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MARTA KAUFFMAN - The Wildly Successful Producer Makes TV History, Creating Seminal Series and Iconic Characters

Posted By Peggy Jo Abraham, Monday, January 6, 2020

Producer and writer Marta Kauffman attributes the success of her mega-hit Friends and her current Netflix favorite Grace and Frankie to the fact that the shows are comfortable, exude warmth and are easy to relate to. Upon meeting Kauffman for the first time, one immediately realizes these are the same characteristics you could use to describe her. Although Kauffman says her days shooting all 16 episodes at once for the final season of Grace and Frankie is a bit like “being on a hamster wheel,” she appears calm and organized.

When asked what she would be doing if she weren’t in the entertainment industry, Kauffman says she would have probably been a teacher or a veterinarian—interesting choices, especially given the paths her three children are on. Her oldest daughter is not only a producer in Marta’s production company, but Kauffman says she was actually the one to come up with the original premise for Grace and Frankie: two women who don’t really like each other whose husbands end up getting married. Her son is a composer for the show, and her youngest daughter is an equine studies major. It’s clear the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

What is also clear is that Kauffman is grateful for her success. Hers has been a career predicated on the philosophy that it’s important to only pour your heart into projects you feel passionate about. That dedication has resulted in seminal series and iconic characters that will forever be part of television history. It is why the PGA is so proud to name Kauffman the recipient of the 2020 Norman Lear Award, the Guild’s highest honor for TV producers. “I am deeply honored to receive this award from my peers at the PGA, particularly as it's named for a legendary producer who has impacted my career from the beginning,” says Kauffman. “Thank you to the Producers Guild for this meaningful recognition.”

It is truly our pleasure, Marta.


 

Marta Kauffman directs Lily Tomlin on the set of Grace and Frankie

I want to start with the fact that you created you production company, Okay Goodnight!, well before the “Me Too” movement, and it’s an all-female company. What were some important factors that went into that decision?

Well, I’ve always been a feminist. And having a company that tells women’s stories was not only intriguing to me but felt necessary because women’s stories aren’t told as often as men’s stories are. When my company started, we pitched an idea that had a female lead for a film and the man we met with said to us, “Unless it’s Meryl Streep or Sandra Bullock, it’s not getting made.” So that just made me mad and I thought, “All right, I’m going to take that one on.”

 

In terms of parity with men, where do you think women are now in the entertainment industry?

I think it’s much better. There are more women, more opportunities, more writers’ rooms that have a good percentage of women in them. There are more female showrunners and more female producers. Where I think we run into some problems is on all the roles that used to be considered secretarial, like the script supervisor and the coordinator. They work as long of hours as anybody else and work harder than anybody I know, yet they don’t get equal pay to most of the men on the crew.

 

What if a man was a script supervisor?

Well, I’ve never met a male script supervisor. I’m sure they exist, but I’ve never met one. And so I don’t know.

 

Well, there you go. The fact that you’ve never met one is very telling.

Yes, and I’ve been doing this for a lot of years.

 

Turning to your work, I read that after getting involved with Grace and Frankie, you were surprised at how funny you were.  And I thought, really? Friends was so hilarious. I couldn’t fathom the fact that you wouldn’t consider yourself a truly funny writer.

I feel like my strength was never the jokes. I can write humor, but I don’t write jokes. And I feel like my strength in storytelling is the reality of the story, the shape of the story, the emotional content of that story. That’s always where I felt I have been most successful. I have a hard time calling myself a comedy writer. I think I am a generally witty person but because I don’t write jokes, I don’t think of myself that way.

 

Well, fair enough. But Grace and Frankie don’t tell jokes and they’re both really funny. 

But there’s a lot of people in the writers’ room, so that comes from many people.

 

You did Friends, and now you’ve created a show with 70- somethings, and it’s also being watched by millennials, both male and female. Who does that? How does one do that?

One does not go into it thinking that’s how it’s going to happen.  That’s for sure. I mean, when we started the show, we really thought we would have a very narrow demographic. And I think it was one that Netflix was interested in encouraging. The fact that it has reached beyond that demographic is thrilling and surprising. I think one of the things that this show does is that besides being aspirational—we all want to be like that or have a friend like that when we’re their age—it has a quality of warmth.  I think it’s comfortable. Someone once called it comfort food. And I think that is what it is. These people love each other and none of them are awful.

 

Were the roles of Grace and Frankie written with Jane and Lily in mind?

No, no. We had Jane and Lily first.

 

 Wow. How did that come about?

