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Taking on Water: J. Miles Dale Is Swimming In The Deep End

Posted By Kevin Perry, Tuesday, January 23, 2018

PRO TIP: If you ever have the good fortune to meet J. Miles Dale, listen up! He’s that proverbial dinner party guest toward whom everyone swivels their chairs; the jovial bar patron regaling his cohorts well into the grey hours of last call; the quintessential on-set storyteller trading anecdotal advice and quotable wisdom from productions of yesteryear. Dale is an exuberant oral historian of Hollywood lore, eager to share his trove of Tinseltown treasures. Many of his quips begin with the same mantra: “There’s this saying …”

INTEREST PIQUED. PLEASE GO ON.

“There’s this saying: It’s Gandhi in the morning and Dukes of Hazzard after lunch.” By which he means, every production starts out as high art but then becomes a race to get something—anything—in the can. Dale delights in the idiosyncrasies of set life, and he has crystallized his experiences into a leather-bound volume of philosophies that sound a little something like this: “It takes a long time to develop a great reputation and a short time to lose it … The job can be half cheerleading, half babysitting … On a great day, I don’t have to do anything … Sometimes you just need to let the magic happen… Knowing when not to say anything is as critical as knowing when to say something.”

It’s no small task, maneuvering Dale’s avalanche of wit and wisdom into a coherent channel—like, say, a magazine feature. Your best bet is simply to find the shape of the conversation and let it fow.

 Producer J. Miles Dale on the set of Carrie with cast
member Chloe Grace Moretz

“My dad had two passions in life: one of them was music and the other was vintage cars,” explains Dale. “I ended up in the entertainment business and my brother ended up being a professional racecar driver. The symmetry of the whole thing is crazy and wonderful.” In the late 1960s, his father, Jimmy Dale, was the musical director for such variety show hits as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Andy Williams Show, and The Sony & Cher Comedy Hour. “The other musicians called us the chimps, my brother and I, because we would be seen hanging on my dad’s back while he was conducting a 60-piece orchestra.” That’s when entertainment began to seep into young Dale’s bloodstream, and the pulse never slowed.

Ever favoring street smarts over book learning, Dale stormed into TV producing, racking up credits on series like Top CopsFriday the 13th and RoboCop. He quickly transitioned into feature films, directing The Skulls III for no paycheck, ravenous for production experience on every level. “I directed really to make myself a better producer,” he recounts. “You know the director’s language, you know the toolkit, and you’re not dealing with it in a dilettantish way.”

Film sets were Dale’s empirical kingdom; they posed a constant source of fascination and experimentation. He began to tinker with the production formula, comparing it to life in a petri dish. “Every six months,” he tells me, “it’s like a whole new science project because the people, who are all generally talented smart people, are thrown in as a whole new organism. Much as the director has to be the leader of that, you’re a little bit the chemist.”

Having successfully synthesized his own brand of interpersonal chemistry, it was suddenly time to tear it to shreds. As an Executive Producer on the epic gothic horror series The Strain, Dale explored the chaos of a society in decay, plagued by vampires, corruption and a nuclear Armageddon accelerated by humanity in peril. “What that series showed was the thin veil of civility that really hangs over everything,” Dale remarks. “It falls apart very quickly.”

Fortunately the situation behind the camera was far more harmonious. The Strain teamed Dale with A-list writer/producer Carlton Cuse, who had nothing but glowing praise for his fellow EP. “He takes the time to get inside your head. I really appreciate how thoughtfully he focused on trying to understand my intentions as a showrunner. That’s the starting point.”

And it was a road that would soon diverge into innovative new filmmaking frontiers. When Dale was tapped to produce Guillermo del Toro’s buzzworthy new release, The Shape of Water, he had the daunting task of delivering a sci-f period masterpiece on a relatively tight budget. But just as he collected Hollywood anecdotes and inspiration throughout the early years of his career, Dale was also amassing an impressive arsenal of production resources. Like a magpie scrapping together the shiniest bits of movie magic, between seasons he utilized the sets and crew from The Strain to realize del Toro’s latest vision. The resulting alchemy elevated The Shape of Water from a mid-budget indie into blockbuster territory, and Cuse took note. “The real quality that separates the average producer from a great producer is imagination. Miles was incredibly creative about how he was going to deliver the most resources for Guillermo.”

Dale (right) reviews a take of The Shape of Water with writer/director
Guillermo Del Toro and cast member Sally Hawkins.

