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¡Viva Las Películas! - New Data Confirms The Growing Size And Appetite Of The Hispanic Theatrical Market

Posted By Pete Filiaci, Friday, April 15, 2016
Imagine yourself sitting at home on a Thursday night after dinner, watching your favorite TV show and texting friends about the upcoming weekend. You want something to do on Friday night, and one of your friends recommends looking at the showtimes at the local theater to select which film would be the best choice to kick off the weekend. It’s easy to imagine this scene playing out every week in homes all across the country. What is perhaps less recognized is that this scene plays out with much greater frequency in the homes of Hispanic Americans.

Hollywood has had a prominent place in American life for generations. Going to the movies remains an escape from everyday life, a break from the truths we face every day: bills, work, child care responsibilities. The allure of visiting a communal space with a large screen dedicated to this beautiful art form remains one of those reachable goals that most people and families enjoy sharing with friends and/or family. For Latinos, this is true to an even greater extent. According to NRG’s 2015 Moviegoing Report, Hispanics are 10% more likely to be moviegoers (85% versus 77% for non-Hispanics). Additionally, they are more frequent moviegoers, seeing an average of 8.6 films per year versus 7.2 for their non-Hispanic counterparts. When you combine this with the fact that Hispanics attend in bigger groups (55% of Hispanics attend with three or more people versus 42% of non-Hispanics), it’s indisputable that this population packs some powerful box office punch.

Driving Box Office Sales

"No longer can the domestic market sustain the budgets of studio projects on its own,” says Deborah Calla, Chair of the PGA Diversity Committee, and Women’s Impact Network (WIN). "It is clear that in order to maximize profit, movie studios need to speak directly to the various cultural groups that make up the population [of the United States].” According to Nielsen, Hispanics generated $2.3 billion in box office revenue last year, which is 21% of total sales. For a demographic group that represents nearly 18% of the total U.S. population, that’s impressive. "We know that Hispanics are a loyal movie -ticket -buying group,” says Calla. "If targeted with specific and culturally significant campaigns, [Hispanics] will support a studio film with greater presence and expenditure.”

As more marketers recognize and market to this consumer, Hispanics continue to flock to the movie theater to enjoy the experiences of being completely engaged with and often enthralled by, the big screen. More than half of Hispanic moviegoers (53%) say they go to the movies for the big theater experience. This is a fact that movie studios and producers should take much solace in, given a media landscape that allows for viewing or enjoyment of every form of media, essentially from the palm of your hand. The act of visiting the movies and enjoying the experience in totality—from the convenient ticket kiosks, to the refreshments counter, to the luxury seats—is something celebrated by Hispanics. A recent Mintel report on moviegoing noted that Hispanics over-index across the board when it comes to spending on the extras, such as advanced tickets, reserved or premium seating, theater snacks, beverages and even full meals. And then, of course, there’s the spending on the content itself. NRG tells us that Hispanics are much more likely to see movies in 3D as well as seeing more titles in 3D annually when compared with non-Hispanic audiences.

Every studio head or marketing director works hard to deliver an impactful opening weekend. If that’s the case, targeting Hispanics with advertising in-language could be the recipe for success. Calla notes, "When the [advertising] messaging is targeted to the Hispanic community in their native language, in a culturally-appropriate way, there is a feeling of inclusion and acknowledgment. The greater returns reflect and justify these target-specific campaigns.”

Hispanic audiences tend to visit the theater on opening weekend more than any other demographic segment. According to NRG, 45% of Hispanics go to the movies on opening weekend versus 33% of non-Hispanics. Another important factor to consider is the power of word-of-mouth among Latinos. Hispanics are very social, and the impact that has on the ways in which they share information about products they love—including films—is notable. Hispanics are more likely to be convinced to see a movie in theaters (45% Hispanic vs. 42% non-Hispanic) and will pass along what they’ve heard about a movie more frequently (52% vs. 45%).

A Diverse Hollywood Reflects a Diverse America

As powerful as their current box office impact may be, Latinos likely will have an even greater impact in the years to come. Because Hispanics are more highly concentrated in the younger age groups, they account for nearly a quarter (24%) of all ticket sales among millennials. Given their relative youth, Hispanics have more effective years of buying power than non-Hispanic whites, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans. In fact, the window is an estimated 20 years greater than non-Hispanic whites, per Nielsen, due to a much younger median age combined with a greater life expectancy. What does this mean? It means more opportunities to target them across their lifetimes as moviegoers who attend with their families now, and who will one day take their children and grandchildren to the movies.

The social experience of moviegoing is another big draw for Latinos. Not only do they tend to go with family and friends, as the most active users of social media, they are also most likely to post about movies. In fact, Hispanics are 36% more likely than non-Hispanics to share their thoughts about films across social platforms. "The social experience of moviegoing is clearly a key driver for Hispanics,” says my colleague, Hilary Dubin, Vice President of Business Development at Univision Communications. "Our research community, Univisionistas, an online research panel of over 5,000 members, tells us that 47% go to the movies because it’s an entertainment activity they can enjoy with family and friends.”

As much as Hispanics are already the most frequent moviegoers, there may be even more opportunity to drive additional attendance. Dubin notes, "Our Univisionistas tell us that they want to increase their moviegoing. In fact, 74% of the panel would like to go to the movies more frequently.” That increased appetite for entertainment may entice even more films to market to this consumer. It’s time to think beyond the genres that are most closely associated with Latino moviegoers.

