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GAIL BERMAN & LUCY FISHER - The PGA's New Presidents Have Some Big Plans

Posted By Chris Green, Monday, August 6, 2018

Typically when we interview a pair of producers for our cover, they represent two halves of a long-standing partnership, with a significant collective body of work behind them. The two subjects of this interview aren’t producing partners—at least not in the traditional sense—and it’s fair to speculate that the duo’s most lasting joint achievements lie ahead.

On June 9 at the Guild’s General Membership Meeting, the PGA welcomed its new Presidents, Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher. In taking the office, they represent the fourth pair of producers to share the duties of the PGA presidency. Not only does their election promise new opportunities for the Producers Guild, it presented a novel prospect for this magazine: the chance to sit down with the incoming leaders and discuss their priorities, as they chart the Guild’s course for the next two years. In years past, incoming Presidents have been the subjects of feature profiles recent enough to disqualify them as repeat cover subjects. But Gail Berman (we’re almost embarrassed to note) has never appeared in our pages prior to this, while Lucy Fisher, along with her producing partner and husband, Douglas Wick, was last seen gracing the cover of this magazine back in 2001, in the sixth issue we ever published.

Needless to say, it’s a vastly different PGA and entertainment industry that we’re a part of today. But if anyone is up to the challenges of the moment, it’s Berman and Fisher, who each bring to the job a lengthy producing career informed by a significant tenure as a network/studio executive at the highest levels. This also marks the first time a pair of women have held the PGA Presidency. Berman and Fisher were both instrumental contributors to the Guild’s landmark Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines released earlier this year, and their election is a sure sign that the Producers Guild intends to continue to lead the industry as it reappraises its professional culture.

In taking on the PGA Presidency, we conjecture that Berman and Fisher must have somehow discovered a few extra hours in each day, busy as they are with running their respective companies, The Jackal Group (which Berman founded in 2014) and Red Wagon Entertainment (where Fisher joined partner Wick as Co-Head in 2000). Berman was kind enough to dedicate a couple of those hours to hosting Produced By at The Jackal Group offices in Santa Monica, where the following interview took place.

 

So of course, we need the origin stories. How did you guys find your way to producing?

GAIL: I started my career as a producer in a pretty unusual way.  After graduating from the University of Maryland in my early 20s, a friend and I wound up producing a version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which we initially put up at Ford’s Theater in Washington and then took the production to off-Broadway and then finally to Broadway— which served as the show’s initial debut on the big stage. So at a very young age, I wound up being a producer and was purely a producer for the first 10 years of my career. Then I became an executive who was also producing, working for Sandy Gallin, which lead to my running production companies and also producing. However when I went to Fox in 2000, I served solely as an executive for the first time in my career.

 

Well, we’re glad you’re back.

GAIL: I am too. When I went to work as an executive, I missed being a producer. I missed being close to the product. I missed “touching” it. I enjoyed my years as an executive, but I always knew that I would go back to getting as close as I could to the creative idea and to the group that I got to put together to fulfill somebody’s creative vision. And I love that.


 

It sounds like it’s part of your DNA, at this point.

GAIL: It kind of is, I think.

LUCY: I had the opposite trajectory. I was an executive for 25 years, at five different studios. I worked with a number of producers and lived with and married a producer. I was very lucky in that I got to work with some great visionary producers. I worked for Francis Coppola for two years as Head of Production when he had his studio, Zoetrope Studios, on Las Palmas and got to see him work as a producer and director.  And I did many movies with Steven Spielberg, mostly as a producer but sometimes as a director. So I was able to watch some masters in action. I got to watch my husband [Douglas Wick] manage Gladiator and see how he kept three separate writers all still engaged on the project, reading new drafts and scenes even when somebody else was writing those drafts.  Even as an executive, I always liked to think of myself as sort of an executive producer on the movies that I worked on, because I loved to be down in the details of the process.

But as I rose up the ranks as an executive, I kept finding myself further and further away from the creative side I loved, until I was finally offered the Chairmanship at Sony. But I realized that if I took that job, I would be in a room I didn’t want to be in, instead of the room that I did want to be in, which was the room that said “Yes” as opposed to the room that said “No.” I wanted to be a part of putting together the team of talented people who would work together to make something better than it could ever be if any one person did it by themselves. Being a part of that collaborative process is, I think, one of the greatest pleasures of working in entertainment.

 


The Producers Guild, as an organization, has had a few different acts of its own. What was your impression of the Guild before you joined, and what did you discover about the PGA as you became familiar with it?

GAIL: Well, I really dived right in when I joined, but to be perfectly candid, I didn’t know much about the PGA before that. Initially it felt to me that the Guild lent itself more to the film community than it did to television. I realized after I joined that I was mistaken about that, that there was an interest in really broadening the goals of the organization. I felt like I fit right in, that I could participate, get my point of view—and certainly the television point of view—across. Now that I’m working more in film, it’s a pleasure to access the experience of some of the veteran film producers that have lent their services to the Guild. It’s an impressive group.

LUCY: I came to the Producers Guild through Wick, who also later turned out to be my business partner in Red Wagon. But at that point, I was still a studio executive and he was very involved in the early stages of the creation of the Producers Mark, along with Kathy Kennedy, Mark Gordon, Hawk Koch and so many others.  Seeing them put together the definition of what a producer did, and create and sell the value of the Mark is what turned me on to the PGA.

What I came to see after I became a producer and joined it, was that the PGA, as an entity, has a lot of the same qualities that I admire in producers; it’s scrappy, it’s not bureaucratic, it wants to get things done, it welcomes different points of view and it’s okay to argue. I love that its ways aren’t set in stone and it doesn’t have such an old history that precedent always has to take precedence. Instead people are encouraged to speak up. We can act nimbly because we’re not mired down. So I think that the Guild has a similar personality to the best aspects of producing. I like that.

 

What is it that you’d like to see the Guild do? What sort of difference would you like to see it make in the lives of producers or in the lives of people in the industry?

LUCY: That’s a great question. I’ll answer it in a few different parts. At this particular point in time, I was especially attracted to the opportunity because I want to help make the producing community more inclusive. Producers are naturally leaders. They have to lead a lot of disparate individual people all the time, while still trying to keep their eye on the big picture.

With the new attention to diversity and emphasis on stopping sexual harassment and trying to create more equitable workplaces, I felt like this was a point in time where I could actually make a bigger difference at the Producers Guild than maybe I would have been able to at other points in time. I mean, the accomplishment of the Producers Mark is supreme. It’s a hugely significant achievement. So now hopefully another great achivement for us can be to provide leadership and provide a model for some of the ways that we’d like society and our industry to conduct itself. That opportunity is extremely appealing to me and to both of us, I think.

GAIL: Because our world is in the midst of a revolution, and our business is changing at a pace that is almost impossible to keep up with, the opportunities that I see for our members are going to continue to grow exponentially from traditional platforms to the expanding universe of OTT services and emerging technologies.

It is an incredible time to be a producer. But at the same time, I also think we have to continue to protect and fight for producers, as we look to the future and to all of these exciting new places for content. Many people and many companies who have not previously been in the entertainment business are entering the space. Producers potentially can become diminished by that, by the lack of understanding of their role in the project. People seem to know what a director does and what a writer does. But oftentimes the producer, the visionary who started it, the person who’s in charge of putting things together and keeping them together, that person needs to be valued and advocated for in this new world order, if you will.

