Post a Job Join The Guild
Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Register
Produced By June/July 2019
Blog Home All Blogs


Search all posts for:   


AVA DuVERNAY - Her New Series Shows How The Criminal Justice System Robbed Five Boys of Their "Personhood"

Posted By Peggy Jo Abraham, Monday, June 10, 2019

Most everyone would agree that Ava DuVernay writes, directs and produces very important projects. Yet when you talk to this extraordinary talent, she won’t go so far as to call her subject matter “important.” DuVernay prefers to categorize her body of work as a reflection of what interests her, what she personally cares about. Entertaining audiences is not enough. She won’t, as she puts it, “spend time making things I don’t believe in.”

One thing DuVernay definitely believes in is candidly confronting a criminal justice system she feels has “disrupted black lives.” In contrast to what we see and read about in the news, her work personalizes the issues in a very intimate way.

For her latest project, a four-part miniseries on Netflix called When They See Us, DuVernay takes a shameful page out of history. She chronicles the lives of five young Black and Hispanic teens wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in New York’s Central Park in 1989. Although most people know of this story and how it ends, DuVernay delivers a compelling, compassionate portrait of who these boys actually were. She does that through the lens of their families—who, contrary to initial media reports—were very involved in their childrens’s lives. The crushing pain of watching mothers endure the agony of a criminal justice system that’s stacked against their boys in every way makes for a truly visceral viewing experience.

When They See Us is the third part of a triptych. DuVernay’s 2012 film Middle of Nowhere debuted at Sundance, where she became the first African American woman to win the Best Director prize. That movie centered on families of the incarcerated. Her documentary 13th took ideas about the criminal justice system and gave them historical, political and cultural context. DuVernay says When They See Us is a marriage of the two, in that it’s designed to speak about families and address the system as a whole.

While it is disturbing to focus on the social injustice so prevalent today, we can be grateful that this is what Ava DuVernay personally cares about. Through her heartfelt storytelling, she encourages us to face the problems and search for solutions, no matter how painful.

This is the 30th anniversary of the EVENTS you depict in your powerful new miniseries, When They See Us. Were you timing its release to coincide with this or had the project just been on your radar?

I really wanted to make the 30th anniversary. As a producer, it was challenging to try to hit that exact date based on when we began our work, but I did want to make sure that we came out this year and as close to the date as possible. So the moment when we dropped the trailer on the exact date of the actual assault in the park was a big triumph for me and for the men involved. They wanted to commemorate the day that their lives changed forever with a different event. They wanted to reclaim that date. And we did.

Can you talk a bit about the title?

We had been using the working title of Central Park Five throughout preproduction, principal photography and most of post. But I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to change it. I feel like “Central Park Five” was the moniker that was given to them by the press, by powers that be, to group them together and in some ways strip them of their humanity. It’s used as a political term and it’s inflammatory. When you say that, people have all kinds of connotations or associations as to what it is and who they are or aren’t. And I wanted to make sure that this four-part film reclaimed their lives cinematically, and it does that from the very beginning when you hear the title. There’s a lot of brand equity in that first title, but I just felt so strongly that it wasn’t right for the story we were telling.

That’s so true. It is a story that DEALS WITH many aspects of these kids’ lives.

It’s representative of many parts of their lives and their families’ lives. For example, as a mother of non-Black boys, you may watch this and hopefully think it’s just an isolated story about the Central Park Five case. But this series is about family, about community, about personhood interrupted. This is about a lot of things in our culture beyond just that case.

It would have been easy to think these boys came from broken homes and really difficult situations. Yet all of them seem to have very strong familial bonds, which were portrayed in such a touching way.

I hope it speaks to that fact that whenever you see a black or a brown person being paraded across the news or being characterized in movies as criminal and as not a whole person, you are ignoring who they are. And ultimately you’re ignoring their community, their culture, their very personhood.


Ava DuVernay with Vera Farmiga, who portrays lead prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer

You were just a teenager at the time of the crime. But do you remember being very aware of the incident and the coverage?

Very aware, very aware. I wanted to go to UCLA to study broadcast journalism and ended up being an English Lit major, but with a real interest in news. But the reason why this case caught my attention was because the boys were very close to my age. And there was a word that I didn’t understand in the news called “wilding.” And I thought I was a hip teenager and was like, “Is this a new slang term that I don’t know?” So I called my cousin in New York and I said, “What’s wilding? Is this a New York thing? What does it mean?” And he said, “It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a word that we use. I think they mean wilin’, wilin’ out,” which was slang at that time. It meant we’re just hanging out. The fact that “wilin’ out” became “wilding,” became “wolf pack,” became “animalistic criminals” really had an effect on me because for the first time, I realized the news can be incorrect, that this is not something I can blindly trust. And I really recall that moment, because I was so focused on pursuing news as a career at the time, so the case was really formative for me in that way.

Did the wronged men actually contribute to the show? Were you involved with them when you were writing it?

Yes. They were my guiding stars on this. I became very close to them, and we’re still very close. I interviewed them with their families, sat in their homes, broke bread and had meals with them over a four-year period. They were on the set quite a bit and literally there with their actors, particularly Korey Wise, who still lives in New York. The actor (Jharrel Jerome, who plays Wise) came to me and said, “Ava, can Korey come to set today? I have a tough scene.” He just wanted to feel his presence and be near him. So we worked very closely with them, the whole writers’ room. We brought them out to LA and they sat with the writers for several days.

So this story was truly their story?

Yes. I was adamant that this not be culled solely from press clippings and archives, that this was them finally being able to amplify their voices, which they had not been able to do. Even in their trial, they were defending against a lie. Even in their confession, they were coerced to say what they said. So you never really got the moment where they told you how they felt about what was happening, what was going on behind closed doors from their perspective.


DuVernay and Jharrel Jerome, who plays wrongly accused teen Korey Wise 

And what about the rape victim, jogger Trisha Meili? Did you have any contact with her?

I reached out to everyone depicted and said, “I’m telling a story. You’re going to be in it. And I would love to sit down with you to learn more about you and your experience.” And I sat down with everyone who wanted to, and I didn’t with the people who didn’t want to. She declined to be interviewed by me, so most of what I used came from her book—little things like what she would listen to on the radio or her jogging habits. The book was basically my guideline. And then I interviewed people who knew her and was able to get a little bit more.

I read that Matias Reyes, the real rapist, continued to commit crimes after the 1989 incident and that one of the accused men calls that the real tragedy—the one that’s never talked about. Is that true?

Yes, Reyes did go on to murder a woman and commit several other rapes, all of which he admitted to. But that could have been prevented if justice had been pursued, truly pursued, that night. He’s walking around the park in bloody clothes. The boys don’t know what they’re saying. They don’t know where they’re supposed to be. People are feeding them their “facts.” I mean, it’s clearly not them. And yet you have to solve this case, and it’s a big media storm, and there are political objectives, and you let the real guy go back into society to rape and kill more people. So that’s what happened.

I remember Trump’s connection to the case—hiS calling publicly for the return of the death penalty. Was there any hesitation on your part about using the Trump footage now that he’s President?

No. It was an early decision that I made, and there was a lot of thought about how to handle him. But if I stay true to my kind-of North Star, which is to tell the story of the men, that allowed me not to veer off into other things. You could easily have had someone playing Trump and had a whole part of the story around that. But I made the decision at the beginning that this needed to be told through the boys’ perspectives and through their families’ perspectives. At the time they weren’t really aware of Trump. They’re young black boys, and all they thought was he was a rich guy in New York, which is all he was. And they were going through their own pain and didn’t really understand the depth of what calling for the death penalty meant for them.

When you think about wrongful convictions and the killings of young blacks, you realize they’re still so prevalent today. In some ways, it feels like not much has changed. In your opinion, what’s missing? What will it take to tackle these issues?

Well, we’re just putting Band-Aids on a systemic problem. So until you change the system, nothing is really going to change. We need to look at the criminal justice system in this country and rebuild it. We need to look at what prisons were historically meant to do, which was to create a substitute for slavery. We need to look at the ways in which we’re stripping rights from people who are incarcerated. We need to look at the fact that 93% of the people who are currently in jail never had a trial. Yet we say we live in a just country.

So I feel like everything is a Band-Aid until there’s a real interrogation and a dismantling and rebuilding of the criminal justice system in this country. And that is a long shot, because too many people benefit from it.


DuVernay directs a courtroom scene from When They See Us

You clearly demonstrated in your documentary, 13th, how so many people profit from the incarceration process. AND wow, 93% of inmates never went to trial. That’s a staggering statistic.

That’s because part of the whole mechanism of our criminal justice system is pleading. You take the plea. You take the deal. That’s there because you don’t want everyone going to trial. If everyone went to trial, it would burden the system, and you wouldn’t be able to get through all the cases. But this creates an imbalance and a bias. People who can’t properly defend themselves end up in jail.

