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Feature: Hot Water

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Swampy the alligator

Hot Water
by Chris Thomes
The inside scoop on Disney’s successful mobile game, Where’s My Water?

In the world of storytelling through games, Disney has thrown the baby out with the bath water — kind of. They continue to expand their world of new characters beyond movies, television, and theme parks into the digital realm of mobile apps with Swampy the alligator, Disney’s newest original character and the star of the new app game, Where’s My Water? Developed by the team behind the top-selling JellyCar franchise, Where’s My Water? follows the story of Swampy the alligator and his quest to be clean. While this physics-based puzzle game for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch may seem a like a familiar puzzle solver, the story behind how Disney made this game is all about the reconception of storytelling itself ... with a little pixie dust thrown in, of course.

Water, Water Everywhere: Cutting Through the Clutter With a Killer App
The Apple App Store features more than 500,000 apps, 100,000 of which are game and entertainment titles. To cut through this clutter and rise to the top of the game charts (an absolute must if one’s game is to have any chance of success), a game must be designed to fit what Bart Decrem, executive in charge of Disney Interactive Media Studios’ Where’s My Water? calls the "Twitter era.”


Bart Decrem
"We are all competing for attention. Games, I believe, have an advantage over longer forms of media, because we live in an attention-deficit era, where people are on the go and only have 30 seconds to engage. They are waiting for a meeting to start, waiting for a table, on the bus. We are living in a Twitter era where everything takes 30 seconds and 140 characters. So when you look at Angry Birds or Where’s My Water?, they have a great advantage over movies or TV. They can be played in 30-second increments.”

Every impatient person seems to have an iPhone or iPad. Mobile devices are now baked into the fabric of everyday life and gaming is a major part of that. According to Decrem, the mobile gaming platform is in its infancy but shows tremendous promise for entertainment.

"We are at the very early stages of figuring out how to engage users, what a story is, what a character is ... we don’t really know how to play on this canvas yet... There is a growing generation of people, kids in particular, for whom this is their home. This is their main device. It’s not the computer, it’s not the phone, not even the TV. The reason you see so much activity around the iPhone is that it is disrupting a number of industries. It’s disrupting how people consume most of their content, movies, TV, video rentals, all that.

"As opposed to the laptop,” continues Decrem, "which started out for productivity, the core of these mobile devices is that they are made for fun. The adoption is being driven by consumers who love it and they want to do fun things on it like talking to friends, Facebook, watching movies or TV, and playing games. Entertainment is the ‘killer app’ on this platform. So this is a really important platform for the Walt Disney Company.”

You Can Lead a Horse to Water: Captivating an Audience With Killer Mechanics
Where’s My Water? features 120 levels of challenging puzzles, rich graphics, humorous effects, and a story that unfolds over time. Yes, a story — but perhaps not the kind most people are used to. In games, story typically takes a back seat to a more important element in game design: mechanics. Game mechanics are systems of rules intended to produce enjoyable game play. All games utilize mechanics, from Candy Land and Monopoly to trendsetting video game franchises like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Theories and approaches differ as to the integration of mechanics with story or theme. But in general, the process and study of game design are efforts to come up with game mechanics that allow for people play- ing a game to have a fun and engaging experience.

Bart Decrem believes that starting with a great character and then making a game from it is a backward way of making a game. Instead, he suggests the inverse is true, that "we start with a game mechanic that is going to be really great. We had [designed] this really cool mechanic around digging. We played around with it and prototyped it until it felt really good. Then we spent several months asking ourselves, ‘What are we digging for? What’s going on down there?’ And we realized that there are alligators there, living in the sewers. As we kept brainstorming, we found Swampy, who’s a little different and likes to take showers. And the game fell into place from there.”


"Once we had the mechanic,” he summarizes, "we looked at different stories, including different Disney characters. We didn’t set out to make new IP. We set out to make a great game.”

This runs counter to what most marketing groups in big studios do with TV and movie IP. Typically they license the game rights out to a developer/publisher like THQ. From there, the game is typically reverse-engineered to fit the plot or story of the original linear media. Decrem suggests that the most effective and successful games start with great game play, and back into their stories. It’s the inverse of linear content development.

Making Waves: Microstories
When stories do make their way into games, Decrem notes that they often show up as "microstories.” These short bursts of narrative or emotional engagement help create a deeper connection to the characters and their mission. These moments of story can be an animated character’s disappointment, as is the case with Swampy when the game player fails to solve a level’s puzzle challenge. They help motivate the player by moving them with pathos, however simple and light.

