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GAIL BERMAN & LUCY FISHER - The PGA's New Presidents Have Some Big Plans

Posted By Chris Green, Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Typically when we interview a pair of producers for our cover, they represent two halves of a long-standing partnership, with a significant collective body of work behind them. The two subjects of this interview aren’t producing partners—at least not in the traditional sense—and it’s fair to speculate that the duo’s most lasting joint achievements lie ahead.

On June 9 at the Guild’s General Membership Meeting, the PGA welcomed its new Presidents, Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher. In taking the office, they represent the fourth pair of producers to share the duties of the PGA presidency. Not only does their election promise new opportunities for the Producers Guild, it presented a novel prospect for this magazine: the chance to sit down with the incoming leaders and discuss their priorities, as they chart the Guild’s course for the next two years. In years past, incoming Presidents have been the subjects of feature profiles recent enough to disqualify them as repeat cover subjects. But Gail Berman (we’re almost embarrassed to note) has never appeared in our pages prior to this, while Lucy Fisher, along with her producing partner and husband, Douglas Wick, was last seen gracing the cover of this magazine back in 2001, in the sixth issue we ever published.

Needless to say, it’s a vastly different PGA and entertainment industry that we’re a part of today. But if anyone is up to the challenges of the moment, it’s Berman and Fisher, who each bring to the job a lengthy producing career informed by a significant tenure as a network/studio executive at the highest levels. This also marks the first time a pair of women have held the PGA Presidency. Berman and Fisher were both instrumental contributors to the Guild’s landmark Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines released earlier this year, and their election is a sure sign that the Producers Guild intends to continue to lead the industry as it reappraises its professional culture.

In taking on the PGA Presidency, we conjecture that Berman and Fisher must have somehow discovered a few extra hours in each day, busy as they are with running their respective companies, The Jackal Group (which Berman founded in 2014) and Red Wagon Entertainment (where Fisher joined partner Wick as Co-Head in 2000). Berman was kind enough to dedicate a couple of those hours to hosting Produced By at The Jackal Group offices in Santa Monica, where the following interview took place.


So of course, we need the origin stories. How did you guys find your way to producing?

GAIL: I started my career as a producer in a pretty unusual way.  After graduating from the University of Maryland in my early 20s, a friend and I wound up producing a version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which we initially put up at Ford’s Theater in Washington and then took the production to off-Broadway and then finally to Broadway— which served as the show’s initial debut on the big stage. So at a very young age, I wound up being a producer and was purely a producer for the first 10 years of my career. Then I became an executive who was also producing, working for Sandy Gallin, which lead to my running production companies and also producing. However when I went to Fox in 2000, I served solely as an executive for the first time in my career.


Well, we’re glad you’re back.

GAIL: I am too. When I went to work as an executive, I missed being a producer. I missed being close to the product. I missed “touching” it. I enjoyed my years as an executive, but I always knew that I would go back to getting as close as I could to the creative idea and to the group that I got to put together to fulfill somebody’s creative vision. And I love that.


It sounds like it’s part of your DNA, at this point.

GAIL: It kind of is, I think.

LUCY: I had the opposite trajectory. I was an executive for 25 years, at five different studios. I worked with a number of producers and lived with and married a producer. I was very lucky in that I got to work with some great visionary producers. I worked for Francis Coppola for two years as Head of Production when he had his studio, Zoetrope Studios, on Las Palmas and got to see him work as a producer and director.  And I did many movies with Steven Spielberg, mostly as a producer but sometimes as a director. So I was able to watch some masters in action. I got to watch my husband [Douglas Wick] manage Gladiator and see how he kept three separate writers all still engaged on the project, reading new drafts and scenes even when somebody else was writing those drafts.  Even as an executive, I always liked to think of myself as sort of an executive producer on the movies that I worked on, because I loved to be down in the details of the process.

But as I rose up the ranks as an executive, I kept finding myself further and further away from the creative side I loved, until I was finally offered the Chairmanship at Sony. But I realized that if I took that job, I would be in a room I didn’t want to be in, instead of the room that I did want to be in, which was the room that said “Yes” as opposed to the room that said “No.” I wanted to be a part of putting together the team of talented people who would work together to make something better than it could ever be if any one person did it by themselves. Being a part of that collaborative process is, I think, one of the greatest pleasures of working in entertainment.


The Producers Guild, as an organization, has had a few different acts of its own. What was your impression of the Guild before you joined, and what did you discover about the PGA as you became familiar with it?

GAIL: Well, I really dived right in when I joined, but to be perfectly candid, I didn’t know much about the PGA before that. Initially it felt to me that the Guild lent itself more to the film community than it did to television. I realized after I joined that I was mistaken about that, that there was an interest in really broadening the goals of the organization. I felt like I fit right in, that I could participate, get my point of view—and certainly the television point of view—across. Now that I’m working more in film, it’s a pleasure to access the experience of some of the veteran film producers that have lent their services to the Guild. It’s an impressive group.

LUCY: I came to the Producers Guild through Wick, who also later turned out to be my business partner in Red Wagon. But at that point, I was still a studio executive and he was very involved in the early stages of the creation of the Producers Mark, along with Kathy Kennedy, Mark Gordon, Hawk Koch and so many others.  Seeing them put together the definition of what a producer did, and create and sell the value of the Mark is what turned me on to the PGA.

What I came to see after I became a producer and joined it, was that the PGA, as an entity, has a lot of the same qualities that I admire in producers; it’s scrappy, it’s not bureaucratic, it wants to get things done, it welcomes different points of view and it’s okay to argue. I love that its ways aren’t set in stone and it doesn’t have such an old history that precedent always has to take precedence. Instead people are encouraged to speak up. We can act nimbly because we’re not mired down. So I think that the Guild has a similar personality to the best aspects of producing. I like that.


What is it that you’d like to see the Guild do? What sort of difference would you like to see it make in the lives of producers or in the lives of people in the industry?

LUCY: That’s a great question. I’ll answer it in a few different parts. At this particular point in time, I was especially attracted to the opportunity because I want to help make the producing community more inclusive. Producers are naturally leaders. They have to lead a lot of disparate individual people all the time, while still trying to keep their eye on the big picture.

With the new attention to diversity and emphasis on stopping sexual harassment and trying to create more equitable workplaces, I felt like this was a point in time where I could actually make a bigger difference at the Producers Guild than maybe I would have been able to at other points in time. I mean, the accomplishment of the Producers Mark is supreme. It’s a hugely significant achievement. So now hopefully another great achivement for us can be to provide leadership and provide a model for some of the ways that we’d like society and our industry to conduct itself. That opportunity is extremely appealing to me and to both of us, I think.

GAIL: Because our world is in the midst of a revolution, and our business is changing at a pace that is almost impossible to keep up with, the opportunities that I see for our members are going to continue to grow exponentially from traditional platforms to the expanding universe of OTT services and emerging technologies.