You have your finger on the pulse of so many social and political issues. Why, as a filmmaker, do you feel it’s important to speak out in this way?

I don’t feel like that has to be the case for anyone else. But for me, the stories that I want to tell and that I want to put out in the world with my name on, I want them to do more. So that’s how I choose what I’m doing. And if what it does is get people to think about themselves and think about motherhood or family or the criminal justice system, or whatever, that’s just a cherry on top.

You’ve worked a lot with Oprah. You have an existing show on OWN TV, a new anthology series called Cherish the Day, and she’s a producer on When They See Us. Is it your similar sensibilities that make for an easy collaboration? What is that connection with her?

We have the same feeling about the work—that art can be transformative, that art can contribute to the culture beyond entrainment, that it can also help shape identity ideas and empathy. And so that core piece of the puzzle is a big connection that we have. She’s a wonderful, creative producer. She can read a script and tell me “This works,” “You lost me here,” “I cried here,” “What do you think about this?” And in terms of casting, she has a great sense of people. She’s interviewed more people than anyone else, so she really can look in someone’s eyes and say, “I can feel them” or, “This is a person I can see that they’re going to be able to portray.” And she’s just a great sounding board in that way.

you pay it forward in many ways. Are you still working with the Evolve Fund, the partnership between the city of LA and the entertainment industry?

Yes I am, through Array Alliance, a nonprofit. Array is a series of companies  I’ve had over the last 10 years. Through the nonprofit, we’re involved with a lot of educational initiatives to develop audience around work by women and people of color. We joined forces with the mayor’s office and the Evolve Fund to create curriculum and programming for high school and college students to help them enter our industry and transform it from the ground up. So that was an initiative, and I was in the inaugural program that we launched last year. I’m really excited about its success and its future.


Producing When They See Us was a challenge on many levels. Until now, no one has ever heard the story from the perspective of the five boys who were wrongly accused. And while the rape and trial received a huge amount of media coverage—as producer Jonathan King points out—“The subsequent exoneration got much less attention, to the point that so many people still don’t know the truth.” We spoke to three of the series’ executive producers about what they hope audiences will take away from the emotional drama.

Berry Welsh

There was a moment in prep where Jane, Jonathan and I were sitting with Ava in her office, and Jonathan said something that became a kind of mantra for the show: “When they say ‘boys will be boys,’ they aren’t talking about these boys.” It was an observation about the loss of innocence that touches on every part of the series. You become so emotionally invested in the boys and their families, but their stories also challenge you to think beyond what you know as your own experience.

Jonathan King

One of the most important ideas When They See Us humanizes is that incarceration affects families and communities, not just the person doing time. And the effects don’t stop upon release. A criminal record stays with a person and impacts their ability to restart their life after release. It’s especially pernicious when a person has been wrongfully convicted, but it applies to all people caught up in the system.

Jane Rosenthal

There are human consequences to the system’s failures, and that hasn’t changed. The power of storytelling is that we can take a dark part of our history, and Ava’s vision turns it into something ultimately uplifting that can bring about social change. The benefit of having a creative partner like Netflix is that we can reach the largest possible audience and amplify the message.


This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Dreaming Big - A Captivating VR Experience Is Reaching From Dallas To Dubai

Posted By Michael Ventre, Monday, June 10, 2019

If ever there was a time to put on magic goggles and experience a different reality, it just might be now. The clever folks at Dreamscape Immersive are hoping to transport as many virtual realists as possible away from the current national and global kerfuffles and toward a burgeoning form of mass entertainment, if only for a brief but fun-filled period.

For many years Walter Parkes has been one of the film industry’s foremost experts on non-goggled escapism. Along with his wife and business partner, Laurie MacDonald, he has helped shepherd more than 50 films to the screen as a writer, producer and executive. The duo has had Steven Spielberg as a longtime BFF, and Parkes has received three Academy Award nominations. You practically need a VR headset just to take in the fullness of their credits.

Because most movies are two-dimensional, and great imaginations know no bounds, a natural conflict exists—which is what led Parkes to create the virtual reality entertainment company called Dreamscape Immersive. (MacDonald is not an active partner in this venture, although she sparkles in a supporting role.) Along with co-founder Kevin Wall, Dreamscape offers the kind of VR experience that prescient nerds once whispered about in awe over what could be possible when the technology was first introduced. “Dreamscape as an idea,” Parkes explains, “sort of operates more in the world of theme park rides and Hollywood motion pictures than it does in the world of gaming.”

In the technical mumbo jumbo department, Dreamscape employs a system called inverse kinematics. In motion capture, the subject wears a suit similar to a surfer’s wetsuit, filled with little dots that record motion to a computer. With inverse kinematics, it’s much simpler: Small square sensors are secured to each hand and foot of the traveler, a backpack is donned, then goggles. What isn’t covered on the rest of the body is filled in by an algorithm.

“There is relatively less information having to go through the system because the algorithm is doing a lot of it,” Parkes says, “which is why we’ve had no instances of motion sickness.”

The Swiss-based technology was developed by Caecilia Charbonnier and Sylvain Chague and deployed by Dreamscape. Parkes says this technology boasts two very important advantages that other virtual reality methods do not: 1) it renders the entire body without lag or latency, one to one, so you can truly experience yourself in a VR environment, and 2) it accommodates multiple people at one time.

“My experiences in VR were not very satisfying prior to this because who wants to go alone in a VR space and look at stuff,” says Parkes. “It’s interesting, but it wasn’t really compelling.

Dreamscape’s first location at Westfield Century City Mall has a travel theme and
uses design elements resembling a classic train station.

“But when we saw this technology,” he continues, “particularly because it was social—because we are social animals and we like to consume our entertainment socially—it struck me as something that could be developed not just as an offshoot of gaming but as a way of telling stories.”

The stories being told are brief, with minimal narration and no real subplots, but the VR environment keeps the audience/participant engaged and riveted.

At the Westfield Century City Mall, the Dreamscape location appears like a smaller version of a Cineplex. There is a board displaying showtimes, a small snack area (although there really is no point in trying to munch popcorn or guzzle a vat of cola; it just wouldn’t work), and pods where the magic happens. Adjacent to each pod is a small “gear up” area, similar to a locker room, with spaces to accommodate six adventurers at a time.

Three titles were available at press time, with more in the pipeline: “Alien Zoo,” which is fairly self-explanatory and came from a long-pondered idea for a feature bandied about among Spielberg, Parkes and MacDonald; “The Blu,” a whale-saving undersea adventure; and “The Curse of the Lost Pearl: A Magic Projector Adventure,” which has an Indiana Jones-like flavor and is a collaboration between Dreamscape CEO Bruce Vaughn, and Parkes and his son Graham, a budding wunderkind in the entertainment business. “Bruce had created, built and deployed theme park rides all over the world, ending with the last thing he did there, which was to open Shanghai Disneyland,” explains Parkes.

Each works as a distinct and wondrous experience. But these 10- to 13- minute shows at $20 a pop obviously have significant differences from the traditional cinematic products Parkes and MacDonald have produced over the years, including the Men in Black franchise, Minority Report, Road to Perdition and Catch Me If You Can.

“The interesting thing,” Parkes says, “if you want to get nerdy about it—there’s two fundamental elements of film language in telling stories: the frame and cutting. If you see a pretty girl, I cut to you looking, I cut back to her, I cut back to you, and it tells the audience you’re looking at her as an object of desire. If I want to know more about what you’re thinking, I go in tight.

“Those two fundamental things are taken away (in VR). Basically there’s no cutting and no frame. So you have to find other ways to make up for that. And the other fundamental thing about film storytelling that we’ve found in our many years is point of view. You’re telling somebody’s story. The trick here is that the audience has to be the main character. (That) challenge is really interesting and difficult.”

The Westfield Century City location is owned and operated by Dreamscape. The next four Dreamscape venues are being done in partnership with AMC and its CEO, Adam Aron. The theater chain is now the company’s biggest investor, and you can probably understand why.

Dreamscape is also working with Majid Al Futtaim Group, a lifestyle-leisure group that operates shopping malls throughout the Middle East. Dreamscape is scheduled to open a venue in the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai in August or September. And stateside, openings are planned in Dallas and Columbus, Ohio.

In addition, Dreamscape is looking at venues like the British Museum of Natural History, which has the largest blue whale skeleton in the world. “We may install there semi-permanently,” he says. “If we’re able to install near that, it would be pretty cool.”

Now put on your goggles and imagine a world where such VR venues have not only original stories, but offshoot tie-ins to big Hollywood features.

First up, Men in Black.