So I think that one of our goals is to take the organization into the future and to make sure that our current members as well as those who expand the ranks, are respected going forward and enjoy the opportunities that the revolution will provide.

LUCY: That was great. I want to say what she says.

[LAUGHTER]

GAIL: Thanks!

Lucy Fisher discusses a scene with cast member Tom Hardy while on location in Georgia for Lawless.

 

What you’re talking about is the paradox of the producer’s job. When you’re responsible for seemingly everything, how do you get others to understand or appreciate the nature of that responsibility?

GAIL: People used to ask me, “What does a producer do?” And I said, “A producer is the person who gets no credit when the show is successful and gets all the blame when the show isn’t successful.” [laughs] That was my definition of a producer. I think 30 years later, it still holds up as a good definition of a producer.

LUCY: But just adding to that, in the film world, despite the fact that movies are often linked to the star or the director in the public’s mind, when it comes time to handing out the Oscar for Best Picture, it goes to the producer. That’s one of the things that the Producers Guild worked really hard on, to make sure the right people, the ones who truly did the work, receive the credit they deserve.

I think Gail is absolutely right that in this exploding universe of entertainment, we want to make sure that we can protect producers the same way. That requires identifying the work. That requires educating people. And it requires having talented people to do that job. I think we do. We have thousands of members and we’re getting more every week.

I think the expanding ranks of the PGA is evidence that the organization has touched a lot of people, has built a community for producers to be able to communicate, share ideas, share frustrations, and be a place that individuals can find work and feel protected. I think that’s a really good way to look at how to grow this organization and to continue to move its ranks into television and into what the Guild still calls “new media.” I hate to tell everybody, but “new media” is at this point, ironically, a very old term.

GAIL: As a guild, we’re exploring a lot of different ways of going about producing in that space. Certainly that is something that we’re doing at my company. And I’d like to think that’s some knowledge that I’ll be able to share with our membership.

LUCY: On a separate but related note, in terms of the membership, I think the PGA’s expanding and redefining what the AP Council represents has allowed a lot more people and younger people to join the Guild. I mean, that’s our lifeblood. We’re excited that those people can find their way in and find work through their membership.

 

Executive producer Gail Berman (back left) with team members from 2016's The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again. Back row: Berman, producer Lou Adler; Front row: cast members Reeve Carney, Victoria Justice, Ryan McCartan, Laverne Cox, Tim Curry, director Kenny Ortega

That’s what a guild is supposed to do, advance your career and give you a trade.

GAIL: That’s our overarching goal: to keep expanding the ranks so that you can start at one place and begin to grow in your career as well as within the PGA.

LUCY: One of the things that I know I’m excited about and I think the Guild is excited about is that in Gail, we have a President who comes from such a deep television background, even though she’s doing features now too. But we haven’t had that in the Guild at such a primary level before. Since there’s now a highway between film and television, with people commuting from one medium to the other, having that perspective is going to be really valuable.

GAIL: I think the lines are blurred. Here’s the good news: We’re all about quality content. We’re all about encouraging our membership to create and be involved in high-quality content. Going forward, that content will be seen on any number of platforms—platforms that we’re all familiar with, the big screen, broadcast television, cable television and now any number of over-the-top services that are being developed or are already in the game.

I think the key here is not so much to think about serving a given distribution platform, but to think about content and the necessity for high-quality content to populate all of these different ways of distributing product. It’s an incredibly ambitious time for producers. It’s an incredibly scary time for producers. But I am a believer that, when you have this kind of tumult, amazing opportunity comes from it. For those who are willing to look and find it, there is a new day dawning. I’m very happy to be part of helping the Guild be a part of this new day and get it to wherever and however we can benefit our members the most.

 

We’ve already spoken a little about the Producers Mark. It remains the signature achievement of the Guild. Lucy, you had a ringside seat to the creation of the Mark.

LUCY: At first it felt like a pipe dream, that the Mark would ever be accepted by any studio, much less all of them. Studios were not in the habit of respecting producers to the degree that they deserved to be respected. It was a very hard process, which our predecessors undertook brilliantly. But when we finally saw that little “p.g.a” next to our names, we were really excited. People asked us, “What is that?” And then they usually said, “We didn’t know you played golf!”

[LAUGHTER]

LUCY: Of course, we explained what it really meant. Anyway the fact that it caught on the way that it did, and the fact that people wanted to have those initials next to their name and wanted to signify that they really did the work, and that they were proud of the work that they did, all of that happened really quickly once it started. I think it’s certainly a crowning achievement of the Guild, at least in the film sphere.

Now we have to figure out how to keep it relevant and how to make it so people can’t game the system. We have a slew of problems that we never anticipated because some people now want the Mark so badly that they are trying to figure out ways to circumvent or bend the rules. So there will be a constant process of massaging or reevaluating those rules. And it’s something that we would like to explore expanding into the television world.

GAIL: Yes. We really believe that, while it’s a more complicated venture to add it to television, it’s certainly worthy of exploration. We have members that I know are interested in seeing that happen. A full evaluation of what the Mark means and what it could mean for television producers is a conversation that we’re going to take up quickly … just in an exploratory way. What would it mean to expand the Mark?

We’re not going to make any promises. We don’t imagine that this is an issue that can be tackled quickly. But we will certainly engage in the conversation.

 

Certainly the kind of tumult you were just talking about suggests that this is a more Malleable PHASE than we’ve seen.

GAIL: That’s why I think this may be the moment to really begin these conversations because at a certain point in time, producers need to answer certain questions such as: What is a film? What is a television show? What is digital content? If a film doesn’t appear in a movie theater, does that mean it’s not a movie? These are all questions that have to be raised. Producers themselves have to engage in the conversation about these things so that other entities are not deciding this for us.

We want to be at the forefront of that decision-making. We want to rise to the occasion the same way the Guild did when confronted with the issue of harassment impacting the industry as a whole. We want to be the first out. We want to be setting the agenda for our membership, as opposed to bringing up the rear.

 

That’s a perfect segue, because that’s exactly what the Guild made it a point to do in delivering its Anti-Harassment Guidelines for its members—to give them a fixed point to hold on to in the middle of a lot of swirling uncertainty. I know that you both were very key to that process. What was your experience like, of getting together and really digging into this sensitive area during what everyone sensed was kind of a watershed moment?

LUCY: It was incredibly intense. People felt really strongly about many different aspects of the issue. I will be forever impressed with how quickly the Producers Guild acted, A) in convening a task force and B) encouraging the multitude of points of view about what should be done and what measures could be taken. As happens in good producing, everybody was heard. And we actually came to practical solutions in terms of creating a document that became the template for the other guilds.

So the Producers Guild really stepped up very quickly to address the problem. Did we take a great first step? Yes. Will we have to continue to be vigilant? The answer is yes. We have a membership that’s very committed to those issues. They’re serious. This wasn’t a passing whimsy that will be forgotten in a month. It’s a part of our culture that’s going to stay. I think the Producers Guild really stepped up quickly and intelligently.

GAIL: I think what Lucy said is exactly right. I think it was a proud moment, especially in that we took on a painful situation that some of our very own members contributed to. So we needed to be proactive about it. We needed to take a strong stand, the way we want to do with a lot of things going forward. The very fact that we’re in this position—that the PGA for the first time has elected two women as its Presidents—that in itself sends a powerful message in this moment.

We can’t dictate what our membership does creatively. But what we can do is create a standard that we would like to see our membership uphold. If we can just express that priority to the membership and have them embrace it, that will make our tenure really, really worthwhile.