It is an incredible time to be a producer. But at the same time, I also think we have to continue to protect and fight for producers, as we look to the future and to all of these exciting new places for content. Many people and many companies who have not previously been in the entertainment business are entering the space. Producers potentially can become diminished by that, by the lack of understanding of their role in the project. People seem to know what a director does and what a writer does. But oftentimes the producer, the visionary who started it, the person who’s in charge of putting things together and keeping them together, that person needs to be valued and advocated for in this new world order, if you will.

So I think that one of our goals is to take the organization into the future and to make sure that our current members as well as those who expand the ranks, are respected going forward and enjoy the opportunities that the revolution will provide.

LUCY: That was great. I want to say what she says.


GAIL: Thanks!

Lucy Fisher discusses a scene with cast member Tom Hardy while on location in Georgia for Lawless.


What you’re talking about is the paradox of the producer’s job. When you’re responsible for seemingly everything, how do you get others to understand or appreciate the nature of that responsibility?

GAIL: People used to ask me, “What does a producer do?” And I said, “A producer is the person who gets no credit when the show is successful and gets all the blame when the show isn’t successful.” [laughs] That was my definition of a producer. I think 30 years later, it still holds up as a good definition of a producer.

LUCY: But just adding to that, in the film world, despite the fact that movies are often linked to the star or the director in the public’s mind, when it comes time to handing out the Oscar for Best Picture, it goes to the producer. That’s one of the things that the Producers Guild worked really hard on, to make sure the right people, the ones who truly did the work, receive the credit they deserve.

I think Gail is absolutely right that in this exploding universe of entertainment, we want to make sure that we can protect producers the same way. That requires identifying the work. That requires educating people. And it requires having talented people to do that job. I think we do. We have thousands of members and we’re getting more every week.

I think the expanding ranks of the PGA is evidence that the organization has touched a lot of people, has built a community for producers to be able to communicate, share ideas, share frustrations, and be a place that individuals can find work and feel protected. I think that’s a really good way to look at how to grow this organization and to continue to move its ranks into television and into what the Guild still calls “new media.” I hate to tell everybody, but “new media” is at this point, ironically, a very old term.

GAIL: As a guild, we’re exploring a lot of different ways of going about producing in that space. Certainly that is something that we’re doing at my company. And I’d like to think that’s some knowledge that I’ll be able to share with our membership.

LUCY: On a separate but related note, in terms of the membership, I think the PGA’s expanding and redefining what the AP Council represents has allowed a lot more people and younger people to join the Guild. I mean, that’s our lifeblood. We’re excited that those people can find their way in and find work through their membership.


Executive producer Gail Berman (back left) with team members from 2016's The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again. Back row: Berman, producer Lou Adler; Front row: cast members Reeve Carney, Victoria Justice, Ryan McCartan, Laverne Cox, Tim Curry, director Kenny Ortega

That’s what a guild is supposed to do, advance your career and give you a trade.

GAIL: That’s our overarching goal: to keep expanding the ranks so that you can start at one place and begin to grow in your career as well as within the PGA.

LUCY: One of the things that I know I’m excited about and I think the Guild is excited about is that in Gail, we have a President who comes from such a deep television background, even though she’s doing features now too. But we haven’t had that in the Guild at such a primary level before. Since there’s now a highway between film and television, with people commuting from one medium to the other, having that perspective is going to be really valuable.

GAIL: I think the lines are blurred. Here’s the good news: We’re all about quality content. We’re all about encouraging our membership to create and be involved in high-quality content. Going forward, that content will be seen on any number of platforms—platforms that we’re all familiar with, the big screen, broadcast television, cable television and now any number of over-the-top services that are being developed or are already in the game.

I think the key here is not so much to think about serving a given distribution platform, but to think about content and the necessity for high-quality content to populate all of these different ways of distributing product. It’s an incredibly ambitious time for producers. It’s an incredibly scary time for producers. But I am a believer that, when you have this kind of tumult, amazing opportunity comes from it. For those who are willing to look and find it, there is a new day dawning. I’m very happy to be part of helping the Guild be a part of this new day and get it to wherever and however we can benefit our members the most.


We’ve already spoken a little about the Producers Mark. It remains the signature achievement of the Guild. Lucy, you had a ringside seat to the creation of the Mark.

LUCY: At first it felt like a pipe dream, that the Mark would ever be accepted by any studio, much less all of them. Studios were not in the habit of respecting producers to the degree that they deserved to be respected. It was a very hard process, which our predecessors undertook brilliantly. But when we finally saw that little “p.g.a” next to our names, we were really excited. People asked us, “What is that?” And then they usually said, “We didn’t know you played golf!”


LUCY: Of course, we explained what it really meant. Anyway the fact that it caught on the way that it did, and the fact that people wanted to have those initials next to their name and wanted to signify that they really did the work, and that they were proud of the work that they did, all of that happened really quickly once it started. I think it’s certainly a crowning achievement of the Guild, at least in the film sphere.

Now we have to figure out how to keep it relevant and how to make it so people can’t game the system. We have a slew of problems that we never anticipated because some people now want the Mark so badly that they are trying to figure out ways to circumvent or bend the rules. So there will be a constant process of massaging or reevaluating those rules. And it’s something that we would like to explore expanding into the television world.

GAIL: Yes. We really believe that, while it’s a more complicated venture to add it to television, it’s certainly worthy of exploration. We have members that I know are interested in seeing that happen. A full evaluation of what the Mark means and what it could mean for television producers is a conversation that we’re going to take up quickly … just in an exploratory way. What would it mean to expand the Mark?

We’re not going to make any promises. We don’t imagine that this is an issue that can be tackled quickly. But we will certainly engage in the conversation.


Certainly the kind of tumult you were just talking about suggests that this is a more Malleable PHASE than we’ve seen.

GAIL: That’s why I think this may be the moment to really begin these conversations because at a certain point in time, producers need to answer certain questions such as: What is a film? What is a television show? What is digital content? If a film doesn’t appear in a movie theater, does that mean it’s not a movie? These are all questions that have to be raised. Producers themselves have to engage in the conversation about these things so that other entities are not deciding this for us.

We want to be at the forefront of that decision-making. We want to rise to the occasion the same way the Guild did when confronted with the issue of harassment impacting the industry as a whole. We want to be the first out. We want to be setting the agenda for our membership, as opposed to bringing up the rear.


That’s a perfect segue, because that’s exactly what the Guild made it a point to do in delivering its Anti-Harassment Guidelines for its members—to give them a fixed point to hold on to in the middle of a lot of swirling uncertainty. I know that you both were very key to that process. What was your experience like, of getting together and really digging into this sensitive area during what everyone sensed was kind of a watershed moment?

LUCY: It was incredibly intense. People felt really strongly about many different aspects of the issue. I will be forever impressed with how quickly the Producers Guild acted, A) in convening a task force and B) encouraging the multitude of points of view about what should be done and what measures could be taken. As happens in good producing, everybody was heard. And we actually came to practical solutions in terms of creating a document that became the template for the other guilds.

So the Producers Guild really stepped up very quickly to address the problem. Did we take a great first step? Yes. Will we have to continue to be vigilant? The answer is yes. We have a membership that’s very committed to those issues. They’re serious. This wasn’t a passing whimsy that will be forgotten in a month. It’s a part of our culture that’s going to stay. I think the Producers Guild really stepped up quickly and intelligently.

