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The Road to Argo

Posted By Jesse Gordon, Monday, February 25, 2013


By Jesse Gordon

The Producers Guild of America would like to pay tribute to Argo in celebration of its claiming Best Picture at the 2013 Academy Awards.  The following article is re-purposed from the Produced By Magazine.

Producer Grant Heslov brings real Hollywood experience to a "fake” Hollywood thriller

How does one create a suspenseful thriller in which the audience already knows the ending? It was a unique challenge faced by the team responsible for Argo, but as producer Grant Heslov will tell you, with a compelling story and the right personnel, the job is far less daunting.

"When you’re producing a film like this, you find a kernel of something, and you see the potential of it,” Heslov explains. "You see the end product in your mind, and your job is to realize that.” The film that Heslov and his colleagues were ultimately able to realize is the declassified story of CIA operative Tony Mendez, and his daring plan to free six Americans from Tehran in 1979. After Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy, six employees of the State Department managed to escape to hide out in the Canadian Ambassador’s home. With their lives at stake, Mendez crafted a caper in which the rescue team would pose as a movie crew for a fake science fiction film entitled Argo.

It’s a rich story, to be sure, but as Heslov would surely profess, that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making a quality film. "In this case,” he notes, "it was about finding the underlying material, finding the right writer, getting a script that we felt really strongly about, and getting a director that could then make the film we imagined from the first moment we thought about this.” That director turned out to be Ben Affleck — who also stars as Mendez — and his vision helped create a film that has garnered both wide critical praise and commercial success.

"Ben turned out to be a great partner,” Heslov shares. "He turned out to be one of those directors that allows a lot of input from a lot of people ... and not just from me, but from the cinematographer on down. And he’s able to filter out and take those bits that make sense.” It stands to reason that Affleck’s collaborative style as a director would resonate with Heslov, as the latter has spent the majority of his career working in tandem with another one of Hollywood’s most famous leading men, George Clooney.

Heslov was born and raised in the Palos Verdes area of Los Angeles, and he began his entertainment career working as an actor while attending the University of Southern California. He was taking an acting class at the time, and it was there that he met Clooney, now his longtime business and writing partner, as well as close personal friend. In what has become a wonderful piece of Hollywood legend, Heslov actually loaned Clooney a couple hundred dollars to get his first set of headshots. The two men have come a long way from the rigorous life of struggling actors, thanks in large part to their cooperative relationship. "Mostly, I work with George,” says Heslov, "and we have a real shorthand in the way that we work. We’re very collaborative because we mostly write the stuff together.” That partnership helped the duo garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Good Night, and Good Luck. The two gentlemen also operate their own production company, Smokehouse Pictures, which has a deal with SONY.

Like many success stories of the entertainment industry, Heslov has become a Hollywood jack-of-all-trades, having worked as an actor, producer, director, and writer. Though he spends the majority of his time behind the camera these days, Heslov’s work as a producer/writer/director has been directly impacted by his time as an actor. In fact, the first project that Heslov ever wrote and directed was inspired by a unique experience that he had had in the acting world. A short film titled Waiting for Woody, it’s the story of a Woody Allen fan who goes to audition for the eclectic director. Regarding a bizarre series of events that befell him, Heslov recalls, "My experience going to audition for him was like something out of a Woody Allen film. I was taking the subway there, it was summer, it was hot, and I got a bloody nose and bled all over my shirt. But I was almost an hour early, so I went and bought a new shirt. Then, when I got there, I couldn’t get in because they didn’t have my name, and they didn’t have the right information from my agent. And when I finally got in, and I was sitting there with all these weird people in the waiting room, everything from a midget to this unbelievably hot chick wearing snakeskin leather pants.” The experience was so unique that Heslov felt compelled to put it on paper, and thus began his writing career.