It was just a fluke the way this all happened. I was having lunch with Marcy Ross, who runs the TV department at Skydance. And she said that Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin want to do TV. I thought she meant together. I called my agent and I said, “Is it true that Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin want to do a TV show together?” and my agent said, “I don’t know. I’ll call you back.”  She made a bunch of phone calls, got back to me about 20 minutes later and said, “They do now.” So we had Jane and Lily first.

Kauffman and cast discuss a scene at Grace and Frankie's beach house.
Photo courtesy of Ali Goldstein/Netflix

 

That’s crazy because when I watch I think, “How could you write this and then find the most perfect people in every way, shape, and form?”

No, fortunately we got to do it the other way around.

 

Jane and her co-star Sam Waterston have been making news lately for getting arrested in D.C. while protesting climate change. Talk about relevant …

Actually, the writers and I have been talking about going to Washington to protest with them. Jane is really something. She puts her money where her mouth is, and she’s amazing. She doesn’t stop. She’s the Energizer Bunny.

 

What is the biggest challenge of working on all 13 episodes of Grace and Frankie at once?

We start with preproduction which means we start with the writers. And that’s all it is for the first 10 weeks—the writers trying to figure out how this is going to work, what’s the arc going to be, what’s the through line, what’s the theme, how do we shape the season. And once we start production, we’re also doing post. So, the process for me, who is here from the beginning of preproduction to the end of post, it takes about a year to do all of the episodes. This season will be even longer because we’re doing 16 episodes. I have a notebook I use and every morning I write down what I have to do for the day. And I can’t tell you how many days I have something to do on every single episode.

 

So that’s the new normal with streaming now, right?  I mean, that’s not how you did Friends.

No, it’s not how we did Friends. First of all, Friends was multi-camera, which is a little different. And the schedule was different too. There was a hiatus every three weeks so that we could catch up. As far as this goes, it’s like being on a hamster wheel a little bit. Once you get started there is no stopping until it’s finished. It’s a crazy, wonderful, jam-packed day.

 

It sounds exhausting.

It is a long day. And as executive producer/showrunner, I do a bit of everything. I have to check costumes. I have to go to post.  I have to do a spotting session for music. And we’re still writing this episode while we’re rewriting that episode. Plus going onto the set for all the rehearsals and all the masters.

 

There is so much multitasking involved.

It is a lot of multitasking, and it’s actually an area where I’m hoping that between the Writers Guild and the Producers Guild, we can figure out a way to give a showrunner a different title.  Because executive producer seems to be a title that goes to a number of people who don’t function like this in a day-to-day way. But people like to get the executive producer credit, and it’s the only credit we have. So, I have that credit, and then there are people who have that credit who don’t fulfill that role. It’s a little frustrating.

 

How involved are you with the music on the show? I think it’s so good.

Oh, thank you. We spot the music with the composers. We listen to every cue. We give notes on every cue. And then we have to do the mix playback where we listen to all the cues and all the sound as well. We’re involved every step of the way.

 

Here we are 15 years after Friends ended, and it’s still this huge commodity. An entirely new generation is watching. How are they different from the original audience in the way they view the show?

Well, I think one of the big differences is—and I think it was David Crane who said this—if the show were to be done today, they’d all be sitting on the couch on their phones. Young people are enjoying the warmth, the conversation and the shared experiences. My youngest daughter is 20. When she was about 15, someone at her school said to her, “Have you seen that new show called Friends?” They thought it was a period piece. So that’s also how they’re looking at it, like it’s from another time frame. It too is aspirational and extremely identifiable. You can identify with the characters. You can identify with what they want, as opposed to some of the darker comedies, which are harder to invest in emotionally.

 

And it’s still funny.

Yeah, I hope so. [LAUGHS]

 

I recently read where Jennifer Aniston joined Instagram with just one photo, from one reunion dinner, on one night, and 812  million people viewed it. She set a Guinness World Record!

That is unbelievable. As you said, they are still in the zeitgeist.

Photo and lead photo by Kremer Johnson Photography

 

It was common knowledge back in the day that when the cast was renegotiating its salary, they were negotiating as one entity for the leverage it brought to the table. It was a unique situation at the time.

I think it was more than just for the leverage. I also think it was because they were an ensemble and deserved to be treated equally. You know, one shouldn’t make more than another in an ensemble cast. So, the fact that they were negotiating as a group, I thought was great.

 

So even though it might cost you more money, you were good with it?

I thought it was fantastic. I thought it’s exactly what it should be. It didn’t make negotiating any easier. But we got through it.

 

Is there a character you’ve created who you most identify with?

I’m a real combination of Grace and Frankie. So, I identify with pieces of them very strongly. But I think it’s Monica. I can be bossy, too. And I can also be anal about things like making you hear the click when you close your marker. Marshmallows in concentric circles on the sweet potatoes. Stuff like that.

