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UNCOMMON SENSE - The PGA's "Protect Your Team" Workshop Debuts In Atlanta

Posted By Jennifer Haire, Monday, May 8, 2017

“No... no. We need a stunt man,” Producer/director John Boorman told actor Burt Reynolds on the set of Deliverance. Reynolds had volunteered to do the stunt himself in a scene where his character Lewis rides his canoe over a waterfall. “We’ll just use a dummy! We’ll just throw a dummy over,” Boorman insisted. A young Reynolds fought to do the stunt himself and as expected, it led to injury. Boorman was at his bedside when he woke. “How’d it look?” Reynolds asked. “It looked like a dummy falling over a waterfall” replied Boorman.

Producer Mark Shelton shared this infamous story with over 75 members of the Georgia film & television community at the inaugural Producers Guild of America “Protect Your Team” Safety Task Force event on February 11th, 2017. “What does it mean to be safe?” Addressing this question, the event was designed for producing team members to empower them with the knowledge to be leading advocates for production safety. A safe production starts at the top.

The event was hosted at Eagle Rock Studios just outside of Atlanta, thanks to PGA Member and Eagle Rock Studios VP of Studio Operations Beth Talbert. Via a discussion-based format, four production safety experts led producers through recommended practices for developing a safety plan, highlighting the producer’s role as part of the safety team, as well as how to recognize and correct hazards. The event likewise included a thorough briefing on support resources available locally. The goal: to keep producers, cast and crew safe on the set. Speakers included IATSE Safety Committee Chair Kent Jorgensen; Contract Services Vice President for Production Affairs and Safety, Matt Antonucci (along with Jorgensen, also a Co-Chair of the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee); Margaret Burke, the Regional Director of Production Safety for 20th Century Fox; and independent producer and OSHA-authorized safety instructor Mark Shelton. Representatives from the community, including Jenny Houlroyd of the Georgia Tech Research Institute as well as Trish Taylor from the Georgia Production Partnership, contributed to the conversation.

Despite being the latest critical buzzword, safety is not a new topic for the entertainment industry. The Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee was formed in 1965 and is comprised of guild, union, and management representatives active in industry safety and health programs. They are responsible for researching, writing and making available the Safety Bulletins, seen attached to callsheets on many productions. These bulletins are recommended guidelines for safe practices on a set and cover both overarching concepts such as general safety as well as more specific high-hazard departments such as working with helicopters and airplanes.


From left: PGA Safety Task Force Co-Chair Jennifer Haire, event speaker Margaret Burke,
PGA Safety Task Force Co-Chair Melissa Friedman, PGA Atlanta Co-Chair Scott Thigpen,
event speakers Kent Jorgensen, Matt Antonucci, Mark Shelton

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) was established in 1971 as a result of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. A part of the US Department of Labor, OSHA is tasked with assuring safe and healthful working conditions by setting and enforcing standards for all employers and their workers, including producers of film and television. Many Safety Bulletins have OSHA standards at their core and blend entertainment industry practices with government standards for a safe workplace.

In the 1970s, Contract Services Administration Trust Fund (CSATF) was created as way to help educate filmmaking craftsmen and women through various programs for the motion picture and television industry. Around the mid 1990s, the studios of the AMPTP, as part of their collective bargaining agreement with IATSE and other entertainment craft organizations, created a voluntary safety program through CSATF. It wasn’t until the mid 2000’s that Contract Services required a mandatory safety training program for IATSE signatory productions. The Safety Pass program was created in collaboration with the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee “as a means of addressing the OSHA requirements that employees be trained (and the training documented) in the safe use of equipment and work practices on their job.” IATSE crew employed on signatory productions are required to take these special courses before they can be employed.

However, there is a substantial knowledge gap between the trained union crews and members of the producing community. The PGA saw the need for safety education for producers and their teams, addressing the issues from the producer’s perspective. On any production, it is vital that the cast and crew know that the producer is looking out for them and their well-being. They want to trust the person they are working for and know that they will not be unknowingly put in harm’s way. Union crews have been trained to recognize hazardous situations; would you recognize one on your set? Do you know how to protect your team? Members of the PGA Atlanta chapter do.

Safety demands can seem daunting. How can you know all of the laws and proper safety measures for every possible situation all the time? In short, hire an expert, use common sense and plan for Murphy. A basic understanding of how to recognize and correct an unsafe situation is essential knowledge for a responsible producer to make reasonable decisions. Are you shooting exteriors on a hot day? Provide shade and water. Are you working on roadways? Set up lane closures and provide reflective vests. Are there local poisonous indigenous critters in abundance? Hire a removal company to clear the area you are filming. The script takes place at sea? Hire a marine coordinator to handle the logistics. Need the character to ride a canoe over a waterfall? For God’s sake, use a dummy instead. Production is a training ground for adapting to constant change. No two days are the same. Plan for everything to go right; be prepared for it all to go wrong. A typical production day goes in a direction you didn’t expect. Have a safety plan for change. Develop your eye for safety and encourage your cast and crew to bring their concerns to your attention.

The PGA Safety Task force has compiled an ongoing list of helpful resource and information links, available on the Guild’s website at producersguild.org/page/Safety.

The “Protect Your Team” seminar was additionally sponsored by MBS Equipment Co., Crazy Legs Productions and Decide Dekalb and was produced by PGA Atlanta Chapter Vice Chair Scott Thigpen as well as Melissa Friedman and Jennifer Haire, Co-Chairs of the PGA Safety Task Force.

The PGA Safety Task Force is currently developing a follow up program with an additional emphasis on doc/non-fiction/reality programming to be held second quarter 2017.


