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NOAH HAWLEY - COVER STORY

Posted By Chris Green, Monday, May 9, 2016

Admit it. You saw the ads. Fargo is a TV series now? How is that supposed to work?

Of course, if the films of the Coen Brothers have taught us anything, it’s that the universe indeed works in mysterious and unlikely ways. And true to form, here we are. Multiple Emmys and Producers Guild Awards later, FX can proudly show off the unlikeliest adaptation in recent memory, a reboot of a story that was never intended to be a franchise, and arguably the best show on television. In this magazine, we talk about "vision” a lot, often enough that we worry that the word starts to lose its meaning. But we don’t know what else to call it, other than pure creative vision, to plunge into a singularly self-contained feature film and find an entire TV universe inside. In this case, the vision belongs to a gentleman named Noah Hawley.

Regular Produced By readers know that TV showrunners come from all walks of life. Noah Hawley can chart the progression from musician (struggling) to novelist (well regarded) to screenwriter (successful). His career in television provided him with essential resources at every stage: a year writing for Bones to learn the craft; a first series, The Unusuals, which aired only 10 episodes, but gave him the opportunity to create and run a show; a second series, My Generation, also one-season-and-out, paired him with TV veteran Warren Littlefield, who’s served as his right-hand producing partner ever since. It was Littlefield who first sparked to Fargo, and sensed what Hawley could do with the story. The rest, well, that’s history, you betcha.

Produced By editor Chris Green caught up with Noah Hawley while the producer was busy on location in Vancouver. Kindly carving out an hour before the production day got rolling, Hawley proved more than ready to dig into the nitty-gritty of producing television in general and Fargo in particular, whether discussing how to handle network notes, his approach to creating tension through the use of music, or the privilege of enlarging upon the pitiless but humane spirit of a Coen Brothers classic.

Not every writer becomes a producer or a showrunner. How did that process unfold for you?

At one point I was between books, so I wrote a script that I sold in a pitch. Paramount had optioned my first book, so I ended up adapting that as well. Basically, within six months, I had three feature deals, which was a huge left turn from writing fiction. And then at a certain point—because my motto is "What else can I get away with?”—I started talking to the TV reps at ICM. Out of those two meetings came two pilot deals: one at CBS and one at FX. I soon realized that if any of those shows ever got picked up, I should know how to produce television, right? So I came to LA and did some staffing interviews and went to work on the first season of Bones with Hart Hanson, because he told me I would learn how to produce on the show.

Right. So as part of your first encounters with the industrial mechanism of making TV, how did Hart help acclimate you?

Hart was a great mentor because he taught me that there’s a process to this, to being entrusted with a huge sum of money to make something for a large audience, and then to still try to make something that reflects your artistic drive. I think Hart’s style played into my natural inclination as well. I’m not a battler. You rarely win in the long run by fighting every single thing. Hart sort of taught me how to "manage up,” if you know what I mean. I think the thing that most writers don’t realize is often half of your time as a showrunner is spent managing network and studio notes, which is way, way, way too much time to spend when you have a show to make. So the key is: How do you do that in a way that allows you to get what you want while making them feel like they’re getting what they want? A lot of it is figuring out what does the note really mean? A note is often a symptom, a referring pain. They think that they don’t like this scene, but really it’s because something earlier wasn’t set up properly. They often aren’t experts at diagnosing the problem. They just feel the pain. I mean, a useful note is "This is confusing.” or "I know what you’re going for here, but I don’t think you got there.” A note is not "I would do it differently.” That’s not a note. But rarely is the best response to stamp your feet and yell. Sometimes the right solution is not to engage with the note. You see how serious it is. If they keep bringing it up, you can address it down the line if you have to.

When I was doing My Generation, we had a scene where Mehcad Brooks’ character was stationed in Afghanistan. He’d been shot at earlier in the hour, but he was telling his wife he was coming home ... no matter what they threw at him, he was gonna come home.


Noah Hawley (right) on location for "Fargo" with cast member Angus Sampson
I’m a big fan of catharsis, that idea that you can build emotionally to a release. So for that moment I picked this song that worked perfectly, because it starts [as one thing] and it builds into [another thing]. Paul Lee’s note came back that the song wasn’t right, that it was too sad. I was confused. I mean, it’s not a sad song. It has this driving, uplifting part. So I went around and around with them about how A) it’s the perfect song and B) like, why do you even care? Why does it even matter, on some level, what the last song of the second episode is? It’s not like you’re going to have a massive groundswell of audience leaving or arriving based upon that piece of the thing. But I was determined to get what I wanted.

Now, in the very beginning of the song, when it’s quiet and more emotional, the singer is singing the words, "I’m sorry.” And I finally realized that it was just those words—"I’m sorry”—at the beginning, that were establishing a tone I didn’t intend. That was where the note came from.

So I had the composer put a piece of score in the beginning to replace that early part of the song, and then it built into the second half of the song, and the score was sort of no less emotional but it just didn’t have those words in it. I even sent an email to Paul, including the lyrics to the song, and showing how positive they were. And I got to use it. On some level, it felt like a complete waste of my time—literally hours and hours that were spent analyzing the problem and figuring out how to address it. But it was important to me and so I did it. Every season has hundreds of examples like that.

If you don’t get what you want, it’s your fault, on some level. Sometimes they’ll never give in, and it’s a losing battle. But I start from the assumption that there is a creative solution. I just haven’t thought of it yet.

how did Fargo come about? How did this 20-year-old movie, fondly remembered, but without a lot of common currency, get turned into award-winning long-form television?

Well, MGM had just come back from the ashes one more time. Warren Littlefield had been looking at their library and Fargo was a property that had some possibilities. It was interesting to me, but it just didn’t feel like broadcast was the place to do it. You’d just end up making Picket Fences, which is fine, but it’s not what the movie was. So it sort of went dormant and I kind of forgot about it until Warren told me that it had been set up at FX with no writer. I just happened to be going into FX the same week about another project. And so the discussion turned to well, how would I turn Fargo into a TV show?