 

I’d say being a combo of Grace and Frankie is not a bad thing to be.

[LAUGHS]

 

When you started Grace and Frankie, what was the toughest part of writing without your longtime collaborator, David Crane?

After working with him for 27 years, this was like a whole new profession. David and I wrote everything together. He always sat at the keyboard. I felt like I wrote out loud. When I had to write my first script by myself, I had to have conversations with myself, like, “Is this a stupid idea?” Then, “Yeah, Marta, that’s really dumb.” I felt like I had to imitate that dynamic. I’ve gotten better at it. I don’t need to do that anymore. I’ve learned that I have certain rhythms which I didn’t know before, that I have rhythms in my writing. I have to sort of ride these waves of inspiration and then I have to walk away from it for a little bit and let things percolate, and then I go back to it. It was definitely a difficult transition. But I have to be honest—it would have been worse if I lost him as a friend. He’s still my dearest, dearest friend.

 

Now Grace and Frankie is the longest-running series on Netflix.

That’s right. It will be when it’s over.

 

Can you talk about what that distinction means?

Well, they don’t do long-term series anymore. Everything is three seasons and out. So, we feel it’s very special that we have that to claim.

 

Looking ahead, what do you have in the pipeline? Are you interested in writing a dramatic series at all?

Yes. As a matter of fact, we wrote a film based on a book called We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which is quirky but it’s dramatic. We’re working on another project that’s dramatic, and a one-hour that’s a comedic drama. And we’re developing a pilot about drag queen nuns.

 

Drag queen nuns?

Yes. It’s based on a real order called the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Obviously, they’re not accepted by the Catholic Church, but they do all the good work that nuns do. And it’s really fun.

 

So you’re fine with going in any direction.

I am. I’m good with any of it as long as I feel passionately about the project. That is what we look for, not just to get a bunch of stuff on the air, although that’s nice too. But it’s really the stuff that we are deeply passionate about because you work too hard not to be invested.

 

Is that a luxury you have now due to your past success?

Actually, I’ve always felt this way. This isn’t something that’s new. When David and I were doing Friends, we realized back then that when the projects weren’t from our hearts, they never turned out as well. And that to me is the big lesson. If you aren’t wholly invested in your soul, it’s never going to be as good as if you are.

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University of Scorsese - Emma Tillinger Koskoff Learns From A Master How To Bring Humanity To Her Productions

Posted By Sarah Sanders, Friday, January 3, 2020

“Lead with kindness.” These aren’t the words I was expecting to be the guiding philosophy of the woman best known as “Martin Scorsese’s producer”—the woman behind such dark, gritty blockbusters as The Wolf of Wall Street and The Departed. But from the moment she says hello, it’s clear producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff not only values but also embodies a genuine kindness. She’s in Manhattan for the New York Film Festival, where The Irishman and Joker both had premieres, and when we meet in her hotel suite, she’s just raced back from a morning screening. Despite her packed schedule, Koskoff is warm and welcoming, and by the end of our conversation I feel as though I’m talking to someone I’ve known for a long time.

This warmth becomes less surprising the more Koskoff talks about her work philosophy, and how relationships and human connection are of paramount importance. Indeed, for the past 17 years, her working relationship with Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese has been at the center of her career. Koskoff worked as his executive assistant for three years and in 2006 was promoted to President of Production for Sikelia Productions. She now works alongside Scorsese on all aspects of his film and television projects.

“I will say I have the greatest gig in town,” Koskoff says. “I've been so fortunate to be raised and mentored by Marty in this job. He’s so giving and patient. He’s extremely demanding,” she adds. “He has taught me so much, so it’s been 17 years of growth and a great learning process. It’s like my own private film school.”

Koskoff never went to traditional film school. From the time she was in high school, she knew she wanted to start working in entertainment right away. “I knew that I did not want to go to college. I knew that I did not want to go to film school. I knew that I wanted to just get out and get into the workforce,” she says. “My father's a theater director. My mother's an actress, writer, director. So this is in my DNA. And now, I feel like the luckiest producer.”

Over the course of the years, Koskoff and Scorsese have built a meaningful relationship and learned how to work together really well. In addition to handling the production demands of their films, she prioritizes protecting Scorsese and his creative process. “My main focus, and what I pride myself on, is putting the support team around him and help make the shoot, the edit and the post as safe and secure as possible for him,” she says. “I always want to be able to give Marty the freedom to create and do what he does.”

