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JASON BLUM - The Reigning King Of Horror Is Coming Up With New Stuff To Be Scared Of

Posted By Chris Green, Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Jason Blum is not a sit-still-for-the-interview type of guy. He’ll hang out on his couch for a bit, but it’s never too long before he’s up again, grabbing a glass of water, playing with some of the eclectically macabre knickknacks (e.g. a giant glass eye; a prop severed leg) scattered around his office, even just absently stalking around, as though being on his feet makes it easier to answer questions. There’s nothing jittery or frenetic about him, more like a steady slow burn, some kind of internal furnace that never quite shuts off.

That energy has plenty of outlets. At the time of this interview, the producer was preparing for the release of Halloween—at a rough count the seventh theatrically released feature film of 2018 to carry his “Produced By” credit. Add to that his six TV series or mini-series, three true docu-series, a 10-part scripted podcast and two documentary features, and you can see why the guy might be inclined to stay on his feet. From this vantage, it looks fair to call 2018 Blum’s busiest year as a producer—but not by a lot. Ever since his 2009 breakout hit Paranormal Activity, a furious pace of production has been the norm for the producer and his eponymous production company Blumhouse.

Blumhouse itself, a labyrinthine warren of offices situated on a decidedly non-gentrified stretch of Beverly Blvd, suggests some explanation for how the company is able to churn out so much product. Making one’s way through the building means passing through room after room teeming with young staffers, each space bigger and busier than the last; the layout is a disorienting puzzle box that wouldn’t be out of place in the company’s own eerie cinematic output. The other essential element is scale; Blum has a model that works, powered by the twin engines of low budgets and creative freedom. In his ability to crank out low-cost genre pictures beloved by young audiences, he recalls no one so much as 20th century impresario Roger Corman.

Unlike that progenitor, Blum has developed what one might call a modest sideline in producing Oscar-level independent films. Tucked into Blumhouse’s scare-heavy slates of the last few years, you’ll find contemporary indie landmarks like Whiplash, Get Out and this year’s BlackkKlansman. Imagine if Corman took a moment out from producing movies like The Wild Angels and Blood Bath to release The Graduate and Five Easy Pieces, and you get some idea of what Jason Blum has managed to pull off. The final product of all that work has been the emergence of that rarity of rarities: a legitimate name-brand producer. Only a handful of producers can claim a true popular following, and Blum is part of that select group. The man may have built Blumhouse for himself, but it turns out there’s room for a few million other movie freaks inside. Maybe you’re one of them.


So, how did you find your way into the industry?

My parents were both in the art world. I was always interested in art and drawn towards art. But even when I was very young, I always thought the art world was kind of … elitist. And it is. To fully appreciate art—certainly modern and contemporary art—you have to be somewhat versed in the history of art. That always bothered me a little.

Movies are art for the masses. So I wanted to be in movies. I didn’t know what aspect, but I was interested in movies and TV, from a young age. The first movie I did, when I was right out of college, was Noah Baumbach’s first movie, Kicking and Screaming.

 

How did you come across Noah’s script?

We were roommates at Vassar and then we were roommates again in Chicago. Initially it was called Fifth Year. We had always made jokes about how we could either fail or come up with some other scheme so we could put off adulthood an extra year. It was about trying to squeeze another year out of college.

 

So how did you put together the money for that? Did Noah just give you the script, like, “here, you do it”?

We didn’t know what we were doing. Linklater had just done Slacker and Spike Lee had just done She’s Gotta Have It. Metropolitan had just come out. It was this rebirth of these low-budget independent movies. And we were naïve enough to think, “If they made theirs, why can’t we make ours?” We had a list on the wall of basically every single person we’d ever come in contact with who was in entertainment. Over the course of two or three years, we sent them the script in an envelope. We’d get a little traction, here or there, and three years later, Trimark Pictures gave us the money for the movie.

 

Clearly, Kicking and Screaming was satisfying enough for you to keep trying to make movies. But the types of movies that you’ve gone on to do are not a whole lot like Kicking and Screaming. Noah’s trajectory is a little clearer from that origin point.

It makes sense, yeah. [laughs]

 

But you took a pretty sharp left turn.

A very sharp left turn. I never really found my place in entertainment until I was about 35, until we did Paranormal Activity. I was very unsure. I was unsure if I should be an executive or a producer. I was unsure if I should produce big movies or little movies. I felt very confident I had found the right field but much less confident in what my job would be in that field. So I did Noah’s movie, and then I was a distributor. I worked for this little company called Arrow. I worked for Miramax. I didn’t ever want to be an executive, long-term. Then I produced movies on my own. I produced eight indie-type movies. The best known was Hysterical Blindness, which Uma Thurman won a Golden Globe for. But the other ones were small and not very good.

I wasn’t satisfied. I couldn’t find the right job for me. What Paranormal Activity did was kind of coalesce 15 years of experience, half in the studio world and half in the independent world—because what I ultimately came to realize over the course of 15 years was I wanted to make independent movies and have studios release them. I didn’t like making studio movies, and I didn’t like independent film distribution.

 

Right.

I wanted to make movies that a lot of people saw, but I wanted to make the movies my way. Blumhouse is a lot more today, but it was all built off this idea of making independent movies that studios would release. That’s still the core of our movie business.

So were you always a horror fan from way back?

No I wasn’t. Growing up I really loved all kinds of movies. I didn’t specifically love horror, but I have the traits of a horror fan. I was always weird. I loved Halloween. I loved dressing up. I’m kind of an odd guy. [laughs] But I have an enormous amount in common with horror fans and horror filmmakers, despite the fact that I wasn’t a horror film fanatic. So when we did Paranormal, I discovered this whole world I didn’t know much about. And I loved it and I’ve never wanted to leave it.

 

So what was the nature of your introduction into that world?

My introduction into that world was a producer named Steven Schneider. My first deal after I became an independent producer was at HBO, and my second deal was at Paramount. A year into that Paramount deal, I met this producer, Steven Schneider, who had written a couple of books about horror and attacked the genre from an intellectual point of view. He’s an executive producer of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies with me, he’s an executive producer on Glass. And he’s the one who really taught me about horror and got me to appreciate it in a very different way.

 

Could you distill that in any way for me? Like, what are the intellectual underpinnings of that approach?

Well you think about what constitutes a scare. There’s an enormous amount of art that goes into it. I mean, there’s a certain amount of good horror movies and there are a lot of bad horror movies. I think people who don’t understand horror tend to think, “Aw, it’s just a quick way to make money.” And it isn’t. I could name 15 horror movies over the last 12 months that fell flat on their faces. It’s just as hard to make a good horror movie as it is to make a good comedy, as it is to make a good drama. It’s hard to make a good movie, period. Steven really helped me appreciate that. The horror community is very close. It’s a tight-knit group of people, and Steven was very tapped into it. He knew all the writers and the directors of horror movies at the time, and he opened up that world for me.

 

What, for you, creates the distinction between a good horror movie and a bad horror movie? Or a good scare and a …? Is there such thing as a bad scare?

There’s a lot of bad scares.

 

Yeah, like, break that down for me.

John Carpenter always talks about this. A good horror movie is not about the scares. It’s about the storytelling in between the scares. People who don’t know that much about horror tend to focus on scares. They say, “I need 10 good scares.” The truth is, there are only really about 30 basic kinds of scares—like a deer hitting the windshield. You’ve seen that a million times. But it’s super effective in Get Out, because of the conversation that Daniel and Allison are having before the deer hits the window. They’re having this very charged conversation about race. Watching it, you’re getting tense. Then when the deer hits the window, you jump. What I always tell our filmmakers is, “If you take out all the scares, would it work as a great drama?” That’s one of the ways that we look at our movies.

Jason Blum (right) with (from left) Get Out cast members Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya, and
writer/director Jordan Peele. Photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

 

That’s really interesting. So Paranormal Activity is the movie that really launched the company, where everything came together in a way that felt satisfying and productive.

Yeah. But it took three years for Paranormal Activity to be released. And as I went through that process, it occurred to me even before we made Insidious, “Hey this makes sense. This is what I want to do.” Now after Paranormal, there was a lot of—I wouldn’t say “pressure”—but a lot of people gave me the advice that I should now go produce a big movie, I should try and make World War Z or something like that. Not that I had the opportunity to make World War Z, but you get the idea.

 

Right.

And I resisted that. Now I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career. But one of the smarter things I did was I resisted that advice and said, “You know what? I finally got this movie that worked. I’m going to do another low-budget scary movie. Let’s see if I can turn this one movie into a business.” And so, rather than succumbing to ego and being tempted to do more expensive movies—which I think is one of the pitfalls of Hollywood—I was disciplined to stay the course and continue. We did Paranormal. We did Insidious. We did Sinister. We did The Purge. All very low-budget movies.

By the time we’d done The Purge, people began to suspect, “Maybe there’s something to this. Maybe he didn’t get lucky four times in a row.” But it wasn’t really until The Purge that people thought it was a real business and not just some sequence of magic tricks.

 

Blum shares a moment with cast member and horror icon
Lin Shaye at a special screening of
Insidious: The Last Key.
Photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

So today, as a producer, as a guy who’s putting together a team to make this kind of movie, what are you looking for? What kind of script is going to work for you at what level? What kind of personnel are you looking for? What are the ingredients of the recipe?

One of the many advantages of doing low-budget movies is that we have the luxury of picking movies the opposite way studios pick movies. Studios have to look for comps. They have to look for three movies that feel like the movie that they’re greenlighting, that were released in the last five years, and that were successful. And then people ask, “Why do movies these days feel the same?” Blumhouse movies aren’t different because we’re smarter than everyone else. It’s just by the nature of taking smaller bets on movies, we can choose movies the opposite way.

First, obviously: Do we like it? Of course. I think that’s the same as at a studio. Everyone has got to like it. Second: Does it feel new? Does it feel nothing like any movie we’ve ever seen? We get to do that because it’s little. The budget is low. Get Out is the perfect example. No one had ever read anything like it. We like it. We greenlight it. That’s how we choose our movies. If I was working at a studio, I could never do that. I’d have to have comps. That’s why I’m not tempted by doing bigger-budget movies. I really love doing low-budget movies because of the risk-taking and the creative freedom it allows us.

