company, End of Episode, in part to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to have multiple shows on the air. “The idea is to really make more TV that is more inclusive of everybody and get everybody’s stories on,” she maintains. These days, though, it seems one of the hardest parts of telling those stories is finding time to write them.

“It’s almost impossible to get time to write,” she says. “I have to steal it.” She walks over to a bookcase in her office and pulls out a stack of signs, which she says she sometimes puts on her door. One is a flowchart guiding would-be interrupters through the process of deciding if they should knock (they shouldn’t). One says, “You made a wise choice.” Several provide directions to her assistant’s office, and one, which makes her laugh, that says simply, “NO.” “If Im going to write,” she explains, “this is the one that has to be up.”

Courtney Kemp on the set of Power with
cast member Omari Hardwick.

The writing needs to be as insulated as possible from the avalanche of other showrunning responsibilities. Though the writers’ room is her preferred home base, she flies back and forth between her set in New York and her writers’ room and editing suites in LA “pretty much constantly,” she says. “The writers’ room has to live without me. It has to make decisions without me, it has to breathe without me. And then I have to come in and go, ‘Okay, that doesnwork because I have a global idea of what the series is.’” She is, again, where the buck stops, creatively as well as logistically.

“Writing is what if, and producing is what is,” she explains. Her life as showrunner is a constant, often-contradictory balancing act between the creative impulses of making a television show.

“There’s so many different elements that you need to control, or at least try to control, because so many things will be out of your control,” she observes. “I mean, theres a hurricane—what are you supposed to do about that, right? Trucks get flooded, things get stolen, actors get sick. There’s so much you can’t control that you can only write for what you can, and that’s producing.”

Kemp credits mentors like Michelle and Robert King, Jef Melvoin and Greg Berlanti with giving her the information she needed to become a first-rate producer. “I still do things to this day that I learned from Greg,” she notes. He gave her tips on everything from season plotting (have a singular vision and keep coming back to “What is the show?”) to staff hours (10-6; give your staff the weekends of) to working dinners (“Once the foodarrived and everyones eaten, its 9p.m. What the hell? Just go home! Start in the morning”).

He [Berlanti] would take us to the editing room. We would learn how to edit,” she recalls. “It was very much a ‘teaching hospital.’ The best shows are.”

Kemp consults with direct J.J. Bassett (middle) and DP Mauricio -
Rubinstein(left) on location in NYC for the
Power season 2 finale.

Now that she has shows of her own, Kemp’s latest challenge is navigating the ways in which being a showrunner also means being a public figure. “Being recognized is weird,” she admits, adding that her experiences of being recognized come in pockets, “because of the ways that the shows audience has broken down.” She laughs as she tells a story about being recognized by a salesperson while checking out in Sephora. “I had one girl go, like, ‘You’re a legend!’ And I was like, ‘Uh, no. I need eyeliner! But I’m not a legend.’”

While fans of Power are passionate – “I’m so grateful to our fans and I love them, and I’m so really, really thankful for their watching,” she adds—Kemp goes back and forth between experiences like that and competing instances of frequently not being recognized by others in her own industry.

“I’ll literally be at like a showrunner’s event or something, and someone will be like, ‘Oh, hey, can I get some more water?’ They think I’m like a waiter,” she says. “Because there’s no way I’m a showrunner, right? I don’t ‘look like a showrunner.’”

Kemp is calm as she continues, though it’s clear that the feelings run deep. Sometimes when that happens, she explains who she is and what she does; sometimes she just walks away.

“You don’t have to educate people every time,” she refects. “You don’t always have to make it about well you should’ve known, or you should have recognized, or at this point you should be educated enough to realize, ‘Look, anybody could be anything.’ Because maybe you’re the education.”

She smiles a little. “My existence is enough. Like, I got in the room the same way you did. Came up with a good story. That’s it.”

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Taking on Water: J. Miles Dale Is Swimming In The Deep End

Posted By Kevin Perry, Wednesday, January 3, 2018

PRO TIP: If you ever have the good fortune to meet J. Miles Dale, listen up! He’s that proverbial dinner party guest toward whom everyone swivels their chairs; the jovial bar patron regaling his cohorts well into the grey hours of last call; the quintessential on-set storyteller trading anecdotal advice and quotable wisdom from productions of yesteryear. Dale is an exuberant oral historian of Hollywood lore, eager to share his trove of Tinseltown treasures. Many of his quips begin with the same mantra: “There’s this saying …”

INTEREST PIQUED. PLEASE GO ON.

