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Produced By May/June 2015
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The Official Magazine of the Producers Guild of America. May/June 2015


Ian Bryce: You can make a great movie and be unhappy, but who wants to do that?


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Posted By Chris Green, Monday, June 8, 2015
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner in the "Best First Job in the Industry” sweepstakes. No matter how cool your first gig may have been, you probably didn’t get to break in as a PA on Return of the Jedi. Welcome to the movie business, Ian Bryce.

A transplant from his native England, Bryce found his way into the industry virtually by accident. Plucked from the ranks of LucasFilm parking lot attendants by a farsighted production team, the decision tragically derailed what might well have been a legendary career in valet service. Instead he produced Saving Private Ryan. Such are the whims of fate.

Bryce, like many producers, has compiled a filmography that spans a variety of genres; in addition to Ryan, his credits include Cameron Crowe’s heartfelt Almost Famous, the special-ops rescue drama Tears of the Sun and the forthcoming dark comedy starring Tina Fey, titled Fun House at press time. But Bryce’s true stock-in-trade has been the kinds of films that characterized his Lucasfilm apprenticeship: studio tentpoles, with all of the complexity, effects and high stakes that the genre brings with it.  

Over the past two decades, Bryce has become the go-to producer for large-canvas blockbuster films like Speed, Twister, the first outing of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, World War Z and most of the recent work of director Michael Bay, including The Island, Pain & Gain and all four releases in the epic Transfomers franchise. If you need to have an entire city destroyed by a giant robot or overrun by a horde of zombies, Bryce is the guy you call.

Perhaps it’s not surprising to learn that one of Bryce’s keys to keeping a behemoth production on track is to run happy sets. And sitting down with the man himself—good-natured, easygoing, thoughtful and with a gratifying streak of self-deprecation—you can see why his sets might be happy ones. 

Produced By editor Chris Green paid a visit to Ian Bryce at his offices at Paramount. (The producer was instrumental in bringing this summer’s Produced By Conference to the lot.) After an hour, he knew a lot more about on-set communication, working with (and without) the U.S. military and the challenges of spending money wisely—on big and small films alike.

Ian Bryce (right) with director Michael Bay on location at the
Great Wall of China for Transformers 4: Age of Extinction.
You came from England as a young guy. What was your experience with movies as a kid? What got you excited enough to make you come out to California?

When I was growing up in England, there were literally three TV stations: BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. My earliest memories of film are of having Sunday lunch, and then I’d go into the other room and watch Westerns. That was my Sunday afternoon thing for as long as I could remember. I was also a very avid reader from an early age. I lived in the local libraries, reading anything to do with Hollywood—all the biographies and autobiographies. I remember reading about Sam Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer and the other studio heads. And I read biographies or memoirs of actors, like the David Niven books. So I developed an affinity and a love for Hollywood beyond simply the product. The studio chiefs were wildly interesting characters to me. 

Was any of that behind your coming to California when you did?

No, I came to California because I needed to stretch my wings. So with some of my friends, we made a plan to go on a trip around the world and work and see and learn, and all of that.  

Well, for their own reasons, everybody else dropped out. I thought, "I’m not going to drop out. I’m going to go.” I was 21. I bought a ticket, came out here and met some people that I’m still friends with. I saw just part of the West Coast, but enough that I wanted to come back. 

I went home, sold my car, sold my stereo, sold whatever I could, got a job 
to make some money and then came back to California.

The film business happened for me purely by accident. I took a job parking cars, and the valet job took me to LucasFilm. I literally got in through the back door. So I was parking their cars, and they asked, "Hey, what are you doing here, kid? Why don’t you come work for us?” And I turned them down at first, which was preposterously stupid.  My roommate told me off that night and said, "You go back in and tell them you want that job.” So the next time they had an opening in the mailroom at LucasFilm, I beat the door down as best I could, and they gave me that job.  

Ian Bryce on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico
for Fun House [working title].

What a very serendipitous parking gig.

It was Chuck’s Parking, so I give a shout-out to Chuck. He was the one that was nice enough to give me a job and encouraged me to go over to LucasFilm for the part-time job that set me on this path.

You walked into LucasFilm just as it really was elevating the game of studio filmmaking. What was the company like at that point?

It was a very happy, collegiate-style company. Everybody worked together and played together. It was completely happy, the job that everybody wanted. I was lucky that I fell into it. At the same time I worked hard, and they saw whatever they saw in me. 

There were a lot of talented people there at that same time. Steven Spielberg was getting ready to direct Raiders. Kathy Kennedy and Frank Marshall were there; so was KC Hodenfield, who’s now a big-time A.D. We started the same day.  That Star Wars/Raiders period marks pretty much the whole time that I was at LucasFilm.  

For me, it ended in 1989 after the third Indiana Jones movie. Their feature department was starting to … not shutter, exactly, but it was starting to shrink. I felt like that fire started to burn down and it was time to try to light something else. 

My wife Taylor and I lived in San Francisco and decided we’d go to L.A. and check it out down there. We didn’t really have anything to go to, other than to keep chasing the dream. Not long after that, Frank and Kathy were involved in a picture called Joe Versus the Volcano. They put me onto that picture, and we’ve lived in L.A. ever since.

It sounds like LucasFilm was a very unique and probably self-contained culture. Was there any degree of culture shock coming into the corporate end of the industry?

Yes, for sure. I think I was slightly cloistered in the LucasFilm world. In Northern California, there was a Teamsters local, there was an IA local, and that’s all you had to deal with. So coming down as a young production manager on Joe Versus the Volcano, it was eye-opening. 

There was DGA. There were all the IA locals. There was New York. There was Hawaii. It was a picture that shot all over the place, so it had a lot of pieces that I was unfamiliar with. That movie was hard. As somebody who hadn’t yet been trained in all of that, I really had to bear down and learn. 

But I remember saying to myself afterwards, "If you could get that experience doing one film the hard way (which Joe was) or three the easy way, what would you pick?” And I thought, "I’m glad I took the hard way.” Just get it done. Get the knowledge and move on. I was hungry to learn  and accelerate and be exposed to as many movies as I could.

Ian Bryce (right) on location at the Great Wall of China for
Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, with (from left) Paramount
Pictures President of Physical Production Lee Rosenthal and
Ian Bryce Productions Associate Producer Regan Riskas. 
Once you got your feet on the ground in Hollywood, what was the next step for you, establishing yourself as not just a production manager but as somebody who can literally put a picture together and make production happen?

I think, as with most things in life, the timing has to collide with your own trajectory. There are lots of smart people in our business who haven’t gotten opportunities that others have. You have to have a certain amount of aggression about your career, a certain amount of drive and ego and ambition.  

And then you need a little bit of luck to get sprinkled on it. Everybody’s career tends to go from one movie to another. Just depending on what those titles are, it can have a massive impact on your life and the balance of your career.

I was fortunate that I worked on some bigger movies, and so bigger movies led to other bigger movies. You can get pigeonholed a little bit. If people know that you can make a Transformers movie, they’re more likely to call you and say, "Oh, can you do a Spider-Man movie?” or whatever it is. 

There may not be that many people that studios are willing to trust with a larger movie, except for the people that have done it before. So my progression was that I happened to be working on the slightly bigger, more commercial movies that had effects and stunts and exotic locations and bigger budgets and of all of that.  

So once you develop an ability—and perhaps an affinity—for that type of movie, that becomes your experience, and it can naturally lead to similar types of movies. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve worked on a lot of movies that are complicated. And I’ve really enjoyed them. It’s been a ton of fun. It still is.

Having known and worked with them for decades, what is Kathy and Frank’s style like, on set? Is there a way you’ve drawn from them in your own work?

Among their many talents, they know how to run happy sets. I think that’s a big deal. In the casting of movies—not just the casting of the actors but the casting of the crew and all of the personalities—it’s important to handpick people as much as possible. You can’t always use the exact same people, because for a certain director they may not click. 