 

At the same time, the pushback against harassment is taking place within a larger context. Lots of voices that historically have been excluded from the industry are speaking up to be included.

GAIL: First and foremost, we have to make sure that those are individuals that are in our Guild, from the very start. If they’re not in our Guild, you can’t represent people that aren’t present. So the Guild itself has to open the doors up and be inclusive of the kinds of individuals and issues that we are concerned about.

I know both Lucy and I are very determined to make sure of that, just as our predecessors were. Gary and Lori did a tremendous job in terms of diversity within our organization. I think we’re going to take that mantle and run with it. These are important issues of the day and we need to have a Guild that’s representative of what we stand for, which is inclusion.

By having those people in our Guild, they will tell stories to the world that other people might not tell. It’s incredibly important to us and I think to the world at large right now, that diverse points of view are represented in entertainment and in every sphere. The artistic freedom to be able to express a panoply of points of view can only happen with a majority of people expressing their experiences.

LUCY: It feels like the world is about narrowing voices right now, putting them into a homogenous box. The PGA should never be about that. We should be about the expansion of storytelling, the freedom of storytelling. We need to protect that for our membership and, really, for our industry as a whole.

Gail and I were talking earlier about the news, how local news has been diminished so much that the news that we’re getting is from fewer and fewer sources. We don’t want that to be the case with entertainment, because entertainment represents people’s dreams and hopes and experiences of life. It’s really important to defend that, not just allow all studios to become one studio that makes one movie.

 

I’ve seen that movie, I think. It’s another paradox of the producer’s world right now—the platforms are multiplying and yet the number of people who are actually in a position to purchase content appears to be narrowing. How do you as producers navigate that kind of tension?

GAIL: These are really important questions, precisely because they’re difficult to answer. It’s complicated. I mean, it’s not easy when one giant company is buying another giant company and you’re not sure—if you’re me, at least—who you actually work for.

[LAUGHTER]

I think these are questions that don’t have obvious answers right now, but as a producer, you do your best to navigate what you’re given. It’s just hard. Everybody is dealing with some version of that question.

 

Thank you for being so candid. Just to have other producers read and recognize that the Presidents of the Producers Guild are ultimately dealing with the same issues they’re grappling with creates real solidarity within the membership.

LUCY: The explosion of digital content is, in part, a reaction against having only a few people deciding what other people are going to get to see. That’s one reason that space is so interesting right now: They’re not asking permission. So we’re watching and we’re learning, same as everybody else.

 

Here’s a big-picture question… The PGA is officially nonpartisan, politically. We don’t endorse candidates, and we respect the diverse politics of our members by basically staying out of them. At the same time, we have fully embraced inclusion, and we now live in a world where that represents an inherently political position. Given that culture is at the heart of so much of the tension and the tribalism that we see today, what’s our responsibility as culture makers?

GAIL: Well I think a big part of our job as producers is to allow somebody to come home, put their feet up, turn on whatever device they want to turn on, and relax and simply enjoy entertainment. I think it’s an increasingly important thing to be able to provide to people, after a difficult day that’s fraught with problems and saturated with messaging. It’s a real blessing to be able to give that to audiences, because people need it so badly, and they need it more in a world that’s as divisive as ours is right now. It’s a wonderful part of what we can do, to bridge the gaps that exist in this world that we’re in.

 

That’s really well put.

GAIL: I also think it’s important to remind ourselves that what we create is, in so many ways, one of the great exports we have to the rest of the world. It’s some of the best product that anybody could ever want to export and represents what our country is like and what our values are. It’s something for us as a country to be very proud of. It represents us really well around the world, when other things may not represent us so well.

LUCY: At the same time, the best of entertainment can travel the globe precisely because it talks about the commonality of the human experience and because it reminds us that there is a commonality of experience. So yes, we provide escape and entertainment and the excitement that comes from being thrilled or moved or any of those things, but it’s also important to remember that it binds us to each other. The Greeks sat in the theater outside to watch plays and experience those stories together. It’s the same impulse you see in response to something like The Handmaid’s Tale, where different people all around the country are calling each other, “Did you watch it yet?” It makes a community, whether you see it on your TV or on your phone or you see it projected onto your eyeball in 10 years. There’s something that binds us together, that makes us feel connected to other people rather than feel threatened by other people. It’s like that moment at the end of Sullivan’s Travels, where the prisoners are all laughing together at a movie or the first time you see a foreign movie and you forget that you’re watching the subtitles because you identify so much with the characters … That’s a magic gift that we have, and we hold it very dearly.

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Let No Great Story Go Untold - Matt Baer Pivots 'Unbroken' Toward A New Market

Posted By Rona Edwards, Monday, August 6, 2018

It’s easy to knock sequels, if you want to. There are no shortage of movie sequels that feel derivative and uninspired, rehashing the stories and characters of earlier (and frequently, better) films. Sequels tend to play it safe … even the well made ones can feel formulaic after a while, and the bad ones feel like films that nobody asked for.

Except that sometimes, there’s an audience that does ask for a sequel, explicitly and en masse. And if an audience wants a piece of content, a good producer will find a way to give it to them.

At first glance, the WWII prisoner-of-war drama Unbroken (2014), produced by Matthew Baer, Clayton Townsend and Angelina Jolie and directed by Jolie, does not seem a likely candidate for a follow-up. It doesn’t take place in a branded “cinematic universe.” It’s a straightforward true story of a man who goes to war, endures incredible hardships and survives against all odds. But Baer, who originally developed the material, knew there was more to the story and that there was a core audience for that story—just not the audience he typically made movies for. This fall’s Unbroken: Path to Redemption is the product of a unique and timely producing journey, with Baer mining his source material to deliver a vastly different kind of movie for a market outside the comfort zone of most Hollywood producers—turning to the faith-based audience to grab a precious second bite at the Unbroken apple.

The story of Unbroken and its iconic survivor Louis Zamperini is about as close as one gets to a real-life superhero tale: fighting villains, getting pummeled over and over again, and persevering against all odds. Baer was similarly relentless in trying to bring that story to the screen, enduring countless rejections over 15 years. It was 1998 when Baer, then head of motion pictures at Brillstein-Grey, watched a CBS documentary on Lou Zamperini. He felt like most of us do when we discover a story that simply demands to be made into a motion picture— and then discover, unbelievably, that no one’s made the movie yet!

Zamperini, an immigrant son in Torrance, California, lived a storied life. Through relentless drive and strength of character, he became an Olympic athlete and, during World War II, a heroic survivor of punishing prison camp ordeals. Universal had bought the rights to Lou’s book, Devil at My Heels, back in 1956, eyeing Tony Curtis to star. It never happened. Forty-two years later, CAA’s John Levin eyed it as a potential vehicle for the agency’s biggest names, including Nicolas Cage and Brad Pitt. Brillstein-Grey repped both actors and had a deal at Universal at the time. Everything seemed to line up perfectly. Armed with the CBS documentary and attaching Nic Cage, they approached Universal, saving the perfect kicker for last: Their studio already controlled the rights to Zamperini’s story.

Producer Matthew Baer (left of center) chats on set with cast member Sam Hunt (center) and consultants
Cissy Zamperini and Luke Zamperini (right).

