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DONALD DE LINE - He's A Studio Exec-Turned-Producer Who Loves His Present And Looks Forward To His Future

Posted By Peggy Jo Abraham, Friday, October 11, 2019

The first thing you notice is his big, broad smile. Donald De Line looks genuinely happy to be where he is, doing what he’s doing. It is no doubt one of the many reasons he’s had such a long, successful career in the entertainment industry. De Line began as a studio executive before transitioning to a full-time producer. He totally understands the symbiotic relationship between the two career paths and credits his time running studios with making him a more involved, aware and participatory producer.

De Line’s approach to his work is based on a collaborative style of leadership, which perfectly suits this easygoing, dedicated filmmaker. He loves being on set and looking after his crew by anticipating and solving problems. He also enjoys being part of the tight-knit family that forms during a production and is genuinely grateful for the friendships that come from working together.

De Line’s curiosity and varied interests are apparent when you look at the breadth of his films—

The Italian Job; I Love You, Man; Green Lantern and Ready Player One, to name a few. As a studio exec, he was tasked with coming up with a broad slate, and that mentality has informed his producing. He’s up for anything as long as it’s a great story. His openness carries over into his acceptance of and excitement about the rapidly changing production landscape and the emergence of streaming content.

True to form, De Line’s upcoming projects are an amalgam of interesting stories and perspectives. There’s the YA movie based on the classic book The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s a hybrid live action/CGI film. Then there’s Marian, a retelling of the Robin Hood myth from the perspective of Maid Marian. As De Line puts it, “It was really always the woman behind the man and not the man.” And he’s looking forward to a limited series called The Man in the Rockefeller Suit, the true story of a guy who impersonated being a Rockefeller for 20 years. Think a real-life version of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

So wherever your future film tastes lead you, expect to meet up with a smiling Donald De Line. I guarantee he’ll be happy to see you.


 

What first attracted you to the entertainment industry?

When I was a kid, my family’s big activity every weekend was going to the movies. It was something that as far back as I can remember, I looked forward to. There was lots of debate and discussion about it, as we pored over the theater section in the Saturday and Sunday papers. So it was just something that was always a big part of my life. I found it to be such a transportive experience; it was something that affected me emotionally in a huge way, and it was just always a big part of my life.

 

Was there anyone or anything in particular that inspired you early on?

The access I had to the movie business as a kid was from our elementary school library. It was a series of biographies of different famous people throughout history. One I discovered was on Cecil B. DeMille. So I read his biography to learn what a movie director and producer did and how that worked. And it was just fascinating to me. I realized that that was someone’s job and it opened my eyes to that world.

 

Really? In elementary school? That is so random.

 Yes. Cecil B. DeMille. It was in first or second grade. 

 

You started in the business as a studio executive. Was there anything in particular you learned as an executive that really helped your transition to producing?

Absolutely. First of all, I think any studio executive is a better studio executive if they’ve been a producer. And I think any producer is a better producer if they’ve been a studio executive. Because we work hand in glove, to really have an understanding of what goes on—on each side—behind the curtain, is very, very helpful. We need each other. So I felt that having 13 years under my belt as a studio executive was very useful for me in terms of developing skills to deal with people and in delegating. As a producer, you have to be a leader on the set. You’re the parent. Being an executive taught me a lot about how to walk onto a set and assume that role and make people feel supported, make them feel taken care of, appreciated, and valued for their time and effort. A happy cast and a happy crew are critical to the outcome of a film. You want people to do their best and give what they have at their highest level.

 

Do you enjoy spending time on the set?

Yes. I’m a producer who loves being on set. I get there at call in the morning. My job is to check in with the director, take a mood temperature, suss out whether or not everybody is happy, get a bead on any issues that might be brewing. Basically get the lay of the land. It’s so funny because I’m very close with my sister, and years ago when I transitioned from being a studio executive to being a producer, when I would call her she would say, “Oh, you must be on set.” I’d ask, “How do you know?” And she’d say, “Because you sound so happy. You’re always happiest when you’re on set.” There’s just something about the creative process and watching a film come to life that’s like nothing else. It’s incredibly satisfying.

 

I feel like if I were part of your team, I would really appreciate that involvement and support from the producer.

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback that way over the years, whether it’s from a makeup or hair person or a prop person—any aspect of production. And then I’ll hear stories about them having experienced the opposite. So yes, I do think it matters.

 

When you made that transition to producer, was there anything early on that surprised you?

[LAUGHS] Yeah. It surprised me how little I really knew about what went on in the actual making of a movie. As an executive, I had dealt with so many movies for so many years and visited lots of sets, watched lots of dailies and been involved in everything from developing scripts to seeing cuts of movies in postproduction. But to really be there behind the scenes and experience it is entirely different. It gave me great appreciation for what producers do. Of course, to a large degree, I already had that appreciation. I was very much an executive who valued strong producers, and I always felt they made my job much easier. I always slept better at night when I knew there was a strong producer on set.

Mark Wahlberg, Ari Emanuel, Michael Bay, De Line and Dwayne Johnson check out dailies on Pain & Gain

 

But once you jumped into it you had even more appreciation?

A hundred percent. It really opened my eyes to the way things get done—what it’s like for a director on a given day to be faced with so many decisions under great pressure. As an executive you can sit in an office and say, “Well, why doesn’t he or she just do X, Y or Z?” It’s really not that easy.

 

You have produced films from so many different genres. Heist movies, rom-coms, biopics, action thrillers—you’ve made them all. Do you have a favorite genre you tend to look for more than others?

It’s really interesting you bring that up. I’ve thought about that before, and I think part of it is a result of having been a studio executive for a long time before I was a producer. Because as a studio executive I had to have a slate of movies to put out every year, so there’s some for family, some comedy, some drama. And I was used to thinking of a broad slate of films. So when I became a producer I kind of approached developing that same way.

 

I was thinking about Ready Player One. I can only imagine that when you work with Steven Spielberg it puts a project in another dimension.

 Yes, it does.

Donald De Line on the Warner Bros. lot, where he has his production company


That being said, were there any particular lessons you learned that were specific to working with him, anything that made that a different experience?

He’s just amazing for the singular talent he brings to everything he does, not to mention his work ethic is incredible. He would get there two hours before the call time, already working with his editor before the crew arrived in the morning. During lunch he’d be back in the editing room or shooting on the motion capture stage. He never wasted a minute. It was really something to see. I’ve worked with a lot of different directors, and all directors are hardworking. You can’t direct if you’re not hardworking. But he really takes it to another level.           

 
In terms of problem solving, you said you like to be there in person, on the set. Is your process a collaborative one?

I absolutely view it as collaborative. Some people enjoy collaboration more than others. It’s important that it’s approached that way, though. It’s the only way it can happen correctly, really. So yes, I try to stay ahead of potential problems and potential pitfalls. I communicate a lot with the line producer, with the AD, with the heads of departments. I know what people’s issues are. I know what they’re worried about. I know if something is upcoming that will stress certain people out. I’m always looking for ways to make sure we continue on a smooth path and try to stave off something that could make us stumble. If you realize you’re not going to make your day, everyone will be pulling their scripts out trying to figure out what we might do more efficiently, what we might be able to cut, what we might be able to push along in the schedule. That’s part of what I love about it. It’s puzzle solving with a timer going, in the best way. [LAUGHS]

De Line enjoys a laugh with Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, in a scene from Going In Style


Is there anything that you haven’t done in your career that you still want to do—either in the industry or not?

Oh, that’s super interesting. I would like to write, whether it’s a screenplay or a novel. So much of my life is reading, whether it’s scripts or books, and so much of my material comes from books, so it’s all kind of interconnected in my brain. I love writers, and I have such respect for them. I’ve always wondered, “Could I do it? What would it be like?” I work with writers every day. I’d like to be able to put myself in their shoes and understand their process and their experience in a way that I don’t think I ever truly could unless I tried it myself. But that is something that I’ve just been too scared to try, so far.

 

It’s very intimidating, I think.

It is intimidating and yet I know plenty of people who all of a sudden I’ll run into—somebody who was a studio executive or a producer—and they’ll say, “Oh, I wrote a book.” Or “I sold a script.” And I think it’s the greatest thing in the world. It’s all about growing, learning, broadening your horizons in life. We only have a finite amount of time. And really, it’s something I would like to accomplish.