So I think as you become more experienced you have the ability—and the requirement, honestly—as a producer, to speak up and say, "I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do; would you be open to trying this?” or "Are you willing to consider this person as a department head? I’ve done several movies with him/her, and I think they could be a good fit.”  

I put a lot of care into that. How do you manage all the personalities and create structure, create a happy environment for people to for people to do their best work? You’ve got to create the right spirit on the set.

How do you do that from the start? Is it a matter of standing up on day one and addressing the troops? Or is it a more subtle process?

No—waiting until you’re shooting is too late. It should be part of your personality and your management style from the beginning. The very first phone call that you have with someone makes a difference. It sets a tone from day one. Return every phone call. Respond to every letter. Make sure that if people take the time to reach out to you, that you find the time to reach back. Everything is important in the evolution of a film. No detail is too small, no detail is too big.

Once you’ve set that tone, how do you sustain it through the inevitable ups and downs of production? 

People have to feel that a producer is accessible on every level—on a story level, on a fiscal level, on a personality level, on a counseling level. I think that people look at the producer as a guide. It’s a role that I take very seriously.  

People will respect you when they feel that they can come talk to you, and you know and understand their job. So it’s important for me to know what goes into people’s jobs. When people understand that you know what they’re talking about and what their concerns are, it’s so much easier for them to come and have a conversation.  

I immerse myself in production and the story and how to help the director(s) and the whole team make the best movie that we can. It’s all about what goes up on that screen and being able to try something different, take advantage of inspiration. "What about trying this? That could be super cool.” And if it costs a little bit more money, okay, we’ll spend a little bit more money, but let’s not forfeit that opportunity.  

It’s about production value, basically. It’s hard to quantify, but you know it when you see it and add it where you can. 

Right. For instance, I have a lot of experience with the military and the Department of Defense. On the movie I just finished [currently untitled; working titles include Taliban Shuffle and Fun House], the story required, several scenes where Tina [Fey] gets into helicopters and goes off on missions; she plays a journalist embedded with the military.  Because I have healthy relationships with the Pentagon and with the Department of Defense (and because they approved our script), we were able to get a lot of aircraft and a lot of access. 

You have to establish a level of trust with the military. When a film crew comes around, they can get nervous.They’ve got a lot of assets out there that they’re trying to manage, just doing their own job, let alone have a film company come in and add complexity to their operation. When you’re allowed into that world, you show them that you can do exactly what you said and agreed to, and not ask for a bunch of changes just because you changed your mind. 

Fortunately, I’ve done several films with the military, so it’s perhaps a little easier for them to say yes when they see a face they know.

I can imagine that CAME in handy in the case of Saving Private Ryan.

Actually, not so much. We had to shoot that film in Europe because of the specific requirements of the beach location and Western European locations. But because it was over there, there was no real military cooperation from the Pentagon. So at the beginning, I was asking myself, "What am I going to do? How am I going to staff an invasion of Normandy without the U.S. military?” So I figured we had to get our own people. We ended up getting the Irish Reserve Army to come and participate.  

The Other IRA.

[Laughs] Yeah, that one. They actually staffed the invasion, for the most part. For equipment, we started putting word out around Europe. We started with one phone call to one contact, "Hey, we’re looking for some U.S. World War II landing craft and other military hardware.” Believe it or not, it came out of the woodwork. One call led to 1,000 calls. 
Those landing craft? One of them was ferrying sheep up in the Scottish highlands off the west coast. They said, "We’re not using it for sheep right now. So if you want to pay us, we’ll drive it down and you can load soldiers into it.” It was one of those happy occurrences where what we thought was going to create a problem wound up creating an opportunity.

Every classic movie needs a few strokes of good luck. But it brings to mind that you’ve worked with a lot of different directors who have wildly different styles. How do you tailor your approach to suit their needs?

Movies are a director’s medium. I embrace that and always have. So we have to be chameleons, in a way. When you’re meeting a new director, you have to understand what it is that they want, and what do they expect out of a producer? What are they looking for? How do they work? Obviously everybody wants the schedule and the budget and the practical execution of the movie. Some of them really want creative input and collaboration, some less so. So I think it’s about finding that level of collaboration, in a way that gives the director and the film everything that they need and is also going to be satisfying for you.  

Ian Bryce on his home turf, the Paramount Pictures lot, with
Regan Riskas, Associate Producer, Ian Bryce Productions.

Once prep and shooting have begun, how do you facilitate collaboration and communication? 

The producer’s office is like Grand Central Station. It’s the clearinghouse for information. There’s a piece of advice I got, literally, on day one in the business, and it has stayed with me ever since.  

One of the co-producers on Jedi was giving me some assignments, and some notice came in. He said, "Always ask yourself, when a piece of information comes your way: ‘Who does it affect?’” I never forgot that. Information, to me, is not power to be hoarded; information is required to be shared. If a piece of new information comes in, my gang knows. We fire it out there.

You can apply that in all kinds of ways. When Michael Bay walks on the set, it doesn’t matter if he sees me first or the AD first or the production designer. He’ll unload a note onto whomever he sees. Because everybody is well trained in terms of sharing information, it works really well. 

Everybody knows the mantra: "Who does it affect? Spread it around.” It may seem like a small detail, but it’s the foundation of good communication. A crew thrives on information. 

So as a facilitator of that, you’re enabling them to overachieve in each of their respective fields. That’s what they want. You’re feeding a hunger. You’re flogging a willing horse, so to speak.

I’m going to steal that: "flogging a willing horse.” So when it comes to franchises, does the willing horse remain willing? After four Transformers films, for instance, is keeping the challenge fresh a challenge in itself? 

To be fair, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and I have produced all of those films together.  But Transformers is very much Mike’s brainchild. It’s so singular in terms of its visual style and storytelling. I think there are other stories or franchises where it might be a little easier to change one of the key components like a director or a producer. It’s a lot more difficult with something that has started with Mike and enjoyed so much success with Mike. Of all the franchises, I feel like Transformers is one of a handful that are deeply reliant on a single person.

I’d never thought of it that way.

It’s been an incredible 10-year journey to make those four movies—very rewarding in a lot of ways. But in order to take something of that scale into the number of places we have—including China, Hong Kong, Egypt, Jordan, France and many U.S. states—it requires taking that machine and transplanting it on a schedule that is super precise.  

One of the things Mike and I are very tight about is not wasting time. We hardly ever have a travel day. We’ll travel and shoot, or we’ll shoot and travel. I’m not saying that everybody should do that.  That just happened to work for us. We’re very aggressive about the schedule and about how to move quickly, and there’s a lot of precision that goes into that particular franchise in its scheduling and its budgeting.

How does that affect your ability as a producer to deal with contingencies? After all, no shoot ever goes exactly the way you thought it would go on day one.  
Yes, completely. You can’t be totally locked in. There are certain aspects you can be locked into, and those just have to be accepted by everybody at the outset. 

For example, we may know that we have to shoot at Cape Canaveral on specific days. That cannot change. But what’s around it can change. So if we have a hiccup, then we’ll pull something up in front of it to fill the hole. And then you make the Cape Canaveral days work.  

So there are always going to be those things that you can’t shift, and you’ve just got to make sure that you have a plan that can adjust some other way. We’ve always been able to find our way through that. We’ve been on schedule on all four of those movies.

In terms of the story itself, you have to try to find the right balance of growth, in terms of spectacle, but also in terms of character, which is why on the fourth film it was time for [Mark] Wahlberg, the new cast, new bad guys and some new vehicles. Look, it’s a robot movie. We’re not trying to kid anybody about that. There’s always going to be some degree of sameness. But just like we were talking about the schedule, something has to stay put. In this case, it’s the robots. So then it’s about asking, who do you place around that story? Is that going to be interesting to an audience, and to us as filmmakers? 

Is it a relief, after doing movies that work on such a scale and after so many millions of dollars, to do a show like Fun House that’s relatively small?