GAIL: I think what Lucy said is exactly right. I think it was a proud moment, especially in that we took on a painful situation that some of our very own members contributed to. So we needed to be proactive about it. We needed to take a strong stand, the way we want to do with a lot of things going forward. The very fact that we’re in this position—that the PGA for the first time has elected two women as its Presidents—that in itself sends a powerful message in this moment.

We can’t dictate what our membership does creatively. But what we can do is create a standard that we would like to see our membership uphold. If we can just express that priority to the membership and have them embrace it, that will make our tenure really, really worthwhile.


At the same time, the pushback against harassment is taking place within a larger context. Lots of voices that historically have been excluded from the industry are speaking up to be included.

GAIL: First and foremost, we have to make sure that those are individuals that are in our Guild, from the very start. If they’re not in our Guild, you can’t represent people that aren’t present. So the Guild itself has to open the doors up and be inclusive of the kinds of individuals and issues that we are concerned about.

I know both Lucy and I are very determined to make sure of that, just as our predecessors were. Gary and Lori did a tremendous job in terms of diversity within our organization. I think we’re going to take that mantle and run with it. These are important issues of the day and we need to have a Guild that’s representative of what we stand for, which is inclusion.

By having those people in our Guild, they will tell stories to the world that other people might not tell. It’s incredibly important to us and I think to the world at large right now, that diverse points of view are represented in entertainment and in every sphere. The artistic freedom to be able to express a panoply of points of view can only happen with a majority of people expressing their experiences.

LUCY: It feels like the world is about narrowing voices right now, putting them into a homogenous box. The PGA should never be about that. We should be about the expansion of storytelling, the freedom of storytelling. We need to protect that for our membership and, really, for our industry as a whole.

Gail and I were talking earlier about the news, how local news has been diminished so much that the news that we’re getting is from fewer and fewer sources. We don’t want that to be the case with entertainment, because entertainment represents people’s dreams and hopes and experiences of life. It’s really important to defend that, not just allow all studios to become one studio that makes one movie.


I’ve seen that movie, I think. It’s another paradox of the producer’s world right now—the platforms are multiplying and yet the number of people who are actually in a position to purchase content appears to be narrowing. How do you as producers navigate that kind of tension?

GAIL: These are really important questions, precisely because they’re difficult to answer. It’s complicated. I mean, it’s not easy when one giant company is buying another giant company and you’re not sure—if you’re me, at least—who you actually work for.


I think these are questions that don’t have obvious answers right now, but as a producer, you do your best to navigate what you’re given. It’s just hard. Everybody is dealing with some version of that question.


Thank you for being so candid. Just to have other producers read and recognize that the Presidents of the Producers Guild are ultimately dealing with the same issues they’re grappling with creates real solidarity within the membership.

LUCY: The explosion of digital content is, in part, a reaction against having only a few people deciding what other people are going to get to see. That’s one reason that space is so interesting right now: They’re not asking permission. So we’re watching and we’re learning, same as everybody else.


Here’s a big-picture question… The PGA is officially nonpartisan, politically. We don’t endorse candidates, and we respect the diverse politics of our members by basically staying out of them. At the same time, we have fully embraced inclusion, and we now live in a world where that represents an inherently political position. Given that culture is at the heart of so much of the tension and the tribalism that we see today, what’s our responsibility as culture makers?

GAIL: Well I think a big part of our job as producers is to allow somebody to come home, put their feet up, turn on whatever device they want to turn on, and relax and simply enjoy entertainment. I think it’s an increasingly important thing to be able to provide to people, after a difficult day that’s fraught with problems and saturated with messaging. It’s a real blessing to be able to give that to audiences, because people need it so badly, and they need it more in a world that’s as divisive as ours is right now. It’s a wonderful part of what we can do, to bridge the gaps that exist in this world that we’re in.


That’s really well put.

GAIL: I also think it’s important to remind ourselves that what we create is, in so many ways, one of the great exports we have to the rest of the world. It’s some of the best product that anybody could ever want to export and represents what our country is like and what our values are. It’s something for us as a country to be very proud of. It represents us really well around the world, when other things may not represent us so well.

LUCY: At the same time, the best of entertainment can travel the globe precisely because it talks about the commonality of the human experience and because it reminds us that there is a commonality of experience. So yes, we provide escape and entertainment and the excitement that comes from being thrilled or moved or any of those things, but it’s also important to remember that it binds us to each other. The Greeks sat in the theater outside to watch plays and experience those stories together. It’s the same impulse you see in response to something like The Handmaid’s Tale, where different people all around the country are calling each other, “Did you watch it yet?” It makes a community, whether you see it on your TV or on your phone or you see it projected onto your eyeball in 10 years. There’s something that binds us together, that makes us feel connected to other people rather than feel threatened by other people. It’s like that moment at the end of Sullivan’s Travels, where the prisoners are all laughing together at a movie or the first time you see a foreign movie and you forget that you’re watching the subtitles because you identify so much with the characters … That’s a magic gift that we have, and we hold it very dearly.

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Full Spectrum - Exceptional Minds Create Vital Opportunities For A Unique Set of Students

Posted By Deborah Calla, Friday, July 20, 2018

About a year ago, I was invited by Susan Zwerman, a visual effects producer, PGA member and a DGA Frank Capra Achievement Award recipient, to come and visit Exceptional Minds, a school and studio dedicated to teaching visual effects and animation to young adults on the autism spectrum. As an activist for the employment and depiction of people with disabilities in media, I jumped at the opportunity.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. The term “spectrum” reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths found among the autistic population. The Center for Disease Control estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in 68 children in the United States alone, including 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls. 

I met Zwerman at the school’s boardroom where she shared the history and mission of Exceptional Minds. As I was guided from room to room and felt the amazing pride the students, artists and staff took in the work they were doing, I was blown away. I got to watch clips of finished work for big-budget Hollywood films and TV series such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Spider Man: Homecoming, Game of Thrones, and Prison Break being done by young adults on the autism spectrum. Sensing my wonder, Zwerman explained that a laser-like focus comes in handy when you need to adjust individual frames of a movie. “They’re really into details,” she tells me. “They zoom in, and they really want to fix it to the nth degree.” I wanted to know more.

Based in Sherman Oaks, Exceptional Minds is the world’s only vocational school and studio that gives people on the autism spectrum an opportunity to learn animation and visual effects and work on a range of post-production jobs from rotoscoping, to green screen work, to 2D animation.

“If you want to know what’s on their minds, just look at their computer screens” says technical director Josh Dagg, who has supervised student artists’ work for feature films like the Golden Globe winner American Hustle.

The training program lasts three years and is taught by instructors and teachers who work in the industry and who have received training from behaviorists on staff in working with people with autism. Once the students graduate, they are eligible to join the studio and start earning a paycheck. Exceptional Minds also tries, whenever possible, to place those graduates who demonstrate the desire and ability to succeed as full-time employees into major post-production positions at Hollywood companies such as Marvel Studios.