PGA ATLANTA: THE ORIGIN STORY

It was a November evening in 2009, when a handful of producers found themselves in the backroom of Manuel’s Tavern, an Atlanta institution where politicians, journalists and artists have been gathering since 1956. We came together that night at the request of our colleague, Tom Cappello, who pitched us the idea of starting a PGA chapter right here in the very heart of the South. Tom went onto say there was a fellow by the name of Vance who was coming to town who could explain things further. Soon after, we found ourselves listening, beers in hand, while Vance Van Petten expounded on the benefits of PGA membership and the virtues of becoming a part of this national organization. He explained that the PGA’s mission was to protect and promote people just like us. We ate it up, hungry for the camaraderie and professional support. Weeks later, many of us met again and filled out our PGA applications together. And by April 2010, the vetting was completed and the charter members of the PGA Atlanta chapter had been accepted into the Guild. We had become something; we just didn’t fully know what…yet. There were less than a dozen of us. The start was slow going at first, but we eventually found our way, with guidance from Mitzie Rothzied in the PGA East office, and through the encouragement of visiting members like Nelle Nugent, Gale Anne Hurd and Lydia Dean Pilcher. In the years since, we have elected chapter officers, formed committees, and organized many outstanding events, including the “Protect Your Team” safety workshop. Today, the Atlanta chapter is 100 members strong with a steady stream of networking opportunities, educational workshops and panel discussions. And like the rest of the production community in Atlanta, we see boundless opportunities ahead.  — SCOTT THIGPEN


 

- This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Produced By magazine.

Tags:  feature  safety 

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CLARK SPENCER - After 27 Years at Disney, The "Zootopia" Producer Is Now The Studio's Go-To Guy

Posted By Chris Green, Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Clark Spencer isn’t the first guy to start out on Wall Street and end up in the producer’s chair. But he may have taken the most roundabout route to get there.

The traditional Wall Street-to-Hollywood journey generally involves making a boatload of money, then providing equity financing to make independent films. (In the best-case version of this story, the financier actually learns something about story and production in order to earn the producing credit.)  Clark Spencer did it the hard way. After growing up in love with the movies, thanks in part to his early days helping his grandparents operate their old school, one-screen movie house in Tacoma, Spencer abandoned Wall Street after only a few years. Committed to working in a business he loved, he found his way to Hollywood intending to become a movie producer—despite arriving in town with minimal connections and even fewer production skills.

Relying on his finance background, he took the first job that came his way, working in strategic planning for Disney. Spencer admits he had no particular passion for Disney or animation before taking the gig. “Had Warner Bros. or Paramount or Fox or anybody offered me a job, I would’ve taken it,” he freely admits. Spencer may have been looking for a job; instead, he found a home. In an era of unprecedented turnover and transition throughout the industry, Spencer is one of the shining exceptions to the rule. After that initial hire, he’s never worked for any other company, recently marking his 27th year at Disney.


Producer Clark Spencer (bottom left) at a voice recording session
for Zootopia with (top) screenwriter/co-director Jared Bush, director
Rich Moore, cast member Jason Batemen and (bottom right)
director Byron Howard.

So Spencer’s journey to producing is, as much as anything, a journey through a single studio, and those 27 years are a testament to the scope of opportunity that Disney can offer to a talented and determined individual. With a career that touched, in various stages, financial strategy, Broadway musicals, cable television and studio management, Spencer had all but reconciled himself to a purely executive career when a stroke of fortune saw the directors of Lilo & Stitch turn to him with an invitation to produce the film. That show of trust—as well as the essential experience the job provided—proved to be the pivot point in Spencer’s career. Today he’s among the most successful producers of animated features in the world, with credits that comprise the backbone of Disney’s John Lasseter era, including Wreck-It Ralph, Bolt, Winnie the Pooh, and the Oscar-winning Zootopia, the capstone on a career that’s come so far, you can’t even see Wall Street in the rearview mirror.

 

So, how did you find your way from Wall Street to Los Angeles?

I woke up one day and thought, “I don’t want to be 20 or 30 years down the road making a lot of money but not loving what I’m doing.” It just didn’t make any sense to me. So I quit my job and I decided I was going to come to LA to work in entertainment. I couldn’t act, so that was obviously out of the question. I knew that I wasn’t a storyteller at heart so I knew that being a writer or director was probably not right for me. I didn’t come from an arts background so cinematography, production design, all those disciplines weren’t really going to make sense. So I thought, “The one thing I might be able to do is figure out how to bring people together and manage the creative process.” That seemed really interesting to me. But when I came out to LA, nobody saw me as a producer. All they could see was a “finance guy.”

 

Pigeonholed in Hollywood? You don’t say.

[laughs] I know! I tried and I tried. Everybody was lovely, but they told me “You either have to start out as an intern making no money, or you need to build off of your finance background.” I had school loans, so I took a finance job. Disney offered me a job 27 years ago, in the finance team, during the days of Michael Eisner and Jeffery Katzenberg. That’s where I started my career,  and I’ve been here ever since.


Clark Spencer (center) in a Zootopia meeting at Disney Animation Studios with screenwriter/co-director Jared Bush,
director Byron Howard and director Rich Moore.


So what was your job like when you first landed at your desk at Disney?

Well, I very quickly thought to myself, “I’ve found the right thing,” because I was working on questions that were really interesting to me. “How many movies are we going to make in a year?” “What should the budget size be?” At that time, “What types of films are going to sell well on VHS?” because the VHS market was massive and growing. I worked on the project that looked at “Should we buy Miramax?” Really interesting stuff.