“There’s this saying: It’s Gandhi in the morning and Dukes of Hazzard after lunch.” By which he means, every production starts out as high art but then becomes a race to get something—anything—in the can. Dale delights in the idiosyncrasies of set life, and he has crystallized his experiences into a leather-bound volume of philosophies that sound a little something like this: “It takes a long time to develop a great reputation and a short time to lose it … The job can be half cheerleading, half babysitting … On a great day, I don’t have to do anything … Sometimes you just need to let the magic happen… Knowing when not to say anything is as critical as knowing when to say something.”

It’s no small task, maneuvering Dale’s avalanche of wit and wisdom into a coherent channel—like, say, a magazine feature. Your best bet is simply to find the shape of the conversation and let it fow.

 Producer J. Miles Dale on the set of Carrie with cast
member Chloe Grace Moretz

“My dad had two passions in life: one of them was music and the other was vintage cars,” explains Dale. “I ended up in the entertainment business and my brother ended up being a professional racecar driver. The symmetry of the whole thing is crazy and wonderful.” In the late 1960s, his father, Jimmy Dale, was the musical director for such variety show hits as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Andy Williams Show, and The Sony & Cher Comedy Hour. “The other musicians called us the chimps, my brother and I, because we would be seen hanging on my dad’s back while he was conducting a 60-piece orchestra.” That’s when entertainment began to seep into young Dale’s bloodstream, and the pulse never slowed.

Ever favoring street smarts over book learning, Dale stormed into TV producing, racking up credits on series like Top CopsFriday the 13th and RoboCop. He quickly transitioned into feature films, directing The Skulls III for no paycheck, ravenous for production experience on every level. “I directed really to make myself a better producer,” he recounts. “You know the director’s language, you know the toolkit, and you’re not dealing with it in a dilettantish way.”

Film sets were Dale’s empirical kingdom; they posed a constant source of fascination and experimentation. He began to tinker with the production formula, comparing it to life in a petri dish. “Every six months,” he tells me, “it’s like a whole new science project because the people, who are all generally talented smart people, are thrown in as a whole new organism. Much as the director has to be the leader of that, you’re a little bit the chemist.”

Having successfully synthesized his own brand of interpersonal chemistry, it was suddenly time to tear it to shreds. As an Executive Producer on the epic gothic horror series The Strain, Dale explored the chaos of a society in decay, plagued by vampires, corruption and a nuclear Armageddon accelerated by humanity in peril. “What that series showed was the thin veil of civility that really hangs over everything,” Dale remarks. “It falls apart very quickly.”

Fortunately the situation behind the camera was far more harmonious. The Strain teamed Dale with A-list writer/producer Carlton Cuse, who had nothing but glowing praise for his fellow EP. “He takes the time to get inside your head. I really appreciate how thoughtfully he focused on trying to understand my intentions as a showrunner. That’s the starting point.”

And it was a road that would soon diverge into innovative new filmmaking frontiers. When Dale was tapped to produce Guillermo del Toro’s buzzworthy new release, The Shape of Water, he had the daunting task of delivering a sci-f period masterpiece on a relatively tight budget. But just as he collected Hollywood anecdotes and inspiration throughout the early years of his career, Dale was also amassing an impressive arsenal of production resources. Like a magpie scrapping together the shiniest bits of movie magic, between seasons he utilized the sets and crew from The Strain to realize del Toro’s latest vision. The resulting alchemy elevated The Shape of Water from a mid-budget indie into blockbuster territory, and Cuse took note. “The real quality that separates the average producer from a great producer is imagination. Miles was incredibly creative about how he was going to deliver the most resources for Guillermo.”

Dale (right) reviews a take of The Shape of Water with writer/director
Guillermo Del Toro and cast member Sally Hawkins.