Dale compares the tactic to how Alfred Hitchcock created his magnum opus between seasons of a hit TV production, calling The Shape of Water “Guillermo’s Psycho.” But that’s where the similarities end. “[del Toro] came to me and said, ‘I’ve got an idea for a movie about a mute cleaning lady who works at a secret government facility and falls in love with a man-fish and tries to save him,’” recounts Dale. “So right there, I’m in. There’s nothing like it.” Asked how del Toro concocted such a wonderfully warped love story, Dale explains, “He was inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon and wanted the creature to get the girl, be together, run of, have an underwater condo, and he was actually disappointed that they didn’t get together. That was when he was 6. He had all that time to think about it and ask, ‘How would that work?’”

The answer: align yourself with a die- hard producer like J. Miles Dale. “I take what I call a blood oath with the director,” Dale vows. “I’m gonna do everything I can to get you everything you want for your movie, BUT when I say we really can’t do this thing, you gotta listen to me. It can’t be a one-way blood oath.”

“That’s beautiful,” replies Guillermo del Toro, after I share Dale’s account. “But at the end of the day, we all break the blood oath.” The director laughs good-naturedly before getting sincere about Dale, his longtime collaborator and friend. “What we do have for each other is enormous respect. You know? Neither of us has an agenda other than the movie. He’s not power playing; he’s not positioning himself. He’s certainly as honest as I’ve ever met as a producer. He’s been a great partner now for six years. I admire him and love him.”

The pledge between Dale and del Toro would be pushed to its breaking point as the grueling endeavor of Water took shape. The director recounts, “This one was a movie in which I was risking a lot. Not only in terms of the scope we wanted, but in terms of the ambitions artistically. This is a triple summersault with no net. I knew that every element needed to be perfect or the fable would not survive.” That’s why del Toro leaned so faithfully on his producer friend. “We had a very tense shoot. It was artistically very harmonious, but in terms of delivering the movie for the price, it was incredibly taxing. I think Miles made miracles.” Summoning his best biblical allegory, del Toro concludes, “He walked on water for this movie.”

Sandstorms halted production several times, and yet Dale shrugged them off as the price of del Toro’s passion. “He’s like the Rain Man of visualists.” His crew dug deeper to tackle the unique challenge of creating its Fishman romantic lead. His assessment: “If we don’t get the creature perfectly right, the whole movie fails.” But the greatest obstacle was looming right there in the film’s title. “The water in its various forms on that show was absolutely a challenge,” Dale admits. Summoning yet another Hollywood adage of what to avoid when planning a production, he quips, “They talk about [never working with] kids and dogs. I would add water to that list.”

In the face of overwhelming logistical adversity, J. Miles Dale focused on the pros rather than the staggering cons. “This is obviously going to be a thrilling challenge, not only production wise, but also selling the story,” he surmised. “It was either going to be something special or it would be ridiculed. You work hard to make sure it’s something special.” And the result? “An unabashed love story that’s not sentimental, but it’s really honest.” The producer/philosopher then concludes with a signature truism: “It’s easy to be smart when you’re ironic, but it’s harder when you’re earnest.”

Can this aw-shucks realism translate into awards season gold? “I’m Canadian, so I’m a little more modest,” Dale defects. “Recognition is nice; it’s not important. Adulation is probably unhealthy.” But Dale’s friend and The Strain showrunner, Cuse, was less apprehensive about the films Oscar odds. “Miles is really in the top ranks of producers and I would love to see him get recognized as such for Shape of Water. I really hope that happens.”

Regardless of the film’s awards fate, the life-changing production opportunity enlightened and evolved Dale’s already complex philosophies. “Like love, water finds its way. It will go wherever it can and it will find the shape of the space that it’s in. That’s what I do as a producer. You shape yourself to what the project needs and what the director needs.” Extrapolating further, Dale applies the film’s themes to life writ large. “You get up every day and you can choose to love or to fear. Love or hate. There’s no case to be made for anything other than love.”

Epiphanies fiicker across Dale’s expression like 16mm daydreams spooling back on themselves; lessons from the past echoing into the present and shaping his view of the future. As much as it’s been a breakthrough year for the stalwart producer, it’s also been rife with heartbreak. “My father just died in May.” He accepts my condolences, but embraces his dad’s eternal optimism. “He had a good, long, amazing life and did whatever he wanted. He had no regrets, so I won’t either.” One shining, cardinal rule that Miles learned from the elder Dale: “Do the thing that you love because even if you never really succeed, at least you’ll be chasing your passion.”