 

And so in terms of executing a quality low-budget movie, when you’re looking for collaborators, who or what are you looking for?

Obviously it’s different with each project. We put enormous amount of emphasis on the directors. I know that sounds obvious, but I honestly don’t think that’s typical of Hollywood. Meaning, I think there’s a certain kind of studio movie where the directors feel … I wouldn’t go so far as to say “interchangeable,” but close. The practice of plucking a director from the great movie at Sundance and hiring them to steer an $80 million movie speaks to that a little bit. We almost never work with first-time directors. And we give our directors more creative control. I mean you can’t not pay someone upfront and then tell them what to do. We’re telling them, “Look, you’re going to bet on yourself.” But when I say “bet on yourself” I mean it. You get final cut. You get creative control. So I always say, “I can’t promise you a hit, but I can promise you’re going to live or die on your own work.”

I think one of the most frustrating things as a filmmaker is working for a studio and kind of having to do what the studio tells you to do. Then when the movie doesn’t work, you get blamed. Blumhouse is kind of an antidote to that.

So that’s one answer. We choose our directors … I wouldn’t say “carefully,” because I think everyone chooses their directors carefully. We choose our directors differently. We’re not as focused on the director’s last movie as the rest of Hollywood is. If your last movie wasn’t so good, I don’t care—if the one before that was great. I think there’s a lot of emphasis on your last movie in Hollywood. That’s never made a lot of sense to me. In fact if the director’s last movie wasn’t financially or critically as successful as he or she hoped it would be, they’re usually more open, they’re more collaborative, they’re hungrier.

 

They’ve got something
to prove.

Yeah, that’s a very attractive trait for me, personally. It also helps when your financial interests are aligned from the get-go. We don’t have a producing fee on our movies. The directors make scale. The actors make scale. It’s fully transparent. If the movie works, you’re participating in the profit of the movie, and you’re going to get paid or even paid very well. If the movie doesn’t work, you’re not. Or if the movie doesn’t get a wide release, you’re not going to. That’s a great asset in the collaborative process, to be able to tell the director, “Hey, you could make this creative choice. We think that’s going to make the movie less commercial. And if you want the movie to be less commercial, it can be. But we think the choice is less commercial, and here’s why.” If the director isn’t getting a big check up front, their ears perk up. That doesn’t always mean that they want to make it more commercial or want to make it less commercial. But it’s a very different thought process when you only get paid if it works commercially as opposed to getting paid up front.

I always thought that was a really tricky thing. It’s another one of the reasons why I’m uneasy with big-budget movies. I always feel like a hypocrite if I disagree with the studio, but we’ve already been paid “x amount” of millions of dollars and they’re already in the hole “x amount” of tens of millions of dollars. By its very nature, that financial situation sets up a weird dynamic in making creative decisions, since one person has already been paid and the other hasn’t. It really drives a wedge into the process, because if you’ve already been paid, all that’s at stake for you is critical success.

 

Right.

As a studio, if you’re $60 million, $80 million in the hole, you’re not thinking about critical success. You’re thinking about getting your $80 million back, first and foremost, and then making a profit. If you don’t keep doing that, you don’t stay in business. So that, again, is something I appreciate about doing low-budget movies, how it aligns financial interests.

 

Yeah. I never thought of it quite that way.

I mean, how can you feel good about collecting a check for $2 million if the movie didn’t work? I don’t have the hubris to say, “I think the movie should make this potentially controversial choice,” when I’ve been paid a million dollars. If we haven’t been paid, I’m much more comfortable saying, “Hey I really think this is the way to go.” That way if I’m wrong, I’m not getting paid either. So I’m aligned with my filmmaker, and I’m aligned with my financier. I think it leads to a healthier kind of conversation.

When the filmmakers know that they have greater control, the process becomes infinitely more collaborative. Because they’re not scared to ask for advice, or ask an opinion, or ask who we think they should cast, or what we think of the script, or what we think of the cut … because they don’t feel obligated to take our advice. So what I find is we have much, much more creative input into all of our movies, more than most companies, because the director isn’t scrambling for control or fighting for his or her way. The director knows they’re going to get their way. When you know you’re going to get your way, then the best idea really does win, because control is never at stake in the nature of the decision.

 

So thinking on the other side of the equation, in terms of navigating the studio system and being a good partner to your studio, how did that relationship evolve for you? It feels like between you and Universal, you have a very tight understanding. But that doesn’t just happen on its own. How did you nurture that?

Well Donna [Langley] really believed in us. She doesn’t like horror movies, but she really understood our business, and she allowed me early on to do my thing. That’s much easier said than done. It took an enormous amount of faith on her part. In the early days, it was just her. I remember when we were doing The Purge … it was before we even shot the movie, and Universal bought a script kind of like it. I was very nervous about it, and I called up Donna and she said, “Don’t worry. I’ve got my eye on you.” She set the tone and I guess she made me feel safe. She treated me like I treat our filmmakers.

 

Blum with cast member Anya Taylor-Joy at the screening of
Split at AFI Fest. Photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages. 

That’s a great analogy.

Yeah she made me feel free and safe. Once, about a year into the relationship, she called me up and she said, “I can tell you’re having trouble navigating the studio. You’re hearing different things from different people.” And she said, “I don’t want you to worry about it. You’re doing a great job. I’m aware that it’s a different situation than you’ve had before. But I’ve got my eye on you. Don’t worry. Keep doing your thing.”

That set a very, very strong foundation for the relationship, and here we are, 30 movies later. It’s the best example of what a business partnership can be. It really works. It doesn’t mean we don’t have arguments, but they’re very healthy. I see where they’re coming from, and they see where I’m coming from, and they always resolve them in the right way. A big part of the success of our business is based on Universal not just looking at one movie at a time from us, but looking at a longer corporate relationship between Blumhouse and the studio.

Think about The Purge. The Purge is now on TV. The franchise has grown with every movie. That could never happen unless there was a very long, trusting partnership between the two companies.

 

Can we talk a little bit about franchises? On some level, “the franchise” is kind of the brass ring that everyone is looking to grab. Blumhouse has developed a pretty enviable record for generating franchises. I want to ask, “How have you engineered that?” but I don’t even know if “engineered” is the right word.

Well I think one of the things I’m very specific about is not engineering it. Again I go back to low budgets. If you’re making a $100 million movie and it’s based on a book, you’d be fired if you weren’t thinking about what movies two and three were going to be. But at our level, when a filmmaker comes in and pitches and says, “I’ve got a great idea for a franchise,” I almost shut down. Because what I’m thinking is, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to make a $5 million movie that competes with $65 million movies head-to-head?” The constraints that the budget is going to put on you, that’s enough constraints. Don’t put storytelling constraints on top of that. Don’t think about the second movie. Make the first movie great. If the first one resonates, we’ll figure out a second one.

It’s a mistake people will make, particularly in horror, because again, people think horror movies are easy to make. The reason there are so many bad horror sequels is because people always fire the folks who wrote and directed the first movie. They hire cheaper people to do the next movie, and then they wonder why the franchise goes downhill.

The way that we attack a sequel, any movie with a “2” or more after it, is totally different than how we approach the original. We spend a little bit more money, because it’s proven IP. I’m adamant that you must involve the people who were involved in the original movie. We just did Halloween. This was the 11th Halloween, but it was the first Blumhouse Halloween. When we went out with Halloween, we went everywhere. We shopped everywhere, and we heard “Why do you want to make another movie out of this? This is the 11th one.” I mean people couldn’t have been less interested in it.

But I really wanted to see if we could impose our very unique system on IP that’s been around for 40 years and has churned out 10 movies. On Rotten Tomatoes, the only “fresh” rated Halloween is the first one. So in a funny way, that was the challenge: Can we make not only a commercial sequel, but can we make one that fans love, that critics like, that captures the uniqueness of the first movie? The only reason this franchise has gone on for so long is because of how resonant that first movie was. So I chased the rights. And when I finally made an agreement with Miramax to co-produce the movie with them, the one caveat I had is that I wasn’t going to do it without John Carpenter. Look, at some point, the 11th Halloween movie would have gotten made without us or John Carpenter. But I think the reason the movie did work with critics is because John was involved from the very beginning. That doesn’t mean he was involved in every decision day-to-day. But his presence loomed very large. David Gordon Green is not going to make a move that John Carpenter doesn’t think is good. So the premise of the sequel, everything about it, John blessed. And if he didn’t bless it, we weren’t going to do it.

 

so how do you balance giving the audience enough of what they’re expecting or find familiar, versus giving them something new, something extra, something different?

Well that’s the key question with every creative decision in a sequel: Are you retreading? Are you copying yourself? You don’t want to make it so similar that it feels like a rip-off. And you don’t want to make it so different that it feels like it has nothing to do with the previous movies. So you have to really walk a fine line there. Honestly I think the biggest way you do it is by keeping the first people involved so the sequels have their flavor. I mean the great creative concoction of Halloween was taking, as EPs, John and Jamie [Lee Curtis], who were the voice of the original Halloween and combining them with David Gordon Green and Danny McBride, who are the voice of something else, a younger generation.

The way that we were able to walk the line in Halloween was combining those four people. When you put those four people together, you’re going to get exactly what you described. You’re going to get something that feels totally new and something that feels like Halloween.

At the same time, you’ve developed a bit of a sideline in non-horror indie movies. Whiplash is maybe the prime example that comes to mind. How do those projects fit into the Blumhouse picture?

Yeah. Whiplash is one. For sure BlacKkKlansman for this year. With our TV company, we’re doing a show about Roger Ailes. We’re doing a show on Steve Bannon. The future of Blumhouse, to me, is expanding the process by which we determine what we’re going to do beyond just doing horror, but doing things that scare us or things that scare me. Roger Ailes is scary to me. Steve Bannon is scary to me. If you ask, “What’s the scariest thing to you?” as a guy making horror movies in the world right now, I would say Donald Trump. After all when you look at Whiplash, there’s an argument to be made that JK Simmons is a lot scarier than Michael Myers, right?

 

Yeah.

