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STEPHANIE ALLAIN - She's A Powerhouse Producer And Guiding Force In The PGA

Posted By Peggy Jo Abraham, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

When your first movie is the incredibly well-received Boyz n the Hood and now you’re producing the Academy Awards, it’s absolutely clear you are doing something right. Producer Stephanie Allain and her Homegrown Pictures are in this enviable position, after much hard work and dedication to a vision. Her award-winning films have repeatedly pushed the envelope in terms of social issues, race relations and politics.

Diversity is not just a buzzword for Allain—it’s a commitment to inclusivity. She is drawn to stories (Dear White People, Hustle & Flow) about those who are underrepresented—women, people of color, LGBTQ, people with disabilities. The filmmaker pursues this goal, not only through her work on screen but within the organizations she supports, the positions she volunteers for and the people she champions. Allain lives in a world where “art meets idealism, activism and purpose.” It’s a rich, creative environment, one that keeps her busy and always pushing forward.

We have another great reason for celebrating this talented lady. Allain is an active, devoted member of the PGA, who serves on our National Board of Directors. She sets a wonderful example for both veterans and new members of the Guild. Her energy, passion and expertise are always a welcome addition to any project, meeting or event.

If that’s not enough talent wrapped in one package, consider this: The New Orleans native, who comes from a long line of strong Creole women, can cook up a mean batch of gumbo or red beans and rice. Add to the mix two children who are in the movie business and working with her on projects, a stepdaughter who is a photographer and a first grandchild on the way. Yes, life is sweet for this hardworking producer who is more than ready to meet the next decade with an abundance of ideas and energy. Allain’s enthusiasm is apparent in the lively images we captured at one of her favorite haunts—The Underground Museum in the LA neighborhood of Arlington Heights.


You began your career as a script reader. What was the most valuable part of that in preparing you to be a producer?

It was an incredibly valuable experience. I started as a book reader at CAA. After reading the latest manuscript in galley form, I’d bang out a synopsis, then write a paragraph of comments. I must have covered hundreds of books and scripts. By mastering coverage, I taught myself to succinctly pitch the movie, recap the major bones of the story, think about character development and make a decision in terms of “Can this translate to the screen?” These are the tools I use every day as a producer—evaluating material and articulating what works and what doesn’t. And that’s what my reading work taught me.

                 

What a great way to start. Then you rose through the ranks to become a studio executive. Does that kind of path actually exist anymore for people starting out in the business?

Absolutely. There will always be readers because almost every project starts with a written document. But today I think there are even more opportunities, because the tools of filmmaking are more readily available. To be a director back in the day you had to be able to afford a camera, you had to be able to afford film, and you had to be able to process that film. You also had to rent a flatbed editing system that you could run that film through. That’s all changed. You can make a film on your iPhone. The path I took was focused on story. When I realized that was a pathway to having more say in what was getting made, I thought, “Okay, I want that job.” And luckily I was working for two women—Amy Pascal and Dawn Steel. Their recognition of my talent and their literally promoting me from the trailer—where all the readers worked—to the big house, was invaluable in my being able to ascend.

 

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing female producers today?

I don’t think of a producer as gender specific. Definition of a producer is someone who makes sh*t happen. It’s more about your passion, your ability to convince everybody to come onboard this thing that isn’t quite real yet and guide that process. A lot of people say that women tend to be more nurturing in the job. Sure, that could be true. But there’s many who approach it from a different point of view. The job is so difficult and so all-encompassing, because it touches every aspect of the film, that whoever is producing, she/he/they/whoever, takes on the mantle of the leader and that has no gender.

 

You’ve been credited with launching the careers of some major talents. John Singleton and Robert Rodriguez come to mind. What difficulties did you face when you began championing them, or did you not face difficulties?

When I was trying to replace myself in the story department with a person of color, I heard John Singleton was looking for a job and that he was a writer, so I read his script. There was no difficulty. In fact, quite the opposite. It was like “Aha! This is what I’m supposed to be doing!” I’m uniquely positioned to champion this film and this filmmaker. I went to high school in Inglewood. I knew these kids growing up. I just felt passionately that I could, with a first-person point of view, get it right. So for me, it wasn’t hard. It was just exciting that I found this gem, and I wanted to share it with the world and what are the steps to get it there. It was so satisfying for my first movie to be Boyz n the Hood, and then we’re on the carpet at Cannes and there’s a 20-minute standing ovation. And beyond all of that, kids are not killing each other in drive-by shootings as much because they’ve seen their own reflection.

 

It sounds like it reaffirmed your career path, proved you were on the right track.

Absolutely. The only thing that matters is, “Do you believe in it?” If so, then you just know what to do. Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) and I used to say we’re in “the flow of grace” because we’ve chosen to make this happen. And that creates all this other energy and draws other people in. So it’s a joy when you find something you’re passionate about. And it takes a long time because those quickened-heartbeat reads don’t happen very often. When they do, you know you’ve got to jump on it.    

 

Selfie on the set of the TV movie Crushed with Stephanie Allain,
Regina Hall, Tina Gordon (taking picture), Rachel Polan, Bashir Salahuddin

You’ve had such a broad career path, everything from Boyz n the Hood to The Muppets. Do you have a favorite genre or type of story that usually grabs you first?

I do. It’s anything that reaffirms our higher nature. That can come in different forms. In Hustle & Flow, I had to explain to a lot of people the reason I wanted to make a movie about pimps and hos was that this pimp wanted to be a better person. Even he had the need to aspire to do something special with his life, to contribute a verse. I found that profound because no matter who you are, there’s this innate human desire to create something beautiful and if you step into that power, anything can happen.

 

So there is a common thread running through your work?

Yes, I would call it “humanism.” It’s stories about us; stories about women because we’re underrepresented, stories about people of color because we’re underrepresented, LGBTQ, less-abled people. Everybody needs to have that feeling of seeing themselves on screen and being validated by that representation. Until we get to that point, we’ll always be “othered.” When you see a story like Boyz n the Hood on the big screen and you realize these are just kids trying to negotiate their teen years, given the circumstances that they have, you realize, it’s a global human experience. And I think that’s exactly where art meets idealism and activism and purpose. That gives the work meaning. It’s not just a job.

 

And that’s a road you want to be on.

That’s the road I’ve walked. And, by the way, it’s not the easiest road to walk. It’s only easy because the joy is there. But the money is not always there. The hustle is real. At times I wish I cared more about money, but ultimately it’s how you spend your time doing what you love to do and if you can make that float you financially. So I’ve always really just believed in living within my means, because it gives you the freedom to take chances.  Famously, I sold my house to make Hustle & Flow.

 

What’s the biggest change you’d like to see in Hollywood?

Gatekeepers at the studios need to be inclusive and representative. It’s rare you see more than one or two people of color in those rooms. That has to change because you connect with what you know. So if you don’t have enough people at the table that have a wide variety of experiences, you’re going to keep getting the same story. This also applies to critics. If you’re in a position to judge or ratify something for inclusion in mainstream culture, that’s a huge responsibility. So we need more eyes on the prize.

 

You were the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival for five years. What enticed you to take that on, and what were some of the rewards?

I was on the board of Film Independent at the time. We lost our director and because I’m always talking about gatekeepers and making sure there’s people of color at the table, I raised my hand. Live event producing was not what I was accustomed to. There is no “take two,” so the stakes are very high, but it’s very exciting. Once I took the job, I realized that the festival should represent the mission of Film Independent—to diversify the industry and to amplify voices that had been underrepresented.

 

How did you do that?

By hiring staff who believed in the mission. We systematically redid the festival in a way that allowed for those voices to be heard. We were the first festival to ask, “How many of the films are directed by women?” What we said is, “Let’s create a basket of all the films we think are amazing, that are all directed by women, and let’s choose 10 from that basket. Then let’s make a basket of filmmakers of color and let’s choose 10.” That’s how you can get the best of this, the best of that. Not just the best, because that has no real meaning. Inclusion doesn’t just happen. Up until a few years ago, that was sort of the thing—just let it happen naturally. It doesn’t. You have to make an effort. You have to have a plan.

 

Now you’re producing the Academy Awards. So first of all, congratulations.

Thank you!

 

How does one start that process? 

It’s a collaboration with Lynette Howell Taylor, whose career I’ve long admired. We didn’t know each other before this, but we’ve had so many similar instincts, which is great. I’m looking forward to marshaling everything I’ve ever learned as a producer and bringing my A-game to the show. It’s a privilege to celebrate the year in film by producing the biggest night in television! So it’s thrilling. And very secretive!

 

This is the fourth and final season of Dear White People. What’s been the most significant feedback from that series?

I think the most important thing is that Justin Simien’s voice has been amplified. He is a singular talent. He embraces his point of view, which is both intellectual and soapy, gay and straight, male and female. I can’t think of anybody else who can present multiple points of view with integrity. When we made the movie, we knew the ensemble nature would lend itself to television, and we’re all so thrilled that Netflix stepped up and really supported the show. During this turbulent political time, DWP has been a touchstone for young people sorting through the anxiety, the tension and the racial animosity—things we really didn’t think were going to be on our plate.

 

What projects do you have coming up?

After producing independent films over the past few years (French Dirty, Burning Sands, Juanita, The Weekend), I’m focusing on larger studio films. Adam Countee wrote an incredible script about Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 run for the Presidency called The Fighting Shirley Chisholm. Justin Simien is directing Rapper’s Delight. It’s the story of Sylvia Robinson, who recorded the first rap record and changed the game forever. She had the foresight to say, “This sound, which we’ve never heard before, the scratching and the rapping, needs to go on vinyl.” I’m partnered with the legendary Paula Wagner and Robert Kraft on that one. My TV business is also picking up. So the year 2020  promises to be a great one.