 

What do you like to do during downtime on a set, between takes?

If there’s not something that has to be paid attention to on the set, I’m trying to keep my other stuff going. So I’m either reading other projects, or reading what might become another project, or making calls back to my office and trying to stay up on business.

 

So you’re basically you’re doing work in between work?

 Exactly, exactly, yeah, just more work.

Michael Wright, Zak Penn, De Line and Steven Spielberg et to the point filming Ready Player One

 

What do you think is the hardest part about being a producer?

I suppose it’s balancing your responsibility to creatively do what’s best for the movie with being fiscally responsible to your financiers and staying within the box that you’ve agreed upon. That can be very tough and very challenging and put you in hard positions a lot of the time. It’s not always easy to make both sides happy. But I find that’s part of what’s fun about the job. You can always come up with a solution. And when you’re forced into going down a road where you thought, “No, this can never work,” oftentimes I’ve found the absolute best things have come from that. It leads to completely unexpected discoveries. A problem can be your greatest gift in disguise. Most importantly, a producer must always protect the story. We can never take our eyes off the story.

 

What are some other fun parts of the job?

I find one of the most thrilling things is I have a profound respect for editors, and I think brilliant editors are kind of the unsung heroes of our business. I’ve seen an editor create alchemy out of their own idea—their own thought about what a moment could be—that is completely brilliant and not what anyone intended, and then it turns out to be the best of all. I am just in awe of that. So I love the post production process and watching editors work. I love talking to editors about why they made choices or how they did things. I know what an editor can accomplish, and I think that most people don’t, and I wish they were better understood and celebrated.

 

What change in the industry have you embraced most?

I’m embracing all of the change that we’re in right now. We are in a difficult transition period with the shrinking of the traditional movie business. We are learning to adapt to a lot of new things and new ways of watching movies with the advent of the streamers. At first I was resistant. I’m now open and embracing of it. The appetite for smaller movies is diminishing at studios, but the streaming business is healthy and robust and wants those movies. And that’s a great thing. I don’t separate those two things anymore. I look at them all as just opportunities to tell good stories and get films made.

 

So does that mean you’re ready to tell your three acts in 10 minutes, like on Quibi?

You know what? I want to learn that form too—a complete experience in 10 minutes. That’s fantastic. I’ve never done it before. I’m game. That might be the most fun I’ve ever had!

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Strip Teed Off - Meet the Producing Team That's More In Sync Than A Pole-Dancing Routine

Posted By Kevin Perry, Friday, October 11, 2019

As the battle of the sexes rages through our human condition, we struggle to understand the other while simultaneously clamoring to define our own community. Who are we, what are we capable of, and how can we achieve the next stage in our collective evolution as the constant refrain of us-versus-them clouds our progress?

These questions are at the heart of Hustlers, and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas’ office is a hotbed of finger-pointing—but in the most gloriously upbeat way imaginable.

“These are two female producers who embraced each other’s strengths,” Goldsmith-Thomas beams as she points admiringly toward her producing partner-in-crime, Jessica Elbaum. “Make no mistake, this woman …”

“And this woman!” Elbaum can’t help but interject with her own declaration of solidarity, gesturing right back.

Maneuvering the praise train back on track, Goldsmith-Thomas continues, “I would work with her in a heartbeat. She has great taste. We make movies for everyone; we just happen to be women.”

The two producers pooled their considerable talent to bring Hustlers to lascivious life. The bad-girls-gone-worse tale depicts a cabal of opportunistic exotic dancers who prey upon their male clientele to bilk them of their cash made in the glitzy underbelly of Wall Street, circa the onset of the Great Recession.

“This is a movie, in my estimation, about the American dream. It’s about power, it’s about greed,” says Goldsmith-Thomas.  

Finishing the pitch, Elbaum adds, “The rise and fall.”

Their words dovetail effortlessly as Goldsmith-Thomas forges ahead. “It’s about people, who in this case happen to be a group of women, who played the game and then played too far, not unlike the Wall Street guys. Only these women probably got more punished. I wouldn’t say it’s female empowerment. I would say it’s about …”

“Getting what’s yours.” Elbaum once again punctuates her partner’s sentiment with femme finality.

Much like the characters in Hustlers, this producing pair has been alchemizing adversity into cinematic gold ever since they began charting their own respective filmmaking tracts. Goldsmith-Thomas worked as an agent for years, which is how she started her whirlwind collaboration with Jennifer Lopez. Meanwhile Elbaum had been yukking it up with comedy moguls Adam McKay and Will Ferrell.

Soon their destinies would converge around a true crime exposé about a gang of vigilante strippers.

Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York Magazine article, “The Hustlers at Scores,” set in the midst of the global economic meltdown of 2008, was going viral. “I had the article sent to me from Adam McKay,” recounts Elbaum. “And Jessica Pressler had sent it to him because she interviewed him right around The Big Short. So he forwarded it to me, and I knew right away that there was something there. I sat with Pressler and got the rights. We were off to the races. Shortly after, we hired Lorene to write it and then eventually direct it.”

Elbaum is referring to Lorene Scafaria, the visionary helmer of Hustlers, who was also on the radar of one Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas. “I had heard about Hustlers, I was tracking it, I was sort of doing my legwork, so it was divine providence that Lorene loved it and I was chasing it. It was one of those things where the ‘yes’ was within grasp, because for me everything is, ‘How hard do I have to work to get the yes?’ In a business of no.”

Jennifer Lopez gets direction from Lorene Scafaria on the set of Hustlers

One way to pave your path with success is to enlist the help of a true icon. “Lorene said from day one, ‘This has to be Jennifer Lopez. Ramona has to be Jennifer Lopez. She’s all I see when I write this, she’s all I see when I think about shooting this,’ and the dream came true.”

Goldsmith-Thomas echoes her director’s words, reminiscing about how J-Lo was “All in as a producer, all in as a star, understood and embraced it as a supporting role, saw it for what it could be and immediately gave notes. I can’t stress how involved Jennifer was and how much she believed in both Lorene and what this project was saying. It’s one of the things I love most about Jennifer, because she’s super smart. She didn’t do this for money; she did this because she knew who Ramona needed to be and the many layers of this very complicated character.”

Complexity proved to be a mighty sword, and its edges soon began to cut both ways. “What was tricky about this script is that the women, y’know, you root for them and then they go too far. They’re drugging people!” exclaims Goldsmith-Thomas. “We were uncompromising. We didn’t want to say that they only went after the rapists or the bad guys. They started with the bad guys, then they got greedy, much like the bad guys. It’s Wolf of Wall Street.”

Elbaum concurs, “The Wall Street guys didn’t only go after certain people. They didn’t give a shit! They went after innocent, gray-haired, anybody. It was like feast or famine.”

“I worked as hard as I’ve ever worked to help Lorene maintain her vision, to not compromise the truth of the story or the commerciality,” says Goldsmith-Thomas.  “This is hard, but it’s OK. It makes us work harder. It creates more of a mountain for us to blast through. There was a cartoon when I was young—this little kinda funny-lookin’ guy would go up to a mountain and scream, ‘Vavoom!’ And the mountain would blow apart. Like a little Super Mario guy. Then he’d sort of walk through and reach another mountain and go, ‘Vavoom!’ And I think that imprinted on me. It’s not like I shout at the mountains, but I look at them and strategically think, ‘OK, how do I get over this one?’”

As this question rang through the metaphorical creative canyons, a cavalry rode in to answer it. “Everybody brought something to the table,” adds Elbaum. “That’s what was so great about this team.”

“Lorene had a DP that she fought for,” extols Goldsmith-Thomas, heralding the cinematographic virtues of Todd Banhalz.

Producers Jessica Elbaum, Elained Goldsmith-Thomas (front) with executive producers Alex Brown, Pamela Thur

“Fought for!” seconds Elbaum. “She reached out to him, met with him very early on and they started setting the look even before we were green-lit. They had been working on this for years. We had a very truncated prep and it was go, go, go, but thankfully Lorene and Todd had been really at this for several months.”

In addition to their A-plus crew, there was more star wattage behind the scenes of Hustlers than most movies have on the screen. Will Ferrell was one of the film’s champions, and fellow producer Jennifer Lopez tried to entice him to join their proverbial lap dance. Goldsmith-Thomas recalls, “Will showed up on the set and everybody was so excited. Jennifer was like, ‘Put Will in the movie!’”