Similar to Where’s My Water?, the now-classic Angry Birds uses "cut scenes” to show the conflict between the green pigs and the angry birds. These are merely camera moves on still illustrations — simple stuff. Which goes to show that story in games really does take a back seat to game play, since you don’t need much story to engage the player/audience. Players are really there for one thing — playing.

Troubled Waters: Swampy’s Story
But when story does appear in a game, Disney is not a minimalist. As a company known for great characters and IP curation, Disney takes storytelling seriously.

Swampy’s story was no simple matter. Other existing Disney characters were initially considered. When they did not fit the game play, new characters were proposed that fit the activity of the mechanics. Sketches were made, designs and character back story were carefully crafted, and a plot thru-line was developed for the game, appearing as animated panel "breaks” where the story unfolds between levels.

In this way, we learn that Swampy the Alligator lives under the city and yearns for a more human-like existence. He is especially fond of cleanliness. The other alligators do not take kindly to Swampy’s eccentricities and have conspired to sabotage his water supply.

Swampy is cute, he’s funny, and he just wants to take a bath with his beloved rubber ducky. Richly detailed graphics and animation bring Swampy and his subterranean world to life. Even the music is part of a compel- ling story. Its quirky beats and chimes are as whimsical as Swampy himself, and make playing the game more fun as they provide the heartbeat of Swampy’s world.


Wet Behind the Ears: Managing Game IP
So now that Disney has started to master story in games, how do these pieces fit into their otherwise linear franchise machine? Disney is well known for managing its franchises like no other. (They even have a central group for franchise management.) So how will they greet and manage Swampy? With open arms, of course. But that doesn’t mean they have a process for it — yet. Decrem notes that now, when they are placing characters into games, they are asking new questions.

"We start with a great game. But where’s the heart? And where’s the family? Disney’s stories have these at their core. Can we think of a character that has heart and is aspirational? If we do that, we will have a more franchisable character... Disney has taught us as game makers to think deeper and harder about character and the story arc and a world that is aspirational and rich so that the whole Walt Disney Company can go and contribute to and build on it as a franchise.”
So even for a master franchise management company, there is some-thing new to learn about interactive IP; from how it’s made, to extensions into other media and consumer products. Angry Birds may be the textbook example to follow — take an ingeniously designed game with unknown IP and get everyone to play it, then carefully extend it beyond the game into partnerships (like Angry Birds Rio) and ultimately into consumer products (I just bought my Angry Birds key ring) and then into TV and movies. (Marvel Studios Chairman David Maisel was hired in July to advise Rovio’s fledgling movie division.)


Will Swampy be on a key ring or in a TV show? Well, in November, YouTube and Disney announced a deal that will distribute an original animat- ed Web series based on Swampy and his world. So, I guess the answer would seem to be: "very likely.”


Every Drop Counts

Decrem calls developing games for existing IP a treacherous assignment. It runs counter to the notion of developing a great game mechanic first. Fun comes first. Character and pathos will find their way and follow, and if care- fully done, the results can be magical.


"Always start with the game,” Decrem dictates. "Ask yourself, is it fun to play, and do people care about the characters? As we talk to people about the game, we hear them say, over and over, ‘We need to help Swampy. He gets sad when he can’t take his shower.’ That’s why I’m so proud of the game. It’s a character that’s worthy of Disney.”


Chris Thomes is the Chair of the PGA New Media Council.


Update: 1/25/2012

Swampy T-shirt on sale at Disney


Good to the Last Drop

So, a few weeks back, I asked if Disney's new character, Swampy, from their mobile game Where's My Water would ever be on a key ring? I guessed "very likely.” As it would happen, I was in the Disney Store today and looked up to see that crazy Disney machine in action. There was Swampy, in all his glory, on a t-shirt. So guess digital has finally come into its own. It seems to be driving franchises like never before. Like the Angry Birds plush animal sitting on my desk at work, I can now don my Swampy T and impress my kids with how cool I am. So the next time you wonder if an annoying orange, an angry bird, or a shower-less alligator can make a small fortune going from little ole digital into, well, everything everywhere, now you know. Yes, it can.

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AT THE AWARDS 2012

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
At the Producers Guild Awards 2012
By PGA

Click here if you cannot see the slideshow.
It’s been a little over a week since the Producers Guild Awards, and our collective hangover is finally starting to lift. It was an unbelievable time – such a good time, in fact, that we can only recall bits and pieces of it. We remember Michael Rappaport being pretty damn excited when Beats, Rhymes & Life won the feature documentary award. We remember Alicia Keys belting out a couple of amazing songs, and Kathleen Kennedy getting a little verklempt accepting the animated feature Award for Tintin. We remember laughing at George Clooney’s introduction for Les Moonves, though the specific jokes are a little hazy right now. Don Mischer may have shown a home movie at some point. We may be making that last part up, we’re not sure.