Tony Saturno, a 2017 graduate of Exceptional Minds, has worked on The Good Doctor, Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther. He says he became interested in learning about visual effects after watching the first Iron Man. “I came from Maryland just to attend Exceptional Minds,” he shares. “Just that has given me a great deal of independence.”

Exceptional Minds was born out of a sense of necessity. A group of parents with kids on the autism spectrum wanted to see their children grow up to be independent and active members of society. But as they looked around for their children’s futures, the stats were abysmal: 90% of adults with autism were and are unemployed or under-employed and an estimated 50,000 teens with autism become adults and lose school-based autism services each year.

Yudi Bennett was one of those parents. She was a successful assistant director having to face raising her son Noah, who is on the autism spectrum, alone after her husband passed away. Thinking back on how well Noah had done in an after-school digital program, Bennett started to conceive of what a school that would teach animation and special effects to young people on the autism spectrum would look like. Exceptional Minds was launched in 2011 with nine students, software donated by Adobe and a fierce belief that as a society we can do better to create opportunity for others who are different.

“I have seen how diversity of thought may be the most meaningful form of diversity that our society needs to recognize and foster and include,” notes PGA East Chair William Horberg, whose own child is on the autism spectrum. “There is a growing population whose minds are wired and think differently, and who have meaningful contributions to make to society and to our industry.”

Once the school was up and running, it became clear that it wasn’t enough for these young adults simply to learn skills and occupy themselves. A job, and the attendant sense of responsibility and accomplishment, had to be the next step for Exceptional Minds. Bennett convinced her best friend, Susan Zwerman, to leave her successful career in VFX and help set up the studio. For Zwerman, it was a no-brainer. She had watched Noah grow up and felt committed to giving him and others like him a chance.

Zwerman accepted the challenge and took on the task of producing, scheduling and budgeting work to come into the studio. “For me, personally,” she says, “this has been a spiritual journey. I have had such a good career in the industry, and this is my way of giving back.”

Zwerman used her industry connections to get the studios to come and see the work that was being done at Exceptional Minds. Fox was the first to sign up, followed by Marvel Studios. Today the program has become so popular that they now have three potential students vying for every single spot in the school. People travel from as far as South America and Asia to come learn. Their summer session draws about 160 students for two-week classes.

“Yudi Bennett is a pioneer and a hero,” says Horberg, “for the work she does at Exceptional Minds to create awareness and opportunities for employment in media for these young people. I wish there were a thousand more like her!”

Unfortunately, there aren’t. As we reassess the nature of equality in employment and the portrayal of minority groups in the entertainment industry, people with disabilities—who today make up the largest minority in the country—are often left out of the conversation.

Janet Grillo, Chair of the Education Committee for PGA East, is on point, observing, “Children with autism become adults with lifelong challenges, as well as aptitudes which are uniquely suited to aspects of our industry.”

So why can’t we fight for the inclusion of people with disabilities and offer best practices with the same fervor we are now doing for women, people of color and LGBQT?

The answers vary, but in truth, they don’t matter anywhere near as much as the simple recognition of the value that people with disabilities bring to the fabric of our society and the contributions they can make.

John V. Chapman, the father of an Exceptional Minds student, poignantly states, “For the first time in our 22 years with Christopher, we have found a place where people care deeply about him and understand his plight, where people believe in his abilities and can help our beautiful son do more with life than bag groceries at Vons or stock shelves at Sears.”

As a society we have moral responsibilities. As artists we must reflect our society. And as an industry, we have the opportunity to tap into a market with  $200 billion in buying power.

People with disabilities want to be productive members of our society. Our community must step up and support programs like Exceptional Minds that teach, employ and serve as a bridge for this unique group.

“As working producers,” observes Grillo, “we have the chance to create opportunity, by telling stories by, about and with people on the spectrum—and by offering them a place on our sets,iourproduction houses, in our community and in our hearts.”


Deborah Calla is the Co-chair of the PGA Diversity Committee and the Chair of the Media Access Awards, which celebrates people in the entertainment industry who advance the portrayal and employment of people with disabilities.

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Voices From ABFF

Posted By Shirley Williams, Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Updated: Monday, July 9, 2018

The American Black Film Festival (ABFF) is America’s largest annual gathering of African-American film, web and TV enthusiasts. Held in Miami, Florida this year, the festival took place at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel and drew nearly 12,000 attendees. The home of Marvel’s Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, ABFF is sponsored by its long-time partner HBO. At this year’s festival, Sony Pictures premiered Superfly along with screenings of Universal Picture’s The Purge and TNT’s Claws. BET premiered The Bobby Brown Story about the life of the R&B star along with a screening of the film of his late ex-wife Whitney Houston, Whitney.

Ryan Coogler headlined the “ABFF Talk Series” where he discussed his journey to success, from his start at ABFF in 2011 where he made his directorial debut with Fig to his Hollywood hit Black Panther. In 2011 Coogler was rewarded $20,000 through HBO’s Short Film Competition; this year, HBO awarded $10,000 to director Alfonso Johnson for his short Moths and Butterflies.

Panel highlights included “Write Or Die” featuring panelists Cheo Hodari Coker (Marvel's Luke Cage), Karin Gist (STAR) and Kriss Turner Towner (Greenleaf) who shared tips on getting scripts greenlit, and discussed diversity in the writers room. Programming also included Master Classes where festival-goers got a chance to learn from power players like Karin Gist (STAR) EP, (Grey's Anatomy) on how to become a showrunner and Taj Paxton (Head of Logo Documentary Films) & Darrien Gipson (National Director of SAGindie) on how to get feature films financed.

Cadillac offered Ride With Cadillac, a complimentary shuttle service offering rides to all ABFF festivities as well as a VR lounge where you could build the first-ever XT4 Sport crossover. American Airlines hosted a lounge where attendees could check out the ABFF history and meet the official 2018 Filmmakers.

Pharrell Williams with Mimi Valdes

I got a chance to catch up PGA’s own Mimi Valdes, the Hollywood producer responsible for films like Netflix’s Dope and Roxanne Roxanne as well as the hit motion picture Hidden Figures to discuss how she as a woman of color makes sure her work spaces are always reflective of the world we live in.


Shirley: Tell me about your role at I Am Other.

Mimi: As Chief Creative Officer I am in charge of film and TV and our media ventures at I Am Other. I’ve been at I Am Other since Pharrell started it back in 2011 but working on film and TV since summer of 2014. That’s when we did our first movie, Dope. Pharrell considers it a creative collective. It’s really the umbrella company for all of his projects, but I’m specifically handling film and TV.


Do you have any upcoming projects?

We have a kids’ show that we’ve been developing for a couple of years now. We’re in post for Netflix. It’s a show for 8 - 12 year olds, similar to Brain Games. We partnered with the guys who created it - Atomic Entertainment - to do a kids’ version. We haven’t announced it yet because we’re still trying to figure out our launch date but that’ll be the next thing that comes out.


What are some of the things you do outside of I Am Other?