Though he relished the experience of writing and directing Waiting for Woody, Heslov continued to act in small roles for the next seven or so years, racking up credits in everything from The Scorpion King to True Lies. Then, in 2005, he sat down to pen Good Night, and Good Luck with Clooney, beginning his transition away from full-time actor. Since then, Heslov has stuck largely to writing (The Ides of March, The Monuments Men) and producing (The American, Leatherheads and Memphis Beat, in addition to the titles he’s co-written), although he does continue to act in many of the films he is involved in.

In 2009, Heslov made his feature length directorial debut with the film adaptation of The Men Who Stare at Goats, which starred Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, and of course, Clooney. While most first-time directors might feel pretty nervous being entrusted with a $20 million budget, Heslov seems to have been better prepared than most to make the leap. As he says of his prior cumulative experience, "I learned a lot through osmosis, just being on set. I would try to soak up everything; I was like a sponge. I think what I learned most was how to create an atmosphere where everyone can work and do their best work, without a lot of tension. I think that those are the best kind of sets, and where the best work gets done. There are some people that believe that if it’s chaotic and crazy and people are yelling, out of that comes good art and good work. While I believe that it can happen that way, it doesn’t have to happen that way. We’re so lucky to get to do what we do, to make it a drag seems counterintuitive.”


Heslov’s experience across different roles in the industry undoubtedly helped to prepare him for Argo. As with most historical dramas, the ultimate challenge lay in maintaining the perfect balance between doing justice to the events that occurred while at the same time juggling the cinematic elements that make for a quality film. In the interest of properly capturing the story’s essence, Heslov, Affleck, and Clooney (who also worked as a producer on the film) were in constant contact with Tony Mendez, himself. "I talked to Tony when we bought the article [on which the screenplay was based],” Heslov says. "Once we bought the article, we also optioned a chapter out of Tony’s book that dealt with this particular incident, so he was a consultant on the film. I talked with him, and then the writer [Chris Terrio] talked with him a lot, and went and visited him a bunch. When Ben [Affleck] came on, he met with Tony and went to Tony’s house, and they went to the CIA together. Tony also came to shooting, so he was pretty involved.” According to Heslov, Mendez and his family even make a small cameo in the airport scene when Affleck’s character is leaving for Tehran.

Despite working hard to portray as many of the details as accurately as possible, there were some clear artistic liberties that are taken in the interest of ratcheting up the suspense. The pacing, particularly in the third act of the film, departs a bit from the historical accounts, but Heslov is content with how the film ultimately balances the truth and the suspense. "We wanted to make sure that we were getting things right,” Heslov says. "And when I say ‘getting things right,’ I don’t mean that every beat of our story matched every beat of [Mendez’s] story, but that things looked right, and that the spirit of the operation was intact.”

Though Argo is largely billed as a thriller, the film does have its bits of lightheartedness, mostly provided John Goodman and Alan Arkin, who play the producers in the fake production company set up by the CIA. Though the majority of the films that Heslov is involved with tend to be dramatic, he remains a huge fan of comedy. "I love comedies,” he adds. "I wish that we could find some comedies to do, but it’s hard to find ones that are funny and aren’t just silly. The comedic elements of Argo are really up our alley.” The laughs in Argo mostly come as a self-aware critique of the ostentatious nature of the movie industry, with Goodman delivering lines like "So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything? You’ll fit right in.” The humor creates a more complex and varied story, which ultimately helps make the suspense toward the end even more palpable.

Visually, the film does a remarkable job of creating an accurate portrayal of the time period. From the cars, to the costumes, to the constant smoking, Argo’s viewers are instantly transported back to 1979. Even the color saturation feels native to the ’70s. The level of accuracy is made fully apparent in the film’s credit sequence, which presents a juxtaposition of the passport photos of the six actual U.S. diplomats with the passport photos made for the actors in the movie; the similarities are incredible. When asked if casting decisions were made in the interest of having the actors physically resemble the people they were portraying, Heslov responds, "Some of that was just dumb luck, and some of that was great hair and makeup work.” The sequence is beautifully tied together with a voice-over from President Jimmy Carter praising the efforts and bravery of the diplomats and Mendez. Interestingly, that sound bite is not actually from 1979, but was collected by the filmmakers specifically for the movie. "Ben had the idea of talking to Carter, which I thought was a brilliant idea, and a great touch.”

