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Producers Guild of America Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines

Posted By Administration, Friday, January 19, 2018
Updated: Friday, January 19, 2018

For the past three months, the PGA’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Task Force has been working diligently on a set of concrete and pragmatic recommendations for producers and team members to recognize and combat sexual harassment both on and off the set.  We’re proud to announce that the Task Force has finished the first stage of its work, resulting in the PGA Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines accompanying this email.  The Guidelines will be released publicly following the distribution of this e-blast; by the time you read this, you may have already heard about it in the press.

We feel that the Guidelines speak for themselves and there is no need to summarize them here.  Instead, we’d like to offer an incredible debt of thanks to the members of the Task Force, many of whom worked through the holidays on this document.  It’s a testament to the importance of this issue—and the seriousness with which the PGA is addressing it—that so many dedicated individuals devoted so much time and effort to bringing this endeavor to fruition. 

The Task Force’s work is not finished; the Guidelines are likely to change as our industry explores new approaches to this problem and as new resources become available.  The PGA will continue to work with TIME’S UP and the industry commission chaired by Anita Hill.  But for the multitude of producers urgently seeking guidance on how to proceed with their work while holding a firm line against harassment, we believe this document will prove invaluable.

Some of you will no doubt have questions that arise from the Guidelines.  The Guild is planning to dedicate blocks of time over the coming weeks and months that will serve as “office hours” to address member questions or concerns.  Meanwhile, we urge you to review these Guidelines and implement their recommendations on your productions as swiftly as may be feasible.

Thank you for your time, attention and readiness to ensure a safe and harassment-free workplace on your productions.


Gary and Lori

- Read the guidelines below or click here to view a PDF


The Producers Guild is an organization that represents, protects, and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team and is committed to fostering work environments free from sexual harassment. We are in a transitional moment as a society, in which we are re-evaluating behavior in the workplace and beyond.  Producers possess authority both on and off the set, and can provide key leadership in creating and sustaining work environments that are built on mutual respect.

Ultimately, prevention is the key to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace. Through sufficient resources we can educate our members and their teams.  Together we must model our commitment to a workplace free of harassment and encourage colleagues to do the same. 

The PGA Anti-Sexual Harassment Task Force is undertaking a thorough review of the tools currently available to facilitate prevention, reporting, counseling and protection.  We also are working with other organizations in the entertainment community, such as the industry-wide Commission led by Anita Hill, as well as TIME’S UP.

We offer the following information and recommendations as first steps to preventing and responding to harassment in the workplace.  As further developments occur, the PGA’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Task Force will share them with you. These guidelines are not meant to be taken as legal advice, but are provided to assist you in creating policies and programs and to assist individuals in responding to harassing behavior.  You should always consult legal counsel as appropriate to ensure you are complying with federal and applicable state laws.




When a job, promotion or other professional benefit is conditioned on the recipient’s submission to sexual advances or other conduct based on sex, or such benefits are denied to an individual because they refused to participate in a romantic or sexual activity. 

Examples: Producer agrees to cast actor/actress only if s/he submits to sexual request(s); Financier threatens to pull funding from project because an individual refuses to submit to sexual request(s).



Unwelcome verbal, physical or visual conduct that is severe or pervasive, and which creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment or interferes with work performance. You may experience such sexual harassment even if the offensive conduct was not directed towards you.

Examples: Making sexually explicit or derogatory comments or jokes, either out loud or via email; inappropriate touching or groping; visual conduct includes making sexually suggestive gestures or publicly displaying sexually suggestive or explicit images.



·       A hug, kiss on the cheek, or casual touch is not necessarily sexual harassment.  The key is whether the behavior was unwelcome or offensive. 

·       It does not matter if a person has sexual feelings towards the recipient, only that the behavior is of a sexual nature and that it was unwelcome and/or offensive.

·       Sexual harassment laws do not create a general “civility” code.  Personality conflicts or non-sexual insensitive actions do not in and of themselves constitute sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is gender-neutral and orientation-neutral. It can be perpetrated by any gender against any gender.



Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is illegal under federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and may violate individual state laws. The law requires employers to take action to ensure that no worker ever be subject to sexual harassment in the workplace.  Employers must have a policy against sexual harassment and explain to employees the process for reporting and investigating complaints about harassment.  Employer must also take prompt remedial action reasonably calculated to end the harassment if they knew or should have known it occurred[†].

The Producers Guild recommends:

·       First and foremost, all productions comply with federal and state laws regarding harassment. If you are uncertain about the nature of the law, please consult with your in-house legal department (if you have one) or with an attorney.  If you do not have access to such resources, reach out to one or more of the resources listed in Exhibit B. 

·       Each production, in whatever medium or budget level, provides in-person anti-sexual harassment (ASH) training for all members of the cast and crew, prior to the start of production and prior to every season of an ongoing production. Effective training should not be simply focused on avoiding legal liability, but must be part of a culture of respect that starts at the top.  Such training takes different forms and styles; make certain that the training you utilize is tailored to your specific production and its needs.  Producers should ensure that the individual trainer has experience providing training in the area of sexual harassment laws and that all levels of management are present at the training in order to demonstrate the production’s commitment to the policy. 

·       Each production continue to be vigilant in efforts to prevent sexual harassment during the production process.  Consider taking steps to maintain awareness of harassment on an ongoing basis, such as periodically adding sexual harassment to the AD’s safety briefing. 

·       Each production offer reporting procedures that provide a range of methods, multiple points-of-contact, including contacts at different organizational levels and in different geographic workplaces (e.g., a TV series that shoots in New York but maintains a writers’ room in Los Angeles), if applicable.  We suggest designating at least two (2) individuals, ideally of different genders, that cast/crew members can approach if they are subject to or witness harassment.

·       Reports of harassment are listened to with attention and empathy. If a cast or crew member reports an incident of harassment, assume the complainant is being sincere until further inquiry can be undertaken, while bearing in mind that the report itself does not predetermine guilt. Reassure the reporting party that the production takes harassment very seriously and that s/he will face no retaliation for reporting. The production should move quickly to address the allegations or engage a third party to do so, allowing for as much transparency as can be provided.

·       Producers be alert for any possibility of retaliation against an employee who reports harassment and take steps to ensure that such retaliation does not occur. Retaliation is illegal, and it is a serious concern for individuals reporting harassment and can take many forms.  Anyone making a complaint or participating in an investigation is protected against retaliation.  Retaliation includes, but is not limited to, firing, change in work responsibilities, transfers, ignoring or excluding, unwarranted discipline, or otherwise making a complainant feel uncomfortable or unwanted in the workplace.

·       Producers should be sensitive to interpersonal power dynamics and the way even their casual questions or requests may carry implicit authority. We recommend that producers conduct all meetings and/or casting sessions in an environment that is professional, safe and comfortable for all parties, and encourage others on the production to adhere to these same standards.