Lopez was also instrumental in wrangling one of the world’s hottest musicians to enlist in the mayhem. “Jennifer said, ‘You know who should do this—because she understands this story and she doesn’t judge these women, and she fundamentally inhabits it—is Cardi.’”

The Cardi in question is Ms. B herself, the first solo female artist to snag a Grammy for Best Rap Album, so she knows a thing or two about beating the men at their own game. “That’s why we wanted Cardi in it,” says Goldsmith-Thomas, “not just to make it an event, but she had great empathy for who these women were and was unapologetic. She understood why they did it. That’s hard.”

On the topic of difficulty, fitting into Cardi B’s calendar proved to be a herculean task. “Her schedule was so challenging, and she had concerts, and our schedule was so condensed,” Goldsmith-Thomas explains. “Cardi would do live Instagrams, and I would go, ‘Do Hustlers!’ I would go on Instagram.”

“That’s how we knew where she was,” Elbaum continues.

“And I would track her!” finishes Goldsmith-Thomas.

This zeal would soon pay off with a cast that rounded out the producers’ vision. The headliner was fresh off a year of acclaim and ceiling-shattering of her own, so they were thrilled when Constance Wu said yes. She was clearly right for the story. Crazy Rich Asians star Wu brings her signature mix of humor, savvy and vulnerability to the Hustlers leading role.

Surveying the resulting star power of their troupe, Elbaum calls the film “a movie that will be eventized so that people will leave their houses to go see it.”

“It was a very bumpy, rocky road,” she continues, “but really Elaine got this set up.”

Eschewing the spotlight in favor of humility, Goldsmith-Thomas responds, “We’re all sort of dancing, right? We’re all doing the dance, and I guess I would sort of pull back and say, ‘What does it take to get a movie made now?’ Forget about female or male. What does it take to get a movie, that isn’t a Marvel film, made?”

Gleefully answering the rhetorical throwdown, Elbaum sings, “Some dancin’!”

The exchange elicits a shared laugh between the two before Goldsmith-Thomas elaborates, “And it takes hustle. So you’re looking at the hustlers behind Hustlers.”

“It was a journey,” admits Elbaum, “but a journey that led us to finding each other and finding all the right people, and I think that it finally landed in the hands that it needed to be in.”

In fact, the quest often led the team upstream(ing), but they survived the deluge together. “I’ve never seen it as difficult as it is now, because we’re in transition,” Goldsmith-Thomas assesses. “We’re slowly becoming a streaming industry, which is fine, by the way. The streamers saw this script and loved it, but wanted it to be black and white, no shades. It’s not tied up in a bow. I would love to know what people think. It’s an amorality tale, so our heroes sometimes slip.”

When asked to predict their post-release fortune, she once again turns to Elbaum. “By October, I hope I’m in production, I hope you’re in post. I hope the world is a little bit happier and richer and clearer and that the mountains —for a minute—don’t need to be scaled.”

Mountain or no mountain, things are really looking up for the women who conquered Hustlers.

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Taking A Long View of Short-Form - Quibi and Others Are Counting On An Appetite For Mobile TV

Posted By Chris Thomes, Friday, October 11, 2019

In a world where it feels like there can never be enough content to satiate the ravenous “I want what I want when I want it” viewer, it seems that any content—even nontraditional programming—can find its legs and make a go of it. However, there is one area of programming that has yet to actually make it over the top of the hill without rolling back—which it has many, many times—premium small-screen programming.  

I have written about this format for the past several years, and the story is always the same. A wave of enthusiasm comes along, investment happens, jobs are created, content is produced, and then, without a sustainable business model, it all unravels. This wash, rinse, repeat cycle has included the wrecked ships of Disney’s Stage 9 and Maker Studios, Go90, Machinema and Vessel. While all of these platforms have tried and failed to find an audience for short-form video programming, it looks like “groundhog’s day” may actually be coming to an end. With a very serious $1 billion-plus programming budget, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s premium short-form platform, Quibi, leads this latest run at the windmill.

As a refresher, mobile content of this ilk is under 14 minutes, has high production value, is original or derivative in nature, and often serialized. Most of it to date has been lifestyle programming. Very rarely has scripted short-form made a go of it, but it did have its day a few years back. Spurred on by the launches of streaming services and content slates like Seeso, Fullscreen, ABC’s ABCd, and Comcast’s Watchable, dozens of short-form content studios emerged to capitalize on the voracious appetite for stories told in 10- to 15-minute increments. But the market was short-lived, as subscribers failed to materialize and digital advertising competition from Google and Facebook made it hard to recoup budgets.

However, as mobile consumption continues to grow, Hollywood’s digital producers have been turning their attention to a new crop of potential buyers with increasingly deeper pockets. Over the last two years, the major streamers (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu) started experimenting with show formats and lengths. Amazon funded Funny or Die’s short films, Netflix funded new episodes of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (which range from nine to 23 minutes each), and even Hulu started to populate ancillary short-form programming alongside its related main shows in the extras section.

Driving this momentum for the streamers is the notion that short-form series have started to become a cost-effective way to keep fickle young viewers engaged between, say, new seasons of Stranger Things or The Handmaid’s Tale. The average cost of a digital project is typically about $10,000 per minute, but that can stretch higher than $20,000 if a project or the talent (actors, writers, director) warrants. Those budgets might have been more than the digital ad market could bear in the early, sponsor-supported days of short-form, but they are a fraction of the billions of dollars that Netflix and other streamers spend on programming every year.

Professional organizations are also starting to recognize the seriousness of the short-form market. Our own PGA now honors short-form with its Outstanding Digital Series award, and the Television Academy has several Emmy categories for short-form programs including animation, drama, comedy, variety, and actress and actor in a short-form drama or comedy series.

All of this interest is dwarfed, though, by Quibi’s investment in the space.

Initially, Katzenberg raised nearly $600 million from investors to put up a shingle for his new digital media and technology investment firm WndrCo in early 2017. Then, at the tail end of 2018, having teamed up with former eBay CEO Whitman, Katzenberg launched Quibi, a short-form, mobile-based subscription streaming service that debuts next year.

With $1 billion in backing initially from the likes of Disney, WarnerMedia, Fox, Viacom and NBCU, among others, Katzenberg and Whitman started with a lot of muscle. And their approach has moxie, too. At the Produced By Conference this past June, Whitman touted that “We’re the first OTT service launched without acquiring a library,” which means all that investment will disappear pretty quickly as they ready their service for debut.

Quibi isn’t the only major player investing in this space. Former Lionsgate co-COO and Motion Picture Group co-president Steve Beeks and former Fox Division president Mike Dunn have launched Elemental Content And Solutions, a new short-form production and distribution company that will be a fulcrum for funding and creating live action and animated series, told in three- to five-minute segments. Like Quibi, they are betting the 18–34 demo will spark to a new way of consuming content—that is, in short bites.

Quibi will drop videos in seven-to 10-minute chunks, which is very similar to the 11-minute segments on television today in between ads. As with TV, monetization will come from advertising, but there will be no more than 2 ½ minutes’ worth of ads in an hour. There will be a 15-second ad pre-roll for a five- to 10-minute session, and for those less than five minutes, there will be less than a five-second ad.

Elemental’s content is shorter in length and its initial focus will be to align with mobile telecommunications carriers in high-growth international markets whose youthful customers are clamoring for such content. The early emphasis is overseas in Asia, South America and Europe, and their intention is to launch programming slates with those international carriers by the first half of next year.

While all of this sounds well and good, for the producer looking to capitalize on this market opportunity, there are some serious things to consider.

 

Is there a potential market for it? Absolutely.

Mobile video consumption continues to rise. Quibi’s bet is that it will have the ability to grab a percentage of viewers who are willing to pay for programming that’s far superior to YouTube and other social platforms. And with the general trend of consumers paying for streaming content, Quibi executives feel like they have a great shot at capturing on-the-go viewers. Their thinking is that if there are people who are watching more than an hour of video on their mobile devices every day, it’s not that crazy to believe that Quibi can get 2% to 4% of those consumers to a paid experience.

What are the deals like? Surprisingly generous.