And I said, "Well, it’s not a TV show for a couple of very clear reasons.” I mean, one of which being it’s this crazy and violent and very odd case at the end of which Frances McDormand gets into bed and tomorrow is gonna be a normal day. That’s her reward. And the reason that we watched that movie is because that was the one case in her whole career that was that bad. And if she woke up tomorrow—the start of the next episode—and there was another crazy Coen Brothers case, A) you couldn’t call it a true story anymore and B) it would start to become ungrounded and less believable.

Why is the movie called Fargo, after all? It’s set in Minnesota. Only the first scene of the movie is set in North Dakota, and yet the movie is called Fargo because the word itself is evocative of a place, this northern frontier. As Joel and Ethan said, it’s Siberia with family restaurants. It’s where you can have the Swedish meatballs at the buffet and then freeze to death in the parking lot.

So what if Fargo was also a type of true crime case where truth is stranger than fiction? An anthology series works perfectly in that world because it’s the sensibility that remains but the story changes.

How receptive was FX to an anthology series?

The first season of American Horror Story had done well for them, so they were open to it. What I like about FX is that "Fearless” isn’t just their brand; they legitimately want to take risks and break new ground. If you’re trying to differentiate yourself from the whatever, 52 other broadcasters or outlets, you can only define yourself by the quality of your programming. So, yeah, they were very receptive.

So how did you approach turning that pitch into a story that lived and breathed on its own accord?

That’s the challenge of it, right? It’s not that they asked me to remake the movie or make a sequel to the movie. It’s like they said, "Here’s a painting of a city. We want you to paint the same city but with different buildings.” You know what I mean? None of the characters are the same, and it’s not the same story. So what is it? It’s something that has the same feeling to it, but what is that? So, on some level I had to distill what it was that made that movie, that movie.

How did you answer that for yourself?

It’s sort of not "articulate-able.” A lot of it is instinctual. Knowing that Joel and Ethan were very happy with the script was very encouraging. Having their work as a model gave me a certain leeway that I could say, "Well, look. It’s not that I want a 10-minute parable sequence in Episode 5 but, I mean, it’s a Coen Brothers movie, right?” There’s certainly precedent there. At the same time, it’s not about idiosyncratic choices just for their own sake. It’s about internalizing that there’s no such thing as melodrama in a Coen Brothers movie. You never have a moment of purple melodrama. And yet, in their best films, there’s still emotion. I mean, look at Fargo. In the end, there’s a sense of human dignity and beauty that comes through even though they never once tried to play to the audience’s emotions. So then the question becomes: How do you effectuate that? From a filmmaking standpoint, you have to figure out, how does the camera move? How are we lighting? Editorially, how are we putting this thing together? On a production level, I’ve always taken pride in creating an environment for the artists that feels supportive and where everyone knows that we’re all going to do our best work and then go home to our families.

Well, there’s "doing your best work” and "doing your best work while on location in a frozen wasteland.”

It was well below zero for most of our production calendar. There’s very little stage work on Fargo. It’s not a TV show where you have a lot of standing sets and you keep going back to them. So we’re out most days. And there’s a lot of story to move through, so it’s this constant jigsaw puzzle. We had to figure out how to do that the first time, and then the second time I went ahead and made it bigger with more moving pieces and more locations. I think we had three extra days or an extra week added on to our production calendar, but not a lot. Most problems you can solve one way or another if you put your head to it the right way. I think that Colin Bucksey won an Emmy for Episode 6 of our first season, which was the blizzard episode, with two huge action sequences in it. Of course, it was sunny for most of that blizzard so that entire blizzard is just special effects, which is a testament to John Ross, our VFX artist.

It’s like a military operation on some level. What it comes down to is having the confidence in your prepping and planning. I choose every extra. I’m involved in every decision that gets made on the show. I sit with every department and have a sense of how everything looks and how it all works. We encourage all of our directors to storyboard the bigger sequences. If you know what you’re looking for, and you know when you’ve got it, you can make good time. But you have to know.

And not only do you have to know… your team needs to know as well. I know that producers give tremendous thought to "casting” the crew and department heads. What was that process like for you?

Well, it’s tough. We got lucky in some places, and in other places we had to make real adjustments. You come across a certain attitude sometimes, often among groups where people are accustomed to doing low-budget things. There’s a sort of "good enough is good enough” attitude, right? "It’s just a chair, what does it matter?” You know what I mean?

Basically, you’ve got to weed that right out. You’ve got to tell people, "I want your best ideas. I want your most creative ideas. This isn’t that show where ‘good enough is good enough.’ This is the show you’ve been dreaming about working on, where you finally get to express yourself as an artist.” At a certain point you realize that some people want that, and other people just want to punch in and punch out. And so you have to weed that out. So I’m not precious about that. That’s not to say you fire people capriciously. You give people a chance to do their best work. But if they can’t, you’ve got to make a change.

Noah Hawley on the set of "Fargo" with cast members Colin Hanks (seated left)
and Allison Tolman (seated right)
Right. That feels like AN even more demanding mandate on this particular show, which comes out of a specific authorial voice that everyone is already familiar with. It’s not like you have the luxury of making up your voice as you go.

Certainly, we have these sort of rules that we go through. There’s stuff that you don’t see in Joel and Ethan’s movies. They don’t pull focus between a foreground actor and a background actor. You’re going to either cut to a different shot to highlight that actor or you’re going to let the actor be out of focus. The camera moves on the track in very traditional ways. They very rarely use steadicam. They certainly don’t use handheld. In general, it’s a pretty classic approach to filmmaking


This year I think I asserted a slightly more aggressive style because I felt like it suited the period and the material—a little more fast-pushing our dolly out in some places, that kind of thing. But I understand my responsibility to Joel and Ethan and their work, and it’s an honor to get to speak their language.

given the critical and audience response, whatever expansion the second season represents seems to have worked for everybody. How did you approach doing something that continues the emotional, thematic thread that the movie and the first season have started, but widens the scope?

You can’t be afraid to throw it all out and start again. I like to joke that the first bad idea was to make the show in the first place, and the second bad idea was, once it worked, to throw it out and start again. The minute that you know you’re making terrible decisions, you’re just sort of liberated [laughs]. But what I have that a lot of other people don’t have is a canon of films that I can refer to. Not that Joel and Ethan have mined every nuance of every story, but all of their films are reference points for me. There are dynamics or themes that occur in their work that suggest a good jumping off point.