Chris Hemsworth (left) with producer Laurie MacDonald and Tessa Thompson in London on the set of Men in Black: International

The latest installment of the franchise, Men in Black: International, which is set for release on June 14, features new stars in Tessa Thompson (Creed, Westworld) and Chris Hemsworth (the Thor series). Men in Black debuted in 1997 with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith on the one-sheet. This new one is the fourth feature release, and there was also a TV series that ran for 53 episodes.

The premise involves agents of a secret organization who specialize in rooting out extraterrestrials here on Earth.

“This is one more slot in the franchise,” MacDonald says, “but it expands the universe of the whole organization. That’s why it’s Men in Black: International. It posits that we didn’t know there are agents operating all over the world. It’s based in London.”

In their semisecret Culver City location, Dreamscape engineers are busy working in a warehouse-like space on new product, including a VR version of Men in Black. The dream is to have the VR experience open  before the feature, and then play through and possibly beyond its run.

Dreamscape isn’t alone in the VR marketplace. One of its major competitors is The Void, which is aligned with Disney and produces work from Disney titles. “They’re a very interesting and good company that has been around a couple more years than us,” says Parkes. “Their experience is more on the gaming side of things.” And the arena surely will fill with more such companies as VR builds popularity.

“Studios have realized that you sort of have to look at your movie as part of a great big ecosystem of your franchise,” Parkes explains. “And it has to exist in digital, and in mobile, and publishing, and retail, and in all sorts of things. This is nothing new, but there’s more value put on the ancillaries than ever before.”

That is putting Dreamscape in an enviable position. Parkes reports that the company’s Century City location is operating at “near 90% utilization, which means it’s 100% on all weekends. It’s operating at almost twice the model in terms of number of tickets sold.”

And apparently it isn’t just teenagers out on weekend dates looking for new excitement. Granted this is anecdotal, but Parkes says he recently witnessed an example of how the word on VR may have breached demographic borders.

“About three weeks ago, I was there (in Century City) in the morning and there were six ladies I would say between 78 and 82,” he recalls. “They had never done VR, and one of them walked by us and said, ‘We’re gonna do this!’ And I said, ‘I’m sure they’re gonna do ‘The Blu,’ but they said no, they’re doing ‘The Magic Projector.’

“Not only did they love it,” he adds, “but I looked at them, and there was this great sense of accomplishment, like they were able to do something they weren’t sure they’d be able to do.”

Could it be that VR will be a key to bridging the technical generation gap?


This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

She Definitely "Has It" - Tonya Lewis Lee Is A Fighter And Art Is Her Weapon

Posted By Sarah Sanders, Monday, June 10, 2019

“I do think of my art as my activism,” says Tonya Lewis Lee early in our conversation—and it’s clear this core belief infuses all aspects of the many kinds of work she does. Whether as a producer, writer or entrepreneur, Lee is deeply committed to the power of telling stories that matter. “I’m very fortunate in that I am mostly able to pick and choose the kind of work that I want to be doing,” she says. “I do it with the intention of trying to make the world a better place, of trying to raise awareness and consciousness—especially around issues of race, issues of gender, equity, of health and wellness.

Lee has most recently been shining light on those topics through her work as executive producer for the second season of Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It, created and directed by Spike Lee (who is, yes, also her husband). The first season, released in 2017, was based on his 1986 film of the same name. Revolving around Brooklyn-based Nola Darling and her relationships with friends and multiple lovers, the film was groundbreaking in its depiction of an independent, sexually liberated Black woman. The second season continues to follow Nola, now grappling with artistic success and trying to balance her ideals with the demands of the corporate world.

While the first season adhered closely to the film, the second branches out, as we “go into Nola’s world and see where she leads us,” Lee says. “For me, it was just really fun to think about and look at a young woman who’s an artist and how an artist figures out how to make it today.  Being an artist is not an easy thing, especially when you’re first starting out.”

The show digs into the difficulty of balancing creative idealism on the one hand with commercial success on the other, asking, “Can you legitimately make money on your art and be true to yourself as an artist, or are you selling out to the corporate structure?”

For Lee, the two ideas are not necessarily mutually exclusive, especially in terms of access and reach. “I want [my work] to have commercial success because that means it’s reaching as many people as possible,” she says. That matters to Lee because the projects she works on provide complex, nuanced depictions of people of color—something she believes there should be more of. “Looking at television, looking at film, is how we are informed about who we are, what’s happening in our world,” she explains. “Seeing my children see themselves in this world, this majority-white world that we live in, through television, through books, I realized there weren’t enough books I was able to read that featured kids that looked like them or TV shows with kids that looked like them,” she says. “I want to be contributing to that in the best way possible, as much as I can.”

As another way of bringing politics into art, She’s Gotta Have It also dives into issues of gentrification, something apparent in a Brooklyn that has changed dramatically in the 30 years since the film was released. “Sometimes when I still go back to Fort Greene, I feel like I’m Rip Van Winkle. It’s unbelievable to me how different it is,” Lee says. She explains that showing the effects of gentrification on communities of color was crucial to the remake of She’s Gotta Have It, in a way that ties back to the idea of art as activism. “It was really important, and continues to be important in the show, to show what gentrification is like and what it’s doing to a community. It’s a serious issue and it’s a serious issue for underserved communities. I don’t know what Brooklyn’s going to be like in another 25 years. I mean, is there a world in which we’re able to work together to keep it at least at this point? Or is it going to be completely whitewashed?”

The series does not provide any miracle solutions to gentrification, but Lee says the show does present “an awareness, an awakening, to where they are”—and awareness is a necessary first step toward change.

Another way Lee is helping bring about change is making sure the She’s Gotta Have It writers’ room features many women, like Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage (who also produces). Having women on both sides of the camera also matters. While Lee gladly acknowledges that Spike created the character of Nola, she’s been excited by the guidance that women creatives have been able to provide, and what that has brought to the show. “We wanted to put flesh and bones into who she is,” she says of Nola. “And men don’t know what they don’t know,” she adds with a wry smile. “It was really important to have a room full of women—full of strong women—who were willing and unafraid to say what we really thought about what it means to be a young woman today. To Spike’s credit, and the other guys in the room, I think they really came to understand that.”

Helping a director realize the most fleshed-out version of their vision is a large part of what Lee views her work as a producer to be. “A producer’s job is to really be able to listen to a director’s vision, understand what it is they’re really after and figure out how to help them get there,” she explains. Lee was enthusiastic about having that director be, in this case, her husband; while both have been in the business for years, the initial season of She’s Gotta Have It was their first time working together. “We found our groove and how it works, how we work together,” she says. “And I have to say, I really did enjoy it. Even though there were moments, I’m sure, where I was like, I’ll never do this again!” she laughs. In general, Lee’s admiration for her husband’s work and values is apparent, especially in the ways he has opened doors for new, diverse voices. “He’s brought a lot of people with him, and I respect that immensely, and I want to do the same: work with all kinds of people who are trying to do the same kind of work that we’re trying to do.”


Tonya Lewis Lee and Spike Lee on location reviewing footage from season 2 of She's Gotta Have It

In order to make more of that kind of work, Lee launched the production company ToniK Productions with her partner, Nikki Silver, in 2012. They have since produced several films, including Monster, which premiered at Sundance in 2018. While producing independently can be challenging, Lee

says there are also rewards. “As independent producers today, it’s not easy. You’re sort of out here on your own,” she explains. “But the flip side of that is that we do get to do the work that we want to do, in the way that we want to do it, with the kind of people we want to do it with. It may take a little longer and be a little harder, but you know, we fight the fight.”

And fighting is important to Lee, in a way that, again, comes back to art as activism. “It’s a battlefield out here,” she says. “What’s my part? How am I fighting? Because it matters to me. The sacrifices that were made for me to be here, matter. And so, what am I doing to further the human race?”

It’s a question that clearly guides the work Lee does away from television and film sets as well. “I joke with friends, especially in these days, we need to be army-fit. Because if someone says run, I better be able to run. I don’t want someone to have to put me on their back. I want to be able to carry my own weight. And I’m a survivor, we all are survivors—we’re here. So, being mentally, physically and spiritually strong is critical,” she says.

Indeed, Lee has been a public health and wellness advocate for many years. In 2009, she produced the documentary Crisis in the Crib, exploring the issues of infant mortality in the United States. She later launched Movita, a wellness brand offering organic vitamin supplements that address the specific needs of women. In addition to advocating for women’s health, Lee also aims to demystify health practices more generally. “The bottom line: eating well, moving your body and getting your sleep is everything. And when you’re young, if you can start doing that and make it become part of a habit, then you can continue to do the work at the level you want to be doing it … for as long as you want to be doing it.”