Allain with sons Wade Allain-Marcus and Jesse Allain-Marcus at the world premiere of their film French Dirty


It’s such an amazing time to be creating content.

Yes. We’re in a renaissance. Everyone I know is working. You can’t even find a black female director who’s not working now. That’s real progress. Now what we have to do is make sure that we’re not the only ones progressing, but our Latinx brothers and sisters, who outpopulate us, especially in California, have these same opportunities. And, of course, we need more gender parity. Across the board.

 

One last thing. You are so active in the Producers Guild. You’re on the National Board of Directors and have participated as a speaker at our Produced By LA Conference. Why is that important to you?

I’m active in the Producers Guild because I’m a producer who cares about the value of producers in films and television. Also, unlike the Writers Guild or the Directors Guild, we’re not a union, so there’s a long way to go. But in the meantime, I want to be part of the energy moving toward producers getting the respect we deserve. I divide my pro bono work between the PGA, the Academy, Women In Film and ReFrame. The truth of the matter is, service is so rewarding. Giving and serving in whatever capacity rewards you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine: the satisfaction of seeing incremental change, the satisfaction of seeing young people get to the next level, the satisfaction of seeing the Academy become more inclusive. That’s the good work. And the upside is, you’re among the high end of your peers and other like-minded individuals who believe in service, and then other good things happen. So yes, I will definitely be a part of giving back for as long as I can.


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Beating The Odds - A Leading Actor With Down Syndrome And First-Time Directors Guide 'The Peanut Butter Falcon' To Success

Posted By Tom Hymes, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The independently produced film The Peanut Butter Falcon was released last August and became a sleeper hit by the end of the year. It amassed box office receipts in excess of $20 million to become one of the most successful independent films of 2019. To say the movie’s journey from concept to screen was fraught with challenges is to define the state of most indie movies, if not all movies. But in this case the challenges—first-time writer-directors, a tight budget and shooting schedule, and a lead with Down syndrome—were so baked into the making of the film that they eventually came to explain, if not define, its success.

Making the movie was a transformative experience for Tim Zajaros of Armory Films and Albert Berger of Bona Fide Productions, two of six producers attached to the project, along with directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. Starring Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson, the movie’s titular character is played by Zack Gottsagen, a 30-something actor with Down syndrome, who is making his feature film debut. The screenplay was written specifically for Gottsagen.

“It all started with Zack,” recalls Zajaros. “The story of this film is that Tyler and Mike met Zack at an arts camp, while helping disabled actors and other people wanting to make films or art achieve their dreams. They learned he’d wanted to be an actor all his life, and they wrote this movie for him to star in.” That is the short version. The longer version tells the story of the special sauce that went into making The Peanut Butter Falcon.

“When Zack told the directors how he wanted to be a movie star, Mike and Tyler were honest with him at first,” explains Zajaros, who also has a cameo in the film. ‘We don't really have any connections,’ they told him, ‘and the reality is that it’s a tough business as it is, and the chances of somebody with Down syndrome ever getting the opportunity to be a lead in a movie is slim to none.’ Zack just sat for a second, thought about it and finally said, ‘Well, why don't you guys write it and direct it, and I’ll star in it?’ And being the great guys that they are, they just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘You know what, let’s do that.’”

That decision—as well as the decision to make a proof-of-concept short with Gottsagen in character—set the stage for everything to come, including cementing the directors to the project, along with their script and their star. It led to a production dynamic in which life and art would intertwine inextricably by creating a sense of community inseparable from the story itself.

“The sense of family on the set was on another level,” says Zajaros. “I mean, everybody. I don't even know where you start with the credit. With the script, I suppose, because that’s what brought us all together … and Zack. Every shooting day we would all go to dinner, cast included. There would be 10 or 12 of us, and that just doesn’t happen.”

Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz confer on a shot on the set of The Peanut Butter Falcon
-photograph by Seth F. Johnson

The script itself incorporated elements from Gottsagen’s life, including his interest in wrestling, his passionate desire to do what he wants to do and his frustrations at any limitations imposed on him because of his disability. The movie is an adventure story featuring a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from the nursing home where he lives to chase his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. A small-town outlaw, played by LaBeouf, becomes his unlikely coach and ally. Johnson’s character, a kind nursing home employee with a story of her own, joins them on their journey. Their Huckleberry Finn-like adventure involves a raft with a pole and achingly gorgeous vistas representing the Outer Banks of Northern Carolina, although the movie was actually shot around Savannah, Georgia. A bevy of veteran character actors, including Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church and John Hawkes, anchor the film.

According to Berger, it was a spirit of generosity unique to this project that allowed the producers to stretch their modest $6 million budget to include such a stellar cast and uber-competent crew. In fact, it was the commitment of one cast member in particular that really made the difference. “Shia was a producer’s best friend on this movie because he did it for love. He did not do it for money,” explains Berger. “It allowed us to make deals with everybody else. That’s why you have the cast you have, because normally a guy like Shia would eat up all the money for the movie. But he didn’t. He did it for love, and then he had such a commitment throughout the whole movie.” Zajaros adds, “It was also because his commitment to Zack is real.”

Indeed, as explained by the producers, Gottsagen’s enthusiasm and honesty were in many ways the glue that bound everyone to the project and made the working atmosphere unlike any they had experienced before. For LaBeouf, his relationship with Gottsagen is there on the screen for all to see and appreciate. Without that bond, the movie would simply not work, and out of it came screen moments of unusual and quiet intensity.

“Shia is like an on-the-field coach in a way,” says Berger. “So you had Mike and Tyler, who knew Zack inside out and wrote this for him and had a real rapport with him, and then you had Shia right there, kind of reacting to whatever Zack would do and helping that process. Dakota also had a very strong relationship with Zack, so it formed a strong core.” Working with the actors required special patience, he adds. “Zack does not say the same thing the same way twice exactly, and neither does Shia, in a very different way. You have an actor like Shia who is all about honesty and finding it in the moment, and you have Zack.” Zajaros points out the combination is powerful, explaining, “Shia had a great partner in Zack because Zack isn’t anything but truth.”

The connection extended off the set as well. “Shia had an episode where he had something that kind of turned his whole life around on this movie,” says Berger. “There was a scene where he was supposed to drink, and he drank, and it carried on into the evening, and he ended up in jail. Out of that—and it’s been very well reported—came his whole dynamic with Zack and the disappointment Zack felt and how much he was depending on Shia. I think that not only turned Shia’s life around but resulted in Honey Boy. “It’s brilliant,” Berger says of LeBeouf’s performance in Honey Boy, “and I would say the only other thing that rivals it is his performance in our movie. I mean, these are monumental back-to-back performances.” 

Producer Tim Zajaros (pointing) of Armory Films on set.
-Photo by Seth F. Johnson

Producer Albert Berger of Bona Fide Productions with Zack Gottsagen,
star of
The Peanut Butter Falcon
-Photo by David Thies

Overcoming challenges was the story of this movie’s journey, because nothing about getting it from A to Z was easy. “We thought the movie was great and we believed in it, but we could not find a festival to take it,” says Berger. “We could not find a distributor to distribute it. And finally, after getting turned down by all the major festivals, we got into South by Southwest, where we won the Audience Award. Out of that festival, we were able to engage with a great distributor, Roadside Entertainment, but still Chris [Lemole] and Tim [Zajaros] and their company, Armory Films, supplied a lot of the money to release the film. Because of them, this movie could be everything it needed to be.” It was, adds Zajaros, an “extraordinarily hard shoot.”         

“I worked harder on this than I have on maybe any other movie, and everybody says the same,” concurs Berger. “It’s important for the PGA audience to understand this because the PGA does a great job in determining who should get credit and who actually did the work as producers. But it’s very important to also understand that sometimes it takes a group and sometimes that entire group contributes. And when that happens, everybody needs to be recognized.”

Continuing an industry trend, several production companies were attached to the Peanut Butter project, raising the question of how so many people with different ideas about what a film should be can come together to agree on a strong singular vision.

“This [subject] is very important to me, because sometimes Ron [Yerxa] and I are the only producers on a movie,” says Berger, whose credits number around 30 and include Cold Mountain, Little Miss Sunshine and Nebraska. “And sometimes you’re brought together with this new group, and you’ve got to figure it out as you go. Somebody at the PGA screening said, ‘How is it possible that six people all have the PGA mark?’ The simple fact is that if everybody is there for the right reason, and you put your ego aside, you figure out a way to work together where everybody functions to the best of their capability. They don’t jump out of their lane, and they figure out what’s best for the movie. That happened on Little Miss Sunshine and it happened on this one. I think it’s very important that people figure out how to work together in the best interests of the movie, and I’m very proud that our group was able to figure that out.”

“I agree,” responds Zajaros, whose 16 producing credits include Mudbound and Arctic. “It was film first for everybody. Egos were thrown out the door. Sure, I’ve been on movies where people have producer credits, but really didn’t do much and maybe shouldn’t have gotten that credit. But literally every producer on this movie brought something very important to the shoot.”

In the end, the filmmakers expressed a deep satisfaction with the experience of making this movie, combined with a slightly bittersweet sense of what could have been. “It’s run its course,” Berger says of the film’s theatrical run, which topped out at about 1,600 screens. “Now the DVD is on iTunes, and it’s really got a great life. Of course, the difference between now and when Little Miss Sunshine was made [in 2006] is that it’s much harder to get people into the theater, particularly for an independent film. People will go to the theater to see Batman, they’ll go to see Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, they’ll go to see the Marvel movie, but now streaming has taken over the whole province of film.