Yes. [Laughs] Yes. To some degree, the challenges of producing are always the same. You have the same subsets. You have to have a good script. You have to get the best cast that you can. You have to budget, you have to schedule.  

On a smaller film, the money is tighter, so you’ve got to be more careful. But that doesn’t mean you can be shortsighted. You still have to spend money wisely. I try to make that a core question: How do I spend money wisely? Doing a smaller movie can be less strenuous on a physical and stamina level, because the big movies require an enormous amount of stamina and pacing, and a sort of agility, just to get to the finish line. 

Fun House shot for 47 days in New Mexico. It required a lot less stamina, physically and emotionally. But the truth is, your focus is sharper on the smaller movies because it needs to be. You’ve got to figure out how to give the movie and the directors and the studio the bang for the buck despite a smaller purse. So it takes the same producing skill set.

Bryce supervises production on location in Detroit for
Transformers 4: Age of Extinction.
It goes back to finding that production value.

On Fun House, one of our sets was an Afghan street, a beautiful marketplace.It was a significant set—our biggest one in the movie. But once we got in there and scouted it, we realized, "I don’t think we have enough extras.”  

When you talk about adding 100 extras for three days on a smaller movie, it’s not insignificant. It’s period. They all have to be dressed. Some need to have beards. And then they all have to be fed ... it’s a bit of a deal. So when that conversation came up, luckily I had put a little money off to the side for unforeseen needs like this. When the movie is genuinely better for having put those additional 100 extras in there for two or three days—or whatever the example—that’s money well spent, and wisely spent.  

Otherwise, if the set looks empty, you see it when you’re looking at dailies. And you realize, "That was a mistake. We should’ve spent more.” So sometimes you’ve got to do that. You just hope that if that comes up, you’ve always got some flexibility to adjust to give the movie what it’s asking for. You have to tailor your approach to the individual movie, to its own circumstances and its own needs.  

It’s really an extension of what I was saying earlier about casting the crew. That’s no joke. It’s incredibly important. A big part of what a good producer can bring is to line things up so you can have a happy, rewarding experience and make a great movie. Because you can make a great movie and be unhappy, but who wants to do that? 
-Written by Chris Green

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CHINA: The View From 40,000 Feet

Posted By Bennett Pozil, Monday, June 8, 2015
Flying back from Beijing on Air China flight 987, a route I know far too well, I normally take this time to write up meeting notes from the trip for my colleagues at East West Bank, where I serve as head of the corporate banking division. But this time I have the great fortune of writing my China notes for the esteemed members of the PGA. 

With the 2015 Beijing International Film Festival winding down, Cannes is less than a month away, and shortly thereafter the Shanghai International Film Festival will take center stage. While Beijing and Shanghai are not known for having the market power of Cannes, AFM, Toronto or Berlin in terms of the worldwide buying and selling of films, their Chinese counterparts do offer Westerners a chance to see these great cities in action. Being here on the ground offers a closer look into how this tight-knit industry operates—and a chance to experience the explosive energy propelling the China film business on its meteoric rise. 

Landing in Beijing last week, the big news was Furious 7, which should end up with a larger theatrical box office in China than the U.S. as it crosses the billion-dollar mark in worldwide theatrical receipts.  Meanwhile, news of the two landmark cross-border collaborations from a few weeks earlier are still the talk of the town: Hunan/Lionsgate and Huayi/STX. 

While many are looking at the sheer size of the investment to measure these partnerships, these deals are not about that. They are about "access.” Lionsgate is certainly better positioned as a worldwide company by accessing Hunan Broadcasting’s reach as the second largest broadcaster in mainland China. On the other side, Hunan benefits from Lionsgate’s distribution machine as it takes its first significant steps toward becoming an international player. 

From the government’s perspective, nothing would please them more than seeing Chinese films travel the world and shrink the imbalance between what studio and Western film product takes out of the local box office compared to what Chinese films earn abroad. Longing to return to that too-brief window in the early part of this century when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero were box office winners stateside, regaining a competitive foothold internationally remains the most prized breakthrough in Chinese entertainment today. Hence, investing in Western companies is a key way for China to learn firsthand how to exploit content on a global stage. 

Another fascinating trend taking shape on the mainland is the expansion of the non-theatrical revenue base in the form of internet streaming. Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (collectively referred to as BAT) plus other platforms like LeTV are busy acquiring local and foreign content. While the acquisition price for online rights still falls short of home entertainment and television values in the U.S., it’s a huge step in the right direction. 

These four companies in particular are aiming to become the Netflix of China by enticing subscribers to pay a reasonable monthly fee for access to their online libraries, accessible across multiple devices. Given that not too long ago access was readily available to consumers at no charge, we see streaming as the first step toward sustainable growth as the local market matures and gravitates toward offering more flexible viewing choices. 

This past week I happened to be on four panels and presented a lecture at the Beijing Film Academy. The #1 topic in all of these sessions was the disruptive impact of the internet. The fact that paying for online access is now gaining traction with consumers is phenomenal, especially considering where market consensus was just over a year ago. 

Flying back, the gentleman to my left had visited Beijing for the first time. He was bringing two independent pictures to China to enter in the Film Festival screenings. Both films were nominated for Academy Awards at this past year’s Oscars (one picking up multiple statues), but neither film was acquired for release by Chinese distributors. 

Our conversation turned, then, to how independent producers can benefit from China. His initial thought was that this market simply wasn’t a match for his company. But as our discussion turned to the concept of access, relationships and connections, it became clear to my friend in 14C that the #2 market in the world is worth cultivating because China is more than just about selling independent movies to a local distributor. 

Recognizing that only a finite number of Western pictures will receive a theatrical release in China due to slots, quotas, competition from other Western titles and censorship related issues, producers can also attract direct investment from Chinese companies. Such investment can still be in Western titles that never see China. Or it can be from Chinese counterparts looking for coproduction partners for international or even local mainland product, where the Western producer’s past production titles are used as a resume to attract potential suitors. 

With that knowledge at hand, it is difficult to think of a Chinese film company that would not want to collaborate with our independent producer in 14C. Making inroads in China is not just about how Western producers can access the market for their own benefit—but more about how Western producers can form meaningful relationships with their Chinese counterparts for mutual benefit. 

For Westerners, the goal is often about accessing the mainland box office coin, and for many a Chinese film company, it’s about developing global reach and learning to make international movies. So let us all work together, collaborate and help each other out using the fine example set before us by Hunan Broadcasting and Lionsgate Entertainment. 

As the 777 lands at LAX, I look forward to my next trip to China in June for the Shanghai International Film Festival. See you there! 

Bennett Pozil has structured the financing of several hundred motion pictures over the course of his career, including titles such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, Fearless and Lost In Translation. 

Things to Know About Working in China (or Trying to!)

Written By Elizabeth Dell, Independent Producer, Head of PGA China Task Force
There are numerous opportunities and benefits to working in and with China. It’s a vast market with a huge, sophisticated and growing audience for content. But going from the U.S. to China is not the same as going from Los Angeles to Louisiana, so here are a few insights from the Producers Guild’s China Task Force.  The content needs to work. With so much attention focused on U.S.–China co-productions, a lot of people are hoping that if they "make the girlfriend Chinese,” pots of money will fall from the sky. Not true. It has to be content that Chinese audiences want to watch, and the Chinese think just as highly of their culture as we do of ours. A simple experiment to decide whether your co-production idea works? Imagine it with all the Western characters made Chinese and the Chinese characters made Western. Would an American audience watch that movie? If not, a Chinese audience probably won’t get behind your current co-pro script. 

It will take longer than you think. This is an adage for everything in the content business, but it is especially true in China. Trust means a lot in Hollywood, but it means everything in China. So expect to take many more months and many more visits overseas before you can get your project moving. And yes, you will need to go to China in order to develop a real relationship with a Chinese partner.  Silence doesn’t always mean no. Westerners tend to talk to stay connected. We update each other when there’s nothing to update, just so everyone knows that we’re still in this together. The Chinese tend to talk when they have good news. So if you haven’t heard anything, it may just mean that there’s currently nothing to say. (Unfortunately, it also might mean "No.” No one likes to give bad news.)  