Lee practices what she preaches: she meditates, eats a mostly vegan diet and exercises regularly. In fact, members of the She’s Gotta Have It crew would frequently encourage each other to go to the gym after wrapping for a day. “I’m like, my god, if the camera operator can be in the gym after he’s been holding that camera all day, then I should be able to do that!” she says with a smile—though not for vanity’s sake. In addition to the practicality of taking care of one’s body for career longevity, Lee insists that self-care has a political component. She admires writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde and cites her quote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

“I do love that, because again, it goes back to art as activism,” she says. As part of that self-care, Lee says she is also working on “going with the flow of life” and not letting herself get stressed about intense production schedules. “I try really hard to be kind to myself,” she says. “I’m at an age where I know what I can deal with and what I can’t. And if I can’t,  I’m not going to deal with that.”

As for other words of wisdom, “My advice for producers would be find your team, find your people,” she says. “I think it’s great to have collaborative partnerships, people that you trust, who you build relationships with, who you enjoy working with.” She also says to remember that things take a long time: “Never give up. You just gotta hang in there. And if it doesn’t work one way, you’ve got to figure out another way.”



This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Opinion Overload - When Social Media Meest Research, How Do You Know What To Believe?

Posted By Ben Carlson, Monday, June 10, 2019

When there’s a “wow” moment at an awards show or when a new movie trailer drops online, people around the world grab their phones and race to social media to voice their opinions. Even more people jump on just to read the conversation.

And what a conversation it is! On Twitter alone, 500 million tweets are sent each day. That’s 6,000 tweets every single second. Add to that Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Reddit and regional social sites like Sina Weibo (China) and VK (Russia). The conversation is massive, global and nearly instantaneous. But as we all know, social media is not real life. So can you believe the opinions you read when you scroll through social?

The answer—not surprisingly—is both yes and no.

Social media acts as the world’s biggest, fastest focus group. In near real time, you can see hundreds, thousands and even millions of opinions about any topic imaginable from people around the world. Before social media, this would have been impossible. And one of the largest topics of conversation across social media is entertainment. We have all seen how social can reflect pop culture phenomena such as Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones. It can give voice to smaller fan groups as well. Nearly every series and film has supporters on social media. These fan groups can help a show grow audience interest, drive tune-in, and in rare instances, even find a new home. Canceled shows like The Expanse, Brooklyn 99 and The Mindy Project have found new life on other networks or platforms thanks in part to rabid social fans.

The instant reactions available on social media can be addictive. Many producers race to Twitter to quickly get a first read on audience reactions to an announcement, the launch of marketing materials or the debut of their show or film.

And that is the point where social media can become misleading. From an anonymous perch online, people can lob negative opinions onto YouTube videos or Reddit threads. In the interest of attracting more attention, a negative joke can go viral on Twitter. Or a glance at mentions on Facebook may be glowingly positive, even if most audiences didn’t like something. There are a multitude of ways that social media can frustrate, confuse or mislead.

Separating the signal from the noise in social media is challenging. And while it may be tempting to disregard the social conversation because of this, there are valuable insights to be gleaned and a path to closer, faster connections to audience opinions. Here are a few important considerations to keep in mind when evaluating social opinions.

Beware the Trolls

Some people on social media just want to be negative. Often this negativity is in the interest of being seen as clever or funny. These negative comments can go viral—spreading quickly across social media and influencing the opinions of others. At other times, this negativity comes from a particular worldview that creates a knee-jerk reaction. An example of this occurs when fanboys take sides between Marvel and DC superhero films. Those fans will often be blindly positive to their chosen superhero brand of choice while talking negatively about the other. Stars can also stir “troll” behavior. High-profile talent with strong opinions or political stances can drive negative conversation unrelated to the series or film in which they appear. In today’s charged political climate, some audiences have a knee-jerk, negative reaction to a series or film based on issues related to the beliefs of the people behind it.

Negative conversation from trolls can be hurtful personally, but it usually does not have a material impact on the property with general audiences. Understanding if a negative opinion is a real reflection of an audience’s reaction or the work of an online troll is a key first step.

Context Matters

How many tweets does it take for a trailer launch to be considered successful? How many likes on an Instagram post are too few? There are hundreds of data points around social media. But unlike more straightforward metrics (like box office results or digital downloads, where more is better), there is not a single right way to read the results. For example, higher volume is usually good—unless that volume is driven by negative conversation, which could be a warning sign. So negative conversation is always bad then, right? Well, not for every type of entertainment property. With horror films, for example, a certain amount of negative conversation correlates positively to success.

Talented data scientists, digital marketing professionals and research analysts across the industry are working to define the markers of success. There are many theories and opinions, but one thing almost everyone can agree on is that a number in isolation—without benchmarks, comps or averages—is not a meaningful gauge of failure or success.

Owned vs. Organic

Almost everyone has some form of social media presence. An individual’s mentions (when someone tags them on Twitter or Instagram, for example) is a quick and easy way to see when someone is talking about them. This is also true for the social accounts of an entertainment property, such as a studio’s YouTube channel where they launch trailers, or a TV franchise’s official Facebook page. These “owned” social accounts, either for an individual or a property, are where fans gather to discuss something they care deeply about. A media investment can boost performance on these owned social channels, increasing views, shares and engagement. Owned social is relatively easy to measure and manage, but it only shows part of the story.

Organic social conversation consists of the mentions shared by people with their family, friends and fellow fans. These are posted on an individual’s own social channel and usually done without tagging the individual or property. Examples of this behavior are an Instagram post of a poster at a movie theater or a Facebook post about the latest bingeworthy sensation on a streaming platform. These are the real opinions in social, as people are using their social currency to let friends and followers know what they think. This organic conversation makes up the vast majority—over two-thirds—of the social conversation around the average film or television series.

Finding Needles in Haystacks

That organic conversation, however, can be very hard to find. Only about 20% of people use official hashtags or “@ names” when talking about a film or TV show on Twitter. So it’s important to search for untagged mentions to understand the full conversation. For a popular property or unique title, this is relatively simple. But it can be very hard for properties with titles such as Us or It. (And a caution against searching online for mentions of the Jason Segal comedy Sex Tape in any fashion!) Each social platform has slightly different search capabilities based on timing, search logic and privacy.

Tools of the Trade

There are a variety of tools to read and analyze the social conversation:

Social Media Platforms

  • Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all offer notifications for mentions, analytics for owned accounts and search functionality. There are more refined research tools, but this can be the fastest way to read opinions. Just beware that Twitter scrolling in the middle of a sleepless night can provoke nightmares.

DIY Tools

  • Subscription SaaS platforms allow searching in more refined and robust ways. These dashboards can yield results but take time to manage. They can be good for quick, specific searches. They are less helpful in creating context and rich insights without a significant investment of time.

Research Companies

  • There are full-service agencies that provide social research of all kinds. These research companies can offer richer analytics and insights but are often more expensive—and thorough analysis is slower than a quick search.

The Next Generation of Social Research

Facebook launched in 2004. Twitter started in 2006. Instagram emerged in 2010. These platforms have grown and evolved. So too has the research ecosystem that surrounds them. When Fizziology started in 2009, our core research was all performance-based. We answered question like “How did our trailer do?” and “Do audiences like our show?”

In the last decade, social research has expanded as radically as the social networks themselves. Some of this has been thanks to technological leaps forward, but much of it has been driven by clients who ask more challenging and important questions.

Here are a few of the ways producers are innovating through social research today:

  • IP Analysis and Discovery—Producers can understand the potential of IP through social or even discover the hot new property that specific audiences are talking about.

  • Talent Analysis—From analyzing a star’s fan base to searching for potential issues that could create publicity nightmares, social media research can unearth critical information around talent.

  • Audience Distractions—In today’s fractured media landscape, the scarcest resource is attention. Social research can help producers understand how their property fits into a landscape that includes theatrical releases, streaming series and films, television events and video game launches.

Social media gave audiences everywhere a voice. They will continue to use that voice. How to listen to it, interpret it and react to it will be an ever-evolving process. And one that—when done right—can help producers understand audiences better and faster than ever before.

Ben Carlson is the Co-founder and Co-president of Fizziology, a global audience insights company.


This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Live From DC... It's A Capitol Night! - Producer Michael Colbert Continues The Family Tradition of Honoring Our Country and its Heroes

Posted By Rona Edwards, Monday, June 10, 2019

As producers, we like to tell stories that have something worthwhile to say and that touch people’s lives. We also produce movies, television and transmedia purely to entertain, and that is also very satisfying. However, it is rare to contribute something so meaningful that the legacy of what you produce has a lasting effect on the people you work with and the people you do the show for—year after year.  

In the case of Michael Colbert, he’s lucky enough to executive produce not just one, but two shows a year that celebrate our nation and its military heroes … and he has one shot to do it each time, because it’s all produced live. Colbert is the producer of A Capitol Fourth and the National Memorial Day Concert from Washington, D.C., which have become yearly institutions since 1981 and 1989, respectively. Both are ratings juggernauts for PBS.  