I am forever a student. I’m super curious. I just love discovering new things. I love people. I’m constantly trying to learn as much as I can about the world. I don’t really have a lot of time to do things outside of I Am Other. I do speaking engagements. I still write every now and then. I come from journalism; I used to be a magazine editor. I did a Solange cover story for Glamour a couple of months ago. I’m a storyteller first and foremost. In any medium that I can have an opportunity to tell a great story, that’s where I go. Wherever.


How do YOU bring diversity into your work spaces?

The magazine world has always had a lot of diversity. I’m from New York City, born and raised. Diversity to me is like normal life. It doesn’t feel comfortable if I’m not around lots of different people, and not even just people of color. I want all sexual orientations, I want different religions, I want everybody, because coming from New York - Manhattan, specifically, which is such a melting pot—that’s what makes me feel comfortable. But what I found in Hollywood is that there aren’t a lot of us. So what’s frustrating is you’re constantly on the lookout to make sure that our crews reflect the world that we live in. It’s not easy, because there’s not enough of us, in Hollywood, that have these positions of power, whether it’s greenlighting a film, or knowing the buyers that are making the acquisitions. But it’s important that we’re not just focused on the glamorous roles. We need all the positions. Whether it’s production designer, costume designer, craft services, line producers…we really need to be represented in all facets of putting together a production, but there’s not a lot of us. What I’ve tried to do is expose as many people as possible to these jobs, starting within my own personal crew of friends and family. We have to continue to let people know there are jobs in this field beyond just director, actor, producer. All of us that have been blessed and lucky enough to be in these positions where we are creating content in Hollywood. We have a responsibility to bring other people along with us and just let people know that these jobs exist.


Dennis Williams

I also spoke with Dennis Williams, HBO’s SVP of Corporate Social Responsibility, about his role at HBO and how it impacts the content the major media brand produces.


Shirley: What would you call social responsibility?

Dennis: I would call it “Robin Hood.” (laughs). I would say it’s just good business. You know, I’ve been at HBO for a couple of decades now but there was a time when people talked about things like business ethics—not just that you have a product and you make money, but is your product good? I think, fortunately in our culture now, we’ve gotten to a place where people are asking that question again and holding brands accountable in ways that we’ve not seen before. And we’re seeing brands understand in a very, very real way that consumers will choose to engage with you if they feel like your values match their values. If they feel like your product is welcoming and supportive of their experience, then they will support and buy your product. And if not, if that relationship isn’t authentic, then consumers will step away. I think it’s good business. I think it’s ethical business. I think it’s about business that has a moral compass. I think it’s the way that all companies should behave and operate, particularly in the media space. Media is so incredibly influential and powerful in our lives, it really nudges the culture forward in some very unique ways, so I think we have an even greater responsibility because we’re shaping ideas. We are speaking to people who feel invisible in the middle of nowhere, and they turn on their television and they see themselves reflected or they see their stories reflected or they see issues that they are grappling with handled in a mature, thoughtful, complex, compelling way and you can’t take that for granted. I think you have to be responsible with that power.


Talk about how you, growing up in Kansas as a child, didn’t see images of yourself reflected in the media and how that inspired you.

You called me out on my very selfish examplesometimes I say a “boy in Iowa.” (laughs) In my experience, it was growing up as an African-American kid in the midwest. My community was full of people who looked just like me and who were bound by the same kind of constraints that generations of folks had been bound by. So it was very difficult for me to see or to know what I didn’t know, right? It was hard to think outside of that. So media was key for me. I was incredibly fortunate to be born during the time that Oprah Winfrey launched her nationally syndicated talk show. I was obsessed with it. She looked like people that I knew. If up until that point all I had ever seen was Phil Donahue, then I could have never imagined that for me, because little black boys didn’t grow up to be old white men—not that we grew up to be black women (laughs) but at least that’s a little closer, you can get there. That’s not a bridge too far. Oprah is the best example, the shining example, and seeing her made a difference. Then I started to look for myself in other stories and other programs that I watched. As I grew older that became increasingly complicated, because I realized I’m probably not like the other boys here. I’m probably not going to grow up and marry a woman. I’m probably going to grow up and hang with other boys. I didn’t see that reflected. In this kind of crazy, scary way, my identity was so limited because I just didn’t see it reflected anywhere else. So I understand in a very personal, deep and visceral way how important it is to see yourself reflected, and if you don’t, it can be incredibly isolating and that leads to people going to very, very bad places. I’m fortunate that there were some examples there that showed me another way. I tell this story pretty often—and my mother is probably going to get upset with me—but I was so obsessed with television as a kid, that I would literally sit and time television commercials. I’d heard that television commercials were 30 seconds, and I didn’t believe it! I was like, that’s just not possible! There’s a commercial and the black woman is sitting at the table and her son comes in behind her from the army, surprises her, and they cry and they eat? How do they do all that in 30 seconds? And so I would sit and time television commercials. I was that into media at an early age. And my mother would say—in particular about Oprah because I watched Oprah all the time—she’d say, “Oprah has hers, you need to figure out how you’re going to get yours, television is going to get you nowhere in life.” And now I’m like, “Hey, you know that company HBO? That worked out pretty good for us, didn’t it?” (laughs). But like they say, if you knew better, you’d do better. My mother was working with the cards that life had dealt for black folks in Kansas. It didn’t look like we were going to be media moguls. Teacher, preacher, post office – that was what we were encouraged to strive for. Thankfully it got bigger for me.


The ABFF festival has proven to be essential to the growth of the African-American creative community. It has created platforms for untapped talent, granted award money to gifted artists and continues to be a space for emerging talent to meet other creatives to build relationships and cultivate partnerships. ABFF has signed a deal to return to Miami for the next three years. The 2019 American Black Film Festival will be held June 12-16, 2019. See full ABFF winner list below!




2018 HBO SHORT FILM AWARD, sponsored by HBO (Prize: $10,000)

Moths and Butterflies written and directed by Alfonso Johnson


2018 TV ONE SCREENPLAY COMPETITION WINNER (Prize: $5,000 and a production deal)

Connected – written by Rashim Cannad



Harold Williams Wait…What Had Happened Was



Craig T. Williams Allergic (Comedy)

Terrence L. Moore Uptown (Drama)


2018 BEST WEB SERIES, sponsored by Xfinity (Prize: $3,000)

 KELOID U.S.A., written, produced and directed by Huriyyah Muhammad


2018 JURY AWARD FOR BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE, sponsored by Prudential (Prize: $5,000)

Sprinter directed by Storm Saulter


2018 JURY AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR, sponsored by Cadillac (Prize: $5,000)

 Storm Salter, Sprinter


2018 JURY AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY, presented by ABFF (Prize: $2 500)

Not in My Neighbourhood, directed by Kurt Orderson


2018 JURY AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY, sponsored by Time Warner

 JINN, by Nijla Mumin


2018 AUDIENCE AWARD, sponsored by BET Networks (Prize: $10,000)

 Sprinter, directed by Storm Saulter



Kamie Crawford

Winston Marshall


2018 NBC SPOTLIGHT ACTOR AWARD (Prize: $5,000)

Zoe Renee, performance in JINN


2018 SCRIPT TO SCREEN COMPETITION, sponsored by BET Networks and Color Creative

Courtney Perdue & Baindu Saidu, African-America

April Blair, Curves

Darnell Brown, The Good Book


2018 ABFF COMEDY WINGS WINNER, sponsored by HBO (Prize:  $2,500)

Blaq Ron


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Natural Born Producer - Indie Veteran Lynette Howell Taylor Takes Aim At The Heart of Hollywood

Posted By Katie Grant, Friday, July 6, 2018

“The truth is I feel like I’ve been producing since I was five, or maybe three. My mother was the one who always said to me, ‘When you were in preschool, you were the one telling everybody where they should play and organizing everybody. So in some ways, it’s just kind of in your nature.’”