Despite the success of Argo and all the other projects he has been involved with, Heslov is not resting on his laurels, and he is currently hard at work on two major projects that look to be very promising. The first is an adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize–winning stage drama August: Osage County. Heslov and Clooney are involved as producers, with John Wells directing and Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts attached to star. In addition, Heslov and Clooney are co-writing their next screenplay, The Monuments Men. The World War II–era film is set to star Clooney, Daniel Craig, and Cate Blanchett, with Clooney once again donning the director’s cap. With those two projects taking up the majority of his time, Heslov has yet to figure out what his next project as a director will be. "I’m not looking too much past [those projects] at this point,” he admits, "but I definitely want to get behind the camera again.”

Given the significant success of Heslov’s career as a producer, this magazine can only counsel: Take your time.


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Nominees Interviews and Video

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 14, 2013

Best Picture Predictions Montage:

Ben Affleck talks Argo leading up to the Academy Awards:

Kathleen Kennedy talks Lincoln leading up to the Academy Awards:

Ang Lee talks Life of Pi leading up to Academy Awards:

Donna Gigliotti and Bruce Cohen talk Silver Linings Playbook:

Josh Penn talks Beasts of the Souther Wild leading up to Academy Awards

Michael G. Wilson talks Skyfall

Eric Fellner talks Les Miserables leading up to Academy Awards

Stacey Sher talks Django Unchained leading up to Academy Awards

 

MORE COMING SOON...

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Producing Animation with Alex Schwartz and Kristine Belson of DreamWorks Animation

Posted By James Fino, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

While preparing for our upcoming PGA/Dreamworks Master Storytelling event, I had the great fortune to spend time with two very accomplished DreamWorks Animation producers and fellow PGA members, Alex Schwartz (Mr. Peabody & Sherman) and Kristine Belson (The Croods).

Alex and Kristine were gracious enough to share details of their professional backgrounds and producing styles in the epic world of feature animation.

What are some of your favorite animated movies and TV shows that continue to influence and inspire you?

ALEX SCHWARTZ: Lately I find myself looking back at many of the classic Disney movies. The stories were simple and well told and yet elicited such deep emotional reactions. At the same time I am inspired by the unbridled zaniness of shows like Adventure Time. (And in the spirit of full disclosure I learned most of what I know about classical music from Bugs Bunny.)

KRISTINE BELSON: Bambi, Totoro, Spirited Away, Finding Nemo, all three Toy Story movies, The Incredibles, Coraline, Despicable Me, Spongebob, Adventure Time, Lilo and Stitch, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and last but for sure not least, Shrek.

Would you please share what your producing "path” in animation has been and what drew you to this very unique type of storytelling?

AS: I worked as a producer and a studio executive in live-action films for over 15 years before I began working in animation. One of those jobs was as a studio executive at Walt Disney Pictures under Jeffrey Katzenberg. Then, about five years ago, I found myself at a crossroads, leaving a company at which I had been head of production for some time. Jeffrey offered me the opportunity to become Head of Development at DWA. It was a leap into something I had never done before, and I had a fair amount of trepidation. But I have fallen completely in love with this art form, the way animated movies are made and the people who make them.