You know,” he adds after a moment’s thought, “Roadside did a magnificent job with this movie, but you have to wonder, if a big studio had really gotten behind it, the opportunities would have been limitless. This movie connects with people, and when a movie connects with people it doesn’t matter if it’s a $100 million Marvel movie or a $4 or $5 million movie.”

For Zajaros, producing the film brought many exhilarating moments that he savors. “The feeling I got from this movie—and I don’t want this to sound arrogant because it was our movie—but it’s why I got in the business. There are not that many movies that make me feel like that anymore.”

The word-of-mouth hit continues to soar. Gottsagen received the Rising Star Award at the 2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival. He was also the subject of a December Los Angeles Times profile with the headline, “Zack Gottsagen has Down syndrome. And a movie role. And a best bud named Shia LaBeouf.” This momentum is not lost on the producers, whose hope is that the buoyant flight of The Peanut Butter Falcon is a sign that Hollywood is serious about embracing diversity in front of and behind the camera.

“Storytelling is coming back, and what is changing now is new voices and diversity and people being able to finally tell their own story,” says Berger. “I think we are to some degree participating in that because of Zack and because Mike and Tyler saw this opportunity to work with him to tell a story that he would be comfortable with and would be able to deliver on, and I think the next frontier is Zack telling his own stories. That’s where it really starts to get exciting.”


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A New Day Dawns - 'The Morning Show' Celebrates Gender Equality On Screen And Behind The Scenes

Posted By Kevin Perry, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The brightest spotlights cast the longest shadows. Since its inception, the entertainment industry has harbored menace in the darkness, sometimes allowing harassment and abuse to fester in hidden corners. The Morning Show excavates these shadows to expose the sordid underbelly of mainstream media at its most volatile.

“We’re dealing with really sensitive subject matter,” explains Executive Producer Reese Witherspoon. “We wanted to take a 360-degree look at what the impact of the MeToo movement has done to the workplace, to personal lives, to the gender pay disparity conversation, to the lack of inclusion in corporate environments and representation in media.

“The news can be very binary and sometimes editorialized and pejorative,” Witherspoon continues. “By fictionalizing these stories, we didn’t have to play within boundaries.”

To unleash the spectacle appeal of The Morning Show, the creative team drew upon its nonfiction roots: namely, Brian Stelter’s book Top of the Morning. “Brian really told you all about what was happening inside the broadcast media world. Fascinating!” Witherspoon exclaims. “He did a great job of explaining why broadcast television really matters. It’s a very high-stakes world. They’re making about half a billion dollars a year in ad sales. If there’s a dip in the ratings, all those ad sales will go to another channel. It’s really cutthroat because there’s a lot of money on the line.”

Fellow Executive Producer Michael Ellenberg echoes this sentiment regarding real-life morning media. “They’re an amazing platform. They’re one of the last media in America that still tries to appeal to New York and Los Angeles and Des Moines and Mississippi. They have equal viewership, Democrats and Republicans. They’re really still trying to represent what America is, in an era when America seems to want to rip itself apart.”

In a blistering example of art imitating life, The Today Show delivered a bruising inspiration to Ellenberg when he was still a child. “When Jane Pauley was fired, there was no real public explanation offered, particularly if you were a kid. The only thing we heard was ‘She was old.’ Right? And the show went from so good to so bad. At the time, she was 39 years old. It lodged in my mind, like, what a strange world. This show was so brilliant, these people were so capable, and what could Jane Pauley have done wrong that they would willfully make the show terrible rather than keep her?”

The question lingered in Ellenberg’s mind well into his adulthood. “Every few years, a high-profile woman on these shows is put through the wringer. That’s an interesting disconnect. Are these two things related: the pressure of representing America and the way that women are treated?”


Executive Producer/Director Mimi Leder discusses a scene with
Executive Producer/star Jennifer Aniston.

After achieving phenomenal success in the film world and as a development guru at HBO, Ellenberg was able to dredge up his morbid curiosity for infotainment scandal. “I optioned Brian Stelter’s book, which I thought was an amazing introduction to the world, and then approached Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. We were all talking, and I was fortunate that they committed not only to star, but to produce with me as well, which was amazing, to be honest. I couldn’t imagine two better actresses and partners to have in this world because they’ve lived many of the ideas the show explores. It was personal for them, they saw it very clearly from the beginning, and we were really able to build it and form it together.”

The growing dream team eventually lured Executive Producer Kristin Hahn into its ranks. As Aniston’s creative partner, Hahn gravitated to the series’ myriad themes. “The show really deals with celebrity and fame, which Jen and I feel is another interesting layer. It also deals with ageism. We will get into that even deeper next season. These are all things that culturally, and in the workplace, are so relevant.”

Hahn elaborates, “It gets into the subtle dynamics between not just women and men in the workplace, which is important, but women and women in the workplace … and the abuse of power that can happen, even with pretty decent intentions.”

The weighty subject matter allows Aniston to flex her dramatic chops as Alex, the charismatic TV host teetering on the top of a crumbling empire. “She has lost herself and wants to reclaim who she is,” says Hahn. “That’s profound, and you can’t help but feel empathy for her. It humanizes the celebrity in that character. It’s a role that Jen, as an icon, can bring a lot to.”

Apple TV+ agreed, betting big on its flagship show and its superstar producing talent. “We were free,” declares Witherspoon. “The whole world was our playing field. We could discuss anything, say whatever we want and push boundaries. It really gave us an ability to define the edges of these social conversations and cultural shifts.”

But with great freedom comes creeping trepidation. “Every project that we begin on a streaming service has its own feeling of entering the wild, wild west,” Witherspoon admits. “We don’t know what the audience is gonna be, we don’t know what country they’re watching it in, we don’t know if people are gonna subscribe, we don’t know what audience we’re playing for.”

To help eradicate those unknowns, Witherspoon collaborated with her Big Little Lies cohort Ellenberg, who saw opportunity amid the chaos. “What people in my line of work hate is when you ask them, ‘Why is it done this way?’ and the answer is, ‘Because we’ve always done it.’ Everyone in Hollywood hates that answer. So when there’s a new network, they can’t say that!”

Ellenberg relished the chance to tango with a fledgling juggernaut. “Part of the reason why we went with Apple is they make cultural moments. They wanted us to be their signature show that they launched with— and the opportunity to partner with an amazing company at the beginning—that just seemed for all of us like a once-in-a-career opportunity.”

Ellenberg praises the breakneck brilliance of fellow Executive Producers Kerry Ehrin and Mimi Leder, who wrote and directed the pilot episode, respectively. “Everyone’s building the plane while they’re flying it. They’re building a network, I’m launching a new studio, we’re building my company—everything’s getting built as we’re doing it,” he says.

To extend the airline metaphor, Ellenberg marvels at Witherspoon’s multitasking prowess. “Her ability to go up to 30,000 feet and see everything from a holistic producer’s sensibility, and then when she needs to, shift down to the ground and be completely laser-focused to see it from an actor’s perspective, is unique. Like really unique in our industry. It’s exciting!”

“She’s a powerhouse and a visionary,” Ellenberg continues. “She’s a risk taker, she’s innovative, and she gravitates toward the unfamiliar. That’s inspiring! You’re desperate to work with people like that. You want to be on her side. When you’re taking on big challenges, you want to be on Reese’s team.”

Executive Producer Michael Ellenberg with Executive Producer Kristin Hahn.

Diane Sawyer enjoys a behind-the-scenes laugh with
the cast and crew of
The Morning Show.

Deflecting the kudos humbly, Witherspoon passes the praise on to Aniston. “Jen has a very discerning, detail-oriented eye. She watches cuts in a way that I don’t watch them. She combs over the set and finds details that are important to character that I would have never seen. She’s great with humor and language and building sympathy for character. Jen really sees the audience perspective.”

Ellenberg emphatically concurs. “Jen’s an experienced and formidable producer. When I was looking for inspiration for my business, I thought of Jen, who co-founded Plan B.” Extrapolating to include both of his A-list partners, Ellenberg beams, “I admire them as artists and as actors, but their producorial career had—and has—a huge influence on me. So there’s also just the opportunity to learn from them. That’s the truth.”

The Morning Show shimmers and blinds with its cavalcade of star wattage, and that was all part of Ellenberg’s plan. “We wanted the audience to engage with this world in the way they would engage with actual morning shows themselves, with stars and actors they think they already know intimately, and they feel a level of comfort with. That’s how you engage with a morning host. You’re letting family into your home every morning. Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell—these are all household names. They’re not just admired artists, but they’re really beloved people. An audience feels a level of comfort and trust.”

This trust is soon perverted by the show’s narrative. “The casting of Carell was very deliberate,” Ellenberg confides. “You admire and love and respect him—he’s funny and warm and compelling. But then, slowly but surely, you come to understand that even someone you adore so much could do something appalling. We wanted an audience to go on that journey to hopefully have a deeper, meaningful experience of this subject. By the end of the season, you will see this world in its totality.”

Witherspoon was eager to infuse an epic dose of class awareness into the brew. “One of the things we felt very strongly about was the Upstairs, Downstairs/Downton Abbey aspect of broadcast and how there is definitely a hierarchy within that world. The people who are technicians doing really intense work every single day versus on-air paid talent and executive talent that feel worlds away. We wanted to play with those two worlds colliding.”

The Oscar-winning icon holds a dark mirror up to her industry, deconstructing the pitfalls of celebrity through The Morning Shows lens. “It shows you the seduction of fame and power and influence,” says Witherspoon. “You see where you lose touch with people, with everyday life, when the draw of this big, bright world pulls you in. Your morals do get compromised in the process. You’re willing to do more just to maintain your status and your relevance,” says Witherspoon.