A substantial body of law protects individuals from workplace harassment. (See Exhibit A.) The following recommendations are intended to supplement and facilitate observance of those laws.

·       If you are (or believe yourself to be) the victim of a crime, contact the appropriate authorities immediately.  Be aware of the statute of limitations on filing a charge for acts of harassment or abuse in your state.

·       Create and maintain documents. Make notes regarding any harassment you suffered or witnessed, or any conversation or exchange with the harasser, including dates, times, places, and the specific behavior(s) you felt to be harassment. Make such notes as soon as possible following any incident, while your memory is still fresh. Keep these notes (or copies thereof) in a place outside the workplace. If possible, send yourself or a trusted friend a time-stamped email containing all of the relevant information. Also, maintain any relevant texts, emails, pictures or other documentation. 

·       If the behavior is not a crime, and if you are comfortable doing so, consider speaking to the offending person. Be specific about the behavior that made you uncomfortable, and try to communicate and help them understand what made you uncomfortable and/or feel unsafe. An example of what you may say is, “The comment you made to me the other day made me uncomfortable, and I am asking that you do not make similar comments to me in the future.”

·       Report the incident(s) to one of the designated individuals working on the production. If that avenue is not available or for whatever reason feels unsafe, report the incident to the relevant HR department and/or seek the guidance of an attorney, if necessary. If you need to find resources, consult or refer to one of the resources, including Hotlines and administrative agencies, listed in Exhibit B, following these recommendations.

·       If you are aware that a member of the team is being harassed and does not feel comfortable speaking to the alleged offender, the producer needs to step up on behalf of the team member, engaging in a candid discussion with the person about the harassing speech or behavior and ensure that they understand that the behavior must stop immediately.  The producer then should ensure that the allegations are further addressed as warranted. 

These recommendations are only the first step in a long process of changing our professional culture. Under federal law, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. Ultimately, an inclusive workplace helps protect against all forms of discrimination. We will see even more progress once boardrooms and corporations—as well as production offices and sets—are balanced with gender and racially diverse leaders who will hire inclusive teams as a matter of standard practice. We look forward to refining these recommendations as new approaches are tested and new resources become available, and will share our findings with our PGA members and colleagues in the industry.



The U.S. Supreme Court held in the landmark case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986) that workplace harassment is an actionable form of discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Some acts (e.g., rape, sexual assault, blackmail/extortion, etc.) rise to the level of criminal conduct. It is not always easy to assess whether harassing behavior is illegal. Victims are encouraged to first report any complaints they have to their employer. They also can consult with an attorney and take the steps outlined in the recommendations of these ASH guidelines. Victims also are encouraged to consult any of the resources provided for in Exhibit B.




·       If you are looking for an attorney, you can contact the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, which is housed at the National Women’s Law Center:

·       Women In Film has launched a Sexual Harassment help line — an integrated program to refer victims of harassment to designated mental health counselors, law enforcement professionals, and civil and criminal lawyers and litigators:  (323) 545-0333 / 

·       You also may contact the California Bar Association ( or your local state bar association, which should provide you with referrals and/or access to free legal services.  

·       The Actors Fund provides free and confidential help for those who have experienced sexual harassment. Services include short term one-on-one counseling, referrals for helpful resources and assistance in locating legal services. Please visit the following link for more information:

·       SAG-AFTRA has a hotline to report sexual harassment or abuse: (323) 549-6644.  Members of the SAG-AFTRA union, as well as all other relevant unions, also may contact their union representative for assistance.

·       If you do not have a Human Resources department or the internal reporting process at your company is not effective, then consider filing a formal complaint with a federal or state agency.  The three most common states where production takes place and the corresponding agencies are:

o   California:

o   New York:

o   Georgia:

Or you may contact the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):



Producers can take many measures to discourage or eliminate harassmenin the workplace.  One of the most essential, as noted earlier, is reliance on anti-sexual harassment (ASH) training and presentations.  One resource for PGA members is the online course “Harassment Prevention” offered by Contract Services, a non-profit organization that administers a variety of programs for the benefit of the motion picture and television industry.  The course covers how to identify behaviors that create or contribute to unlawful harassment, discrimination and retaliation, as well as, information on how to assist in preventing and responding to incidents of harassment in the workplace.  While this course is not yet available to PGA members at the time of this writing, it is expected to be made available within the next month.  Contact PGA Director of Member Services Kyle Katz at if you are interested in receiving information about this program.

Please make certain that the training you engage is specifically tailored to the needs and challenges of your production (e.g., size of cast/crew, length of shoot, different cohorts of employees, extensive location work, challenging subject matter, etc.) and that the trainer is experienced in discrimination and harassment laws. Ask that your training includes guidance to encourage “bystander intervention” which empowers co-workers and gives them the tools to intervene when they witness harassing behavior.

As a further resource, we encourage you to review the guidelines for the filming of scenes of a sexual nature as they appear in SAG/AFTRA’s contracts ( found in Section 43, Page 110 (for principal performers) and Section 17, Pages 674 and 747 (for background performers).


[*] Descriptions and definitions are substantively drawn from the work of the TIME’S UP Legal, Legislative and Policy committee, as well as from materials provided by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

[†] This summary provided by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

[‡] As with “Identifying Sexual Harassment,” these recommendations rely on the work of the TIME’S UP Legal, Legislative and Policy committee


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Two For The Show: Producing Veterans and First-Time Collaborators, Todd Black and Jennifer Fox Join Forces for Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Posted By Spike Friedman, Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Roman j. Israel esq., at Its heart is a cinematic collaboration between its writer/director Dan Gilroy and its star/producer Denzel Washington. Gilroy wrote the film with only Washington in mind, saying publicly that if Washington had not accepted the role he would not have proceeded with making the movie. Washington, who plays the title role, is in nearly every shot of Gilroy’s film, realizing the intricately layered character of roman with a meticulously crafted performance. The film is an undeniably unusual, deeply affecting, character piece. It’s that rare studio film that surprises in both form and content, filled to the brim with the sort of moments that can only arise when two artists are working with each other at the top of their respective games.

Behind the scenes, the film was just as much a collaboration between two producers, PGA members Jennifer Fox and Todd Black. Fox effectively came with Gilroy, with whom she produced his debut directorial effort Nightcrawler in 2014. She has a long history working with both Dan and his brother Tony, and a deep trust forged through years of collaboration to bring truly sophisticated mainstream cinema to the screen. Black meanwhile has a personal relationship with Washington that goes back 27 years and has been working with him since producing Washington’s directorial debut Antwone Fisher in 2002. It was Black who first gave Washington the opportunity to work behind the camera and with whom he has forged a de facto partnership that has extended deep into each others’ careers.