KB: Throughout my career I’ve worked both as a film executive and film producer, but always in live action. I became fascinated with animation when I was running the film side of the Jim Henson Company, which at that time was starting to explore various types of animation. My experience there led me to DreamWorks Animation in 2005. Although I had been producing films for Henson, I did not come into DWA in a producing capacity. I was initially running the development department, primarily working on scripts like Puss in Boots, Shrek 4, and Rise of the Guardians in their earliest stages. I was also lucky enough to get a little involved with a few shows that were in production, including Kung Fu Panda and Shrek the Third, which taught me a lot about the animation pipeline. However, while my time on the development side was invaluable, at heart I am a producer, and I yearned to get back to that. And fortunately, Bill Damaschke and Jeffrey Katzenberg were kind enough to give me my first shot at producing in animation with The Croods, a project I started working on five years ago, which finally hits screens this March!

When you are developing and producing an animated feature, what skillset from live-action proves most useful and which new skills did you find you needed to develop?

AS: Regardless of whether the film is live-action or animated, stories and characters have to compel, delight and surprise people, and it’s one of our jobs to help ensure that’s the case in either medium. In regards to animation specifically, one of the most challenging shifts in approach I came to embrace is the understanding that the story reel (as opposed to the screenplay) is really the draft form of the movie, and many elements, including the script, contribute to it. That said, I am probably more "script-driven" than many traditional animation producers, and I think that approach of committing to a strong story on the page is something I brought with me from live action.

KB: For me, producing boils down to a few simple ingredients: having good taste, being good with people, being hard-working and organized—and not being afraid. Those skills serve you equally well in animation and live action.

As for new skills I had to develop, I think people in the live-action world can be more aggressive than they are in animation, so, I’ve had to learn to be less pushy and more patient – a virtue that is definitely required when you can spend upwards of four years making one movie!

What are key distinctions between live action and animation developing and production would you would stress to other producers who are interested in crossing over to animation from live action?

AS: Animation development and production is a focused and iterative process. It takes a long time because every element of the movie is created -- characters, light, dust, shadows. There are no happy accidents. And while actors bring a great deal to the characters they play in animated films, you don't get the built-in gift of their charm, charisma or beauty on the screen, so the characters have to be invented in a very deep way. The market in animation also seems to have its own rules. While you can have 5 live-action super-hero movies out in a single summer or several horror movies at Halloween, that simply doesn’t seem to be the case in animation. Animated films are expected to deliver an almost impossibly high degree of originality – both in the characters they feature as well as the worlds they live in, which is part of makes them both unbelievably challenging and fun to make.

KB: I was immediately impressed by how story-focused DWA is. The studio’s commitment to storytelling excellence was evident even in the interview process. It was exciting and refreshing – I loved it. There’s a rigor to story development in animation, with greater attention to character, plot and theme, so I would caution any live-action producers who are looking to cross over: if you don’t like to talk story, don’t become an animation producer!

What are some myths about developing or producing animation you’d like to see people let go of?

AS: The idea that somehow producing animated movies is a slow-moving process. They may take a long time to make, but they are anything but slow. It's a multi-year sprint.

KB: That’s tough. Perhaps that animation people are more nerdy than live action people? If so, then the people here are the coolest nerds I have ever met. The truth is that every film here evolves differently, so any set myths about producing animated movies must not be true.

What are some new breakthroughs, either technological, or creative, you feel have made a significant impact on the way modern animation is being developed and produced?

AS: Animation is the ultimate intersection of art and technology. At DreamWorks, we have integrated technology into our business – not only as a way to help filmmakers achieve their vision, but also as an initiative in its own right, creating open source technology to help elevate the field as a whole. In regards to Mr. Peabody & Sherman specifically, we’re using advancements in lighting technology earlier in the filmmaking process—in the layout stage—to help us better understand how to improve the final film. Layout artists are the cinematographers of animation. It is the first rough stage of the pipeline. Traditionally, layout looks gray and colorless with no approximation of lighting or acting; the characters are blocky and move like robots with very little expression. On Mr. Peabody & Sherman, our layout team has been taking advantage of improvements in the Maya software to create more sophisticated movement than was previously possible. And while lighting typically takes place much later in the process, our layout artists work very closely with our lighting team so that early on, we have a sense of how the scene will really look and feel. This also enables us to screen layout for audiences where previously we might have needed to go back to story boards.