Balancing creative and logistical demands was both a joy and a challenge throughout work on The Irishman. The star-studded film brings together a legendary cast including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci—and marks not only a reunion for De Niro, Pesci and Scorsese, but also the first time Pacino and the director have worked together. According to production notes, The Irishman is “an epic saga of organized crime in post-war America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hustler and hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious figures of the 20th century.” Koskoff loved the screenplay and working with the cast. Further, the idea of the film had been De Niro’s passion project for a long time, which added an extra special element to the process. “To be able to help him see that come to life was just very moving and amazing,” she says.

Even though Koskoff and Scorsese are no strangers to giant films, the scale of The Irishman was immense: It spans 50 years, and production involved 320 scenes in 117 locations. “It’s always challenging making a film,” she explains, but “this was particularly challenging, just given the amount of days, the scope and size of what we were doing.”

Scorsese apparently agreed. She recounts with a smile how he “would come to the set sometimes and say, ‘Who are all these people? What are all these trucks doing here? What is going on? Emma, this is not how you make a movie!’ And I would laugh and say, ‘Remember  though, we are carrying nine cameras at all times because we're shooting digital, and we're shooting film. Marty, that’s three camera crews! It’s a lot of people! This is how we’re making this movie!’” she says. “And he’d go, ‘Ugh, this is crazy!’ and then he’d go off laughing.”

In the midst of such a complicated production, it was especially important to Koskoff to ensure that Scorsese and the actors had the space and time they needed to do their creative work, and to be “malleable to the needs of the actors,” who were diving into intense, dramatic roles.

“I'll always err on the side of the human needs as opposed to the production demands,” she says, while also acknowledging that she’s deeply involved in handling all of those aspects, from budgeting to scheduling. “I'll always figure out how to compensate on that [the production] side to make sure Marty and the actors have what they need,” she explains. “Whether that’s making difficult phone calls to add a day, or whatever I have to sort of handle so that it’s handled, I’m happy and willing to do it.”

Still, not even the best preparation or negotiations can account for the weather, an element that has made for some of the most memorable days of Koskoff’s and Scorsese’s shoots. She tells the story of one particular day shooting The Irishman during a February cold snap when the windchill brought the temperature to below zero. They were by the water in Red Hook, Brooklyn, shooting a scene in which De Niro and actor Bo Dietl push taxi cabs into the river. “It was so cold, I can’t even tell you,” she exclaims, even with hot-air blowers they had brought to try to keep people warm. “I literally put on my ski gear: my ski pants, my winter boots, my ski jacket, my face mask.”

“It was a big scene,” she explains, involving a crane, choreography from DP Rodrigo Pietro—and a three-hour reset to get the taxicabs out of the river in case they didn’t get the shot. “You know, with Marty, if it's not the way he wants it, we’re doing it again,” she says. “And we got the shot.”

While that day was difficult, Koskoff says nothing compares to shooting 2016’s Silence, a film Scorsese had been wanting to make for nearly 30 years, and which was shot entirely in Taiwan. “That was a beast. It was an incredibly difficult film to put together. I remember saying to him, ‘It’s you and me: We can't call LA when we get into trouble. We've got a finite amount of money. We've got a finite amount of time,’” she recalls. But Scorsese “was an incredible producing partner to me. I had to have tough conversations, we had to make tough choices, and we did it together.”

The most challenging of those days? Driving up a mountain at 4:30 a.m., preparing for a giant scene involving many background actors and getting a call that there was a downpour so torrential that the extras’ tents had blown off the side of the mountain. There was lightning, and the whole set was flooded—and the scene they were shooting was meant to be on a hot, dry day. “That's a situation where you have to just go with go with it,” she explains, though she did briefly consider calling it a day. “But we got up there, the rain stopped, the lightning stopped, we got those tents back up, and we made our day.”

Indeed, the work required to produce Silence made the project all the more meaningful to her. “My blood, sweat and tears went into that film, and I am so proud of that movie,” she says. It was the first time she felt secure in the knowledge that “I got this. I actually can produce a film,” she explains. “Somebody was saying I have imposter syndrome—you know, ‘They’re going to find out I don’t really know what I’m doing.’ But that really gave me a level of confidence that I didn’t have before.”

Koskoff was met with a new kind of challenge working on Joker: producing with someone other than Scorsese. She met Joker director Todd Phillips a couple of years ago. The two hit it off, and initially Scorsese’s production company was interested in making the film. While Scorsese ultimately was not able to be involved due to scheduling constraints, when Phillips asked Koskoff to stay on and her own schedule allowed, Scorsese gave her the go-ahead.

