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Sustaining A Golden Age?

Posted By Christopher Kaminski, Thursday, May 15, 2014

We are experiencing a golden age of television. At least, that is what the people working inside the television industry have proclaimed. And there might be grounds for such a bold statement. 

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) annual conference, known simply as The Cable Show, took place recently in Los Angeles. The industry confab brings together cable television providers and the programmers that supply them content. 

“In the earlier days, this show was really a showcase for the networks and the programmers to show off their new content, or it was a place for distributors to get a better understanding of what new networks were being developed.” said Matt Strauss, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Video Services for Comcast Cable. The event has evolved to include a greater emphasis on technology and innovation. 4k video and gigabit residential broadband were popular topics this year. 

Despite the shift, the show provided an excellent opportunity to take the pulse of an industry that is changing at a remarkable pace. 

The words of many industry executives suggested a fascinating internal conflict. On the surface speakers seemed generally positive about their recent performance and optimistic about the future. But a palpable sense of concern lingered just underneath their words. The pay television industry has stumbled a few times during an era of unprecedented competition. Initiatives like TV Everywhere are off to a rocky start, government regulators are knocking at the door, and customer satisfaction with cable providers remains very low. Meanwhile over-the-top services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are diverting precious time, attention, and money from the traditional players. 

But what does all of this mean for the working producer? Taking the optimistic view, there are more opportunities than ever to get a new project made. Each programmer is looking to fill their pipeline, increase their brand cache, and improve their offerings in a very competitive landscape. “There’s an arms race for programming,” said John Martin, CEO of Turner Broadcasting System. 

Kathleen Finch, President of the Home Category at Scripps Networks Interactive, said that HTGV and DIY Channel both set new viewership records this past year. House Hunters has six series that total more than 400 hours of programming per year. Yet Finch says she doesn’t have a hit-driven business; rather, the aim is to satisfy the core desires of their audience. Scripps takes an experimental approach to developing new series. Focus groups are eschewed in favor of running pilots in a variety of slots to see how they perform in the marketplace. Finch described a high tolerance for risk when she said, “if a 20 episode experiment fails, it’s okay.” 

Fox chose to buck the trend of creating hyper-focused regional sports networks with Fox Sports 1, a channel designed to appeal to every sports fan across the nation. David Nathanson, General Manager and COO of Fox Sports 1, said they are taking winning concepts and broadening the scope to appeal to a wide audience. For example America’s Pregame Show is a new show format based on Fox’s top-rated NFL Sunday. APS reports on all sports events happening that day regardless of the network that broadcasts the game. 

New music channel Revolt is looking to provide a home for legions of fans that founder Sean Combs says have been left out in the cold ever since Viacom evolved its music channels into more general lifestyle brands. Combs believes that the new channel will ultimately be successful because they are putting boots on the ground at the important music events. He ended his stage time imploring audience members to seek him out to do business together. 

A+E Networks president Nancy Dubuc admitted to feeling the pressure of competition from the internet, saying that the “next round of creators is opting to go to YouTube and Vine.” Discovery Networks is attempting to capture new talent and new audiences by launching digital networks such as the science-themed Test Tube and animal-focused Animist

On the scripted side, executives and showrunners continue to proclaim that cable distinguishes itself by the quality of the storytelling. Noah Hawley, writer and showrunner of Fargo on FX, proclaimed that “this is the place to write your novel.” He continued, “There are no limits on what your characters can do or say.” 

"The golden age of television is like the revolution in advertising," declared Matt Weiner, showrunner of AMC’s Mad Men. "It's a term that is coined by the television business. What really happened is that it was the lower cost for talent and special deals made by the WGA, DGA and SAG to encourage this part of the business." 

Hit shows often have humble beginnings. While Mad Men is currently considered one of the best shows of this generation, Weiner suggested that his series was initially produced in large part because of his previous writing job at HBO. He quipped, “The first poster might have said the words Sopranos larger than the words Mad Men.” 

Scripted shows are no longer disposable, gaining a profitable second life on VOD and streaming services.  Noah Hawley said he enjoys not having to build to a splashy ad break like on network shows, and he often checks his output to ensure each episode works when the ads are removed. Michelle Ashford, the showrunner of Masters of Sex on Showtime, says the longevity of shows also engenders greater scrutiny from viewers. “They’ll see things we didn’t intend or notice ourselves.” 

Ashford said that ultimately, she doesn’t worry too much about the technology of how the show gets to the consumer. She suggests that people creating the show stay focused on doing their best work. 