What I’ve found is there’s usually a catalytic event. In the movie Fargo it was that a guy hired these people to kidnap his wife. In my first season, it was a man who had been bullied by everybody ends up in the emergency room sitting next to another man, who’s very much his opposite. Where do you go from there? In the second season, it was a woman who ran someone down and then drove home with the guy sticking out of her windshield and started dinner. And then you think, well, that feels like the right story, the right tone, so now what? I felt like I could build a story around that. What does that story want to be?

But even musically, once we started editing, I realized I couldn’t put any of our music from the first season into this second season, because they’re totally different stories. In our first year, the musical sound of tension we had was this sort of "washing machine sound” that would rise and fall, a very steady mounting pressure. And then in the second year, when things get stressful, they get more chaotic. Anything could happen. So we have these horns that come in. It’s a much more anarchic sense of tension. All of that comes by building the whole thing block by block.

But it’s a process, and as much as FX and MGM were 100% behind starting over, there’s still a ghost in the room, in that we made a show that won every award that they have, and now we were throwing it out and starting again. The first hour of the second year feels nothing like the first hour of the first year. It doesn’t do the same things. So it took an act of faith on everybody’s part, which was to trust me, we’re going to get there. It’s going to work. But I was probably the only one who was 100% confident of that, because I saw it in my head.


I do want to ask you about one of the most decisive borrowings from the original film which is your "This is a True Story…” opening titles. What do those titles mean to you? What do they do for the story that follows them, a story which pretty definitively did not happen?

Well, it’s interesting. When I went into the network that first meeting, I said, "What we have to figure out is: What’s our Mike Yanagita?” Do you remember that character from the movie?

The Asian guy who she went to school with, right? They had lunch or dinner or something.
Right. So we’re in the middle of our movie and this guy calls her, "Hey, Margie. It’s Mike Yanagita. We went to high school together.” And then she ends up having this very awkward lunch with him where he talks about the high school girl he married who died of leukemia and how he’s just so lonely. She finds out later that he made that whole thing up and the wife actually has a restraining order against him.

The first time you see it, you’re wondering, "Why is this in the movie?” My answer was that it contributes to the "true story” quality of it, because the only reason you would put that encounter in the movie was because it "actually happened.”

The true story thing allows us to play against the archness of crime, of crime movies on some level. Calling something a true story liberates you from those clichés of plot that seem to dictate every story ever written as basically white hat versus black hat on a collision course. In real life, things don’t play out like they do in the movies. When people think something is true, smaller moments become more dramatic and sort of allowed.So when you say something is a true story it allows you to make those left turns.

The audience has their expectations because they think they know how these things play out. So you can use those expectations to steer them down a different road. Again, because I don’t have melodrama available to me, we try and invest the simplest moments with that kind of power. It’s how, in the second season, Patrick Wilson’s daughter made him an ashtray at school and gives it to him when he’s just had a bad day. And he gets a little teary. Now, on paper, the scene isn’t that. To allow the dignity of these characters to come through in the most dry and simple ways makes the story more powerful than writing these big emotional turns that are manipulating the audience. On a filmmaking level, it allowed the Coens and their camera to take a much more objective role. I think on all those levels, the true story device allows us to present this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction idea in a way that always has to be grounded and credible while at the same time pushing those boundaries.

- photographed by Peter Host

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Virtual Reality, Storytelling, and the News

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Last Thursday, April 28, the Producers Guild of America National Capital Chapter produced a seminar on the burgeoning topic of Virtual Reality. Hosted by Newseum, the seminar entitled "Virtual Reality, Storytelling, and the News" featured experts in journalism, virtual reality, and new media production. Read more about event and watch the full video of the seminar below:

Virtual and augmented reality are transforming the way information and news are conveyed and consumed, and important stories are told. The promise and challenge of these new tools is connected to theNewseum’s focus on how the rapid evolution of media technologies has fundamentally changed the news business and will continue to affect an informed citizenry and our democracy.

Recent advances in consumer products and innovative applications are creating a new market for production companies and journalists. With customized camera rigs, stereoscopic lenses, and streaming applications, news producers are creating experiences that document major world events as audiences prepare to dive into content in ways not felt, or seen, before.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) estimates that 1.2 million VR headsets will be sold in the US in 2016, and estimates that, by 2020, the overall VR market will be somewhere between $50-150 billion. As VR content moves onto mobile devices and cost-effective headsets at an increasing pace, journalists and news producers will be in greater demand for new forms of immersive storytelling.

Join us for the first of a series of programs at the Newseum demonstrating these evolving technologies and innovative content with a variety of the best content creators, producers, technology companies and others involved in this emerging field.

Watch the full panel here:

Speakers

Cameron Blake, senior VR producer, Washington Post
Cam Blake is the senior producer and lead developer of virtual reality for the Washington Post, creating Oculus Rift, augmented reality, and immersive 360-degree programming. He was previously head of creative direction for the news section of the Washington Post, developing high concept creative visual direction.

Mitch Gelman, The Knight Foundation
Mitch Gelman is the vice president of product at The Knight Foundation, where he oversees digital product development in key areas for properties that include more than 90 national and local news entities across the USA TODAY NETWORK. In this position, Mitch has developed a cutting-edge content management system, launched 600+ iPhone, iPad, Android, mobile Web and desktop products; and engineered award-winning emerging technology applications using spherical video- and gesture-based interactions to create virtual reality experiences. He was previously the COO of THX Ltd.; and senior vice president and senior executive producer ofCNN.com, among other positions.

Robert Padavick, Lead USA Today Network Producer for Virtual Reality
Robert Padavick is the lead network producer for virtual reality at USA Today, where he produces 360-degree video, and other emerging forms of storytelling. Robert works with teams across Gannett to power and scale premium digital video for dozens of Gannett sites. He was previously the director of content, for the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, where he implemented multimedia production and strategy across platforms for upstart human rights campaigns, including trips to Sudan with George Clooney. He was also the senior producer of original content, news, for Yahoo!

Paul Cheung, director of interactive, Associated Press
Paul Cheung is the director of interactive for the Associated Press, where he oversees AP’s portfolio of digital innovations and revenue-generating products including interactive, print and broadcast graphics, mobile app, digital news sites and two Knight Foundation funded projects. Paul has built a global team of interactive producers, data-journalists, programmers, designers, animators, and researchers to create ground-breaking journalism. He was previously the global interactive editor of the AP. Paul is the president of the Asian American Journalists Association.