“It was quite terrifying,” she says. “I was very nervous. I sort of second-guessed myself. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I shouldn't be doing this. I don't really know what I'm doing … I don't know that I really know how to produce for somebody else.’” However, after some encouragement from her dear friend—producer and manager Rick Yorn—and her husband, Nick, Koskoff agreed. Phillips was “extremely supportive and welcoming and nurturing and championing,” she says, and working on the movie was a great experience.

Koskoff's 17 years with Scorsese have been, she says, "like my own private film school."
-photo courtesy of Niko Tavernise-

“It was another film that really gave me a level of confidence that I didn't have,” she explains. “I have a lot of insecurities and I have a lot to learn, and I know that. I’m confident in my ability in what I do, so I’m confident in the room. But I'm also not afraid to be vulnerable and to ask for help when I need it, and to lean on people when I need it. I make sure to surround myself with the best of the best because I stand on many, many shoulders.”

In fact, an element of working on Joker that Koskoff valued was being able to hire and bring along several crew members she had worked with before, including AD David Webb, with whom Phillips had been wanting to work for years. She’s very close to the crew members, explaining, “I’m attached at the hip to the line producer and the AD and the DP.”

Making sure the crew is happy is something Koskoff takes very seriously. “I want the crew to feel just as important as the actors and the director, and just as well taken care of. That's sort of how I like to operate, and I do operate,” she explains. “I’m a big fan of food trucks, a big fan of spoiling my crew, a big fan of, you know, Friday night wrap drinks,” she says. “It’s gonna be hard work, so let’s make it as much fun as it can be.” 

When I ask what she does for herself to decompress at the end of a long day, Koskoff is quick with her response: “I love to have a big, tall glass of red wine. Maybe two,” she says. She loves to sit in the trailer with her team and recap the day, “take a deep breath, and get ready to do it all again,” she adds.

It seems like Koskoff will have many more days to “do it all again.” She’s currently preparing to shoot Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon in Oklahoma over the summer.

No matter how busy or stressful a day may be, though, Koskoff insists that having empathy is a vital element of producing. “Really try and keep your humanity,” she says. “Everybody is a human being. Everybody is there to do the same thing. Lead with kindness, lead with authority, lead with confidence. But most importantly, lead with kindness.”

Words to live by, on and off a film set.

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Taking A Long View of Short-Form - Quibi and Others Are Counting On An Appetite For Mobile TV

Posted By Chris Thomes, Monday, December 9, 2019

In a world where it feels like there can never be enough content to satiate the ravenous “I want what I want when I want it” viewer, it seems that any content—even nontraditional programming—can find its legs and make a go of it. However, there is one area of programming that has yet to actually make it over the top of the hill without rolling back—which it has many, many times—premium small-screen programming.  

I have written about this format for the past several years, and the story is always the same. A wave of enthusiasm comes along, investment happens, jobs are created, content is produced, and then, without a sustainable business model, it all unravels. This wash, rinse, repeat cycle has included the wrecked ships of Disney’s Stage 9 and Maker Studios, Go90, Machinema and Vessel. While all of these platforms have tried and failed to find an audience for short-form video programming, it looks like “groundhog’s day” may actually be coming to an end. With a very serious $1 billion-plus programming budget, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s premium short-form platform, Quibi, leads this latest run at the windmill.

As a refresher, mobile content of this ilk is under 14 minutes, has high production value, is original or derivative in nature, and often serialized. Most of it to date has been lifestyle programming. Very rarely has scripted short-form made a go of it, but it did have its day a few years back. Spurred on by the launches of streaming services and content slates like Seeso, Fullscreen, ABC’s ABCd, and Comcast’s Watchable, dozens of short-form content studios emerged to capitalize on the voracious appetite for stories told in 10- to 15-minute increments. But the market was short-lived, as subscribers failed to materialize and digital advertising competition from Google and Facebook made it hard to recoup budgets.

However, as mobile consumption continues to grow, Hollywood’s digital producers have been turning their attention to a new crop of potential buyers with increasingly deeper pockets. Over the last two years, the major streamers (Netflix, Amazon and Hulu) started experimenting with show formats and lengths. Amazon funded Funny or Die’s short films, Netflix funded new episodes of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (which range from nine to 23 minutes each), and even Hulu started to populate ancillary short-form programming alongside its related main shows in the extras section.

Driving this momentum for the streamers is the notion that short-form series have started to become a cost-effective way to keep fickle young viewers engaged between, say, new seasons of Stranger Things or The Handmaid’s Tale. The average cost of a digital project is typically about $10,000 per minute, but that can stretch higher than $20,000 if a project or the talent (actors, writers, director) warrants. Those budgets might have been more than the digital ad market could bear in the early, sponsor-supported days of short-form, but they are a fraction of the billions of dollars that Netflix and other streamers spend on programming every year.