What seemed like a slam dunk, wasn’t. While Universal negotiated a new deal with Zamperini, Baer tells me, “At the time, the reality was that the movie would physically cost around $80 to $90 million. It was going to be expensive.” Universal insisted that in order to make it, Baer would have to attach an A-list director. Though plenty flirted with the property, none ultimately committed. “I was told ‘no’ so many times without understanding really why people said, ‘no.’” Baer recalls. “In my mind, the story was undeniable in its ability to be a compelling, inspirational movie.” Upon reflection, Baer surmises that the intensity of the story’s prison camp scenes may have scared away some directors. “Both movies say ‘a true story’ for a reason,” he points out. “Even with the intensity of scenes in Unbroken, they weren’t nearly as intense as they were in real life.”

The release of Laura Hillenbrand’s magnificent biography, from which the movies got their title, gave even more currency to Zamperini’s story. But looking at it through Hillenbrand’s lens, Baer came to realize that he had an unusual problem with his story: There was too much of it. “Arguably, the most emotionally compelling part of Lou Zamperini’s life occurred after he became a born-again Christian and was able to forgive the Japanese guards who had held him under captivity,” Baer explains. “This man’s life is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to film.”

In real life, this meant five different writers worked on Unbroken from 1998 to 2014, a gallery that included everyone from William Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Miserables) to the Coen brothers (Bridge of Spies, No Country for Old Men). Two of those five writers tackled the post-war story in addition to the wartime tribulations. With such a rich tale, they discovered an inherent problem. Zamperini came back from Japan, having made it home alive against all odds. But then the story grew a second beginning when he met his soon-to-be wife, Cynthia, who played an essential role in his life and recovery. The female lead couldn’t just show up two hours into the movie. On a purely structural level, it just didn’t work as a feature film.

Ultimately the director tough enough for those prison scenes proved to be Angelina Jolie—who has since only confirmed her growing reputation as an unflinching filmmaker and storyteller. She zeroed in on the wartime story of survival at the expense of the post-war story of redemption. “When we were making Unbroken,” Baer recounts, “it was on my mind that, hopefully, if this becomes successful, I’ll be able to do another film. And fortunately that happened.”

Fortunate it was. The movie did well, grossing $160 million worldwide and earning a trio of Oscar nominations. Baer —well aware that the faith-based audience had been disappointed that Zamperini’s conversion was not included in the movie—knew there could be a satisfying part two. He partnered with Bill Reeves from WTA (Working Title Agency), one of the leading faith-based marketing companies in the business. Conveniently Reeves, along with his colleague Dave Mecham, was seeking to expand into financing faith-based films. Baer and Reeves took it to Glenn Ross at 1440, the home entertainment division at Universal, pitching it as a sequel to Unbroken. Ross was interested; after all, 1440’s whole business was direct-to-video sequels of Universal films. With the blessing of Universal chief Donna Langley and motion picture head Jimmy Horowitz, Path to Redemption was going to be the first theatrical release financed by 1440. WTA brought in Pure Flix to handle the actual distribution, and the two companies provided Baer with a crash course in how the faith-based film business worked.

Audiences today are shifting, and the faith-based audience is no exception. The theatrical audience has dropped off, as recent big screen releases have been creative disappointments and the consumers have gravitated to premium content on Netflix and other platforms. “So as long as we didn’t veer from the story,” Baer relates, “I was confident the faith-based audience would show up for the story they wanted to see in the first Unbroken … ‘You asked for it, you got it.’”

Baer confided that the sequel’s budget is 10% of the first film’s cost. Unbroken was made for $65 million and shot in 63 days, while Unbroken: Path to Redemption was made for $6 million and shot in 20 days. Yes, you read that correctly: One- third of the days on one-tenth of the budget. Because they didn’t have a lot of time to make the movie, the script had to be as tight as possible. Within the year, Richard Friedenberg (A River Runs Through It) and Ken Hixon (City by the Sea) had developed the screenplay.

Baer searched for a director who would be able to authentically handle the sequences featuring Billy Graham, given “their inherent spiritual uplift and their dramatizing the reality of a man who is at the end of his rope and communicating what it felt like when he finally found relief.” Harold Cronk, who had directed the box office hit God’s Not Dead, became instrumental in developing the screenplay, including many of the visual elements of Zamperini’s PTSD flashbacks. “As a producer, you want to find a director who you can truly collaborate with to bring both of your strengths to the same screenplay,” Baer continues. “Harold and I had the same goal. We knew we had major obstacles given the fiscal limitations, but I trusted him implicitly in getting the faith-based content right in a way that all audiences could find accessible.”

With the exception of Gary Cole and Bob Guntan, the sequel mostly features an unknown cast. For the part of Zamperini, Samuel Hunt replaces Jack O’Connell while Merritt Patterson plays his wife, Cynthia. The actors gained invaluable information about this chapter of Zamperini’s life from his children, Luke and Cynthia, who served as executive producers.

With the movie premiering September 14, Baer is involved in every aspect of the marketing. “I personally love working with writers and working with the marketing department more than anything on the films that I make,” Baer asserts, “because they’re both built around the same challenge—how are you communicating the story to your audience?” Faith-based distributors don’t have the financial resources that studios do in creating market awareness. They don’t spend millions on television advertising. Rather, they show the film early to a wide variety of pastors and faith-based audience influencers and get people talking about the movie. They work key Christian radio stations and utilize their communities’ support, as well as cover every kind of social media platform to spread the word. “If you have a movie that doesn’t work, no amount of word-spreading is going to make a major difference,” maintains Baer. “But if you have a movie that actually does work, then word of mouth spreads, the way that it used to when studios released movies in a limited way and then built out ... Faith-based marketing is the modern version of a limited release. It’s built around word of mouth, getting spiritual leaders to support the film, having church groups buy tickets in advance to go see it in the theater.” Likewise many of the same social media tools and platforms used in the indie production model are utilized in the faith-based space.

Thus if you have the Billy Graham organization supporting your film, as they have with Path to Redemption (the first time they’ve ever done so), it will influence a lot of people to see your film. It doesn’t hurt that Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, posted the trailer on his social media page and that family scion Will Graham plays his own grandfather in the film. “There’s no question that that targeted audience—which is a large audience—they know Unbroken: Path to Redemption exists,” Baer explains. “For 85% of independent movies that get made, most likely 85% of their potential audience doesn’t know it exists. So in the case of this movie, I’m thrilled the target audience is going to know it’s available.” The film is slated to release on 1,600 screens. Based on their research, they already have a good idea of what opening weekend is going to look like, thanks to advance bookings by church groups and other faith-based organizations.

Matthew Baer (center) oon location for Unbroken: Path to Redemption with cast member
Sam Hunt (left) and directior Harold Cronk (right). 

In his career, Matt Baer tries not to take on anything where he feels from the start that the odds are insurmountable. Like any good producer, he knows when to walk away. At the same time, “Lou Zamperini defies the odds for me,” he insists. “I just could never give up.” It’s clear the passion Baer felt the first time he saw that CBS documentary continues to animate his work on Path to Redemption. As always, that passion is tempered by pragmatism. “In the modern age of producing, you have to be aware of what kinds of movies have any chance of getting made in the studio or independent system. And for a producer, it’s primarily the independent system, because there’s only one Marvel.”

With all the turmoil in the world, this might be an ideal moment for Path to Redemption, not just for faithful believers who will turn out to see this film, but for all of us who want to see a hero triumph over his doubts and demons. We want possibility. “I’m confident with Path to Redemption that the audience will feel the same emotional uplift I felt the first time I saw that documentary in 1998, that emotional, spiritual, artistic connection that drew me to Lou’s remarkable life.”