Quibi’s deals are great for studios, but not necessarily for Quibi. As part of its deals, Quibi pays the cost of a show, plus a 20% production fee. For this, Quibi exclusively licenses the content in bite-size viewing form for seven years, after which the rights revert back to the creators and producers. But crucially, after two years on the service, creators will be able to edit the short-form version into one feature-length project and can sell the rights to international buyers. This innovative IP ownership model has upsides for both producers and platforms and stands in stark contrast to a streamer like Netflix, which takes all global rights for long periods of time. For producers, short-form has always felt challenging in terms of revenue streams, but Quibi offers a way to break out of that with potential real value for the producer and distributor.

Is there revenue to be had? People are starting to bet on it.

According to reports out this past July, Quibi has already booked $100 million in upfront ad deals from advertisers including Google, Procter & Gamble, Walmart and PepsiCo. Quibi’s starry and well-funded commissions give a clear sense of its ambition in the short-form market, while backing from both investors and advertisers suggests a high degree of confidence that it has the right ingredients to captivate audiences and generate impressions.

Does the viewer actually want short-form? That’s the million-dollar question.

Short-form, premium content may have the wind pointing in the right direction, but astute producers will wonder if it’s really filling a consumer need. Do people actually want premium short-form? Well, you could ask the same thing about the iPhone. There were plenty of mobile devices out there before the iPhone came along. What Apple did was make people want the iPhone. They created the desire for it by portraying it as a cultural phenomenon and tapping into the consumer’s sense of a cool factor.

Changing consumer behavior is not easy, and it takes a lot of money to create programming consumers will watch not just once, but many times—and hopefully recommend to friends. It will also take a lot of money to market it as a mainstream choice, something sorely missing from prior short-form efforts. Quibi and others are well aware of the hurdles, but they’re hoping their investments will get the train over the hill. And even if there is no consumer appetite yet, these new ventures are going to do their best to make you hungry.

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Winning The War - Producing Partners Never Give Up the Fight To Bring Their Current Project To The Screen

Posted By Katie Grant, Friday, October 11, 2019

What happens when a stellar script, straight from the Black List, gets made into a potentially great movie, only to have it caught in the crossfires of a notorious scandal around its formerly great, now uncredited, producer? In the case of The Current War, two of its producers, Basil Iwanyk and Timur Bekmambetov, never give up on that potential greatness, ultimately fronting their own funds for reshoots, recuts and rescoring the movie to restore the creative vision of the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. The story of how The Current War morphed into its existing form could be a movie all its own, complete with the hero saving the day at the 11th hour and a few fundamental lessons in what producing is all about.

“It’s just a good man who makes bad decisions in the search for greatness,” Iwanyk notes of The Current War’s main character, Thomas Edison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The Current War recounts the story of the cutthroat race among Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikolai Tesla to bring electricity to the Eastern Seaboard in the 1880s. “It was an absolutely beautiful script. I thought it felt like The Social Network, like a period movie that was done in such a contemporary, fresh way.”

The Current War producer Timur Bekmambetov

The Current War, initially a Weinstein Company production, was pushed for early release—apparently to beat the news of Harvey Weinstein’s past going public—in a rushed cut that did not fit with the director’s vision. After The Weinstein Company’s collapse, the film was shelved for two years, only to be saved by the William Morris Endeavor agency. Gomez-Rejon’s lawyer there found a contractual clause granting the director’s mentor, Martin Scorsese, final cut. Up until that point, Scorsese had yet to even see a cut. This gave Iwanyk and Bekmambetov a chance to move back in the direction of painting the competition among the three inventors as more a modern Bill Gates versus Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg versus the Winklevoss twins story than a mere period piece.

Iwanyk recalls, “The loophole came from WME and their lawyer, P.J. Shapiro. We never gave up, and they never gave up, and Benedict never gave up saying, ‘Okay, we are going to lock hands here and we’re going to figure this out.’ And remember, I’m friends with all these people but still, agents and producers are often on other sides of the table. On this one, we all got together and said, ‘We’re not going to allow this thing to die.’ And so I’d love to take credit for it with Timur and Alfonso, but I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the reps. They were amazing.”

Another amazing tale is how Bekmambetov found the story. “I had a dream to make a movie about Tesla for 10 years. I didn’t find a good story. And the first time I read Michael Mitnick’s screenplay, I finally understood that I should make a movie not about Tesla, but about Edison,” he explains. “We can understand Tesla better through Edison’s point of view. Every story I read was about some freaky, crazy guy and absolutely unrelatable. To make the story understandable you need that bridge. You need a normal guy with relatable weaknesses and talents.”

Both producers have serendipitous connections to Edison’s story. Iwanyk’s maternal grandmother actually lived next door to Edison in New Jersey, and his other grandmother worked for Westinghouse. Bekmambetov’s father and brother were both electrical engineers in the Soviet Union. He himself even went to the Moscow Power Engineering Institute. “I spent two years, and I was fired because I spent more time directing shows in the theater than studying electric stuff. Then I studied as a production designer for six years at the Alexander Ostrovsky Theatrical and Artistic Institute.”

As such, getting this story out there in the way the script promised, followingGomez-Rejon’s creative approach, was more than just a bone to pick for each of them. The way they collectively dug their heels in to get the movie back after the hasty original cut speaks to the power of producing.

Iwanyk says, “The dailies were amazing … in some ways, the dailies were so great, and the performances were so great, that it brought Harvey closer to the movie, because he smelled something that could be spectacular. And he held onto it really tight, and usually, when somebody holds onto something very tight, it becomes dysfunctional. And so our post process quickly became dysfunctional.”

Once that happened, Iwanyk’s approach was to keep going. “You can’t ever give up. And I believe so much in Alfonso, personally and professionally, and I saw what he did and sacrificed for the movie, that even on that level, I was never going to surrender.           

“But I also thought, ‘This movie could be great. And I’m not going to allow [anyone] to harm this movie.’ And I’ve got to tell you, there were incredibly dark days. And even when it’s at the most despairing, darkest place, if you believe in it, you just have to push forward.”

He continues, “I have to say, of all the movies that I’ve ever worked on in my entire career, I’ve never had a more cohesive and effective and functional relationship with the talent and their reps, as I’ve done in this movie. And so I have to hand it to Mike Simpson, Roger Green and Chris Donnelly on behalf of Alfonso, and Billy Lazarus on behalf of Benedict and Nick Hoult. We were all on the phone two, sometimes three, days a week. We were all in it together.”

That stick-to-itiveness comes honestly to each of these producers, who chose their own paths to storytelling through cinema. Iwanyk headed straight to a mailroom post at Warner Bros. after studying political science at Villanova. He knew he didn’t want to be a lawyer and wanted to give his passion for movies a shot. He fully assumed he’d be back in New Jersey a couple years later if it didn’t work out, but that was in 1992 and he’s still here, heading his company, Thunder Road Pictures.

DP Chung-hoon Chung, Stanley Townsend, Comez-Rejon

Iwanyk’s desire to tell stories through film came after he saw Ordinary People. “At first, I just enjoyed movies. For me, they were an incredible escape. It was Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the John Hughes movies. I was blown away by those movies. And then, as I got a little bit older, the first time I saw a movie that didn’t exist for my enjoyment and my entertainment—but existed for me to think about life differently—was Ordinary People. When I saw that movie, it shook me to the core.

“I thought, ‘This movie doesn’t exist just to thrill me. This movie exists for other reasons.’ And I think that was the first movie when I realized, ‘OK, this is a form. This is a way of storytelling that could go above and beyond entertainment.’ They could coexist, don’t get me wrong, but it was the first time I realized the emotional power of it.”

Iwanyk’s time at Warner Bros. taught him about three fundamentals of producing: one’s own point of view, relationships and writing notes. “The only thing you really have is your point of view, as an executive or as a producer, because we’re not writing or directing anything. So understand what that point of view is.

“Two, sometimes it’s about relationships and about trusting people. That, even though you may not be completely on board, you should trust in people who may be right. And then, the third thing was, they taught me how to write notes. I was writing five or six sets of notes a week. It was hell. It made you go into your instinct, and listen to yourself about why you’re not responding to certain things on a script or on a cut.”

Bekmambetov, on the other hand, started as a writer and ended up directing his own movie because he couldn’t find a satisfactory director. And the same was true for producing, “Then I couldn’t find a good producer to produce my next movie, and I became a producer myself. And since the end of the ‘90s, I’m directing and producing at the same time. It’s just about the freedom and to have responsibility. As you know, it is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.” His company, Bazelevs, produces movies and commercials and houses his creation, Screenlife, “an innovative digital language that tells a whole narrative within the frames of a screen.”