For Sure. So how did you phase from finance to production?

I was hired as part of a strategic planning group, and eventually became the Senior Vice President of Finance and Operations for Disney Animation and for Disney Theatrical Productions. So, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King on Broadway. I had said to myself, “Clearly, I’m never going to be a producer, and that’s okay. I love what I’m doing.” Until my boss called and said, “Would you consider moving to Orlando, Florida to run the animation studio down there?” Honestly, I didn’t want to move to Orlando. I didn’t know anybody in Orlando. It wasn’t a part of the country where I had ever imagined living. It felt like I was going to go work in a theme park.

So I said no, and about 30 days later he came back to me and said, “I really think you’re the right guy to go do this, and I really want you to do it.” If your boss comes and asks you twice, you have two choices: you say “yes,” or you need to look elsewhere, because they’re not going to want to offer you other opportunities. So I moved to Orlando, and I was there for four of the most amazing years of my life. I loved it; it was the complete opposite of everything I’d painted it to be. But most importantly, six months into being the General Manger of the studio, they needed somebody to produce Lilo & Stitch, which was going to be made down in Orlando. They had a producer on it, but it wasn’t working out creatively. They needed someone new. One of the two directors, Dean DeBlois, after interviewing a ton of people in Los Angeles, figured, “We have two choices. We could hire a live action producer from California who’s never worked for the Walt Disney Company, never lived in Orlando, and never made an animated film. We could move them to Orlando and hope that they can figure it out 3,000 miles away from home base. Or, we could take that guy…”—that is, me; he didn’t really know me. We weren’t friends at the time. But Dean said, “We could take that guy, who’s running the studio down there, knows that studio, knows the Disney Company, but doesn’t know how to produce a film, and teach him how to produce it. Why wouldn’t we do that?”

When the company came and asked, “Would you consider producing Lilo & Stitch?” it was like that opportunity came to me from heaven. I was going to be a producer. Sometimes the line to your end goal is not straight and you have to be open to opportunities. Had I not moved to Orlando, they never would’ve asked me to make that movie.

 

So, you get the call… What was it like, stepping into your first day on the job that you’ve always wanted but honestly don’t know how to do?

In the front of my mind was that somebody else had not worked out on the project, and I went in with that fear that I might not work out. There was something that wasn’t working, so I had to make sure to figure out what that was. Ultimately, I learned the importance of providing calm, even in the face of a storm. It is critical for allowing the director and the other creative forces on a picture to do what they do best. And I learned that the producer is not the sole answer to anything. It really is all about the people you surround yourself with. I was lucky to have a great associate producer and a great production manager, who I could lean on heavily and ask, “Where do we need to go from here?”

 

What stage was Lilo & Stitch at when you were stepping in? How much art had been done?

They had done a bunch of early visual development art for the film. They were just starting to write the script and just starting to storyboard. So I really was on the ground floor for the true story development of the project. What was interesting on that film was that the two directors, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, were also the writers and even storyboarded the film themselves. That’s very unusual. Usually you have an outside writer working on the project with one or two directors, and you have a story team. So one of the hardest parts to balance was the fact that the directors had to split their time between writing, storyboarding and production. They needed to be storyboarding part of the day, doing production part of the day, maybe writing late at night, just to get the movie done.

 

As a first-time producer I’d imagine there must have been a sense of security in having such a closed circle of creative.

It was nice. In some ways it was just the three of us. We worked entirely together on a large piece of it. For the next film that I did, which was Bolt, I had to re-think how to do it, because it was a different process. It was my first time working with an outside writer who’s figuring out how animation works and how we do things at Disney, as well as working with the story team and with a much larger art department. So I had to make that adjustment. Bolt and Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia were way more the norm in terms of how to make these movies than Lilo & Stitch was… the challenge of finding the writer from the outside who feels like the right match for the directors and the story they’re trying to tell. And then trying to figure out who are the right artists to be a part of the show. Who’s the right art director, or production designer? Which artists are going to fit the style for whatever story you’re telling?

With Wreck-It Ralph, for example, we knew it was a world of video games, so we looked at artists who love video games. We had an incredibly talented guy we literally had just found from the gaming world named Cory Loftis, who joined the studio right at the beginning of Wreck-It Ralph. The minute I heard that he was being hired, I knew we had to get him on the show. And he just blew us away with what he brought to the table. He came from the gaming world and he loves it so deeply. He’s now working on the sequel for Wreck-It Ralph as the production designer, the top job on an animated film from a design standpoint. It’s just in his wheelhouse.

When it came to Zootopia, we looked to a gentleman by the name of David Goetz, who’s been at Disney for a fair period of time. One of the reasons we loved him for Zootopia was because he really has a strong sense of old-style Disney, and he loves the old-style Disney art. One of the two directors, Byron Howard, wanted to do a talking animal film because he loved the old Disney talking animal films and we hadn’t done one in a long time. We wanted the world to feel modern, but also have a warmth to it, like you find in those early Disney films. So Dave Goetz really felt like the right guy for that project.


What about voice casting? How do you approach that part of the job?

We have a great casting director, Jamie Roberts, who spends a lot of time brainstorming who’s out there and who has interesting voices for animation. But fundamentally what we do is ask, “Who is this character?” and “who tends to play this type of character?” We rarely go to someone and ask them to play against type. We much prefer the approach: “This is who you are. This is who you tend to play. Let’s play to that strength.” We also take early drawings of the characters and take the actor’s voice from movies or television or commercials. And we just listen to it with the still images and ask, “Can we imagine that voice coming out of that character?”