Though the National Memorial Day Concert is a more solemn event, A Capitol Fourth is a celebration of independence and our democracy. Both concerts bring out bipartisan support from the political arena, stars from stage, screen and the music industry, and well-known military veterans. Despite our differences, these two occasions unite us with one goal in mind: to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and to celebrate our freedom from mad King George.

Let’s rewind a bit to how it all began. Colbert’s father, Jerry, was House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s media adviser. He taught O’Neill all about television. However, his patriotism for our soldiers and this country dates further back. His family used to run the Memorial Day events in his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. They would place flags at graves and organize the annual parade.

The meaning of Memorial Day became lost after Vietnam. “That was his mission … to try to bring it back. And now these shows have become national traditions,” says Colbert.

“I remember so well the first concert in 1981.” Colbert was a wide-eyed 13-year-old surrounded by legends Pearl Bailey and the great actor E.G. Marshall, who hosted the inaugural show. When the downbeat hit and the national anthem was sung, the teenager looked up at the flag blowing in the wind, the Capitol dome behind it and hundreds of thousands of spectators below, and it took his breath away. “It’s something you never get over,” he says. “My hair still stands up at the back of my neck.”

Not wanting to be an SOB (“son of a boss”), Michael ventured out on his own to learn his craft. He worked on variety and awards shows in Nashville, New York and Los Angeles. During that time, Michael met his wife, Jill Jackson, when both were involved with a Grand Ole Opry special, and it was love at first sight. The two still work as partners now via their nonprofit company that produces the shows, Capital Concerts.

Since the passing of his father in 2017, Colbert heeds his dad’s advice to trust his instincts and stay true to the mission. It’s a massive undertaking and a great responsibility to get it right every time. They produce these concerts for a fraction of the cost of other such comparable shows. The money is raised publicly and privately. Capital Concerts does all the promotion and TV and radio spots, down to social media outreach and websites. They also have to deal with more than 20 government agencies. Their company is small, but they get a lot of help from friends throughout Congress on both sides.

The Memorial Day concert is a hybrid of theater, film and performance. “It’s almost like the process of producing a movie or a Broadway show,” explains Colbert. “Every moment must fit perfectly into the next as you put this complicated puzzle together.”


John Stamos thrills the crowd

In keeping with the original vision, Colbert and his talented team ask these questions at the beginning of each production: “What do our veterans or their families need today, and what important anniversaries are there?” This year it’s the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The team worked hard to find powerful stories of veterans and their families. One such story is of that of medic Sgt. Ray Lambert. Prior to landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, Sgt. Lambert was awarded two Silver Stars and three Purple Hearts for his bravery saving his comrades in North Africa and Sicily. At 98, he is still in great shape physically and mentally and was able to see Sam Elliott tell his story at this year’s concert.

In addition, a lineup of Vietnam veterans populated the stage and were introduced by General Colin Powell—who served two tours in Vietnam and is the recipient of two Purple Hearts—so the country could finally say what it hadn’t properly said 44 years ago: Welcome home. “They sure deserve it,” says Colbert. “They fought the war they were given. And many are still struggling. But to be able to say that at the Capitol ... we’re very humbled to do so.” The concert always ends with one of the most intimate and solemn moments on television: A lone bugler playing Taps.

Top: Marines stand guard over the celebration on the National Mall
Below: Michael Colbert, Sean Fogel, Jon Macks and Jill Jackson

A Capitol Fourth has a very different tone. Because so many cities no longer have July 4th events due to budget cuts, Colbert and his team share an immense obligation in bringing this great celebration of freedom into people’s homes. This year they’re doing a special segment about wounded warriors who learned to play musical instruments during their recovery. It’s also the 50th anniversary of both the first moon landing and Sesame Street, so there will be special tributes to those milestones of American life.

Also on the program will be an homage to the incomparable Aretha Franklin, who performed several times for A Capitol Fourth. Colbert feels strongly about bringing the great music legends of our time along with younger stars to the concert stage. All genres are covered, including Broadway, country, classical and “lest we forget, patriotic music,” a jovial, upbeat Colbert adds. And to cap it off, of course, will be the perfectly timed 1812 Overture with fireworks exploding over our capital’s monuments and across the Potomac. It’s like covering the Olympics, with cameras all over the city, capturing everything. “All eyes are on Washington, D.C., as Washington becomes America’s hometown.”

There are a lot of moving parts to producing these complicated shows. When you’re dealing with five military services, the mayor’s office, the Capitol and D.C. police, the National Symphony, the National Park Service and the congressional leadership, it really does take the precision and teamwork of an army to pull off the broadcasts.

During our interview, members of Colbert’s producing team, Sean Fogel and Barr Weissman, stop by to say hello as does Colbert’s wife, Jill. One thing becomes crystal clear: They love what they do. With A Capitol Fourth celebrating 39 years and the National Memorial Day Concert 30 years, they give shows like Law and Order and The Simpsons a run for their money in longevity.

“These aren’t for us. These are for the nation,” Colbert stresses. “And when you look at it, it’s the memorial event for the United States. It’s the official July 4th for the country, and that gives you a lot of perspective as you put these things together.”

Though it’s always a wild ride, this is what attracted Colbert to live television—the immediacy of it, having to think on your feet ... and no post production! But they’ve had their challenges to be sure, particularly with the weather. Rain has caused cancellations and delays through the years, so they employ a meteorologist to predict where, when and if the weather will affect the show. There was also the time when Ray Charles missed his flight, causing producers to panic until he finally arrived and blew everyone away with America the Beautiful. Or the first year, when they used an old converted bookmobile as their TV truck, and the program monitor went out. The quick but difficult producorial decision was to broadcast a documentary on the monarch butterfly until they were up and running again.

“These shows are as much a way of life for us as anything and, as with any kind of producing, there’s always obstacles and challenges,” Colbert says matter-of-factly. “You just have to trust that you’re doing something that’s good, that you’re doing something that’s right, and you’re going to get through it.” Then he humbly concludes, “If we weren’t doing this, we ‘d find some other way to make a difference.”  

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Opportunity Knocks - From The National Executive Directors

Posted By Vance Van Petten & Susan Sprung, Monday, June 10, 2019

This issue of the magazine coincides with one of the most exciting and anticipated events presented by the Guild—the 11th Annual Produced By Conference. As the entertainment industry evolves at lightning speed, we want to offer every advantage when it comes to producing content for the explosion of new formats.

In addition to traditional topics such as pitching and financing, the PGA is responding to your suggestions to hear more about the latest trends in streaming, podcasting and new technology. Representatives from the top streaming services (Disney+, Hulu, Epix and Amazon) will be on hand to bring you up to date on their plans for the future. Producers of the hottest podcasts will be discussing the best ways to take advantage of this rapidly growing area of entertainment.

In terms of the latest technology, we’ve included a workshop on balancing creativity and costs when adopting and implementing new technology in your productions. We believe this forward-thinking topic will prove valuable to current and future members.

As for the hottest content around, nothing scares up success like the new age of horror films. These mind-bending movies are pulling in a wider audience than ever before. Another popular and growing area is “content with a conscience”—important and relevant projects making a social impact across all platforms. There are no better examples of this than the work of our cover subject, Ava DuVernay, and producer Tonya Lewis Lee, also featured in this issue.

And we must crow a bit about the one-of-a-kind Producer’s Mashup. Here some 600 people get the chance to directly question veteran producers and production company executives, while seated in small groups. It’s really an unheard-of opportunity to make a personal connection with some of the best in the business.

The industry information is great, of course, but the conference also presents a unique networking opportunity. For two full days, attendees meet, mingle, exchange ideas and advice and perhaps phone numbers.

The Produced By Conference is the only event of its kind, created by producers for producers. It is not a moneymaking endeavor, but rather part of the Foundation’s core mission of educating those who work in the producing profession.

Producers on the East Coast will have the same opportunity when they gather for Produced By New York on November 9. So wherever you are, the conference is definitely the place to be … for the business you’re in. We are proud to welcome our participants and sponsors to this inspiring event.


This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

ODD NUMBERS - Dare To Scare

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 10, 2019

Horror is hot! Seems like there’s no such thing as too much adrenaline when it comes to audiences looking for a fright. And these dedicated fans definitely have opinions about the genre.







Which masked murderer would you like to have dinner with?

Ghostface - 16%

Jason - 14%

Freddy - 25%

Leatherface - 8%

Jigsaw - 37%

What is the cheesiest way to get caught by a killer?

Running upstairs instead of out the front door - 33%

Taking shelter in a shed - 5%

Tripping over a tree root in the forest - 20%

Hiding under a bed - 24%

Saying “I’ll be right back” - 18%

Which is the freakiest character?