“I think for centuries our ancestors were trying to create a trust between people. Between people and nature, people and God, and the universe. I learned that the only way to create this trust is to tell stories. You can’t dictate what they should feel,” Bekmambetov explains, “You should just tell them the story. They will all love, cry, have fun or be scared. Just emotions. Emotions, a collective experience, help to create this kind of trust between people.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon with producer Basil Iwanyk

“And I believe we cannot save the world or change the world by creating rules or dictating. What we can do, as filmmakers, is just tell stories—emotional and touchable and inspiring stories. And these stories will change people. I believe this movie, The Current War, is a movie, which potentially will help people to understand how inspiring, but how dangerous is technology.”

Although the two producers had not previously worked together, and their producing roles were very different on The Current War—Bekmambetov as the one who generated the material and Iwanyk as the one on the ground to get the movie made—they became a really good team.

Bekmambetov explains, “I cannot imagine this movie being made without [Basil], because he is like the spine of the production process. I was involved more in development. I just inspired this, let’s say. He was literally in charge to drive this process. And he was, until the end, the driver. He did everything. It’s about his ability to force people to do what he thinks is right and to listen to what they’re saying, and to be able to find the elegant. That contribution is very important—to be creative as a producer. To find a way to make things happen.”

In the end, they both followed Iwanyk’s belief in betting on yourself. “On a financial level, if you have the opportunity, bet on yourself because, if it works, the windfall, financially, is great. So, don’t be afraid to spend your own money,” Iwanyk says.

On-set picture from The Current War

Self-financing is what helped save The Current War from the wrong creative road it went down in post. But they did much more than bet on themselves. They bet on the quality of the material, the caliber of the performances, the creativity of the camerawork and the vision of the director. Holding onto that vision is a job that both these producers take more seriously than most. They are hoping and betting that the rest of us respond positively, as they did, to the story of three historical visionaries. As Bekmambetov puts it, “We live in the world of these visionaries and inventors, and they will really change the future. They are the real heroes, not soldiers, not boxers, not politicians. I believe inventors are the most influential and attractive characters in today’s world.”

He adds, “It’s about cinema. Cinema is an unbelievable source of magic. You know, power. Of course, I’m just a part of the process. And that’s the case [for all] art, but specifically cinema. It’s like we’re dreaming for two hours. In that vein, it’s magic.”

The Current War can be seen as a collective invention of these two talented producers. They are hoping their creation will allow us to see ourselves in the magic reflected on the screen.

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It's Magic Time - Hawk Koch Conjures Up Some Captivating Memories

Posted By Rona Edwards, Friday, October 11, 2019

We know him as a former president of the Producers Guild of America. A past president and governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That’s the public Hawk Koch. But this accomplished industry veteran has a much bigger story. He grew up in Hollywood, the son and namesake of famous producer and beloved studio head Howard W. Koch. He immersed himself in the make-believe and magic of the movies even before he knew what his father did for a living or what would ultimately become his career. However, it wasn’t always easy living in the shadow of such a larger-than-life man, as he reveals in his new memoir, Magic Time: My Life in Hollywood, cowritten with his wife, Molly Jordan. “Magic time” is an expression Hawk overheard Jack Lemmon say before he’d shoot a scene—a mantra he himself adopted. The book was born out of his years of experience and the movies he helped make.

Hawk working with Roman Polanski and
Jack Nicholson on
Chinatown

Stories? He’s got a million of them. But this memoir is more than tales of show business and the enormously talented actors and directors Hawk has worked with. It’s really a coming-of-age story. He admits he “came from privilege but didn’t feel privileged at all.” On one of the first movies he worked on, Hawk overheard someone say the only reason he got the job was because his dad was the head of Paramount. “My heart just sunk, and then another guy said, ‘Yeah, but he’s really good and he’s working really hard, so why don’t you give him a break?’” Hawk recalls. “And I realized at that moment—I was like 19 years old—I had to do everything I could to try and not be just Howard Koch Jr., the son of Howard Koch, but Howard Koch Jr., a man all by himself.”

Hawk went to work achieving that success in his own right. From assistant director on movies such as The Way We Were (1973), Chinatown (1974), Marathon Man (1976), Heaven Can Wait (1978)—which he also produced—to producing The Idolmaker (1980), Wayne’s World (1992) and Primal Fear (1996), he’s been involved with more than 65 feature films. Streisand, Redford, Fonda, Beatty, Coppola, Pollack, Schlesinger, Polanski—Hawk has worked with a who’s who of Hollywood. “I am one of the luckiest guys in the world,” he says. Luck, though, is only part of the equation. His experience and know-how brought him a long way, too.

“The book is about the fun ups and downs of making films as well as the ups and downs of dealing with a father who was the most-loved man in Hollywood,” says Hawk. “When I was introduced to somebody, they didn’t say ‘hi.’ They said, ‘You must be so proud to be the son of the most wonderful man I’ve ever met.’”

Hawk with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau from The Odd Couple

A real turning point came when Hawk had his bar mitzvah … at age 50. The transformation that happens for most boys at age 13 happened to Hawk later in life. It was truly a rite of passage that changed everything for him—including his name. It was while sitting across from the rabbi that he realized he could have his own name, and not carry his father’s as he had for 49 years. It dawned on him that he used to write his initials HWK on his schoolbooks, and the kids nicknamed him “Hawk.”

“Hawks,” the rabbi told him, “can see from horizon to horizon at the same time, and they have the ability to see a mouse from a mile away. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if you could see the panoramic of your life and the detail all at the same time?” After he changed his name, people really saw him for the first time; separate, and not as someone’s son.

When asked what it takes to be a good producer, Hawk has some acute observations. “I think that being an assistant director really taught me how to be a good producer, because an AD has to look at all the options and be ready for anything that’s going to happen. When I used to break down a script, I used to see everything and know if the weather’s bad, we’re going to go here; if the actress is not happy in the morning, maybe we can go this way; if the actor has a fight with someone—well what do we do? It’s all what-ifs, and I think I was taught by some pretty damn good ADs ahead of me how to always look at every single thing that could go wrong and keep on the same track if everything’s going right.” He continues thoughtfully, “As a producer, I read the scene that is going to be shot that day to make sure I know the reason why it’s being shot. If it’s not important, it shouldn’t be shot.” In other words, let everyone else worry and focus on what they need to do. A producer needs look at the big picture, making  sure they get what’s important to the story.

Although the book is very personal, the tales Hawk tells about making movies are sure to attract the most avid cinephile. From escorting Natalie Wood to the set, to planning and shooting a real football game in Heaven Can Wait, this is a treasure trove of iconic moments in modern Hollywood history.

When Francis Ford Coppola was about to direct Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), it was up to Hawk to get the wildly creative director to make decisions in preproduction in order to keep the film on budget. He put together a manual of what had to be done to prepare for the shoot, which basically stated, “that no piece of lumber, no nail, could be hammered on any set until the plans had been drawn, estimated and come in within budget.” All the department heads had to sign those blueprints, and all had to be signed off by Coppola before production began. The bottom of the contract concluded, “The director has the right to change his mind.” Coppola agreed. On set, Coppola was surprised that no one asked him any questions. Hawk reassured him, “That’s the idea, because you’ve prepped everything. The only thing you have to worry about now is the actors and where to put your camera.” Hawk has used that formula on most every movie since. “I’ve always said ‘our vision.’ I’ve always said when movies go over budget or when movies don’t work, the studio, the director, the producer and the actors didn’t have the same vision. When they all have the same vision, that’s when it really works.”

Hawk with Francis Ford Coppola on the set of Peggy Sue Got Married 

A driving force behind the PGA’s Producers Mark with Vance Van Petten and Mark Gordon, Hawk, alongside Kathleen Kennedy, Lawrence Gordon and Mark Johnson, also urged the Academy to use the PGA’s arbitration system for its Oscar eligibility. “The Mark is the thing I’m most proud of, other than my children. We’ve changed the culture. We’re the producers of the 21st century, and the Producers Mark works, and the real producer has respect.” However, he says there is more work to do. “We need to get the Producers Mark for streaming and TV. We need to constantly look forward and not look back. The business is changing faster than ever, and we just need to keep abreast of it.”