Having two producers with that much power, experience and history with the artists involved could have led to any number of issues. Instead what arose was a true partnership, without which one of the year’s most idiosyncratic and affecting films never would have been made. Like Gilroy and Washington, their styles meshed effortlessly in bringing Roman J. Israel, Esq. to life.

The partnership between Fox and Black on the film started inadvertently at Gilroy and Washington’s first meeting. As Fox tells it, “There was a scheduling mix-up, and Dan was in a lobby in a hotel waiting for [Washington], calling me every 15 minutes, saying, ‘He’s still not here, what should I do?’ And I said, ‘Keep waiting. Just keep waiting.’ I couldn’t reach Denzel’s agent because it was a Saturday, and I didn’t have his cell phone, so I called Dan’s agent and his answer was that we have to call Todd Black. And so we got Todd on the phone.”

Black jumps in, confirming that he remembers the moment vividly: “I was in my backyard. I had just cleaned up some dogshit.”

 And in that moment, the producorial partnership was forged. “Within a minute, the problem was solved,” says Fox. “The meeting happened. All was well. But it was at that point I knew, ‘We really need Todd on this.’”

Jennifer Fox on location in Los Angeles with writer/director Dan Gilroy

Neither Gilroy nor Washington started of directing their own work. For Gilroy the process was a matter of gaining the confidence to do that work, something Fox brought out of him. “Dan gave me an unproduced script that was great, called Free,” Fox recalls. “It was about a runaway slave. It had this very commercial bent to it, but it dealt with very serious, tragic, historical situations, and he did it with such grace and elegance. As we started interviewing directors, I listened to Dan talk and at the end of one of these meetings, I said, ‘Dan, you need to direct this.’”

For Gilroy, this was a breakthrough. And while Free did not end up going into production, Fox and Gilroy teamed up to develop the script that became his directorial debut, Nightcrawler. It was a project that was able to get a star attached in Jake Gyllenhaal, and with Dan’s brother Tony onboard  as a producer, financing came into place. The film was an immense success critically and financially, more than tripling its budget at the domestic box office alone, while earning Gilroy a Best Original Screenplay nomination.

On the heels of his frst feature, Gilroy had the opportunity to direct a number of different projects. But he was set on telling the story of Roman J. Israel. Fox explains, “Coming of of Nightcrawler, he had a moment, people were looking forward to what he’d do next. He turned down a lot of things that were offered to him where he could have been paid more money, and he stuck with this. We talked about it at length, and I’d say ‘It’s a risk,’ and he’d say ‘I’m a gambler, and I believe in this.’”

For Washington, the opportunity to work behind the camera was brought to him by Black. “I bought the rights to my friend Antwone Fisher’s life,” Black recounts, “and I paid him out of my honeymoon money, $10,000, which was a lot of money to me then, to write a screenplay. I was dealing with Washington’s then agent, to get him to read it. It took years, because at that point Denzel was doing movie after movie after movie. Finally he read it. His agent said he wanted to meet but that he wasn’t interested in starring in it—he was interested in directing it. And I considered and decided I was open to that, and in fact, it was interesting to me.”

Todd Black relaxes on set with cast member and
fellow producer Denzel Washington

“Everyone wanted him as an actor in that moment,” says Black. “He had never directed anything. But I was interested because oftentimes you find certain actors make brilliant directors. And that’s how it started for us. It was his predilection to go down that road, and it was my openness and interest to hear what he wanted to do.”

From there a partnership emerged based in a mutual sensibility. “As a producer, it’s about the specifics,” says Black. “It’s about the details. That’s what Denzel expects. As an actor that’s the world he lives in: the details. He applies the same principles to producing. And he expects you as a producer to be that exact same way.” Black has produced all three features that Washington has directed, along with a host of others in which he has starred, because Washington recognizes that the producer’s approach is sufficiently detail-oriented to match the rigor that Washington brings to the entire creative process.

In fact, the similarities between the ways that Fox and Black work made their efforts on the film thoroughly complementary. As Fox says of her colleague, “He could not have been more respectful. I’ve told him, ‘I could not be more lucky to have you!’ It’s so great to have someone who does what you do, who understands the struggle of it.”

“We’re both super hands-on producers,” testifies Black. “We don’t phone it in. We’re there. There are a lot of producers that are great producers, but they only go to the set to do a photo op or two. That’s fne. That’s a way of producing. That’s not a condemnation of it.”

Roman J. Israel, Esq., is, like Gilroy’s previous scripts, a challenging and complex story. As Fox remarks, “With Dan’s work, there are layers and layers of depth. It’s material you can interpret and reinterpret.” That depth requires immense specificity in all aspects of production. But it’s also the sort of work that attracts the talent needed to realize that vision. “It’s such rich material,” Fox adds, “it attracts great actors and artists and great crew.”

The setting of the film is crucial, as the story it tells is as much about a gentrifying Los Angeles as it is the intricate legal plotting that exists in the foreground of the story. “From the beginning,” Fox explains, “Dan had this concept that Roman’s apartment was a place being overtaken by this brand new shiny building coming up next-door. As we started scouting and picking locations, we found that there was this constant motif of construction cranes all over our city. It feels like there’s a crane in practically every scene. And we didn’t need to create that.”

The film’s real-life locations are crucial to its success. On top of which, getting to work in Los Angeles was something that both Fox and Black relished. “I hadn’t shot in Los Angeles in more than 10 years,” says Black, “so it was fantastic!” Despite Los Angeles being the locus for so much of the entertainment industry, it does not play itself on film very often. “It hasn’t been overshot,” says Fox, “so you can find incredible locations that are not overly familiar. I find it fascinating, and you get to look at places that you would never have an opportunity to walk into.”

One particular incident stood out for Fox as exemplary of the process of shooting in LA. “We’re shooting a scene where Roman puts money in a dumpster in the rain,” recalls Fox. “There are supposed to be rats running by. And it was actually raining that day. And we were actually standing in the rain, watching actual rats run by our feet. And my thought was just, ‘We’re so lucky to get to do what we do.’ And then the next morning I realized, ‘Wow, last night I was totally psyched to be in a freezing cold alley in the pouring rain, with rats.’”

When it came to working in tandem, Gilroy and Washington meshed beautifully. “It worked very organically,” says Black of the process of collaborating on set. “We didn’t really have any hiccups, because Dan was so clear with his script going in.”

That clarity allowed Washington to do what he does best, which is think like the producer he is. “He also thinks like an audience,” adds Black. “He has taught me to always see the big picture. Always. You gotta make sure you’re seeing how something is going to feel for the audience.”