Dale compares the tactic to how Alfred Hitchcock created his magnum opus between seasons of a hit TV production, calling The Shape of Water “Guillermo’s Psycho.” But that’s where the similarities end. “[del Toro] came to me and said, ‘I’ve got an idea for a movie about a mute cleaning lady who works at a secret government facility and falls in love with a man-fish and tries to save him,’” recounts Dale. “So right there, I’m in. There’s nothing like it.” Asked how del Toro concocted such a wonderfully warped love story, Dale explains, “He was inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon and wanted the creature to get the girl, be together, run of, have an underwater condo, and he was actually disappointed that they didn’t get together. That was when he was 6. He had all that time to think about it and ask, ‘How would that work?’”

The answer: align yourself with a die- hard producer like J. Miles Dale. “I take what I call a blood oath with the director,” Dale vows. “I’m gonna do everything I can to get you everything you want for your movie, BUT when I say we really can’t do this thing, you gotta listen to me. It can’t be a one-way blood oath.”

“That’s beautiful,” replies Guillermo del Toro, after I share Dale’s account. “But at the end of the day, we all break the blood oath.” The director laughs good-naturedly before getting sincere about Dale, his longtime collaborator and friend. “What we do have for each other is enormous respect. You know? Neither of us has an agenda other than the movie. He’s not power playing; he’s not positioning himself. He’s certainly as honest as I’ve ever met as a producer. He’s been a great partner now for six years. I admire him and love him.”

The pledge between Dale and del Toro would be pushed to its breaking point as the grueling endeavor of Water took shape. The director recounts, “This one was a movie in which I was risking a lot. Not only in terms of the scope we wanted, but in terms of the ambitions artistically. This is a triple summersault with no net. I knew that every element needed to be perfect or the fable would not survive.” That’s why del Toro leaned so faithfully on his producer friend. “We had a very tense shoot. It was artistically very harmonious, but in terms of delivering the movie for the price, it was incredibly taxing. I think Miles made miracles.” Summoning his best biblical allegory, del Toro concludes, “He walked on water for this movie.”

Sandstorms halted production several times, and yet Dale shrugged them off as the price of del Toro’s passion. “He’s like the Rain Man of visualists.” His crew dug deeper to tackle the unique challenge of creating its Fishman romantic lead. His assessment: “If we don’t get the creature perfectly right, the whole movie fails.” But the greatest obstacle was looming right there in the film’s title. “The water in its various forms on that show was absolutely a challenge,” Dale admits. Summoning yet another Hollywood adage of what to avoid when planning a production, he quips, “They talk about [never working with] kids and dogs. I would add water to that list.”

In the face of overwhelming logistical adversity, J. Miles Dale focused on the pros rather than the staggering cons. “This is obviously going to be a thrilling challenge, not only production wise, but also selling the story,” he surmised. “It was either going to be something special or it would be ridiculed. You work hard to make sure it’s something special.” And the result? “An unabashed love story that’s not sentimental, but it’s really honest.” The producer/philosopher then concludes with a signature truism: “It’s easy to be smart when you’re ironic, but it’s harder when you’re earnest.”

Can this aw-shucks realism translate into awards season gold? “I’m Canadian, so I’m a little more modest,” Dale defects. “Recognition is nice; it’s not important. Adulation is probably unhealthy.” But Dale’s friend and The Strain showrunner, Cuse, was less apprehensive about the films Oscar odds. “Miles is really in the top ranks of producers and I would love to see him get recognized as such for Shape of Water. I really hope that happens.”

Regardless of the film’s awards fate, the life-changing production opportunity enlightened and evolved Dale’s already complex philosophies. “Like love, water finds its way. It will go wherever it can and it will find the shape of the space that it’s in. That’s what I do as a producer. You shape yourself to what the project needs and what the director needs.” Extrapolating further, Dale applies the film’s themes to life writ large. “You get up every day and you can choose to love or to fear. Love or hate. There’s no case to be made for anything other than love.”

Epiphanies fiicker across Dale’s expression like 16mm daydreams spooling back on themselves; lessons from the past echoing into the present and shaping his view of the future. As much as it’s been a breakthrough year for the stalwart producer, it’s also been rife with heartbreak. “My father just died in May.” He accepts my condolences, but embraces his dad’s eternal optimism. “He had a good, long, amazing life and did whatever he wanted. He had no regrets, so I won’t either.” One shining, cardinal rule that Miles learned from the elder Dale: “Do the thing that you love because even if you never really succeed, at least you’ll be chasing your passion.”