Twins with french braids holding hands - 18%

A “Tethered” version of yourself - 16%

A possessed doll - 47%

A masked guy chasing you with a chainsaw - 10%

A cat that is resurrected and turns on its owners - 8%

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

ABOVE & BEYOND - Commitment Across The Country: In Cities Everywhere Guild Volunteers Are Going The Extra Mile

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 10, 2019

Whether trying to grow a chapter in Austin or focusing on job opportunities in LA, volunteers are continually working to enrich the experiences of their fellow PGA members.

Jennifer Hutchins was involved with the West Coast PGA before moving to Austin a few years ago. She says volunteering is a great way to make connections with super-busy powerhouse producers because she understands the axiom, “If you need something done, call the busiest person.” Jennifer volunteered for the second Produced By Conference, making calls and sending emails from Gale Anne Hurd’s office. She also remembers volunteering for a PGA Green event where she not only learned tricks and tips to go green but was able to connect with the other  volunteers. “We ate lunch together, shared war stories and are still friends.”

When work took Jennifer to Texas, she decided to reach out to the local PGA and was shocked there was no chapter in Austin, because she was meeting hundreds of qualified producers. “In the spring of 2018, I contacted PGA in Los Angeles and asked if they would like me to gauge local interest, and the response was an enthusiastic yes!” That was all she needed to hear to start organizing some PGA events. “In about six months we threw four mixers and a seminar, and had over 700 enthusiastic producers show up. Turns out there is a ton of interest in having the PGA in Austin. We are continuing to plan some cool stuff and build a leadership team. I’m excited to see where we are this time next year.”

When not volunteering, Jennifer produces nonfiction docuseries, and live and stage shows. She’s also produced four feature films.

Chris Pack is another volunteer with his ear to the membership. He has been passionate about the PGA since joining in 2008. He currently serves as one of the chairs of the Employment Committee. Chris views volunteering on committees and producing events as “opportunities to build relationships, and learn people’s strengths, skills and experiences, which help us to grow both personally and professionally. We are and can be part of the change in the global entertainment industry,” he adds, “starting with the work we are doing in and through the PGA. There are the seminars and workshops, the important and hard topics we wrestle with, mentoring and supporting each other, recruiting new PGA members from all backgrounds, and volunteering or serving as an employer at a PGA Job Forum. The work our teams are doing will impact the PGA, our membership and the industry, for years to come.”

Chris recently had a memorable experience while volunteering at a seminar organized by the Employment Committee West: Upgrade Your Resume & Enhance Your Interview Skills for 2019. One of the topics brought up was how PGA members are currently experiencing ageism. Chris is launching a series on ageism, while the Employment Committee recently joined a larger ongoing conversation with industry leaders and organizations on Senior Representation In the Media, hosted at SAG-AFTRA.

In addition to volunteering, Chris is an Emmy Award-winning producer, writer, educator and social entrepreneur.

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (1)

FIRST PERSON - Bringing Magic To Manila: A PGA Member Travels Across The Globe To Teach Locals The "Hollywood Way"

Posted By Jennifer A. Haire, Monday, June 10, 2019

You don’t have to be a performer to make a living on stage.

Soundstages are rather unimpressive from the outside—huge box buildings next to more huge box buildings. When empty, they are equally unimpressive from the inside. However, after skilled artisans work their magic, the stage becomes another world. Whether you’ve just stepped onto the Arctic Circle, a cabin in the woods or wall-to-wall green screen that will become the moon, it’s all contained inside those four walls. Pulling back the “curtain,” you’ll see that a whole network of support infrastructure exists. This intricate system is the lifeblood of the stage.  

The beauty of location, in a controlled environment

In March of 2016 I got a call from my friend and fellow PGA and FilmUSA committee member Jason Hariton. The MBS Group, which owns and operates studios in Manhattan Beach, California, had secured a consulting contract with the largest broadcast network in the Philippines. They were to advise them on the new construction of a massive, 12-stage, state-of-the art studio facility. These would be the first professional soundstages in the Philippines. This network produces more than 10,000 hours of content each year, yet the majority is shot on practical locations. The Philippines are home to some of the most scenic and beautiful places imaginable, so why wouldn’t you shoot on location? A six-month rainy season, stifling heat and traffic worse than Hollywood on Oscar Sunday pose daily challenges. A training component on how to use the soundstages was needed. I was intrigued by the challenge of creating a never-been-done-before program from scratch. As an indie UPM/Line Producer, I am an expert at shooting low-budget on practical locations. The logistics are always challenging, the location is usually a creative compromise and at the end of the day had the budget allowed, we probably would have shot on a soundstage. Even though I was coming off two back-to-back productions, I agreed to what was then a 10-month program timeline.

Assembling a full crew from scratch in five weeks

It started with an intensive management team crash course to introduce the potential scope of training. In five weeks I assembled 41 industry professionals to participate as instructors and guest speakers, helped design 40 “classes” plus nine field trips—all to take place over 15 days on a soundstage at the MBS Media Campus. I was the producer, First AD, Second AD, UPM, POC, accountant, payroll ... and since this was a training program, also the dean. That’s a lot of hats! By the last two days of the program, I had assembled almost a full below-the-line crew that had built, dressed and rigged a sitcom set. It was an immersive demonstration of the Hollywood, multi-camera style of shooting on a soundstage. The company wanted to shoot more content in less time, and this was the way to do it.  

Streamlining the process

Cut to August 2018: The first two soundstages are almost complete—only two-plus years behind schedule. After further assessment of the current production practices, we identified missing crew positions that would streamline their process. These recommendations would also support the network’s mandate to improve the work-life balance for their crews, who are accustomed to working 22-hour shifts. I sent a script supervisor, First AD, production safety/risk awareness expert, two television showrunners and one TV writer to Manila. Class sessions ranged from one to five days, with our mission being to teach the nuts and bolts of how we “do it Hollywood.” That is, 1) the integral role the script supervisor plays in the production and post-production process; 2) the system and support team used to keep the day on schedule; 3) how to recognize and report a hazardous work environment; 4) the vital role of the television showrunner; 5) the benefits of an efficient production workflow. The training always remained focused on how these methodologies translated to the soundstage.

Turning on the lights, literally

The program had now grown so large that I brought in help. For the next round, I hired Producer Dave Fraunces to come on board as the Manager of Production Training Programs. He prepped trainers in LA and eventually joined me in Manila to serve as production support. When 2019 began, the stages were officially complete and ready to be rigged. It was time to put them to work. However, for a vast majority of the Filipino crew, this was the first time they had ever seen a soundstage. Our team of professional lighting technicians and grips put the local crew through a rigorous, 22-day training to fully prepare a stage for production. It was important to start with basic technical operations such as proper handling and function of the lighting fixtures—how not to break the new toys.


They learned how to create and execute a lighting design, including installing and powering a dimmer room, running power, data and dimming cable in the catwalk, prebuilding light boxes, and hanging various pipe grids, backings and light fixtures. This required a mastery of basic rigging techniques such as using aerial lifts, tying a knot and safe connection of power—how not to drop the heavy things on people or be electrocuted.

Safe work practices were continually reinforced. Select students received two days of advanced training in how to hang an aerial scaffold system—we know them as green beds—and to program lights and operate a lighting console. At the end of the class, the trainees and instructors were both so emotionally invested by what they had achieved, they parted ways with hugs and tears. Yes, grips were crying.

Top: Set Construction class in progress
Middle: Successful first hanging of aerial scaffolding on new stages
Bottom: Equipment Technical Operations class

Creating multiple “location looks”

The Hollywood art department is a world unto its own. The local crews already had experience in production design, so we introduced them to the efficiencies of the “art department machine.” From detailed, construction-ready set designs and production-friendly set layouts to key staff positions, we taught them how to keep the department on schedule and on budget. Trainees learned creative ways to achieve realistic, practical location looks on a stage. We closed out this round of training with basic Hollywood set construction, including building flats, creating realistic looks with paint and plaster, and construction management and budgeting. We demonstrated ways that sets can be reused and how to set up an efficient mill. Introducing pneumatic tools was a game changer.

Change—it’s like being forced to eat vegetables.

Creating an international program of this magnitude isn’t without challenges. We faced myriad hurdles, such as trying to locally secure specific expendables, tools and equipment needed for the job. Often we would be tripped up simply over different terms used to describe the same item. When I am shooting an indie movie on location, I sometimes have to source local equivalents because the support infrastructure doesn’t exist. That happened during the training. Picture our suitcases filled with double-headed nails, a Nicopress, colored rolls of electrical tape and pneumatic nailers. I had never considered what the standard manufacturer’s-cut length of lumber was ... until now. Twelve-foot boards versus 16-foot boards make a big difference. On an island nation, acquiring new materials, especially in bulk, is not a speedy process. We were also faced with cultural challenges, such as a hesitation to ask questions in a group setting. The local crews had a hard time embracing the size of a traditional Hollywood crew. Their crews are more student-film size.

If we all learn a little, that’s a lot.