But as any producer of sequels has to ask: Is it over? Is Zamperini’s story finally told?

“Some may consider me crazy­—but yes, indeed there is more story to tell about Lou’s life,” Baer boldly declares. “His story has given me so much. Every producer, when you start out, wants to be able to say: If I could do one movie that can make a difference, that can stand the test of time, that I’m proud of, then my passion was rewarded. So many producers never have that in their lives. I’ve had it. And I’m eternally grateful for being the person that Lou Zamperini believed in to tell his story.” And if there’s any further part of the story to tell, you can bet that Matt Baer will find the people who want to hear it.

-----

photography by Kremer Johnson Photography

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Welcome To The Machine - Getting Started With Machine Learning In Media and Entertainment

Posted By Jade McQueen, Monday, August 6, 2018

The Media and Entertainment industry, specifically film and TV, has experienced incredible growth over the past few years, with new streaming distribution platforms and a bigger-than-ever global audience eager to consume content on multiple devices. New ways of working, a proliferation of applications and devices, and new types of business processes have resulted in more content and more formats than ever before. With the explosion of content creation comes the challenge of keeping production streamlined, on budget and secure. Amid mounting concerns around data protection and cyber security, there are potential threats of costly hacks from a brand reputation, IP protection and monetary perspective.

To be able to address the new paradigm of production, content creators need to modernize their technology stack in order to digitize business processes. It is vital for production teams to stay focused on what matters most—creating award-winning shows and features. Enter machine learning and artificial intelligence. These four words are going to affect every type of business and are not going away. The automation of manual business processes and gleaning insights from the data and information we create are top priorities for any company that wants to stay relevant in the digital age.

 

WHAT IS MACHINE LEARNING?

The media and entertainment business is no stranger to innovation, as cutting-edge technologies have led (and are continuing to lead) to the creation of exceptional storytelling and experiences. With machine learning, we can train technology to automate and power simple, repeatable workflows from casting to talent agreements. Given the size of the administrative data set generated by the demands of production management, there is an opportunity to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to this ever-growing, massive amount of information. This opportunity frees up time and bandwidth for creators, transferring the “busy work” to computers. The more content you have access to, the more opportunity to train the technology. Production companies with large libraries and archives of footage, images, VFX, posters and trailers are perhaps best positioned to start training machine learning for automation. 

 

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Many best-of-breed technology providers, including IBM, Microsoft, Google and many more already offer artificial intelligence and machine learning services that can be applied to manual tasks or business processes.  At Box, we are able to leverage the machine learning capabilities from these companies by integrating them into our intelligence offering, Box Skills, and applying the intelligence to unstructured content in Box. The ability to apply these technologies to label objects and images, convert speech-to-text transcripts, and deterct faces in videos are just a few of the ways that we have started to apply some of the practical applications for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

 

What do we mean by intelligence?  And what will the technology “learn?”

Image recognition has the ability to detect individual objects and concepts and can recognize text in image files. Imagine if during pre- and post-production, you never had to add tags manually to photo repositiories from shoots, productions and release parties. All of those images would automatically have tags recognizing characters, text and faces.

Audio Intelligence has the ability to transcribe and identify key topics in spoken audio files, making recordings for auditions and trainings easily searchable by topics or even single words within each file.

Video Intelligence can transcribe and identify key topics for speech and detects individual faces, similarly to image recognition, as they appear in video files.  So you could instantly pull up an archive of past productions that mentioned “California” within the file.

 

How can it help producers and production?

Machine learning is coming to a critical point, as producers shift to new platforms for content distribution, expand revenue streams by monetizing existing catalog and new content, and look to eliminate content silos. What if technology could learn to tackle some of these tasks?


GET GREENLIT FASTER, LAUNCH BETTER

Companies like Cinelytic, a machine learning-driven software as a service platform, is empowering entertainment industry professionals to make faster and better-informed decisions around packaging, financing, producing, distributing and marketing of their content. For clients, Cinelytic provides comprehensive data reporting, predictive analytics, risk and project management tools in an integrated, easy-to-use online system. Using these insights, the system allows producers to develop, produce, finance and market content that will resonate with the audience. For example, producers can now prepare and forecast a business plan for a film project to share with potential investors. While the story remains king and key to success, machine learning can deliver insights on what it takes to create a blockbuster and host a differentiated audience experience.

 

CONTRACT & BUDGET MANAGEMENT: DOCUMENT TEXT EXTRACTION

 Contract management is a time-consuming, complex process that involves numerous document types and countless internal and external teams. Production companies can streamline their end-to-end process by leveraging automation to extract text fields from documents, depending on what information the organization needs. Machine learning is the backbone to this new, streamlined workflow. Technologies like optical character recognition (OCR) and natural language understanding (NLU) are applied to content, creating instructions for data that needs to be pulled from documents. With OCR technology, producers working to on-board new talent can automatically pull required information from a scanned copy, photo or PDF of the contract, such as the talent’s name, agent, lawyer, contract signature date or renewal date.

 

FREELANCE AND CREW MANAGEMENT: DOCUMENT CLASSIFICATION

 It takes a village for production teams to deliver the final cut. Maintaining the coming and going of freelancers and contractors for projects is difficult to organize and it’s hard to ensure that staffing is within budget.

With machine learning, organizations using outside crew and staffers can automatically assign a unique level of data classification to documents, including employment agreements and tax forms. This can be set up to start with on-boarding new contractors and  maintained during their tenure and through the closeout of the project.

For example, when on-boarding new crewmembers, production is likely to run into repeat contractors and staffers that have worked on other projects. Instead of searching through thousands of old records and files to find previous hire information, such as work history and hourly rates, machine learning can tag crew profiles with specific keywords. This allows production teams to easily find the information they need to finalize authorizations and move forward with their hire.

Machine learning can also be taught data retention policies, where specific information included in documents triggers the type of classification that should be applied, where the information should be stored and the length of time an organization needs to retain it for compliance requirements.

 

DIGITAL ARCHIVING AND WORKFLOW MANAGEMENT: IMAGE, AUDIO AND VIDEO LABELING

 Consider a production company’s digital archive. How many thousands of images, footage, posters, trailers and promotional materials exist in these libraries? All of these assets can and should be cataloged, but with the help of computers instead of individuals poring over pages and pages of data.

Whether during pre- or post-production, marketing departments across the industry can use machine learning to automatically recognize specific objects, characters, text and/or faces within the digital archive files. Agents can also use video facial recognition to filter through their talent’s clips and compile highlight reels, instead of digging through loads of content and files.

In the end machine learning is simply about driving more efficiency with intelligence from content and information that already exists within an organization. With all the content and experiences brought to audiences around the world, the entertainment industry is ready to embrace the power of machine learning technology. The applications for applied intelligence are endless, and we’re only getting started.

 

Jade McQueen began her career as an A&R executive at DreamWorks and Interscope Records before transitioning to film and TV. Her love of innovation and technology, coupled with a desire to bridge the gap between entertainment and tech, led to her current position as Senior Managing Director for Media & Entertainment at Box, where she oversees the company’s media and entertainment strategies globally.