It was essential for the series leads to wield creative control over their own fates, argues Hahn. “If we had these two actresses, who are basically the heart and soul of this show, not have a voice in the creation of the show, that would be a travesty. It would be a paradox. That is not the world we’re living in. Right now, thankfully, we are dealing with a business that is changing, and women are not just puppets who are being controlled by their male counterparts. Jen and Reese are definitely in a unique position because of who they are and the careers they have built, to really be examples of how women as artists can have a very strong hand in the creation of their art behind the scenes, not just in front of the camera.”

With an endearing flourish, Hahn proclaims, “Jen and Reese are beautiful storytellers. They now get to tell their stories alongside wonderful producers and showrunners and the rest of the team. They bring something to this particular story that the rest of us cannot bring: understanding from the inside out what celebrity culture can do to your life, the challenges it brings when you live under a microscope, and the subtle sacrifices and struggles you go through when everyone treats you differently. Everyone.”

Those sacrifices are paying off. The Morning Show isn’t just shifting the gender paradigm; it’s detonating it. Ellenberg, for one, is happy to help light the fuse. “To be a producer in this moment in Hollywood, I think it’s the greatest time since the heyday of the studio system. This is a moment in which the newer idea, the more exotic idea, gains traction. There are more opportunities to work with new voices and previously overlooked voices.”

One of those overlooked voices, surprisingly enough, was Witherspoon’s. “I tried to be a producer 10 years ago, and it just was a different time for women,” she recalls. “I certainly felt, personally, that I wasn’t taken as seriously as I wanted to be.”

It’s a shocking admission, considering how Witherspoon has since galvanized her status as a bona fide mogul, with projects in development on almost every conceivable platform. “I’ve been really fortunate to have great partners in HBO and Apple and now Netflix and Amazon to create these worlds,” she says.

“It’s an incredible time to have women at the center of the story, but also behind the scenes in real leadership positions. It’s been really encouraging to see female showrunners coming forward and telling very dynamic stories about women. It’s important that people see women represented onscreen in the way that they really live, and it’s so gratifying to be a small part of that change.”

This change has rippled into a revolution that echoes through every compelling plot point of The Morning Show. It isn’t merely must-see TV; it’s must-heed social commentary.

 


-Photos courtesy of Apple TV


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Why TikTok Keeps You Up At Night - The Addictive App Feeds On Its Own Success

Posted By Sanjit Das and Chris Thomes, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Ask anyone over the age of 25 what TikTok is, and they might look at you the way your dog looks at you when you ask him to explain the law of gravity. But to its ONE BILLION USERS, uploading user-generated videos to TikTok—and, of course, watching them—is an obsession, a distraction and a connection. It’s the internet’s stream of consciousness. From quirky dance videos to intimate stories of pain and loss, TikTok captures the entire spectrum of the human experience with addictive, bite-sized video. The app’s simple interface and short-form focus make it easy to fall into the rabbit hole—and stay there. Which is exactly the point. 

Scrolling through the videos elicits equal parts laughter, cringes and sometimes horror, mostly delivered in a sugarcoated package of goofiness. The stories unfolding in front of you feel authentic and unfiltered. For producers looking to the next big thing, the smallness of TikTok’s format could be an appealing opportunity. Harnessing its power, though, isn’t something easily done for traditional film or TV formats. Its addictive utility, like Instagram or Snapchat, is built into its user interface, and separating the content from the application doesn’t buy you much. One might just end up with tons of little pieces without a framework to fit them into.

TikTok is owned by China’s Bytedance, and it is currently considered one the world’s most valuable startups, surpassing Uber’s market value of $72 billion, according to Bloomberg. It is the result of a merger between two similar lip-syncing apps, Douyin and Musical.ly. Musical.ly launched in 2014, with Douyin following in 2016. While Douyin and Musical.ly were both developed in China, Musical.ly took hold in the U.S. and Europe while Douyin became a hit in China. Bytedance rolled up both apps under the TikTok brand in 2018.

TikTok borrows a lot of its functions from the now deceased, user-generated short-form video app Vine, but is more versatile. Instead of Vine’s six-second content limit, users can create up to 60-second videos by stringing together 15-second segments. Once uploaded, videos are sorted based on users you follow (“Following”) and those curated by the algorithm (“For You”). The user interface is cleverly designed to keep you watching ... and watching ... and watching. With one finger, you can endlessly scroll through videos, like, comment, follow and explore creator profiles, and view other videos created by that user.

 

WHAT MAKES IT TICK

The power of TikTok lies in its algorithm. The more you scroll and interact, the more the app learns about you and feeds you what you want. While TikTok won’t reveal how its algorithm works, some users have undertaken their own detailed analyses, typically grading videos on four major factors: Completion Ratio, Shares, Comments and Likes. The Discover section found at the bottom of the app helps users find videos beyond the algorithm. They can explore trending hashtags or search for specific ones, and the more they explore, the more the algorithm adapts to what they are looking for. It creates an addictive utility that makes it hard to escape.

The app also provides creation tools for users to refine their videos including editing, filters, music and effects. (We sure wish these had been available when we were both splicing Super 8s in film school.) The process can be as simple or complex as users prefer, which is part of the app’s appeal. Want to film a lip-sync with a single shot? No problem. Want to experiment with effects, editing, multiple shots and music? You can do that too, but be prepared to spend some time planning your shoot, just like the pros!

 

FEATURES

One of TikTok’s more unique features is its collaborative storytelling function, which is accomplished through Duets, Hashtags and Challenges.

Using Duets, users can create a split screen with another user’s video and then add their own interpretation, reaction or interaction to it. Some users create videos for the express purpose of being “duetted,” with movements designed to be riffed on, either in or out of frame, like dancing in sync or blowing a kiss to one side.

Similar to Twitter and other social platforms, hashtags allow TikTok users to easily use themes to group their videos. Tapping the Discover icon at the bottom of the app reveals the trending hashtags of the day. Users can also search specific hashtags, often using the hashtag modifiers, #foryou or #fyp, which can help game the algorithm and give the user’s videos a chance to be featured in the For You section.

Challenges keep TikTok fresh and engaging by inspiring users to see who can execute specific theme-based videos the best.

The popularity of challenges has encouraged sponsors to adopt hashtag challenges in order to engage TikTok’s highly desirable Gen Z audience, the first generation of “digital natives” born between 1996 and 2010. Ubisoft had one of the most successful initiatives to promote the launch of the video game “Just Dance 2020.” Users were encouraged to upload a duet timed to dance moves featured in the game using #justdance2020. Led by TikTok’s top influencer, Loren Gray (35 million followers), the promotion has generated more than 3.7 billion views.

Kroger enlisted TikTok influencers Joey Klaasen, Cosette Rinab, Mia Finney and Victoria Bachlet to encourage users to post their own dorm makeovers using the hashtag #TransformUrDorm. Kroger paid for placement on the Discover page but also got the benefit of the reach of its influencer partners to generate more than 873 million views. Additionally, the campaign had a dedicated landing page where users could shop on Kroger directly through the app. Other major brands actively making use of TikTok include Google, Sony and Target.

Music is a major part of the TikTok universe and presents a great opportunity for new and established artists to make their mark. “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X just set a record for most consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard charts, and it may be the first hit song that can claim TikTok had a major influence on that achievement. Here’s how it happened:

1)    Lil Nas X uploaded and promoted the song on the TikTok platform.

2)    Users started creating memes (think mini music videos starring themselves) to the song wherein they transformed into cowboys after taking a sip of a mysterious “Yee-Yee Juice,” purely a TikTok community creation.

3)    These memes became a sensation and cultural phenomenon on the platform along with Lil Nas X’s original song.

4)    Soon after, the song zipped to the top spot on the Billboard charts and stayed there for 19 weeks.

 

 

SECRET TO SUCCESS

The tastes and whims of younger audiences shift more quickly with each successive generation. TikTok looks to stay ahead of the curve by rolling up the best features of the other major social platforms into a simple, easy-to-use package with equal appeal to creators and consumers. Storytellers who understand what makes the platform special and craft content faithful to those values will be in the best position to succeed. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, TikTok feels like a more natural entertainment platform. Its primary purpose isn’t to connect with friends and family or engage in conversation with random strangers. Instead, users go to TikTok to be entertained, to laugh, to cry, and to share intimate and fun moments of their lives. Ultimately, TikTok is successful because it is relatable.

Relatability is the challenge of traditional industries as they try to find, retain and nurture new fans who view almost everything online, including sports. In recent years, the NFL has sought out new social media platforms as a way to reach younger audiences who may not be tuning in to live games as frequently as previous generations. According to Nielsen, 18- to 34-year-olds spend less than two hours a day watching TV and three and a half hours on their phones.

The Philadelphia Eagles are one franchise that has fully embraced the power of TikTok. While fans can go to other platforms to see highlights and interviews, they have to go to TikTok to watch their star players catch an apple on a fork set to “WOAH” by krypto9095. The apple challenge generated more than 7.2 million views, and that can be attributed to relatability and authenticity. Tapping into the heart and soul of the platform’s authentic approach, they were able to engage fans on an immense scale.

 

DEALING WITH THE DOWNSIDE

With such incredible reach and engagement, however, comes a dark side. Congress is currently investigating the platform and its connections with the Chinese government over fears that it could be leveraged as a tool for spying or propaganda. Researchers and advocacy groups are also raising concerns over sexual objectification, violence and psychologically manipulative content that commodifies children’s attention on the platform.