Films across the genre spectrum have enjoyed success with Latinos. Horror films, family-friendly fare, and action blockbusters all do exceedingly well among the cohort. But a diverse taste across a multitude of genres is becoming more and more prevalent. In fact, according to NRG, Hispanics over-index on being fans of every genre—from action/adventure to art house/independent. "One clear way studios are trying to target minorities with their products is through casting,” says Calla. "Putting actors on-screen who represent diversity creates ways for audiences to see themselves represented, and as participants in cultural storytelling.” Consider the success of Straight Outta Compton, or Furious 7, the latest installment in one of the most lucrative movie franchises in history. These titles buoyed a historic year for Universal Studios, one in which the studio grossed nearly $2.5 billion overall and commanded over 21% of market share during the same time frame—tops among all distributors in the United States, according to

It is crucial to note that both Universal titles have incredibly diverse casts with people of color in prominent starring roles. If the media we watch is a mirror to our world, reflecting the diversity of characters and people all around us is not only the right thing to do morally, it’s proving to be a sound business strategy too.

The Case For Multiculturalism

Latinos are avid moviegoers; this much is true. But according to a study released by the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, they may not be finding the characters on the screen—or the opportunities behind the camera—that accurately reflect America’s makeup.

The study, which is called the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, found Latinos are among the least represented speaking roles in film and TV, even though they make up about 17% of the U.S. population. Out of more than 11,000 speaking characters surveyed in film and TV, 5.8% were Hispanic or Latino.

The case can be made that this illustrates the need for a systemic change that starts even before the director’s chair or the producer’s chair. It starts in the writing room where small armies of dedicated writers, thinkers, comedians, and creatives are developing the stories, words, and images that the actors on-screen will deliver. Lacking that diversity in the development process will most likely result in a lack of diversity in the finished product.

Given the avidity of Latino moviegoers, Hollywood is clearly already delighting these consumers with its exceptional storytelling. Latinos are contributing more than one out of every five dollars spent at the box office. Just imagine how much more box office potential there is to be had from these enthusiastic attendees if they start seeing more films that acknowledge their experiences, reflect their values, mirror their faces and echo their voices.

- Illustrated by Elena Lacey

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

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2016 Power of Diversity Workshop - Now Accepting Submissions

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 10, 2016
Applications are now being accepted for the Producers Guild Power of Diversity Producers Workshop 2016!  Advance your project through master classes on the art and business of creative producing with renowned professionals in film, television and new media.  You will be supported with one-on-one mentoring by PGA producers at our headquarters in Beverly Hills.

The links you will need in order to apply:

1. View frequently asked questions.
2. Review the steps to apply.
3. Submit your application and payment.

Print and share a high-resolution version of the flyer.

About PGA Diversity

The Producers Guild of America Diversity Committee aims to create greater diversity in the entertainment industry.

"Lately, there's been a rallying cry to motivate the entertainment community to accurately reflect our world in its storytelling. As the PGA enters its second decade nurturing new voices through our 'Power of Diversity' workshop, we are proud that promoting diversity in the top ranks of film, television, and digital production continues to be a top priority for the Guild."

-- Committee Chair, Deborah Calla

For any questions, please write to

- Like PGA Diversity on Facebook and follow PGA Diversity on Twitter !

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SWIMMING WITH SHARKS: Good Guy Clay Newbill Runs The Show At The Top Of The Reality TV Food Chain

Posted By Michael Ventre, Tuesday, March 8, 2016

In the tortoise-hare dynamic, Clay Newbill’s career has been mostly tortoise. His slow and steady trek toward the peak of the alternate-programming hill has come about through hard work, perseverance, patience, skill, smarts, and good old human decency.

But there were a couple quicksilver moments of clarity more attuned to the hare that had a tremendous impact on the Shark Tank showrunner. The first came when he was just a lad living in Florida.

"From an early age, the first school play I ever saw, I knew what I wanted to do,” says the son of an Air Force pilot, who moved around a lot before settling outside Daytona Beach. "I wanted to be in the entertainment business. We had just come to Florida, I was the new kid at school, and a few weeks in, there was an assembly in the cafeteria and the curtain pulled back and it was a play of A Christmas Carol. I turned to a kid next to me and said, ‘How do you get to be one of the kids on the stage?’”

The second came in 2008, at CBS Radford studios, as the pilot for Shark Tank was being shot. "Our control room was upstairs,” Newbill recalls. "So I’d come down between pitches to chat with the "sharks” and I’d have to walk through our crew. And all of our crew, everyone who was there—agents and whatnot—were all gathered around a monitor, and all talking about what just happened.

"They were fascinated,” he continues. "Now these are people who are very critical, because they’ve seen everything. And they were just completely [riveted]. There was something hypnotic about it. Something magical was happening.”

L from B: Robert Herjavec, Clay Newbill,
Mark Cuban,Kevin O'Leary, Daymond John,
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Lori Greiner.
That kind of magic doesn’t happen overnight; generally, Newbill leans "tortoise.” That side of the analogy better reflects the painstaking rise through the non-fiction television jungle in which he traveled the world, accumulating a wealth of practical experience, making contacts and friends along the way and seizing opportunities when they presented themselves.