The people at the dinner party maybe aren’t on your project. In the West, if a business partner invites you to a dinner and other people join, there is a natural assumption that the new people must be involved in the business project, since they were also invited. Dangerous assumption! A Chinese dinner party is a host’s chance to maintain networks, repay favors, earn future opportunities, etc. The person sitting next to you may not know anything about you and might even be someone you shouldn’t tell about your business. They are there because of their relationship to the host, not because of their relationship to a mutual project. So have fun, meet new people, but be circumspect. 

-Written By: Bennett Pozil, Illustrated By: Elena Lacey

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THE SWEET SPOT: Stephanie Allain Stays Independent In The Heart of Hollywood

Posted By Jeffrey McMahon, Monday, June 8, 2015
Stephanie Allain"I’m not the kind of producer who is a big deal at studios and gets big deals made,” says Stephanie Allain. "I’m dedicated to producing movies with diversity both in front of and behind the camera, and by necessity those movies have lower budgets.” She grins, "But there’s an audience, and as long as there’s an audience, I guess I get to keep making them.” 

For 25 years, Allain has been the guiding force behind some of the freshest and most vital talent to emerge in Hollywood, shepherding John Singleton and Robert Rodriguez to success and bringing such diverse hits as last year’s Dear White People and Beyond the Lights to screens. "It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been an incredible ride and I really feel proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish,” she says.

Allain was born in New Orleans but grew up in Los Angeles. From an early age she was drawn to the arts, studying creative writing and dance. 

"I didn’t know how movies were made, I didn’t know what a producer did, but I‘ve always loved stories. I was a voracious reader as a kid,” she recalls. "There were two books in particular in the ‘70s that I read that got made into movies. One was The Godfather, and the other was The Exorcist—and the correlation between the page and the screen in those was fascinating to me, seeing how someone else visualized what you had already imagined in your head.” 

However, her career in the film industry was almost accidental. "What happened is, I got pregnant,” she laughs. "And the only thing I could do with a kid was read scripts and books and articles and write synopses. It was really easy for me, because it was critical analysis.” 

After starting out at CAA, Allain found a job at 20th Century Fox as a story analyst, where she quickly began making the connections that would lead to her producing career. "Two weeks into my job at Fox, I met Amy Pascal, and she told me, ‘I love the way you write; you get it. I want you to be my personal reader.’ That was my training, just sitting in her office watching her work with writers and directors.”

After a few years at Fox, Allain moved over to Columbia Pictures, where she worked under Pascal and Dawn Steel and was promoted to creative executive. "My first task when I was promoted out of the story department was to replace myself, and the first interview I had was with John Singleton. He didn’t really want to talk about the job; he wanted to tell me about Boyz n the Hood.” 

Singleton, then fresh out of USC film school, pitched the gritty story of a group of friends in South Central L.A. struggling against violence and crime. "I went to school in Inglewood. The reason I fell in love with that script was because I knew those kids.” 

Allain pitched the movie to her bosses at Columbia; to make it, she was promoted to a production executive, despite her lack of experience. "I knew nothing,” she laughs. "It was ‘fake it till you make it’ for me, and that’s how I learned. It’s a process, learning how to make movies, and everybody comes to it differently.” 

Ultimately Boyz n the Hood premiered at Cannes, received two Academy Award nominations and was a box-office hit. "It was a very low-budget movie with an all-black cast and made $65 million dollars. And it really launched my career,” Allain says. "John Singleton taught me how to be a producer for writer-directors, because he was so fierce in protecting his vision—and he was right. It really taught me the power of the auteur and how to protect that vision as a producer.”

After that success, Allain spent the next several years at Columbia, where she worked to develop and release films made by minority talent, such as Singleton’s Poetic Justice, Darnell Martin’s I Like It Like That and Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi, which received widespread acclaim and a variety of awards. 

"I was the go-to person for telling stories by people of color with studio support. I was the only black studio executive at Columbia, and I pretty much had carte blanche. I had my own little mini-major, and that was an awesome training ground.” 

At the same time, Allain’s greater experience level found her interested in trying on other hats. "Even though I worked at the studio, the studio always perceived me as being in the camp of the artist, supporting them, and I ultimately realized that I didn’t want to be at the studio. I wanted to be in the filmmaker camp.”

Allain left Columbia and after a brief stint at the Jim Henson Company, she found herself at a crossroads. "It was a disaster for me. I thought I was going to be producing, but actually I became a manager. I was even further away from the process of working with writers and scripts. I produced four or five movies, and they were disasters. I literally got fired. I was single again. I had two kids.  It was one of those moments where you reassess your life and decide what’s really important.” 

It was after this trying period that Allain encountered another script she felt passionately about. "I read the script for Hustle & Flow, and it was like standing next to someone that you’re really into. My heart started beating fast, from the first line.”
Excited by the script, Allain knew it was a project she could bring to the screen. "Because it was up my alley, I loved Craig Brewer as a writer-director, it was a black cast, we put all these great people together … I loved the idea, upending the stereotypical image of a pimp. He wants to be elevated, and through art, he is.” 

Allain made contact with Craig Brewer in Memphis and, partnering with John Singleton, decided to take the plunge with him—in spite of Brewer’s lack of directorial experience.

"If somebody writes something good, if the writing works, you know that intrinsically there’s an authenticity to them. Some writers are not really interested in directing, but most of them would love the opportunity to protect the vision, protect the writing and stay closer to the incarnation of what’s on the page. 

Producer Stephaine Allain (right) on the set of Something New with director Sanaa Hamri.

Allain (right) on the set of Peeples with writer/director Tina Gordon Chism.

Allain gets a warm greeting from Beyond the Lights cast member Danny Glover.

On the set of Hustle & Flow, from left: writer/director Craig Brewer, producer Stephanie Allain, producer John Singleton.

So what I do is sit with them and talk with them, ask them how they see the movie, how they see casting, pick their brains and see if they have the answers. It’s not easy, stepping up to direct a movie. That means you’re the leader, everyone’s looking to you. It’s a very formidable task,” Allain says of her experiences with relatively inexperienced filmmakers. 

Hustle & Flow premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. It went on to receive two Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Original Song, and it launched the new phase of Allain’s career as a producer through her company, Homegrown Films. 

Allain has since racked up an impressive portfolio, including the interracial romantic drama Something New directed by Sanaa Hamri, Craig Brewer’s follow-up to Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan, and Tim Story’s Hurricane Season, starring Forest Whitaker. 

"My specialty is making movies that buck the stereotypes of people of color. 
I like bringing those images to the world.  That’s what I think is my sweet spot as 
a filmmaker.”

In addition, Allain’s mission to promote up-and-coming and minority talent has taken her to the board of Film Independent, the Los Angeles-based organization that runs the L.A. Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Awards. "I’ve been on the board for 20 years, and with Project Involve for 25 years. Every year we take 30 individuals and prepare them with mentors. For me, it’s a way to really nurture new talent, because they are the future of our industry.”  

That spirit animates much of her work within the independent community, as director of the Los Angeles Film Festival—2015 marks her fourth year on the job—to her participation as a speaker in this summer’s Produced By Conference.

Allain delivered a double whammy in 2014. She signed on to produce Beyond the Lights, from director Gina Prince-Bythewood, about a wildly successful pop singer who is assisted out of a personal crisis by an attractive police officer. 

"It all came down to casting,” Allain recalls. "Everyone wanted to cast a singer in the main role. Gina found Gugu Mbatha-Raw and fell in love.” 

The studio had its doubts about casting Mbatha-Raw, a relatively unknown British actress, in the lead role. "Nobody knew Gugu, but Gina was unwavering. So I convinced Gina to make an eight-minute short as a proof of concept—to show the studio—and that’s how the movie got made.” 