And there’s nothing scarier in the United States, I don’t think, than the Ku Klux Klan. That’s where BlacKkKlansman comes from. So it’s a matter of broadening that lens through which we look at material. Right now about 80% to 90% of what we do on the movie side is straight horror, but only about 20% of what we do on the television side is horror.

 

What’s behind that distinction?

There’s only so much real estate with horror movies. The market can only take 12 to 15 horror movies a year ... period, by everybody. I’m interested in doing other low-budget movies. I’m not particularly interested in doing bigger-budget movies. So if I want to expand, then clearly the way to expand is television. We started doing TV about seven years ago. I made a ton of mistakes. I was doing it all wrong. But I’ve learned an enormous amount. We started our in-house TV studio 18 months ago. Ever since we took that step, it’s felt like it’s been working much better. It’s been a lot more fun.

 

You say you made a lot of mistakes … anything you can bring yourself to share?

It’s easy to share. I was a non-writing EP for hire in TV. That, for me, was not a creatively and professionally satisfying role. I didn’t have any control. On our movies, we control everything. And if we go over budget, we pay for it. It’s our problem.

 

Right.

We have the physical production here. We have post-production. We have communications, business affairs and legal. We’re like a mini studio when it comes to movies.

With TV someone else was doing all that stuff. It felt like we were just kind of cheerleaders. I felt like I was being treated like an adult in movies and like a kid in TV.

 

Interesting.

So I made a choice two and a half years ago to go out and raise a bunch of money—well really a tiny bit of money, but a bunch for a little company like us—to get into TV on our own terms. We have no network affiliation. We have no first-look on TV. The capital we raised allows us to bring all that production activity inside.

So now, in TV, we run the shows ourselves. We run The Purge on USA. We run Into the Dark on Hulu. We run Sacred Lives, which we’re doing on Facebook. And all of these shows have been ordered for a second season. Right now, we’re running production on our Roger Ailes/Russell Crowe limited series for Showtime. I finally feel like I’m doing the same thing in TV that I’ve been doing in movies. I didn’t feel like I was doing that before.

 

Obviously you’re doing a lot of different things. There are very few companies that are as wildly prolific as you and Blumhouse are. Lots of producers would love to release that much content. How do you manage to find the time or the bandwidth to generate all that material?

Well I think one of the big advantages I have is that I’m not a frustrated writer or director, right? [laughs] I think a common stumbling block for younger producers is that they feel like they haven’t played an important role in a project if they’re not directly impacting or changing the creative direction.

I have many shortcomings, but that desire is not one of them. If something is working, I’m very happy to have helped put it together and stay out of the way and say, “You did a great job.” I don’t feel the need to tinker when I’ve got something that’s really working. On the other hand, I tinker a lot if something isn’t going right. But if something is going well, I leave it alone. So I think that helps me get a lot done.

We also have an amazing group of senior executives who’ve been here a long time. Four or five people have been here close to 10 years. And I believe in treating our executives like we treat our filmmakers. If they’re passionate about something, unless I think it’s the biggest mistake in the world, I’m supportive of letting them run with things. That’s how we did Whiplash. Whiplash was totally a passion project of Couper Samuelson. I didn’t get the script. I really didn’t get it. But Couper just believed in it so much. And I really believe in Couper. So I bet on people. I bet on the executives who work here like I bet on our directors. They would have ideas that I would think were outlandish, but I believe in their work, so I’d go along with them. And more often than not, they’re right and I’m wrong. So that helps us. We’re able to make a lot for those reasons.

 

Right. Just to wrap it up and go kind of “big picture”, since you’ve both implicitly and explicitly put politics into your work and you alluded to it here, I’m curious. in this unusual historical moment, what’s the responsibility, if anything, of the entertainment producer as a citizen?

I think that responsibility does exist. A producer has a louder megaphone than most. I think that if you believe in community, it doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat or whatever. Republicans think that a certain set of things makes the world a better place. I happen to think that there’s a different set of things that makes the world a better place. I think that you have a role, as a producer, to do what you think makes the world a better place. I personally think Trump is not making the world a better place, so I put a lot of energy into trying to make other people think that too. People might say that’s misguided. But I think that it’s important, if you’re a producer, to not just monetize content or push to win Oscars. I think you owe the world that’s allowing you to have this great, amazing job, to give back in some way. I do that with our storytelling. I do that through serving on boards of institutions I believe in. I’m on the board of The Public. I think that’s a really, really important organization to foster new, young talent. I’m on the board of the Academy Museum, because I think the Academy is the great counter-force to money in moviemaking. The Academy pushed Hollywood to veer towards more artistic, less commercial choices. I’m on the board of Vassar College because I believe in need-blind education. So I don’t think you have to be anti-Trump as a producer, but I think you should look beyond the pure storytelling role to try to use your platform to give back to the world.

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Swan Song - Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey Saved The Best For Last

Posted By Michael Ventre, Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Los Angeles contains a handful of enclaves especially renowned as dream incubators to those with the entertainment industry in their career crosshairs. Beachwood Canyon arguably is principal among them. Nestled in the hills beneath the Hollywood sign, Beachwood is where Nathanael West set a good chunk of his nightmarish Tinseltown classic The Day of the Locust. It is where Harry Bosch occasionally roams in the Michael Connelly detective novels. Don Siegel shot parts of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers near Beachwood Market. It is where scores of writers, actors, directors, musicians and other artists migrate to in search of a creative community.

It is where Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen began Temple Hill Entertainment, the film and television generator behind the Twilight franchise, current releases First Man and The Hate U Give, and much more. Godfrey and Bowen have ended their 10-year partnership, but this is one of the rare occasions when the happy ending belongs in the lead: Godfrey is now president of Paramount’s Motion Picture Group, and Bowen plans to move with Temple Hill to Paramount to make pictures there when the company’s deal with Fox runs out.

“The shorthand of knowing how he does his job and how people at that company do their jobs will give me great confidence that, when they’re producing movies for us, I’ll know what I’m getting,” Godfrey explains. “I have a feeling we’ll still be working together.”

The company began as a dream, the result of four ambitious young dudes—Godfrey, Bowen and two roommates also entering the business—sharing a house on Temple Hill, working their way up the industry ladder and hoping the seductive glow of the Hollywood sign would brighten their respective futures.

“The work days were exciting,” Godfrey recalls of the mid-1990s. “We’d come home, sit over a glass of bourbon or a beer and talk about what we did that day. We’d trade stories. There was such excitement about being in the business and figuring out how to help each other get ahead.

Marty Bowen (right) on the set of First Man with fellow producer
Isaac Klausner. Photo credit Daniel McFadden

“Certainly those conversations,” he continues, “and our wondering ‘Where are we going to be in five years? Where are we going to be in 10 years?’ were origins of Marty and I thinking out loud that maybe someday we could have our own company.”

That day came more quickly than they perhaps expected. Bowen had been an agent at UTA and wanted to move into producing. Ordinarily the traditional path toward that goal moves slowly. Bowen opted for the express version: lunch with one New Line executive; the impassioned pitch from Bowen about the company and a partnership with Godfrey; immediate interest; quickly scheduled dinner with Toby Emmerich, then a top New Line executive; shortly thereafter, plans for the first project.

“The script I talked about in the pitch, I hadn’t even spoken to the writer yet, and I hadn’t talked to Wyck,” Bowen remembers. “I just kind of did a ‘ready, fire, aim,’ as they say.”

Next tiny detail: letting Godfrey in on the plan. “In wonderful Marty Bowen form,” says Godfrey, who was producing for John Davis at the time, “he called me while I was shooting a movie in Hungary (2006’s Eragon), nights, in the middle of the winter, in a frozen quarry. I had just gotten off work and put my head on the pillow at 5:00 in the morning. He called. I said, ‘Marty, I’m going to bed.’“

Undaunted, Bowen filled him in on New Line and their new partnership. “That was the first time I heard that we were starting a company together,” Godfrey laughs. “He agented me. He basically sold me externally before he sold me internally.”

Their first film, greenlit from the formation of the New Line deal, was The Nativity Story, directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Since then, under the stewardship of Godfrey-Bowen, Temple Hill has churned out five installments of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga; the sleeper smash The Fault in Our Stars; three editions of The Maze Runner; The Longest Ride; the TV series Revenge, Rosewood and Mr. Mercedes; and earlier this year, the groundbreaking gay teen romantic comedy Love, Simon and Dan Fogelman’s intricate family saga Life Itself.

The book on Temple Hill is literature. The guys love a good book, and they especially love one that makes you cry. “I was an English major. I loved reading growing up,” Godfrey says, “so for me the natural inclination was taking books I loved and figuring out how to do the best adaptation of those books. We’re both from the South, we always wanted to make movies that were fundamentally from the heart and not from the head. That was a guiding principle. We’d rather be corny than cynical.”

From left, producers Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Robert Teitel and executive producer/UPM Tim Bourne take a moment to relax
on the set of
The Hate U Give. Photo credit Erika Doss.

A prime and current example of the written word transformed into wondrous cinema is First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle, adapted by Josh Singer and starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. To give you an idea of how long a journey it took from book to screen, Isaac Klausner was Godfrey’s assistant 10 years ago when Temple Hill first acquired the rights to the James R. Hansen bestseller about astronaut Neil Armstrong. Now Klausner is Temple Hill’s film president.

“They’ve been incredibly supportive to those eager and ready to take on responsibilities,” Klausner says of the Temple Hill culture. “Everybody participates in staff meetings and has a creative voice.”

Selling Oscar-winner Chazelle on a project is not easy these days, given that since his success with both Whiplash and La La Land, he can typically be found chased by unruly mobs of producers waving scripts in his face. But Temple Hill managed to turn his head.

“When I first met Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey and Isaac Klausner, they asked me if I was interested in Neil Armstrong,” Chazelle recalls. “I told them honestly, ‘Not really.’ But because of their persistence and their passion I agreed to review some documentaries and other materials they sent me about this story. Within days I was obsessed.

Wyck Godfrey confers with cast member Ryan Gosling
on the set of
First Man. Photo credit Daniel McFadden.

“Working with this team of producers has been an incredible experience,” he adds. “They supported my vision for the film and added to it with their wealth of research and knowledge of the subject matter. They fought for the movie, championed it, worked on both the macro and the micro, put out fires left and right. They were there every step of the way.”