Shark Tank, which has been going now for seven seasons, is the culmination of a slow, steady and determined push forward. "People at his level … a lot of them are insane,” laughs Shark Tank executive producer, Yun Lingner, a colleague of Newbill’s for more than 10 years. "There are huge egos. Big personalities. Super insane crazy yellers. They have this instability.

"What’s amazing about Clay,” she counters, "is that he’s such a reasonable person. You can get successful through the ranks in so many different ways. He’s really been in the trenches. He has such a strong and incredible work ethic. Other producers really respect him because he knows what he’s doing and works so hard. He’s that combination of being calm and measured and rational—which is sadly rare at his level—but also creative and funny.”

Indeed, if you look around his office—unassumingly tucked away on the second floor of a modest structure on the far fringe of the Sony lot—what you don’t see is evidence of a cult of personality. It’s Newbill’s own heroes that get the attention: a prized football signed by Dallas Cowboys legends Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin; framed album covers—the Beatles and Herb Alpert, as well as the soundtracks from Goldfinger and Thunderball, a nod to his dad, a James Bond buff.

Newbill presides over one of the most popular reality shows on television with all of the swagger of a trusted accountant, yet his reality resume is the stuff of Hollywood big shots: co-executive producer on The Bachelor, executive producer on The Mole, Who Wants To Marry My Dad?, Top Designer, and American Inventor, stints on early, format-defining series like the Los Angeles and San Francisco seasons of The Real World, as well as Making the Band. And before that, lots of grunt production work at what was then known as Disney-MGM Studios while he lived in Florida, working with such television luminaries as Don Ohlmeyer, Screech Washington and Kim Moses.

"When you’re running a company as I am and you’re hiring somebody to run a show, you want to find that person you can just have confidence in and who knows when to bring issues to your attention and when to handle it himself,” says Jon Murray of Bunim-Murray Productions, whom Newbill credits with giving him his start. "Clay is a real adult. He gets it. He knows when to raise a concern or to just send an email and say, ‘This came up. I took care of it.’

"There are people like that,” Murray adds. "But they’re a special breed. When you find someone like that, you want to hold on to him. We were lucky to have him for so many years, but we’re proud of the success he has had with Shark Tank and his other projects.”

Shark Tank is based on another Sony property, Dragons’ Den, a popular hit in many parts of the world. The format is simple: entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to potential investors.

"Our show embodies the American Dream,” notes Newbill. "Though Dragons’ Den has been successful in many territories around the world … there’s only one country that has its own national ‘dream.’ That’s worldwide. People all over the world say, ‘The American Dream.’.”

Even as Newbill observes, "The moment the show becomes predictable, we’re dead,” he also knows that the drama built into the format assures that Shark Tank by its very nature remains unpredictable.

"I like to say that Shark Tank is like a courtroom drama,” he explains. "Somebody comes in, the entrepreneur, and they give testimony, and the sharks are cross-examining. When you’re watching a great courtroom drama like The Verdict, when you watch that cross-examination, you as a viewer, you’re swinging back and forth, you’re on the edge of your seat—‘What’s going to be the answer to this question?,’ ‘How’s it going to impact if they’re guilty or not guilty?’

Clay Newbill on the set of Shark Tank with "sharks" Kevin O'Leary, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John,
and fellow executive producer Yun Lingner

"The difference in Shark Tank,” he continues, "is that you’re thinking, ‘Are they going to get an offer, or are they not going to get an offer?’ With every question asked, it’s something you can sit at home with your family or whoever you’re watching with, and say, ‘Oh they’re going to get a deal’ or ‘This is perfect for (Mark) Cuban or Lori (Greiner), Barbara (Corcoran) or Daymond (John). This is right up their alley.’ Then as they do their search and discovery and they ask their questions and get their answers, that pendulum is swinging back and forth. That’s the excitement of the show.”

But again, it was a tortoise-like approach by Newbill, executive producer Mark Burnett, Sony and ABC that enabled it to become the hit that it is today.

"We realized—and thank goodness ABC realized—if you look at the model from the U.K. and Canada, it took three seasons for it to reach the tipping point where it became a hit,” Newbill reports. "We knew it would take the same here. In all the territories where it was successful, that was the model.

"When you hear the concept, it’s not a big hook,” he adds. "But when you watch the show, you get it. You’re hooked. That’s what I tell everybody: Watch it once and you’ll get hooked. Thank goodness ABC believed in it enough that they stuck with it for those three seasons. Sure enough, when the third Season came: BAM!”

One prominent shark believes he knows why. Says Cuban: "Without Clay, Shark Tank doesn’t work. He makes the magic happen.”

And the magic probably happens because Newbill knows it’s not the result of magic, but rather elbow grease, creativity and human relations—elements in his portfolio that he’s been honing for years.

"There are so many intangibles Clay brings,” confirms Rob Mills, senior vice president of alternate programming for ABC. "His passion is first and foremost. Clay is one of those unsung heroes of reality, because he’s worked on everything. With Clay, it’s really all about doing great work. He has zero ego. His preparation for everything is intense. And he never gets complacent. He’s always thinking about what we’re doing, not just now but a year from now and five years from now.”