But mostly, we remember having a hell of a time, doing our best to navigate a room that was as full of stars, producers and power players as any we’ve ever seen. We saw Brian Grazer chatting with Angelina Jolie, while Hawk Koch and Warren Beatty were talking shop at the next table over. We pretended to be looking for another cocktail while we were secretly eavesdropping on J.J. Abrams, who was saying all kinds of smart things. Even better, someone handed us another cocktail anyway. We got our picture taken with Stan Lee. It seemed like everyone got their picture taken with Stan Lee. Finally: Judd Apatow – if it looked like we were hitting on your daughter, we absolutely were not doing that, and besides, it was a total accident, and we are very, very, very sorry, is what we’re trying to say.

A lot of the rest of the night is kind of a blur, except for Brad Pitt, who somehow stayed in perfect focus. We’re grateful for the accompanying slide show, which has helped to fill in some of the gaps. But even more so, we’re grateful for the hard work and outstanding taste of Awards Co-Chairs Paula Wagner and Michael Manheim; working together with their talented team, they created an incredible evening that we’ll always partially remember.

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PGA Plants Hope With Habitat For Humanity

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
PGA Plants Hope With Habitat For Humanity
By Brent Roske

Golf. Sailing. Hauling dirt. What do these 3 things have in common? I’m glad you asked!

5am on Saturday came too quick. I had to get to the Starbucks in Long Beach by 7 to make it to the build site by 745 - the first 20 miles of driving was mentally pretty foggy. 2 boxes of coffee, a bunch of muffins and bagels and I was off to the build site.

I didn’t know much about Habitat for Humanity before then. Here’s what they do and why they do it: Habitat builds houses for qualifying families, which is one that needs some housing help and can make the mortgage payments on the house once it’s finished. Habitat calls it ‘a hand up and not a hand out’ which sounds good to me. Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man how to drive a nail through a fish with a high-powered nail gun and you’ll get a good photo. Every family that is accepted into the program has to work 500 hours at a Habitat property - often at the home they’ll be living in - building ‘sweat equity’. A normal workweek here in the States is 40 hours (not for us hard working producers but we’re special) so over the year it takes to build a Habitat house the owners are certainly putting in their time.

We got hats. Brand new PGA Green Committee baseball hats and a cup of coffee and we were split up into teams. I was put on landscape because I guess they didn’t want me inside the house. Our team’s job was to level the front yard so we could put some plants in. It had been over 12 years since I last touched a wheelbarrow for either business or pleasure (don’t ask). Everybody grabbed a shovel and started filling them up so R.J. Hume and I became ‘Dirt Removal Team Alpha’ (our own name). The first half of our day: Fill the wheelbarrow, wheel it to the dump, lift it with R.J., dump the dirt, repeat.

At the start of the workday we had a group prayer. Habitat for Humanity is a faith-based organization and all faiths are welcome. I had a moment of surprise when I realized that during the prayer all 24 PGA producers weren’t talking! I’m sure that’s some sort of record.

That day we painted, cut tile, sawed wood, dug, planted, hauled stuff, and used muscles that at least for me had been dormant and un-flexed for too long. And the best part? We were there not because we had to be, or because we were getting paid for it, or because we expected anything from it. We were there because a family of 5, who had been living in a one bedroom apartment for years (mom, dad and 3 sons in 700 square feet), now would get to live in a house that they applied for, worked hard to help build and will be responsible for the upkeep and payment for once they move in. With all the partisan politics, economic troubles and other daily struggles we all face, simple acts like helping someone build their house is about as gratifying as you can get. As producers, most of our careers are spent talking – talking about projects, creating excitement, generating funding, casting – you get it. I don’t think I’ve talked less in a day than on the build with Habitat, and there is a good feeling that comes with the tactile experience of creating a home that kids will laugh in.

So, to answer the question at the top of this article: what does golf, sailing and hauling dirt have in common? Find out for yourself by volunteering for a day with Habitiat for Humanity. (and then go golfing and sailing).

If you would like to see more pictures from the PGA Habitat for Humanity, go to our Facebook Page.

Thank you to our Sponsor Safecig for making this year’s build possible. For more information about Safecig, go to www.thesafecig.com.

For more information about PGA Green, go to: www.pgagreen.org or join our Facebook page.

For more information about volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, go to: www.habitatla.org

Brent Roske is a member of the PGA Green Committee and his short film ‘African Chelsea’ is now qualified for Oscar consideration.