While no social media platform can block all disturbing content, parents can take proactive steps to protect their children. According to TikTok, the app is intended for users 13 years old and up, and “allows parents to use device-based parental controls provided by Google and Apple to block the app from an underage child’s phone.”

TikTok is a powerful platform. In a world that demands that latest new thing at an alarmingly consumptive rate, the TikTok formula is satiating viewers, at least for now. To succeed, storytellers should embrace the parts of TikTok culture that make it unique and appealing. It’s OK to be goofy or vulnerable, but most of all, be honest and authentic. As producers look for new formats and content opportunities in the disrupted space of film, television and digital content, user-generated short form like TikTok seems both engaging and cost-effective. But like so many content trends that have fizzled before it, TikTok’s time to shine may be limited. If so, its unique combination of utility and addictive content could leave creators, producers and viewers looking for the next big (or little) thing, and the clock is definitely ticking.

   


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The Six Degrees of 'Funny Or Die' Women - Meet The Ladies Leading The Way When It Comes To Laughs

Posted By Rona Edwards, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

How many of us remember what it was like to play in the sandbox with our friends or burst into laughter over something really silly? Often we are trapped by our own sense of adulthood and forget to tap into that creative kid in each of us, to build new worlds where none have gone before, or reboot ideas whose time has come again. Isn’t that why so many producers get into this business to begin with?

At Funny or Die, the innovative, comedic viral video machine founded 12 years ago by Adam McKay, Will Ferrell and Chris Henchy, playing in the sandbox with friends is a daily occurrence. So is finding new ways to tell stories and explore new platforms on which to tell them.

The company’s latest venture, The Last Degree of Kevin Bacon, is a podcast that is essentially a scripted sitcom. And yes, it stars Bacon as a heightened version of himself along with a whole slew of celebrities including his wife, Kyra Sedgewick. The premise revolves around an actor who 35 years ago lost out on the iconic role in Footloose, which subsequently catapulted Bacon to stardom. Years later, as the rejected actor’s life spirals out of control, he moves to Los Angeles to take back what he believes was taken from him—and so of course, he plots to murder Kevin Bacon. Funny, right? However, during the process of planning his crime, he ends up becoming Bacon’s assistant and possibly his best friend. Or does he? Cue the threatening music!

The creative team of The Last Degree of Kevin Bacon
surrounds the star of the Funny or Die podcast. 

Not afraid of diving into new formats, Funny or Die partnered with Spotify to create the podcast, which premieres in February. Making a scripted comedy into a podcast offers its own set of challenges, but some fearless producers were ready to take this on. What is so striking is that these producers are all women. PGA members Whitney Hodack, Senior Director of Physical Production; Becca Kinskey, Vice President of Development & Current Programming, Long Form; and Development Executive Elizabeth Belew, make up the female producing team bringing The Last Degree of Kevin Bacon to audible life.

Bacon originated from the mind of creator/writer Dan Abramson but it was Kinskey, a veteran producer of such shows as I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman and The Rose Parade with Cord & Tish, starring Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon, who pitched and sold it to Spotify with her FOD bosses. “At Funny or Die, we’ve had tons of opportunity and tons of experience with emerging platforms. And they come and go,” Kinskey says thoughtfully. “I think we were excited that Spotify seems to have a really clear vision for what they want to do with the podcast business.” She went on to explain that as a digital company, FOD has floated on the tide of new platforms for more than a decade. However, there are always three things the company tries to get for its content creators: One is paid. Two is a good creative experience. And three is a solid audience.

The first two items seem easily met, but it can really be hard to find an emerging platform that has the necessary eyeballs—or in this case, ears—to make  the content a success. Spotify already has a huge audience, so all the boxes were checked. It was the beginning of a perfect marriage.

However, after selling the show, Kinskey went off to have a baby. Enter veteran comedy development and network executive Belew, who began her career as a field producer on unscripted and scripted series for Comedy Central, ABC and MTV, among others. She, along with Hodack, took the ball and ran with it.

Whitney Hodack with Jonathan Van Ness, star of Funny or Die's Gay or Thrones.
-Photo courtesy Funny or Die

“Beth is newest to the team. We actually got to know Beth when she was an executive,” reveals Funny or Die CEO Mike Farah. “A big part of Funny or Die is people have to wear lots of different hats. And I think Beth’s versatility in knowing how to do unscripted storytelling actually worked very well with scripted podcasts. The pacing, the urgency—all those things that she’s honed as a producer and an executive in ‘talk’—I think parlayed very effectively into Kevin Bacon.”

Hodak is an Emmy-nominated producer for Funny or Die’s Gay of Thrones and has overseen production for shows like Brockmire on IFC, I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman on Hulu and Flipped, an upcoming comedy for Quibi. She’s also had experience with podcasting, producing The Ron Burgundy Podcast for iHeartRadio. “Whitney is next in a long line of great producers who know how to service the creatives, keep talent happy and make everything for a great price,” Farah says.

FOD is a 60-person company that’s known for generating tons and tons of content. At the forefront are these three women paving the way for more diverse content on distinctive platforms. Farah is obviously proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish. “It will be nice when a story about women producing comedy isn’t even a story. It’s just part of life. But I do think it’s important to showcase the people who are doing it really well. And Beth, Becca and Whitney are certainly right at the top of that list,” Farah proclaims.

“I can’t speak for everyone in comedy, but at least to me, and how we want to run Funny or Die, supporting people who have been historically on the margins of comedy should not be controversial,” he continues. “Comedy should absolutely be inclusive in terms of all the things we’ve talked about—gender, race, sexual orientation. We ask comedians to see the world in a slightly different way and help people understand the world through that comedic lens. And of course, since the beginning of time, good producers are needed to support that creative vision. So to me, having a diverse set of producers work with a diverse set of comedians is everything Funny or Die should be focused on.”

There’s not a lot of scripted comedy podcasting to look to for reference. It hasn’t caught up with the hour dramas yet. One of the biggest challenges is that comedy is known for a lot of visual clues, which you can’t use in a podcast. Producers have to delve into a whole new bag of tricks and learn how to tell a story without visuals. Everything has to be done with sound design, even letting the audience know when a character moves from room to room or who is coming or going. What is also exciting is that there’s no limits to what can be written. You can be anywhere, and it’s not going to tax your budget like a TV episode. In the end, The Last Degree of Kevin Bacon had 131 characters in 10 episodes recorded in six days.

“We’re really leading the way even in terms of staffing people,” Belew chuckles. “We couldn’t even find people who have done this before.” The writing room was balanced 50-50 with both women and men. They were able to get a ton of celebrity cameos, because people are happy to come in and not worry about hair and makeup. They don’t even have to memorize their lines. Hearing these producers talk their “sky’s the limit and the cost is low” mantra, makes one wonder why anyone would want to produce anything other than a podcast.

“We place the premium on people and their talent and putting folks in a position to succeed at all times,” Farah maintains. “We make sure that folks are supported in what they’re trying to do.” He confides that “Becca is way smarter” than he is. Aside from being thoughtful and methodical, Farah says she has a wonderful reputation for working well with creatives and comedians. All in all, this merry band of females is forging new paths and new ground for women in comedy.

So what is it like to have so many women at the helm, working together on the Bacon project?

 “It was a very placid experience, and I will say everything was calm,” Kinskey explains matter-of-factly. “There were things that needed to be dealt with that came up, but they were just handled. And I do think that the more I work with women, the more I feel like it’s men who are emotional.” The room erupts with laughter as she continues. “I find the people who actually run hot or run alarmist or run panicky are men, and women tend to just get it done.”

Belew jumps in, saying that because both she and Becca are moms, “Everything is fixable! Always!”


When a window to a new part of the industry opens, it allows young producers or those wanting to change direction to get in and rise fast. “I would tell young women, young people, trying to get into comedy right now, that podcasting is a space that you can really make a mark quickly,” Kinskey says. “And I would challenge any young woman starting today to only apply for jobs that you’re not quite qualified for. Put yourself in the position that you want to be in. Start calling yourself the thing you want to be.

“Look at what you like to watch or listen to, what you like to consume,” she continues. “And if you’re consuming it, then you have expertise in what people want out of it. Don’t waste time in the shadow of Steven Spielberg. Just go figure out what you’re already enjoying, and then go find those jobs. Because the industry reinvents itself every 10 years. Don’t chase old business models.”

“And don’t be afraid to just make stuff,” Belew chimes in. “I think men are more inclined to  write the thing they want to write, make the thing they want to make, pitch the show they want to pitch. They have maybe more confidence or whatever it is that drives them. And I think that women have a tendency to wait for someone to ask them to make something. They don’t want to do it until they’re 100% qualified. Don’t wait until you’re 100% competent! Because the guys at your same level aren’t waiting. That’s how they keep moving ahead.”

The first show Belew ever sold as a producer was to TruTV. “Some friends of mine at UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) were doing this weight-loss competition and I thought, ‘We should shoot this. Why is no one shooting this?’ And they said OK. So I paid some guys beer money to shoot a pilot, essentially, and we cut it into a 10-minute sizzle reel. I sold it in the room. Nobody asked me to do that. And if I hadn’t done that, I never would have gotten into development. Nobody needs to give you permission to do it.”

“The cool thing about doing the podcast is that it is a great way to stay in touch with the very principles and origins that Funny or Die was based on,” Kinskey says. “Which is just getting people to come down in the afternoon and make something that would later be up on the internet. What’s so great about working in comedy is that people want to do a day of work because they want to play with their friends and laugh. The podcasts really keep you in touch with those roots. Because people can just come in for four hours, have fun together in a recording booth and go home.”