"I think when you write something because you're interested in it, and not for the market, you probably write it differently" said Josh Sapan, President of AMC Networks. "In a business environment, that sounds like a bad thing, but it's really a good thing." 

Sapan went on to explain that the golden age of television is best defined by comparing today’s series to those of his youth. In those days his parents would caution him, “Don’t watch it. You’ll get dumb.” By comparison he proposed, “If Dickens were alive today, he would be a showrunner.”

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Staying Safe When Shooting Abroad

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Production can sometimes be a dangerous business. That’s true no matter where you shoot. But as the global production industry has come of age, foreign budget incentives have made international production increasingly attractive. That’s been a great development for our business, but it’s not without its risks. At the PGA, we were disturbed to learn that last year, a few of our members were involved in a violent attack while on location overseas. “It was the last week of a 14-week shoot,” one of the members told Produced by. “We were about a block from our hotel; we’d been staying there almost a month. We had walked the route back from the shops and restaurants across the street dozens of times before, but that last time wasn’t as routine.

“The four of us were jumped by 10 young men as we rounded the corner,” she continued. “These guys immediately split up our group, pushing or holding back the other three people while five of them focused on and surrounded me, repeatedly hitting the back of my head, neck and face with their fists. They finally stopped when one of us was able to get away and flag down a cab. The driver pulled up and yelled loudly at the kids in their native language. Whatever he said, it made them all run.” Alarming as the encounter was, everyone recognized that it could have had a far scarier ending. And almost miraculously, “No belongings or money were stolen from any of us,” she reported. Still, most unnerving about the incident was its proximity. “When we got back to my hotel room,” she recalled, “we could see where the attack took place, directly below us, and could even see where they had approached us from, just to the right. That’s how close we were.”

Producers and their teams are always juggling priorities on location, executing a director’s or EP’s creative vision while prudently managing the production’s budget. But the top priority — always —is the safety and security of the cast, crew and producing team. It’s in that spirit that we wanted to share the observations of some producers with extensive experience with international location shoots, and provide tips and best practices for producers to stay safe while on location abroad. And it’s worth noting off the top that while the incident described above clearly suggests malice aforethought, most such “incidents” while abroad arise from cultural misunderstanding and/or ignorance. Cultural awareness is always a key element of security.

The first tool is research. “Always look at every location as a ‘clean slate,’” says PGA Vice President of Television Hayma “Screech” Washington, who shot all over the world as a lead producer of The Amazing Race for seven seasons. “You may think that a particular area of the world is safe. You may think that another area is unsafe. But you can’t simply trust the conventional wisdom. Go to the State Department website. Every place you can go has a ‘risk factor status.’ Checking those warnings is part of your job as a producer.” Furthermore, there are various forms of insurance to procure, including Foreign Workers Comp, which extends a company’s U.S. workers’ comp policy to cover an employee’s work outside of the country. The coverage is often part of an international insurance package that may include general liability, travel accident, kidnap and ransom.           

Stephen Marinaccio, a line producer whose resume includes shoots in Mexico, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and numerous locations around the Middle East, cites the State Department travel advisories as well as the CIA World Factbook as valuable sources of essential data on the political and cultural stability of a given location. He also makes sure to raise any questions early on in discussions with local film commissions. “I am fairly unabashed when asking those sorts of questions,” he states. “For the most part, every region wants to attract filmmakers and production for the boost to the local economy and reputation.”

Given the sensitivity of the topic, notes Marinaccio, “the best approach to the conversation is usually soft. Ask your questions casually, as opposed to expressing fervent worry. Announcing that you recently reviewed a ‘red alert’ travel warning from the U.S. government is probably not the most constructive way to start the discussion.”

A veteran of numerous shoots in India and Africa, PGA Board member Lydia Dean Pilcher agrees. “Local authorities will give you the best information,” she confirms. “They are the last people to want any incidents. They can let you know where extra security is needed and advise where the troubled areas are — usually the neighborhoods that can have gang populations and high drug use. If language and cultural barriers exist in a location, hire people from the community to liaise with local vendors and residents.”

Pilcher also notes that international threats can be not only political and social, but biological. “It’s important to know what inoculations or medications you may need for the protection of your cast and crew,” she reminds. “For the movies I’ve produced in India and Africa, no matter how strongly we advise on the anti-malarials, usually only about 50% of the crew will take them. Sadly, I’ve had three productions where a crewmember has contracted malaria. It’s a very serious disease that is life-threatening and that is extremely difficult to cure.” The Center for Disease Control has a website full of information for travelers. Consult a tropical disease doctor for specialized vaccinations, such as yellow fever. If you are scouting or traveling through multiple countries, you may need proof of vaccinations if you have just visited a high-risk area.