Fox notes how unusual that approach is for an actor to take with their work. “There’s a tendency for a lot of actors to think about the work for their role, their part.” With Washington, the process is different. She adds, “Sometimes there’s such nuance to [Denzel’s] work that in the moment, you don’t quite understand why something is happening. Then when it comes together later you realize, ‘Oh, he knew exactly why he was doing that,’ that it was part of a whole. It almost feels instinctive, like it’s this sort of innate, incredible cinematic IQ.”

This led to an organic working environment where the planning involved allowed both Gilroy and Washington to flourish as creators. They were able to bandy about choices as small and specific as Roman’s taste in music, because everything was set up for them to be able to dig further and further into the specificity of the character. And so the unusual and idiosyncratic path the character takes through the film is matched with the true depth of humanity that is necessary to tell that story. 

 As Black puts it, “You don’t get to tell human stories as producers anymore. You have to have special effects and visual effects. As a producer, you rarely get to tell stories about human frailty. Human drama. The stuff we’re all around, every day. Pure humanity. To get to put that on the screen in 2017, released by a big studio? That’s pretty rare. “

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DAVID HOBERMAN & TODD LIEBERMAN - After Two Decades as Hollywood Workhorses, The Mandeville Films Partners Hit The Jackpot in 2017

Posted By Chris Green, Monday, January 8, 2018

There are all kinds of ways to create a wildly successful creative partnership. Plenty of people cherish the romantic image of partners as joined at the hip … one-mind/two-bodies collaborations between lifetime colleagues who came up through the trenches together. But the truth is, the essential commonalities in a great partnership aren’t the biographical details, but the bonds that come from a shared sensibility, work ethic and passion for storytelling.

No one is going to mistake David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman for brothers; your first appraisal is more likely to be uncle and nephew. Hoberman is older by 19 years, the son of an ABC radio executive, who got his start in the ABC mailroom, delivering mail to fast-rising execs like Michael Eisner and Barry Diller. After a career that wound from Norman Lear’s Tandem Entertainment to the early days of ICM, Hoberman found himself once again in Eisner’s orbit. Working under Eisner and Jefrey Katzenberg at Disney, he was a key part of the executive team that led the studio to its late 1980s/early 1990s resurgence. After a decade at the studio, which saw him rise to become President of the Disney Motion Picture Group, he moved to the other side of the production divide, creating Mandeville Films and setting up shop with an overall deal on the lot. The company’s office remains housed there to this day.

The same year that Hoberman moved into that office, Lieberman arrived in Los Angeles, a theater kid with a degree from UPenn and hustle to burn. He quickly found a home in distribution at Summit Entertainment, where he earned a reputation for shrewd instincts, championing the company’s acquisition of hits like Memento and American Pie. Only four years after moving to Hollywood, Lieberman joined Mandeville, first on a temporary basis and soon thereafter as a kind of junior partner. After a mostly successful decade of producing mid-budget studio comedies, the duo took a left turn, teaming with independent filmmaker David O. Russell for the boxing-themed family drama The Fighter. The movie was a watershed for all concerned, rehabilitating the director’s reputation and earning Mandeville a new measure of critical acclaim and industry respect, as well as the producers’ first Oscar nominations.

Hoberman and Lieberman pivoted back towards Disney, breathing new cinematic life into The Muppets franchise, the success of which allowed the studio to trust them with the live-action reboot of its animated classic Beauty and the Beast. The result is 2017’s biggest hit to date, a film whose domestic box office take currently sits at No. 8 of all time, and which has grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. Mandeville saved its second act for the fall, releasing the Jake Gyllenhaal Boston bombing recovery drama Stronger and the modern classic kid-lit adaptation Wonder; the two films have earned the producers some of the best reviews of their careers, with Wonder establishing itself as the sleeper hit of the season.

What began as a mentor/protégé relationship has long since become a partnership of equals. Produced By grabbed the chance to meet up with Hoberman and Lieberman on the Disney lot this fall, in the middle of their company’s biggest-ever year.


DAVID: I was thinking about that as we were sitting here—what would my professional life be like had I not hired Todd? Obviously, it’s impossible to know. But Todd was just a really good executive and I could count on him. If I asked him to do something, I knew it would get done. And then it just became what it became. It’s like one of those stories; you look around and it’s been 17 years. When you’re in a relationship for 17 years, you’ve been through everything with that person. I’ve been through his midlife crisis, he’s been through my divorce, we’ve shared our lives with each other.

TODD: Yeah, we trusted each other. Certainly for the first many years I was kind of drafting of David … learning, absorbing and figuring out what the business was. And I think I was providing something different for him. But then at a certain point you become contemporaries more than mentor/protégé, and it just naturally evolved. It’s a job, right? And then the job turns into something and so you end up figuring out a different relationship. So the success on the business side has equalled the success on the personal, emotional side, and those two things together make up something that’s really hard to force.

DAVID: I think if you look at Hollywood, there are very few partnerships that last. There was no way to foresee that this particular relationship would do so, particularly given that he was in every way my junior, you know? A lot of people become partners because they grow up in the business together. So this one, I think, is particularly unusual.


DAVID: I knew the formula. Basically, our group started the Touchstone comedy tradition. I loved Disney movies and I knew how to do that. So that’s just what I naturally did. The thing that was interesting about Disney at the time is that our slate was so varied that we didn’t have the same identity as Warner Bros. or even Paramount in those days. We never really worked with the biggest movie stars because the studio didn’t want to pay them. We did a lot of movies with DeVito, we did a lot of movies with Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn … we had this sort of regular troupe and it was just a lot of fun. It was an easy transition for me because I knew how to do what the studio did at that time.


DAVID: Jefrey was all about the work. It wasn’t about dining out or having fun, even though we had fun. It was about doing the work and it taught me a work ethic that I’ve lived with since then. We used to be infamous for our script notes; sometimes they were as long as the script. That kind of rigorous approach gave us the ability to develop scripts that people wanted to make. That started with my training under Jefrey and Michael. We worked as hard as anybody could work. I mean there was that famous quote, “If you didn’t show up on Sunday, don’t bother coming in on Monday.” We’d arrive at work with our car headlights on and we’d leave with the headlights on. So it was a very rigorous but fun environment.


TODD: I’d never worked in development. When I was at Summit, I was reading scripts but generally scripts that were already in production. Going to film festivals and watching movies, I was able to start articulating what I liked and didn’t like about finished film. But I had no skill set in what a three-act structure was or breaking down a script. So the idea of sitting in a room with a writer for three or four hours at a time was very foreign to me. It took me a while to understand that process and, frankly, get the patience to be able to do it well and be very granular about certain things. You can look back at my old school report cards and they all say the same thing: if I don’t like something or I’m not interested, I don’t apply myself. So I have to love it in order to sit in a room with a writer for three or four hours at a time. I have to love it.