KB: Not being a technical person, I am not going to address specific technical breakthroughs. I will say that technology and R&D are a very big priority here, and I am constantly impressed. One of the creative breakthroughs that has been exciting to me personally is that our philosophical approach to lighting has gotten much more sophisticated. Roger Deakins has consulted on several of our films including The Croods. Also the use of camera continues to become more bold with each new film. And I continue to be amazed by how the bar for character animation just gets higher and higher – wow.

On Feb. 5th we are very excited to work with you and Dreamworks to host the second Master Storytelling event focusing on the role of storyboarding in feature animation development. What do you intend PGA members and guests to come away with?

AS: I hope PGA members gain a greater understanding of how visual story telling can be part of the development process. I also think it’s a great opportunity for members to develop an appreciation of the amazing versatility and virtuosity of animation board artists.

KB: I hope they come away with a deeper appreciation of the artistry of our story artists, who combine the skills of a writer, visual artist and actor.

What would you say is the most valuable benefit you’ve experienced as a PGA member?

AS: I appreciate the sense of community. And I am very excited about the Producers Mark. I can't wait to use it!

KB: Good timing to be answering this question, as I just attended the Producers Guild Awards last weekend! It was a fun night. It always feels so gratifying to hang out with my community of peers. The PGA has come so far since I joined, and I’m excited for its future. I’m also excited for The Croods to come out this March, when my producing partner Jane and I will have the Producers Mark next to our names.
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WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU ALL AT OUR EVENT TONIGHT! Please Stay tuned for additional Master Story-telling sessions in the near future! http://www.producersguild.org/events/event_details.asp?id=291107


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PGA Awards Media

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 4, 2013


A staple in the Hollywood Award Season, the PGA Awards is a night to honor some of the hardest workers in the industry who do not always get the same recognition as their star actor or director counterparts---Producers.

Here you will find press video and images from a wonderful evening that was stacked with Hollywood's finest.


Photos below

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On The Ground at RealScreen '13

Posted By Renee Rosenfeld, Tuesday, January 29, 2013

 
Day 1: SIZZLING CHARACTERS ON THE MENU
The RealScreen Summit kicked off this week to a sold-out attendance for the second year in a row. PGA members are among the 2,200 attendees from around the world being welcomed to Washington, DC by the National Capital Chapter. The annual non-fiction summit is a mash-up of network execs mining for great content and producers pitching the next big hit.

If you’ve sat in on any sessions, there’s one buzzword filling your head: character, character, character. Character is driving non-fiction more than ever and the networks are searching for characters to launch breakout hits.

Lauren Cardillo reports that the verdict for the feature doc industry is that Netflix and iTunes are great, but international distribution is the key to success because indie docs here are a "niche of a niche of a niche.”

KC Shillihan brings tips from "Sizzle to Green Light.” Discovery’s Joe Weinstock and producer Scott Gurney suggest you ask yourself a few questions before making the investment in a sizzle…

· How many networks can I sell this to? If it’s less than three you might want to pass.

· How real are my characters?

· What is the show’s hook? Always place your hook (or key character) in the first minute of your sizzle and use the remaining time to create the "world” they live in.

· What makes your show stand out? Focus your sizzle on your unique access or strong emotional edge.

· State your case in 3-5 minutes; 3 minutes is generally agreed to be the sweet spot.

· Spend your money on an ace editor—they’re worth their weight in gold!

"You’re Trending, So What?” explored the intersection of digital and social media. Social shows are still the minority but are widely regarded as the future. The growth for social is coming from the younger (under 36) and African American audiences. Digital is moving so quickly that nobody is even sure what it is. The science of mining data from Twitter and other platforms still leaves a lot to be desired. Regardless, there are platforms and data services like Trendrr being spawned that are demystifying the key to driving audiences, buzz and creating evangelical "super-viewers.” Social will help put your fans to work for you.