Once on location, the essential advice is: Have a plan. “If someone gets hurt, where am I gonna go?” asks Washington. “How am I going to get them there? When something goes wrong, your brain locks up. That’s why you need to know in advance what you’re going to do.” Preparation and taking preventive measures are key. Marinaccio describes the measures the production took when shooting a highly sensitive and provocative scene for The Stoning of Soraya M., which was shot on location in the Middle East.

“The actual stoning scene was scheduled for five days,” he recalls. “Because this sequence required 150+ extras, all of whom would see what we were doing, I had reservations as to the security of the shoot. Scheduling this sequence as the last week of shooting in our main location, we shot as much as possible in the first few days, which required no crowd. Then, with the help of local police, town elders and our security, we set up roadblocks into the area. Only crew, residents and previously screened and cleared extras were allowed in. Within the crowd, we also planted security people dressed in wardrobe to monitor any rumblings and report back to production. As it turns out, the caution was not for nothing. We did have a small flare-up and immediately our team sprung to action and took all key crew and cast ‘to ground.’ When things were safe again, we continued.”

While making The Darjeeling Limited, “the 2006 Mumbai train bombings happened a few weeks before our first scout in Rajasthan,” recalls Pilcher. “We took extra precautions to not be in train stations or airports on India’s Independence Day, which fell during the scout. We also took out political risk insurance for that production. Always check the U.S. State Department website... Travel alerts have more to do with short-term events. Travel warnings are usually issued for ongoing situations that feature unstable governments, civil war, etc. Often, elections can be accompanied by instability.”

When shooting abroad, especially in sensitive regions, having some kind of outside security team is an imperative. “You want to consult with a company that specializes in hands-on, on-the-ground security,” emphasizes Washington. You don’t want to have a PA dealing with an emergency. You want to have close protection, if at all possible. You can’t take the chance of not having an eye on your talent. If you can’t afford close protection, at least hire someone to do a risk assessment. But you need to have experts who are experts. Producers aren’t experts; you want to work with a consultant or a company where security is all they do. They don’t have a production responsibility. They don’t care what the shot is or about making the day. And if something goes really bad, on a national/political level, every American is going to want to get out as fast as they can. It’s up to you and your team to do that due diligence, all the way up to securing, if necessary, a SAC phone and a safe house.”

On the other hand, “The behavior of your security is critical,” warns Pilcher. “On The Namesake, we filmed at Howarah Train Station in Calcutta. We had hired 50 security people to manage the crowd control. At one point, a security person swatted a crowd member with a bamboo stick and it caused a surge in the crowd, which then turned into a stampede. Our camera crew was knocked down. Luckily, there were no serious injuries, but the reality of what could have happened was very frightening, and needless to say, we wrapped for the day.”

The savviest producers, Washington observes, recognize that appearances as well as realities matter in evaluating security. “Perceived risk can be just as damaging to the project as real risk,” he continues. “Any perception of negligence on the production’s part is ultimately going to have the same consequence as actual negligence — your show is going to get shut down.”

For the smoothest experience, producers should hire as many local crew as possible and bring only the absolutely necessary crew out of country. Even more important, your out-of country crew should be experienced in traveling and demonstrate an affinity and flexibility for thriving in different cultural environments.

Despite its (usually modest) potential for danger, international production is only likely to become more popular as more nations around the world develop a production infrastructure and take steps to enter the global media industry. For producers and their crews, shooting in far-off locations is one of the most exciting aspects of the job, often providing not only great production value and budget incentives, but opportunities for personal enrichment and a more nuanced understanding of world culture — both at home and abroad. But the excitement of working outside the country should always be balanced by thorough research, prudent judgment and an informed understanding of the risks involved. As in most cases — in life as well as in production — common sense will get you a long way. But there’s no substitute for a competent security team and the right set of vaccinations.

*This article originally appeared in the March/April issue of Produced By magazine.



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Produced By Conference Early-Bird Registration Ends 4/30

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 28, 2014
Do not miss out on the opportunity to sign up for the 6th annual Produced By Conference with the discounted "early-bird" registration rates that end after April 30th.  

The Produced By Conference joins together with host Warner Bros. Studios to present the Produced By Conference 2014 on June 7th and 8th.