Holly Jacobs, executive vice president of reality and syndication for Sony Pictures Entertainment, fills in the picture: "This is an interesting show. There are a lot of moving parts. All of the many, many entrepreneurs to manage, to navigate, to hear their stories. Then you have a lot of very interesting sharks who have incredibly busy lives, who are unique personalities, who are really smart. That takes a lot of navigation. Clay has a very, very calm and centered way of managing it all. He gives you a lot of confidence and he’s very, very good with detail.”

Murray said he knew that Newbill was special when the two worked on The Real World together, when Pedro, a young Cuban-American cast member who was HIV positive, got sick during production and had to fly home to Miami from San Francisco to be checked out by his doctors.

"Clay and me and a camera person and an audio person all went with Pedro and spent a week with him in Miami,” Murray recalls. "Working with Clay for that week showed me a sensitive side of him as a human being, especially in his care for Pedro and his concern for Pedro’s family and friends and our work to try to document this while being sensitive to everybody. It was amazing.”

When Newbill is away from Shark Tank, he’s usually at home in Manhattan Beach with wife Jaesuk, a flight attendant, and 6-year-old son Wyatt, who recently got on skis for the first time during a trip to Mammoth. Newbill loves to surf, an obsession he picked up when he lived in Florida.

Back in 1991, after graduating from the University of Central Florida (he has since set up a scholarship there and offers paid internships for students to work on Shark Tank) and doing some production work at Disney, he packed everything he owned into his car and drove across the country. He rented a room with two other roommates in Manhattan Beach, a town he fell in love with. Later, after traveling a ton and saving up, he bought a house in the town, where he still lives with his wife and son. He worked diligently over a period of many years, taking whatever opportunities that were available, moving forward, learning and striving to improve.

In other words, he pursued and achieved the American Dream. Now he’s running a show that gives others the chance to do the same.

"Shark Tank has definitely resonated with our society,” he says. "You see someone walk down that hall and hit that rug and start their pitch, you can relate to that person because they’re trying to overcome some great obstacle. They’re trying to get success. They believe in something with their entire spirit, and here they are to convince the sharks this is something worth doing and get the investment that takes them to the next level with their business.

"I think Daymond John said it best: It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, race, color, creed, whatever. You hit that rug and you’ve got your shot.” Clay Newbill can relate. He took his shot. He didn’t miss.

- See all of the articles from the February/March 2016 issue of Produced By Magazine.

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Initial Slate of Featured Speakers & Session Topics for 8th Annual Produced By Conference Announced

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 19, 2016

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced the initial slate of speakers and session topics for its 8th annual Produced By Conference (PBC). This year, PBC’s headlining panels include a "360 Profile” roundtable discussion with All Def Digital principals Russell Simmons, Sanjay Sharma, Chris Conti, and Jake Stein; and the "Conversations With…” series featuring an in-depth dialogue with producers Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman from Brownstone Productions.

Produced By is the only conference specifically created by producers, for producers. No other event gives producers so many opportunities to network with and learn from top storytellers and decision-makers in the entertainment industry. Registration and pricing information can be found at Early bird registration at a discounted rate is available now and ends May 1st. Produced By 2016 takes place June 4-5 and is hosted by Sony Pictures on its studio lot in Culver City, CA.

Confirmed panelists to date are noted below in alphabetical order. Additional speakers will be announced in the coming weeks.

· Amy Baer, President, Gidden Media; A STORM IN THE STARS (2016), LAST VEGAS

· Elizabeth Banks, Partner, Brownstone Productions; PITCH PERFECT 1 & 2, "Resident Advisors”

· Ian Bryce, Principal, Ian Bryce Productions; WORLD WAR Z, TRANSFORMERS 1-4

· John Canning, Producers Guild, Co-Chair of the Motion Picture Technology Committee


· Chris Conti, Head of Digital and Television Content, All Def Digital

· Nonny de la Peña, CEO, Emblematic Group

· America Ferrera, "Superstore”

· Dalia Ganz, Director of Digital & Partnership Marketing, Freeform

· Max Handelman, Partner, Brownstone Productions; PITCH PERFECT 1 & 2, "Resident Advisors”

· Kenneth A. Hawes, Director, U.S Army Public Affairs, Western Region

· Marshall Herskovitz, Partner, Bedford Falls Company; THE LAST SAMURAI, "thirtysomething”

· Basil Iwanyk, Founder and Owner, Thunder Road; SICARIO, THE TOWN

· Jeff Jenkins, EVP of Development and Programming, Bunim/Murray Production; "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," "I Am Cait"

· Andrew Karpen, CEO, Bleecker Street Media

· Courtney A. Kemp, "Power”

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

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

· Christie Mattull, Managing Director, HUB Entertainment Insurance

· Lori McCreary, President of the Producers Guild of America; INVICTUS, "Madam Secretary"

· Nick Meyer, President & CEO, Sierra/Affinity

· Ted Mundorff, President and CEO, Landmark Theatres

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

· Commander John W. Pruitt, III, U. S. Coast Guard; Director, USCG Motion Picture and Television Office

· Ben Relles, Head of Comedy and Unscripted Programming, YouTube Originals

· Lt. Col. Glen F. Roberts, Director, Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office, U.S. Air Force