Sounds like the perfect way to start playing in our sandboxes again.

 

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New Year, New Digs - From The National Executive Directors

Posted By Vance Van Petten & Susan Sprung, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What an incredibly exciting time for the PGA! The Guild is kicking off 2020 with beautiful new office spaces on both the East and West Coasts.

For many of you, our main office in Beverly Hills has been the only one you’ve ever known. It’s served as a comfortable, cozy space, hosting many wonderful events and meetings over the past 18 years. We’d like to give a very special thanks to PGA member Gale Anne Hurd for helping us secure this office at a time when it was greatly needed. Now, as the Guild membership continues to expand, we have outgrown the facility. In planning the new workplaces, one area in particular we focused on was making sure we had enough room for our members to hold a wide variety of events.

We’re happy to tell you that in our bright, welcoming office at 11150 Olympic Boulevard in West LA, we’ll be able to accommodate up to 74 people with theater-style seating. When hosting educational seminars, committee meetings, forums and special events, members can utilize our new AV setup, which will give us the capability to livestream or video conference with people all over the country or all over the world. In addition to the main meeting area, there is a midsize conference room for smaller gatherings of up to a dozen people, as well as a separate space for arbitrations.

For members on the East Coast, the PGA office is now centrally located in the heart of Times Square, in the historic Paramount Building at 1501 Broadway, with an entrance on West 43rd. The conference room here will accommodate 25 people around a table, with additional space for chairs along the wall. And the great news for member events is that up to 60 people can be seated theater-style.

The East Coast offices have a separate, smaller meeting room that can potentially be used as a rough-cut screening area, for arbitrations, or for any other type of program that requires privacy. Video conferencing capabilities will be available in the large flex conference area and the private meeting room. Additionally, both offices will feature large, open kitchen/pantry areas.

We are thrilled with these moves and invite all PGA members to take full advantage of our new offices. They were designed with you in mind, because you are the heart and soul of the Guild, and we appreciate all you do for the producing community and the entertainment industry.


 


left: The bright, modern office space in West LA.
upper right: The open kitchen/pantry area in the NY office.
bottom right: The large meeting room in LA can hold up to 74 people for Guild events.


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FIRST PERSON - The Real Scoop: It's A Dirty Job But This Producer Is Happy To Do It

Posted By Ralph Winter, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

One of the greatest volunteer jobs I’ve ever had happens every January 1 at the Rose Parade in Pasadena.

I pick up horse manure for three hours. Yes, I’m a pooper scooper.

It all started when I was asked by the local high school baseball team to help raise money for their uniforms. In exchange for providing volunteer workers for the parade, the school is gifted a number of Rose Bowl seats, which they can sell or use. The coveted seats can bring in thousands of dollars in donations and make a big difference for the team. Skeptical at first, I gave it one year and loved it. In my regular job, as is the case for most producers, I find myself picking up sh*t every day. But on this job, one day a year, I get applause. And gratitude.

About 65 of us gather at 4 a.m. in Pasadena for breakfast at the Rose Parade headquarters while thousands of people check out the floats lined up on Orange Grove Boulevard. Around 5:30 a.m. we suit up and gather to review instructions and discuss how to solve problems before heading to the parade route for the 8 a.m. start.

We usually work in teams of three, each with a flat shovel, a barrel with a liner and a push broom. Pretty obvious how these all work together. We have designated drop-off points should our barrels get full, but that hasn’t happened on my trips yet.

 PGA member and pooper scooper, Ralph Winter (right)
with fellow scooper Matt Shupper
 

The circus of humanity comes to these events, including protestors and wannabe evangelists all in full attire and with bull horns. It’s pretty crazy how so many different people gravitate to this yearly spectacle.  

As a producer, it is interesting to find myself on the other side—following what someone else has produced. And it’s always fascinating putting myself in the shoes of those executing someone else’s carefully laid plans and just trying to make it work.

There are about 18 to 20 equestrian teams, each with at least six horses, but sometimes up to 20 in a group. It’s surprising to see so many horses in one place and we marvel at their size. They really are magnificent creatures.

By the numbers—it’s a 6.5-mile route down the center of Colorado Boulevard, takes about 3 hours for the slow-moving floats, while 1 million people enjoy the parade.

The work can begin right away or come in waves. Everyone knows the pooper scoopers, and everyone cheers, especially when we do our job. Kids are fond of pointing out any material we have might have missed or just make faces at the stink of what we are doing. We used to carry a water bottle labeled “perfume” which we squirted after sweeping up. Seems unnecessary these past few years. Or maybe the organizers think it is one less thing to carry. It feels great when the crowds cheer us on as if we are the most important people there. And in some ways we are–what a mess it would be without us, with each passing troupe or equestrian group adding to the mess. Unthinkable!

Now, as a local resident, I am always shocked at how many people I know along the way and how many familiar faces shout out my name. Sometimes I wear a baseball cap from Cal Berkeley, my alma mater, and an incredible number of parade watchers yell the school cheer “Go Bears!” as I pass by.

The parade ends at the high school, where we separate from the equestrian teams and head to the final gathering area of horse trailers and gear. That is where our reward awaits—the In-N-Out Burger truck ready to feed our hungry yet happy crew.


-If you have a passion, side job or venture outside of producing, we'd like to highlight your accomplishment. Send an email with the topic "First Person" to producedbymag@producersguild.org


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ABOVE & BEYOND - One Guild—Many Helping Hands: Council Chairs Have Big Plans For The Future

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Although the PGA is considered One Guild—as all its members share the same benefits—it comprises three councils: the Producers Council (executive producers, producers, co-producers), AP Council (associate producers, production managers, production supervisors, segment/field/story producers, production coordinators, visual effects producers, post-production) and New Media Council (producers working in digital and storytelling platforms outside of traditional models). Councils have 24 delegates, each serving a three-year term. 

Every year, council delegates elect a Chair to set goals and represent their councils on the National Board. Produced By caught up with the 2019–2020 AP and New Media Chairs to learn more about them, what their councils are up to this year and how members can get involved.

 

Melissa Friedman, AP Council Chair

The AP Council is an important resource, one that is committed to fostering a strong sense of community within the council. As its chair, Melissa believes that delegates need to be a voice for council members. “It’s really important for us to hear from our members—what is being done right, what they would like to see done better and how we can help them. To that end, we are working on a member survey and plan on having a town hall and smaller group get-togethers. We are also connecting with PGA Committee Chairs to synergize our efforts and help them with their goals.” The AP Council collaborates with the New Media Council delegates to host the Committee Open House, which introduces members to ways they can get involved. They also oversee the Producing Team Mixer event the Thursday before the PGA Awards. This signature event is like no other at awards time as it brings together all members of the producing teams for PGA-nominated projects. Melissa says, “Because our council represents many members of the producing team, we feel it is important to highlight all their contributions.” Her personal goal is “to uplift and empower our members!”  

Before becoming Chair of the AP Council, Melissa served as Vice Chair for two years, and Secretary, and was also on the Board of Directors. In addition she writes Above and Beyond articles for Produced By magazine, co-chaired the Safety Task Force and has produced several events including Committee Open House and the Producing Team Mixer. “A great first step for new members is getting involved on a committee by helping at events and eventually running their own event or seminar,” she explains.

When not working on behalf of the Guild, Melissa is a supervising field producer on nonfiction television shows and was nominated for her first Daytime Emmy for a digital drama series this past year. “Being in the Guild has not only brought me work and connections, but also lifelong friends. I have a passion for protecting others working in nonfiction and would love to share ideas. The affable producer adds, “Also I am super entertaining and should have my own show!”

 

Jenni Ogden, New Media Council Chair

This year the New Media Council announced the new PGA Innovation Award, recognizing innovation in storytelling across platforms, from interactive television to VR, special venue, and various digital, mobile, immersive and interactive formats. It’s all about innovation, and producers have an amazing array of options for telling the stories that inspire them. The New Media Council has formed a task force to look at emerging formats and will be hosting ongoing events, discussions and an educational series around these new, disruptive technologies and production techniques. It will also continue its deep-dive educational series. As the council broadens its outreach to its membership, it is revising their Code of Credits. Jenni says, “If NMC members would like to get more involved, please reach out with ideas for education and events, volunteer, and give us feedback on how we might better serve you.” 

Jenni has been on the New Media Council board for four years, serving three years as Secretary and one year as Vice Chair before being elected to chair the committee. She is President and Executive Producer of Eye Q Productions, a  company specializing in immersive design, animation, 3D projection mapping for special venues, location-based entertainment, and projection design for live performances. 

The New Media Council represents producers in digital, short-form, animation and VFX, special venue, games and transmedia storytelling. Members are working in all digital formats, whether it’s experienced online, in a VR headset or in a venue. “The New Media Council has formed a collaborative relationship with the GSMA, which represents the mobile technology industry,” says Jenni. “We programmed a panel for their media and entertainment stage and led strategy roundtables around producing for mobile, international distribution and the future of entertainment in new and emerging technologies. Through this relationship we were able to offer PGA members free passes to the Mobile World Conference in Los Angeles in October. Watch for more great events and conversations with the GSMA around 5G and the future of producing.”



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Bearing Fruit: CherryPicks Give Female Critics A Stronger Voice

Posted By Katie Grant, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

“I feel like the ideas just find me and force me to make them come alive,” says Producer, Director, and CEO of CherryPicks, Miranda Bailey, when offering her take on creativity. “I think everyone has amazing thoughts and amazing ideas all the time, and it’s really just about executing them.