Each summer, the best and brightest in our industry come together just one weekend to speak and learn about current and evolving trends in production, distribution, finance, marketing, branding and media strategy. Our Conference, which sells out each year, is the only one to bring together the top producers and collaborators in film, television and new media to provide all the information vital to the success of your current and future projects.

Produced By Conference rates and registration:
http://www.producedbyconference.com/index.php?page=2014-register



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PGA Women's Impact Network: Stepping Up To Set The Agenda For Change

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 24, 2014
Updated: Monday, March 24, 2014

The news is troubling, and there’s no way to spin it: For the past 15 years, there has been no perceptible change in the proportion of women working behind the camera in the entertainment industry. The Celluloid Ceiling, a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, in assessing 250 of the top-grossing U.S. movies of 2012, found that women comprised only 9% of directors, 15% of writers, and 25% of producers. (The 1998 numbers: directors 9%; writers 13%; producers 24%.) As the size of films’ budgets drop (i.e., studio films to independent films to documentaries), the percentage of female participation rises. But even so, the lack of change over time at each level persists.

Assessments like this one have prompted the creation of the PGA Women’s Impact Network to broaden the Guild’s commitment to diversity with a focus on gender inequity.

At the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam and President of Women In Film Los Angeles Cathy Schulman announced the results of a first-of-its-kind research study examining gender disparity in American independent film in the last decade, followed by a plan of action to collaborate with other key organizations. Sundance/WIF’s efforts inspired PGA member Lydia Dean Pilcher to reach out to colleagues on the East and West Coasts to ask: "Are we doing enough? Can we do more?” The responses from 50+ members, collected by Pilcher and Deborah Calla, Chair of the PGA Diversity Committee in LA, were resounding in favor of further action.

Pilcher, one of the Chairs of PGA Green, cites the progress that has emerged from direct collaboration with the major studios and independent production companies. "By using the same model of a national committee, I have no doubt that PGA can make a significant social impact around gender inequity in the entertainment industry,” she asserts. The Guild’s membership is 47% female. Not only are we uniquely positioned by the strength of our membership, but we have a wealth of resources to offer in terms of utilizing our relationships with studios, unions, fellow guilds, and other allied organizations.

The newly-formed PGA Women’s Impact Network was approved as a national committee on November 11, 2013, at the Guild’s All Boards of Delegates Meeting in Los Angeles.  

Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles Study Examines Gender Disparity in Independent Film 

Professor Stacy L. Smith, Ph.D., a renowned expert on diversity and the media, of USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, led the Sundance/WIF landmark study. In the report, Dr. Smith explores individual, financial and industrial frameworks that have limited female creative professionals in distinct ways, as well as pathways and opportunities utilized by successful women subjects.

One producer in the study stated, "The majority of films made, in terms of content, are men’s stories… The stories [women] want to tell are women’s stories, and those don’t have the same commercial value. Or whether they really do have the same commercial capacity or not, they’re [not] perceived to have the same commercial potential as stories driven by men.”

Highlights of the Study include: 

·      FEMALE-SPECIFIC FINANCIAL BARRIERS emerged as the most frequently-cited barrier to women filmmakers. Interviews with content creators and industry gatekeepers yielded comments including the subject matter or sensibility of female-directed films being perceived as not commercially viable, confidence in a filmmaker’s ability, amount of funding, access or knowledge about finance, and finance-specific confidence.

·      MALE-DOMINATED NETWORKS permeate the upper ranks of the industry’s corporate structure, resulting in a "tilt” toward male priorities (at the expense of female priorities) in both the corporate culture of the industry and the types of stories and projects supported by the studios, networks and major production and finance companies.

·      SOCIAL NORMS AND STEREOTYPES about women and filmmaking were cited during production activities from financing through delivery. This incorporated the token status of females on set, objectification of women, which can contribute to lower performance, decreased technical resources or knowledge, and stereotype threat triggers. Gender equality on set is more common when females fill key leadership positions. This environment may also affect on-set experiences of emerging and/or seasoned content creators.

·      STRUGGLE FOR WORK/LIFE BALANCE. This was reported less often than the aforementioned financial barriers and male-dominated networks. But it is acknowledged that framing female unemployment after motherhood as a choice to "opt out,” neglects the fact that this choice is made within a context of workplace practices, which do not support a healthy career and family balance.

·      EXCLUSIONARY HIRING PRACTICES. Female directors face a real restriction in the range of properties they are hired to helm, thus foreclosing the opportunities to gain the experience needed to later attach to larger budget films. 