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There And Back Again - How Michael Wormser Took The YouTube Route Back To Indie Filmmaking

Posted By Spike Friedman, Monday, August 6, 2018

Michael Wormser’s route toward his specific present role, as one of the go-to producers for YouTube stars making the jump to the big screen, makes sense only when you trace his career backwards. But also having spent some time with Wormser, it makes sense that an affable, hard-working guy would find his calling working within a creative community populated by those who chose to forge their own unusual paths in this 21st century version of the industry. Wormser was not born into Hollywood but grew up in New Iberia, Louisiana, “Cajun country,” as he readily calls it. He never imagined he would be involved in the entertainment industry until he was in college in Indiana. “Somebody had a sketch comedy group, and I joined that and really got the bug for it,” Wormser explains, citing the ‘90s heyday of Saturday Night Live for inspiring him to move to Los Angeles and pursue comedy.

He took classes at comedy theaters like The Groundlings and Improv Olympic, tending bar at night to pay his rent. While a short stint working as a PA at Gracie Films ended with Wormser making an ill-advised stand over the rotation of PA duties (a move that he describes in retrospect as “probably real dumb”), he was building a community in the comedy scene. “It was a close-knit improv group including guys like Eric Stonestreet and Pete Gardner, who have gone on to be successful, and who I’ve been able to maintain good relationships with,” Wormser says, “and it’s just cool that we came up from the same place 20 years ago.”

But Wormser was trying to perform at the time, and frustrated with his lack of progress following traditional paths, he made some moves to force the issue that would set his course. “I decided to make a short film called Who’s Sherman?” that I would write, direct and star in. All of my friends from Improv Olympic who wanted to be in production just came together, and we did it with no money.” Wormser was making it up as he went, turning to Craigslist for casting, going into production unsure of how he’d finance the whole thing. Mercifully his friend Greg Sipes, now a noted voice actor, stepped up and agreed to help finance the project and teach Wormser the ropes of producing his own work. “I learned that if you can get the ball rolling, you can do anything,” he recalls.

From there Wormser started making whatever he could, including producing music videos for bands he met tending bar. “I thought I had it all figured out,” Wormser says with a laugh. “I would work at night tending bar, and make stuff all day.” That was until he met his wife in 2006, who had a radical suggestion: Why not just produce work for a living? For Wormser, the light bulb went on.

He quit bartending and started taking on more professional work, working as a UPM on indie films. His natural inclination was to push the projects to get bigger and more ambitious. In some cases this meant packaging bigger-name actors into tiny projects. In others, it meant turning lucky moments into moves that brought higher-level talent to scripts he was developing. And sometimes it meant turning a chance phone call from a representative into a working relationship with director John Landis.

But after Wormser became a father, he needed to pursue something a bit more steady than producing indie features in the middle of a recession. So in 2009 he answered a Craigslist ad looking for someone to production manage 20 to 30 videos a week. While that volume and pace of output could have been daunting, it was exactly what Wormser was looking for. When he walked into the interview, it was with the Fine Brothers, who were the creative producers at the then fledgling Maker Studios. Maker was far from the YouTube behemoth that sold to Disney for $500 million. It was a handful of writer/creators, a few shooter/editors and a couple of producers.

Wormser was brought on to make sure that the top creators at Maker had the production support they needed to deliver their content on-time and on-budget. But the business model had yet to mature. “In 2010 not everyone believed you could make money on YouTube,” Wormser reminds me. 

He also was responsible for encouraging creative cross-pollination between the various content creators under Maker’s umbrella. Initially this was limited to a single YouTube channel called The Station, but eventually became a broader mission that led to platform-defining events like the wildly popular VidCon. “The Fine Brothers from the beginning saw how big this could get,” says Wormser. “I was just a producer who was excited to have a job.”

That job was making Maker as functional and efficient as possible. “It was low-hanging fruit,” says Wormser of the work he did to turn Maker into a content factory. He would arrange weekly meetings with content creators like Totally Sketch, run by director Michael Gallagher, Shay Carl, Timothy DeLaGhetto and others, coordinating programming for their channels, The Station and the network’s infrastructure. This meant building out a production process that could churn out dozens of well-produced videos a week on a shoestring budget. 

During Wormser’s time at Maker, they went from 30 million monthly views to 100 million, something he does not take credit for. “They were already growing exponentially,” he says, “but I was able to create a scalable model for the programming structure and workflow.” Despite its ad-hoc beginnings, Maker needed a slate of content they could depend on, week-to-week. Wormser made sure that happened.

Though Wormser was doing good work at Maker, his earlier work on features had lit a fire to produce films. “I came from the feature film world,” Wormser explains, “so I really wanted to make things with a cinematic quality, and the Fine Brothers were into a very regimented system.” That system meant production teams of three people supporting each creator, which allowed for work to be made quickly but limited the ability for it to evolve. “We were able to make great content, and understanding the scale at which we were working helped me facilitate our creators to make quality content within those parameters.” Each video’s budget was often spent on a single key location, prop or actor to flesh out the world; that was the limit of what could be done within the model Maker had created. Aside from that, it was green screens and visual effects provided by the post-production team that Maker assembled to put a professional sheen on the rough-around-the-edges work.

But from that small model, Wormser charted his course back into features. He moved within Maker from head of production to head of motion pictures, with the goal of collecting all of Maker’s talent in a single feature. He paired that goal with Glasgow Phillips’ screenplay “I Did It For The Lulz”, which became Smiley, a horror-comedy that brought a host of YouTube talent to the big screen for the first time. And at the tip of the production spear, he had the perfect in-house director, Michael Gallagher, whose YouTube channel Totally Sketch was the rare Maker channel that didn’t feature its primary talent in front of the camera.

When production stalled out within Maker, Wormser sought and received the studio’s blessing to go and try to make it on his own. “Wormser doubled down on finding alternate solutions to get the project made by any means necessary,” attests Gallagher, “always leading with optimism and a spirit of fun. And he was willing to bet on me as a first-time feature director, with no hesitation.” Gallagher helped finance the film with the money he had made as a YouTuber and was able to help flesh out the team via connections with fellow content creators. He brought YouTube star Shane Dawson into the fold as one of the leads, paired with less experienced, but still well-known talent, including the likes of Caitlin Gerard and Keith David.

Because Wormser and Gallagher had forged a shorthand language from their time at Maker, they were able to get Smiley shot in just 16 days. And because so much of the talent involved was—literally and naturally—internet famous, the trailer garnered over 30 million views when it went online in November of 2011. That kind of interest helped them presell the movie as SVOD, well before that was established as an industry standard. From there, Wormser was able to secure a limited theatrical run by partnering directly with AMC Theatres. As Wormser secured additional funding, allowing for greater resources in post and with marketing, buzz was building consistently from the YouTubers involved in the production—which is to say everything was going about as well as possible for an independent feature.

But 21st century models of filmmaking open themselves up to 21st century obstacles. The outlook for Smiley turned dark when users of an online message board took exception to the content of the movie, leading to a period of harassment for the filmmakers and threats that could have derailed the release of the film. “It went from going swimmingly to just being this nightmare,” Wormser says of the experience. Determined to see the project through, Wormser and Gallagher pushed past the backlash and released the film, though they were forced to attend the premiere with bodyguards in case any of the threats materialized.

Its controversy aside, Smiley planted a flag for the YouTube generation within theatrical releases. Wormser and Gallagher continued to work together, channeling most of their talent through the YouTube pipeline. Some of it has found its way back to YouTube, for channels like BlackBox TV. But they have continued to make work that has gone to larger platforms. Despite their access to YouTube talent, there are still challenges. “They have a bread and butter with their channels,” Wormser observes, “and they don’t want to mess that up by not performing well in a film.” However because of his partnership with Gallagher, Wormser has been able to build a level of trust leading to the likes of Jimmy Tatro, Shane Dawson and Logan Paul appearing in the work he produces. While Paul has waded into his own controversies in the past year, Wormser has nothing but praise for his work on Legendary Digital’s The Thinning. “He was really committed,” Wormser confirms. “He really just brought it.” Wormser also noted how working with YouTubers who are used to a level of creative autonomy means that the rehearsal process becomes an essential collaborative step in the creative process. “Even though we have the constraints of filming something,” Wormser says, “we’re always on the same page and fully prepared.”