The light in his eyes shines proudly as the movie in his mind reaches a crescendo. “He taught me all that.” Roll credits.

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It Stops Here. It Stops Now. It Stops with Producers - From The Presidents

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Harvey Weinstein was a producer.

We can try to find ways to soften the impact of this statement, mentally re-categorizing him as “mostly an executive” or “mostly a distributor.” It doesn’t change the fact that whenever Harvey’s name appeared onscreen, it was next to a producing credit and he was, until recently, a member of the Producers Guild.

As all of us now can see only too clearly—and many of us have known for years—the problem of sexual harassment is endemic. Indeed, for much of its existence, our community widely tolerated harassment. This tolerance took many forms—declining to report or challenge a colleague’s behavior; ignoring misconduct as the price of working with great artists or talents; or simply adopting the baseline assumption that this was “just how Hollywood works.” 2017 will be known as the year we dropped those justifcations.

We hope that other industries follow that lead. Truthfully, the watershed figure in what is a nationwide scandal could have come from another industry; it only came from ours because victims in entertainment possessed prominent voices in their own right and had the courage to speak out about what they had endured. Some might decry sexual harassment as a “Hollywood problem,” but we know this is a cultural sickness that infects politics, education, the business world and every segment of society.

But make no mistake—in our business, sexual harassment is a producers’ problem to address. We are responsible for the culture of our sets; creating safe spaces for our teams to work is the first duty of the producer. Moreover, sexual harassment itself represents a misuse of power and authority. A producer, by definition, serves as an authority both on and of the set. It’s our obligation to wield that authority in a way that’s thoughtful, ethical and always cognizant of the implicit pressure it exerts upon our colleagues, team members and those who aspire to careers in our business.

We’re proud to report that our National Board has authorized an Anti-Sexual Harassment Task Force that has already met on several occasions, with the commitment to provide ongoing resources to our members. We are drafting a set of essential practices for producers that will be provided to every PGA member for use on their productions, with the firm expectation that all members will follow them. Harassment is one of the most important issues our Guild has ever faced. It’s been a blind spot for our entire industry for too long. But given the determined leadership of our National Board and the support of our membership, the PGA is ideally positioned to change our professional culture for the better and make this shameful behavior a thing of the past.

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OPEN DOORS - Disability Has A Face: Celebrating Representation At The Media Access Awards

Posted By Deborah Calla, Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A push for greater inclusion has been accelerating for some time, but over the past couple of months, the entertainment industry has taken a hard look at itself and rolled up its sleeves.

On November 17, the Media Access Awards (MAA), an annual event celebrating the portrayal and employment of people with disabilities, presented the eighth awards show of its current incarnation. Initially created by Norman Lear and Fern Field (who was honored this year with the Norman Lear—Geri Jewell Lifetime Achievement Award), the MAA went dark for a few years before its rebirth in 2010, when the PGA and WGA revived the event together with SAG-AFTRA and CSA.

 Media Access Awards founders
Fern Field and Norman Lear

The event has recognized numerous PGA members with the Producers Guild of America George Sunga Award for their contributions toward representation of those with disabilities. Prior honorees include Mike Tollin, Bruce Cohen, Betsy Beers, Shonda Rhimes, Noah Hawley and Jonathan Murray. This year, the Diversity Committee chose members Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman for their work on such films as StrongerBeauty and the Beast and Wonder.

These works, while entertaining, bring to audiences a real understanding of what an inclusive society can look and feel like. Whether telling the story of Jef Bauman’s harrowing experience of losing his legs at the Boston Marathon bombing, the character of Auggie in Wonder, who is bullied for his facial disfigurement, or the love story at the center of Beauty and the Beast, Todd and David invite us to empathize with characters that are distinct from us. They remind us of the great value that each of us, with our own uniqueness, brings to society and the world.

PGA member Nic Novicki was also honored with the SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award for his acting work as well as for his producing eforts in the creation of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge.

