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Conference Comments

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Conference Comments
By Staff

One weekend at the Produced By Conference offers literally dozens of moments that can help you get a competitive edge, clarify your goals, or simply bring the nature of your work as a producer more clearly into focus. For instance, here’s a couple of minutes from last year’s session Raising Your Tentpole: Producing Motion Picture Franchises. In it, producer and PGA member Ralph Winter (X-Man, Fantastic Four) reviews the different considerations involved in acquiring source material from different media. It’s just a couple of minutes long, but it’s typical of the kind of unique insight and perspective you’ll find at the Produced By Conference.

And remember: That’s just two minutes out of a 75-minute panel discussion, and one panel out of the more than twenty sessions that the Guild puts together for Produced By. If you were wondering whether or not the Produced By Conference was worth your time and money, do the math. It’s a remarkable event, one that can truly change the trajectory of your career. And smart, pragmatic advice like you see in this clip is only the tip of a very large iceberg.

The first set of speakers for this year’s Conference have just been announced, including Chris Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises), Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind), Todd Phillips (The Hangover), Nina Jacobson (The Hunger Games), Ted Sarandos (Content Acquisition, Netflix), Bill Lawrence (Cougar Town), Mark Cuban (Owner, HD Net) and numerous others.

Sort of makes you wonder what they’ll have to say this June, doesn’t it?

You can register for Produced By Conference 2012 by clicking here.

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PGA Video Features

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Welcome to the Producers Guild featured video page.

Produced By Conference 2011 Featured Videos

We’re pleased to provide these exclusive video clips from Produced By Conference 2011; we’ll be presenting a new video every week.

But nothing beats seeing these top industry pros in person and asking them questions yourself! Register for Produced By Conference 2012 today!



"Producing Killer Apps" Seminar - Dec 12, 2011

What Producers Need to Know Before They Go Mobile, presented by PGA New Media Council East. Chris Pfaff introduced the speakers who talk about how to work with the app stores, what technical resources were best for porting mobile apps, and how to promote apps. Link to Networker Article





Panel IntroductionFuzz ProductionsHearst



Gilt GroupCNN MoneyPanel Discussion


Summer of Monte Wildhorn – PGA Goes Behind the Scenes
Hear from Morgan Freeman, Lori McCreary, and the team behind Rob Reiner’s next feature in this first-ever video from PGA Original Content!

PGA on the Set: SUMMER AT DOG DAVE'S from producers guild on Vimeo.

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Niche Guys Finish First

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On location along the coast of Oregon shooting
b-roll of beach for "a NORML life".

Niche Guys Finish First
By Doug Ross

Back in ancient times after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Radio-Television-Film, I set out to master all the positions within video production. When I began working in television over 30 years ago, the basic camcorder and personal computer hadn’t been invented yet. Since that time, I have regularly learned new skills as an editor, technical director, writer, camera operator and producer. Who would have predicted that you would need to be multi-skilled to be competitive in today’s market? My diverse work as a producer includes corporate, commercial and non-fiction productions for History Channel, PBS, and History International. I was a producer in government programming with NASA-TV, USPS-TV and founded Honolulu Municipal Television. It’s been a long road but has been satisfied with the results.

Two years ago, I was contacted by a friend, Rod Pitman, Executive Producer of Hempsters Plant The Seed, who wanted to find a story within some raw footage from a hemp and marijuana conference in Berkeley, CA. Upon review I saw it needed much more additional shooting to be able to tell the real story about medical marijuana. Even though I don’t use marijuana, I looked at this project from the scientific and human view. Patients who have exhausted all conventional treatments were in chronic pain and desperate to receive medicine, no matter its legality. Before we shot one frame, we discussed how this was going to be marketed. Would we slog through the thousands of film festivals hoping for recognition leading to a distribution deal? We decided to go another route. We would narrowcast instead of broadcast our program using a transmedia storytelling approach, using several Internet sites to provide easy access to the video.

A few weeks ago, I was told our documentary, a NORML life had gone viral, having shot from 77,976 to a record breaking 875 on the iMDB Moviemeter Charts in just one week. What was behind this surprising (and surely welcome) news? I like to think we intended it from the very beginning.