TODD: I remember how when I was a kid, the movies that I would really respond to were the ones where I was moved emotionally, even if it was a comedy. I think back to some of the early John Hughes films or some of the early Amblin movies, that you had this feeling like the story was entertaining, but there was also something more … you came away from the experience with something that followed you out of the theater. I wasn’t able to articulate that until much later in life, but when I started looking for material and finding writers and things that I thought would be valuable for the company, that’s what I was looking for. We started doing comedies, and the first thing that I brought to the table here was a movie that ended up becoming Bringing Down the HouseIt started of as a spec called, and it was kind of a raunchy comedy with some funny set pieces. And through the course of development with all kinds of different executives, obviously David as well as Todd Garner at the studio, it evolved into something very different. But that movie, as much as it is kind of a broad comedy, has a heart and soul to it at the center, and it connected with audiences.

So over the course of years I was trying to figure out what that all meant, and I came to kind of a revelation at a certain point—people in our position have an ability to tell stories that compel behavior or move people in a certain way. So I started focusing in on what that meant and started personally looking for things that just, frankly, moved me emotionally. And if you look at a lot of the things that we involve ourselves in—not all of them but a lot of them—there’s an inspirational uplift, something at the end that leaves you feeling a little better than when you went in to the movie. I think that’s always been my personal taste, but over the course of checks and balances and trial and error, those are the things that I personally zero in on and I think both of us share that philosophy.

DAVID: Right. I remember when we had Pretty Woman in test previews, watching the audience react to that, or Beaches where you could literally hear the crying and the sobbing and people taking out their handkerchiefs. Or Dead Poets Society; the silence when that character committed suicide. I realized then what an impact the movie business has on people and has on their lives, and what it means to be entertained and emotionally moved and all that. And that’s like a drug. You just want to keep doing that.


TODD: That was part of the revelation to me, how significantly you can alter the shape of a story just by sitting and brainstorming and talking. Sometimes you don’t come in with the idea that’s going to do it, but through the course of discussion with your partner or a writer or something, in that room, something generates. I remember when we were sitting and developing The Proposal, which we developed for ages. I can’t remember who was exactly in that room, but an idea came up about changing the structure of the story by changing how many days the story took. And we realized that by adding one day over the course of that story, it would change the entire dynamic of the film. And I remember, similarly, when we were developing The Fighter. It was maybe because of a budgetary constraint, but [writer/director] David Russell said, “Let’s just take out the entire first act.”

DAVID: I remember that. It was a budgetary thing.

TODD: Yeah, it was budgetary. But in a way, the development process triggered by that budget constraint completely changed the movie. I remember thinking, ‘Well, how’s that going to work?’ And then you talk about it and realize that it kind of works.


DAVID: Yeah, it was an unlikely pairing. David had a reputation at that time. But I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know why or what or how, but it was probably one of the best collaborations we’ve had in working with a director. He was open to every suggestion and inspired everybody to want to make the best movie that we could make. He works very differently than most directors that I’ve worked with.

TODD: He does.

DAVID: Particularly on set. He’ll interrupt in the middle of a take and give notes, “Try this … try that.” The Fighter wasn’t a big-budget film, so we had to move quickly. We were sort of scrappy in how we made that film. But David turned out to be a great collaborator and great director and that movie got him back on his feet. It was a blast, that whole experience. It really was.

TODD: Deciding to move forward with a movie like that was a very conscious decision. You mentioned some of the comedies we’d done before, and I thought of this as the evolution of a company, expressing a desire to grow and get into different things. So it was a conscious decision to pivot into a different realm that we’d never been into before. It turned out really well and allowed for movies from there to happen. Frankly, The Fighter is what allowed for movies like Wonder and Stronger.


DAVID: We were interviewing a lot of directors and we came down to a few. David had a relationship with [Mark] Wahlberg and I think Wahlberg asked us to meet with him. We liked him. And I remember in that meeting we said, “Well, what would you do to the script?” and he said, “Like, nothing. It’s great.” And of course, we ended up completely rewriting the script. [laughs] I always say producing is about making choices, and the biggest choice you make is the director choice. And that one turned out okay.

TODD: He became like a close friend, too, to both of us. There have been lots of times where he’s asked us to come and help produce another one of his films, and there was always a schedule conflict. But we love the guy.


TODD: I think you have to earn that person’s trust so that when they have—and he does—thousands of ideas, you can be a sounding board to filter ones that might be valuable or allow for a different perspective that might be valuable. I mean it was David who said, “This script needs humor in it.” That tone came from him. His approach is almost like jazz music, where there’s no linear approach to it, you just kind of hear your way through it. To a certain extent, you can control that as much as you can control that.


TODD: That’s right. I think part of producing is knowing when to step in and knowing when to step back. It’s as much knowing when not to do something as it is when to do something.

DAVID: True in life, as well. [laughs]


TODD: One thing we’ve heard a lot is, “We don’t know where to kind of categorize you guys. Your movies, The ProposalThe MuppetsWarm BodiesBeauty and the Beast—they’re literally all over the place.” And we say, well, that’s reflective of our taste; we don’t want to just focus on just one thing. So I think what The Fighter allowed us to do is focus more on things that we just loved as opposed to finding things because they were going to get made.

DAVID: I think, also, people accept you as more serious filmmakers. We’ve had a few of those kinds of successes. Beauty and the Beast is the first all-out blockbuster. As my dad said, “Never peak too early.” So it was rewarding to have that at this time, because we hadn’t had one. We’d had a lot of success, but not that big, billion-dollar movie. I think that changes peoples’ perception of you. So you just keep doing what you do. I do think that the diversity of our slate comes from the diversity of being at a studio. I just looked at it like a studio executive. If you look at the movies we’ve made over the course of years, it would resemble the slate of a studio. So I think that was a big influence on the direction that we took.


TODD: I think, as a creative person, you kind of have to go in a little bit with blinders on and not let that stuf in. For both of those, I realized how revered they were, certainly, but you don’t actually absorb—or at least I didn’t absorb the pressure until after the fact. Because if you absorb the pressure during the course of it, you’re second-guessing decisions and saying, “Well, is this the right thing because of something the fans said?” Then you lose a little bit of the creative plan.

Hoberman on the set of Traitor with cast Don Cheadle
Hoberman & Lieberman (center) on the set of The Proposal with cast
Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds (left) and director Anne Fletcher (right)

DAVID: I never look at it that way. You can’t look at that big of a picture. You can’t let yourself go, “Oh my god, we’re taking this crown jewel of the studio and we’d better not mess it up.” You have to put all that aside—which I do; I’m able to compartmentalize—and just do what you always do on every movie, which is to service that film. Because if you let all that stuff come in to your thinking, you’re not going to take chances, you’re not going to allow your creativity to flow and you’re not going to succeed.