Obviously the Twilight series represents a very different set of characters and ideas from First Man. But again, it’s a penchant for adapting books that move people that brought the Temple Hill team to the popular collection.

“Despite the fact that neither of us is a 16-year-old girl, I think doing a movie and a series of characters as beloved as the ones from Stephenie Meyer brings with it a responsibility for making sure they came out well and making sure the girls love the movies and continue to love them,” Bowen observes. “That’s a responsibility we took very, very seriously. That was a special time in our lives.”

The Hate U Give, released this year, is a different kind of young adult title that drew the interest of the Temple Hill collective. Written by Angie Thomas, the novel tells the story of a young African-American woman and how she deals with the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. Adapted by screenwriter Audrey Wells and directed by George Tillman Jr., it opened to glowing reviews.

“Getting to work with authors like Angie Thomas, with first-time authors who have never had a book turned into a movie, to be the kind of conduit that allows them to take that journey, is incredibly gratifying,” professes Godfrey. “To me the baseline is that if the author loves the movie, then we’ve done a great job. And, even better, if that movie represents a different experience for them of the story they’ve created … my goal is to take the movie beyond the book audience to a whole new audience.”

The Temple Hill catalogue is lengthy and impressive. But the Temple Hill story continues to be told, despite the partnership split.

“I’m a psychiatric cliché,” admits Bowen. “I literally went through all the emotions after you lose somebody. All of them, from nostalgia to sadness to anger to relief. I did them all. At the end of the day, Temple Hill is not about two people. It’s really not. There are still 10 or 11 of us doing the same thing. We probably just don’t laugh as much."

While Bowen finishes his Fox deal and prepares for the long traipse in cross-town traffic from the Fox lot to Paramount, Godfrey settles in as a studio honcho. “It’s exhilarating,” he says. “I’m probably too dumb to be scared, although I probably should be. As a producer you just focused on the movie that you wanted to make and you let your passion and creative energy push the project up the hill. You didn’t have to worry about an entire slate of films in every genre, across multiple years, that you’re mapping for the future. That’s been a great challenge but a really exciting one, and I feel blessed to be able to tackle a new job at my age.”

Says Bowen: “I told him I don’t mind him dating other people for a while, but if you ever want to come back here, your office is available.”

And to think it all started with a dream in a town famous for them, in a neighborhood steeped in them, in a house that realized at least a couple.

“That house,” Godfrey says of the one he once shared with Bowen on Temple Hill, which then begat Temple Hill, “provided the platform for us to become friends.”


- Lead photo and last photo by Monica Orozco

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A Race Lost And Found - How Helen Estabrook And Aaron Gilbert Got Behind "The Front Runner"

Posted By Kevin Perry, Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Politics have become synonymous with division. Toxicity abounds, animosity trumps altruism, and truth is just a carcass in the rearview mirror as we careen further down the forked road of our bifurcated democracy.

So how do you navigate this divisive landscape to tell a political story in the age of us vs. them? Answer: You have the audacity to be human.

That is the brilliant subversion of The Front Runner, the new Jason Reitman film produced in partnership with his trusted collaborators Helen Estabrook and Aaron Gilbert. Their movie revisits the sex scandal that derailed Gary Hart’s political aspirations in 1988, but the producers eschewed the exploitation angle in favor of true intimacy.

“I think that we get used to talking about stories in a certain way and forget that we’re talking about people,” explains Estabrook. “One of the things that I like about this film is that we’re not talking current politics … Being able to look at this through a different lens and have these conversations and ask relevant questions, also to talk about them in the realm of past events is really helpful.” It was a creative challenge fraught with obstacles and opportunities. “The nice thing about a story of this era is that we actually have a lot of resources to look at: documentary footage, interviews from that time, all of the actual videos from the Gary Hart campaign. So we could really look at what was most authentic from that time and find the right cameras and  find the right look of the sets.”

“It’s movie magic! It’s movie magic!” Gilbert exuberantly concurs. “For me, The Front Runner captures such an important time in the history of America … a man who literally could have been an incredible president of the United States was taken down because of this situation that happened over a few weeks’ period.” Gilbert surmises, “Everything that took place around Gary Hart at that time during the presidential election had never been experienced or talked about in that way before.”

Striking a reflective tone, Estabrook adds, “We were exploring how someone could go from being the presidential front-runner to leaving politics in three weeks. We were exploring how it felt for journalists and a candidate to find themselves in a dark alley for the first time and no one having any idea what to do.”

Estabrook is not being metaphorical; that actually happened. One of film’s most jaw-dropping sequences recreates the moment when Hart faced off with reporters in the shadows of his D.C. townhouse—a historic flashpoint in the eternal struggle between politicians and pundits. “This is the first moment where tabloid journalism and political journalism really drove into the same lane,” assesses Estabrook.

Their writing team reflects this chaotic dichotomy. The Front Runner was scripted by Reitman, veteran political reporter Matt Bai and Democratic strategist Jay Carson. “Having those two not only co-write the script but having that direct experience for all those years together, they just brought so much real life into these roles,” says Gilbert.

“Accuracy was always key for us,” asserts Estabrook, who details how painstakingly every background actor was prepped. “They were all given packets of magazine and newspaper articles from 1987. Everyone was really focused on trying to create this reality of that time period.”

Aaron Gilbert (center) discusses a scene with cast member
Hugh Jackman (right) and writers/executive producers
Matt Bai (left) and Jay Carson (back left).

Reitman takes it a step further, recalling how they edited together vintage clips for his cast to study on set. “When an extra comes in, a background actor, and they’re gonna be doing a scene on a plane that morning, they watch footage of journalists on planes in the 1980s, so they know exactly what to do. It’s about the prep work and being dedicated to this larger sense of truth … We wanted this to be a movie that just dropped the audience onto the campaign trail.”

To replicate the epic sprawl of a presidential trek across America without actually spending a billion dollars, the producers cobbled together a peachy plan. “We shot this entire film in Georgia—in Atlanta and in Savannah,” reports Gilbert. “We were able to find and dress and create an environment that had the scope and had that feeling of indeed crossing the country, and showing Colorado and showing New York and showing Florida and showing all of these other things. It’s really just a testament to Jason’s eye, of course, and the incredible team that we had around him.”

Reitman himself singles out one noteworthy member of said team, production sound mixer Steve Morrow. “Steve was wiring 10 to 20 actors at a time, every single day, and live-mixing all of these different conversations. Oftentimes the mix that you hear in the finished film was the one that Steve was doing on the day, and it was kind of surreal to be on set with our headphones on, hear the movie come to life and already feel ourselves as an audience trying to pick which conversation we want to follow.”

But the pivotal scene depicting Gary Hart’s inaugural rendezvous with mistress Donna Rice features no dialogue at all. Their words fade away, yielding to the strains of the pointedly chosen selection “Foreplay”, by Boston. “Jason is always very specific about the music that he wants in his movies,” chimes Estabrook. “I think the trick for this movie was finding the music that felt of a time but didn’t feel too on-the-nose ‘80s because I think we’re all so aware of what ‘80s music sounds like, and it almost puts it in a less authentic place in a weird way because it just blasts those synthesizers.” Instead their goal was “keeping within the emotional scope of the film and finding the music that works there while also being of a certain time. I think that we ended up leaning more on ‘70s music because there was a sort of ‘70s aesthetic to the film.”

The result is a soundscape worthy of Robert Altman, a comparison that Reitman graciously welcomes. “We wanted to make this film in as analog a way as humanly possible and try to use technology that was available in the ‘70s, similar to the films we were trying to emulate. So almost all the things that happen on screen were done as real-time playback that the actors could watch.”

A standout example of this dynamic is the scene featuring Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart, alone at home, watching TV as he’s being skewered in a classic Tonight Show monologue. “It’s a weirdly intimate scene because it really is just him in a room by himself with the television. Filming that felt much more intense than I expected it to,” admits Estabrook. “Often in screenings, the monologue gets a big laugh, and it’s always amusing to me how timeless Johnny Carson can be.” Of course comedy may be the great equalizer, but the film slyly utilizes our ease with laughing at Carson to make us complicit in the public spectacle that unraveled the career of a public servant.

Helen Estabrook confers with writer/director Jason Reitman.

Jackman’s performance humanizes Hart, imbuing the philandering presidential candidate with a quixotic blend of charisma and regret. “One of the greatest things that we got from this experience was working with Hugh Jackman, who is one of the most amazing actors but also just such a great presence on set,” recounts Estabrook. “If he ever runs for office, we’re all volunteering for his campaign, I’ll tell you that right now.” Gilbert echoes her sentiments with a hearty, “I’m in! I’m in!”

His enthusiasm extends well beyond Jackman to the rest of the ensemble. “It’s sort of an embarrassment of riches, this cast. All the way through, everyone was so wonderful.” The roster includes veterans of Reitman’s troupe like Vera Farmiga and JK Simmons. Estabrook quips, “We sort of half-jokingly say that JK is Jason’s muse, because he’s managed to be in almost every one of his films thus far.”

Reitman is fiercely loyal to his cast and crew, heaping the lion’s share of praise on his producing partners in particular. “When it comes to Aaron Gilbert, he has been a savior on my last couple of films. As you can tell, I don’t make easy films. I don’t want to make easy films. I want to make films that are tricky and complicated, and Aaron has been a thoughtful supporter of filmmakers and actors and complicated projects.” Summing up, Reitman deems Gilbert “a real director’s producer.”

And his admiration for Estabrook dates back even further. “Helen Estabrook and I have been working together since Up in the Air, and she challenges me on every film to be a better director. We’ve been having, specifically, a conversation about gender since basically from the moment I met her … I think it’s the reason why the women in The Front Runner are as compelling as they are. Helen would say to me, ‘You have to remember the particular burden that lands on the shoulders of women in the midst of a scandal.’”

As if finishing his sentence, Estabrook elaborates, “We talked a lot about the emotional labor that is expected of women because they are often asked to do the caretaking, whether or not they asked to be put in that role.”

Extrapolating, Reitman applies the greater gender conversation to the considerable achievements of his friend and producing partner. “We talk about what it’s like to be the only woman in the room, whether it’s at a newspaper or on a campaign and how challenging it is to feel like you’re representing your entire gender.