L to R: Todd Lieberman, Jacob Tremblay (Wonder),
Deborah Calla, David Hoberman

Other artists honored were Robia Rashid for Atypical (WGAW Evan Somers Award), Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari for Master of None (WGAW Excellence in Writing Award), The Ruderman Foundation for their work on behalf of people with disabilities (SAG-AFTRA Disability Experience Award), and Telsey + Company for a banner year in casting actors with disabilities in such shows as I’m Dying Up HereAtypical and the upcoming series Love You More (CSA Award).

The show was hosted by Haben Girma, the first deaf/blind woman to graduate from Harvard Law School, and Oliver Trevena, the host of Young Hollywood.

There are 57 million Americans living with a disability today. There is still a long road to the broad inclusion of the disabled in the media whose images mirror America. The Media Access Awards is a showcase of the talent and stories that are paving the way.

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ABOVE & BEYOND - Labors Of Love: Whether through Member Education or Event Programming, PGA Members Relish The Chance To Give Back

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What’s so special about volunteering for the PGA? This month we highlight two wonderful producers who share their experiences with us. Kate McCallum has been a valued member of the New Media Council Board of Delegates, on which she is currently serving her second term. She is also a representative on the Guild’s National Board of Directors. But her Board service is just the tip of the iceberg. “I’ve been involved with the PGA Green Committee, WIN, the International Committee and now am the representative for the New Media Council on the Education Committee,” Kate tells Produced By. “I’m very dedicated to Member Education and have produced several educational events.” We asked Kate for a favorite PGA volunteering experience and she shared how satisfying it was to help implement an official PGA Line Producer Master Class with the Education Committee. The two-day class has been taught in New York and Los Angeles; both iterations sold out and were a huge success.

Kate believes that producers, through the power of storytelling, have an opportunity to make a positive impact on humanity. She feels that, “When you get involved with the PGA, you really feel inspired by the depth and power of the immense talent and capabilities that our members hold.” What does Kate do when she is not volunteering? She, along with her partner and fellow PGA member Ed Lantz, are developing programming and content for the 360 full-dome/VR format. Kate freelances on a variety of projects, writing, producing and bringing content to life.


Rikki Hughes has been a part of our PGA family for the last eight years. Rikki has been a member of The Diversity Committee for many years and has served as a mentor for participants in the annual Power of Diversity Master Workshop. She has also been involved with the Media Access Awards, which honor members of the entertainment community who promote awareness of the disability experience and the accurate depiction of characters with disabilities. The work is a labor of love for her.

Rikki has been involved with the Events Committee, putting together the amazing Holiday Parties and other events. She believes that “we are here to be of service” and feels, “It’s imperative to enrich the community that has been there to support me. Volunteering within the PGA has amazing effects on both new and veteran producers. There is always a transference of skill sets, making valuable contacts and allowing creative opportunities to improve our careers.” 

 

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GOING GREEN - Getting Over Leftovers: "Chef's To End Hunger" Fights Waste and Food Insecurity

Posted By Kate Fitzgerald, Tuesday, January 2, 2018

When we think of sustainable practices and green efforts, recycling and reducing usage of materials and power sources are among the first things that spring to mind. However, there is one waste problem that is commonly overlooked.

Two billion dollars a year: the amount of money that American consumers, businesses and farms spend on growing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten. This equates to over 50 million tons of food that is sent to landfills annually—over 40% of all food produced goes to waste. This food is the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste and accounts for a large portion of the U.S. methane emissions.

The main culprits contributing to this astonishing figure are food service establishments. Vast amounts of perfectly servable, unspoiled food are thrown away at the end of each night.

Ironically, at the same time, nearly 50 million Americans (including more than 15 million children) live in food-insecure households. The USDA defines “food insecurity” as the occasional lack of access to enough food for all household members. In 2015, 13% of American households lived with food insecurity. Five percent of these households experienced very low food security, meaning the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted due to limited resources.

In the last eight years, it has become increasingly clear that this is a problem of the working poor—having to make hard decisions between buying enough food to feed a family or paying bills and keeping a roof over their head.

 Bill Bracken of Bracken's Kitchen addresses the crowd at LA
Specialty's Cultivating our Community event in May 2016.