· DJ Roller, Co-Founder, NextVR

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

· Kathryn Schotthoefer, Senior Vice President, Social Media, Heavenspot | M&C Saatchi

· Sanjay Sharma, President and Chief Executive Officer, All Def Digital

· Mark Shelton, Producer/Director, Shattered Sky

· Bettina Sherick, Founder, Hollywood in Pixels

· Russell Simmons, Chairman and Founder, All Def Digital

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

· Jake Stein, President, Def Pictures

· Robert Stromberg, Founder & CCO, The Virtual Reality Company

· Sarah Treem, "The Affair"

· Vance Van Petten, National Executive Director, Producers Guild of America

· Adrian Ward, Division Manager, Entertainment Industries Division, Pacific Mercantile Bank

· R. Decker Watson, Jr., Executive Producer, Defiant Pictures; "Deadliest Catch,” "Ice Road Truckers”

*The above speakers are subject to change.

Produced By 2016 features a broad range of programming, including mentoring roundtables, workshops and networking events. In addition to the "Conversations With…” and "360 Profile” series, PBC’s conference panels encompass an incredible variety of topics. The program to date includes the following sessions:












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



In addition to Sony Pictures, sponsors already on board for this year’s conference include 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, Entertainment Partners, Film in Iceland, HUB International Insurance Services, Intuitive Aerial,Light Iron,Minnesota Film & TV Board, Pacific Mercantile Bank, Produce Iowa, Technicolor, The Molecule, Film US Virgin Islands and VER.

Produced By Conference 2016 is chaired by PGA members Ian Bryce, Tracey Edmonds, Mark Gordon, Marshall Herskovitz, and Rachel Klein. Returning to the PBC team are 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).

Produced By Conference 2016 is made possible by the Producers Guild of America’s charitable entity, the PGA Foundation, and epitomizes the Foundation’s core mission to educate those working in the producing profession. To review highlights from previous Conferences and 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:


Twitter: @Produced_By


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,, and, and follow us on Twitter @ProducersGuild.

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LESLEY CHILCOTT - February Cover

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, February 16, 2016
No one likes being a documentary producer. You either love the job, or you don’t do it. No middle ground.

To choose to produce a project—in any format—is to invite a world of headaches into one’s life. Budget problems, schedule problems, talent problems, post-production problems… the list will go on as long as you let it. Documentary producers get to enjoy all of those tribulations, but with a fraction of the budget, compensation and public acclaim that their counterparts in scripted film and television enjoy. You have to love the job, maybe even love it too much.

PGA member Lesley Chilcott openly cops to being an addict. "I still do commercials to support my documentary habit,” she admits, mock-sheepishly. "It’s like a virus. I think once you have the privilege of being able to share someone’s truth, you want to do it more and more.” And indeed, she’s been sharing a lot of truths during the past several years. A veteran of countless PSA shoots, Chilcott served as co-producer on An Inconvenient Truth, arguably the definitive doc of the century’s first decade. She subsequently teamed with Truth director Davis Guggenheim to produce acclaimed documentaries like It Might Get Loud and Waiting for ‘Superman,’ winning the 2011 Producers Guild Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures for the latter. Of late, Chilcott has added directing credits to her filmography, most recently CodeGirl, the feature she produced and directed last year about the Technovation Challenge, an international competition that showcases teams of teenage girls around the world striving to develop and code community-oriented mobile apps.

Chilcott with DP Logan Schneider on location in Moldova
Breaking free of the December holiday rush for an hour, Lesley Chilcott sat down with Produced By editor Chris Green at a roadside juice bar in Woodland Hills. Over the whine of machinery churning out kale-carrot-cucumber beverages, the pair discussed the halcyon days of MTV, the nature of Netflix’s unprecedented commitment to documentaries, and the enduring influence of Mark Lewis’ Australian cult-doc masterpiece, Cane Toads: An Unnatural History.


How did you find your way into the business?

I was studying business at USC, in something called the Entrepreneur Program. I wanted to start a vegetarian fast-food chain. But my friends were in cinema school and I was constantly crashing screenings and sneaking into one of the classes. I had always been a huge movie buff, but never had thought of it as a career. No one in my family had ever done it.

I finished college early and wasn’t super thrilled with the restaurant industry, based on what I’d learned. And maybe I was a little ahead of my time with the vegetarian fast-food chain idea. So I started working at MTV as a PA, right after it turned 10.

So that’s at the point where the network was evolving from pure music videos to producing its own shows.

Yeah. In fact, because I was based in LA, I worked on many of the live multi-camera shows. I was part of the first team that created the MTV Movie Awards. I remember sitting around the room brainstorming with Joel Gallen and others, "What weird categories could we have? How about Best Action Scene. Best On-Screen Duo? We came up with the craziest stuff we could. And even though I was close to entry-level at that time, everyone got to have input.

I think a lot of people start in this industry not sure what they want to do. But because I had this business background, I had more direction, though I must admit I didn’t think of it on my own. It took my college friend to say "Why don’t you think about going to the Peter Stark Program at USC? You’d be a great producer.” That was food for thought. I knew I was on that route, but at MTV, if you stuck around, pretty soon you were handed the reins to do something. So I never made it back to grad school.