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Feature - Film and TV Top 5 Aha Moments

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012


This five-week 10-hour series, led by RUI Subject Matter Experts and USC Marshall School of Business professors, took a deep dive into the financial underpinnings producers must understand in our industry.
TOP 5 Film & TV Finance Series Aha! Moments

by Deanna McDaniel

"Whenever someone says, ‘You’re in television? Well, I don’t watch television,’ I want to slug them. Do they know they’re missing some of the most informative and fabulous forms of entertainment that have ever existed?” This statement, from television luminary Rod Perth, is one of the many provocative thought points we came away with during the PGA/Really Useful Information (RUI) Film & TV Finance series, held over a five-week period at CBS Radford Studios and Raleigh Studios.

We learned some good news from our instructors — for instance, that original programming (not reruns!) is the only way that cable channels can establish themselves as a brand. Feature films are recouping investments with up to 10-year pay cycles that include theatrical box office, home video, pay-per-view, pay TV, a matching international cycle, online delivery systems, merchandising and soundtrack revenue streams.

Okay, great. I’m off to the races. Now, how does this financing thing work again? No worries. I have a new mantra. NPV. Net Present Value, my friends. If you believe your budget is $25 million because that is the amount of funding you raised through equity, loans, and gap financing, think again.

Following are five aha! moments and the hard-core learning behind the RUI series:

#1 Money Costs Money
Let’s start with what should be the most obvious — but is often the most forgotten — piece of the puzzle. Money costs money. Period. If you borrow money, investors will expect an annual rate of return for the use of their funds. The minute those funds are deposited into your account, that interest rate starts ticking and keeps ticking until the money is repaid. Let’s return to your $25M budget (if only) and look at the life cycle of your production over several years with discounted cash flows. During the first year alone, guess what? Your total budget figure remained the same, but your expenses in the form of interest (a 15% weighted average cost of capital if you’re lucky) just increased by $3.75M. The total cash you have at your disposal for your production just decreased to $21.25M. (Note to self: remind line producer to can- cel the crane on Day 8 and reduce total shoot days by five). Until the film breaks even and the funds are returned to the investor (we are likely talking years here), you will continue to pay interest on that capital. We as producers have to create a budget line item for this finance cost. It doesn’t magically go away. As Marc Robertson, CEO of RUI, says, "Don’t be afraid to look.”


Really Useful Information, Inc. CEO Marc Robertson, Brand-in Entertainment EVP Brian Williams.
#2 Brand Integration (Not Product Placement)
Here’s a new one. Your screen time has value. And to think, we’ve been giving it away for free all these years. Brian Williams, EVP of Brand-In Entertainment, taught us to think about how to integrate a brand into our project in advance, not only so we can come up with an organic way to fit it into the creative, but also because it’s going to be much harder to go back to the advertiser later on and ask them for money. Brand integration is the only type of financing that you don’t have to pay back. (Remember that $3.75M we just lost in year one? Doesn’t apply.) And it’s one of the few opportunities for advertisers to avoid DVR blowout. The networks are relying more and more on producers to deficit finance their own shows, so brand integration is a great opportunity for producers to come in to the pitch meeting with a little more moxie. If you’re an indie producer and you can successfully integrate a brand into your storyline, you can raise $150K–$500K. And brands love working with indie producers because they have a vested interest (brand money may be half the budget) in making sure the creative elements are seamlessly integrated into the picture, instead of (like certain studio pics) shoving them in at the end. Again, it’s called "brand integration,” not product placement. There’s so much we learned about this topic I can’t possibly sum it all up, but one last tip: Once you agree to portray a brand in a certain way in your project, that advertiser will hold you to those contracts — so it’s critical to get buy-in from all your creative personnel up front.

#3 Reality & Serialized TV Shows Have Little to No Downstream Revenues
As a television producer, you have to think about downstream revenues (otherwise known as syndication) for your shows. If you are pitching a reality show or a serialized show, recognize that you will have limitations on the back end. Reality shows are most often based on competition, and once we’ve learned the outcome, there is no rerun value. A serialized show requires the viewer to watch every episode to understand the character development, the narrative, and the arc of the story. These don’t work well downstream. For instance, HBO’s Sopranos was one of the most acclaimed series of the past 20 years, yet tanked when it was rerun by A&E. There’s a lot of money left on the table if syndication isn’t part of the formula. Therefore, you may want to rethink your show’s storyline and create an "A” story that is always closed-ended, and a "B” story that has a through line. This season’s Pan Am is a good example. You can watch and enjoy an episode without having seen every prior episode.