Beyond the Lights was released to rave reviews for both its direction and Mbatha-Raw’s star-making performance. "It was a hard sell, because it’s a black romance, and you hardly ever see those,” Allain says. "But Gina really did a great job.”

Not long before production began on Beyond the Lights, Allain got involved with another project: Justin Simien’s satirical script about racial conflict on an Ivy League campus, Dear White People, which started as a mock trailer online.
"My daughter sent me this fake trailer for Dear White People, and I thought it was hilarious. My assistant sent me the script, and I said, ‘Oh my God … this is really smart and topical.’ I called Justin and it turned out he had been part of Project Involve—he was a Film Independent baby!” 

Allain put together financing for Dear White People and shepherded its entry into the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Prize and became one of the standout indie films of 2014.

Through it all, Allain has maintained a strong vision of the kinds of films that she wants to make, with an emphasis on unique stories from fresh voices. In addition to the crowded slate of films she’s developing for film and television, Allain is also writing and hopes soon to direct as well. "There’s so much to do, always something new to do,” she grins again. "When I turned fifty, I realized I only have maybe another fifty left, so I better get on it.”

-Written By Jeffrey McMahon, Photographed by Kremer Johnson Photography

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RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: The New Essentials of Digital Series

Posted By Meghan de Boer, Monday, June 8, 2015

YouTube personality Tyler Oakley
These are exciting times for content creators and storytellers. There are more avenues for distribution than ever before, and the content is startlingly diverse as creators are able to target niche audiences and cater to their personal investment in characters and stories. As technology continues to manifest itself in ever-creative and useful vessels for consumption, creators are not only telling their stories but packaging their products into full interactive and immersive experiences. There’s no ceiling on the opportunities for creativity and invention.

In this playground of digital, producers are encouraged and challenged to innovate and find new ways of reaching and engaging their viewers in these niche markets. In this landscape, the measure of success is not necessarily which series has the most views but which series resonates the loudest with the community that identifies with the content.

"The views report the views; that’s one thing,” says Bernie Su, PGA member and Emmy Award-winning creator and showrunner of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. "But when you have conversation in the threads, now you’ve actually resonated with your audience. Now they’re discussing it, or debating it, or loving it, or hating it. Now you have this emotional reaction to the content that you’ve created, and to me that’s the measure of success. Does anybody care?”

On the executive side, Chief Content and Technology Strategist for Endemol Beyond USA David Williams agrees with that sentiment. "People tend to look at views and subscribers, but the truth is, what’s much more important is what is underneath those numbers.”  

David’s essential barometer for success? Total watch times. If the audience is connecting with the content, that measure of success will be reflected in the length of time they are watching.

Viewers today are hungry for programming, none more so than millennials (18–34), who consume more online content than previous generations. For the content to resonate with these viewers and elicit a share, a comment or a like, it must connect with them on a personal level.  
Sarah Malkin, Vice President of Programming at Maker Studios, describes it as "content that feels authentic to its creator(s)–meaning it reveals something personal or shares a truthful perspective on the world; content that is interactive or social by nature—asking the viewers to participate and share their own feelings across platforms; and content that sets up a promise that it delivers on consistently (e.g., a fun format that is always followed; a strictly adhered to publishing schedule).”

For a case in point, look no further than This American Life and its new series Videos 4 U. Their episode "I Love You,” about a young couple who have been dating for eight years but have never said "I love you,” has garnered a ton of buzz, conversation and press, amassed more than 1 million views across platforms and just won a 2015 Webby Award. It’s easy to see why, given the story’s approach to a universal rite-of-passage through a unique, personal and deeply authentic point-of-view.  

YouTube personality Grace Helbig

Likewise, YouTube personalities like Tyler Oakley and Grace Helbig have found tremendous success by just being themselves on camera. Tyler’s unabashed "fan-girling” has endeared him to a broad millennial audience, while Grace’s winningly awkward comic delivery has helped her secure a place as a YouTube everywoman.  

Anyone curious to get inside the mind of this generation and understand why they are drawn to this type of content should stream "Teens React to Grace Helbig” on TheFineBros YouTube channel. Young people aren’t shy about what they like. YouTube is full of free focus groups, if you know where to look. (TheFineBros, Tyler Oakley and Grace Helbig have 12.1 million, 6.8 million and 2.2 million YouTube subscribers, respectively.)

Misconceptions of Producing Digital Content

Since the online market is so different from linear television—from the attitude of the consumer to the multi-directional interaction with the content—there isn’t a one-size-fits-all mentality that can be helpfully applied to producing in both media. As producers from mainstream television begin to move into digital territories, they find that different rules apply.  

Producer Bernie Su (left) works on-set with cast and crew.
Bernie Su thinks one of the biggest misconceptions about digital content is that "If it’s shot well, it will do well. A lot of people overvalue the production value of the show and undervalue the writing or the acting,” he says. "It may look great, but if the heart of the character and the story isn’t there, you won’t get that personal connection with it.”  

"It’s become a little bit of a trope to say that,” David Williams agrees, "but I think there’s still a big disconnect between what people associate with high production and success with audiences.”

This seems to be the natural inclination of the rising generation, bucking against the highly produced concepts in favor of authenticity. They value story lines or characters that speak to them above all else. 

Of course, if you can have both a high production value and a story with heart, you have a winning combination. But a story that deeply connects with its audience—even despite a low production value—isn’t something to sniff at these days. As long as it can resonate within its niche, it can persevere.  

Sarah Malkin says another misconception is "It’s easier or takes less effort to pro-
duce because it’s meant for a digital platform. Producers know that making content is always a challenge, whether it’s made for $100 or $1 millon. Digital producers put a huge amount of planning, preparation and perfectionism into their work, with the added stressors of lightning-fast turnaround times and the expectation to pivot based on audience feedback.”

Budget and turnaround times for a digital production can be vastly different than a series for broadcast. Digital producers have to be adept at wearing multiple hats and crewing their shows efficiently. If you can’t afford to put 100 people on your crew, you have to prioritize and determine what you can do without.  

Chris Thomes, Vice President, Digital Media Studio at ABC, observes, "The viewer appetite for video programming has really evolved with the proliferation of different viewing devices, platforms and content formats. Their expectations around look and feel for content are more flexible than ever before, so production values can follow. Like a Silicon Valley startup, where you may have employees wearing multiple hats to get a new company or product off the ground, digital productions can leverage smaller teams, with each crew member being expert in more than one skill. The key is having a great line producer who is savvy at budgeting and crewing a production in a compressed way.” 

Contrary to popular belief, some producers thrive on quick turnaround times, incorporating feedback based on the fans’ comments. Best of all, the fans feel listened to, which fuels their engagement even further.

"There’s also a misconception that if you just plug in an influencer,” Su believes, "you’ll get views.” In digital media parlance, these "influencers” are the stars of social media—personalities with millions of subscribers on their YouTube Channels and/or massive followings on Twitter, Vine, Snapchat or any other social platform.  

If only we could recall the name of this YouTube star...

PewDiePie is a YouTube personality who posts videos of himself playing video games while commenting and reacting. While it may not be high art, it does speak to a certain audience—and that certain audience happens to be huge. PewDiePie’s YouTube channel has more than 36 million subscribers.  

The comedy channel, Smosh, has more than 20 million, and vlogger Jenna Marbles is just shy of 15 million subscribers. 

Influencers aren’t always the shortcut to wide exposure that they seem to be. "There’s a lot more to it than that,” continues Su. "You can’t just plug in someone who has a million Twitter followers into something and expect that million Twitter followers to all come to it. It has to be on brand with them, it has to be on brand with you.”

"Sometimes people overestimate the power of influencers to move the needle on audiences,” adds Williams. "It’s not automatic, and the content itself has to be highly tuned to a community’s interests if it’s going to work. If you can tune the content with the community, then the influencer is actually tremendously helpful in establishing a brand voice and communicating a brand promise.”