The light in his eyes shines proudly as the movie in his mind reaches a crescendo. “He taught me all that.” Roll credits.

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Winners: 2018 Producers Guild Awards presented by Cadillac

Posted By Administration, Sunday, January 21, 2018

- To see all nominees for Theatrical Motion Pictures and Television, click here.
- To see all of the 2018 honorees, click here.

And the winners are...

 

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures:

 

“The Shape Of Water

Producers: Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale
Producing Team: Dennis Chapman, Marie Claude-Hornois, Doug Wilkinson, Dennis Berardi

 

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures:

 

“Coco”

Producer: Darla K. Anderson
Producing Team: Mary Alice Drumm, David Park

 

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Motion Pictures:

 

“Jane”
Producers: Brett Morgen, Bryan Burk, Tony Gerber, James Smith
Producing Team: Tim Pastore, Jeff Hasler, Debra Eisenstadt, Gayle Lynn Fields

 

 

The Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Drama:

 

“The Handmaid's Tale” (Season 1)
Producers: Bruce Miller, Warren Littlefield, Daniel Wilson, Fran Sears, Ilene Chaiken, Sheila Hockin, Eric Tuchman, Frank Siracusa, John Weber, Joseph Boccia, Elisabeth Moss, Kira Snyder, Leila Gerstein
Producing Team: Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Fortenberry, Wendy Straker Hauser, Joseph Boccia, Melissa Girotti, Eleanor Mendes, Corrie Gudgeon, Kathryn Blythe

 

The Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Comedy:

 

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Season 1)
Producers: Daniel Palladino, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Sheila Lawrence, Dhana Rivera Gilbert
Producing Team: Matthew Shapiro, Sal Carino, Francesca M. Mannix, Frank Covino, Rachel Jablin, Parker Chehak, Molly Pabain

 

The David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television:

The Long-Form Television category encompasses both movies of the week and  limited series.

 

“Black Mirror” (Season 4)
Producers: Annabel Jones, Charlie Brooker
Producing Team: Nick Pitt, Louise Sutton, Sanne Wohlenberg, Ian Hogan, Joanne Crowther, Chris Lahr, Andy Chapman, Benjamin Greenacre, Andrea Raffaghello, Joel Stokes, Oliver Cockerham, Arni Pall Hansson, Moira Brophy, Russell McLean, Amber Ducker, Christopher Gray, Jakub Chilczuk

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television:

 

“Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” (Season 1, Season 2)
Producers: Leah Remini, Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Myles Reiff, Adam Saltzberg, Erin Gamble, Lisa Rosen, Grainne Byrne, Taylor Levin, Alex Weresow, Rachelle Mendez
Producing Team: Elaine Frontain Bryant, Amy Savitsky, Devon Graham Hammonds, Sabrina Mar, Jeana Dill, Emily Webster, Mike Rinder, Angela Root, Michael Tubman, Gabrielle Della Pesca, Marissa Ramirez, Natalie Doerr, Jennifer Parris, Deanne Vernengo, Dunbar Dicks, Bobby Aguilar, Matthew S. Harper, Zachary Bidman, Michelle Vonwald, Gabriel Rivera, Jane Lemberg, Tim Romine

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television:

 

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (Season 4)
Producers: John Oliver, Tim Carvell, Liz Stanton
Producing Team: Jon Thoday, James Taylor, Jeremy Tchaban, Baz Hatfield, Nicole Franza, Catherine Owens, Amanda Bayard, Claire Gordon, Kate Mullaney, Matt Passet, Alex Smelson, Christopher Werner, Melissa Weiss, Steven Tucker

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Competition Television:

 

“The Voice” (Season 12, Season 13)
Producers: John de Mol, Mark Burnett, Audrey Morrissey, Lee Metzger, Chad Hines, Amanda Zucker, Kyra Thompson, Jay Bienstock, Stijn Bakkers, Mike Yurchuk, Teddy Valenti, Carson Daly
Producing Team: Amanda Silva Borden, Dan Paschen, Tod Schellinger, Jared Wyso, Suzanne Lee, Anthea Bhargava, Keith Dinielli, May Johnson, Clyde Lieberman, Kyley Tucker, Amanda Horning Cuddy, Melissa Wong, Anna Gunne, Thomas A. Douglass, Stephanie Rojas, Ryan Corchard-Keller, Brianna Stegemann, Meredith Ambrose, William Davalos, Alexis Heller, Amanda Keller, Alyson Lippert, Mariela Rodriguez, Jacob Kieval