For Zootopia, when we were looking at Nick, the fox character, we considered a lot of people, but Jason Bateman was always at the top. Nick is this sly, cunning character, but you want to be charmed by him. That’s what Jason is so brilliant at. He can deliver the most horrible line in the most charming way, and you love him for it. When it came to Judy Hopps, we knew she needed to be a very open-hearted character. When you think of Ginnifer Goodwin, she is, as a person, very open-hearted and she plays those roles beautifully. And you love her because of that.

The interesting thing was how they both said yes right away, but for completely different reasons. Ginnifer said yes because as a child, it was her absolute dream to be a part of a Disney animated film. Ste told us that the day she got the phone call was one of the best days of her life, and we had the best time working with her. Jason did it because he had never been asked to do animation before. In fact, his wife actually has done a lot of voiceover work and she had always joked with him about, “You know, no one thinks you can do animation.” So he was excited to be a part of it, you know, “I’m going to prove to you that I can do this!” And he was amazing.

The interesting thing about animation is that you usually don’t get to act off of anybody else. There’s no set. There’s no costume. It’s a very naked experience. Some people love it because they can just arrive in whatever clothes they want—they might have just gotten out of bed—and just do it and have fun with it. For other people it can be an uncomfortable experience and they have to figure out how to make it work for them.

On Wreck-It Ralph, John C. Reilly said to us early on, “I don’t know much about animation, but if I do it, I want to act with the other actors.” So we made that the priority. He would come in and record with Sarah Silverman or Jack McBrayer or Jane Lynch. It’s hard to have three or four people in the studio just because we need to isolate the voices. But we can do it with two. So we would always pair John with another actor, and we got phenomenal performances because they were able to play off of each other. But other people enjoy coming in and just going into their own headspace and doing it.

 

That’s fascinating. As somebody who’s been here for a while, you’ve seen several changes in leadership, including when John Lasseter took over the studio.

To give a little backstory, in 1994, Jeffrey Katzenberg had left Disney and started DreamWorks Animation. Pixar was growing up north, and other studios were seeing the value of animation. Suddenly, people interested in animation had a lot of different places they could go. It got complicated. People who stayed got mad at people who were leaving. People who left felt like, “Why are you staying? You need to go spread your wings. There’s all these other great places to go.”

When I finished Lilo & Stitch and moved back to California, my eyes were opened to the fact that the studio here felt very broken, and that negative energy was really difficult. It didn’t feel like a productive creative environment. I was this close to saying, “I need to go somewhere else,” when the announcement came that John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were going to come in and run the Disney Animation studio. I didn’t know John or Ed. But I thought I’d be crazy to leave before finding out the direction they wanted to go.

So John and Ed came in and they did the smartest thing they could do: they just spent time trying to figure out the studio. They didn’t come in with a plan. They didn’t come in and say, “This is how we do it at Pixar. This is how you need to do it here.” They wanted to understand the environment. When they had a grip on that, they started to make some big shifts in how they wanted to encourage creativity. They really broke down the barriers and over the course of about a year, there was a lot of transition. I was on a movie called American Dog at the time, which ultimately became Bolt. It was the first project that John did from beginning to end. And it was my first time working with John Lasseter and my first time making a CG animated film. So I’m trying to learn CG, working alongside Ed Catmull, who basically created CG. [laughs] But the thing that was so phenomenal about what John and Ed did was they said, “This needs to be a collaborative environment.” So they figured out how to get the directors of different projects to help each other. Honestly, it’s taken 10 or 11 years for the team to really coalesce, but even back then it started to pay dividends. We screen our works-in-progress for the other directors in the building. Every three or four months, they’re brought in with us, we watch it together, and we go into a room with John for four or five hours and we talk about what’s working and not working in the film.



That kind of “peer review” practice sounds familiar from not only Pixar, but Marvel as well. That seems like an operating method that really works in the current studio environment.

I think it does. I mean, to be fair, if you have somebody who really has a vision and knows what they want to do, great. The risk is if they’re so focused on something that they can see but nobody else can, then that may not be as successful as it needs to be. It’s a process. Zootopia, for most of its production, was going to be a story told from the fox’s point of view, the Jason Bateman character. We did six screenings with Nick as our main character. And we would get the note that said “I’m having a hard time sympathizing with Nick, because even though he lives in a world that’s sort of broken, he’s so cynical. I know why he’s cynical but that’s not helping me to get behind the character.” We kept putting more backstory on the Nick character, to the point where it actually got kind of dark.

Finally, someone said, “You know what? You have to flip your two main characters. If you make Judy your protagonist and you see the world through her eyes, and if she goes to Zootopia and feels like it’s the most perfect place ever, as an audience we’re going to believe all that to be true, until we slowly start to see the world is not what we and Judy think it is. And we even reveal that she herself, despite believing that she’s not biased against anyone, actually has some unconscious biases.”

That was the awakening moment. Everyone in the room started to feel it right away. And I’m sure all producers see that happen, how when an idea comes onto the table and it feels right, the room starts to change. Everyone gets really energized. The room starts to brainstorm; “If you do X, then Y will happen.” And people leave with this great energy. Had we never gotten together as a group, we wouldn’t have made that fundamental change. That was about a year before we were supposed to finish the film.

 

For an animated feature, that feels like very late in the game to suddenly discover who your main character is.

It is incredibly late to do that.

 

So as the producer, how did you shift the flow of the “production river” so that the material is supporting this new conception of the story? How much did you guys have to lose and how much were you able to keep in place?

We had to lose a lot of the work that we’d already done. The hardest thing was getting the crew to believe we could actually do it. Because it was a change so big, so late in the game, the instinct was to say, “Of course we’re going to have to push our release date.” We absolutely didn’t want to do that.