Lynette Howell Taylor sinks into the oversized denim-covered easy chair in the white brick-walled conference room at 51 Entertainment (her latest production company)—no makeup, a long sweater coat, hair down, bottle of water in hand. Everything about Howell Taylor—her attitude, her environment, her willingness to share—seems easy. There is no artifice here—not in the room and not in this very successful indie-turned-Hollywood producer who already has over 30 credits to her roster before hitting 40, including indie hits Half Nelson, Blue Valentine and Captain Fantastic. This fall marks her biggest credit to date, Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born, starring Cooper and Lady Gaga.

Howell Taylor, of course, backs up her mom, “You recognize that there is a confidence in your ability,” she says. “You’re not afraid of being in charge. You’re not afraid of making decisions on behalf of yourself and other people, and I think that’s something that you can certainly learn, but it’s also something that a lot of people are just kind of born with.”

Howell Taylor’s love of story began in Liverpool, England where she grew up in a blended family of five kids and her working-class parents. If her head wasn’t buried in a book, escaping into the worlds of The Lord of the Rings or Sweet Valley High, she was performing with her brothers and sisters in the backyard—and by age 11, charging for tickets.

She spent her formative years acting in musicals with a youth theatre and might have become an actor if she hadn’t been rejected from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts’ acting program. The head of the drama program passed her application on to the head of the Music, Theatre and Entertainment Management program, and she was promptly accepted.

In retrospect, it was a fortunate turn of events. “Oh my god,” she declares with palpable relief, “thank god [producing] is what I’m doing and not the other … I just didn’t enjoy performing as much as I enjoyed the other side. It’s a very entrepreneurial program. And to me, that’s the cornerstone of producing—figuring out how to manage not only yourself but also a business and other people and situations and projects. I really learned the foundation of those skills while I was at that university.”

Producer Lynette Howell Taylor (left of center) consults with director Matt Ross (seated) while on location for Captain Fantastic.

After receiving her diploma from Sir Paul McCartney himself, founder of the school, she worked for an agent and then a casting director in London. But casting fell flat for her, and she was itching to get into production, specifically musicals. So that casting director put a call in to a producer and got her a job as an assistant. “I was so lucky that I had these incredible mentors that just helped me,” she adds.

The musical she went to work on was financed and produced by the company East of Doheny, which eventually provided her ticket to LA. She arrived in Southern California and was overseeing the various shows the company produced in the West End and on Broadway, loving every minute. “I was working in musical theater. I was working for a producer, and it was awesome.”

The jump from theatre production to film was prompted by watching every hour of the behind-the-scenes footage for Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, the book she regularly escaped into as a kid. “The reason I got into the movies was pure escapism,” she admits.

“I was just fascinated by how that [film] came to be,” she continues, “and how as a storyteller, you could make that. I was obsessed. ‘Wow, how did they do this?’ I love big fantasy, I love Star Wars, and I’m a big science fiction fan. I love the escapism of it, the notion that stories can take you to this other place.”

Howell Taylor has made all kinds of movies and considers herself “platform agnostic,” but when asked about the common thread among her varied credits, she has a ready answer. “That’s easy. It’s character. Genre to me is irrelevant. We all want to feel like we care about the people that we’re watching. It’s not just about the plot or the events or the story. It’s about human nature and the specificity that defines us and makes each individual character who they are. So I’m always drawn to the projects that have strong characters. The plot is so secondary.”

Guided by that conviction, Howell Taylor has assiduously sought out collaborators who can match and extend her passion. “For me, producing is the practical application of making somebody else’s vision a reality. I’ve always seen that as my role, an enabler of someone else’s idea … I can love a script, I can love the story, but if I’m not excited by the filmmaker, then it’s not for me, it’s not the right project, and I’m not the right person. But it’s incredibly exciting to me to find a short, meet the filmmaker and [go on] to help them become the filmmaker that they are destined to be.”

She helps a burgeoning filmmaker achieve that vision by instilling a realistic understanding of their budget, walking them through decisions that will directly affect their vision or sharing her knowledge and experience to let them “be the best that they can be” without overwhelming their creative voice. She calls to mind a “visionary Sherpa,”someone who easily carries your heavy load and tends to your every need but is unflinchingly honest about the rough terrain you are about to enter. She especially loves working with first-time filmmakers and directors, like Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (On the Ice), Brie Larson (Unicorn Store) and of course, Bradley Cooper.

Lynette Howell Taylor reviews footage with director Derek Clanfrance (center) and cast member Bradley Cooper (right)
on the set of
The Place Beyond the Pines. 

Howell Taylor was brought on relatively late in the game for A Star is Born, joining the already robust team of producers that included Bill Gerber and Cooper himself. That kind of collaboration is what brings her the greatest joy. “[Bradley] and I had worked together on The Place Beyond the Pines and he called me out of the blue. There [were] a lot of great, competent producers on the movie, but there was a lot to do, and Bradley wanted to bring me on … to really have a voice creatively. So I was deeply involved in the script development work with everyone else.”

Asked what makes a story good enough to remake, she answers, “I mean, love is timeless. It’s a love story and, as Bradley says, ‘What better way to express love than through music?’ Because you can’t hide in music, and I think it’s, like anything, specificity of character [that makes] any story fresh.

“And that, to me, is what this new incarnation is,” she continues. “I think it has enough about it that the fans of the original will feel that we’ve paid homage to those films. But [Bradley’s] done his own version.”

We discussed how A Star Is Born shot at live concerts like Coachella, Stagecoach and Glastonbury to capture the true crowd feel and avoid prerecorded singing per Lady Gaga’s suggestion. Howell Taylor reports, “It was complicated. It was a lot of coordination and a lot of relationships. But that’s why it took a lot of us to make that movie.

“Bradley was the true leader of all of us,” she elaborates. “He had very clear vision for what he wanted to do, but more than anything, such a deep passion for the material and a commitment to excellence. When you work with somebody who is committed to that level of quality, it makes everybody rise to the occasion.”

With this current studio piece under her belt and Oscar buzz starting already, will Howell Taylor ever return to the indie fold? “Yes,” she answers. “The primary reason I will always do indies is because that’s where you discover new voices.”