Chris Pfaff; PGA New Media Council
A former board delegate of the PGA New Media Council from 2006-2013; former PGA New Media Council vice chairman, and former PGA Board of Directors delegate, Chris was one of the founders of the PGA New Media Council member in 2003-2004. He leads a consultancy – Chris Pfaff Tech/Media LLC – that represents some of the leading service providers, audio/video technology firms, networking vendors, and media companies in the world. A veteran of the start-up world, Chris helped launch more than 20 ventures from the Lucent New Ventures Group, including iBiquity Digital; Flarion; Lucent Digital Video, and GeoVideo Networks, among others. In addition, he has helped launch AT&T’s Internet strategy; the Viacom New Media division of Viacom, Inc.; Sony Electronics’ Digital Betacam format, and Sharp Electronics’ LCD product division, among others.

 

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OPEN DOORS - The Legacy of Debra Hill Continues To Change The Face Of Hollywood

Posted By Tamara Krinsky, Monday, May 2, 2016
In November 2015, an article in the New York Times by Maureen Down took a deep dive into the state of women in the entertainment industry.  The statistics presented where frustrating and depressing.  The piece stated that in both 2013 and 2014, women were only 1.9% of the directors for the 100 top-grossing films.  A study by professor Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University reported that in 2014, 95% of cinematographers, 89% of screenwriters, 82% of editors, 81% of executive producers and 77% of producers were men.  This is despite the fact that in the same year, women made up 50.8% of the U.S. population.

The one bright spot in this maddening set of figures is that female representation in the producing ranks is slightly better than in most other areas of the business. As more voices have spoken out about correcting the inequity of men versus women in front of and behind the camera, both in regard to pay rate and simply the number of people filling the jobs, mentorship is often brought up as a key factor of the equation. And if you ask some of today’s most prolific female producers about pioneering mentor figures, one name comes up over and over again: Debra Hill.

Hill’s body of work includes both commercial and critical successes, such as the Halloween series, Escape from New York, Clue, Adventures in Babysitting and The Fisher King. She passed away in 2005 at the age of 54 after a battle with cancer. While she may not be entirely responsible for the better-than-average representation of female producers in the industry, one could make an argument that she had a significant influence on getting more women into the producer pipeline. And it’s not just because she made a point of encouraging other women— it’s also because she was a fantastic producer. She didn’t just open doors for her colleagues—she demonstrated how to expertly do the job once they walked through them, thereby helping to set them up for longevity in the business.


Producer Debra Hill and friends on the set of "The Dead Zone", 1982. Getty.
Hill earned her crack producing skills by doing practically every job on set before taking on her first producer title. She started as a PA on documentaries and worked her way through many different departments, including script supervisor, assistant director and second-unit director. Her big break came in 1978 when she co-wrote and produced Halloween with director John Carpenter. The film, purportedly made for about $300,000, had a domestic gross of $47 million. This made her one of the very first independent female producers with a bona fide box office hit.

As she progressed through her career, Hill maintained her passion for the process of moviemaking. Many of those she worked with and/or influenced, such as Stacey Sher and Gale Anne Hurd, have commented on what seems to be Hill’s defining legacy:

There’s no above and below the line— it’s all one crew moving forward, trying to get there and make the day. Every person on a film or TV crew is essential to that project’s success, regardless of their title or role on production.

Sher, whose producing credits range from Gattaca to Erin Brockovich to The Hateful Eight, was Director of Development at Hill/Obst Productions in 1985 and eventually became Vice President of Production. "I think she was an unbelievably detail oriented, hands-on producer,” said Sher. "She kept track of every nickel of every petty cash receipt. She certainly had a great sense for story—she cowrote the Halloween movies with John—but I think that while she had a great story sense, she made production more creative. She found creative solutions and always looked at things from a directorial and producer’s point of view.”

At Hill’s memorial, Barri Evins, who served as President of Debra Hill Productions from 1995–2001, provided an example of this when talking about their attempt to make a film version of the television series Sea Hunt. During a meeting, special effects experts laid out complicated plans for filming the project, which was set in the world of scuba diving. After listening to all of their ideas, Hill laid out a much simpler plan using a small tank, green screen and specific lighting package. Described Evins, "Their mouths dropped and there was utter silence. And after a moment they said, ‘We think that would work.’ I honestly don’t think they’d ever been in a meeting with a producer who turned around and said to them ‘No, I don’t think so. I have a different idea and I’ve thought it out.’”

In addition to her deep knowledge of physical production, Hill was known for her generous and affectionate nature. This manifested itself in every aspect of her career, from her work on set to her support of emerging women in the business.

"Debra was inclusive and supportive of other women,” said Sher. "I also saw the ‘protect your space at the table’ mentality in Hollywood. I don’t think it’s true anymore. We’re going to see more and more women coming into the business, with every Lena Dunham, Sofia Coppola and Amy Schumer. You can’t be what you don’t see. I really believe that now. I saw women who had my job, so I knew what I wanted to do.”

Hill’s friend Gale Anne Hurd added, "It was more than mentoring. She looked at all women, regardless of where you were on the ladder, as equals. It was less of a mentor/mentee relationship than a ‘We are all sisters and we are all equal, and we should share our knowledge, share power.’”

Hill and producer Lynda Obst did just that while running Hill/Obst Productions together at Paramount Pictures in the 1980s. During her remarks at Hill’s posthumous Celebration of Life, Obst described the landscape when the two of them began working together. "When we met in the ‘80s, there was no Women In Film. There were very few women in film, in fact. And no women producers. There was no women’s networking. There were executives, and at that time if one was fired, one would be drafted to take her place.”

The two producers met while Obst was working for Peter Guber and Hill came to her with the pitch for Clue. "By the time I had met her, she had done every job on a movie set, including making hit movies,” said Obst. "One of the first female studio heads initiated some early ‘girls club’ networking —the late, great Dawn Steel—and suggested that Debra and I become partners. She saw the yin/yang of us. Debra knew everything about physical production and I knew development.” 