I worked on the MTV Movie Awards, the Video Music Awards, ½ Hour Comedy Hour, all those sorts of shows. You start as a production assistant, then you have a little more responsibility, then you’re an associate producer. I think you got the better credit to get you to stay. I was the associate producer on a show called Trashed. That was my first real producorial experience. It was a comedy game show where we blew contestants’ possessions up—we "trashed” them—if they didn’t answer our questions correctly. I had a lot of responsibilities on that show.

There was always something fun going on at MTV, but I followed the VP of Production, Joel Gallen, when he left the network. In fact, the only real job I’ve ever had was helping him start his company, Tenth Planet, and even that was a start-up. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a real job.

I did two- to five-year cash-flow projections for Joel and finally put my degree to use. I worked with him in production for nine months, and then through my friends at MTV I started doing commercials, hundreds of them. Through that, I got to work with some of the very best directors. Some of them were full-time commercial directors like Joe Pytka, and some of them came more from film or television, like Tom Hooper, Bennett Miller and Todd Field. What’s great about commercials is that I had the chance to get to work with so many different directors, and I didn’t have to commit six months or a year of my life to it. It was three weeks. It’s been such a pleasure for me to be able to have these moments with these very big talents and learn what I could from that. Especially now that I’m directing myself. In fact, I’m very thankful for a job I did with Todd Field where he turned to me and said, you should be doing this, directing. He was very encouraging.

As a producer, sometimes you try and adjust your producing style so that you can cater to whatever director you’re working with. This person is a visualist, or this person is a master storyteller, or this person is an amazing production designer or all of those things. I was constantly trying to put myself in their shoes and think where might I need help if I were them. Wearing those different hats and working with so many different directors on commercials really inspired me to direct myself.

It wasn’t that I wanted to be a director my whole life. I was perfectly happy as a producer, but started directing because one day, I was covering for a director I was working with. There were two things happening that we needed to shoot, so I had to shoot some things myself. On a documentary, that happens; you have to split up to cover everything. I kept doing that, and then one day I finally thought, "I think I can do this myself.”

There’s also a lot of overlap between roles on documentaries. It’s the director’s vision but it’s generally a partnership between the director, the producer and the editor, because there’s no script. The editor then especially becomes an important storyteller, because they’re the ones who will first notice. "This person is way more interesting than we thought,” and that changes your entire direction. They’re often fulfilling the role of a writer. It’s just after they’ve already shot, instead of beforehand. They’re the writers after the fact.

That’s a really neat characterization. So how did you go from commercials to documentaries?

Well, as fun as commercials can be, sometimes there’s a lack of substance.

You don’t say?

[Laughs] Yeah. So usually once or twice a year as a commercial producer, I would make it a point to do a public service announcement, whether it was to help a cause, or a director, or a client, or someone else we had a relationship with. There was this amazing camaraderie that would happen because, inevitably, we had no money. We could pay a fraction of what would normally be paid. I always figured, well, if everyone is going to get paid poorly, then everyone may as well just get paid the same thing. I mean, you can’t ask a production assistant, who’s already the least-paid person, to get paid one-eighth. That wouldn’t even be legal. So I said, "Let’s just pay everybody the same thing.” And it created this incredible "we’re all in it together" spirit. I’d be producing spots for this cause or that cause and so I would research the cause and learn more about it, which led to seeking out more and more PSAs, which was not the norm.

So I was working with Arianna Huffington and Scott Burns and Lawrence Bender and Laurie David, part of a group called Americans for Fuel Efficient Cars. We were trying to create these deliberately provocative PSAs that said if you drive an oversized SUV then you’re indirectly supporting terrorism, and here’s why.

We thought it was fantastic. And every time we would complete one of these, right before it was supposed to air, it would mysteriously get pulled, through pressure from Detroit and other sources. So then we would call the news and often they’d do a story, running the commercial full length on the 10 o’clock news. And that gave us way more eyeballs than we would’ve ever have gotten.

It was that kind of activism that pushed me into shooting documentaries. I had also seen a documentary. I admit that I didn’t see it when it first came out; I came to it late. But it was called Cane Toads.

Oh, Cane Toads is a phenomenal movie. For about a year, I screened it for nearly everyone I knew.

So then, you know. When I saw Cane Toads, I realized this was a different genre than I’d been led to believe. Not only is this hilarious, but it’s crazy, pure craziness. Instead of just this dry story about how the cane toad was introduced to Australia to fight the cane beetle, you had images of Kombis driving down long roads trying to run over cane toads and little girls who kept giant poisonous toads as pets. And I thought, "That’s what I want to do.”

I can’t tell you how gratifying it is that there’s a Produced By cover story that has its roots in Cane Toads.

Cane Toads was one of those movies that indirectly put me on the path to working with Laurie and Lawrence. They had recently gone to see Al Gore’s slideshow about global warming, and within 24 hours Lawrence Bender and Scott Burns had both called me to attend a meeting about the slideshow Al Gore was giving. And I showed up and I knew everyone except Davis Guggenheim, and Davis knew everyone except for me.

Within that meeting, we decided that we needed to fly up to San Francisco, talk to Al, and convince him we were the team to turn his slideshow into … something. We weren’t sure what. And of course, it ended up turning into An Inconvenient Truth, which was the first documentary I produced.