 

 

NOTE: The PGA does not vet individual producers of short-form programs, sports programs, or children’s programs. The winning programs in these categories are:

 

The Award for Outstanding Short-Form Program:

 

“Carpool Karaoke” (Season 1)

Producing Team: Ben Winston, James Corden, Eric Pankowski, Sheila Rogers 

The Award for Outstanding Sports Program:

 

“Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” (Season 23)
Producing Team: Rick Bernstein, Joe Perskie, Kirby Bradley, Lisa Bennett, Maggie Burbank, Chapman Downes, Josh Fine, Jordan Kronick, Stuart Ash, Max Gershberg, Nisreen Habbal, Naimah Jabali-Nash, Katie Melone, Beret Remak, Jake Resenwasser

 

The Award for Outstanding Children’s Program:

 

“Sesame Street” (Season 47)
Producing Team: Brown Johnson, Carol-Lynn Parente, Benjamin Lehmann, Stephanie Longardo, Karyn Leibovich,Theresa Anderson, Andrew Moriarty, Aimee Blackton, Maxwell Nicoll, Elena Sporillo, Yuewen Jiang

 

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 8,200 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 Producers Guild of America websites and follow on social media:

 

Websites: www.producersguild.orgwww.pgagreen.orgwww.pgadiversity.org

Twitter: @ProducersGuild

Facebook: www.facebook.com/pga

YouTube: www.youtube.com/producersguild

Instagram: www.instagram.com/producersguild

Hashtag: #PGAwards

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Producers Guild of America Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Gary and Lori

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


PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA
ANTI-SEXUAL HARASSMENT GUIDELINES
1/19/18

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

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

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

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

IDENTIFYING SEXUAL HARASSMENT[*]

 

QUID PRO QUO HARASSMENT

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

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

 

HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT

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

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

 

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT

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

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

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

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

      

RECOMMENDATIONS

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

The Producers Guild recommends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PROTOCOL FOR VICTIMS, WITNESSES, PRODUCERS[‡]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


EXHIBIT A

HISTORY AND BACKGROUND ON HARASSMENT LAW

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

 

EXHIBIT B 

RESOURCES FOR REPORTING AND ENFORCEMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

o   California:  https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/

o   New York:  http://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/index.page

o   Georgia:  https://dol.georgia.gov/

Or you may contact the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): https://www.eeoc.gov/employees/charge.cfm.

EXHIBIT C 

RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO AID IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT TRAINING

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

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

As a further resource, we encourage you to review the guidelines for the filming of scenes of a sexual nature as they appear in SAG/AFTRA’s contracts (https://www.sagaftra.org/files/2014_sag-aftra_cba.pdf) found in Section 43, Page 110 (for principal performers) and Section 17, Pages 674 and 747 (for background performers).

  



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

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

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

 

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

Posted By Spike Friedman, Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted By Chris Green, Monday, January 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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


IN THE EARLY STAGES OF MANDEVILLE, HOW DID YOU GUYS DEVELOP A WORKING RELATIONSHIP? DAVID, DID YOU HAVE ANY INKLING THAT THIS GUY WAS GOING TO BE YOUR PARTNER FOR 20 YEARS?

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

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

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

YEAH. IT DOESN’T HAVE A LOT OF OBVIOUS MODELS OR PROGENITORS. SO HAVING BEEN AN EXECUTIVE AT DISNEY AND THEN MOVING INTO A PRODUCTION ROLE, HOW DID YOU LEVERAGE THAT KNOWLEDGE OF THE STUDIO TO GET THE COMPANY OFF THE GROUND IN THE EARLY STAGES?

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

YOU CAME INTO YOUR OWN WORKING FOR MICHAEL EISNER AND JEFFREY KATZENBERG… WHAT LESSONS DID YOU DRAW FROM THEM THAT HAVE STAYED WITH YOU?

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

SO TODD, IN THE SAME SENSE THAT DAVID LEARNED AT THE FEET OF KATZENBERG AND EISNER, YOU VERY MUCH LEARNED AT DAVID’S FEET. WHAT WAS DIFFERENT ABOUT WORKING WITH DAVID?