So as the producer, my job was to figure out how to get everyone to believe we could do it. We were all holding hands. We’re making this change. We’re going to rewrite the first act as quickly as possible. We’re going to get it in the storyboards. We’re going to put the first act up on reels. We’re going to put it back in front of that story trust—that’s what we call the “peer review” group—and we’re going to ask ourselves, do we feel good about this? If we do, we’re committed that this is the movie we’re making. And from then on we’re going to start writing scene after scene, getting them into the artists’ hands, trying to figure out how we keep production moving forward while we’re asking the writers and the directors to figure out the rest of the story. The benefit was, because we knew so much about the world in terms of the environments and the characters, we didn’t have to create any of that from scratch. But we were up-front that it was going to be really uncomfortable. We knew there wasn’t going to be the clear vision of how to get from A to Z. We were going to have to figure out A to Z over the course of time.

 

I have to say, the finished product does not feel like a movie where you figured out the story 45 minutes before midnight.

I know. You look back at it and it seems so obvious. So you wonder, “Why? Why couldn’t we have figured that piece out earlier?” But this is why I think a group like the story trust is so valuable. You can become too close to a project and assume that you only can view the story through the lens of one character. But if if you can allow others to poke at that, then you might open up new opportunities. Because it was the exact same story about bias, just told through a different set of eyes.

 

The growth of the international market is maybe the movies’ biggest story of the last decade. Given that the studio is now producing films with at least one eye on the foreign box office potential, how does that affect your approach to marketing or even storytelling itself?

It’s a fascinating question. The international market has become so big that it’s wrong not to ask that question. One aspect that we can do in animation you can’t really do in live action is trade out a character. We went to certain countries and acknowledged that we can’t have every animal in the world represented in the film, front and center. Like, we can’t guarantee what sequence a koala bear might be in. But there are two newscasters in the film. And if the team in Australia wants a koala in the film, we can reanimate this sequence so that a koala is one of the two newscasters. And then they can hire talent from within the country, a newscaster that the country loves, and have them play that role and have fun with that.

In the US market we actually chose a Canadian broadcaster named Peter Mansbridge, sort of the Tom Brokaw of Canada. For Canada, it was huge, because their news icon is playing the character, who’s a moose. It was a koala in Australia. It was a panda in China. It was a tanuki, which is a sort of beaver-like animal, in Japan. So that became a way to appeal to audiences around the world.

That said, setting out with the goal of making something that’s going to appeal to everybody is almost doomed to fail. For example, bias obviously exists all around the world. But everybody will tap into it a little bit differently. The phenomenal thing to watch over the course of developing the film—because it took five years to make—is that our world here in the US started to shift. You started seeing very charged moments between the police and the African-American community; that was really bubbling during the peak of our making this movie about a female who wants to become a police officer in a city that’s rife with prejudice, as she herself grapples with her own prejudices. That was really fascinating.

We went over to talk about the film in Europe, which was (and still is) experiencing the refugee crisis. So they were in the midst of trying, from a social standpoint, to come to grips with that really difficult problem. And so they were seeing this story in a completely different way. For them, it was all about refugees.

In China, it’s the biggest US animated film of all time. And it took off in China because that country is seeing one of the biggest population movements ever from the countryside to cities, especially among women. And of course there’s that moment in the beginning of Zootopia where Judy gets on a train, says goodbye to her parents, she’s moving to the big city, she has a dream and she’s trying to figure it out. So that was their entrance point into it. Now, we never could’ve guessed that. We never said, “We should have a train sequence where a young woman leaves home for the big city. That’ll work for China and Japan.” It doesn’t happen that way.

I just look at it and try to ask, is the storytelling universal? If it’s something that feels like the only people who ever experience this are in the US, or if the comedy is something that’s only going to work in the US, or if it’s a play on words that will only work in English, it’s going to become difficult to make it work overseas. So, think about your concept in terms of what story you’re telling. Can that be something that people around the world can see through their lens? And then, most importantly, can you create great characters that the world will fall in love with?

To that point, another fascinating thing about China is the way that marketing works over there. Social media drives it more than anything else, because the country is so big. Advertising is primarily focused in the biggest cities.  So you’re hoping people in the big cities are using social media to tell people “You have to go see this movie.” And in China, there was a tremendous outpouring on social media from women, who were talking about how Nick, even though he’s an animated fox, was the perfect boyfriend! Because he was clever and sly and funny, but at the end of the day, he came to Judy’s defense. They loved that. So everybody was saying “You have to go see this movie! You’re going to see this character and you’re going to say, ‘That’s the boyfriend I want.’”

 

Wow. That’s amazing.

Hey, it’s not like we set out to create a character who’s the perfect Chinese boyfriend. But you have to think about it. Your job is to figure out how to make something that could be universal, but with the full knowledge that you could become paralyzed if you allow that to be the single driver for what you’re trying to do.

 

- This article originally appeared in the April/May edition of Produced By magazine


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FIRST NAME BASIS - Marta Kauffman on "Grace and Frankie" and the Projects That Make Her Heart Pound

Posted By Zeke Nicholson, Tuesday, April 18, 2017

You can call it an open question as to whether NBC’s Friends is the greatest sitcom of all time. There’s no question that it’s one of the most beloved. Its series finale was watched by an astronomical 52.5 million people, reflecting the incredible cultural significance the show enjoyed for the decade that it was on television. The series’ co-creator, writer/producer and PGA member Marta Kauffman, has had an unenviable challenge in creating a worthy follow- up to the Central Perk gang. But as the co-creator of Netflix’s critically acclaimed series Grace and Frankie, Kauffman has pulled it off, transitioning from a show that provided the definitive picture of the ‘90s TV generation, to another series that’s generation-defining (or redefining) in an increasingly diverse television landscape.