Participation in the program is at the discretion of the network. The intent is to enhance their local crew base by ensuring that specific target learners master the professional skills needed to work on the soundstage. In addition, producers were encouraged to attend the classes. This was key, as their understanding of how to support this next level of production is essential to the success of the show. To date we’ve trained more than 900 local working crew members. The classes were extremely well received, and the crews were very eager to learn. They excelled at almost everything. For the majority, this was the only training they had ever had. These are practical trade skills—ones not offered in traditional film schools. The trainers became so invested in making sure trainees succeeded that they would spend extra time with them on breaks and before and after class. (I’m pretty sure they are all social media friends now too!) These seasoned Hollywood professionals were caring and genuine and truly grateful to be a part of something that would forever change the Filipino motion picture industry.


So now, in the middle of a small town outside of Manila, sit two fully operational, Hollywood-standard soundstages, ready for a production to give them life. The program continues to grow, and additional training is being developed. The experience has given me a much stronger understanding of how I can support my production teams to deliver their best work.  

Yesterday I received an excited text from one of our trainees. It was a photo from the set of Idol Philippines. For the first time ever, cameras were rolling on the new stages. We taught them Hollywood—now they are making history.

If you’re involved in a fascinating project outside your usual work demands, please let us know. We’d like to highlight your accomplishment. Just send an email about your passion, side job or venture with the topic “First Person” to


  • Final photo: Jennifer Haire breaks down the production processes of single and multi-cam TV productions.

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

IN MEMORIAM - David Picker: Remember A Titan In The Industry and Fierce Supporter of the PGA

Posted By Peter Saraf, Monday, June 10, 2019

To be a film producer is to walk in the very long shadow of David Picker. That’s not just because of David’s tall stature, but because of the towering achievements of his life and career. David was a mentor, friend and inspiration to all who knew him. He was a rare mix of studio head and independent producer and was one of the leaders upon whose shoulders the PGA was built. He personally recruited many of us to not only join the Guild, but to roll up our sleeves and contribute to its future. It was through the PGA that I, and many others, had the honor and pleasure of getting to know this wonderful man. It was a privilege for which I will always be grateful.

In addition to his film work, David wrote a wonderful memoir called Musts, Maybes, and Nevers—a book every producer should read and then read again. He was a visionary in the field and a man of impeccable taste. That taste ranged from James Bond to Steve Martin, from the Beatles to Ingmar Bergman, from Robert Altman to Woody Allen, to name a few.

David famously once observed that if he had said no to everything he said yes to, and yes to everything he had said no to, it probably would have turned out the same. But the world most certainly would not have turned out the same without David Picker.

David Picker died on April 20 at the age of 87. The thoughts and love of the PGA are with his family.

  • Photo: David Picker on the set of  Escape to Victory with John Huston (1981)

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

Producers Survival Guide: Where Does The Legal Battle Between the ATA and the WGA Leave Producers?

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 10, 2019

The conflict between the WGA and talent agencies, which began in April, is still unresolved. Here is an update on resources available to producers to help navigate the new landscape.

WGA Staffing & Development Platform

The WGA is expanding its online tools for producers who are seeking writers. The tools are offered through a web-based portal called the WGA Staffing & Development Platform. The portal can be found at Producers create individual accounts, which will be organized by company as well.

This platform includes the previously developed Find-a-Writer database, the Weekly Feature Memo of available specs and pitches, and the Open Writing Assignment tools. It also includes the recently launched Weekly TV Development Memo, which offers TV pilot specs and pitches.

Find A Writer Plus

The Find-a-Writer database is still on the WGA’s website (at both and Inside the platform, however, is an expanded version of the database, available only to producers with accounts for this platform. It includes information about writers’ availability and development interests. The database also has a web form for sending an email to any WGA member.


The WGA’s plan for Open Writing Assignment listings has become clearer. Producers can list open projects, and WGA writers will be able to submit their expression of interest in up to three OWAs per month. The submissions can include a note from the writer about why the project appeals to them, as well as a writing sample and a description of the writer’s experience.

Writer Lists

Another tool on the WGA Staffing & Development Platform allows producers to create and annotate lists of writers. Producers can create as many lists as they want, with any number of writers, and add notes or annotations. The lists include each writer’s up-to-date availability information and a button to open an email form to send a direct message to the writer.

General Meetings Tool

Writers and producers are also able to contact each other to express interest in having a general meeting. Writers are limited in how many meetings they can request each month. Producers have no limit.

And More…

Additional tools are planned, but the WGA wants to know what tools producers want prioritized. Let the WGA know how it can improve the apps it rolls out on the platform and what other information or functions would help you accomplish your goals, and find and contact the writers you need for your projects. Producers can provide the WGA with feedback at

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

GOING GREEN - Eat, Drink and Be Wary: How To Reduce Our Appetite For Paper, Plastic and Leftovers

Posted By Lendi Slover, Monday, June 10, 2019

For producers, the scenery is always changing. We’re moving fast from set to set, to airplanes, to myriad interior and exterior locations. Sets pop up and get torn down, but one thing remains constant—all the stuff we leave behind. What happens to the trash and food waste we produce? With our domestic recycling system in turmoil, and China refusing to take our plastic waste, it mostly ends up just where we didn’t want it—in landfills, again.

Tackling the food and beverage waste problem on sets should be as easy as getting your latte hand-delivered. Think about how many coffee cups, water bottles, utensils and plastic clamshells you used on your last production. What about the mounds of leftover food? Like all the challenges we face, this one starts with you, the producer.

Being thoughtful about the aftermath of craft and catering reduces your environmental impact and might even save you money. First and foremost, by limiting the amount of items that make it to your set, you are reducing costs. Let’s talk bottled water. One look at those seabirds with stomachs full of plastic waste or sea turtles doomed by the same should be enough to make you think twice. Try to replace those countless plastic bottles with five-gallon refillable water jugs. The estimated cost to fill one jug is just 50 cents. Indicate on call sheets that crew should bring their own bottles—or for cups, choose biodegradable, compostable or reusable options.

A great example is 20th Century Fox (now Disney). They have eliminated nearly 3 million plastic water bottles since 2009. Their recent film Call of the Wild banned single-use plastic water bottles at each of the film’s six locations in favor of refillable ones, which were gifted to the cast and crew. This practice avoided the use of 201,920 plastic bottles, saving more than $33,000—and countless marine creatures too, we hope.

As for coffee cups, that divine fuel for your day always calls for refills. Again, reusable is the way to go. Hopefully you’ll get some eco-conscious crew members willing to bring their fave coffee mug to work. Perhaps catering could provide real coffee mugs. If that’s not feasible, go with the biodegradable/compostable option. For smaller productions, get the coffee travelers but buy your own cups. Starbucks cups have a plastic liner making them non-recyclable. In fact most paper cups used for hot beverages contain a plastic liner. Look to provide biodegradable cups, and everybody can enjoy their joe with little to no environmental impact.

Let’s talk catering—notably, utensils. You have the choice as to what you use and how much you use. The solutions range from real silverware to fully compostable/biodegradable options, both drastically impacting your carbon footprint. On smaller sets, sometimes real silverware isn’t an option. That said, avoid buying huge boxes of plastic tableware nobody uses. Buy eco-friendly options for the correct number of crew members or buy in bulk and continue to use for future productions. It won’t break your budget, and it won’t remain on Earth for hundreds of years.

Finally, let’s get to recycling. What do you do on set when you’re moving locations so often? I imagine the trash cans go with you, so take the recycle and composting bins, too. Make sure they are clearly labeled and announce to the crew you’ll be recycling and composting. Place the bins next to the regular trash cans, including if possible pictures of what is supposed to go in them.

An affordable, pop-up recycle bin is an easy
way to keep bottles and cans out of landfills.

To make things even easier, you can purchase an affordable, portable, pop-up recycle bin that takes up virtually no space. Just pop that puppy up on set and you have instant recycling. This will keep bottles and cans from going into the landfills. All U.S. cities should offer some form of recycling where you can empty your bin after the shoot. So use those easy-to-assemble bins and turn in the bottles and cans for some cold, hard cash. It might just pay for your jugs and water—and you can consider that a wash.

By simply working with the caterer or taking your own stand on what food packaging/utensils are allowed on your set, you’ve tackled a good portion of the problem.

Now what do you do with the food waste? Compost. Compost. Compost. For those productions reluctant to go the distance and compost, here’s the good news: You can save money there too. Ask people to dump the food before dumping their trash. Find a local composter in your area and hand over those methane-emitting leftovers. They might even arrange to pick it up from you if there is a large enough quantity and return the favor with some new composting bags. If you work with a local organic farm, you can sometimes trade compost for fresh, organic produce!

For leftovers that are still in good shape and fresh, consider donating them. The Amazing Spiderman 2 donated more than 5,000 meals and prevented  5,715 pounds of greenhouse gases from going into the atmosphere.