Adventures in Babysitting was everyone’s first movie but Debra’s, and she generously taught us all. A key thing among a thousand things she taught me is that a set is where a producer belongs. Not on the phone or at the studio, but with the director, with the crew, making the movie that you’d nurtured.” 

Hurd, whose long list of producing credits includes The Terminator, Alien and The Walking Dead, said the most important thing that she learned from Hill was to always be thoughtful and supportive regardless of how frustrated you might be.

"Everyone should be treated with respect,” said Hurd. "That’s why I think Debra was so important as a positive role model because she could be tough, but she was always kind and caring. Very rarely did she let the slings and arrows that we face every day in this business get to her. Many of the rest of us had to become tougher and tougher to give as good as the guys. And she never did that. She was able to really maintain that level of grace that the rest of us just aspired to.”

Paul Reubens had a similar experience working with Hill, who produced Big Top Pee-wee, which he cowrote and starred in. He said that on a particularly difficult day on set Hill pulled him aside for a chat. "I don’t know if you realize this,” she said, "but you dictate the mood of this whole set. You are the star of this film and you wrote this film, and [if] you come in in a bad mood, it just spreads so quickly.”

Remarked Reubens, "And that was something I didn’t know. That’s something I have been able to take with me from that movie and has helped me—and probably all the rest of the people who have to work with me—quite a bit.”

Hill’s desire to help succeeding generations of producers has continued beyond her death in the form of the Debra Hill Fellowship, which was established by the PGA in 2005. The Fellowship is awarded annually to "a man or woman completing an accredited graduate program in producing, and whose work, interests, professionalism and passion mirror that of Debra Hill.”

Hurd announced the Fellowship at Hill’s memorial service. "With Debra, giving a hand to the women who followed her wasn’t an afterthought to her success. It was an article of faith. Despite a career’s worth of critical and commercial successes, I firmly believe that if Debra had found herself 20 years later to be the only woman producing feature films, she would have been profoundly disappointed.”

Lucienne Papon, SVP, Scripted Television, ITV Studios America, was the first recipient of the Debra Hill Fellowship in 2005. She had just graduated from UCLA’s MFA producing program and was concurrently working as a creative executive for a production company based at Sony.

"The boost of this award was all about me being at a place where I was at the bottom of the totem pole but I had potential. It was a validation that I had some of the qualities that would help me prevail in this business at a time when I wasn’t so sure,” said Papon. The grant she received allowed her to join networking organizations like Film Independent and Women In Film, as well as to option material.

"When I think about Debra’s legacy, it’s all about tenacity and passion,” said Papon. "I think that you have to really love this business and love the messiness of collaboration and love storytelling and love every job in the process—but it’s hard. I still had plenty of meetings well into my career where I was the only woman in the room. So I appreciate her devotion and commitment to our own authenticity, to speaking up with her own power and most importantly, to never being afraid of rolling up her sleeves in doing the work. I think the legacy of Debra Hill is that you do whatever is asked of you to tell the best story you can and find the audience where they are. I think that’s the foundation of producing.”

2010 Fellowship recipient Jacob Jaffke was inspired by Hill’s passion for collaboration with writers and directors. A horror fan himself, he has worked with writer/director Ti West on several films including The Innkeepers (2011) and The Sacrament (2013). Said Jaffke, "I’m not saying that we’re Hill and Carpenter yet, but they’re definitely a duo that we emulate.”

Like Hill, Jaffke worked his way through a number of jobs on the call sheet before earning his first feature producer credit on Sleepwalk With Me, a project cowritten and codirected by, and starring comedian Mike Birbiglia. Jaffke directly credits the Fellowship for the opportunity to produce the film. He came out of Columbia’s graduate film program with a large amount of debt, was living paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have the liberty of cherry-picking his projects. He described himself as, "a gun for hire, working on whatever projects I could to pay the rent.” The Debra Hill Fellowship changed that.

"I think the most valuable thing the Fellowship gave me was the ability to try out my own path and pick my own projects,” said Jaffke. With the money from the Fellowship in the bank and his bills paid, the young producer was able to pass on several films he didn’t believe in and instead wait for the script with which he wanted to make his mark. Sleepwalk With Me served him well, going on to win a number of awards, including the Best of NEXT Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Jaffke was nominated for the 2014 Independent Spirit Piaget Producer Award, and currently​heads​ development for Eric Newman and hisStudioCanal–backed production company Grand Electric.

Hill’s effect on successive generations of producers extends beyond those she personally worked with or those who received money from the Fellowship in her name. PGA member Lotti Pharris Knowles (Chastity Bites, I Am Divine) cites Hill as one of her heroes in the business. A self-proclaimed "horror freak,” she came of age watching Halloween after school every day while her mom was at work. "Sometimes I would have to stop at a certain point because I got too freaked out,” she said, "but I just was obsessed with the teenagers, the dialogue, the building of tension—it’s just exquisite.”

Knowles already had aspirations of being an entertainer by junior high. She described how at some point during her multiple watchings of Halloween, "It hit me that there was this woman’s name who had cowritten the film and produced it. This made me realize that I could be something beyond just a movie star—there were other options in the entertainment business. Debra Hill was this person that I could look to and say, ‘Oh, women are doing this and it’s cool and I can do it too.’ By the time I was about 12, 13, 14, I was telling everybody I was going to make horror movies when I grew up ... and here I am.” Knowles is currently working on a variety of projects, including The Black Rose Anthology, a horror series featuring female directors of note. 


How vital was Debra Hill to the PGA?  Vital enough to serve as the
subject of Produced By's first cover interview, back in 
2000.
One can imagine that Hill would be thrilled to hear that her body of work and reputation have served as both encouragement and as an example to the next generation of producers. She was honored by Women In Film in 2003 with the Crystal Award. During her acceptance speech, she said, "I hope some day there won’t be a need for Women In Film. That it will be People In Film. That it will be equal pay, equal rights and equal job opportunities for everybody.”

When asked for a reaction to that statement 12 years later, Gale Anne Hurd paused and said, "We still need Women In Film.”