Producer Marta Kauffman watches a scene unfold on the set
of Grace and Frankie. Photo by Melissa Mosley/Netflix.

Grace and Frankie stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as the titular characters, chronicling the story of two women in their 70s whose husbands (played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) announce in the pilot that they have fallen in love, ending both marriages. On paper, Friends and Grace and Frankie couldn’t appear more different; after all, the average age of the protagonists in the respective shows is roughly half a century apart. Nonetheless, the parallels in exploring the deep importance of friendship in the characters’ lives are apparent, a theme that Kauffman sees reflected in her own life, particularly as she ages. “As I get older,” she observes, “I find that the relationship between my women friends and me is far more important. It has gained such significance.” The dynamic between Fonda and Tomlin, a rapport deeply rooted in friendship both on and off screen, has proven to be the engine that drives Kauffman’s creation. Her affection and respect for the stars, both as people and as professionals, animates her answer to every question. “They are smart, they’re observant, they’re so good at what they do, and they love each other,” she declares. “I don’t feel that I’m part of a triumvirate … it is them. My job is to get them to tell really good stories.” The show premiered its third season on March 24, and with production for season four already underway, Kauffman clearly has given them more than a few good stories to carry.

Grace and Frankie has its sights on an interesting new space for its third season. The initial premise has morphed and grown. “We’re in a new phase [where] we’re no longer dealing with the effects of the husbands leaving them,” Kauffman explains. “Now we’re in the phase where they have to start facing their age.” At 60, Kauffman is roughly a decade and a half younger than the protagonists on her show, yet the realities and concerns of life beyond middle age still resonate deeply with her. “At 60, I’m finding myself making decisions in a different way,” she reflects. “For the first time in my life, if I don’t like a book, I stop. I only have so many books left in my life, and I’m gonna read the ones that I’m passionate about. On the other hand, joy—which you take for granted when you’re younger—joy is something that you want to surround yourself with.” That pursuit of joy, at least professionally speaking, is what led Kauffman to found her production company Okay Goodnight. The group is small, consisting of Kauffman, Robbie Tollin and Hannah KS, but they’re committed to a very particular directive. “We are three women,” she says proudly, “and one of the things we decided about our company is that we’re only going to do things that make our heart pound.” To that end, the company is working on three “dream projects” that include a documentary about Gloria Allred for Netflix, an HBO miniseries adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler’s novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves with Natalie Portman attached, and a series for Amazon currently entitled Emmis, with Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder) set to write and direct the pilot. While Kauffman appears genuinely passionate about all three of these undertakings, Beside Ourselves seems to have particularly captured her attention. “This project is quirky and funny and deep and emotional and heartbreaking, and everything I wanted my career to be,” she shares. The miniseries will also serve as the first foray into hard drama for the writer/producer, an area where, despite her epochal success in comedy, she still feels she has some catching up to do. “I have to prove myself as a not-comedy writer,” she admits. “People don’t want to believe that [drama] is what I do.” But if the deft transition from the classic comedy of Friends to the more nuanced and introspective comic stories of Grace and Frankie is any indication, a further step into the dramatic depths with We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves looks like a challenge she’s ready for.

Despite Okay Goodnight’s full slate of projects, Kauffman remains actively involved in Grace and Frankie, both as a writer and producer. “I generally get [to set] every morning for the first rehearsal at 6:45 or 7. I come up [to my office] and I’ll watch a cut or two until we shoot. The writers room starts at 10. [Then] I get called on by set designers, costume designers, location scouts, [etc.] . There was a day last season where my workday touched every episode of the season.” It’s a daunting amount of work, but Kauffman, as one would expect, maintains a sense of humor throughout the whole process. (“I must go up and down my office stairs 15 times a day,” she cracks, “you’d think I’d be so thin!”) That comfort in her work is likely bolstered by the fact that creating her show for Netflix has provided Kauffman with an artistic freedom that she never had on Friends. The streaming platform, free from the constraints of act breaks and content beholden to advertising revenue, has afforded a creative flexibility that Kauffman calls liberating. That’s not to say, however, that finding a home on the platform hasn’t been without its challenges. “When you work with Netflix and you’re starting your first season, you don’t get to do a pilot. They don’t do pilots. You do chapter one. And you’re thinking about all 13 episodes. The downside is that you don’t get to make mistakes and then make changes for the second episode.” Nailing down the exact tone of the show, for example, is an issue that can be mitigated by having a pilot episode as a template, but a challenge that has to be dealt with on-the-fly when a show is committed to a 13-episode batch.

Aside from the storytelling obstacles generated through bypassing the pilot stage, the creative freedom on Netflix also comes with some particular production challenges. “It’s hard to get cast, because they don’t necessarily want to do an arc on this, when they could get a “real job” on something else,” Kauffman jokes. “And we are unfortunate to be working over pilot season [for season four of Grace and Frankie], so it is really difficult to get directors and cast. Netflix isn’t seasonal like other networks. You go when it’s time to go. You take this much hiatus and then you go again.” A secondary challenge, specific to Grace and Frankie is, again, an older core cast whose stamina plays a factor from a production standpoint. “We have a cast who isn’t young,” she observes, “and can only do so many hours. [Our cast and crew] work long hard days, but 10 hours is about our limit, when many shows have a 12-hour limit. So that puts some constraints on how many shots we can get.” But despite all that, Kauffman says she wouldn’t change it for the world, observing that, “We could never have done this show, the way we wanted to, on network television.”