In short, there’s a lot to be said about the social reach and the marketing potential of including an influencer, but it’s not necessarily a box on the checklist for "Make Show A Hit.” 

"A lot of people obsess about runtimes—that it has to be short. I don’t think that’s true. If the audience loves the content, they will share the content with their peers, regardless of how long it is,” says Su.  

"If you have an existing, passionate fanbase, longer content will work and will work well.” says Williams. "However if your goal is to acquire new audiences, shorter content is likely to serve you better as you build,” says Williams.  

Vlogger and YouTube personality Jenna Marbles
Creating Content & Engaging with Your Audience

"Now the larger companies are competing in this Darwinian ecosystem for consumer engagement, so the big challenge—from my perspective—is how to create digital series that are appealing to advertisers and brand marketers, while at the same time being appealing to audiences. Especially when you consider a lot of the successful formats online are these highly efficient, inexpensive programs. But it’s also a big challenge because they are not necessarily appealing to brand marketers who want to associate with more aspirational content. So the challenge is: How do we leverage our resources and our operations to create programming that can do both?” asks Williams.

In Bernie Su’s development process, he always asks himself, "What makes the content fresh? If you have your television on, [the network] shows you what they show you, and you decide whether you consume it or not. But online, you have this massive choice of things, and it’s search-based or feed-based. We’re not trying to fill inventory; we’re trying to actually spur discussion and reaction.”  

Ultimately his target is content that is buzzworthy and that invites the fans to talk about the "world” within the show. 

So as a content creator for digital series, how does a producer stoke the fire and fuel fan engagement? For Bernie Su, the key is accessibility. He gauges his audiences’ passion by their user-generated content, such as fan-art or music videos using cuts from the show.  "It shows that the [series] has hit these viewers at a different level than just the casual viewer” says Su. "It’s a measure of success.” 

To keep the fans engaged with the content, he honors requests for logos, key art or stills. "Give your audiences the tools. Make them feel like they are welcome and valuable and part of the whole experience of the show, and I think they’ll be more passionate as well.”  

Malkin adds, "Creators who communicate regularly with their fans and ask for their responses inspire great loyalty. It’s largely about establishing and maintaining a connection. Also, demonstrating appreciation for serious fans by providing extra access or exclusive offerings goes a long way. Creators will find ways to reward their most devoted followers with special bonus content available only on certain platforms, in-person meetups at the fan events, etc. By doing this, they’re creating a real community for their fans to interact and share with each other, in addition to expressing themselves to the creator.” 

The Future is Digital

A new survey was just released from Deloitte, in which they found 53% of U.S. households stream TV shows on a monthly basis, compared to 45% of U.S. households that still watch traditional live TV each month. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings also recently has discussed his stance, as published in Business Insider. 

"Linear TV has been on an amazing 50-year run. Internet TV is starting to grow. Clearly over the next 20 years, internet TV is going to replace linear TV. So I think everyone is scrambling to figure out how do they do great apps. That will just keep getting built up, and so it’s a transition into figuring out the internet.”

"This is the most exciting time to be in this industry,” says Williams. "We’ve all been waiting for the moment the market begins to flip, in terms of classic media leading digital, and we are at that moment where that changeover is occurring in tangible ways. The amount of excitement and opportunity that that brings is immeasurable.”

During this exciting shift in the market, content creators win. The world is their oyster, as they say. Without the confines of a finite amount of programming opportunities and the constraints of needing huge budgets, content creators can explore new types of programming, new platforms, new ways of marketing and niche audiences.  

With an abundance of creative outlets for storytellers, digital media has provided an opportunity not only to serve the mainstream—but for the smaller, niche, more authentic markets to have a voice and, frankly, to matter. After all, every market matters. Every audience deserves creative voices speaking to and with them. 

Digital media didn’t create those audiences, but it’s given storytellers an unprecedented moment to find and connect with them. That moment is here. Don’t miss it.

-Written by Meghan de Boer

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BRAND NEW STORIES: Making Product Integration Work for Producers

Posted By Mark Owens, Friday, June 5, 2015
The history of product integration is as old as content creation itself. In fact, most people would be surprised to know that the silent film Wings (1927) was not only the first to win the Academy Award for Best Picture but also contained a plug for Hershey’s chocolate. I doubt that anyone is alive to tell us how that inclusion happened—whether it was an advertising or marketing spend, or simply based on the producer’s affinity for chocolate. At the very least, it reminds us that product integration is almost a century old.

Today this evolution has reached a pivotal moment. What was once a below-the-line advertising strategy based on relationships and happenstance is fast becoming a science. The ability for producers and content creators to connect with brands and advertisers, identify opportunities for integration and monetize those opportunities is growing exponentially.

Consider a scene from HBO’s original series The Newsroom. The character Sloan Sabbith, a financial reporter, turns to her producer on the show with a look of excitement and relief and says, "They finally got one for me … a Bloomberg terminal. This is a $24,000 system that gives me instantaneous access to all the financial information in the world.”

That line introducing the Bloomberg terminal might seem like a minor detail to viewers, a simple element of the news-making process at the fictional network ACN. But for Bloomberg, HBO and the producers of The Newsroom, the reality is more complicated.

This story point is product integration designed to elevate the Bloomberg brand with a non-traditional audience and to help drive sales of the terminals to business consumers. By the same token, the integration provided The Newsroom with not only a memorable and authentic detail but also revenue to elevate and execute the story the producers wanted to tell.

On its surface a simple line of dialogue, the introduction of the Bloomberg terminal and its inclusion in scripts and important plotlines required close collaboration between Bloomberg, HBO and the producers to ensure credibility, consistency and relevance. It was a moment that was carefully cultivated, researched and executed within the show. It had benefits for all involved, and most importantly it was seamless to the viewer.

For The Newsroom, the relationship helped enhance the quality of their programming with a credible brand that is meaningful and authentic to the series and its audience. For Bloomberg, the insertion drove visibility for the brand, allowing it to penetrate a premium network that’s advertising-free and potentially reaching a new audience—a critical goal for the company.

Over the past decade, advertisers and brands have been searching for new ways to deliver the message about their product or their brands, particularly in our current era of ad skipping and commercial avoidance. In the world of cord-cutting, binge-watching and DVRs, the challenge is immense.

Consumers have made it clear: They want content on their terms and at the price, time and on the device of their choice. Against this backdrop, the practice of brand integration has taken on even greater importance and currency.

For producers and creators of content, there are several keys to effective integration, including:

Alignment: Identify the Right Partners

The key to ensuring an integration that elevates the creative work is a match of the right brands with the right content. An integration can be seamless, clever and creative, but if the brand identity doesn’t suit the characters or story, the result will be jarring and artificial.

Michael Marinello is the head of global communications, technology, innovation and sustainability at Bloomberg and oversees brand integration efforts with the entertainment industry as part of his role. "We get a lot of incoming requests from the entertainment industry on engagement in movies and television,” he recalled in a Bloomberg interview. "I pitched Corbis the idea of Sloan on The Newsroom having a terminal. It could be integrated into the story to show how she uses it to report on the news. They realized, here was something they felt that they could actually make happen.”

"Placing the Bloomberg terminal was something that Aaron Sorkin was very much interested in from the get-go,” said David Henri, VideoFX supervisor of The Newsroom. "He wanted the Sloane Sabbith character to have a Bloomberg terminal. She’s a financial news reporter for the network, and [Aaron] knew that Bloomberg was a natural fit.”

Execution: Establish an Effective Partnership

Once you have identified your brand partners, you should work to establish a clear understanding of their needs and ensure that it meets with your creative process and plans to include the product. As you are producing your content, it is essential that you collaborate closely so that any integration is consistent with their expectations and yours.