“I’ve just been very lucky that I met both Helen and Aaron,” extols Reitman. “They are supportive of me as an artist, storyteller and filmmaker. I don’t know how I would do this job without them. At the end of the day, finding your producing partners is like finding someone to fall in love with.”

Reciprocating the feeling, Gilbert beams, “There’s a difference between a director and a filmmaker and to me, Jason is the latter.” Theirs is a mutual respect galvanized in creativity, and their work ethic infuses the crew at large. Gilbert opines, “You sure as hell better love what you do in this business, ‘cause it ain’t easy. That’s the same thing with these incredible men and women we follow in our film; they were all driven by something a little bit bigger than themselves.”

Estabrook triples down on the humanity of their endeavor. “We’re not trying to make anything that’s an allegory in any way. It’s really just ... seeing this pivotal moment in American history, what that looks like for all of the many people involved, not just the people who are most often talked about but all of the journalists, all of the campaign staff, all of these people who were part of this moment.” Surveying a job impeccably done, Estabrook concludes, “I don’t think we even knew we were going to make something that felt so relevant.”

The Front Runner is a modern reminder that our empires are mere sandcastles, and we are the grains. Each wave systematically tears us down as much as it brings us together. “Our hope with our film is that we provoke our audience to take a stance and look a little harder at who our leaders are and what makes somebody a leader. What are the traits that we want?” Gilbert asks prophetically. “What are we OK accepting from our leaders? What kind of behavior is OK?”

Invoking the medium’s immense powers of community and curiosity, he makes a final declaration. “We always hope that when people leave The Front Runner, they’ll start having conversations and asking questions. That’s really the power of what film can do.”

 
- First two photos were taken by Dale Robinette
- Third photo taken by Frank Masi

 

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No Script? No Problem - "Roma" Wasn't Built In A Day - Or With A Script

Posted By Rona Edwards, Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Nearly every film director who’s known for being a true master of their craft has a personal film up their sleeve that longs to get out. Typically these intimate and compelling films are showcased at the beginning of their careers. The filmmakers are catapulted to fame and elevated to bigger budgets, bigger stories, bigger stars—so much so, they never quite get back to their roots, seduced by the rewards of Hollywood success. However once in a while the stars line up, and that special story they’ve held close to their heart sees the light of day. Think Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972), or Louis Malle’s Au Revoir, Les Enfants (1987). Sometimes the timing is right and voila! A masterpiece is born.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma stands in that lineage. A highly personal, semi-autobiographical memoir of growing up in Mexico City in the 1970s, raised by his mother and their live-in housekeeper, this intimate film will be among the first beneficiaries of Netflix’s new awards release strategy, receiving limited theatrical exhibition before appearing on their streaming platform. One of the season’s most eagerly awaited films, it’s already taken the festival circuit by storm. That success is in no small part thanks to its producers, Gabriela Rodriguez and Nicolás Celis.

After having won an Oscar for Gravity in 2013 and known for relatively dark, large-canvas features such as Children of Men (2006) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Cuarón returned to his Mexican roots for a highly unconventional production. He hasn’t directed a Spanish-language film since Y Tu Mamá También (2001).

The story of Roma started percolating 12 years ago. Two years before that, a young intern joined his company, Esperanto Films, in New York City. She had just graduated film school and was anxious to work in production. Gabriela Rodriquez hails from Venezuela and has been with Esperanto for her entire career. After interning, she became Cuarón’s personal assistant before her promotion to running the company itself. She has worked by his side through his biggest successes. So when Cuarón approached her to produce his passion project, telling her she was “ready to do this,” she all but had to say, “yes”—though she admits she was apprehensive, “because I know what letting him down feels like,” she confides.

Meanwhile Nicolás Celis has been working in Mexico as a producer and unit production manager for more than 12 years, collaborating with such Mexican directors as Tatiana Huezo and Amat Escalante. He found his way into Cuarón’s orbit when he produced Desierto (2015), the feature film debut of Cuarón’s son, Jonás. Aside from a few phone calls during Desierto, Gaby and Nico (as they came to be known), never worked together until Roma. They quickly found out that one was the yin to the other’s yang. Celis loves dealing with people, aligning the Mexican officials to get on board, though none of them had read the script or even known that it was Cuarón’s movie until later. Meanwhile Rodriquez knew the director intimately, understood what he needed and, even more importantly, knew what she needed to do to stay one step ahead and keep him focused. On this shoot Cuarón wore many hats. He, too, was a producer but he also served as director, writer, cinematographer and editor. With so many roles to play, he needed both Celis and Rodriquez to make production happen while he worried about the actors, lights and camera angles. Fortunately neither of his fellow producers was afraid to get in the kitchen and do whatever was necessary to make his creative vision a reality.


Cuarón moved his company to Mexico nearly three years ago to begin pre-production on Roma, which lasted more than 10 months. A long prep allowed the producers to research every aspect of the director’s early life in Mexico City, right down to the family dog, Borras. All the research came in lieu of breaking down the script … because they had no script. Cuarón shared the script with just one person—David Linde from Participant Media, who financed the film and served as an executive producer on it. (We only hope Linde was up on his Spanish. Cuarón provided no translation.) Cuarón’s intense secrecy was a safeguard against anyone slipping pages to the cast. He would be working with a lot of non-actors in addition to well-known Mexican talent and wanted the process to be fresh and something he alone had control over. It was the producers’ job to allow him his creative process while still prepping the production as best they could.

“We all agreed to participate on this project without a script,” Rodriquez tells me over a cappuccino at The London Hotel. “It’s like when a kid is told he’s not going to have any more cookies. At some point you realize, even if you’re crying, you’re not going to get the cookie. Let’s just see how you get on with your day without the cookie. That’s kind of how we felt.” The team was compensated with the extremely long pre-production period to provide the time for research, scouting and consulting with the director, discussing shots and scenes. Their location scouts grew bigger and bigger, sometimes bringing in excess of 30 people on a scout. They wanted every department represented at the earliest stage so Cuarón could explain what he would need from them. They had a skeleton of dates, so they knew on a given span of days they were going to shoot “the riot,” while on another day they would be shooting “the birth scene.” They were still given zero dialogue.

Hiring a team of collaborators to shoot a script that no one was allowed to read created its own set of problems. Those fell to Celis to solve. “I remember during the first meeting I met Alfonso, I asked him, who’s going to be the script supervisor? After all this is someone who works closely with the director. Then when we didn’t have a script—it was like, how are we going to hire a script supervisor if we won’t give her the script? Even the [job title] says it!” When it came time to interview Natalia Moguel, he asked, “Hey, are you willing to work without a script?” Moguel naturally asked Celis what he meant. Nonchalantly Celis told her, “Yeah, yeah, we do have a script, but we haven’t read it, so you’re not going to read it either. So are you willing to do it?” As everyone did on this shoot, Moguel decided to trust the process, trust her belief in Cuarón and gave it her all. In Moguel’s case, that meant developing a completely new way of tracking blocking and continuity without it.

“Once we knew this was the way we were going to operate, we knew we had to be ready for everything,” Rodriguez explains. “So we have our wardrobe truck. We have it there all the time. We have backups. It sounds crazy but it’s the way we gave Alfonso the freedom for his creative process to flow in case it needed to take a different direction, which it rarely did.”

In addition to shooting without a script, Roma also shot in story sequence, which presented another series of problems. But there were plenty of happy accidents that happened along the way. Celis notes that the house they found was an exact replica of Cuarón’s childhood home in his old neighborhood, which gives the film its title. It served ideally as a stage, given that the owner told them he was planning to demolish it, so the team could do what they wanted to the structure as long as they left him the lot in good shape. Rodriguez and Celis took full advantage of the permission to knock down walls and open up ceilings without having to put them back in working order.

Cuarón’s creative vision lived its details. Everything had to be as it was in 1970, down to the clothes and shoes that the thousand-plus extras wore during the riot scene. A big avenue leading to the cinema as well as a street where the mother is stuck between two big trucks all had to be built, because so much had changed in the urban landscape, mostly due to the earthquake and modern technology.

“I think it was the biggest set ever built in Mexico. But I cannot guarantee that,” Celis laughs. “But since I’ve been working, I’ve never seen such big construction.” Rodriguez confirms that the size of the set took up roughly four city blocks.

The producers and their crew learned to push past what they thought were their limitations. Creating hailstones for a storm scene was another adventure. Cuarón wasn’t happy with the fake hail available in Mexico because, while the stones could be different sizes, they were still all the same shape—in other words, not authentic enough to meet Cuarón’s standards. There was a company from Canada that made it perfectly, but their work was very expensive. Rather than saying “no” to the director, the producers created a “hail unit” and tried to figure out how to engineer Cuarón-approved hailstones. The production manager came up with the idea of cutting up glue sticks, then melting them a little on hot metal, to create individual, unique hailstones. Rodriguez recalls, “One day Alfonso walks in the office to find five people from production literally sitting there with buckets, cutting glue, dropping them into the buckets, and then those buckets would go out to the truckers who helped us burn them into the different shapes and then those went into a different bucket … hail-making!” Two hundred kilos of glue sticks later, they had their handcrafted hail.

That effort was typical of the team’s “Anything for Alfonso” approach. As Celis explains, “If he had an idea he really liked, we tried to make it happen, find the means. That’s something I really learned for life, that sometimes something looks like a mountain you will never be able to climb by any reason or any excuse you might find. But [Cuarón] really pushed us to find the tools to do it and find the way I think this could be solved. He makes you, instead of saying ‘no,’ to be ready with alternatives, always.”

“I don’t believe he is a director that separates himself from stories,” Rodriguez reflects. “He really does nurture them, carry them and work with them from beginning to end. But I think, in this one, even while he trusted us and said, ‘Go ahead—this is what I want, I trust that you will make it happen,’ he also had to trust himself even more to say, ‘I’m going to do this the way I’m going to do this.’ He wasn’t expecting anyone to necessarily love or hate it. He wasn’t thinking about how to market it while he was making it. He was just thinking, ‘This is my process and I’m going to do it’ … and that takes courage. When you’re already in that place when you have the commercial and critical success—all that hoopla that’s generated from everyone telling you you’re great—it takes some courage to say, ‘OK. I’m going to do this and whatever happens, I’m going to be OK with it.’”