Kauffman works with cast members Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin on the set of Grace and Frankie.
-photo by Melissa Mosley/Netflix

With Friends behind her, a number of exciting projects ahead, and Grace and Frankie currently occupying the majority of her attention, Kauffman seems to have reached a place of genuine professional fulfillment. And while her skills as a writer may have given her career its start, it is her efforts as a producer that she says maintain a special place in her work life. “My favorite part of my job is producing,” she smiles. “It is an extraordinary collaborative process. I get the opportunity to be creative in areas that aren’t as much my day-to-day. I’m not a costume designer, but boy is it fun for me to say, ‘The character in this moment, this is what she’s feeling—does this jacket feel too bright for that?’”

It may be that affinity for collaboration that has driven the success of Kauffman’s television projects. But at the end of the day, she feels the success of her shows will be best measured by the warmth that people feel for them. How much affection do audiences maintain for her characters? Consider that most of us are on a first-name basis with Grace and Frankie, Ross and Rachel, Monica and Chandler and the rest of Kauffman’s extended gang. Her characters are more than just Friends—they’re friends. And beyond the laughs that they’ve provided over the years, the bigger and better payoff remains the anticipation of who Kauffman will introduce us to next. 


- Feature photography by Kremer Johnson Photography

- This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Produced By magazine

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"Producers Mashup" Networking Event To Debut at PBLA

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 13, 2017

Today the Producers Guild announced that for our 9th annual Produced By Conference we will be introducing a new networking event called the "Producers Mashup".  For this exciting event we will be "seating a small group of participants at a table with a mentoring producer or executive, during which time the group will have 15 minutes to ask questions. When time is up, mentors rotate to another table and each group of participants receives guidance from a new mentor.  Each table will have the opportunity to meet with three mentors over the course of the event, including at least one producer and one development exec."

So far, confirmed producers and executives for the function include: Karen Bailey, Ian Bryce, John Canning, Stacey Carr, Dustin Davis, Justin Falvey, Lucy Fisher, David Friendly, Mackenzie Gabriel-Vaught, Tim Gibbons, Richard Gladstein, Jeff Grosvenor, John Hadity, Mark Johnson, Barry Josephson, Courtney A. Kemp, Chris Moore, Jonathan Murray, Nadine Rajabi, Michael Seitzman and Chris Thomes.

Learn more by going to ProducedByConference.com or read the full press release HERE.

 

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ACES MATTER - The Academy's Color Management Standard Belongs on Producers' Radar

Posted By Michael Goldman, Monday, March 20, 2017

 From Glenn Gainor’s point of view, the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) is a topic producers of all categories need to include in their dossier of technical subjects worth understanding for the simple reason that what used to be called “filmmaking’ is now a multi-format, multi-platform art form. Therefore, he suggests, those responsible for assembling the people and resources necessary for generating quality content for delivery on this new industry landscape—producers—need every advantage they can get in terms of literally getting everyone on the same page.

“We’re not just making a movie for the big screen, but for streaming and hard-disc formats and even for high dynamic range [displays],” explains Gainor, a longtime PGA member and head of physical production at Screen Gems. “ACES allows for consistency across many deliverables known today and new ones to come. As more people shoot in a manner that allows greater manipulation in the post-production process, it’s more important to understand the intended look, and that’s what [ACES helps achieve]. It’s like shooting what we used to call a ‘fat negative.’ You want as much information available for the post-production process so the movie can live in all formats.”

So what exactly is ACES and how does it help filmmakers achieve this goal? ACES is the free and open source color and digital file management system that began life as a project of the Academy’s Science and Technology Council about 10 years ago. Over the last two years, ACES 1.0 has officially rolled out as a device-independent workflow management standard meant to be incorporated into pipelines so as to permit color, file, and metadata consistency and control throughout entire productions, from the start of principal photography through final mastering and everything in between.

Andy Maltz, Managing Director of the Academy’s Science and Technology Council and project director for the ACES initiative, says the notion essentially was to come up with what he calls “a replacement” for the long, stable workflow infrastructure that existed across the industry during the film era when film lab methods were typically similar everywhere, ensuring consistency in processing and image quality. During the rise of the digital era, no comparable industry standard workflow rose up to take over. Instead a wide range of proprietary and constantly shifting methodologies became the norm.

ACES, he explains, was designed to put an end to the Wild West nature of digital production workflows caused by the advent of a seemingly endless number of different camera formats by simplifying the management of those different formats through the use of a common color space format to work in. The goal was to enable consistent color management through an entire production so that all principals could be confident they were viewing identical imagery, while future- proofing productions by ensuring masters of such high quality that their properties would be suitable for display technologies of the future—a particularly important topic these days with the emergence of higher dynamic range (HDR) display technology that is likely to only improve in coming years.  

On the technical side, there is a lot more to the various components of ACES, which combined make up what is called the ACES Viewing Transform—the way that ACES files can be viewed on calibrated monitors. The various Viewing Transform components essentially deal with how to convert data to ACES color space, how to apply ACES data to shots, how to render or convert that data and then more or less how to spit it out in the correct viewing format for different kinds of monitors in different kinds of color space formats. 

But the ultimate point for a producer or manager to understand is that ACES is intended to be the digital equivalent of “an original film negative to return to and scan at a higher resolution,” in the words of Lori McCreary, CEO of Revelations Entertainment and currently serving as one of the PGA’s Presidents. Thus ACES content is intended to be suitable for long-term archiving—content mastered and stored as uncompressed files at the highest dynamic range and color gamut possible, encoded to be unpacked and displayed on any foreseeable display technology. That’s a crucial point in the producing world, McCreary suggests.