TODD: It’s easy enough to say you shouldn’t make decisions out of fear—easier said than done, for sure—but in circumstances like these, it’s almost essential, I think.


DAVID: Actually it was a pretty easy choice because he loves theater. He wrote Chicago, he wrote and directed DreamgirlsHe had done the Twilight films at Lionsgate, so he’d worked with visual effects. He had the whole package, really. He was familiar with all the Beauty and the Beastthat were in theaters going around the country. He was a true aficionado and truly loved the story. And he came in with some really good ideas as a writer. So it was actually kind of a no-brainer for us.


DAVID: Well, I would say that if you’re doing it just to fill the coffers, then that’s not the way to approach it. I think Bill and we were really looking to figure out how to make it our own. There are things you can get away with in animation that you can’t get away with in live action.


DAVID: Like, who was Belle’s mother and what happened to her? [laughs] Who was the prince’s father, the king, and what happened to him? How’d he get this way?


DAVID: Yeah. You’re held to a more realistic way of approaching a story. Another one: Gaston can’t be as broad as he was in the animated film. So I think that was the challenge. Bill had come up with this idea about the role of the staff—that they were going to become inanimate objects if the curse wasn’t lifted. So they had their own story. But our mantra was always: Let’s do something that we can be proud of, where we’ve made a contribution to a classic, as opposed to just copying that classic.

TODD: Exactly. You have to add something to it to justify it being a live action theatrical release above and beyond the fact that we’re just updating the technology. This would be another element to it, so again, going back to the idea of moving audiences: I think it was important to accentuate some of the dramatic storylines, back stories and things like that, that added to the emotional experience. I vividly remember seeing the animated film with my girlfriend in 1991 and leaving that theater feeling totally romantic and emotional. I approached it from the desire to replicate that feeling without specifically copying the movie. I think that was the goal and I think we accomplished it. Obviously the box office speaks for itself, but there were so many people calling, just saying, “Thank you so much. I took my daughter” or “I took my kids” or “I took my Mom.” It seemed to have that generational feeling, the same way that the movie did back 20-some years ago. And that’s really gratifying. 


DAVID: You want to do it all over again! [laughs] It’s such a great experience that you do want to repeat it in some way, shape or form. Not that we weren’t always looking for stories that can do that kind of business, and people are maybe more likely now to approach us for those kinds of films.

TODD: The Fighter started it, and then Beauty and the Beast has moved it to a different level. What it does is allow you to narrow the focus and pick projects you want to do. But it also makes you push yourself to strive for excellence. Once you’ve gone out there with something that was so well received, both critically and commercially, you want to top it. So you have to scrutinize the projects you have and scrutinize the development and scrutinize the filmmakers even more and just making sure that every time we’re going after something we’re trying to do the very best version of it.


TODD: Yeah. That was a book that David and I both read right as it was being published, and we fell in love with it. We both read it overnight, we called each other and said, “I don’t know how we’re going to get this movie done, but we have to get this movie done.” It was a message we had to get out in the world. We had no idea if the book was going to become big or not, but this was a movie we had to make. Thankfully, the book became gigantic and allowed for that momentum to push through and got the movie made. But we heard an extraordinary number of takes from writers and filmmakers. And most of them were, frankly, “Let’s not show his face,” or “Let’s wait til the end to show his face.” “Let’s get rid of the multiple perspectives.” “Let’s tell it linearly.” 

 But we kept thinking that the best asset we had here was the book. As hard as it’s going to be and with as many people telling us that we were crazy—and they did—that this movie that would never get made because of this kid’s facial difference, we just kept thinking the only way to make this movie is to do it in the way that the book’s doing it and honor these kids who have this facial difference. The book at this point is a modern-day classic, and I think now, if we had changed the book to a significant degree, we would have gotten throttled.

DAVID: The surprise of that experience was that it seemed like a pretty simple kids book. It’s a pretty simple message, a pretty simple story about a kid going through one year of fifth grade, but it turned into a very difficult adaptation. Like Todd said, people had all different kinds of ideas of how to do it. What we ended up deciding was that all we have to do is tell the story in the book. If we do that, we’ll be in good shape. And that turned out to be the right decision.

TODD: Sometimes—and this is where it becomes really challenging—you’re going to have writers and directors come in who want to put their own stamp on something. And so we needed someone to come in there and basically take what was so brilliant about that piece of writing and translate it from the written medium into the visual medium, as opposed to changing things to a degree to have ownership of that story. Thankfully, between [writer] Jack Thorne and [writer/director] Steve Chbosky, those guys revered that book. But we had so many people coming in saying “Here’s why you need to do it differently” or “Here’s the imprint we need to put on it.” That sometimes is an alluring proposition. But maybe the less cool idea is just take what’s written and put it up on the screen. In this case, it was the better version.


TODD: Building along the theme of what I’ve been saying this whole time, don’t be scared of your own taste. Really understand what you love, because the only thing that’s going to move things forward is passion and fight. People say “no” all the time, but what I like to say is I can’t be the only person in the world who feels this way about this particular story. So there are other people who love it too, and you just have to find those people. Don’t pretend and don’t try to figure out what other people’s tastes are; know what your own is. I’m still learning, frankly. Every day, there’s a new experience and a new challenge.

DAVID: Because this is Produced By magazine, I wanted to share this experience. I learned how to produce a movie on a film I did called The Negotiator. Prior to that, I may have been involved in a couple of movies, but I really didn’t know how to produce until that movie, and I always give that movie credit. F. Gary Gray, who had done Friday and Set It Of was the director. Gary is a peculiar director. Sometimes you don’t know where he’s coming from or what he’s doing or why he’s doing it, and I remember we used to come in in the morning and Gary’d say, “Okay, I want to do this, this, this, this, this.”

And then he would leave and we’d look at each other and say, “Well, we can’t do this, this, this, this and this, so what are we going to do?” And the DP, AD and I would sit around and figure out what the day would be, how we were going to shoot it, what we were going to tackle. And then we’d come back and tell Gary, “Here’s what we’re going to do to try to accomplish what we think you want.” We did that on a daily basis, and that’s when I learned what the job is. I was with those key people, and we all gathered to structure and create what the movie was going to be, and then it was up to Gary to shoot it. That was an extraordinary revelation for me, working on that movie, and it helped that it turned out pretty good. It wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, but there are other reasons for that. But the movie turned out good and I could be proud that I contributed ideas. That’s the movie where I learned what the power of a producer is, what the job of a producer is and how a producer can affect a film.

 - feature photography by Kremer Johnson Photography

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2018 Producers Guild Awards Honorees

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 21, 2017

One of the awards season’s marquee events, the Producers Guild Awards celebrates the finest producing work of the year, and gives the Guild an opportunity to honor some of the living legends who have shaped our profession. 