Plan ahead and promote shows to seed events. A call to action is usually the best way to drive up social engagement. 81% of social engagement is coming from mobile devices and half of those are iPhones. By making characters part of the conversation, you expand the life of the show. Off-air conversations keep things going long after they’ve logged their first performance. Your super-viewers are hungry for content, so don’t forget to turn the camera around to give them a sneak peak at what’s happening behind the camera.

With the success of Duck Dynasty and Honey Boo Boo, comedy is on everybody’s mind. With the desire to have character drive content, finding funny ones is tricky. Then there’s the difficulty of the comedy translating in foreign markets.

National Geographic’s David Lyle led a discussion of "The Hunt for the Next Big Thing.” The character-over-format theme was reiterated. Look ahead to the next big thing; don’t try to catch up once the train has left the station. Freemantle’s Thom Beers sees a shift from blue collar characters to finding new angles on new-found wealth.

Probably the most interesting development since last year’s summit was the rise of "fictional drama.” Non-fiction networks are looking for that "big, noisy, brand-defining” scripted series that will move the network forward. The success of History’s Hatfields and McCoys has ushered in a new era. Audiences are responding to the level of authenticity behind narrative drama in the non-fiction arena. By using their reality reputations, nets are attracting new audiences with major actors portraying larger-than-life historical figures. Science is set to premiere Feynman and the Challenger starring William Hurt in the title role, following the man behind the investigation of the Challenger disaster. With feature budgets beyond reach, there’s opportunity for indie producers in unlikely places.

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Day 2: REAL INSIDERS

The discussion of factual television continued to take center stage at the National Capital’s signature Insider Breakfast series Tuesday morning, welcoming PGA member Lori McCreary, James Younger & Bernadette McDaid, the producing team behind Science’s hit series Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman. McCreary laid out the unlikely tale of how Revelations Entertainment’s early foray into digital delivery, "ClickStart,” gave birth to the series.

The integrity of the storytelling and commitment to craft are central to the producers’ belief in the show’s success. Everything from Younger’s insistence on shooting with Arri Alexa cameras to keeping the look consistent by using a core group of DPs helps create high production value. Despite its in-depth look into cosmic questions, ironically, explaining the science sometimes comes down to some pretty low-tech storytelling, a badge of honor the producing team is proud to wear.

What is the Science Channel’s brand filter?

McDaid explained that Science strives to be the thought provocateur. "Wormhole is brand-defining.” McCreary continued to explain that they make the show so that the subject matter is relatable and encourages the audience always to be thinking, not passive. The show keeps character central and the narrative on target with scientists. Wormhole has created scientists who are "cool” and have a loyal following. Add to that Morgan Freeman’s insistence on understanding everything he reads, and the production process ensures authenticity. To make the show work, the team is committed to "going for it.” If you’re going to jump off, then jump—grow the wings as you go.

Science is also using digital to drive viewership, combining a co-viewing app, transmedia and casting online. A social campaign called "flock to unlock” requires 5,000 tweets to release a cool clip.

What is Science looking for?

"Watch the channel,” advises McDaid. Science is looking for high-end productions. McDaid explained that they want thought-provoking, intelligent shows for a proactive audience. The network is in the market for a new tent-pole, something they can own. With Oddities and Through the Wormhole performing so well, what is the next network-defining series?

As with all the nets, producers must submit pitches through the producer’s portal.

Catching Up with Leopard Films’ Harlan Freedman

The RealScreen Summit is also a chance to catch up with PGA member Harlan Freedman, a reality TV veteran who has mentored many PGA members. Harlan says he’s found his calling as VP of Development at Leopard Films USA. He believes that RealScreen gives producers the opportunity to get the network execs out from behind their desks and interact. It’s a chance to see peers and celebrate the mission.