Professional organizations are also starting to recognize the seriousness of the short-form market. Our own PGA now honors short-form with its Outstanding Digital Series award, and the Television Academy has several Emmy categories for short-form programs including animation, drama, comedy, variety, and actress and actor in a short-form drama or comedy series.

All of this interest is dwarfed, though, by Quibi’s investment in the space.

Initially, Katzenberg raised nearly $600 million from investors to put up a shingle for his new digital media and technology investment firm WndrCo in early 2017. Then, at the tail end of 2018, having teamed up with former eBay CEO Whitman, Katzenberg launched Quibi, a short-form, mobile-based subscription streaming service that debuts next year.

With $1 billion in backing initially from the likes of Disney, WarnerMedia, Fox, Viacom and NBCU, among others, Katzenberg and Whitman started with a lot of muscle. And their approach has moxie, too. At the Produced By Conference this past June, Whitman touted that “We’re the first OTT service launched without acquiring a library,” which means all that investment will disappear pretty quickly as they ready their service for debut.

Quibi isn’t the only major player investing in this space. Former Lionsgate co-COO and Motion Picture Group co-president Steve Beeks and former Fox Division president Mike Dunn have launched Elemental Content And Solutions, a new short-form production and distribution company that will be a fulcrum for funding and creating live action and animated series, told in three- to five-minute segments. Like Quibi, they are betting the 18–34 demo will spark to a new way of consuming content—that is, in short bites.

Quibi will drop videos in seven-to 10-minute chunks, which is very similar to the 11-minute segments on television today in between ads. As with TV, monetization will come from advertising, but there will be no more than 2 ½ minutes’ worth of ads in an hour. There will be a 15-second ad pre-roll for a five- to 10-minute session, and for those less than five minutes, there will be less than a five-second ad.

Elemental’s content is shorter in length and its initial focus will be to align with mobile telecommunications carriers in high-growth international markets whose youthful customers are clamoring for such content. The early emphasis is overseas in Asia, South America and Europe, and their intention is to launch programming slates with those international carriers by the first half of next year.

While all of this sounds well and good, for the producer looking to capitalize on this market opportunity, there are some serious things to consider.

 

Is there a potential market for it? Absolutely.

Mobile video consumption continues to rise. Quibi’s bet is that it will have the ability to grab a percentage of viewers who are willing to pay for programming that’s far superior to YouTube and other social platforms. And with the general trend of consumers paying for streaming content, Quibi executives feel like they have a great shot at capturing on-the-go viewers. Their thinking is that if there are people who are watching more than an hour of video on their mobile devices every day, it’s not that crazy to believe that Quibi can get 2% to 4% of those consumers to a paid experience.

What are the deals like? Surprisingly generous.

Quibi’s deals are great for studios, but not necessarily for Quibi. As part of its deals, Quibi pays the cost of a show, plus a 20% production fee. For this, Quibi exclusively licenses the content in bite-size viewing form for seven years, after which the rights revert back to the creators and producers. But crucially, after two years on the service, creators will be able to edit the short-form version into one feature-length project and can sell the rights to international buyers. This innovative IP ownership model has upsides for both producers and platforms and stands in stark contrast to a streamer like Netflix, which takes all global rights for long periods of time. For producers, short-form has always felt challenging in terms of revenue streams, but Quibi offers a way to break out of that with potential real value for the producer and distributor.

Is there revenue to be had? People are starting to bet on it.

According to reports out this past July, Quibi has already booked $100 million in upfront ad deals from advertisers including Google, Procter & Gamble, Walmart and PepsiCo. Quibi’s starry and well-funded commissions give a clear sense of its ambition in the short-form market, while backing from both investors and advertisers suggests a high degree of confidence that it has the right ingredients to captivate audiences and generate impressions.

Does the viewer actually want short-form? That’s the million-dollar question.

Short-form, premium content may have the wind pointing in the right direction, but astute producers will wonder if it’s really filling a consumer need. Do people actually want premium short-form? Well, you could ask the same thing about the iPhone. There were plenty of mobile devices out there before the iPhone came along. What Apple did was make people want the iPhone. They created the desire for it by portraying it as a cultural phenomenon and tapping into the consumer’s sense of a cool factor.

Changing consumer behavior is not easy, and it takes a lot of money to create programming consumers will watch not just once, but many times—and hopefully recommend to friends. It will also take a lot of money to market it as a mainstream choice, something sorely missing from prior short-form efforts. Quibi and others are well aware of the hurdles, but they’re hoping their investments will get the train over the hill. And even if there is no consumer appetite yet, these new ventures are going to do their best to make you hungry.