A few months went by and Davis called and said, "How about you mostly quit what you’re doing and I mostly quit what I’m doing, and we form a documentary production company?” And it took off from there. I think once you have the privilege of being able to share someone’s truth, so to speak, in a documentary, you want to do it more and more.

For instance, when Davis and I were following around Al Gore, we had these great conversations with him. But we’d bring the camera out and he would unconsciously revert to talking points. He’d been speaking in public for so long he just reverted to them whenever he saw the camera. Finally Davis said, "Let’s just do an audio interview with you.” And so Al talked like Al. We started doing that more and more.

After we had shot the majority of An Inconvenient Truth and Sundance was coming up, we realized that there were a few things that we were missing. So we met with Al to interview him, audio only, one last time. And Al is like, "God, another interview.” Davis interviewed him for so long that the sun set and they forgot I was even in the room. That interview became 75 percent of the voiceover in the film. So even if you have this very well-known personality, sometimes you really have to drill down to get them to be themselves.

What it was like to watch An Inconvenient Truth become not just another documentary but a kind of a cornerstone for contemporary doc storytelling?


Chilcott reviews a cut of An Inconvenient Truth with
VP Al Gore, Kristin Gore, and producer Lawrence Bender
Well, to my knowledge no one had ever made a movie out of a slideshow. So it was a real surprise to all of us. It took what people had thought of as a very complicated issue and articulated why this is an issue and why viewers might have been confused about it. But the fact that a movie starring Al Gore, on the topic of global warming, featuring a slideshow, became any sort of a hit still blows my mind. I’m always telling people, "Analytics are amazing but you have to be careful.” If we had extensively focused-grouped this movie it never would’ve come out in theaters. When I’m trying to advise producers starting out, I tell them, "Use all the analytics available to you, but then you’ve got to stick with your gut and make the larger decision.”


When you think of something that you’re just so sure about and everyone thinks you’re crazy, it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t crazy but just that it may not be the right time for that project. I interviewed Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, and he told me he actually thought of Twitter back in 2003. It was before Facebook, and people thought his idea of giving updates on what you were doing in 140 characters was really odd and weird, so he put it on the shelf. Facebook came out in 2004 and in 2006 Jack took the idea off the shelf and suddenly it wasn’t so weird.

Documentaries have never been as inventive as they are now. We’re bringing nontraditional tools to documentary filmmaking and telling them in all sorts of new ways. And I think that that’s really exciting.

So working then with Davis, how did you build a company to try to replicate that?

It sounds very grandiose, right? It’s not like we had a development department and a full-time editorial staff. It was just me and him until we had a project. He was still doing pilot work, I was still doing commercial work, and in the meantime we’d brainstorm on what documentaries we would do, and then some documentaries started coming to us, and some we sought out. After An Inconvenient Truth, there were a lot of projects that we started and didn’t finish or we got busy with something else.

What is it that allows you and Davis to click as an effective filmmaking team?

Here’s an example. When we were developing a documentary, Davis said to me, "You know, a documentary needs time to find itself.” Meanwhile, I’m trying to do the budget, get ready for our pitch meeting … I just needed information. So Davis might say, "A documentary needs time to find itself,” but my response is something like, "Well, can it find itself a little faster? Because we have to go pitch this in a couple of hours.” That kind of became our joke. "Do you know how many people you might need to shoot this or do you need time to find yourself?” We always had a good back and forth.

At the same time, I knew exactly what he meant, and he’s not wrong, but it’s a perfect example of how our partnership worked and kind of how documentaries work. With a narrative feature you have a script, so you know, well, there’s 13 roles and there’s 14 locations. You have a breakdown. Even if you change it later, you can at least plan. But when you’re writing a documentary treatment, you’re like, "I think this would make a wonderful story. And I think it would be great if we can get this particular person. And if we can’t get that person, we’ll go in this direction.” There are all of these conditions. It gets complicated. So you just have to guess. I always ask, what is the minimum possible days I could do this in? And then you throw in a couple extra days for good measure. I’m always "squirreling away my nuts” until suddenly we’ve found our direction—aha, this person is the key; we need three more shoot days. And you hope that you’re covered.

What is it that makes a story take on the critical mass where it’s not just an idea, it’s an actual production?

I wish I had a good answer for you. I think in scripted projects there comes a point where you know you’re making it because you’re casting, right? Somebody had to finance that. Or sometimes you cast without the financing and get people attached as a way of attracting financing.

With a documentary you don’t have a script circling around. But I think that if the subjects that you want to cover in a documentary are interested and you know that you have access to them, you can start there. Documentaries are essentially a point of view, right? So we’re always pursuing this truth as told from your character’s point of view. I think that there comes a point where you’re committed to telling the truth no matter what it is, even if it has nothing to do with what you wrote in your treatment. But you have to have an engaging enough treatment and you have to show that you have access to these people to at least get your first bit of funding. And then you have to decide, do you raise money as you go, or do you wait and raise it all at the beginning, and then go? I’ve done it both ways. With CodeGirl, I didn’t raise my last bit of money until postproduction. For Waiting for ‘Superman’, Jim Berk at Participant Media had been a high school principal. He knew he wanted to do a film about education. He came to Davis and I and asked, "What would you do?” We spent months writing a treatment, gave it back, and Participant greenlit it based on that treatment. We started down that road, threw that away, and made an entirely different movie, which ended up being Waiting for ‘Superman.’ And that happens more often than not with documentaries.