Hawk goes on to share his aspirations for the PGA. “Everyone in our Guild needs to be protected by all of us. We are not a collective bargaining group, so the only way we stay together and the only way that we help is to help one another. I hope that everybody knows that the Guild through its volunteers, from the presidents on down, survives because of all of us, not just one person. We are all in it together.”

 

Magic Time: My Life in Hollywood comes out November 12. 

Magic Time is loaded with Hawk’s own personal pearls of wisdom, including these five tenets:

1)    Have fun!

2)    Work with people you like. Be in a relationship with someone you like.

3)    Do something that matters.

4)    Have courage. Don’t live in fear.

5)    Live your dream. Who am I? What do I truly want to be?  And if you had one minute to live, ask yourself, did I live the life I wanted to or the one I was supposed to?

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Celebrating Innovation - From The Executive Directors

Posted By Vance Van Petten & Susan Sprung, Friday, October 11, 2019

As National Executive Directors of the Producers Guild, we are constantly amazed by the innovative and meaningful content our members create. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the growing number of members producing “new media.” Defined by the PGA nearly 20 years ago, new media remains the most descriptive and inclusive way of referencing productions that are forced into existence from a landscape that’s constantly changing to include more progressive formats, techniques and delivery options. Key to the success of these projects is elevating the viewing experience of the audience—whether it’s giving them an opportunity to interact and make choices that alter the outcome of a story or placing them in an immersive environment.  

It’s an exciting time, and the Guild is honored to recognize outstanding new media producers by announcing the creation of The PGA Innovation Award. Going forward, this will be an official category of the Producer Guild Awards. 

We’re very grateful to the entire New Media Council, especially Vice President Jenni Ogden and John Canning. We’d also like to recognize New Media Council delegate Chris Thomes for all his hard work in spearheading the creation of the award.

We feel it’s important as a Guild to demonstrate our support and commitment to the many talented producers of new media and look forward to bringing even more attention to their projects in mixed reality, immersive and interactive storytelling. These groundbreaking producers add new dimension to our profession with works that are innovative and challenge the status quo.

Acknowledging the importance of the producing team, the award will be given to a program as a whole, rather than an individual producer. All entries will be reviewed and voted on by a blue-ribbon jury of 13 distinguished leaders in the field of new media.

The Guild is extremely proud of the rapid growth we’ve seen within the New Media Council and the many ways its Board serves our members. With the Innovation Award, we’re happy for the opportunity to publicly honor their outstanding work.


 

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FIRST PERSON - A Commitment Beyond The Camera: A Producer Uses His Vision To Empower Inner-City Kids

Posted By Vince Allen, Friday, October 11, 2019

The World of Production Is a World of Transferable Skills

No matter what kind of entertainment content we produce, situations that need problem solving always arise. Years of experience in this industry have taught me to expect the unexpected. A producer’s job is to make sure all the pieces of a project come together. The road to the finished product, however, is seldom easy. Not only have I gained experience with budgeting, casting, financing, scheduling, location scouting and various elements that go into preproduction, but I have also been thrown into situations that require skills beyond the entertainment medium. I have learned the true value of kindness and persistence in everything I do. I’ve found that projecting an aura of patience and understanding is the best answer to dealing with uncomfortable situations. Some people may not seem deserving of this kindness, but at the end of the day, we have to realize that we are all equal. There are so many experiences and lessons to be gained from living the life of a producer.

 

There Is Always More to Learn

My journey in self-growth and knowledge does not end with production. I continually educate myself in things that I’m passionate about. To have passion toward something is one of the greatest advantages a person can have. “It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live,” is a quote by Mae Jemison that I think expresses my philosophy well. If there is something I am interested in, I will make it a point to learn more about it so I can make it a part of my life. A willingness to learn new things can open up a world of opportunities. First, you are preparing yourself to gain more skill than you had prior. Second, you become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Third, to realize you have passion is an incredible gift because you have a drive that many people struggle to gain.

 

My Commitment Beyond Producing

Eight years ago, I helped initiate Engage the Vision (EngageTheVision.org)—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization of which I am the president. Engage the Vision (ETV) is a mentorship program for elementary students in low-income minority neighborhoods. The program was started in Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles. I, along with a few others, walked into MLK to talk with the principal about the school’s needs and how we could help. We discovered that many young boys in the school did not have positive male role models present in their lives. This sparked the creation of ETV and its Young Kings program. Our mission is to encourage and empower youth through consistent, weekly mentoring; educate and liberate inner-city boys, girls and their families to reach their highest potential; and build strong, effective, self-sufficient and safe communities where everyone is uplifted. We have recently expanded our program to include female students—our Young Queens. Engage the Vision elevates students toward positive future growth by providing the groundwork for maintaining balanced relationships, establishing effective decision-making skills and living a healthier lifestyle. We have created this organization with love, and we aim to provide an environment that teaches its Young Kings and Queens to love, respect and lift each other up toward success.


Finding Balance

Engage the Vision has been a life-changing experience, and I have loved every second of it. There is no greater joy than seeing the appreciation our kids have for the program. It is always heartwarming to hear how ETV has provided an environment of safety, happiness and excitement for our Kings and Queens. I would not trade the time I have committed to ETV for anything, but I do admit that finding a balance between this organization and my career as a producer can be challenging at times. I have placed my whole heart in both my work and Engage the Vision. It can be difficult to give both equal time and attention. When I feel my heart is torn, I remind myself that all I can do is my best. Giving my energy to my career and the nonprofit is what brings me joy in life.

 

Letting Go

For anyone interested in joining the entertainment industry, it’s important to remember that the world of production can be stressful, intense and fast-paced. It is valuable to go in with this understanding, to keep a thick skin and always remember to have fun in everything you do. Do not take anything too personally. Because tensions can run high in the midst of production, let curt direction and sometimes rude conversation roll off your back, because at the end of the day you will discover that none of it was meant to come off that way. Take the opportunity to work with your peers and also give opportunities to those who are deserving but may not have the connections that you do. You do not always have to work with big names because you think it looks more impressive. What is impressive is gaining new understandings from people in the same position as you that you can use to excel in the future. Lastly, make sure to treat everyone you encounter with kindness, patience and respect. I have found this advice never fails—whether you’re working in a paid profession or volunteering your time.

 

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 producedbymag@producersguild.org.

 

 

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OPEN DOORS - Universal Connection: How To Find A Diverse, Local Crew Anywhere in the World

Posted By Lisa Kors, Friday, October 11, 2019

You need a crew and you need it fast. You’ve got 48 hours to find a female DP who speaks Farsi in Fargo. The clock’s ticking—what’s a producer to do? On top of that, you’re looking to hire a diverse crew.

While more-experienced producers may have a deep bench of talent to call on, newer producers often don’t. For many, the first stop is an online resource like Staff Me Up. With its free job posting service, producers can find everything from a sound mixer in Seattle to a makeup artist in Minnesota. The reach of this website can also be helpful when trying to find crew in remote places. There are 150,000 monthly active users on the site. They are required to maintain their current availability so producers can see who’s free in real time.

But as every producer knows, time is money. Sites like Staff Me Up and others often put producers at the mercy of subscribers who happen to catch their ad on any given day. And the response rate can be uneven—from scant replies to an avalanche of candidates. If turnaround time is tight, it may be hard to cull the hundreds of replies down to a few standout players and vet them fast.

Enter the production Facebook groups. Private groups have sprung up to cover the entire staffing spectrum from “I Need a Producer” (popular with reality TV producers) to “I Need a Fixer,” “I Need an Editor” and “I Need a PA.”

Dana Melton, a Supervising Producer at All3 Media, finds “I Need A Producer” an invaluable tool when she has to make quick hires. “It’s a closed group, so not just anyone is on there,” Melton says. “They have to know someone already on it to get approved. Also, my friends in the group give me comments on people they know who’ve responded to my listing. So I usually get two or three qualified candidates with personal recommendations.”

But what if a producer needs to hire an entire call sheet, including security and catering companies, while also keeping an eye on diversity? The past best practice of simply rifling through a Rolodex to rehire your crew favorites isn’t usually a great option.