Harlan, working with his New York counterpart Michael Winter, has set up projects at Game Show Network, Food Network, The Weather Channel, HDTV and DIY. He describes reality trends as cyclical and following the current culture. He surmises that as the country is moving away from the recession, shows about love and relationships as well as comedy will be popular.

Nichelle Newsome reports back with these notes from the sessions:

Lauren Gellert, VP Original Programming, WE TV

• WE likes to indulge in programming that takes people away from themselves for a minute, away from the stresses of the economy.

• WE TV likes to work with smart, cost efficient companies.

• Their goal is to feature programming that shows how women contribute to the bottom line of a personal or family budget.

"The Real Business of Housewives: Translating A Hit into A Franchise"

with Matt Anderson, Lucilla D'Agostino, Shari Levine, Douglas Ross

• Key to making a show like "Housewives” successful is getting the cast members to trust you as a producer, to let you see everything in their lives.

• It's about catching "lightning in a bottle."

• The music, the look of the show, is the "frosting on the cake" and is an important part of the branding.

• Recasting is a big part of keeping a series fresh and keeps viewers coming back

and keeps the cast on edge and honest.

• Make sure you’re a "pot-stirrer."

The producers also took a moment to respond to the criticism of the show as "negative stereotyping”:

• The success of a franchise negates the criticism.

• Events that occur on the show are not contrived. You sit down with a paper and pen and write down what's going on in their lives.

• It's an organic process.

• People forget that cameras are there and they become free; thus driving where the story goes.

• "Audio drives reality...the mics are a producer's friend."

David Eilenberg, VP Unscripted Development, Turner

• Turner looks for quality popcorn, good mainstream comedy.

• Goal is to produce comedy that you can laugh with and not laugh at.

• Both networks (TNT and TBS) are gender-equal.

• Would like to jazz up programming without offending its core audience, which skews somewhat older.

From Lauren Cardillo:

Several panels stood out. Alex Gibney talked about his creative process, the recent acquisition of his company by a UK firm, and his newest film, Mea Maxima Culpa. While his films often are uncomfortable to watch, he said "each one has to be entertaining, too."

The "Future History" session looked at the future of history programming. The panelists all agreed that this a golden age of factual, and there are many great outlets for shows based in the past. Centering a show on a big anniversary (such as the sinking of the Titanic, or the start of WWI) with a new spin always sells.

Finally, "Entertainment vs. Altruism" explored the great desire to make docs that change something in the world. Is it possible to make money as a business and do good well at the same time? The verdict: Yes, but

From Dara Padwo-Audick:

Documentaries should create dialogue between opposing factions not just support the views of one side. One-sided docs are propaganda. Documentarians should strive for truth. The theatrical outlet is disappearing for docs. Documentaries of the future will find their home on digital platforms.

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Day 3: RealScreen Summit: Takeaways
By
Kate Culpepper

The much-touted So You Think You Can Pitch competition was off to a running start last night at Real Screen. The Ballroom was filled up with an eager crowd. A spot of serious fun--we get to be dazzled (or disappointed) by four on-the-verge new programming ideas and pick up some solid-gold tips on what to do--or not to do--in our own pitches. The big four lined up on stage, judging cards in hand. the panel for this year's schadenfreudelicious industry competition was: Tim Duffy, SVP of Original Series, Spike TV; Andy Singer, GM, Travel Channel; Nancy Daniels, EVP for Production and Development, Discovery Channel; and Robert Sharenow, EVP of Programming, Lifetime Networks. All four cast large shadows in our industry, and facing them all at once would have any sane competitor at least a bit sweaty-palmed!

With a million-watt smile and a quick wit, Survivor host and No Opportunity Wasted entrepreneur Phil Keoughan warmed up the audience and without further ado, the competition was on! Johanna Eliot and Jennifer Comeau from Ocean Entertainment took the stage with their true-crime investigative show To Catch a Killer. A strong showing, and a confident pitch. The panel didn't take it easy on the contestants--their questions dissect the show, it's goals, and how it will act on them visually and emotionally. Comeau and Eliot deftly handle every question that comes their way. Pitching tip 1--know your show inside-out and be prepared for anything!