On location backstage at HempFest in Seattle, WA where we interviewed medical marijuana patients, doctors and activists for "a NORML life".
We felt the documentary was perfect for a niche audience, the cannabis market, where the activist group NORML (Nationally Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) has over 3 million members with chapters worldwide. We reached out to the hemp community at HempFest, ASA (Americans for Safe Access), marijuana activist and individuals with local radio and television programs. We knew going in that we had a built-in audience that would respond to our documentary as a "commodity of choice." However, the audience needed to be able to access the video quickly, cheaply and easily.

I began by interviewing NORML officials and activists in the Washington, D.C. that helped us prepare for the larger production. Next it was on to a West Coast road trip interviewing patients, doctors, dispensary owners and activists. We captured the rest of the story in thirteen days and I edited the project over a few weeks.

With the film placed on multiple platforms, we worked to build buzz using social media on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and niche websites. The platforms of choice to access the documentary are iTunes, Netflix, Amazon.com, Facebook and in our case, the NORML.org website, as well as other high-traffic cannabis related distribution platforms. We made a distribution deal with Cinema Libre' Studio, the distributor of Fuel, Robert Greenwald’s Outfoxed and Oliver Stone’s South of the Border, which gave us providence with national and international markets. The idea was to aggregate as many distribution platforms as possible using metadata, which connects and traces database information from Webpages, digital images and Websites. Google pioneered the SEO [search engine optimization] strategy used to push our video to the top of search rankings. This helped create buzz on a geometric level, which gives the documentary the best opportunity to go viral. Unfortunately there are no manuals or websites that instruct a Producer how to connect all these sites to advertise and distribute your video. However, The Long Tail, written by Chris Anderson, comes close to describing a similar method.

Producer Doug Ross interviews Dr. Frank Lucido at his clinic in Berkeley, CA. Dr. Lucido is a medical marijuana activist and writes recommendations for patients.
There has never been a better time than now for independent producers to reach their audiences by distributing videos through social media and Internet platforms. Viewers have many options to search for niche subjects then download, view or purchase DVD’s. In the past, film festivals provided the golden seal of approval for distribution deals if the producer sought broad theatrical exposure. Today, you have more choices and tools available, but of course, the real skill remains the ability to tell a compelling story with the content you’ve acquired.

But if you’re an independent producer serving an attentive audience, niche distribution strategy augments traditional distribution increasing the opportunity for your financial success.

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Dantes Many Peaks

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Producer Dante Di Loreto
Dante’s Many Peaks
by Brent Roske

Oh, how I love the smell of chlorine and lip- stick in the morning.

The place: Venice High School. Why? Glee, the teenage Fox juggernaut, is filming — of all things — a water ballet number. Water ballet, Venice, underwater bikini girls... Where do I sign up?

This is what producer PGA member Dante Di Loreto does for a living. He takes images from the page and puts them on the screen, more specifically, translating the ideas of Ryan Murphy and giving them wings. The wish list today is pretty ambitious: have the main cast on a "floaty” in the middle of a pool, surrounded by underwater ballet dancers. As I sit for a while and watch a few takes, I have an odd feeling... Techno-crane, dolly and track, another cam on sticks, Eric Stolz directing (I’ve always liked him as an actor, but after watching him direct this scene and stay as calm as warm butter in July, I’m pretty sure he’s the coolest guy in Hollywood) and the playback over and over with Rihanna’s "We Fell in Love 
in a Hopeless Place.” But this doesn’t 
look like a hopeless place and the cast
 doesn’t look hopeless at all. They’re
 wearing the biggest smiles that a
 human face is capable of. Venice High
 School has been transformed into a
 bastion of classic cinema spectacle 
and water-flinging high kicks. It all
 feels absolutely and quintessentially 
Hollywood. Making it even more 
surreal for me is that Glee mainstay
 Dianna Agron was in a short I directed years ago and is now lip-synching 
her little head off. Gotta love showbiz.


Like Dianna, Dante Di Loreto started off as an actor. Unlike Dianna, his acting career didn’t put him on any bill-boards. Roles like ‘Boy With Football’ in 1985’s Gotcha! and ‘First Cop’ in not one, but two different shows can make this town feel just plain cruel.