The latest player in the staffing game is Crewvie. The brainchild of PGA members Marcei Brown and Jeanette Volturno, it was built, created and is fully owned by women. Their ah-ha moment came when they were in remote locations that weren’t production-friendly and had to staff up fast. "I was literally sitting on a boat off of an island in Fiji and texting Marcei ideas for this site" says Volturno. “We realized there was a need for a database that connected people around the world with diverse, local crews and vendors.”

With its one-stop shopping approach, Crewvie is positioning itself to become a leader in inclusive hiring for your entire call sheet. It has an array of filtering parameters that can help producers find diverse candidates for each position, as well as a “Dream Team” feature that allows them to quickly earmark crew and vendors they like. Dream Team lists are private unless the creator opts to share them with other members.

What all these tools have in common is that they make inclusive hiring incredibly easy for producers working at any scale—from student films to tentpole blockbusters. The sites are simple to navigate and free or low-cost to use. So get searching—the Latinx drone operator you need in Dubai could be just a click away.

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ODD NUMBERS - We Love To Hate Them

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 11, 2019

A new villain is hitting the big screen this fall. When it comes to box office appeal, one thing seems certain —it's good to be bad.

 

 

 

 

Survey results are a completely unscientific sampling of responses from PGA members, their friends and social media. Join in the fun. We welcome your vote at producersguild.org/oddnumbers

- illustrated by Ajay Peckham

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THE INTERACTIVE FUTURE- 5 Tips For Creating Choice-Driven Content

Posted By Alon Benari, Friday, October 11, 2019

Interactive movies, television and ads are here to stay. While Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch thrust the medium into the mainstream, storytellers have been creating this type of content for decades. In the ’70s, it was participatory role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. The ’80s brought the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and more recently, video games incorporating narrative choices like those from Telltale Games found great success.  

Now as a new wave of television and film producers start making choice-driven entertainment for the first time, how does one evolve from writing linear narratives to providing a meaningful level of choice for an audience? Here are five things creators need to keep in mind to make successful interactive content. 

 

1) Give viewers a clear role

Any main character, whether protagonist or antagonist, needs a clear role and objective (think of Luke Skywalker’s drive to destroy the Death Star, or Darth Vader’s desire to protect it). When viewers know exactly who they are “playing” and how they’re expected to participate, they have a reason to care and to choose one path over another. This helps viewers invest in the story emotionally and feel they have a real stake in its outcome. 

It’s not just about engagement and “stickiness,” but about emotional connection to the content. When viewers buy in on an emotional level, they are more likely to stay with your story to the end. 

 

2) Provide compelling choices

When trying to determine if a choice is meaningful enough, ask yourself if the options presented will create conflict in the viewer. Conflict makes choices emotionally impactful and meaningful. It also makes viewers wonder what would have happened if they had chosen a different path. This investment in turn inspires replayability and also drives conversation with the viewer’s friends about the differences in their choices and the results. 

To ensure compelling options, avoid clear and easy answers, choices that are just two ways of saying the same thing, and arbitrary choices—go right or go left, for instance. To help you track the choices your viewers make and where each choice takes the story, consider creating a branching narrative map, like this one.

  

 

3) Make sure the viewers’ choices count

The choices a viewer makes should have an impact. Key to delivering on the promise of truly meaningful choice is showing viewers that their decisions had a real effect in shaping the story and characters. 

Immediate feedback after a choice has been made is crucial, both in the interface—via a button or sound or animation—and in the story itself. Just like when a user clicks on a website link and expects to navigate to that destination swiftly, so must your interface and story respond to the user’s selections. Most importantly, make sure the final outcome of the story is actually shaped by at least some of the viewer’s choices. They have invested time and attention in your content, and you must pay them back by letting them feel it was worth it. 

 

4) Keep interactivity seamless

When presenting choices and branches in a story (the point at which the viewer makes a decision that takes the narrative in a specific direction)make sure the flow of the video remains smooth and seamless. Immersion in the narrative is key, but things like clunky interfaces, long awkward pauses or choppy editing will pull viewers out of it. When a choice is presented on-screen and the viewer is making their decision, let characters keep talking or let the action continue in the background. Pay careful attention to the way you edit the branching points after a viewer’s choice. It’s key that the “fork in the road” is not noticeable.

 

5) Make it interactive from start to finish

This may sound basic, but it’s important to keep in mind that you are creating an interactive experience and need to deliver on that. The audience has agreed to participate. They are leaning in and waiting to interact with your characters and story. If you don’t deliver with choice and interactivity, they will slide back into a passive viewing experience. Start the interactions early and keep them coming! 

By following these five tips, storytellers, producers and narrative designers of any background can bring meaningful interactivity to their entertainment projects. The future of entertainment is choice-driven. Don’t be left behind.

 

Alon Benari is the Chief Creative officer at eko, a media and technology company specializing in choice-driven entertainment.

 

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MENTORING MATTERS - The Transformative Power of Mentoring: Programs Offered by the PGA and How You Can Contribute

Posted By Bhavani Rao, Friday, October 11, 2019

A guru is often viewed as one of the most sought-after teachers a person can have. They are masters in their field, and with their guidance you can evolve to the next level. There are many versions of a guru, one of them being a mentor. A mentorship is a journey and a partnership in evolution for both mentor and mentee. At the PGA, we want to empower our members with the tools they need to create their stories and tell them confidently in bold new ways.

The PGA Mentoring Committee oversees the popular PGA Mentorship Programs, which run throughout the year. These have been hugely successful in pairing people in the feature film, television production, reality and new media genres.

The beauty of PGA mentorships is that each one is unique—not just the programs themselves but how you the members interact and learn from your mentors and fellow members.


One-on-One

This program pairs up-and-coming producers with experienced PGA members. It also works for already-seasoned producers who might be looking to transition into another field. The mentor-mentee pairs meet or have detailed phone calls and emails at least three times over the six-month mentorship period. Often these relationships last well beyond the actual program.

Morning Mentors

This is the perfect combination of a little nosh and some great insight and advice. Highly regarded producers come in bright and early to have intimate conversations with small groups of PGA members about their area of expertise.

Base Camp

This was created to help fill the gap between reality, documentary, talk and digital producers looking to transition into scripted/episodic fare. Base Camp is a 10-plus-week program. Unlike one-on-one sessions, Base Camp is a practical training program with homework, pop quizzes and guest speakers, supplying our members with the tools they need to make it in the scripted world. The program has mainly been focused on TV, but we are introducing our film program later this year.

Shadow Program

This is the most coveted and prestigious mentoring program at the PGA. It is a unique opportunity for members to shadow mentors as they go about their day-to-day work routine. By covering all aspects of production, the mentee gets an opportunity to “live” in the world they aspire to work in on a large scale.

What you can do for the PGA Mentorship Committee

We need more committee members willing to help us with finding mentors, running programs and volunteering at events. These programs can only grow and improve if members are willing to step up and help. And we’re always looking for new mentors for all of our programs! If you are on a show and can offer a shadow, we want you. If you have time to work with a mentee one-on-one, we need you. If you love to teach, come help at our Base Camps. Or if you simply have time in the morning to offer advice over coffee and a bagel, let us know.

 

If you have specific questions, email us at pgamentorapps@gmail.com.

For general information, go to producersguild.org/members/group.aspx?id=150375

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GOING GREEN - Envisioning A Greener Future: Film Students In Kenya Confront Climate Change

Posted By Katie Carpenter, Friday, October 11, 2019

Picture this: a young African woman is racing down a stretch of savanna, baseball hat, blouse drifting behind her, armed with a butterfly net. As the glare clears from the lens, we see she is chasing a bright orange butterfly, weaving in the sub-Saharan sun. Ivy is laughing at her companion, another Kenyan entomologist. He can’t keep up with his swift lab partner. “Run, run, run,” she chides in her African lilt, laughing as she leaps forward to catch her prey.

The African queen butterfly the two scientists take back to their bush lab at the Mpala Research Center tells a story of the global pollinator crisis and the impact of climate change on our world. The drama will unfold in a stunning film, with shallow depth of field, bright colors, photogenic locations and catchy African rhythms. Best of all, it’s a tale told through a character unquestionably ready for her close-up.

Maybe Hollywood could use a dose of Ivy.

“Why Is Hollywood So Scared of Climate Change?” That was the headline on a recent New York Times article, and when I was called for a response, I did a little research. Only three studies pop up on the topic of why more stories about climate change don’t appear in U.S. film or TV. The results are stark. One study determined that out of more than 800 movies released last year, the total with foreground climate themes was three.