Hurd then went on to say that there have been inroads but, "It certainly isn’t reflective of either the diversity in this country or the gender equality in terms of actual stats of the population. There are now a lot of women who are shining a spotlight on the fact that it continues to this day. Women are paid less. Given less credit. And it hasn’t changed as much as we would have liked. But at least the discussion is now part of the zeitgeist. Debra began that.”

 

-Tamara Krinsky is an Emmy award-winning writer/producer, actress and broadcast host. She recently hosted the PGA’s coverage of the Producers Guild Awards.

This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Produced By magazine

 

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CREATIVITY IS LEGION - Jay Williams Seeks The Perfect Union Between Rising Storytellers And The Demanding Digital Audience

Posted By Spike Friedman, Thursday, April 28, 2016

Creative ambition and the financial realities of new media are forces that often find themselves in conflict with one another. Dig a little deeper and you find other structural tensions, such as the audience-driven trend towards fan/creator interaction versus the artist’s single-minded pursuit of a unique creative vision. But at Legion of Creatives, Jay Williams and his team are betting on these oft-diverging forces coming together in symbiosis, and the early returns are promising.

For Williams, who came out of Disney’s marketing division, storytelling and audience development have always been of a piece. Having started his career working on brand integration efforts, Williams saw these commercial efforts as an opportunity to develop his creativity. "I was really fortunate, as I got a chance to hone my craft for storytelling,” Williams said of his early experience, "but I also learned how important brands were. What I realized early on was just because you’re a marketer doesn’t mean you’re not creative.”

Even early in his career, Williams’ work often sat in the digital space. And we’re talking early, in digital marketing terms; his first experience with digital promotion was working with CBS and Prodigy. "It was all text,” he explains. "And we did a ‘watch and win’ with the CBS fall season. This was early for digital. Murder She Wrote was still on the air.” While his current company works with cutting-edge digital tools, the goal then was the same as it is now: encouraging savvy audiences to invest more deeply in stories by using technology.


Jay Williams (right) with fellow PGA member and vice president
of Disney/ABC Television Group's Digital Media Studio, Chris Thomes
In 2000, Williams came out west to work in Disney’s creative content division. "It was a group within Disney Studios, that lived in the space between TV spots and trailers,” Williams explained. "It’s the other great content that can be developed around the stories we’re producing at Pixar and other Disney properties.” This effort pushed back into digital and early iterations of mobile content. "It was about the innovation. Where can we take the storytelling? Our work went from a passive experience to a very interactive experience.”

After spending some time post-Disney on the ad agency side, again working on creative content, Williams moved over to work for Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci at K/O Paper Products. "Hands down, two of the most creative writers I’ve ever met. I learned so much from them about the creative process,” says Williams. But that learning was a two-way street, especially when it came to the marketing process. "Once a script is complete, a lot of the old guard of writers think, ‘okay, my job is done, I’ve written this.’ Whereas today’s writers are like, ‘Now I can actually communicate with the fans! I can take that fan base to a whole new level.’ And we had some really early success with that on Sleepy Hollow.” The fans weren’t the only ones who noticed; the TV Academy recognized Sleepy Hollow with its 2015 award for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media User Experience and Visual Design.

After K/O dissolved, Williams found himself in the new position of being able to strike out on his own. Partnering with Orci, screenwriter Noam Dromi, and Sleepy Hollow cast member Orlando Jones, Williams formed Legion of Creatives as a response to what he saw as the needs of writers and producers in an increasingly digital entertainment landscape. To Williams’ credit, he remains steadfastly focused on the quality of the work he’s fostering. "We’re interested in premium digital content. The ‘premium’ really comes in with the scripted part, bringing in the best writers from movies and television, people who really know how to write stories.”

Legion of Creatives also finds success in a model that fits somewhere between traditional television production models and independent film. Specifically, by keeping costs down through tight production timelines and the use of technology, Legion of Creatives is helping its partner artists work in new ways. As Jones explains, "Jay’s focus on new technology to empower creatives together with a reframing of storytelling formats has the potential to disrupt production models that are starting to strain as the media landscape becomes increasingly fragmented.”

That instinct towards disruption informs the content itself, and Legion of Creatives functions as a collective looking to tell stories that traditional models won’t tell.Inspired by the success of Sleepy Hollow, a show with a diverse cast that told authentic yet fantastical stories, Legion of Creatives is pursuing partnerships with creative talent across the spectrum. "In digital, we’re telling stories you won’t find elsewhere,” asserts Williams. "We feel part of that model is bringing different audiences in. Digital is a great place to do that. And unlike on TV, you can connect on the platform where your show is actually airing.” With Sleepy Hollow specifically, Williams also cites overwhelmingly positive fan feedback on the diversity of the show.


Williams (left) with Legion of Creatives co-founder and co-president Noam Dromi
at the 2015 Emmy Awards
Furthermore, by engaging with a wide spectrum of fans directly, Williams is carving out room for new voices. "It’s really important to find partners who tell authentic stories. Whatever our creative conceit may be, our creative partners have lived it. And they have a unique perspective on it.” One partnership is with disabled performer Katy Sullivan, an actress who Dromi met while working on Dolphin’s Tale. "She is incredibly talented,” says Williams, "and we have a project we’re working on now with her called Legs that’s about what it’s like to be a 31–year-old woman who happens to be disabled trying to make her way in life. It’s just an honest, unapologetic look at her experience.”

Connecting with fans also means partnering with entities such as xxArray, a company that allows fans to scan themselves in a photo booth with 150 still cameras, and become part of the show’s cast. "Instead of doing your crowd scene with nondescript CG people,” Williams explained, "we can fill it with fans. And now you have fans that want to watch and see that they’re in the show.” This is new territory. LoC is currently using the technology on its new season of Tainted Love featuring Jones, and the response has been exciting. "A lot of fans are asking, why haven’t we been able to do something like this before?”

For Williams, his passion in creating content is driven by the fans. "Part of having a partner like Orlando is that we understand the fan base. He always takes the time for his fans. He goes the extra mile. I’ve learned how important that is. When you talk about the increasing bifurcation of audiences, the question is, how do you go about building an audience? You do it through loyalty.”

To that end, he’s pushing his projects to utilize the sort of technology that can put the fans into the action, which for LoC means staking out a position in the vanguard of virtual reality. Sleepy Hollow was among the first shows to have VR content associated with it, and as that technology develops, Williams wants his team developing for it. "The mistake a lot of people make with technology is it becomes a crutch.” Instead, Williams asks, "How can you use technology to actually supplement the storytelling, so your production value becomes greater?”