Those new voices, however, still come at a price when talking financing. She contends, whether she’s working with an unknown filmmaker or big names in the business, the fight to finance remains the same. “I’m still dealing with the same issues I was dealing with when I started. I’ve made a lot of movies where no one wants to finance them before they’re made: Half Nelson, Blue Valentine, Captain Fantastic. People that do want to make them, want to make them for a lot less than what they need to be made for. I am forever trying to figure out how to deal with that gap, between financial safety and what the movie needs to be.”

She’s constantly trying to get the script that’s on the page made for the budget it demands. The usual objections—it’s too risky; can we change the cast?; and can we do it for this budget number instead?—haven’t changed. “[Like in 2010] … when no one wanted to buy Blue Valentine, and then it ends up getting distributed and it gets nominated for all these awards, suddenly, everybody loves it. So then you go into all these meetings with financiers and studios and they’re like, ‘We really want to make a Blue Valentine.’”

Howell Taylor learned about financing from the other side of the table at East of Doheny, who were financiers as well as producers. She found “being the first stop” for investors a fascinating role, learning the best ways to approach people for money, and more importantly, the best ways not to.

“Ultimately,” she reflects, “I realized that every company and every individual that decides to finance something has their own reasons for doing it. And you have to figure out what their reasons are—you can’t talk them into your reasons for why they should do it. Learning that lesson early on was really the foundation for me figuring out how to go and find partners for the movies I want to work on.”

Working on a film, for Howell Taylor, even meant venturing to the other side of the camera on one occasion. The experience only reinforced her deep love and respect for actors, when she was tapped to play a role in The Place Beyond the Pines for Derek Cianfrance. (Sadly for her fans, her character ultimately didn’t end up in the film.)

“Derek is so committed to truth and his actors really embodying their characters,” she observes. “He wants to do whatever he can to make those experiences in front of the camera as honest as possible. Even if he has a script, he loves to improvise. So he asked me if I would play a role that was in support of Bradley’s character … just to provide more color.”

Howell Taylor said yes and approached the challenge with total focus, leading the improvised scene with Cooper and Emory Cohen. “It wasn’t scripted, and I was fucking terrified,” she admits. “So I said, ‘Okay, I cannot be a producer today.’” Howell Taylor was picked up by a teamster to get to set, sat in hair and makeup, was fitted in wardrobe and was greeted by the first PA, who walked her to set like any other cast member. “I rode through the full process and I’m terrified the whole time. And what I realized was that every single interaction I had on that day helped me. So when I stepped in front of the camera, I was able to do what I was there to do.

“It really made me appreciate what kind of conditions you need to provide for your actors,” she continues, “in order for them to do what ultimately is the most important thing. You can prep your movies every which way but, at the end of the day, if your actors don’t have a space to work within that allows them to do their best, it’s literally all for nothing. Getting to know the other side of that was the most incredible experience, and I’m so grateful to Derek for giving me that.”

Howell Taylor with director Matt Ross on the
set of
Captain Fantastic

Howell Taylor also feels fortunate to be in a position where she can consciously choose content that’s more representative of the diversity of her audience. I asked her if she sees a creative cost to that choice. “I don’t think that there’s a cost to doing it at all,” she answers. “I think that the cost, if anything, is just the continuing effort to educate the industry that there’s a benefit to it. But it doesn’t feel like a cost, it feels like a responsibility.”

And she is determined to carry that responsibility to her crew. “In front of camera, I’ve always had a pretty good commitment to inclusivity and diversity. But she admits, “Definitely behind the camera, I have not had the same level of representation. So I have a deep commitment to the projects that I’m producing, moving forward, to making sure I improve that. But there’s no cost to it. There’s only opportunity.”

What’s next on her plate? Howell Taylor is moving into heavy development. She plans to “really focus more on optioning books, optioning articles and working with artists earlier on [in the process].” Perhaps that will help her fulfill her wish “to contribute positively to the content that [my daughter] watches.” She sees everything her kids watch and doesn’t worry about the strong protagonists available to her son, but her young daughter, although a tomboy and fierce soccer player, is already obsessed with princesses. Howell Taylor aims to solidify the notion that “she can do and be anything.”

It’s a notion she’s clearly taken to heart when she reflects, “I think if I hadn’t gone into the arts, I would have tried to be an astronaut.” Let’s be glad she stayed here on earth and managed to find another way to reach the stars.

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Scaring Is Caring - Jack Davis And Crypt TV Connect The Millennial Masses With Their Monsters

Posted By Kevin Perry, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The horror-going experience is a macabre blend of intimacy and community.

We huddle in the dark, cowering from ghouls and gore, and we are simultaneously together and alone. This dynamic is akin to the lure of social media. We consume it en masse, but it is intensely personal (and occasionally frightening), like a pixelated puppet master, twisting us to his digital whims…

Meet Jack Davis, the 26-year-old CEO of Crypt TV.

“I started Crypt not long after I graduated college,” he recounts. “I’m from Los Angeles, so I feel like I have entertainment in my blood more than I care to admit. I grew up in LA around this whole crazy world.” In fact, Jack is the son of producer John Davis, who is credited with hits as disparate in time and tone as 1987’s Predator and 2017’s Ferdinand.

But Jack looked beyond his family ties when cinching together the hottest online horror brand in town. “I had this friendship with Eli Roth and called him up and said, ‘Nobody is doing this genre, for this medium. Maybe we should try it.’” That’s when Crypt TV was born in blood and brash ideas. “I think the connectivity Eli brings to the company is the perspective of a filmmaker,” assesses Davis. “He has said to me on many occasions, ‘I wish I had something like Crypt when I was 25. How much could that have advanced my career?’ Getting that shot. We try to give filmmakers a shot.”

And it was a mighty inaugural blast. Roth and Davis enlisted hordes of ravenous horror fans to contribute to 6-Second Scare, a user-generated contest that played out on Vine in October of 2014. “The test went past our wildest expectations,” beams Davis. “Over 15,000 submissions, Eli ended up on Good Morning America to talk about the contest, and the content was great! Really exciting!”

Jack Davis has enthusiasm that can’t be contained in six-second clips. His boundless ambition and social media acumen soon caught the attention of the two-time Oscar nominee who puts the house in horror powerhouse. “During that time, Jason Blum saw what we were doing. Jason and Eli had a friendship, and he agreed to come on and be our first investor and strategic partner.” Davis marvels at the chaotic chronology of the ensuing events, noting that Blum “invested in Crypt in March of 2015, and we officially launched in April of 2015.”

The schedule was as torturous as a Crypt TV death scene, but Jason Blum is impressed by his protégé, declaring that Davis has “delivered on everything he’s said, and that is very rare in anyone, especially when you’re young. So I feel very lucky to be in business with him … he’s definitely one of the most talented people I’ve encountered.” Blum specifically praises Crypt’s data-driven digital approach. “Production on TV or movies takes so long; it’s much slower and much less reactive. So I think Jack has really taken advantage of the technology behind Crypt to inform the storytelling.”