“There are two factors that stop people. One is money, right? No, there’s three. Two is time. And then, three, the most important, is fear. At this point in my life, I’m not afraid of failing because I have failed so many times that it’s become incredibly beneficial for me. With every failure you say, ‘Well, I’m not doing that again, but I am going to do this.’”

Bailey’s latest idea to materialize is Cherry Picks (TheCherryPicks.com), an aggregator of female-only film critics who show what women and female identifiers of all races think about movies. She founded it with her CCO, author Rebecca Odes, of wifey.tv and Gurl.com. Hailed by the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Brie Larson on Twitter, CherryPicks has been called a female version of Rotten Tomatoes but, Bailey says, “I don’t think CherryPicks is in competition with Rotten Tomatoes at all. We’re very different. It’s like comparing Men’s Journal to Vogue.

“We use a lot of Rotten Tomato-certified critics. We use a lot of their reviews. If they’re certified CherryPickers, they have a page on our website. If they’re not, then we just link to their reviews on a movie page. So they’re aggregated, collated and collected on our site. I think there’s room enough for everyone.”

From the time she was an 8-year-old girl who decided to make movies after visiting a Hollywood sound stage to the present day—as someone who’s won awards for producing, directing and acting,—Bailey can’t stop creating. She attributes that, with great certainty to her daddy issues. “I think I’m still trying to impress my father. I’m still trying to be like, ‘Dad, look at me. I’m here. I’m here. Look what I’ve done.’ I just have to, at some point, accept that that won’t happen.”

Being Frank, Bailey’s first foray into feature film directing, follows Frank’s son as he discovers his father has a second family. Bailey says it’s about her own father and what it was like to be her mom, married to a man with a whole other life. It seems uncovering the truth has always been Bailey’s thing. It started with penning and directing her first play in high school about her parents’ divorce and taking it to the stage in her hometown of Vail, Colorado. After college, she went on to form her own production company, Cold Iron Pictures, in LA and built an impressive body of work including Diary of a Teenage Girl, Against the Current, Swiss Army Man, Greenlit, Norman, The Pathological Optimist and Super.

Seeing a theme of uncovering the truth in her work, though, eluded Bailey until her producing partner at Cold Iron, Amanda Marshall, pointed it out during the filming of Being Frank. “I literally was telling my producer, ‘I’m making a movie, but I’m not like Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Marriage Story) or the Daniels—Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man)—or Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood). I don’t have a vision. I don’t have my own voice.’

“She said, ‘Are you [bleeping] kidding? You definitely have a voice.’ When I replied that I never felt like I had themes to my movies, she told me, ‘Your theme is basically making movies where people are hiding secrets or giving out misinformation.’       

“I was stunned. Then I realized Being Frank is just like The Pathological Optimist. Both protagonists are not bad and they’re not good. They’re somewhere in between, and there’s a lot we can’t figure out about them. It was a revelation, learning that about myself.”

Even her upcoming directing turn, The Assistants, which she calls “Devil Wears Prada meets Nine to Five for millennials,” addresses issues of truth and lies, as characters “have to make moral choices that sometimes aren’t the right thing to do.”

So as an artist who focuses on finding the truth, it only makes sense that when she saw the reviews for her production of Lake Bell’s I Do… Until I Don’t and realized the only reviewers panning it were male, she decided to start an all-female site for female-identifying movie critics to express their truth. Enter CherryPicks.

“I was thinking, ‘This isn’t right. This isn’t fair. Why is Lake Bell getting all these guys saying this?’ And then I thought, ‘I want to see what the women think.’ I looked around and said, ‘Where can I find the women’s scores?’”

“I learned there are websites that hire writers who are women, which I didn’t know at first because they didn’t come up in Google searches. But the difference is, I didn’t want a place that was going to hire writers to write reviews. I wanted a place that would collate and collect existing reviews and hyperlink to their pages, whether it’s Black Girl Nerds or The Hollywood Reporter, to give them clicks to support those writers so that they would be more visible, because I couldn’t find them when I was looking.”

Rather than offering a binary score of good or bad, CherryPicks gives you four different score options. First is a Bowl of Cherries for a movie you should run to see in the theater. Then there are Two Cherries for “see it soon.” One Cherry recommends you watch it on the couch at home when you’re sick and, finally, there is The Pits, which means see it if you don’t mind sitting through a “pitty” movie.

Uncovering new or unheard voices has long been important to Bailey. She gave Jill Soloway (Transparent) her first writing job, produced Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale after he had a flop, and she provided Kwan and Scheinert their big break to make Swiss Army Man after years of making music videos.

“I think for a lot of producers and financiers, it’s very risky to take on people that have never done anything. Or like Noah had just had a flop and James Gunn (Super, Guardians of the Galaxy) had a flop as well. They were still really good movies. And I was, at that time, one of the people who would be like, ‘Well, I don’t care.’

“Whereas, when you have a large studio or a team of people, everyone’s afraid to make a mistake. Everyone’s afraid to bring in a movie that’s not going to work because their job’s at stake. Well, my job’s been at stake all my life, and I’m slowly trying to kill myself, so it works fine,” Bailey adds dryly.

That trust in uncovering new voices, even her own, has paid off for Bailey. Her first documentary, Greenlit, about how to green a movie production for less environmental impact, was just supposed to be an extra for another film’s DVD. “The situation turned into a disaster, and I thought, ‘This is a great movie. Instead of excerpts for a DVD, this is its own movie.’ And then, as a joke, I summited it to SXSW, and it got in. So I think, ‘Oh, I’m a filmmaker now.’”

As for CherryPicks, Bailey has big plans in the works. There will be a podcast and an app in 2020. “Our first podcast series is called The Snub Club, and we have two hosts, which I can’t announce yet. One is an African American woman who’s a critic, and one is a cute, bouncy, blond, movie entertainment personality, so they come from very different backgrounds. They’re going to talk about snubs throughout history and snubs right now. Also, people who feel like they’ve been snubbed or people’s favorite snubs like, ‘Oh my god, this was the best movie and people snubbed it.’”

For now, Bailey is very happy with the turns her path has taken. “I fell in love with producing because I love working, and I love being busy. I love being hyper organized. I love solving problems. So I’ve been able to become the kind of producer that I enjoy. I’m more of a creative producer now.” And that leaves her extra time to focus on meeting the current demand for more female voices out there in media. Seems the timing is ripe for CherryPicks.


Photos
- courtesy of cherrypicks.com
- courtesy of Cold Iron Pictures
 

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MENTORING MATTERS - 'Madam' Becomes The Perfect Mentor: A Second Chance Leads To A First-Rate Opportunity

Posted By Gabrielle Pickle, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Sometimes life takes a funny turn that leads to an incredible outcome. I am currently an Atlanta-based line producer in the feature world, but two years ago I started optioning and developing projects to take the next big step in producing. I also wanted to investigate crossing over into TV and learn more about the roles and interaction between showrunners and creative producers. So in September, I applied and did not make the selection for a shadow program in Atlanta. But as luck would have it, shortly thereafter, I received an email from the PGA, offering me an opportunity to interview for one that had suddenly become available in New York. Ten days later, I was walking onto the set of Madam Secretary to spend three days with Producer Lori McCreary. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Throughout my mentorship, I followed Lori around from soundstage to soundstage, meeting to meeting—working with actors on scenes, developing the next episode and handling issues with other producers. We sat in video village where I asked a million questions and took pages of notes. I wanted to know about everything: dealing with VIPs on her show (she had four secretaries of state in one episode!), working with the writers’ room, pitching to networks, juggling multiple projects, how she got Madam Secretary greenlit and if work-life balance is remotely possible for a producer. 

"Lori sent me a  
television pitch deck  
and asked for my notes.  
I felt like it was both  
a test and a compliment."  

The most standout advice Lori gave me was, “You have to figure out what the networks want and then develop a pitch so strong that it is harder for them to say no than to say yes. That’s how to get a green light for your project.” She also sent me a television pitch deck and asked for my notes. I felt like it was both a test and a compliment. 

Overall, the PGA Mentor Shadow Program was a fantastic experience. Since my mentorship ended, Lori has graciously continued to answer questions via email, and I’ve worked to implement her advice on pitches for both feature and TV projects. I’m already setting up meetings to get in the room and make them happen. And my coolest takeaway was discovering that Lori and I had so much in common. That amazed me because she is so accomplished and currently producing so many successful projects simultaneously. It inspired me to believe I can achieve the same in my own career. 

I am eternally grateful to the PGA for the opportunity to take part in its mentorship program. Thanks to the Guild, the future looks bright.


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ODD NUMBERS - A Decade Of Delight

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

As 2020 begins, we look back on 10 great years of entertainment. With consumer choices multiplying by the week, fans have more content than ever filling their “to watch” lists. Imagine for a minute a simpler time, and tell us your favorites that debuted during the past decade.

 

 

FAVORITE FILM

 

 


FAVORITE TV SHOW


 


FAVORITE VIDEO GAME

 

 

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

 

Illustration by Ajay Peckham

 

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GOING GREEN - Changing The Energy In Hollywood: Finding New Ways To Work Climate Change Into TV Scripts

Posted By Katie Carpenter, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Something is cooking in Hollywood. A new group called the Good Energy Project is  stirring things up in very interesting ways.

Representing a coalition of the Sierra Club, NRDC, Center for Cultural Power, and the Norman Lear Center, Good Energy recently hosted a groundbreaking panel discussion of at the Pacific Design Center.

Attendees heard from producers, writers, actors and co-creators of shows including Madam Secretary, The North Pole, A Handmaid’s Tale and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Panelists explained why when it comes to creating series, it is still so hard to include a scene about climate change, show a hybrid car in the background or a shot of a character eating a salad. Networks fear losing a ratings point should one of their carefully sculpted characters appear to go off track.