Held in January, the Producers Guild Awards is a must-attend event for the industry, and represents a unique chance for PGA members to extend their network, support their Guild, and pay tribute to the best of their profession.  The 29th Annual Producers Guild Awards will be held January, 20th at The Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles.  The 2018 Producers Guild Awards is presented by Cadillac.

- For ticket information, please contact Lauran Huff at 310-201-5033 or 

- To see all nominees for Theatrical Motion Pictures and Television, click here.

Donna Langley

The Milestone Award is the PGA’s most prestigious honor, recognizing an individual or team who has made historic contributions to the entertainment industry.  In the past, the Guild has paid tribute to such industry leaders as Clint Eastwood, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, Sherry Lansing, Ron Meyer, Alan Horn, Bob Iger, Jim Gianopulos, and 2017 recipient Tom Rothman, among others.

“The Producers Guild of America champions what is lifeblood to so many of us—visionary storytelling, fearless creativity and global filmmaking,” said Langley.  “On behalf of the brilliant team at Universal, I want to thank its members for recognizing our work with this prestigious honor.”

Charles Roven

The 2017 recipient of the David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Motion Pictures was Irwin Winkler. Previous recipients include David Heyman, Stanley Kramer, Billy Wilder, Clint Eastwood, Jerry Bruckheimer, Brian Grazer, Laura Ziskin, Kathleen Kennedy & Frank Marshall, Scott Rudin, and Steven Spielberg.

“I am grateful to my peers and colleagues at the PGA for recognizing me with this award named after true industry legend David O. Selznick,” said Roven.  “It is an incredible honor to be included among such an illustrious and inspiring group of filmmakers.”

Ryan Murphy

James L. Brooks was the 2017 recipient of the PGA’s Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television. Previous honorees include Shonda Rhimes, Mark Gordon, Chuck Lorre, J.J. Abrams, Dick Wolf, Jerry Bruckheimer, Lorne Michaels, David L. Wolper, Aaron Spelling, Carsey/Werner/Mandabach, Steven Bochco, David E. Kelley, Mark Burnett, and Norman Lear, himself.

Producers Guild Awards Chairs Donald De Line and Amy Pascal stated, “Being a prolific producer is itself an achievement.  But it takes a truly unique talent like Ryan Murphy to forge a producing career that touches so many different genres—from horror, to comedy, to musicals, to fact-based drama—and infuse them all with such distinctive voice and passion.  In addition to his many other credits, Ryan is even a former producer of the Producers Guild Awards itself, which makes the opportunity to honor him this year even more special.”

Ava DuVernay

The Producers Guild Visionary Award recognizes television, film, or new media producers for their unique or uplifting contributions to our culture through inspiring storytelling or performance. The Producers Guild 2018 Visionary Award is sponsored by Delta Air Lines. Previous honorees include: Oscar-nominated producer and founder of Annapurna Pictures Megan Ellison; Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner’s Plan B Entertainment; producer and founder of Illumination Entertainment Chis Meledandri; producer Laura Ziskin; and Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll.

Producers Guild Awards Chairs Donald De Line and Amy Pascal stated, “The emergence of Ava DuVernay as a producer and filmmaker has been one of the great developments of the past several years. Whether in scripted features, television or documentaries, her unique voice, skill and passion have inspired countless audiences throughout our country and around the world.  She is, by any standard, a visionary storyteller, and we are excited to be honoring her as such in 2018.”


The Stanley Kramer Award was established in 2002 to honor a production, producer or other individuals whose achievement or contribution illuminates and raises public awareness of important social issues. Previous recipients of the Stanley Kramer Award include: “The Hunting Ground,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Hotel Rwanda,” “In America,” “Antwone Fisher,” “Precious,” “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” “Bully,” “Fruitvale Station,” “The Normal Heart,” and the 2017 honoree, “Loving.” 

Producers Guild Awards Chairs Donald De Line and Amy Pascal stated, “The electrifying response to ‘Get Out’ demonstrates that the power of motion pictures to crystallize and reflect our collective social anxieties remains stronger than ever.  It’s hard to imagine two more different sensibilities approaching the problem of race in America than Stanley Kramer and Jordan Peele, but despite the different paths their stories take, their power springs from the same outrage, fearlessness and passion.”

- You can view all of the full Awards press releases here.

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SELLING SHORT - The Market For Digital Storytelling Has Never Been More Robust... Or More Confusing

Posted By Chris Thomes, Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The wave of original programming targeted at digital and social platforms continues to gain steam. Social networks like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and even Google’s YouTube Red subscription service are diving headfirst into exclusive original streaming video content. And they aren’t the only buyers. The list of potential backers of shows and movies in the digital space has grown exponentially over the last few years. The list includes telecommunications giants such as AT&T and Verizon, traditional linear TV networks that are looking to broaden their offerings to include digital series, legacy and digital publishers such as Time Inc. and Refinery29 and, of course, streaming services from the 800- pound-gorilla Netflix to smaller operators such as Fullscreen and its in-house wiseacres Rooster Teeth.

Funding in this digital space comes from an ever-shifting crowd of buyers, but one new player bringing lots of poker chips to the table has some serious reach—Facebook. The social networking giant is talking to Hollywood studios and agencies about producing TV-quality shows. In meetings with major talent agencies including Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency and William Morris Endeavor, as well as with major networks, Facebook has indicated it is willing to commit to production budgets as high as $3 million per episode, people familiar with the situation say.

While that’s the price range of high-end cable TV shows, Facebook is also interested in more moderate-cost scripted shows in the mid- to high-six-figure per episode range. And you can bet the company will be aggressive about trying to own as much of that content as possible.

The push for TV shows is part of a two-track effort at Facebook to up its game in video and target the tens of billions of ad dollars spent on television.

Snapchat is also playing in this space. Last year, Snap introduced “Shows” to its Discover platform. These premium, original, TV-like series are produced exclusively for mobile by leading TV networks and entertainment studios. These shows can be based on existing IP, giving networks the chance to reimagine classic TV franchises for a whole new audience, or they can be original new concepts, built directly for mobile. NBC, ABC, CBS, Discovery Networks, Turner, Scripps Networks, Vertical Networks, VICE, and MGM Television are among the networks and studios working to develop and produce Shows for Snapchat.

Even Apple is getting into the game and is reportedly investing $1 billion in original content efforts next year. They recently plucked Sony TV veterans Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg away from the studio in June and have taken over video production responsibilities from the Apple Music team. The execs have already held meetings around town to find shows to acquire.

With all of these buyers getting out their checkbooks, several companies are looking to cash in on that market demand. New Form Entertainment, a company backed by Discovery and filmmakers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, is looking to do just that, aggressively developing and selling a variety of programs. They know the space is highly competitive, with everyone from independent digital studios to legacy print outlets to distributed-media publishers furiously jockeying for position.