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DONALD DE LINE - He's A Studio Exec-Turned-Producer Who Loves His Present And Looks Forward To His Future

Posted By Administration, Friday, November 22, 2019

The first thing you notice is his big, broad smile. Donald De Line looks genuinely happy to be where he is, doing what he’s doing. It is no doubt one of the many reasons he’s had such a long, successful career in the entertainment industry. De Line began as a studio executive before transitioning to a full-time producer. He totally understands the symbiotic relationship between the two career paths and credits his time running studios with making him a more involved, aware and participatory producer.

De Line’s approach to his work is based on a collaborative style of leadership, which perfectly suits this easygoing, dedicated filmmaker. He loves being on set and looking after his crew by anticipating and solving problems. He also enjoys being part of the tight-knit family that forms during a production and is genuinely grateful for the friendships that come from working together.

De Line’s curiosity and varied interests are apparent when you look at the breadth of his films—

The Italian Job; I Love You, Man; Green Lantern and Ready Player One, to name a few. As a studio exec, he was tasked with coming up with a broad slate, and that mentality has informed his producing. He’s up for anything as long as it’s a great story. His openness carries over into his acceptance of and excitement about the rapidly changing production landscape and the emergence of streaming content.

True to form, De Line’s upcoming projects are an amalgam of interesting stories and perspectives. There’s the YA movie based on the classic book The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s a hybrid live action/CGI film. Then there’s Marian, a retelling of the Robin Hood myth from the perspective of Maid Marian. As De Line puts it, “It was really always the woman behind the man and not the man.” And he’s looking forward to a limited series called The Man in the Rockefeller Suit, the true story of a guy who impersonated being a Rockefeller for 20 years. Think a real-life version of The Talented Mr. Ripley.

So wherever your future film tastes lead you, expect to meet up with a smiling Donald De Line. I guarantee he’ll be happy to see you.


 

What first attracted you to the entertainment industry?

When I was a kid, my family’s big activity every weekend was going to the movies. It was something that as far back as I can remember, I looked forward to. There was lots of debate and discussion about it, as we pored over the theater section in the Saturday and Sunday papers. So it was just something that was always a big part of my life. I found it to be such a transportive experience; it was something that affected me emotionally in a huge way, and it was just always a big part of my life.

 

Was there anyone or anything in particular that inspired you early on?

The access I had to the movie business as a kid was from our elementary school library. It was a series of biographies of different famous people throughout history. One I discovered was on Cecil B. DeMille. So I read his biography to learn what a movie director and producer did and how that worked. And it was just fascinating to me. I realized that that was someone’s job and it opened my eyes to that world.

 

Really? In elementary school? That is so random.

 Yes. Cecil B. DeMille. It was in first or second grade. 

 

You started in the business as a studio executive. Was there anything in particular you learned as an executive that really helped your transition to producing?

Absolutely. First of all, I think any studio executive is a better studio executive if they’ve been a producer. And I think any producer is a better producer if they’ve been a studio executive. Because we work hand in glove, to really have an understanding of what goes on—on each side—behind the curtain, is very, very helpful. We need each other. So I felt that having 13 years under my belt as a studio executive was very useful for me in terms of developing skills to deal with people and in delegating. As a producer, you have to be a leader on the set. You’re the parent. Being an executive taught me a lot about how to walk onto a set and assume that role and make people feel supported, make them feel taken care of, appreciated, and valued for their time and effort. A happy cast and a happy crew are critical to the outcome of a film. You want people to do their best and give what they have at their highest level.

 

Do you enjoy spending time on the set?

Yes. I’m a producer who loves being on set. I get there at call in the morning. My job is to check in with the director, take a mood temperature, suss out whether or not everybody is happy, get a bead on any issues that might be brewing. Basically get the lay of the land. It’s so funny because I’m very close with my sister, and years ago when I transitioned from being a studio executive to being a producer, when I would call her she would say, “Oh, you must be on set.” I’d ask, “How do you know?” And she’d say, “Because you sound so happy. You’re always happiest when you’re on set.” There’s just something about the creative process and watching a film come to life that’s like nothing else. It’s incredibly satisfying.

 

I feel like if I were part of your team, I would really appreciate that involvement and support from the producer.

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback that way over the years, whether it’s from a makeup or hair person or a prop person—any aspect of production. And then I’ll hear stories about them having experienced the opposite. So yes, I do think it matters.

 

When you made that transition to producer, was there anything early on that surprised you?