It is essential that they are embedded in a seamless manner, whether through product use by characters, images or just inclusion in the script. As Benjamin Levy from Bloomberg’s legal team observed, "We wanted to make sure that the character that was using the terminal was doing so in manner that is compliant with how our customers are supposed to use the terminal.”

"Sometimes the real world and the fictional world don’t line up,” added Henri, "but both sides worked well together and it came out looking great on screen.”

Measurement: Measure and Share in the Success

It is critical to measure the success of partnership. This includes reviewing the target audiences’ reaction, using widely-accepted measurement tools for audience ratings and engagement, and creating reports that provide real analysis of the value. Brands and advertisers are expected to demonstrate a return on their investment, and if a producer makes that a simple process, she or he will enhance their ability to access marketing budgets and seize opportunities to develop a long-term relationships with brands. Some of these metrics include audience demographics, social following, Nielsen and other viewership ratings.

Research from a 2014 MPG study suggests that unlike popular perceptions of commercial breaks, embedding and brand integration are actually beneficial to the audience viewing experience. Of the study’s respondents, 73% found brand integrations are less intrusive than TV commercials, while 63% said it made brands and products more relatable and 62% said it’s good to see which brands and products are being used.

One factor seems to remain constant: The cost of creating great content keeps going up. The competition for dollars and investment in content is significant—a fact of life whether you are a veteran studio producer or network showrunner, an independent filmmaker or a storyteller who is pushing the content boundaries on social media. Product integration can be a vehicle to offset those costs, and if done properly—like in The Newsroom—can bring new revenue while enhancing the story and ultimately attracting a stickier and more engaged audience.

So how does a producer begin the process of seeking potential brand partners to collaborate with? Until recently, producers have had a couple of options.

OPTION A: Hire an independent production coordinator who could cold call hundreds of brands and agencies.

OPTION B: Allow the networks or studios to supervise integration efforts, monetizing that integration for themselves and not pushing the creative alignment at the producer level.
I work for Corbis Entertainment, a company that has been proud to partner with the Producers Guild for the last several years. Our solution to this problem was the creation of our Branded Entertainment Network (BEN), which launched last year.

With BEN, we’ve tried to take an important step forward by creating the first global marketplace for brand embedding across film, television, OTT, digital, social and celebrity content—incorporating technology, search functionality, planning and analytics as essential elements of the deal-making process. Simply put, we’ve worked to create an online marketplace where content creators, brands and media agencies can collaborate directly on ideas and opportunities while conducting transactions with simplicity and transparency.

Marketers need to plan their product integration by delivering opportunities against budgets and audience demographics. Importantly for both the producer and advertiser, BEN measures the impact of insertions through advanced research tools that account for ratings across multiple platforms, allowing both parties to understand what was delivered, at what cost, and to measure the return on investment. It’s a solution that we’re proud of and one that’s flexible enough to continue to develop as technology and industry practice allows.

Some producers may worry that cracking the puzzle of product integration represents a distraction from (or imposition on) their creative process … or worse, threatens to distract the audience from the story onscreen. But our research has indicated that audiences actually have come to expect that the brands they encounter every day will find their way into the content they watch. Rather than a distraction, brand presence makes the content more credible to them.

As producers, understanding the value of embedding can be a critical weapon in your arsenal as you look to monetize your content while remaining true to the creative values that inspired you to tell those stories in the first place. Using new technology can streamline the process, simplify and enhance those opportunities and create a new model of collaboration, cooperation and success.

We’ve been proud to guide and facilitate that engagement, hopefully providing storytellers with essential revenue and real-world authenticity. Best of all, technology has evolved to a point that makes forming those relationships easier than ever, letting storytellers stay focused on what they do best.

Mark Owens serves as Chief Revenue Officer for Corbis Entertainment
- Mark Owens serves as Chief Revenue Officer for Corbis Entertainment.

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FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH: PGA Members Weigh In On Our Question Of The Month

Posted By Short Takes, Friday, June 5, 2015
Q: What’s the flat-out weirdest production problem you ever had to solve?

Jeanette DePatie, Producer, Garfield 2: Pet Pampering Procedures 

I was doing a feature on "pet pampering” for a major DVD release. We had a shot where a limo pulled up to the front of the pet-pampering palace, with a cat in a bling collar looking out the window. After a few takes, the tiny cat decided she wanted nothing to do with the process and climbed into the insulation inside the door of the limo. And did I mention the limo was due at a wedding in an hour? Needless to say there was a lot of wheedling and pleading and waving of kitty treats (and not just by the trainer) to get feline Garbo out of her hiding place and onto her mark! But she came out, we got the shot and the limo even got to the chapel on time.

Michael Bellavia, Executive Producer, Work Horse

We were shooting a video where we needed a female extra to wear a horse head. Thing is, she took the role very seriously, to the point of requesting oats and hay at lunch and that we only whinny at her. Of course we obliged. One of the guys on the production team even asked her out on a date, and she accepted by pawing the ground with her "hoof” twice. We let her keep the head after the shoot, and yes, she wore it the night of that date ...


Barry Kaplan, Consulting Producer, The 55th Annual L. A. County Holiday Celebration

So back in the day, I was handling production and AD duties on a Quiet Riot music video. We got to the studio on a tight schedule. The director wanted our extras (playing the band’s fans) to be standing in front of the band onstage, concert-style, waving their arms in the air. But the performance stage for the band had only been built at 2 feet high … a real Spinal Tap moment. So I called for a fog machine and filled the studio with ground fog and had the fans get on their knees in front of the stage. As they disappeared into the fog, nobody could tell the difference on film.

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BETTING THE HOUSE: Not Every Investor Will Gamble His House On Your Movie

Posted By Paul Brett, Friday, June 5, 2015
What movies made an impression on you as a young person? What were the movies that made you care about movies?
Some of my earliest memories are of watching films on TV with my parents. My mum taught me that the greats included Hepburn, Crawford and Garbo. My dad explained that the immortals were Bogart, Cagney and Karloff. Visits to my local cinema in Hammersmith, London were a weekly experience. It is said that the music you listen to when you are 13 dictates your taste for life. If we apply that to films, then I hit movie maturity during some pretty great times: The Godfather, The Sting, Paper Moon, Young Frankenstein, Chinatown, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

Films that have made me care about movies include It’s a Wonderful Life (my all-time favorite film), The Big Chill, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dances with Wolves, Terminator 2 and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. One day I hope to find the person who received John Hughes’ baton when he passed it on …

What’s the most recent project you’ve backed? What got you excited about it?
We have just done our first TV show: Wolf Hall for the BBC (Masterpiece in the USA) with Colin Callender of Playground and Mark Pybus of Company. The books and stage shows (currently on Broadway) are magnificent, and these six episodes—telling the story of the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII—are pretty close to perfection. Truly intelligent filmmaking for adults.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken on a project?
The King’s Speech. My business partner Tim Smith and I put our houses up as collateral. I was with my children in a Force 8 Gale, crossing the Atlantic with only a maritime signal, three weeks before the start of principal photography. Four days and nights I will never forget. My relief when I saw the first assembly was huge. I told Tom Hooper then that the film would win every award going and make more money than anyone could dream possible. Ian Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin all thought that I had lost the plot, but I knew that they (the film’s real producers) had done that rare thing—they had made a film that would touch everyone who had a family.

What should a producer be preparing or thinking about as s/he’s getting ready to meet with you for the first time?
Why would I want to spend the next three or four years of my life working with you on this project? I prefer working with friendly people on quality films rather than with bullies who make commercial shows. Life’s too short to do otherwise.

-- Paul Brett is the co-owner (along with partner Tim Smith) of Prescience, an integrated media company that focuses on film and television production and financing.

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I COULD LEAN ON HIM FOR ANYTHING: Taking The First Steps Toward Scripted TV

Posted By Wei Ling Chang, Friday, June 5, 2015
After a three-year odyssey producing and directing my first feature film, The Unlikely Girl, I felt like I had aged 10 years but knew that there was nothing else I’d rather do. My husband found this strange. Still, he agreed to move with me from NYC to LA so I could pursue more head-banging challenges. 