The ’90s were a transitional period for Di Loreto. Considering his timeline on IMDb, you can see how his acting career finally ground to a halt. After playing ‘Emcee’ on an episode of Cheers in 1991, nothing posts for almost the entire decade. That puts Dante firmly in the ‘scrappy and committed’ category. In 1994, however, a very interesting project pops up called Waving, Not Drowning. It’s a short film, and the project has Di Loreto listed as the producer. (This might be a good time to re-read last issue’s "When Short Is Long Enough” about how a short film can launch your producing career.) This small project put Di Loreto on the path of the producer ... the long, lonely, challenging, rewarding, brutal (stop me if you’ve felt all these this week), exciting road of the PRODUCER. And once he got on track, he gained momentum — real big crazy momentum — quickly.

In 1999, he produced Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, star- ring his former Gotcha! cast mate and future producing partner, Anthony Edwards. More credits followed, including an Emmy win for HBO’s Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes. Now Dante is producing not one, but two hit TV shows for partner-in-crime Ryan Murphy: Glee and the much-buzzed-about American Horror Story. Here’s a quick interview with a very busy guy:

What are the challenges of producing two shows at once?

The two shows couldn’t be more different, and each has its unique challenges. Time is in short supply for both, each produced with very tight schedules. It can be a real mental scramble switching between them several times a day, but creative problem solving is the most exciting aspect of producing, and nothing is more invigorating then walking from Stage 16, where we are staging a full-cast musical sequence, to Stage 6, where we are burning Dennis O’Hare to a crisp.

What is the creative ‘connective tissue’ between American Horror Story and Glee?

Hopefully, each show is expanding the creative horizon of television. Both shows cause conversation and reflect current issues ... fidelity, faith, sexuality, family. Regardless how extreme the situation, the characters struggle with very human dilemmas which any audience can relate to. Your daughter may not be dating a serial killer, but you may have legitimate concerns about her boyfriend.

Has there ever been a time that creative has come to you with an idea that you couldn’t accommodate?

Happily, I have never had to say ‘we can’t do that’ to the creative team. We have had some enormous challenges with both shows as each has a very tight delivery schedule (the AHS finale wrapped nine days before air), but producing them in Los Angeles means access to the greatest artisans and crafts people working in television, so regardless if it’s choreographing a water ballet or eviscerating corpses, we find a way to get the job done.

What was your path to your current position?

I came to series television after producing long-form television, independent film and Broadway. Series television is uniquely challenging. It happens fast and once you commence, there is no stopping to catch your breath. You are never doing one thing at a time, so ADD can actually be an asset. Scheduling demands mean we may often be shooting multiple units, so between prep, production and post on the two shows, we may be juggling eight episodes simultaneously.

What still surprises you in regards to the show or the biz?

Happily, I’m surprised every day. Particularly on Glee, where we are often doing something never done before, so no one can tell us we’re doing it wrong.

Is being an executive producer of one of the biggest shows on TV what you thought it would be?

It’s impossible to judge how this work will resonate over time. You hope you are crafting something which will endure creatively. It’s also good business for an asset to retain value in the long term. I’m blessed to work with the greatest creative minds in television and it is never, ever boring.

The most inspiring moment of your career so far?

Watching 100 middle school students in the Bronx perform Lady Gaga. When a parent thanks me for an episode which addresses issues not seen on any other program. And watching Jessica Lange rehearse a scene is the greatest master class you could ever hope to attend.

What’s next?

Whatever excites Ryan Murphy’s imagination. I am fortunate to work with one of the greatest creative minds working in any format.

In your opinion, what are the qualities that every producer should possess?

Patience — great things sometimes require great timing, and finding success may mean knowing when to wait. Perseverance — new ideas are not always the most popular. When Temple Grandin was nominated for 15 Emmys, my producing partner, Anthony Edwards, called and said, "Remember how easy it was to set up a movie about a middle-aged woman who saw the world through the eye of a cow?” Listening — this is the hardest to practice, but most questions answer themselves. A Teflon-coated ego — allowing others to enjoy the success of your labor doesn’t cost a thing.


Watch Dante Di Loreto’s work on American Horror Story when it returns for a second season on FX; Glee airs on FOX right now. Though his work is broadcast by the Fox family of stations, Dante seems to embody one of Walt Disney’s most memorable lines: "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Good luck out there!

Brent Roske is currently in pre-production on the feature Alice Stands Up, starring Sally Kirkland, and would love to direct an episode of one of Dante’s shows. He’s also very subtle.


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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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