The full study can be found at:

http://www.sundance.org/programs/women-filmmakersinitiative/           

Lydia and Deborah introduced the PGA Women’s Impact Network at the November 2013 Sundance Institute/WIF Women and Finance Forum in LA, and PGA WIN will collaborate with Sundance on a similar finance forum planned for New york in the spring of 2014. These events are focused on midcareer support, and offer valuable opportunities to give accomplished female writers, directors and producers an overview of current film financing models, an understanding of what today’s investors are looking for, and training to bolster and harness confidence in the course of raising money for productions.

 
Women's Impact Network Chairs Lydia Dean Pilcher (left) and Deborah
Calla (right) with Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam,
Women In Film President Cathy Schulman, and Women's Impact
Network Co-ChairJoyce Pierpoline.
One of the first initiatives that the Committee will focus         on is an analysis of the existing diversity initiatives and training programs affiliated with studios, networks and other organizations. Building on the PGA’s solid member-driven profile in the realm of new media, another primary focus will be to facilitate the adoption of training programs for women in tech companies.

 

Television also will be a key area for PGA members to take the lead. In October 2013, the Directors Guild of America released a report reviewing more than 3100 episodes produced in the 2012–2013 network television season from more than 200 scripted television series, and found that male directors outnumbered female directors 4 to 1.

The World Economic Forum’s current annual Global Gender Gap Report ranks the United States 23rd out of 136 countries in the status of women. The U.S. ranks particularly low by international standards in wage equality and in numbers of women in the legislative branch. Twitter and other social media networks have become a key tool for activists raising social and political awareness. With women comprising the majority of social network users, these media have shone a brighter spotlight on gender inequity across many sectors of life.

In business, for example, while the percentage of female Board members at Fortune 500 finance and insurance companies has nearly doubled from 10% in 1995 to 19% in 2012, those Boards are still overwhelmingly male. Consultants at McKinsey & Company found that the international companies with more women on their corporate Boards far outperformed the average company in return on equity and other measures. In fact, at such companies, operating profit was 56% higher. 

In terms of the entertainment industry, there is encouraging news ahead for female perspectives in storytelling. At the recent Sundance/WIF Women and Finance Seminar, multiple panelists stated that female audiences, more than male, are now driving the VOD business. Howard Cohen, president of Roadside Attractions, said "Movies by and about women have a bigger marketplace now than ever before.” Stuart Ford of international sales company IM Global, echoed this, observing, "With the collapse of the male-driven DVD business, more buyers are looking for material that plays to female audiences on digital platforms.”

The PGA Women’s Impact Network seeks to connect interested Guild members of all genders through an active social media network. Everyone is invited to join and help our Guild set the agenda for change. A landscape of broader diversity in our industry not only will create a healthier culture, but will make us more effective and successful as producers.

Facebook: Producers Guild of America Women’s Impact Network

Twitter: @PGAWomen

The PGA Women’s Impact Network’s leadership includes Chairs Lydia Dean Pilcher and Deborah Calla, and Co-Chairs Laura Allen, Caitlin Burns, Martha Cotton, Lynn Hendee, Joyce Pierpoline and Rachel Watanabe-Batton.

- Article by Dana Kuznetzkoff

 

- Click here to see the MS Factor W.I.N. Toolkit

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2014 PGA Oscars Viewing and Recruitment Party

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 6, 2014
The 2nd annual PGA Oscars Viewing and Recruitment Party saw 200+ people watching, celebrating and networking with each other on a glamour filled night at the Farmer's Market Planet Dailies restaurant. The all-council event was hosted by the AP & New Media Councils and spearheaded by AP Council Chair Megan Mascena Gaspar and NMC Chair Michael Bellavia. Even before the first Oscar was handed out, 25 candidates had applied to the Guild. With applications still coming in using the event's special discount code, the recruitment event is on track to give the Guild another boost in membership beyond the recently cleared 6,000 benchmark.

Throughout the night, as specialty mixed drinks from sponsors Skinny Girl and Platinum Rye Entertainment flowed, business cards circulated and new members got an opportunity to meet PGA members up close and personal. While the presenters announced the Oscar winners, we had our own awards throughout the night, with prizes generously donated by The Grove and Farmer's Market retailers, an autographed poster from legendary producer Robert Evans, original Oscar posters with Ellen and copies of the latest version of Final Draft software and a free day to the Produced By conference.

With another successful year under the belt, we all look forward to The Producers Guild 2015 PGA Oscars Viewing and Recruitment Party.

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