It’s been a long journey to get here, but Wormser is back making independent films like he wanted. With Gallagher he’s currently taking the feature Funny Story around the festival circuit. The film is a dramedy, one that represents a more thoughtful evolution of the work that Gallagher and Wormser make together. For Gallagher, there is no better producer for him to work with as his career path takes on new directions. “Wormser is the secret ingredient in our productions,” he smiles. “He will take on any obstacle and move mountains to transcend the usual limitations of independent filmmaking.”

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Charting The PGA's Course - From The Treasurer

Posted By Megan Mascena Gaspar, Monday, August 6, 2018

While our new Presidents were busy being interviewed for the cover of this magazine, they kindly offered their Produced By column to me for this issue. As the newly elected Treasurer, having run on a platform of transparency and fiscal responsibility, I embraced the opportunity. I’d first like to thank outgoing Treasurer Christina Lee Storm for the work she’s done over the last 4 years. What follows is a snapshot of the Guild’s financial picture:

While the PGA membership has grown, the PGA’s budget has continued to grow as well. The PGA is a not-for-profit organization. Every dollar the Guild takes in is invested in the organization, aimed at improving our member services and increasing the impact we can make on the industry.

In terms of the PGA’s income, the biggest slice of the pie continues to be member dues and fees. That said, its proportion of the overall budget is slightly smaller than it was two years ago, mostly thanks to a record-setting Producers Guild Awards fundraising. The Guild’s smaller revenue streams—including Produced By magazine—continue to remain steady. I have to note that the accompanying chart really doesn’t do justice to the generosity of our sponsors. Most of the Guild’s sponsorship support is tied into the Awards and our Produced By conferences in Los Angeles and New York.

The heartbeat of the Guild is truly its many committees. In all regions there are working producers volunteering time to bring you social, educational and recruiting events, although the biggest expense continues to be the Guild’s staff. In recent years we have added much-needed members to the New York staff, while the LA staff has been compelled to grow in response to the incredible demand for the Producers Mark in film. Anyone who’s seen our p.g.a. vetting process in action knows how rigorous it is. That rigor is made possible by the superior administrative support the PGA commits to it.

The budget for 2018-2019 also includes a significant commitment towards new online resources, including a new jobs board and website. As you probably know, the Board of Directors recently approved a dues increase (the first time in six years), in substantial part due to our commitment to upgrade our digital services.

If there’s one skill that we share as producers, it’s that we know how to operate within a budget. A guild composed of people who know how to be responsible with money is, by nature, going to be responsible with money. And as the officer charged with administering those expenses, I’m proud to join a team that delivers on the PGA’s promises. If you are interested or have questions, please feel free to contact me through the PGA office.

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ODD NUMBERS - Star-Crossed: The Age Of The Crossover Is Upon Us

Posted By Administration, Monday, August 6, 2018

More and more often we're seeing multi-talented stars from one art form or performance sphere "cross over" into another medium or genre, successfully demonstrating their chops in both arenas. While we're busy plotting the next crossover success, we figured we'd ask...
 

WHO IS PRESENTLY THE LEADING EXAMPLE OF CROSSOVER STARDOM?

 

 

WHO IS THE NEXT CROSSOVER STAR WAITING TO BREAK THROUGH?

 
 

And of course, everyone has fond memories of TV's great crossover episodes, which saw the characters of one series visiting their counterparts on an entirely different show. That got us thinking...

WHICH NEW CROSSOVER EPISODE SHOULD WE TRY TO MAKE HAPPEN?

 

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MENTORING MATTERS - Setting Benchmarks: Whether Choosing To Take On A New Project Or Waiting For An Investor's Response, A Good Mentor Will Give You A Realistic Baseline

Posted By Joe Tobin, Monday, August 6, 2018

When I applied to the PGA Mentoring Program, I was attempting to make the transition from unscripted to scripted production. I was working on the Emmy award-winning children’s program Sea Rescue, and I really wanted to get involved in creating uplifting, family-oriented scripted television series and feature films.

So when the PGA Mentoring Committee told me my mentor would be David Brookwell, I was very excited. David and his directing partner Sean McNamara create family-friendly content, including the TV series Beyond the Break, but they’re probably best known for their award-winning feature film Soul Surfer, an inspirational true story about a surfing champion who lost her arm in a shark attack.

I didn’t know what to expect at my first meeting with David. As it turned out, I spent the better part of a day with him and Sean. David talked and I listened. He told me about many of the pitfalls, problems and victories he’d experienced throughout his producing journey. I asked questions and he responded with stories and relevant details. Both David and Sean were very gracious and fun to chat with.

David’s best advice was to never, ever give up. He suggested having 10 projects going at any given time and to make every one of them absolutely real in my mind. David is very tenacious when it comes to finding ways up, over and around any obstacle that stands in the way. He’s especially persistent when finding funding for his projects. If somebody doesn’t write a check within 30 days, he suggested there’s a good chance they’re not real. David told me about the blind alleys he’s gone down looking for funding; everything in his experience tells him that serious investors make decisions fairly quickly. At the end of our meeting, David invited me back another day to pitch him, so he could give me specific guidance on one of my projects. I was excited for this opportunity.

David was true to his word. A few months later, I was ready to pitch. I was nervous; the story I was pitching was complicated and I relied on index cards. Following the pitch, David gave me a lot of helpful pointers. First he told me I needed to get off book, to know my pitch well enough that I wouldn’t need index cards. He offered concrete suggestions about how to set the story up and grab the listener’s attention. We talked about some of the production challenges the film might face and what a director’s eye could add to the project.

I’ve definitely taken David’s advice, and I’m very grateful to him and Sean for taking the time to meet and mentor me. It has made a difference. And thanks to the PGA Mentoring Program for putting us together!

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COMMITTEE SPOTLIGHT - Jobs, Well Done: The PGA's Employment Committee Wants To Get You Hired

Posted By Administration, Friday, August 3, 2018

THE EMPLOYMENT COMMITTEE brings PGA members together with companies looking to hire everyone on the producing team, from coordinators to executive producers in TV, film and new media. The committee programs events throughout the year but is always looking for new volunteers. PGA members volunteer to join the Employment Committee via the PGA website or by contacting pgaemployment@gmail.com



“Working directly with potential employers at networking and Job Forum events gives volunteers the unique opportunity to develop a relationship with that employer outside of a traditional job interview. It’s a very organic way to show your passion for producing and the community.”

—Eve Watterson, outgoing West Coast Committee Chair

 

The flagship events of the committee are its Job Forums for scripted and non-scripted content. At these events, held in both New York and Los Angeles and exclusive to PGA members, 10 to 20 employers rotate through dozens of job seekers, giving every member a chance to present their resume and pitch themselves. Employers depart with an organized book of resumes (plus a digital copy), which becomes an invaluable go-to tool for upcoming projects.The Employment Committee also created the new “Build Your Rolodex” networking events, which precede selected screenings. Thirty minutes prior to a screening, members can casually network in a relaxed setting.