Over the next three years, Davis wielded his tech prowess to transform a startup creepshow into a social media juggernaut. “We have over seven million fans on Facebook.” He says it without an ounce of braggadocio, but rather with an eye for metrics. “There’s something so powerful about reaching that young consumer on their phone. You get so much data from that, so many analytics from that. We have a frictionless relationship with our audience. That allows us to move fast, to grow our IP fast, to constantly be serving the audience and listening to them.”

When Davis discusses market research, it goes far beyond likes and shares. “We have sentiment scores around each character. How does the average length of a comment increase over an episode? When are people tuning in? When are they tuning out? The data is impacting those creative decisions.” His rat-a-tat delivery is a dizzying mix of revelry and reverence. “If you’re all data and don’t respect the creative process of the filmmakers, you’re going to lose. But if you don’t listen to the data and make this stuff for the audience based on what they’ve already told you, through either their comments or when they tune out or their viewing duration, then that’s not good either. It’s really a marriage.”

The spiritual spouse to Davis’ beloved data is creativity, and one of the most successful directors collaborating with Crypt TV is Landon Stahmer. When asked about his CEO’s affinity for audience trends, Stahmer praises, “Jack is such a good learner. He’s bold at swinging at things and he’s really, really quick to learn. I think that’s amazing, and it really trickles down in their company … Crypt is really smart. They’ve really been watching what the fans want and how they’re reacting. Engagement is huge. It’s one thing to get views, but engagement is another aspect of that. Comments and likes and shares—those are the things that tell a company like Crypt, or creators out there, that this is something that’s viable and moving towards something bigger.”

“Bigger” is an epic understatement when you consider that Davis is modeling his company after the most successful entertainment franchise of our generation. “We want to be the next Marvel for monsters. Marvel for monsters.” He repeats the mantra like Jimmy Two-Times from Goodfellas before resuming his analytical assault. “What makes Marvel so amazing is the love people have for these characters, but also their staying power. People are really interested in their stories over decades.”

So how does Davis plan to go toe-to-severed-toe with the big screen phenomenon that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe? When asked directly, he invokes the almighty nondisclosure agreement. “That’s a story for a later day. I will tell you that we have a guided universe document here that only three people have ever looked at or read or seen. But we have a plan for all of this. You’re gonna see the Crypt monster universe start to come together in future seasons of our shows this summer.”

But while the major studios are clamoring for screen counts and IMAX space this blockbuster season, Davis is setting his sights on the precious real estate in your hands. “People always think about scary movies being in the theater, and it’s a shared experience and you’re in the dark and you feel safe, but you can feel suspended reality enough to enjoy the scares. But most Crypt fans are watching this stuff in a solo experience; they’re watching it on the phone. The part of the experience that makes it shared is the comments section, the fact that there’s a whole community of Crypt fans that self-identify and self-aggregate. Scary is the genre that people can rally and unite around.”

Beneath the blood-soaked umbrella that Davis designates as scary, he deconstructs a multi-tiered breakdown of subgenres, starting with two major Crypt TV classifications. “I look at the company as scripted and non-scripted. They’re obviously totally different business models, totally different feels of what you’re trying to create.”

On the non-scripted side of the sword, Crypt’s marquee monster is Giggles the grotesque clown princess. She’s a reality starlet who conducts woman-on-the-street experiments across multiple platforms, interacting with unwitting victims in the real world. “The impetus with Giggles is creating a character born through social media—something that’s authentic, true and nascent to the way people enjoy content now: very accessible, do-it-yourself posting.” By terrorizing the Insta-landscape, Giggles carves a new set of monster motifs into Davis’ wheelhouse. “Giggles is all about self-empowerment. Her slogan is born a clown, as in I was born this way, I’m proud of it, I don’t feel pressure to conform to typical beauty standards.”

This launches Davis into a gleeful diatribe, cataloguing Crypt TV’s greatest hits and their even greater themes. “The Birch is about bullying; and the response to it. Birch has over 30 million views on the internet, we won a Webby for Best Drama, people have had full tattoos of the Birch on their back. The amount of fan art we get from The Birch is insane; people are obsessed with Birch. Yes, the monster is awesome and visual, but guess what? It’s a deep story about something meaningful.”

Gaining momentum, Davis dons metaphorical rose-colored glasses when describing Crypt’s popular killer-cabal series. “Sunny Family Cult is about a young girl coming of age and trying to accept whether or not she wants to join the family business while also dealing with the difficulties of school. It’s just that the family business happens to be a murderous cult.”

Now reaching a crescendo, Davis becomes reflective. “Look-See is about grief and letting go. So it’s all about these deep themes, and scary just gives you the unique permission structure to tell these stories.”

One of the prime beneficiaries of Crypt’s liberating creative license is Look-See director Landon Stahmer. “The Look-See is a representation of attachment to the past. He’s made up of pieces of his victims. The past doesn’t really need to see or smell or hear; it just consumes us when we focus too much on it.” Summoning his feral philosopher within, Stahmer continues, The word monster comes from a Latin word that means to warn and advise. I think that it’s a pretty therapeutic way to explore some things about life.”

But the Crypt TV generation doesn’t merely watch monsters; they become them. Davis and his tech team are creating Augmented Reality (AR) experiences that literally put users behind the mask. “How accessible the monster is matters—what will allow the viewer to put themselves in the story and really engage with it?” ponders Davis. “Can it become a mask? These are the questions we ask ourselves when we’re in the greenlighting process, when we’re in the development process. Can this grow into a mask? Is this a powerful visual? That will help us get shots on goal. We’re gonna have hits and misses like anyone else, but our cost structure allows us to take risks and the data gives us a chance to have a higher hit rate than the average folk.”

Translation: stay scrappy, stay cheap, stay millennial.

It’s a fiendishly effective formula, according to indie horror maestro Blum. “Horror always skews younger. We like it for the same reason why we like rollercoasters and jumping out of airplanes, because it gets your adrenaline up. People like that because it makes them feel alive.” Blum asserts, “Crypt is catching younger people the way that they consume content and putting horror on their mobile devices. For that reason it makes a ton of sense.”

And it potentially makes a ton of dollars. Crypt TV is dominating the digital airwaves, constantly blurring the line between social and media. As Davis surmises, “You follow your friends on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Quite often we make it seem like our lives are a little bigger than they are, a little better than they are, a little happier than they are.” So, if real people are living a fantasy on social media, wonders Davis, then why can’t a fantasy invade reality? “Authenticity is so important on the internet and authenticity is so important in building a brand people connect to directly … We ultimately have to build an authentic brand for that Crypt fan, because that is how we grow the fastest, and that’s also how we can die the fastest.”

Never one to succumb to fatalism, Davis perseveres. “We try to put into the culture of the company: don’t think that you know better than the audience.” Humbled and harkened by his data, Davis concludes, “At the end of the day, we’re gonna be more loyal to what the Crypt fan wants than to what we want, personally.”

So, when the fans say jump, Crypt TV says how violently? Or, as Jack Davis puts it, “Listen, the writing is on the wall for big, macro changes that are happening via the consumer, and I live by the creed that the consumer is never wrong.”

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