The buzz surrounding the film is just icing on the cake for these two producers. They put one foot in front of the other, enjoying every step of the process, even when it was daunting. Now they are reaping the unexpected fruits of their labors and find themselves delighted by the amazing reception Roma has received. “I’m super excited with this movie,” proclaims Celis. “That it’s in black and white, that it’s in Spanish … That all of this is happening, for everybody. It’s ‘The Little Engine That Could’! We just never expected it to blow up and that people would identify with and find it so accessible.”

“To me,” Rodriguez continues, “that this has been received the way it has around the world … I thought Latin America would get it, but the reception worldwide—wow—this is already so much more than I was expecting.”

To top it off, this young, self-effacing woman, who has worked long and hard for Alfonso Cuarón, may very well become the first Latina woman to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. “I feel grateful for the opportunity,” she says, “and grateful for the faith that Alfonso put on me to push me and not give me a choice or a way out. The fact that there’s a movie out there and it’s finished—it’s there! We did it! That means the most. To me, what I learned is that I can do it.” Both producers reminded me that Roma spelled backwards is Amor—an appropriate grace note that sums up the entire crew’s feeling for the unique production.

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The Show Must Go On - Sara Gilbert Takes The Lead On Her Series' Rebirth, "The Conners"

Posted By Chris Green, Tuesday, December 11, 2018
It’s a truism by this point that every successful project follows its own unique path to the screen. But even if you’ve been working in and observing the TV business for a while, the unlikely journey of The Conners can bring you up short. Here we have the reboot of a No. 1 network series that was itself a reboot of a No. 1 network series from two-plus decades ago, triggered by the dismissal of its star and namesake, the result of incendiary comments made on a communications platform that didn’t even exist during the original series’ heyday. We can remember the days when Roseanne’s 1997-98 season (when the Conner family won the Illinois state lottery) struck us as kind of weird. Turns out we just lacked sufficient imagination.

One individual has had a closer-than-ringside seat to the rollercoaster of the series’ recent history: PGA member Sara Gilbert, who portrayed wise-beyond-her-years daughter Darlene Conner on the original series, then returned to the character while playing an even more pivotal role as an executive producer on the relaunched series. When Roseanne Barr’s twitter comments cut short the victory lap for the triumphant reboot, Gilbert was among the handful of producers who re-raised the show from its second death, helping to retool it into The Conners and into its own niche in TV history as the show that survived not one but two cancellations, plus the firing of its central star. Nobody ever said producing TV was an easy gig, but since when was it ever this crazy?

It was, for sure, not a position that 1990s-era Gilbert ever dreamed she’d be in. During the series’ first run, she reflects, “I think I was so young that I wasn’t really thinking about exactly what the producers did … I wasn’t exposed to that piece as much because I was always on the floor, you know? I understood what a director did far more than I understood what was going on with the producers.”

Gilbert didn’t make the jump directly from acting on the show to producing its reincarnation. She earned her first producing stripes as an EP on The Talk, the popular daytime gabfest hosted by a rotating group that has included Sharon Osbourne, Julie Chen, Sheryl Underwood and Gilbert herself. “By the time I started with The Talk,” she recalls, “I had grown up in Hollywood and probably had a greater sense of what I was getting into than when I was a kid on [Roseanne]. I had worked on a lot of productions and had made a short film, so I had some experience at that point.” Not every actor makes a smooth transition to the producer’s chair, but Gilbert found the role agreed with her. “I guess one of the surprises I had, as a producer, was how much you can actually impact the final product just by doing quality control and figuring out how you can keep that product as good as possible,” she says. A different aspect of the job provided even more direct gratification: “Something that I didn’t expect that has been a really pleasant surprise is the joy of hiring people. What I love is being able to give somebody a job.”

Certainly growing up on sets helped Gilbert find her legs as a producer. “Being on all of these productions through the years,” she observes, “you kind of learn through osmosis. It was a little like when I first directed, I was worried I didn’t know how to do it, but people kept saying, ‘No, you know more than you think you do.’” It also didn’t hurt to be working on the rebooted Roseanne with seasoned pros like Tom Werner and Bruce Helford, who Gilbert cites as key mentors in guiding her through her initial encounters with scripted series production.

But 2018’s Roseanne and The Conners owe a direct debt to The Talk, not just as the training ground for their future executive producer, but as the vehicle that set the reboot(s) in motion. “I had been thinking about if there was a way to reboot the show,” Gilbert reports. “It had been on my mind, but I had read in articles about people not wanting to do it, and I was working under this assumption that no one wanted to do it. John Goodman came on [The Talk] and we did a little sketch based on it … he said he would want to do it when we were on the air. So I just thought, you know what? I’m gonna check it out. And then I was pleasantly surprised that everybody was in—everyone just thought that no one else wanted to do it,” she laughs. “I just kept getting yeses.”

Two of those yeses loomed especially large. One, of course, was Roseanne Barr herself, Gilbert’s first call. “I talked her through it, what we would do and how I thought we would do it, and she came on board.” The next call was to Werner, one of the lead producers of the original series. After showing him the clip of Goodman and herself from The Talk, he was excited but had his doubts that his former partner Marcy Carsey would be inclined to support the project.

“I said okay, I’ll call Marcy,” Gilbert relates. “I appealed to her that we should do it. She kinda just said, ‘Go ahead … I’m not really producing right now, but I give you my blessing.’ And that was that. The rest of the cast immediately said yes, they were all excited, and we sold the show pretty quickly.” 

Once the show was a go, development began in earnest. Though Gilbert isn’t a credited writer on the series, she had plenty of ideas to bring to the show and shared them with the small circle of primary collaborators, including Werner and Helford, Barr and fellow EP Whitney Cummings. “We were all kind of talking about what we wanted to have in there and what was important to each one of us,” she reports. “It was a dialogue over the entire time in pre-production, and it never really stopped. Even with the new show [on its feet], we continued talking about what stories we wanted to tell and where these characters were going.”

Whatever conversations Gilbert and her fellow producers might have had, they were the right ones. ABC’s rebooted Roseanne blew the doors off of Nielsen ratings, with its March 27 premiere logging the best numbers for a sitcom episode in three years and even beating the 1997 finale of the show’s previous incarnation. The series was the toast of television for exactly two months and two days, when Barr—whose Trump-leaning politics had become a key component of her onscreen character—tweeted out an offensive comment regarding former Barack Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. The response from ABC was swift and unsparing, as ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey determined she had no choice but to cancel the series that had looked like her network’s crown jewel only days before.

Gilbert doesn’t linger on the exhausting rollercoaster of those days and weeks. “It was an emotional time, for sure,” she admits. “I just sort of took each thing one step at a time and ultimately feel really grateful that we got to continue to tell stories of this family.” It surely helped that she didn’t have to wait long before the next chapter of the story began. “The network came to us pretty shortly after the dust had settled,” she recalls, “and asked if there was some way to reconceive it.” Gilbert holed up once again with Werner and Helford, this time bringing producers Dave Caplan and Bruce Rasmussen into the inner circle. “We all started to talk about, you know, was there a show here? What could we do? There was definitely some soul searching as to whether it would be beneficial to everybody—the crew, the viewers, everyone involved. Ultimately, we decided that, creatively, it seemed like a worthwhile prospect.”

What the team came to realize was that its star’s departure opened creative possibilities for the series, rather than foreclosed them. Now, in addition to charting the passage of two decades in the life of a family, The Conners was in a position to mine a rich vein of dramatic storytelling and character development. “Families lose their matriarchs,” observes Gilbert. “It’s something that every family deals with at some point, pretty much, and it felt like a very human story and one that isn’t told often enough—certainly not in a sitcom. We felt like we could address that story in a very honest way, and put all of the emotions we were feeling—these feelings of loss—into it and tell a story that people could relate to.”

A big part of that emotional nakedness lies in the producers’ readiness to address the family’s loss in irregular, piecemeal fashion, rather than a few quickly processed grieving episodes. “All of these characters are filling in the gaps of the role of the missing matriarch,” Gilbert explains. “It affects the entire season, across different episodes to a greater or lesser extent, because we wanted to be honest about the size of that kind of loss in a family. So there are episodes where we don’t go deeply into it at all and episodes where we do, and it’s not necessarily neatly in a row because that’s not how people’s emotions work.”

That’s some heavy territory for a half-hour, multi-camera show to work through, but there have been few series that have proven their ability to carry that weight as deftly as Roseanne/The Conners has, in all of its incarnations. “We have to thank our writing staff for that,” Gilbert affirms. “They’re just incredible. They can take the deepest tragedy and find the laughs in it, without sacrificing any of the seriousness or emotions of the situation.”

Whatever comedy/tragedy alchemy the team is conjuring, it appears to be working. While The Conners hasn’t replicated the breakout ratings success of Roseanne, it’s been a solid performer in its time slot, while the critical appraisal of the retooled series has been almost uniformly positive. In fact your perception of The Conners’ performance has a lot to do with where you get your news from. While politically right-leaning sources like Breitbart and The Daily Caller have tended to emphasize the gap between The Conners’ ratings and those of its predecessor, industry trades have by and large focused on its consistent performance and its status as one of the network’s highest-rated series, if not quite the Nielsen bonanza that Roseanne was.

While the long-term fate of The Conners is still to be determined, Gilbert is clearly gratified at having beaten the odds and the headlines to get a third chance at playing out the lives of everyone’s favorite family from Lanford, IL. “I didn’t feel like we were done telling these working-class stories and following these characters,” declares Gilbert, “seeing them persevere through life’s adversities with love and humor and sadness and laughter. I’m just incredibly grateful that we’ve been able to do that again.”

And regardless of the ultimate fate of The Conners, the show has, to its credit, given a talented producer the opportunity to come into her own. “I’ve learned that it’s important to listen to your gut as a producer,” Gilbert reflects. “I guess that’s true of anything in life. But it’s a job that teaches you to stand your ground even if you may feel intimidated or if you find yourself asking, ‘What do I know about any of this? These other people must know way more than I do ...’ But over time you learn—oh wait, there’s a reason I’m here. There is a voice I’m supposed to have, and it’s valuable.”