 
“Our goal is for the PGA to be the No. 1 source for posting and finding producer-related jobs. Employers and members need a user-friendly experience in networking, job posting, job hunting and finding qualified applicants.”

—Chris Pack, incoming West Coast Committee Chair

 

Improving the online job board is a priority of the Employment Committee in 2018. After two years of member and employer feedback, the Committee is in the final stages of securing bids to deliver a PGA Job Board that will engage employers and serve our members.



“The PGA East Employment Committee is planning several panels and workshops over the course of the next 12 months, including a panel about working in the branded content space and how to navigate being a bicoastal producer (NY, LA and Atlanta).”

—Michael Fox, PGA East Committee Chair

 

The committee meets the first Tuesday of every month, at 7 p.m., in the PGA Offices in Los Angeles or you can log in remotely. They invite you to join their efforts to help keep PGA members working and networking and to build the network of employers for the Job Board.

They are seeking volunteers who are able to give one or two Saturday mornings a year to help out at the Job Forums or who can give 30 minutes to help facilitate a “Build your Rolodex” event before a screening. Additionally the committee needs volunteers who love working behind-the-scenes to help improve and create new events.



“We have a wealth of volunteer opportunities on the Employment committee. We want members of our committee to feel included and to be actively involved in what is going on. So we’d like to ask our committee members to volunteer for at least two events each year.”

—Morenike Joela Evans, incoming West Coast Chair


Committee Spotlight is published in conjunction with the Producers Guild’s AP Council.
There are many exciting opportunities on PGA committees that can bolster your career. Don’t miss out!

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GOING GREEN - Save The Dinosaurs: 'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' Brings To Life "Green Is Universal"

Posted By Lesley Lopez, Friday, August 3, 2018

It’s been four years since theme park and luxury resort Jurassic World was destroyed by dinosaurs out of containment. Isla Nublar now sits abandoned by humans, while the surviving dinosaurs fend for themselves in the jungles.

When the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event. Owen is driven to find Blue, his lead raptor, who’s still missing in the wild, and Claire has grown to have a respect for these creatures she now makes her mission. Arriving on the unstable island as lava begins raining down, their expedition uncovers a conspiracy that could return our entire planet to a perilous order not seen since prehistoric times. Welcome to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

The film, according to director J.A. Bayona, is about empathy, especially empathy toward our planet. As a fun-filled narrative of a changing world and a fight for conservation, it is no wonder that the filmmaking team of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom worked to have a sustainable production.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom received an EMA Gold Seal for its sustainable practices throughout production and across all departments. The Gold Seal is a higher recognition tier, awarded to top-performing sustainable productions within the EMA Green Seal program, led by the Environmental Media Association. In order for a production to receive a Green Seal, it must submit a point-based checklist application that includes sustainable best practices for each department. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was one of a record-setting 35 NBCUniversal television and feature film productions awarded Green and Gold Seals in 2017.

Creating a sustainable production required mindful planning and commitment from the whole cast and crew to reduce their environmental footprint. Shooting primarily in the United Kingdom, they avoided single-use plastics on set by carrying reusable water bottles that could be refilled. Meanwhile the production office stocked 100% white, recycled content paper and worked to reduce paper waste by printing only upon request. To promote production-wide recycling in a fun and educational way, they customized “dinosaur-themed” signage for the recycle bins. Additional sustainable practices in the U.K. included a lighting package that was 75% LED; a majority of cast vehicles were hybrids, as well.

NBCUniversal film and television productions have been donating excess food for nearly a decade in the United States and Canada. Aside from committing to already established practices, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom went a step further by collaborating with NBCUniversal to partner with a nonprofit organization to launch a U.K. food donation program for excess catering. In the U.K., NBCUniversal has a history of donating edible food that was used for scenes on camera, but it wasn’t until the 2017 partnership with City Harvest that excess catering food was also able to be recovered. City Harvest helps put surplus food to good use in a sustainable way by distributing to organizations that feed the hungry in London.

The nonprofit regularly provides meals to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, after-school programs, as well as centers for veterans and organizations that assist people with drug and alcohol addictions. It is important for City Harvest to provide meals with dignity for those in need. City Harvest delivers more than 2,000 pounds of food weekly, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom successfully donated 320 pounds of food throughout production. Since launching the catering recovery program with City Harvest, NBCUniversal has donated food on five additional UK feature film productions.

All the way across the globe, the Hawaii production unit of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom focused on reducing impact by donating unused and leftover materials. The production office donated office supplies to local schools, while materials from set were donated to the local nonprofit Re-use Hawaii. Re-use Hawaii is an organization with a mission to reduce waste through reuse and was founded as a solution to Oahu’s waste problem. More than one-third of the island’s waste comes from unnecessary construction and demolition debris. The production proudly participated in reducing the unnecessary construction waste from set by donating 500 feet of wire fencing.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is part of Universal Pictures and Focus Films’ commitment to reducing environmental impact from filmmaking activities. NBCUniversal has developed a Sustainable Production Program to empower filmmakers to integrate sustainable best practices into filmmaking. By providing teams with tools and a foundation of easy-to-read infographics, the program urges filmmakers to be part of the practice and reduce impact. This commitment and program are part of the overall Green is Universal initiative that brings an environmental perspective to everything NBCUniversal is doing—informing and entertaining their audiences while driving more sustainable practices into their own operations.

Deeply committed to reducing the environmental impact of film and TV production, NBCUniversal strives to achieve one sustainable production at a time. Just as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s Claire implores that we must save the story’s dinosaurs for generations to come, NBCUniversal asks that its team remains vigilant and sustainable for audiences of today and tomorrow.

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BOSPOAT - Best On Set Photo Of All Time: Getting Enough Coverage

Posted By Administration, Friday, August 3, 2018

This shot from producer and PGA member Kim Waltrip suggested a few possibilities:
A. Universal is remaking The Invisible Man. (They’ll take care of the hands in post.)
B. The CIA operative serving as an on-set consultant doesn’t want his cover blown.
C. The sun is really, really strong these days.

The gentleman depicted here is—ironically enough for an on-set photography contest—the on-set photographer for Waltrip’s feature Walk To Vegas, Raymond Liu. The photo above is from one of the production days on location in Soledad Canyon, in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles. This shot comes from a stretch of days that went well into the 90s, while the location provided little relief from the punishing sun. In an effort to beat the UV rays as much as the heat, Liu took the unusual step of covering just about every inch of exposed skin, save for the hands he’d need to manage his gear.

Given the realities of climate change, exterior shoots like this aren’t likely to get any more comfortable in the coming years.  Production can be a dangerous business if you don’t take precautions against natural and man-made threats alike. For Waltrip, that meant the team “needed to keep everyone as comfortable as possible. So we had umbrellas, sunblock, hats, and spray bottles everywhere. Thankfully one of our product placement clients was Trimino Water, who delivered cases of water to set. That deal kept our costs at bay and we stayed hydrated on those brutal days.”

Simultaneously trimming the budget and saving your team from dehydration? That’s called producing, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you Kim, for sending in the photo. And good luck to Mr. Liu, who hopefully has booked some interior gigs this summer. 

We know what you’re thinking. “Best of all time? No way. I’ve got an on-set photo way better than that.” If that’s the case, we dare you to prove it. Submit it to BOSPOAT@producersguild.org. Before you submit, please review the contest rules at producersguild.org/bospoat. Because no matter how great your photo is, we have no desire to get sued over it.

Tags:  film  kim  vegas  walk  waltrip 

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