In 2012, Chefs to End Hunger (CTEH), a nonprofit foundation, set out to reduce food waste and fght hunger. The foundation was started by LA&SF Specialty, a distributor of wholesale produce, dairy and other specialty foods to dining establishments.

The Chefs to End Hunger mission focuses on facilitating the redistribution of prepared food from hotel, restaurant and other food service customers to local charitable organizations that serve meals to their communities in need.

LA&SF’s delivery by refrigerated trucks to over 2,000 locations daily puts CTEH at the forefront of executing the mission of food recovery. While going about daily deliveries, the trucks also supply boxes and foil sheet pans for the waste food. These boxes are then collected the next day within the companies’ scheduled product delivery hours, eliminating the need for any extra trucks to be put on the road.

Chefs can participate and do their part to feed the hungry simply by packing and labeling the requisite Chefs to End Hunger boxes, storing them in their coolers and handing over full boxes to their LA&SF driver during their regularly scheduled deliveries. These chefs can turn their food waste into a charitable donation and provide meals to the hungry.

Midnight Mission was the foundation’s first partner and this relationship allowed them to experiment and fine-tune the process. The Midnight Mission, located on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, serves up to 90,000 meals a month (1,000 people per meal, three meals a day, seven days a week), in addition to offering emergency services, a 12-step recovery program, job training, education and work programs. It was founded in 1914 and is the oldest continuously operating human service organization in LA. A nonprofit, Midnight Mission operates solely on donations.

After building this relationship and establishing a working business model, CTEH began to form many more exciting partnerships with charitable organizations such as The Las Vegas Rescue Mission, The Phoenix Rescue Mission, Hope 4 the Heart, World Harvest Food Bank and Bracken’s Kitchen. 

Chef's pack up food in CTEH's trademark boxes.

Since 2016, CTEH has also partnered with various film and television studios such as Blizzard Entertainment, Disney Studios, Dreamworks, Fox Studios, Burbank Radio, Riot Games, Warner Bros., Paramount Studios and Bad Robot. In 2016, total studio returns were 1,792 kits, equating to 51,870 portions. So far in 2017, total studio returns are 1,129 kits, equating to 33,870 portions. The overall forecast for 2017 is set to hit 58,000 portions from these participating studios alone.

A highly notable pairing to date has been between CTEH and the Academy Awards’ Governor’s Ball, famously catered by Wolfgang Puck. For over 23 years, Chef Puck’s kitchen has prepared the menu for this ball. Historically, much of this food is wasted as production often exceeds demand. Instead of wasting these exquisite delicacies, Puck has paired with CTEH to deliver the vast quantities of leftovers to those in need and has done so for the last six years.

After each of the Oscar events, Puck’s kitchen packs up 15 to 30 large size foil pans, each of which feed 30+ people. In 2017, the menu boasted short ribs, an entire octopus, chilled soups, Parmesan funnel cakes and elaborate desserts, including edible “Oscar” statues. Puck intends to carry on this simple act of kindness for years to come and nurture the partnership with CTEH.

“These donations help us provide the almost 1 million meals that we serve each year to the neediest people in our community,” says The Midnight Mission’s Georgia Berkovich. “Our organization’s goal is to restore people to self-sufficiency and combat the issues surrounding homelessness. Good community partnerships can serve as a bridge to meaningful transformation, and we are so proud to be teaming up with some of Los Angeles’ best restaurants, chefs and all those who help serve people who are hungry, with or without homes.“

 

- If you are interested in becoming involved with CTEH, reach out to info@chefsendhunger.org or visit their website at chefsendhunger.org.

 
 

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MENTORING MATTERS - The Carey Project: When Life Knocks You Sideways, A Great Mentor Helps You Rediscover Your Way

Posted By Carey Lundin, Tuesday, January 2, 2018

For two decades, I’ve been a writer/producer/director in Chicago. My husband, Mark Frazel, and I created documentaries, reality shows, comedic web series, commercials and PSAs. There were few conundrums we couldn’t solve. We could turn out a crackling script, lickety-split and even won a couple dozen awards for our work. But in July of 2016 my ship hit an iceberg. Mark passed away suddenly. In shock, I sold the house and found myself moving to LA to start a new life.