Most blockbusters that touch on environmental themes are focused on conflict, politics or mayhem. Avengers: Infinity War and Aquaman come to mind—hardly the level of engagement in the issue we’re looking for. I recall a thoughtful scene on a farm in Interstellar, and a symbolic storm in Beasts of the Southern Wild. We can’t overlook Downsizing from 2017 or Young Ones in 2014. Still, a paltry showing.

If features tend to ignore climate change, you might think television news surely must be on the case. But just when experts are predicting worsening impacts from climate change, we learn from Media Matters that “Broadcast TV news coverage of climate change plummeted 45% from 2017 to 2018, even as the climate crisis steadily worsened.” One studio exec told me the lack of coverage is largely because climate is still a divisive issue, and producers and studios need to sell tickets or get high ratings. This year, though, the UN reported that sea level is rising faster than expected—temperatures too. Can we doubt there is human drama in that?

I was recently in Kenya teaching documentary film to a class of American and Kenyan undergraduates in the Princeton Global Seminar. They learned camera, sound and editing, but also how to create innovative films about climate and conservation that would engage audiences around the world, in spite of the clear resistance and polarization.

I saw an opportunity to conduct an experiment: Could fresh young minds with movie cameras and a passion for wildlife and wilderness take on climate and conservation differently? Could they get their films to reach beyond “the converted” audience and out to audiences everywhere?

Five hours north of Nairobi in rural Laikipia County, stories of drought, hunger, thirst and endangered wildlife reign. There are also powerful tales of resilience and compassion. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking and mesmerizing country, a frame that is rich with opportunities to talk about climate change and conservation without dividing audiences. I have spent quite a bit of time in Africa, producing films about elephant poaching, flamingos in decline, crocodiles hunted for their skins and other endangered species.

Now the lens needs to be widened, for none of those stories is complete without addressing climate change.

To prime the students, we spent the first week tucked away in a rustic classroom, serenaded by noisy hornbills and pinstriped guinea fowl, screening the great and the near-great of environmental documentaries. We diagrammed them, discussed them and evaluated their elements, asking why they thought some succeeded and others failed.

After that first week, the bleary-eyed novice filmmakers began high-end camera training, research and interviews. Some of the scientists we shared our campus with came to talk about the reality of African environmental issues. The most often repeated stories were about the increase in human-wildlife conflict and scarcity of water. These were dark themes, and bringing them to life in engaging ways would be a challenge. Two weeks in, the students launched the production of their film projects, each an eight- to 10-minute “conservation short” on a globally relevant topic.

In the end, the students produced short works of surprising power. Their films were original, refreshing and bordering on radical. The film about butterflies brought tears to our eyes. Another about small farmers standing their ground in a fight for water—while the supply is declining and mechanized farms are using huge pumps to steal it out of the river that runs between them—brought us to our feet. The personal profiles of a charismatic ranger and a wildlife veterinarian conveyed the looming extinction of the northern white rhino. The last two on the planet were located on a nearby reserve. Climate change was a plotline in every film. We were blown away.

The productions were low-impact, with almost no environmental damage. No animals were harmed, no climate was changed. Instead of huge Range Rover Defender safari vehicles, choppers and small planes, this group shot using cargo-carrying bicycles called  boda boda bikes and a small drone operating on rechargeable batteries. We lit our night shots with headlamps. We had no printed scripts, no plastic and we recycled everything. We drank rainwater and cooked over a fire.

Clearly that would be hard to duplicate in Hollywood, but we need to up our game. Our films have to be more persuasive, cheaper, greener. We need to work with purpose, compassion and ingenuity, while telling a great story with amazing characters. Box office numbers and ratings will come. 

Maybe this is the year conservation shorts will break out. This fall, filmmakers, network heads and foreign buyers will gather at the Jackson Hole Wild Film Festival to celebrate environmental films. I have won at Jackson with two of my recent films, on elephant poaching and ocean conservation. This time I’m judging the category of Conservation Shorts, which includes an entry from Richard Branson on endangered rhinos, along with others on rising sea levels and burning rainforests and their impact on wildlife.

I’m delighted that some of the participants in our Mpala film course applied to travel to the festival from Kenya to learn more about filmmaking in the wild from the veterans. The rich programming to be offered at Jackson Wild is tantalizing, and yet the Mpala students might have more to teach than they have to learn.

 

Green production guidelines, vendors and inspiration can be found at  www.greenproductionguide.com

- Top image photographed by Gerson Leiva
 Box image photographed by Brady Valashinas

 

 

 

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ABOVE & BEYOND - A Learning Experience: The Rewards of Chairing the PGA Education Committee

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 11, 2019

Educational programming is one of the premium benefits of the Producers Guild. Seminars, master classes and salons are designed to provide our members with up-to-date information geared toward producers. Rebecca Graham Forde and Pam Keller are the current Co-chairs of the Education Committee (West). Both have been on multiple committees for several years. Amazing volunteers like them—giving their time, energy and expertise to fellow members—are the backbone of the Guild.

Rebecca Graham Forde has been a PGA member for 13 years. Her volunteerism has included the Diversity, International and Mentorship committees. She has also served as AP Council Chair and Vice Chair. “Serving as Co-Chair for the Education Committee with Pamela Keller has been an incredible opportunity to help shape and deliver educational programming for our entire membership,” says Rebecca. She goes on to explain that she always gets something out of volunteering, like making a new connection or learning new things about our business. Her best Guild experience has been the annual Power of Diversity Master Workshop, where she continues to be a mentor year after year. “It’s the best-kept secret in the business, and the people both on the committee and those who have passed through the workshop are some of the best people I’ve met.”

Our business is constantly changing, and Rebecca feels getting involved helps keep her on the cusp of what is new. She also believes there is a place for everyone to help out in the PGA. When she is not volunteering for the Guild, Rebecca is a “professional cat herder, plate spinner and wordsmith.” Currently she is the Co-EP on multiple series for Discovery Channel/Pilgrim Media group.

Pam Keller is another longtime member who has been very involved on the AP Council Board of Delegates for six years, last year as a Vice Chair. She also served on the National Board of Directors for four years. Previously Pam was the Chair of the Rough Cuts West Committee and served as Volunteer Coordinator for the Produced By Conference for many years. Pam volunteers because she wants to do whatever she can to “ensure inclusive, safe working environments” as well as “truth in credits" for the producing community. Pam believes it’s also a great way to network and help support the Guild. One of her most memorable PGA volunteer experiences was last year at the 2018 Produced By Conference, serving as a mentor at the Producers Mashup. “Vance asked me to participate and had kind words, calling it a full-circle experience since I worked the conference the first four years.” Pam is currently writing and developing her own projects as well as doing freelance production consulting.

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BOSPOAT - Best On Set Photo Of All Time: Last Shot Of The Last Movie Star

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 11, 2019

It was July 2018, just two months before we would lose one of the most prolific and popular actors of this generation—Burt Reynolds—and he was working right up until the end. Reynolds was being interviewed for a documentary called Movie Money CONFIDENTIAL. It explored the intersection of filmmaking and financing, particularly how to raise money for low-budget and independent movies. The production schedule was very tight, and the filmmakers weren’t sure they would be able to include Reynolds. He had been extremely busy promoting The Last Movie Star and prepping for Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood. Scott Dupont, PGA member and one of the producers, explains: “The last week of filming we got a call that Mr. Reynolds agreed, on two conditions—that the interview take place at the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film & Theatre and that his Master Class students be in attendance.”

So it was a moment when DuPont was slating for the cameras that another producer, Maggie Pamplin, captured this classic shot of Reynolds doing his interview. Sitting across from him was the director and a room full of the actor’s students. DuPont says, “His passion for teaching the next generation of filmmakers was palpable. Even with the large audience of students and crew during the interview, you could hear a pin drop.”

Growing up near Reynolds on Jupiter Island, Florida, DuPont always dreamed of working with the star. When the movie debuted, he summed up his feelings for the project, saying “I hope this new documentary will inspire and empower the next generation of filmmakers and hope that Buddy—as his friends called him—would be proud.”

This touching photo captures the actor doing what he loved best, performing and teaching. It’s a picture-perfect ending to a life well lived.

 


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.

 

- View other BOSPOAT winners here.

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