Here’s what the Green Production Guide recommends: During pre-production, connect with a local food bank or food rescue organization in each filming location. They must be nonprofit organizations operating for religious, charitable or educational purposes. You must prepare and provide a Food Donation Agreement to be signed by an authorized rep on both sides prior to the first pickup. See for a sample agreement you can download.

Put the food organization’s contact information on the Call Sheet distribution list and keep them informed of catering schedule changes to ensure timely pickup. Ask them to provide daily or wrap reports indicating the quantity and value donated, so the production and studio can keep track. Feeding America is a national network of food banks, the largest charitable hunger relief organization in the U.S. They can help you find a local food bank at

According to the MPAA, studios donated the equivalent of more than 130,000 meals from production and commissary donations throughout the country last year. Member companies also continued to prevent studio sets and other solid waste from entering landfills, achieving a 64% diversion rate in 2018.

On Call of the Wild, craft services provided biodegradable, compostable plates and cutlery. More than 30,750 pounds of food and cutlery were composted. Leftover food was donated to those in need in the California communities where the movie filmed, through partnerships with the Hollywood Food Coalition and Rock and Wrap It Up.

Producing movies requires a lot of creativity and innovation to make the impossible possible. We’ve seen epic battle scenes come to life, had dinosaurs roam the Earth and created immersive alternative universes. If we can handle that, I think we can figure out how to be conscious creators who realize the very real environmental impacts of our productions.

  • Photo Page 2: An affordable, pop-up recycle bin is an easy way to keep bottles and cans out of landfills.

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

OPEN DOORS - Reflect On The Past, Move Toward The Future: Power of Diversity Master Workshop Celebrates 15 Years of Cultivating Producers

Posted By Sasheen R. Artis, Monday, June 10, 2019

This program gives you the chance to learn in a close-knit setting from some of the brightest minds in this industry, and they all show up with a genuine desire to see you succeed.  (Hadjii Hand, Class of 2012)

This notion of creating a supportive community within an often contentious industry was born when veteran TV producer George Sunga launched the PGA Power of Diversity Master Workshop in 2005. Sunga understood the importance of connecting diverse producers to industry leaders and championed diverse content long before it was de rigueur. Now we see how important—and lucrative—authentic voices can be to our industry. This year we celebrate 15 years of helping producers prepare their projects for the marketplace through master classes and mentorship.

Mentoring in the workshop is a fantastic way not just to help others but also to hone our skills and remind us how far we’ve come. And sometimes, there’s cake. (Lisa Kors, Class of 2012; Mentor, 2013-19)

Mentors have always been a vital component of the workshop—from offering tips to strengthening a pitch to providing an introduction to an agency rep.

I am now a client of an astounding literary management firm, Epicenter LA. Currently I’m developing a TV project for Gary Lucchesi of Lakeshore Entertainment, who was our Workshop opening night speaker. (John Lowe, Class of 2018)

I’ve produced two feature films and two award-winning documentaries. Through my involvement with the Diversity Workshop, I was connected with DreamWorks Animation.  I am currently head of the Advanced Creative Technology group. (Christina Lee Storm, Class of 2008; Mentor, 2007-2018; Chair, 2014-2017)

We’re very proud to welcome the Class of 2019:

  • Nathan Bennett with the feature The Camp Beauty Queen

  • Samantha Culp with the docuseries The Futurists

  • Gabriela Gonzalez and Maria “Candy” Ibarra with the TV Comedy Mentiritas (Little White Lies)

  • Zimran Jacob with the TV drama The Queen & The Goddess

  • Tricia Lee with the feature Mother-Daughter

  • Monice Mitchell Sims with the rom-com Sacked

  • Sade Oyinade and Deshawn Plair with the feature Better Than I Know Myself

  • Diana Romero with the TV drama SOLD

  • Widad Shafakoj with the documentary Caesar (Tsar)

  • Justine Wentzell with the TV comedy Identity Crisis of a Banana

  • Delbert Whetter and Jevon Whetter with the feature Flash Before the Bang

We look forward to the future and to building an industry that truly represents our global audience.   

As a Black Muslim, I understand the power of media in shaping people’s thoughts. I produce film and TV content that highlights socially disadvantaged narratives, because everyone deserves to see themselves as being the hero. (Rashad Mubarak, Class of 2018)  ′

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

OPEN DOORS - Connecting Through Storytelling: How Producers Can Humanize A Crisis

Posted By Dan Halperin and Lisa Kors, Monday, June 10, 2019

The Guild’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee partnered for a second time with Amnesty International USA for an event that also included UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law. The presentation at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in April explored the power of storytellers to shape public opinion. Members of the PGA and WGAW, as well as UCLA students, faculty and alumni took part in the inspiring evening. The impactful discussion and panel focused on marginalized populations, such as contemporary refugees and asylum-seekers who are part of the largest migration crisis in human history.


Co-chair of the PGA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Lisa Kors, spoke after opening remarks from Anderson’s Bhavna Sivanand and Promise Institute’s Kate Mackintosh, and a moving introduction by a former Lost Boy of South Sudan, Biar Atem.


Panelists included Nina Yang Bongiovi (EP, Fruitvale Station, Dope, Roxanne Roxanne), Nazanin Boniadi (Actress, Hotel Mumbai, Counterpart, Homeland), Brad Falchuk (EP, Pose, 9-1-1, American Horror Story, Glee), Mike Royce (EP, One Day at a Time, Everybody Loves Raymond, Enlisted, Men of a Certain Age), Sanjay Sharma (Founder and CEO of Marginal Mediaworks, an Imagine Entertainment company) and Randall Keenan-Winston (EP, Scrubs, Roseanne, Cougar Town, Grace and Frankie).


An important takeaway from the evening were the insights panelists shared about storytelling. Keenan-Winston reminded the group that “the best of us is in what we share, not what we shield.”


Sharma added, “The role of storytelling has always been about creating emotional connections. I believe we achieve this in the most impactful way through popular storytelling—stories through the lens of established genres. Our aim is to create agency for outsiders, or ‘the other,’ through culturally resonant, accessible, entertaining stories. Seeing others in normalized, cool, gripping, even fun, settings gives us the ability to have empathy, to relate. And once we are entertained and feel we can relate, we can dig deeper into underlying systems and subtext.”


Films set in World War II such as Casablanca and The Sound of Music helped audiences understand what it means to be under the constant threat of danger and to strive to provide a better life for one’s family. Many producers and writers agree with Amnesty that stories like these capture audiences and help contextualize a large or intimidating crisis by viewing people as individuals, each with their own compelling story.


Conversations sparked by the panel continued later when participants gathered on the museum’s rooftop. Hopefully these interactions will encourage the storytellers to address issues of refugees and asylum-seekers, both in their narrative and documentary work. Amnesty International, with its decades of research on this topic, is happy to offer assistance to filmmakers by providing information and resources to all PGA members. 

This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)

BOSPOAT - Best On Set Photo Of All Time: Stranger Than Fiction

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 10, 2019

If you think this shot is fantastic, the story behind it is out of this world. The photo was taken on the set of the 2015 film Phoenix Incident—produced, directed and written by Keith Arem. The plot of the faux documentary was based on conspiracy theories surrounding the actual sighting of a series of lights in the night sky over Phoenix in March of 1997.


The film’s clever viral campaign was like an updated version of The Blair Witch Project, gaining some 20 million followers along the way. Arem created four fictional characters who witnessed the event, documented it on tape and then mysteriously disappeared. Their missing-persons website was so convincing that the real Department of Justice contacted the filmmakers, thinking they were bounty hunters trying to locate actual missing people.

The characters in the movie were risk-takers obsessed with recording their dangerous stunts and adventures, like this wild motorcycle maneuver. The trick was performed by Shane Trittler, a professional stuntman. Arem says, “The crew was so impressed with having a private stunt performance, we spent the majority of the time hanging out under the ramps. By the time we were ready to shoot, Shane was exhausted from performing for the crew.” The perfectly timed shot was taken by the on-set still photographer, Erica Parise, in the Estrella Mountain Range outside of Phoenix.


Turns out there was a technical flaw with the scene that only a sharp-eyed viewer who knew about freestyle motocross could have spotted. The segment in the film was supposed to take place in 1997. The filmmakers later learned that freestyle motocross rider Mike Metzger landed the very first backflip ever—in an X Games competition in 2002. So in reality, the trick in the movie had not yet been invented!


Phoenix Incident became a bit of a cult film and was one of the 10 most-pirated movies during the year it was released. Arem says he’s currently working to develop the concept and footage into a pilot for a television series.

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 Before you submit, please review the contest rules at Because no matter how great your photo is, we have no desire to get sued over it.


- View other BOSPOAT winners here.


This post has not been tagged.

Share |
PermalinkComments (0)