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-banner photograph by Robert Trachtenberg
-1st image break photographed by Eric McCandless
-2nd image break courtesy of CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

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Time To Stand Up - From The Presidents

Posted By Gail Berman & Lucy Fisher, Tuesday, December 11, 2018

It’s been just over a year since the issue of sexual harassment in our industry exploded into national headlines. The shock and horror at the extent of the problems inherent in our work environment have catalyzed a broad reassessment at every level of our industry, as men and women have engaged in important and long overdue reflection. Across the industry we have had difficult conversations examining a power imbalance that has been universally accepted for far too long. It’s our responsibility to conduct our businesses more respectfully, working to eliminate both the conscious and unconscious biases that exist within our places of work. While it’s been a painful year of reckoning, for many of us it’s also been a galvanizing year. The opportunity to lead the PGA as we face this collective challenge and the chance to work together to create new norms and reimagine this system played a decisive role in our joint desire to serve as your Presidents. Now that we’ve held the office for a few months, we’d like to take a brief inventory of where we are and what we hope to achieve.

As background, as soon as the news of rampant entertainment industry harassment became public, then-PGA Presidents Lori McCreary and Gary Lucchesi, together with our COOs Vance Van Petten and Susan Sprung, quickly leapt into action, establishing a task force to explore how we could best protect our production teams, our sets and the community at large. Led by Lori and Gary, the team of both men and women worked through last year’s Christmas break to help create the entertainment industry’s first Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines. This document has since served as a template for other organizations and guilds and has become a valuable resource for both employers and workers. While we’re proud of the Guidelines, and of the speed and diligence with which the PGA was able to act, we realize that repairing this broken system requires more than just guidelines and referrals. We know that the improvements and changes we desire will require some overhauls of the status quo, and we are ready to work together to strive for a safer and more equitable industry for all producers.

 During the research period conducted by our Anti-Sexual Harassment Task Force, one thing we heard repeatedly from our members was the need for more access to specific training for producers and their teams, focusing not only on how to create a safe and constructive environment on set but also on how to address harassment issues when they inevitably do occur. We also learned that many of our members were not generally knowledgeable regarding the existing state laws already in place to protect workers. We are currently investigating new means for offering more extensive education and training, but in the meantime, simple first steps are available via the PGA website, in both the Anti-Harassment Guidelines and in four online courses. There is one specifically focused on harassment prevention, included as part of the Safety Pass Program offered through the Contract Services Administration Training Trust Fund (CSATTF). These courses are available to PGA members for a nominal fee.

As producers we are leaders both on and off our sets. We set the tone for creating a climate of safety, fairness and parity with no tolerance for any form of harassment, assuring that people can always speak up without fear of reprisal.

Your team arrives on set every day with the expectation that they will be respected and protected. It’s up to us as producers to meet those fundamental expectations. We hope that over the next few months and years, when we look back at this pivotal time, we will be able to say this was a moment when as a group, we stood up—not only because we had an obligation to do so but because we had a unique opportunity to rewrite this story. It’s what producers do—we fix things in our constant pursuit of bettering what we have in front of us. We overcome obstacles to find solutions to whatever problems we encounter. And we don’t stop until we feel collective pride in the work we have accomplished.

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ODD NUMBERS - 'Tis The Season: No, Not Awards Season, You Fanatic, That Other Season

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, December 11, 2018
The displays have gone up in the stores and every other song on the radio is “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Which means it’s fair game to ask …



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MENTORING MATTERS - Finding My Own Voice: Sometimes The Right People Show Up When You Need Them

Posted By Chris Kwon, Tuesday, December 11, 2018
I’m an Angeleno, born and raised by two immigrant parents. Growing up, my family didn’t have any connection to the entertainment industry. Never did they think I would get my foot in that particular door, and honestly, neither did I.

When I applied for the Producers Guild mentoring program, I had spent eight years mainly in post-production roles. Those were the only jobs available to me because I was typecast as a “technical guy.” Literally I had experiences on set where a producer or director would look at me—I’m Asian, it’s 2018, and it happens—and say, “You look like you’re good with computers.” All I could do was bite my tongue and get the job done. I spent years grinding on sets, hoping to gain access to larger tv or film projects. I did everything from getting coffee to rotoscoping. My work paid off, as I ended up on two Emmy award-winning web series with a great team and found leadership that looked out for me.

But I hoped the PGA Mentoring Program would introduce me to someone who could show me other roles I could play in this industry. I know personal connections are just as beneficial as working on AAA titles, and I always dreamed of working with a film or tv producer on a network series or a bigger budget studio production. I was lucky to get paired with literary producer Scott Steindorff. Scott specializes in adapting bestsellers into movies, with credits that include Love in the Time of Cholera, The Lincoln Lawyer and Chef among others. Before I met Scott, I didn’t know you could make a living reading books.

Prior to meeting in person, Scott had given me homework: researching and writing ideas that I thought would be great for the screen. After spending years in digital media and post-production, I was more used to a factory-like process of getting a product made rather than actually developing an original idea into a complete production. So when I met him for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. But I was eager to see where I could fit in.

Scott and I kept our first meeting casual. From the get-go, he wanted to see my potential as a writer and helped me develop out of my tech “shell” in the post world, into the creator of my own ideas, my own stories and my own voice. Based on my experience, I thought a producer was the project manager who did everything to get the job done, leaving creative details to the writers and directors. Scott helped me understand how the producer works with them and gives feedback, maintaining the vision of the project throughout the production.

The two biggest takeaways I got from Scott were: no matter how tough life gets, we need to persevere; and how to use my own experience and emotions to paint pictures and tell stories. Going in, I thought the mentorship would be like previous job-related roles, chock-full of menial tasks. Instead, I had a mentor to help me develop creatively, push me to write more and actually help me through some difficult times on a personal level.

Through the PGA Mentoring Program, I found a role model not just professionally but for my personal challenges as well.

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OPEN DOORS - Answering The Call: Getting Diversity Off The Ground In A New Region

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 10, 2018

The new Chairs of the PGA Diversity West were recently contacted by Katy Garrity of the new PGA Capital region with questions about creating a Diversity Committee for their region. For insight Lisa Kors and Dan Halperin turned to their predecessors, Deb Calla and Charles Howard. We recorded the conversation and have included excerpts below; we think it provides some insights into how the PGA develops its programming in this area.

 

Katy Garrity: Hi. I’m Katy Garrity, new Chair of the PGA’s Capital region. Our senior level members want to know how to incorporate diverse voices into their programming, and our diverse members who are just starting out want to learn more about how to chart their career paths. What can our region do to embrace diversity?

Charles Howard: You could start by organizing some panel discussions where you get two or three diversity experts or reps from networks or organizations to talk about how they do outreach, how they go about staffing or programming with diversity in mind. In D.C. you could reach out to local organizations like National Geographic or PBS and see if they have a diversity exec who might talk about their policies and practices. And you may be able to find someone from the NAACP or the Urban League.

Katy: We have two members who have stepped up to program diversity. They’re thinking about doing something on HR and how people are making diversity a part of their hiring process. We haven’t reached out to NAACP or the Urban League, so that’s a good idea.

Deb Calla: Those groups, along with NALIP and Asian-American organizations, always have members who are interested in getting into the biz and would love to learn about the paths to starting a career, whether in feature films, commercials, TV, games, whatever. Also the Maryland Film Commission is a very active, eager group. They may be able to provide resources like facilities, refreshments or promotional materials.        

Charles: Local universities want to get involved too. You could reach out to someone at Howard University and say, “We’d love to do a diversity panel. Can we use one of your multipurpose rooms on the campus?” And then ask to have a diversity-fluent professor on the panel or someone from their school of communications. Maybe you invite students so they can learn about the Guild and future career opportunities.        

Katy: That’s a good idea. We have a lot of Howard alumni among our members. That should be an easy lift. Thank you. This has been really informative and helpful.

Charles: We’re here to help, Katy. Bottom line—I suggest that over the first two to three years you figure out what your objectives are, begin with smaller programming and build up to bigger initiatives once you have a core group of members who are willing to commit time, energy and effort. On the West Coast, we’ve needed a solid, dependable core group of committed members to make it happen. That’s the key. Without them many of our programs would have fallen apart. When you’re in a small chapter, you have to start small and build that consensus of committed people, and you grow from there.

Katy: I’m glad to know that we’re not alone, that there’s an open door to communication between committees from the different PGA regions and that you’re willing to help us grow. 

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COMMITTEE SPOTLIGHT - An Affection For Connection: The PGA's Events Committee Wants To Nurture The Social Side of Professional Life

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 10, 2018

For this issue’s Committee Spotlight, Produced By spoke with Karen Covell and Joe Morabito, Chairs of the PGA Events Committee on the west coast.

What made you decide to take on the challenge of chairing the Events Committee? 

We both love to gather people to network and have fun, and we feel that the PGA members need more chances to meet one another and have more fun, since we all work too hard. We love it when an event brings people together to celebrate community, family and creativity, so we have added new events like going to the Nethercutt Museum, visiting the King Tut Exhibit and even attending plays at the Pasadena Playhouse, along with our annual parties, Morning Mixers, Thirsty Thursdays, On The Lot Lunches and much more.

What benefit will the events committee provide for members? And are there any benefits that might surprise our members?

The events allow our members to meet other members on a more personal level, like at our annual Holiday Party. There are also parties on big nights in the industry like the Oscars and Emmys Viewing Parties. PGA members can connect over a drink at Thirsty Thursdays, go to a Dodgers game together and even include their families at a private reception before watching a play. It not only gives us a release to enjoy our time off but also builds professional relationships in casual and fun settings. This is actually a more important benefit of the Guild than most people recognize.

What kind of volunteer opportunities are available to members on the Events Committee?

We always need volunteers to assist before, during and after the events, to help us find donations and sponsors and—most of all—venues for all of our events. We work on very small budgets, so the prowess of producers is a tremendous benefit. We want creative members not only to help us with our annual events but to dream with us in coming up with new events to offer our members!

What are the long-range goals of the committee? 