Since I caught the fiction bug, I decided to take a break from producing reality TV (like A&E’s The First 48 and Parking Wars, and MTV’s Made) and focus on narrative film and scripted TV. Breaking in has been difficult since I knew next to nobody in scripted TV and had no idea where to start. So when the PGA Mentoring Program opened for applications, it was like the U.S. Coast Guard finally answered my distress call. 
I asked to be paired with a showrunner experienced in one-hour dramatic series and someone who is also a writer. The interview process for the program was a lot less scary than my field shoot at Utah’s Supermax Prison; it was warm, friendly, and fun. 

I ended up being paired with Kirk Ellis, an Emmy-winning showrunner, best known for the miniseries John Adams. couldn’t have done a better job. Right from the start, Kirk and I gelled. He is smart, worldly, approachable and generous with his time. I felt especially blessed when he told me that I could lean on him for anything. The tiny drama queen in me even might have shed a tear.

During the mentoring cycle, we met for coffee and kept in touch via text and email. When I had a little manager dilemma, Kirk was on hand to guide me, telling me to go with my gut but to make sure that the manager could lay out a tentative strategy for my work. When I was in a bind to find someone to negotiate a writer/director agreement for me, Kirk introduced me to his lawyer, who has since become my lawyer.
Because we are both writers, we also bonded on a creative level. On a few occasions when I’ve completed a new script, Kirk would offer to read it and give me his feedback. You can’t do better than notes from an Emmy-winning writer. Thanks to Kirk’s guidance, I am now one step closer to my goal of breaking into scripted TV, having completed a TV pilot script and show bible. 

Long after the mentorship cycle ended, we are still in contact. In fact, from the start, Kirk told me that the mentorship could be as long as I wanted it to be. It’s funny, after all of the business cards you collect at networking and social events—few generate relationships as meaningful as the ones you can find through the PGA Mentoring Program. I can’t wait to be a mentor myself and give back when I am seasoned enough to do so.

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THE GIRL WITH THE GREEN HAND: New York-based Earth Angel Emellie O'Brien on her experiences as an Eco Supervisor

Posted By Birgit Heidsiek, Friday, June 5, 2015
Eco supervisor Emellie O’Brien shares a green high-five with a friendly neighborhood web-slinger.
"Making movies without making a mess” is the motto of eco supervisor Emellie O’Brien. The company she co-founded, New York-based Earth Angel Sustainable Production Services, made The Amazing Spider-Man 2 the most eco-friendly tentpole movie in the history of Sony Pictures. Besides greening theatrical feature film productions such as Noah by Darren Aronofsky and Gods Behaving Badly by Jon Turtletaub, Emellie also makes a sustainable impact on prime time TV shows shot in New York City.

How do you help productions become sustainable?

I always tell crew members that I am a resource—not an enforcer.  My approach is to make sustainability easy, engaging, and accessible. I do this through a variety of ways but mostly by being present. The crew responds more positively when they see that someone is actively monitoring the sustainability efforts and taking it seriously. I also offer incentives to crew members who go above and beyond to make the production more sustainable.

Do you suggest what is practicable for a specific production?

I read the script and I meet with department heads, and I assess all of the practical/logistical concerns. When it is 23º in New York City, we are not able to use biodiesel on the production. Cold weather is a major concern when it comes to biofuel. In situations like that, you count your losses and try to improve in other areas.

Are waste recycling and the re-use of props and wardrobe the easiest sustainable solutions because of their cost-effectiveness?

Waste reduction/recycling/reuse are definitely top priorities. They also happen to be cost-effective most of the time, but that doesn’t make them easy solutions. The crew decides whether or not sustainable solutions are easy. If crew members communicate with me and integrate sustainable solutions into their workflow, that’s what makes those solutions easy. But not everyone is willing to change their habits.

How easy is it to convince production managers to rent hybrid cars, LEDs, rechargeable batteries or to get compostable dishware?

It’s difficult to convince ordinary production managers to consider anything but the bottom line. Luckily, for the most part, if I am working on a production then it is likely that there is an environmentally conscious producer on that production. In which case the convincing is much easier.

Who wields the most influence to green a production, the director or the producer?

In my experience, it’s been the producer who is more likely to make sustainability a priority on set. However, all it takes is one person above-the-line to speak up in favor of running the production sustainably.

Is it easier for an independent or a studio production to produce sustainably?

Independent movies are naturally more sustainable than studio productions just because they have less resources, money and labor. As far as transitioning to a sustainable set, it’s easier for independent movies. However, in my experience studio productions are more willing to hire an eco supervisor and implement an official sustainability program. 

What other sustainable efforts were made during the production of The Amazing Spider-man 2?

Eliminating plastic water bottles was a huge feat for Spider-Man. We also incorporated sustainable products whenever possible—cleaners, detergents. We recycled batteries and film scraps and limited paper distribution.

Do you leave a lasting impact on productions?

Having an eco supervisor on set is crucial to running an effective sustainability campaign. Plus it pays for itself! My impact varies depending on the scale of the production. But on every show I’ve worked on, I’ve diverted at least 52% of the total waste from landfills and I saved production thousands of dollars.

Do crew members pass this know-how on to their next productions?

Absolutely. I’ve had many crew members tell me after working on a green set with me that working on other sets that do not recycle feels "wrong.” I also have many folks tell me that they started recycling at home because of our efforts on set, which is by far the most rewarding aspect of my work. 

How difficult is it, in general, to convince film and television crews to change their workflows in order to produce sustainably?

It is very difficult. Crews are often overworked and very frequently "running on empty.” Asking them to change their habits can be asking a lot—much more so than asking employees of other industries. I understand the unique demands of production, though, and I try to incentivize those crew members who are especially eco-conscious in order to encourage the crew to embrace our green efforts. It often takes the length of an entire shooting schedule to get the majority of the crew accustomed to the waste and water policies of a sustainable set. 

A prior version of this interview originally appeared in 
Green Film Shooting.

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REARVIEW MIRROR: A long, long time ago, in an industry far, far away...

Posted By Chris Green, Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Updated: Thursday, June 11, 2015
Fifteen years ago, the Producers Guild of America christened its new magazine after the credit it had sworn to protect. Produced by made its debut in the spring of 2000, its 16 pages including a rundown on the Guild’s latest benefit, a PGA car leasing program, as well as a PGA-themed crossword puzzle (sample clue: Executive Director Vance Van _______). In case the puzzle gave you too much trouble, the magazine included a hint line, in the form of the author’s personal phone number. It was a different world, I tell ya.

Our debut issue also featured the epic cover you see before you. Because as every publisher knows: Nothing sells magazines like a montage of press clippings.

The thing is, you scratch the surface, and the guts of the book are true-blue PGA. The big feature story is on the importance of a pie-in-the-sky idea called the PGA Certification Mark. More than a decade later, that idea became The Producers Mark, appearing today on cinema screens around the world as the distinctive p.g.a. following a Produced By credit. There’s a feature on the Guild’s then-new arbitration process. Our first issue even offered a blurb on the promise of tapping Chinese markets, as well as the first installment of our longest-running department, Mentoring Matters.

Over the last 15 years, everything about the magazine has grown by leaps and bounds—our page count, the quality of our artwork, the range of topics covered in any given issue. We even got around to capitalizing the "B” in our title. But at its heart, that little 16-pager and the magazine you hold in your hands now are the same book. Our members have always been proud to be producers, and we’re still just as proud to show how good they are at their jobs.  

One more thing that first issue had, on page 12: its own "flashback” page featuring a prominent image of the Guild’s newsletter from 1981. Next to the old-school, single-color layout, our Produced by issue #1 looks downright snazzy. Sigh.

We guess we’re prepared for this issue’s cover to look adorably dated in another 15 years. Until then, our hope is that you enjoy a pretty cool magazine.   
-Written by Chris Green

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