If I ever needed a mentor, it was now. A few close PGA friends suggested I apply for the Guild’s Mentoring Program. The process was pretty painless. I was lucky and got paired with Kia Kiso of Zaza Productions, a producer of content with a heart.

Still very raw and anxious to reboot my life, I shared with Kia how I was attending lots of events, but I didn’t know how to pitch myself; it was exhausting and frightening. It was gradually becoming clear to me how much of my world was built on the strengths of my husband, a tough taskmaster and dependable cheerleader. “Star, Smile, Strong.” He would always quote Broadway Danny Rose before I gave a speech or presentation.

Kia’s first advice: “Success comes from saying no to some things. It’s a balance.”

We began by identifying my goals, and I told her how I wanted to concentrate on writing and directing more comedies as well as a historical environmental drama. Kia had me identify the people I would most like to work with, who share similar interests and who have the ability to get those kinds of projects done. Armed with this info, I would be able to turn a random meeting into an opportunity.

“But how do I meet those people?” I asked her. “And when I meet them, how do I present myself? It’s rare to find a famous producer walking around Chicago … how do I talk to a person at the top of the game in LA? How does someone start to climb that ladder?”

“You need to nurture. You need to nest,” Kia reassured me. “Start by committing to 20 hours of good work a week and work up to 40. Pretend you’re producing The Carey Project.”

It’s been a few months and lots of tears later, but Kia’s guidance has paid of. My newfound confidence helped me land a job writing and directing my first series, The Worst Travel Show, for Facebook Watch and WatchMojo. I have an apartment near the water, which keeps me calm. And to start building a community, I rescued a doggie named Georgie who acts like my bestest buddy.

There’s a long way to go, but The Carey Project is in full swing. I’m truly indebted to Kia’s patience, wisdom and empathy in helping me get this far. 

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ON THE SCENE - PBNY Not Afraid To Shake Things Up

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 2, 2018

PRODUCED BY: NEW YORK AT TIME WARNER CENTER, OCTOBER 28 

This October, the PGA returned to the Time Warner Center for the fourth Produced By: New York conference. In a day packed with great programming, those in attendance heard from media buyers who shared the ins and outs of their buying strategies and producers who discussed how their collaborations led to some of the year’s most anticipated films. Other topics included how to move a series from script to screen and five essential things producers need to know about Virtual Reality. The conference didn’t shy away from the news of the day, as a panel of producers talked about using their power to shake up the industry, creating opportunities for women in all aspects of production. The day closed, as it always does, with a cocktail reception overlooking Central Park.

Photography by Invision for Producers Guild/AP IMAGES

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BOSPOAT - Best On Set Photo Of All Time: In The Trunk

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 2, 2018

As this space has often given us opportunity to observe, one of the great things about production is the opportunity to work in all sorts of places that you never thought you’d be working. Like say, the middle of the Oregon wilderness, in the middle of the night, to boot.

“The stars were unreal out there,” says PGA member Jordan Foley, producer of a yet-to-be-titled thriller, directed by John Hyams and based on the Swedish hit Gone. “We were on a night shoot in Estacada, Oregon. I used a Canon 6D and set a long exposure … I put the camera on the road and propped it up a bit with a water bottle.”

The team certainly put in the miles to earn the wilderness production value for their film (and this shot). “The locations were an hour outside of Portland, so there was a significant commute every day,” Foley tells us. “This was a very ambitious shoot. We were a SAG modified low-budget shoot, but it was a stunt-heavy production. There were several big set pieces, including a flipped car and a raging rapids stunt. Most of the story takes place in the woods, in the rain, and there are several night scenes that required significant lighting setups.” On top of which, he continues, “Our lead actress broke her foot on the first day of our second week of shooting … This was one for the books.”

In other words, it’s one more unique variant on the sequence of crises, accidents and tribulations we know as “physical production.” But looking at this image, we’re somehow comforted. The focus is, as it should be, on that white-hot instant of performance, capture, action. And yet, those same stars have looked down on the shooting of thousands of movies and will be out for the shooting of thousands more. They’ll shine for you no matter whether your DP got enough coverage or your lead actress broke her foot. Sometimes it takes a night shoot in the middle of nowhere to remind us how lovely those stars are and how fortunate we are to work at a job that sometimes takes us to see them. 


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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