“Today we typically capture at higher resolutions than we can finish on due to storage and cost restrictions,” she says. “So we finish and archive films in HD, or sometimes 4K, which looks great on current devices. But in five to 10 years, HD could look as bad to us as VHS does on high-resolution devices now. But if the industry adopts ACES and captures in the highest resolution available and archives in this resolution-independent way, this is our best solution to ensure that our content is future-proof, that it will look as good in the future as it does today.”

As noted, the technical nuances surrounding ACES—what it is (basically a suite of image-encoding specifications or “bits” of the picture; the various transform definitions and guidelines, what most people more commonly think of as look-up tables or LUTs; and various other tools) and what it is not (a software application or required or forced “look” to be applied to content, taking creative control away from filmmakers) can be confusing to those outside of the technical disciplines. And while some producers, like Gainor, supervise post-production and are keenly aware of these kinds of technical issues, many other producers, of course, train their focus in other areas and do not have, or for that matter, need or wish to have that level of technical expertise. This begs the question, “What is the proper way for the producing community to wrap its arms around the ACES initiative and figure out its proper role in their daily work?”

“Does every producer need an intimate working knowledge of ACES? No more than they typically needed to know how to thread a film camera back in the film days or know how to operate a color correction system,” says Maltz. “But they do need sufficient knowledge to be able to hire the right people. So they need the same level of understanding they need to hire cinematographers and colorists and everyone else. They need to know how to ask the right questions when a workflow is presented to them. As with anything else related to a producer’s work, it can be boiled down to knowing things that impact time, money and the quality of the product. ACES can touch on things related to all those areas in a positive way.”

Topics like future-proofing, standards, and file management were not major issues for producers in the film era, Maltz adds, because the film-based workflow was steady and standard for the better part of a century, and everybody worked, more or less, the same way. Today however, that has changed, and so producers tend to be more knowledgeable about such topics. In that sense, experienced producers suggest that maintaining knowledge of how ACES can impact productions, as well as of the costs, benefits and consequences of transitioning to an ACES-compliant workflow, pipeline, vendor or facility, is very much in keeping with traditional producer responsibilities.

 “[As a producer], I’m charged with figuring out how to tell a story using cameras and lights and sets and finding the best crew and locations and looks, so that when my studio president greenlights a project, it is in the best form possible,” Gainor says. “[At Screen Gems] we’ve integrated ACES in 10 films now and continue to improve our ACES workflow. We’ve been employing the ACES workflow in every feature we directly produce since we shot No Good Deed [2014] on the [Sony CineAlta] F65 camera. That was our first 16-bit, 8K RAW capture. It was important to start down the path of ACES with that movie, because the new cameras have so much latitude and give filmmakers so many options that we wanted to make sure that decisions made on set by the director and cinematographer were translated with their intentions in mind all the way through the post-production process. ACES allows us to lay down looks in a non-destructive manner—in other words, not baked in, so that all technicians who come across the material, from visual effects craftspeople to color-timers, will understand [the filmmakers’] intentions.”

And that is a key point, because one common concern in the creative community is that ACES somehow “locks in” looks or by implementing it, forces producers to tell creatives how to make their movie. Gainor, McCreary and other producers who have used ACES say that is not the case, and indeed, it was not designed for that purpose. Rather, Maltz describes ACES as being “about the plumbing,” meaning “you can run anything through the pipes that you want—in terms of creative looks, there are no practical restrictions and ACES protects content in a non-proprietary way for the widest variety of display options.”

In other words ACES describes, essentially, how image data from different camera sources can move to a common color space for the purpose of doing color correction, but not for purposes of how you creatively apply that color. The intent is to ensure whatever creative approach is taken, it will look its very best on the highest-end monitors available today and tomorrow. Gainor suggests that in modern workflows, the ACES approach can help prevent productions from being “boxed in,” in fact.

“Actually, there is tremendous latitude the filmmakers can apply later,” Gainor says. “What I love about ACES is that filmmakers have the ability to dial in specifically to what they intend the final product to be but without baking in colors that may not work once the film is fully edited, since you never know if a critical transitional scene needs to be perfected one way or the other.”

As part of its ongoing initiative to roll out ACES, the Academy is offering various resources and events to educate and promote the system’s capabilities to the creative side of the industry. Among other things, they are suggesting that producers follow a series of best practices on ACES-compliant productions. Those best practices include meeting early in a production’s life cycle with all key stakeholders to get everyone on the same page regarding which technologies are going to be utilized and how the workflow will be designed, what the deliverables will be, and discuss and plan solutions for any tools or facilities within the workflow that may not yet be fully ACES-compliant. Dozens of major hardware and software companies and major vendors around the world in all categories are already part of the initiative, and hundreds of feature-film and television productions have already been made using ACES-based workflows. But whenever there are reasons for the inclusion of non-ACES elements in the workflows, most experienced vendors and experts will be well acquainted with various work-arounds. Also recommended is a process of taking time to educate any participants in the process who are new to ACES, building time to test the workflow and pipeline into your schedule, and insisting that all monitors and displays being used by principals to view critical imagery be properly calibrated.

Meanwhile the Academy runs an evolving portal for ACES information at www.ACEScentralcom, where you will find a community forum to post or answer ACES questions, a link to an ACES YouTube channel for demos and information, an ACES event calendar and an ACES product planner list. 

- This article originally appeared in the February/March issue of Produced By magazine

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