How did CodeGirl evolve?

I heard about this wacky contest where high school-age girls from all over the world had three months to write a mobile app. The only rule was that it has to solve a problem where the contestant lives. I had read all the dismal statistics about the lack of women in tech and how every major tech company was creating programs for girls because the lack of diversity was a real problem, not for just diversity’s sake but in pursuit of well-rounded ideas, creativity, execution … everything really.

So I thought, "Well, the contest starts every year in January. I have to start now. I don’t have time to raise all the money so I’m just going to raise a certain amount of money.” So I raised this miniscule amount of money and started filming. Then I had something to show, a little clip, which I used to raise more money. Then I had a slightly longer story string and raised money as I went. That worked for that project. But if you’re going to do something like An Inconvenient Truth and follow a former Vice President around or any high-profile individual, you are better off raising the money beforehand. There are no rules for how best to do it.

So what is the marketplace like for documentaries
right now?

Amazing and dismal. On the one hand, documentaries are getting more coverage in the press and in blogs and in digital content sites than ever before. The amazing thing about a company like Netflix is that as part of their plan for you—this is going to sound trivial, but really, it isn’t—you get a billboard. So Netflix has done maybe 13 or 14 documentaries total. But they give them feature film treatment. You go to the festivals, you get the PR agent, you get the amazing poster, you get all their marketing genius and you get a billboard in LA. It’s amazing to see documentaries on billboards. We’re so used to flying stand-by, so to speak!

On the other hand, fewer people are going to the theater to see them. Once I finished directing and editing CodeGirl, as a producer I thought, "Well yes, I want traditional distributors to like CodeGirl but really I made the film for teen girls.” That’s not a small market but it is a different market than the film festival market.

Teen girls aren’t going to Sundance. Teen girls aren’t going to see documentaries in the theater. Teen girls watch YouTube. I didn’t know how my investors were going to feel about this, or if I could get a distributor after giving away my film for free but I felt I needed to make my film free for five days so teens could see it. It needed to be free for Sunday through Thursday, and then on Friday it could be available in theaters and VOD. This is what I needed to do to solve the problem of getting to my audience directly.

So I called Julie Ann Crommet and she set up a meeting for me at YouTube with Made w/Code, Google’s initiative to get more girls into coding. I asked, "Has anyone ever given away their film for free before it went to theaters and VOD?” They said, "No, no one has ever done that.” So I said, "Let’s do that.”

I was very insistent that none of the money could come from tech companies, because I didn’t want someone to say "Oh, this was really just for ABC tech company’s PR.” Google had nothing to do with funding or doing the movie. There’s a bit of a disconnect between funding for narratives and documentary. When you produce a narrative feature, you take money for product placement and you produce a movie in the hopes that it will make a profit. But with documentary, you don’t do this generally, you don’t want anyone to have influence over the film. So Made w/Code came on just for the "freemium” window on YouTube and it made perfect sense for us.

Made w/Code was an amazing outreach partner and I felt very lucky. It aligned with their goals of interesting more girls in coding and it aligned with my goals of reaching teens on YouTube. It actually came out on YouTube in four languages.

Wow. Really?

Yeah. Obviously we had English. But we shot in all these different countries. And Made w/Code said, "Why don’t you release it in Spanish, Portuguese and Hindi, because some of the winning teams were from Mexico, Brazil and India?” So we did that. Almost a million people saw it in those 5 days. And I know from our analytics that at least 89,000 of them were teen girls.

Then FilmBuff was brave enough to take on this new model with me and became the film’s distributor for our theatrical, VOD, TV, digital and educational releases. Now, we’re going to be the first film, narrative or otherwise, on Mashable starting January 6th. CodeGirl is the first video rental ever on Steam, the gaming portal. So we’ve been trying for some firsts. The producer side of me kept saying, "The market is changing. How can I reach my market in new ways?” If you have an original way to reach whatever your niche market is, you’ve got to do it. Even though I feel like what I’m doing is small, I know that when you directly reach your audience, the impact can still be big.

I think that as a nonfiction person, you constantly have to think about "How do I make it bigger?” I mean, we could’ve just shown An Inconvenient Truth to all the environmental groups. If we had thought that way, yeah, they all would’ve seen it, but I’m not sure who else would have. But we thought, along with Participant Media, "Let’s put this slideshow in theaters and make the trailer so over-the-top scary that we scare people into the theater.” That’s not the approach that you would traditionally think for a documentary. I think you’ve got to identify your market and then ask, "How do I get beyond that market as well?”

There’s definitely more content available than ever before and you’re fighting to get eyeballs on your project so identifying your market is more important than it has ever been. With platforms like YouTube, on the one hand, the barrier to entry is lower and maybe the production value doesn’t have to be as high to attract online viewers, but on the other hand, the stories have to be even better because there is so much competition.

I feel like documentary filmmakers are always right there on the edge, and you’ve got to be careful because you might run out of money or make a bad decision. You’re constantly, constantly trying to figure out how to make things work, but often you get to the real truth that other people can’t get to. And for me that’s really rewarding.

- Feature photography by Kremer Johnson Photography

- Read the rest of the February/March issue

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