As this hybrid production model matures both at Legion of Creatives and elsewhere, it will organically attract partnerships with more traditional media powers. Legion of Creatives is collaborating with ABC as they develop their digital platform, while also working with companies like eOne on international distribution, and figuring out the different ways to move content across borders. "Something that’s a digital series here in the U.S.,” said Williams, "can be a movie in the international market.”

The question then becomes how to fund premium content. "You hear people talk today about there being too much content,” Williams muses. "For me, there’s still not enough good content.” For Legion of Creatives, this mandate carries serious implications for content creators. Having that seat at the table demands an investment beyond simply writing a script and handing it over. It’s a chance to change the game. "Digital is a different place,” Williams smiles. "It’s fun to be able to write the rules instead of frankly, playing by everyone else’s rules.”

- Illustrated by Elena Lacey

This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Produced By magazine

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Produced By Conference Announces Additional Speakers, Sessions, and Mentoring Roundtables

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 21, 2016

LOS ANGELES (April 21, 2016) – The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced today additional speakers for its 8th annual Produced By Conference (PBC). This year’s headlining sessions include the Conversations With… series, featuring an in-depth dialogue with the producers from Revelations Entertainment, President Morgan Freeman and CEO Lori McCreary, and one with FX Networks and FX Productions CEO John Landgraf together with "Fargo” Executive Producer Noah Hawley. PBC will also feature a 360 Profile roundtable discussion on New Regency with producer/director Steve McQueen, along with the company’s President and CEO Brad Weston and President of Production Pam Abdy.

Produced By is the only conference offering producers multiple opportunities to network with and absorb information from some of the most accomplished men and women in the entertainment industry. Registration and pricing information can be found at ProducedByConference.com. Early bird registration ends May 1st. Produced By 2016 takes place Saturday, June 4 through Sunday, June 5 and is hosted by Sony Pictures on its studio lot in Culver City, CA.

The Producers Guild also announced newly added speakers for Produced By 2016. In alphabetical order, they include:

· Pam Abdy, President of Production, New Regency

· Jeremy Alter, TOUCHED WITH FIRE, INLAND EMPIRE

· Keith Arem, CEO, PCB Productions; "Call of Duty,” "Phoenix Incident”

· Fred Baron, Executive Vice President of Feature Production, 20th Century Fox

· Marc Bienstock, THE VISIT, SPLIT

· Bill Borden, President, First Street Films; HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, THE MERMAID

· Joe Chianese, Executive Vice President, EP Financial Solutions

· John Davis, Chairman, Davis Entertainment; CHRONICLE, "The Blacklist”

· Jim Economos, Vice President- Production Safety, Legendary Entertainment

· Ellen Eliasoph, President and CEO, Village Roadshow Entertainment Group Asia

· Katie Fellion, Head of Business Development & Workflow Strategy, Light Iron

· Morgan Freeman, President & Co-Founder, Revelations Entertainment; INVICTUS, "Madam Secretary”

· David Friendly, Principal, Friendly Films; LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, "Queen of the South”

· Carolyn Giardina, Contributing Editor, Tech, The Hollywood Reporter

· Whitney Kimmel Glassberg, Movie Partnerships, Facebook & Instagram

· Misha Green, "Underground”

· Lt. Adam Hall, Project Officer, Navy Office of Information West

· Daniel Hammond, CCO, Broad Green Pictures

· Noah Hawley, "Fargo," "The Unusuals”

· John Heinsen, CEO and Executive Producer, Bunnygraph Entertainment

· Mike Kelly, CSP, Media Risk Control Manager, ProSight Specialty Insurance

· Glenn Kennel, President and CEO, ARRI, Inc.

· Rachel Klein, Producer/CEO, Fire Starter Studios, Solaris Media Group; "30 for 30, The Fab Five," NEA "United States of Arts"

· Josh Kline, Head of Media & Entertainment, Box

· John Landgraf, Chief Executive Officer, FX Networks and FX Productions

· Howard Lee, Executive Vice President, Development & Production, TLC; General Manager, Discovery Life Channel

· Gary Levine, President, Programming, Showtime Networks Inc.

· Joe Lewis, Head of Half-Hour Programming, Amazon Studios

· Peter Mavromates, GONE GIRL, "House of Cards"

· Lori McCreary, CEO & Co-Founder, Revelations Entertainment; President of the Producers Guild

· Steve McQueen, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, SHAME, HUNGER

· Chris Moore, Principal, The Media Farm; "The Chair," "Project Greenlight"

· Lydia Dean Pilcher, Producer, Cine Mosaic; CUTIE AND THE BOXER, THE QUEEN OF KATWE

· Sherri Potter, Head of Post Production Services, Technicolor

· Russ Robertson, Vice President of Marketing, Panavision

· Melissa Rosenberg, Tall Girls Productions; "Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” screenwriter "Twilight” franchise

· Ben Rosenblatt, Producer/Head of VFX and Post, Bad Robot; STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, 10 CLOVERFIELD

· Dana Ross, International Marketing Executive, ARRI Rental

· Jonathan Saba, Vice President of Marketing, Saban Films

· Chachi Senior, Senior Vice President, Original Series, Spike TV

· Stacy Smith, Director, Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California

· Beatrice Springborn, Head of Originals, Hulu

· William Stuart, President, Aurora Productions Inc.; THE ROCK, EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS

· Leslie Urdang, President, Mar-Key Pictures; BEGINNERS, RABBIT HOLE

· Brad Weston, CEO and President, New Regency

· Winnie Wong, SVP, Momentous Insurance Brokerage

Produced By 2016 offers a broad range of programming, including mentoring roundtables, panel discussions, and interactive events. In addition to the Conversations With… and 360 Profile series, PBC features a lineup of sessions addressing topics surrounding film, television and digital.