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

SO MAYBE THE QUESTION IS ABOUT EVOLVING YOUR OWN INSTINCTS AND YOUR OWN TASTE. HOW DID YOU LEARN TO RECOGNIZE WHAT YOU LOVED AND BRING THOSE INSTINCTS TO BEAR IN A PROFESSIONAL CONTEXT?

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

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

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

SO HOW DO YOU PURSUE THAT OUTCOME? HOW DO YOU WORK TO ORIENT YOURSELVES DURING THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS TO POINT YOURSELVES IN THAT DIRECTION?

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

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

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

DAVID RUSSELL DOESN’T WORK IN THE KIND OF DISNEY FORMULA MODE THAT YOU GUYS MAY HAVE MADE YOUR REPUTATION IN. IT SEEMS LIKE AN UNLIKELY PARTNERSHIP.

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

TODD: He does.

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

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

HOW DID DAVID COME INTO YOUR ORBIT? DID YOU PURSUE HIM? DID HE PURSUE YOU?

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

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

SO GIVEN THAT THE PRODUCER’S JOB OVER THE COURSE OF PRODUCTION IS TO SUPPORT THE DIRECTOR AND GIVE THE DIRECTOR THE TOOLS THEY NEED, WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WORK WITH A GUY LIKE DAVID, WHO HAS A VERY UNIQUE STYLE?

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

SOMETIMES YOU DON’T WANT TO CONTROL IT.

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

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

SO IN TERMS OF THE STUFF THAT THE FIGHTER ALLOWED YOU TO DO, YOU MENTIONED WONDER AND STRONGERHOW DID YOU GO ABOUT EXPLOITING THE LEVERAGE YOU GOT?

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

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

WITH BOTH BEAUTY AND THE BEAST AND THE MUPPETS, YOU GUYS FOUND YOURSELVES PRODUCING STORIES AND CHARACTERS THAT WIDE SWATHS OF THE PUBLIC ARE DEEPLY ATTACHED TO. THAT WOULD SEEM TO CREATE A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRESSURE ON THE PROCESS. HOW DID YOU BOTH NEGOTIATE THAT?

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

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

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

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

GIVEN THE IMPORTANCE OF THE “DIRECTOR CHOICE,” HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT BILL CONDON AS THE GUY TO HAND BEAUTY AND THE BEAST OFF TO?

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

SO IN TERMS OF CREATING A WORLD AND REIMAGINING THIS ANIMATED CLASSIC AS LIVE ACTION, IT’S ONLY RECENTLY THAT THE INDUSTRY HAS EMBRACED THIS KIND OF REBOOT. OBVIOUSLY AFTER BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’S SUCCESS, WE’RE GOING TO BE SEEING A LOT MORE OF IT. HOW DID YOU GUYS APPROACH THAT CHALLENGE? WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THOSE PRODUCERS WHO ARE NOW LOOKING AT REMAKING ANIMATED MEDIA ANIMATION AS LIVE ACTION?

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

JUST AS AN EXAMPLE, LIKE WHAT?

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

WE NATURALLY ASK DIFFERENT SETS OF QUESTIONS WHEN WE’RE LOOKING AT LIVE ACTION VERSUS ANIMATION.

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

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

YEAH, I’VE GOT TO THINK THAT HAS TO JUST MAKE YOUR DAY. OBVIOUSLY YOU GUYS GOT TO BE ON TOP OF THE WORLD FOR A SEASON, BUT HOW ARE YOU LOOKING TO CAPITALIZE OFF OF THAT AND WHERE DO YOU GO FROM THERE?

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

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

THAT MIGHT BE A GOOD SEGUE TO TALK ABOUT WONDER, WHICH IS OBVIOUSLY A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF MOVIE AND ONE THAT’S NOT NECESSARILY AN EASY STORY TO TELL. THERE ARE ALL SORTS OF WAYS YOU CAN TELL THAT KIND OF STORY WRONG.

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

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

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

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

JUST TO BRING IT BACK AROUND TO THE BIG PICTURE, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL A YOUNG OR EMERGING PRODUCER WHO’S LOOKING TO GET THEIR FIRST FILMS MADE OR GET THEIR FIRST STORY DEVELOPED OR FIND THEIR FIRST DEAL SOMEWHERE? WHAT SHOULD BE THEIR TOP PRIORITY AS A STORYTELLER, AS A PRODUCER, IF THEY’RE GOING TO BUILD A CAREER?

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

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

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

 - feature photography by Kremer Johnson Photography

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