Another new player, helmed by digital entertainment veteran Larry Shapiro, is Ensemble Studios, a next-generation digital management production company, focusing on emerging artists. Shapiro’s mandate is to capitalize on the wave of funding to champion writers, directors and artists who have successfully built audience and created original IP.

Shapiro explains, “The filmmakers that I work with are native to the platforms that they are being distributed on. Every medium creates its own stars, so the filmmakers who grew up on digital are the ones I like working with.“

To that end, Ensemble only looks to produce projects they are passionate about and where they feel a strong affinity for the subject matter. As far as funding, they look for independent financing or buyers who give the most freedom to the producer.

All this competition between producers really requires compelling marketplace differentiations in order to gain an upper hand. New Form’s Chief Creative Officer, Kathleen Grace, explains, “What sets New Form apart is the quality of our storytelling and the fact that our content is guided by data-driven audience insights. Through measuring the potential of specific audiences and taking chances on emerging talent of all backgrounds, New Form is able to develop narratives that millennials want to watch and won’t find on TV. In addition, our ability to create for specific platforms, including digital-first platforms [e.g., YouTube Red and Fullscreen], brands, premium SVODs and linear television networks, allows us to experiment with new formats and find the best venue for our shows.”

While that approach may be giving scripted programming a leg up, most of the short form currently in the market still consists of talk shows or other non-scripted lifestyle programming. To really hold on to an audience and build a loyal base of viewers, the content will have to be more than commoditized social material. A lot of buyers want premium quality storytelling, which means that skills like putting together a writer’s room, locking in showrunners, and generating season-long arcs are becoming as important in the short-form space as they have been in traditional TV production.

Snapchat has a very different value proposition to partners in this competitive landscape. Their shows are an extension of traditional TV, not a replacement for it. Snap believes their programming can help traditional TV networks reach new audiences who many not be watching their linear programs. The company has decided that building a core, loyal audience for their TV partners is critical to building their own IP brand equity and a long-term, sustainable model for producing mobile TV.

Similarly, New Form is also helping traditional players find new audiences. As these players look to reach younger, mobile audiences, Grace’s team may be the secret weapon they need. “Currently,” she states, “New Form is focused on making original content for existing franchises (like MGM’s Stargate Origins) and new IP (almost all series released to date), not generating ancillary content to network shows. But that doesn’t mean we won’t start looking into these kinds of partnerships in the future.”

That may be good news for traditional media companies, who have seen consumers shift their media time away from live TV, opting for services that allow them to watch what they want, when they want. This includes a massive migration toward original digital video such as YouTube Originals, SVOD services such as Netflix, and now originals on social platforms like Facebook.

But for the producer, wading through this complex marketplace requires more than simply understanding the funding model. The work approach with the buyer is also complicated. Facebook has been described as being “hands off” with the short-form content it’s buying, although the social platform is more involved with longer-form shows. Snapchat, on the other hand, tends to be much more closely involved, including piloting shows before approving them for a full season. They are also known to weigh in at all stages of production, from brainstorming ideas to graphics. Facebook, contrarily, may order full seasons of short-form shows without ever piloting them and may leave producers entirely to their own devices during the show’s development. Ensemble has its own approach, focusing on a leaner production model that is closer to the filmmaker, de-emphasizing development/executive teams that they fear can dilute the creative process.

With all this demand for video, it would appear that there has never been a better time to be a digital entertainment producer. But while the market for digital entertainment content is healthy now, it’s also volatile. There are no guarantees that some of the social platforms currently seeking shows will be willing to pay for them in a few years’ time and there are no guarantees that some of the streaming platforms commissioning or licensing series will even stick around. In fact, in the three years since New Form’s launch, the digital ecosystem has changed dramatically. Platforms that were once hungry for short and mid-length series are now looking for projects that can help them compete in an increasingly competitive streaming environment. That means more traditional-length series with established stars and creative talent attached. YouTube Red, for example, recently tapped Naya Rivera and Ne-Yo to star in a Step Up revival executive produced by Channing Tatum. Cable networks, meanwhile, have also begun to look to digital to mine projects for linear distribution, with TBS recently ordering a first season of the New Form-produced animated series Final Space.

Despite the challenges inherent in the space, some producers maintain that even if one major video buyer drops out—Yahoo, for instance, made a lot of bets in entertainment shows before scaling back, while NBC Universal’s Seeso went big before it announced its demise in August—there is always a new buyer to take its place. New Form acknowledges the churn but believes they have a smart approach that can help them weather market shifts.

“Audiences are moving and will continue to move to digital platforms,” Grace asserts. “New Form breaks through the clutter with performance-based marketing and premium storytelling driven by data. Our production and development process allows us to be incredibly agile in this rapidly changing media landscape, taking advantage of trends and ideas in real time—meaning we are making content that has never been made before. And lastly, we give our creators storytelling freedom to ensure the content is authentic, thought-provoking and diverse.”

Ultimately these new buyer/distributors are looking for shows that will help attract audiences over time, and the challenge of staying on top of what audiences are looking for is nothing new for producers. It is an age-old problem, regardless of format or platform. But as Grace suggests, one new tool may hold a critical key to success in this new market—data. It’s the key to understanding one’s audience, and now more than ever, there is an abundance of data at the producer’s fingertips. Depending on the platform, that information may be unique. Snapchat, for example, is a closed system within an application. They do share data with their partners, but it’s proprietary and their viewers’ behaviors are unique. Facebook is completely different, trying to reach everyone, everywhere. But between daily active users, daily unique users and video views, the metrics are starting to have some standards everyone can rely on, even if context around usage is different.

Shapiro agrees and contextualizes the value of data all under the banner of engagement: “The use of influencers with big audiences will only get you so far. You can’t have one-offs if you are working with creators who have a footprint, and it will be hard to change the entertainment behavior of their audience. One thing will never change—we as a species like to be storytellers. Since cave drawings, it has been part of our culture. But we sometimes forget that it is a two-way exchange. Today’s content is about stories that create conversation. Some say content is king, others say distribution is king. I’m a fan of the idea that engagement is king.”

This data-driven, engagement-above-all approach for content development may be the producer’s best tool yet. If they are lucky enough to land funding from one of the new exhibitors, readiness to listen to and act on the viewing data may help guarantee another season because the ultimate test of longevity may not rest solely on great programming. As Netflix has proved, you also need to have a great discovery platform and tons of data insights. With so much competition, getting a viewer to find your content may be the biggest challenge producers face today. But armed with data-driven, high-quality programming, producers can be ready to engage viewers as fully as possible, whenever—and wherever—they show up.



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