Producer Andrew Sugerman
#4 Protect Yourself With Investors
Make investors aware of what you are doing as a producer. Document everything. Investors may not know the process you’re going through and what it means to make a movie, but they may know everything there is to know about finance, investing, and risk. Never underestimate your investors. Let them know in advance all the possible areas where things could go wrong (extra shooting days, overtime, different release patterns, etc.) so they understand what they’re buying into. It’s okay for equity investors — who may be asking for 20% or more — to take a risk, because you’re paying through the nose for that money. Nonetheless, they may expect a level of financial reporting or projections that you don’t understand or don’t have time to perform. Give them what you can, which sometimes may only constitute a SWAG formula (scientific wild-ass guess). Set parameters, such as providing them with an update every five days — they may be less inclined to be intrusive if they know information is coming their way soon. You don’t want to paint a dishonest picture of success. There is a chance that investors may get a solid return or they may lose everything. You want to let them know up front about all the holes. It’s always worth taking the time to inform investors. What’s not worth it is having the plug pulled in the middle of production because you’ve gone over budget, or asking for more money never having communicated the potential pitfalls. The bottom line is to protect yourself as much as you can with people who are financially savvy by being up front. They can and will sue you. Did I mention to document everything?

#5 200+ Is Not an Exaggeration
There’s a 1000:1 chance if you’re selling a show in prime time that you’ll succeed. Every network purchases hundreds of scripts. Out of those, a small number are developed. Of those, a minute number are picked up as pilots, and out of those, 3–4 shows are acquired (per network). From there, you have to contend with cancelation rates. So, network success is tough, but worth going after. HOWEVER, there are more than 200+ cable channels out there. As we’ve said, cable channels need original programming (rather than reruns) to not only establish themselves as a brand, but to increase their standing with advertisers and cable operators. Cable companies also happen to be much more patient, not following a tyranny of ratings that may blow out a show after only three episodes like broadcast networks. You may have to put up with lower fees and less ownership. They may not be able to afford to pay for high-priced productions, but they do need the content. 200 is a big number. Start pitching.


Marc Robertson (left) with RHP Media Consulting CEO Rod Perth.
#6 (Bonus) Get Your Confidence On
I said five, but let’s make it six aha! moments. During the last session, one of the attendees started to ask a question about approaching a well-known person saying, "Well, I’m not in their league, but...” Marc Robertson stopped the speaker immediately and interjected, "Who’s out of your league? Seriously, who? No one is out of your league. Everyone is walking around the same planet breathing the same air. In this business, a name can carry tremendous clout. But if you think you are beneath them, that’s bullshit. It’s critical that you understand you are just as valuable as anyone else.” He went on to say that getting rid of feelings such as "I’m not worthy” or "I’m not that good yet” or "I’ve never had a hit” is the first step to winning. What makes you think you’re less than these people who just happened to close a deal? They may just be good negotiators, and you may be a creative genius! So, go get some training in negotiations. Get your confidence on. People in power are magnetized to those who express confidence. Why? Because confident folks might be able to shoulder the burden top executives are carrying — they might be responsible enough to get it done right on their behalf. Join the league of human beings. That’s the only league there is.

There is so much more we learned during these film & TV finance sessions, so if you missed them, you can view this series as well as other educational series online at http://www. rui.us.com.

A very big thanks from the PGA to Marc Robertson, Rod Perth, Andrew Sugerman, Brian Williams, Devin Arbiter, and everyone at RUI. Deanna McDaniel is a writer/producer, PGA member and author of the newly released book A Speck of Light: How to Free Yourself From Emotional Darkness.


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PGA Job Board 2.0

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
We are excited to refer you to the Producers Guild Job Board for all your employment-related needs.



The Job Board is a one-stop shop for your job search—whether you’re looking for a new position or seeking to hire a top-notch member of your producing team.


PGA members...
Are able to search current job listings, add or edit their credits and personal information, upload resumes in either .doc or .pdf format, indicate their areas of expertise via "Employer Search Preferences,” and update their availability status.

Employers...

Are able to post open positions, create and update your employer profile, browse or search for PGA members who fit your employment criteria, and both review and contact applicants for jobs you have posted.

Everyone...
Will discover the cleanest, most user-friendly interface ever created for a Job Board website. The PGA Job Board was custom-designed from the ground up, based on extensive feedback from both PGA members and employers. The Producers Guild has always had the best producing talent available for hire in the entertainment industry. And now it’s easier than ever to get them on your team.

jobs.producersguild.org.
it’s where producing jobs live.

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