We want more PGA members involved as Co-Chairs for events, as well as leaders to take on finding sponsors and create new gatherings. We hope to have more events during the year to encourage families to get involved, and we want to celebrate the faithful volunteers by throwing a THANK YOU party for them. All of these gatherings are building our PGA community and we want more of that!

What upcoming events might surprise us? 

Our 2018 Holiday Party is going to blow people away. We have had it at the Luxe for the past 15 years, and this year we have broken the mold and are having a sit-down dinner with dancing and entertainment at the Skirball Center, all with a Great Gatsby theme. It will be fabulous! We are also offering greatly discounted tickets to a performance of Ragtime at the Pasadena Playhouse for PGA members and their families, including a reception in their beautiful and historic library before the show.

How are the upcoming events going to help producers face new challenges in the industry?

They will be less stressed because they have taken time to build friendships, laugh, relax and expand their creativity through the events that we offer.

Do you have any advice for producers trying to maximize their success in the business?

We believe that producers have to focus more on the whole person - vocationally, personally, emotionally and intellectually. So, we want to offer our members different venues, opportunities and experiences than our fellow PGA committees do. We encourage producers to build and grow every part of themselves. Coming to events is the perfect way to start!

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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RISK TAKERS - No Costumes, No Capes: Championing Movies For Grown-Ups

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 10, 2018


BRAD FEINSTEIN
ROMULUS ENTERTAINMENT | New York, NY

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
FENCES
BEATRIZ AT DINNER
MONSTER

PRODUCER
DRIVEN

Every producer has at least one “movie that changed my life.” What’s yours, and why?

For me it was definitely Fences. It’s a piece of material with an incredible pedigree, and it was a privilege to help bring August Wilson’s words to life. Also Fences was the movie where I met my partner, Joseph F. Ingrassia, who was an investor in the film, and out of that opportunity came Romulus. He’s been an amazing partner. We’re cut from very similar cloth.

 

Lord knows, there are easier and more reliable ways to make a living than by making independent movies. What draws you to film as a business opportunity?

I consider myself truly blessed to have the capital and the resources we have to make the movies that the studios aren’t willing to make, like these prestige dramas and passion projects we make for talent. Studios have stopped making them, so we’ve stepped into this lane. There are no superhero costumes or capes in our movies. We want to tell stories that have a social impact and give people an opportunity to see films that are artistic, powerful, that get them to think.

 

What’s a project you’re excited about backing right now?

I’m really excited about the film I just wrapped this week, The Banker. It’s the true story of two African-Americans who tried to buy real estate in Texas and Los Angeles in the 1960s, but due to racism and segregation weren’t able to get approved for mortgages until they found a white handyman to be their front man. While the film has a civil rights core, the story is told like a heist movie. All of the issues raised by the film are completely relevant today … the nature of discrimination, how people are treated as outsiders and the struggle to find a way inside. The moment I heard about the film, I knew this was our kind of story.

 

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken on a project?

We did a movie called Driven, which we filmed last year in Puerto Rico, during and after Hurricane Maria. As the hurricane was bearing down, everyone got sent home. We didn’t know if the locations were going to be standing or salvageable or whether insurance was going to pay. We hadn’t funded yet and could have easily walked away from it, but we decided the movie was too important to us. We bet on the film, on our amazing cast and crew, and the people of Puerto Rico. Everyone there gave us so much support when we returned. It was a great feeling to be able to help keep our crew working so they could take care of their families during this terrible tragedy, as well as invest some money into the local economy at a time when they really needed it. We were so thankful for the support of the people and the government in Puerto Rico that we ultimately dedicated the movie to them.

 

What’s the quickest way to make sure you will NEVER back the script I’m pitching you?

By telling me that you just want us to finance and not be involved in producing the movie. We’re a financing and production company. We don’t just drop money into a project and walk away. I physically produce every film we make and try to be involved as early as possible so we can weigh in on all of the elements. If my name is going on it, then I am going to make damn sure that it is the best possible version of the film that audiences will see.

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GOING GREEN - Embracing Sustainable Sets: Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose

Posted By Liberty Bradford, Monday, December 10, 2018

As Film and TV sets become more elaborate and turnaround time grows shorter, materials are often at risk of ending up in a landfill. Over the past several years, the amount of waste created has become harder and harder to justify, with many productions implementing measures to reduce set materials sent to landfill. Wise reuse strategies can also save money.

Today efforts to create green sets range from daily recycling of paper and plastic, to sourcing sustainable materials for set builds, to reusing items from past productions. Studios now host warehouses on their lots or off-site, available as a first stop for reusable set pieces and materials for both in-house and independent productions.

When Becky Casey, VP of Production Operations at NBCUniversal, was first tasked with repurposing walls between shows for reuse, “It begged the question,” she recalls, “where is all this other stuff going?” Items used on a production—sets, wardrobe, props, office supplies, production expendables—are now considered assets. As awareness has grown across Hollywood, the commitment to knuckle down and substantially reduce waste has intensified, with each studio approaching the green challenge in its own way.

Independent vendors who deal in reuse of sets and supplies are a powerful resource. Should a studio’s reuse warehouse not have what a TV show is looking for or if a show is shooting on location, vendors such as Sustainable Lockup in Vancouver, Lifecycle Building Center in Atlanta and Recycled Movie Sets in Los Angeles offer a variety of recovered set materials. These are often provided for free or as a low-cost rental.

Sharing of materials between studios or productions has evolved organically. While often done by word of mouth, the process of set sharing and rentals is increasingly aided by websites such as ArtCube Nation, which connects crewmembers who have materials to give with those in search of materials to take.

Incorporating used materials and recovering them in wrap requires planning from pre-production to strike. Current best practices suggest that the construction and art departments “design for strike,” keeping material reuse and donations in mind when building their sets and tearing them down. It’s always best to create a plan for where the materials can go before the crunch time of wrap.

When building sets, if used materials cannot be located and the set needs to be built from scratch, FSC Certified Lauan/Meranti and Revolution Ply lead the way among sustainable lumber materials frequently incorporated into today’s sets. Many industry lumber suppliers carry these sustainable alternatives and can be found by searching the vendor database on GreenProductionGuide.com.

Lots of productions have similar basic set needs. Sondra Garcia, Director of Scenic Operations at Sony Pictures Entertainment, believes that standard-size pieces have the greatest repurpose appeal. The better the quality of the initial build, the better the reuse capacity. Sony Pictures began repurposing sets between shows in the mid-1980s, while NBCU has sets in stock (including a Gothic church) that have been in reuse since the 1990s, well before their official green set initiatives began.


The 133,000 sq. ft. Sony Scene Dock, which houses all scenery held for Sony shows,
as well as stock sets rented to outside productions.

With a constant influx of new sets, it’s a regular balancing act updating solid set pieces in stock for reuse, while recycling out those that have fallen into disrepair or are simply underutilized. “One challenge is to make sure I am providing the best possible service to productions, in regard to keeping unique, rentable scenery, as well as making sure our grip crews are taking the best care of our stock,” says Garcia, who documents every asset in detail, including archived drawings of sets and photos of how and when a piece was used.

Besides set walls, the most commonly reused items include large utilities such as dishwashers, refrigerators, fireplaces, elevators, plus jail and hospital sets. Some specialty items like balustrades, airplane interiors and exotic décor are kept in stock for their unique appeal, though such items generally comprise a minority of storage space.

When a show’s assets cannot be saved for future reuse on the production, the goal is to reuse the assets or materials on another production, or else sell or donate the items. Across studios, their sets, props and other resources are sometimes donated to vetted local charities such as Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, animal shelters and film schools. Donations are often aided by a designated point person managing sustainability efforts on the production. If anything remains, efforts will be made to recycle it and keep production materials out of a landfill.

The opportunities to create sustainable sets grow substantially with each passing year. Whether from home base in Hollywood or on locations across the nation, film studios’ reuse warehouses are expanding, and peer-to-peer alliances are growing. Independent reuse vendors are also expanding, and a greener entertainment industry is being realized. Whether producing at a studio or independently, the resources to mount a sustainable, eco-conscious production are readily available. Now the once lofty vision of zero-waste sets is within reach.

“The things we’re always focused on conserving in the process of making a movie are time and money”, says PGA Peter Saraf of Big Beach Films. “To that we have to add environmental resources. The three are all interrelated.

 

For more information on Set Reuse Vendors and other green guidelines, visit www.greenproductionguide.com.

Tags:  going green 

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BOSPOAT - Best On Set Photo Of All Time: Peace On Earth

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 10, 2018

Sure we here on Team BOSPOAT like our offbeat pictures. We like ‘em different, or quirky, or dramatic, or spectacular or just plain cool. But we admit it, we have our sentimental streak as well. We’re not above occasionally pining for an old timey New England Christmas, even from the comfort of the low-to-mid-60s Los Angeles holiday season. Something about this shot takes us there. It’s cold and getting colder with the light leaving the sky. You can hear the dusty crunch of that snow and the crackle of the bonfire and the quiet of everything else.

PGA member Jennifer Pike knew it was a special moment when she snapped the photo in December 2016 while on location in Fairfield, Vermont for her docu-series Artist in Residence. “It was magical,” says Pike. “We were following an Australian artist named Sarah Amos (pictured on the far right). This particular scene was our last night of shooting after a ‘family meal’ Sarah and her husband cooked for the crew, that we enjoyed by candlelight. After dinner Sarah’s husband built this bonfire outside their cabin to give us a sense of how they like to connect with their family and friends.” Looking at the image, you can feel the warmth of that hospitality as much as the warmth of the fire.

“I’m often so absorbed by the details of shoots that I forget to stop and take in the beauty of the scene unfolding before me,” continues Pike, voicing a sentiment that a lot of our readers might relate to. But the saving grace of the job is that every so often, you find yourself confronted by a moment so emotionally and sensorially rich that it reminds you how, “as a producer, the most gratifying scenes are the ones that can only come when you step back and let a scene breath and take place naturally … The fire gave off the most beautiful glow on everyone’s faces, and it reminded me that these are really the moments that I live for in creating television and film.”

We hope that as 2018 comes to a close, our readers can take time to reflect on the magical moments their producing work has let them share this year. Thank you to Jennifer for sharing this one with us.

 


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.

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