Imagine your lead character delivering a line of dialogue explaining why climate change cannot be ignored, then watching your cell phone buzz as the calls come in. There’s no question that content related to this still-touchy subject has to feel extremely real, very true and not out of character.

It takes enormous effort, scientific briefings, debates in the writers’ room and late nights on the laptop to carefully craft a smooth way to glide these issues into a script. Daniel Hinerfeld from the NRDC explained why it’s worth it to work so hard to build a new climate narrative, saying “We don’t need more science in order to act. The missing ingredient is public will. That's because we are telling ourselves the wrong stories about climate­—that it’s not urgent, it’s not real, we have plenty of time to solve it, it’s too expensive or it’s already too late. These stories we tell ourselves get in the way of inspiring people to action.”

To illustrate the situation, a clip from the CBS show Madame Secretary was played. Entitled “The New Normal,” the episode’s plot dealt with a typhoon hitting a Pacific island nation, with reactions from characters who ranged from a visiting scientist to an evangelical religious leader.

Supervising producer Alex Maggio told the audience, “The key is to have some easily understandable ‘stakes’ behind the story line that can get people interested in paying attention emotionally to what’s going on.”

As the island nation is about to be wiped off the face of the earth, the scientist briefs the State Department, claiming, “There was a time when we couldn’t link specific storms to climate change, but that time is past.”

The evangelical minister tells the secretary of state that he doesn’t believe scientists are always right and that “most doctors used to think that leeches cured pneumonia.” 

She replies, “You really want to put your chips on that square? Your megachurch is in a flood zone near Greensboro. Millions of your followers are within reach of Atlantic hurricanes. We can help protect them, but we need to act now.”

“Scenes like that are always scenes that I absolutely dread writing because there’s so much information in them,” said Maggio. “They’re sort of mortifying, as you barely understand what you’re typing, despite the fact that experts are patiently talking through every element with you.”

The panel participants are all motivated to try different approaches—comedy, drama, nostalgia—but one thing they agree on is that communicating climate change on TV effectively comes down to characters and stories that feel utterly real.

“When we’re carried away by a good story, we absorb information effortlessly,” said Hinerfeld. “We identify with characters who in many cases are very different than we are. And we kind of drop our defenses, we drop our identity group biases, and we open our minds to other ways of thinking and living.”

The director of the Good Energy Project is Anna Jane Joyner, a preacher’s daughter from North Carolina who gained attention by confronting her father, Rick Joyner, about climate change, in a now famous clip from the documentary series Years of Living Dangerously. Joyner’s dad believes climate change is a communist plot, so she used issues close to home like drought and water to make her case. “It’s going to become increasingly more difficult for people to have clean water,” she told him. His answer: “That’s an assumption you have, but the scientific evidence has not been presented. We’ve had cases in history where 99% of the people believed one thing and they were totally wrong.”

Joyner pleaded with her father to be open to scientific findings, telling him, “I really encourage you to put some energy into the research. You don’t want to be on the side that will have to say, ‘I had a chance and I didn’t do anything.’”

Supervising Producer of Madam Secretary Alex Maggio

She launched the Good Energy Project now because she wants to accelerate the pace of the change. “Some say change must happen in the next decade if we want to turn things around. Just look at the news—fires, floods, Greta (Thunberg)—they all make it hard to escape the fact that we have to start changing the way we live right away.

“I am mesmerized by film,” Joyner continued. “It’s such a concrete form of storytelling and in such a scary, urgent time, it seems to be the best way to get the real climate stories out in the most unmistakable forms possible. So to writers who want to tell more and better climate stories, we can connect you to experts and help you think through the stories themselves. We can review your scripts, come to your writers’ rooms and anything else you need to tell a climate story.”

Panelist Dorothy Fortenberry, writer and producer of A Handmaid’s Tale, offered another example of how to weave difficult ideas into dialogue. For one climate change scene, they used a very light touch.

“The idea is that a huge environmental change is happening that’s causing a global fertility crisis. Nations are responding to the fertility crisis in extreme political ways,” said Fortenberry. “We experience this though our heroine, Elizabeth Moss, a beautiful character who we’re rooting for.”

In a flashback, Moss’s character June expresses her nostalgia for snow. “She’s the one who notices that there’s no more snow in winter. But mostly she’s just flirting with the cute guy across the table like it’s in passing. It’s oh, you know, there’s no more snow but now let’s move on to flirting. It’s not at the forefront of her mind. She is not taking steps to address it,” said Fortenberry.

Maggio added, “Ultimately you need to have that great character hook. And then,

is it going be too doom and gloom? Is it going to be too factual and boring? Are people just going to sort of switch off?”

Heads around the room nodded in agreement that these are the obstacles faced by most writers and producers. Maggio continued, “So we work on finding the compelling characters to represent those stories. Once you feel like you have that, that’s your new emotional nucleus and everything kind of falls into place.”

When asked why he is so strongly pursuing solutions to this issue, Maggio said, “Climate change isn’t abstract anymore; it’s having a sizable impact on our everyday lives … We just need the screen to reflect reality. We can’t try to save the world with every script. But if we’re sincere and honest, audiences will respond.” 

 

To find out more about greening your production, please visit www.greenproductionguide.com

 

Photos
1. Courtesy of Hulu
2.Courtesy of Jose Mandojana / NRDC


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OPEN DOORS - Looking Ahead To Summer Vacation: A Life-Changing Experience That's More Extraordinary Than Exotic

Posted By Sasheen R. Artis, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

While some cruise the Mediterranean and others shoot documentaries along the Amazon, each year a small group of creatives are selected to spend eight weeks during the summer in the PGA’s conference room in Beverly Hills.

It’s in these less-exotic digs that the magic happens. PGA Power of Diversity Master Workshop participants develop their film, TV, documentary and web series scripts and attend twice-weekly seminars led by some of our industry’s top producers. They learn the art of the pitch, how to hone their negotiation skills, and how to better understand the worlds of film finance, streaming and the TV writers’ room—all while being mentored by dedicated PGA members.

Now, this may not be your idea of a perfect summer vacation, but for alumni like Eugene Rhee (class of ’17) and Widad Shafakoj (class of ’19), it was transformative. Rhee is a screenwriter/producer and experienced post-production VFX supervisor who enjoyed success as a story consultant on the blockbuster film Fast Five prior to his time in the workshop. Shafakoj is a Jordanian filmmaker whose award-winning documentaries tackle tough social issues and challenge the status quo in the Middle East.

 
Eugene Rhee and Widad Shafakoj found the
Power of Diversity Master Workshop to be life-changing.

 

Describe your experience in the PGA Power of Diversity Master Workshop.

Rhee: Everyone was so positive and supportive, and there was such great camaraderie. I made wonderful friends who I’m still regularly in touch with, and who I can turn to for both practical and emotional support going forward—and that means something, especially in a business as competitive as this one.

Shafakoj: Participating in the workshop was the best decision I ever made. It gave me an intensive overview of filmmaking in Hollywood. The assignments are well thought-out, and the sessions are heavy in content. I was fortunate to meet some incredible producers, story analysts, managers and key figures in the industry.

 

Since completing the workshop, what are the steps you’ve taken to get your project made?

Shafakoj: I am currently in negotiations with award-winning producers I met through the workshop. I was also approached by one of the biggest talent agencies in LA for representation.

Rhee: I’ve produced two films over the past two years. One was for Blumhouse and Hulu, and the other was a Netflix Original film. The first film, called Flesh & Blood, was part of Hulu’s Into the Dark anthology of horror films. My other film was a rom-com (Despite Everything) that was based on an original script I co-wrote. It premiered globally on Netflix.

 

How did the workshop impact your career?

Rhee: The workshop really opened my eyes regarding producing diverse content. My experience also led me to become a Producers Guild of America member because I’ve developed a deep appreciation for what this organization is doing.

Shafakoj: Getting the chance to learn in the hub of the film industry, though sometimes overwhelming, helped me realize the infinite potential I have as a filmmaker. What I was personally exposed to would have taken more time and effort to acquire anywhere else in the world.

 

What advice you would give to someone considering applying to the workshop?

Shafakoj: Take advantage of everything provided to you, go the extra mile and make it worthwhile.

Rhee: So much of this business is about networking. Build relationships with other like-minded people in the industry. Focus on making friends with your fellow participants and see how you can help each other.

 

Applications for the class of 2020 open in February. Visit pgadiversity.org for more information.


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BOSPOAT - Best On Set Photo Of All Time: Worth The Wait

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Talk about mood lighting. This intriguing image was taken on the set of the action fantasy Alpha Rift, now in post-production. The scene was shot on location at Holmesburg Prison, just outside Philadelphia. The film, produced by PGA member Dan Lantz, centers on a fanboy who turns into an action hero with the help of a magic helmet. It was the producer himself who captured the moment of what he calls the “dance” between the actor (Aaron Dalla Villa) and the cameraman (Tom MaCoy). Lantz says, “With the smoke and lighting, the crew looked just as magical as the scene we were shooting.”

Lantz wrote the script back in 1994, but says at the time no one wanted to finance a superhero movie. Every couple of years he would revisit the project until eventually the marketplace had grown favorable for original IP in the superhero genre. Finally in 2017, the producer secured financing, and production got underway. “I’d always heard of producers who spent years getting their dream projects off the ground, and now it was our turn,” explains Lantz. He encourages fellow producers to never give up on an idea they believe in, saying, “It may take you 23 years to get a green light, but it will happen.”

- View previous winners here

-----

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


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