After a successful inaugural run at last year’s PBC, the conference is excited to announce the return of the popular panels The Art and Craft of Pitching for Film and Television, two sessions where producers have the opportunity to test out pitching skills on experienced industry leaders. Amy Baer (LAST VEGAS) and Michael London (TRUMBO) will head the film session, with Gary Levine (President of Programming, Showtime) and Melissa Rosenberg ("Marvel’s Jessica Jones”) providing the platform for television. Both sessions will be led by Produced By Conference Co-Chair, Marshall Herskovitz.

Newly added sessions are in bold and italics below:

· 2nd SEASON AND BEYOND: HOW TO SUSTAIN YOUR UNSCRIPTED SHOW

· 20 SECONDS TO DISASTER: CREATING A SAFE PRODUCTION TO PROTECT YOUR CAST & CREW Sponsored by HUB Entertainment Insurance

· 360 PROFILE: ALL DEF DIGITAL

· 360 PROFILE: STEVE MCQUEEN AND NEW REGENCY

· THE ART AND CRAFT OF PITCHING FOR FILM

· THE ART AND CRAFT OF PITCHING FOR TELEVISION

· CONVERSATION WITH: ELIZABETH BANKS & MAX HANDELMAN

· CONVERSATION WITH: MORGAN FREEMAN & LORI MCCREARY

· CONVERSATION WITH: JOHN LANDGRAF & NOAH HAWLEY

· EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT VIRTUAL REALITY BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

· FIELD OF VISION: HOW NEW TECHNOLOGIES ARE REDEFINING CINEMATOGRAPHY AND FINISHING Sponsored by ARRI and Technicolor

· FUTURE PROOFING YOUR PRODUCTIONS Sponsored by Light Iron, A Panavision Company

· THE INFLUENCE OF TECHNOLOGY ON TODAY’S POST WORKFLOWS Sponsored by Box

· INTEGRATING SOCIAL MEDIA AND MOBILE INTO YOUR MARKETING AND DISTRIBUTION CAMPAIGNS

· IS THE SKY FALLING?: THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FACING INDEPENDENT FILM PRODUCERS

· MEET THE BUYERS: AMAZON/ HULU/YOUTUBE

· THE NEW CREATIVES: HOW THESE ‘FIRST TIMERS’ GOT IT RIGHT

· A SEAT AT THE PRODUCTION TABLE: WHICH PROJECTS GET FINANCED? Sponsored by Entertainment Partners

· SHOOTING OVERSEAS?HOW TO FIND THE BEST LOCATIONS, PARTNERS AND PRODUCTION INCENTIVES Sponsored by Delta Air Lines

· SOCIAL CHANGE AND THE BOX OFFICE: THE POTENTIAL OF GENDER PARITY, DIVERSITY AND STEM Sponsored by SAG-AFTRA

· THE STATE OF FINANCING FILMS TODAY Sponsored by Pacific Mercantile Bank

· TOP 5 THINGS EVERY PRODUCER SHOULD KNOW Sponsored by Momentous Insurance

· WORKING WITH THE MILITARY FROM SCRIPT TO SCREEN

The PBC’s Mentoring Roundtables Sponsored by Panasonic are now open for registration and include sessions with the following producers/speakers:

· Jeremy Alter, TOUCHED WITH FIRE, INLAND EMPIRE

· Keith Arem, CEO, PCB Productions; "Call of Duty,” "Phoenix Incident”

· Daniel Hammond, CCO, Broad Green Pictures

· Michael London, Principal and Founder, Groundswell Productions; MILK, SIDEWAYS

· Gary Lucchesi, President of the Producers Guild of America; THE LINCOLN LAWYER, MILLION DOLLAR BABY

· Chris Moore, Principal, The Media Farm; "The Chair," "Project Greenlight"

· Clay Newbill, Founder & President, 310 Entertainment; "Shark Tank,” "Brain Surge”

· Ted Schilowitz, Futurist, 20th Century Fox and Chief Creative Officer, Barco Escape

· Molly Smith, Partner, Black Label Media; DEMOLITION, SICARIO

· R. Decker Watson, Jr., Co-Executive Producer, "Deadliest Catch" (Original Productions)

* The above speakers, panel topics and mentor roundtables are subject to change.

Official sponsors include Sony Pictures;Cadillac, the Official Auto Partner of the PGA; Delta, the Official Airline Partner of the PGA; Corbis Entertainment’s BEN; PRG Production Resource Group; Panasonic; AMC Networks; ARRI; Box; Coca-Cola; Don Francisco’s Coffee; Emmett Furla Oasis Films; Entertainment Partners; Film in Iceland; Freixenet Cava; Heineken; Hilton Worldwide; HUB Entertainment Insurance; Indiepay; Intuitive Aerial; Light Iron; Marriott; Minnesota Film & TV Board; Momentous Insurance; Pacific Mercantile Bank; Produce Iowa; Proximo Spirits; SAG-AFTRA; SAGindie; Technicolor; The Molecule; Film US Virgin Islands; and VER.

Produced By Conference 2016 will be presided by PGA members Ian Bryce, Tracey Edmonds, Mark Gordon, Marshall Herskovitz, and Rachel Klein. The Produced by 2016 team includes Supervising Producer Barry Kaplan (EKG, Inc.), Program Director Madelyn Hammond (Madelyn Hammond and Associates), Marketing Consultant Lynda Dorf, and Sponsorship Director Diane Salerno (Six Degrees Global).

The 2016 Produced By Conference is made possible by The PGA Foundation, The Producers Guild of America’s charitable entity. The Produced By Conferences are the cornerstone events that epitomize the Foundation’s core mission, to educate and inspire those working in the producing profession. To review highlights from previous PBCs and to receive news and the latest programming updates for Produced By Conference 2016, please visit the Guild’s official website and follow its social media channels for the event:

Website: http://www.ProducedByConference.com

Twitter: @Produced_By

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ProducedByConference

About the Producers Guild of America (PGA)

The Producers Guild of America is the non-profit trade group that represents, protects and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team in film, television and new media. The Producers Guild has more than 7,000 members who work together to protect and improve their careers, the industry and community by providing members with employment opportunities, seeking to expand health benefits,promoting fair and impartial standards for the awarding of producing credits, as well as other education and advocacy efforts such as encouraging sustainable production practices. For more information and the latest updates, please visit ProducersGuild.org, www.PGAGreen.org, and www.PGADiversity.org, and follow us on Twitter @ProducersGuild.

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