Next up was the stylish team of Sara Madsen and Korey Miller from 1820 Productions. Even in this nerve-wracking environment, when a judge jokingly asked Sara if her shoes were Jimmy Choos, she turned it right back around and said there would be no Jimmy Choos in her closet until she sells this show! (Tip 2--have a sense of humor and use it!) They started off with a strong profile of their company and their successes and segue right into their show--a hybrid weight loss-singing competition called Sing It Away. Their energy was great, and the sizzle really popped. Back to the judges for feedback and scoring!

Our first solo pitch--and only European candidate--hit the stage next. David Notman-Watt of back2back introed and sizzled his high-octane rock-and-roll blend Highway to Hell-- AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson indulging his taste for exotic cars and race-car driving. (Tip 3--if you can attach a famous face, do it!) Duffy commented that he feels AC/DC's relevance is at a low-ebb (an assessment my colleague and I vehemently disagree with!), but the panel agreed there was something percolating in there, and scores are presented.

Another solo act (bravery!), Lunchbox Communications' Dafna Yachin takes the stage to introduce The Stable--a multi-episode reality program following 3 up-and-coming Philadelphia-based boxers. It's got heart, it's got action, it's relatable, and it's got a kick-ass sizzle--one judge comments that it could be aired. But it was what happened next that really rocked the room. The backstage curtain lifted, and our 3 heros took the stage sporting full-on boxing bling (I never knew those belts were SO massive!). (Tip 3--make it memorable!) Thunderous applause. I don't watch boxing, but now I want to start.

The four competitors brought their A-game and it was a tough stage, but in the end, with a final score of 33 out of a possible 40, Yachin KO'd the competition and won the night. And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go program my dvr with a wishlist search for The Stable!

The "Constructed" Conundrum

This was the panel I looked forward to the most, and it didn't disappoint. The panel was in agreement--to make an entertaining show with a satisfying payoff, some level of construction is essential. How much is permissible should be guided by your brand, what your viewers will still respect you for in the morning (so to speak), and staying true to your characters (the importance of careful casting could not have been stressed more by the panel). Moderator Phil Fairclough summed it up pretty succinctly saying: "Authenticity is key, don't forget the pig."

Global Production: The Pros and Cons

Adaptability is the key to survival when programming for multi-national audiences. Think when planning--can a great show for the UK be easily tweaked to play to local tastes in Spain or Singapore? While English is still the lingua franca for multi-national programs, heavy-handed cultural flavors (particularly American) are a turn off. The panel highlighted their interest in seeing programming that represented real, quality storytelling, scaling back on "constructed" reality, and keeping your topics relatable (avoiding localized issue-driven programming).

30-minutes with Nancy Daniels, EVP Porgramming and Development, Discovery Channel

· Looking for stories about nature, "man vs. wild", subcultures, and history.

· Primarily looking for episodic television.

· Humor is an important part of Discovery's programming, whether it stems from the characters or the situations. Even in serious subjects, look for places to add levity.

· Discovery Channel's programming skews to a male 25-54 demographic.

· Fit and Health skews to a female 25-54 audience, primarily caregivers looking for characters or stories they can relate to. Their top-rated show right now is True Stories of the ER.

Future History

Fresh storytelling is the future of the history market--breathing new life into a familiar or dry topic can be as simple as finding a new way in. "Disastertainment" and big anniversaries are bringing success, but it's finding new ways in that is key. Multiple Titanic stories rated very well in 2012, and European and Canadian broadcasters are commissioning for the WWI centennial (July 2014 is coming fast!). Broadcasters are also increasingly open to scripted history, exemplified by History's upcoming fully-scripted show Vikings premiering in March. PS--If anyone has a brilliant WWI pitch, Sarah Jane Flynn announced she was still looking!


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