[LAUGHS] Yeah. It surprised me how little I really knew about what went on in the actual making of a movie. As an executive, I had dealt with so many movies for so many years and visited lots of sets, watched lots of dailies and been involved in everything from developing scripts to seeing cuts of movies in postproduction. But to really be there behind the scenes and experience it is entirely different. It gave me great appreciation for what producers do. Of course, to a large degree, I already had that appreciation. I was very much an executive who valued strong producers, and I always felt they made my job much easier. I always slept better at night when I knew there was a strong producer on set.

Mark Wahlberg, Ari Emanuel, Michael Bay, De Line and Dwayne Johnson check out dailies on Pain & Gain

 

But once you jumped into it you had even more appreciation?

A hundred percent. It really opened my eyes to the way things get done—what it’s like for a director on a given day to be faced with so many decisions under great pressure. As an executive you can sit in an office and say, “Well, why doesn’t he or she just do X, Y or Z?” It’s really not that easy.

 

You have produced films from so many different genres. Heist movies, rom-coms, biopics, action thrillers—you’ve made them all. Do you have a favorite genre you tend to look for more than others?

It’s really interesting you bring that up. I’ve thought about that before, and I think part of it is a result of having been a studio executive for a long time before I was a producer. Because as a studio executive I had to have a slate of movies to put out every year, so there’s some for family, some comedy, some drama. And I was used to thinking of a broad slate of films. So when I became a producer I kind of approached developing that same way.

 

I was thinking about Ready Player One. I can only imagine that when you work with Steven Spielberg it puts a project in another dimension.

 Yes, it does.

Donald De Line on the Warner Bros. lot, where he has his production company


That being said, were there any particular lessons you learned that were specific to working with him, anything that made that a different experience?

He’s just amazing for the singular talent he brings to everything he does, not to mention his work ethic is incredible. He would get there two hours before the call time, already working with his editor before the crew arrived in the morning. During lunch he’d be back in the editing room or shooting on the motion capture stage. He never wasted a minute. It was really something to see. I’ve worked with a lot of different directors, and all directors are hardworking. You can’t direct if you’re not hardworking. But he really takes it to another level.           

 
In terms of problem solving, you said you like to be there in person, on the set. Is your process a collaborative one?

I absolutely view it as collaborative. Some people enjoy collaboration more than others. It’s important that it’s approached that way, though. It’s the only way it can happen correctly, really. So yes, I try to stay ahead of potential problems and potential pitfalls. I communicate a lot with the line producer, with the AD, with the heads of departments. I know what people’s issues are. I know what they’re worried about. I know if something is upcoming that will stress certain people out. I’m always looking for ways to make sure we continue on a smooth path and try to stave off something that could make us stumble. If you realize you’re not going to make your day, everyone will be pulling their scripts out trying to figure out what we might do more efficiently, what we might be able to cut, what we might be able to push along in the schedule. That’s part of what I love about it. It’s puzzle solving with a timer going, in the best way. [LAUGHS]

De Line enjoys a laugh with Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, in a scene from Going In Style


Is there anything that you haven’t done in your career that you still want to do—either in the industry or not?

Oh, that’s super interesting. I would like to write, whether it’s a screenplay or a novel. So much of my life is reading, whether it’s scripts or books, and so much of my material comes from books, so it’s all kind of interconnected in my brain. I love writers, and I have such respect for them. I’ve always wondered, “Could I do it? What would it be like?” I work with writers every day. I’d like to be able to put myself in their shoes and understand their process and their experience in a way that I don’t think I ever truly could unless I tried it myself. But that is something that I’ve just been too scared to try, so far.

 

It’s very intimidating, I think.

It is intimidating and yet I know plenty of people who all of a sudden I’ll run into—somebody who was a studio executive or a producer—and they’ll say, “Oh, I wrote a book.” Or “I sold a script.” And I think it’s the greatest thing in the world. It’s all about growing, learning, broadening your horizons in life. We only have a finite amount of time. And really, it’s something I would like to accomplish.

 

What do you like to do during downtime on a set, between takes?

If there’s not something that has to be paid attention to on the set, I’m trying to keep my other stuff going. So I’m either reading other projects, or reading what might become another project, or making calls back to my office and trying to stay up on business.

 

So you’re basically you’re doing work in between work?

 Exactly, exactly, yeah, just more work.

Michael Wright, Zak Penn, De Line and Steven Spielberg et to the point filming Ready Player One

 

What do you think is the hardest part about being a producer?

I suppose it’s balancing your responsibility to creatively do what’s best for the movie with being fiscally responsible to your financiers and staying within the box that you’ve agreed upon. That can be very tough and very challenging and put you in hard positions a lot of the time. It’s not always easy to make both sides happy. But I find that’s part of what’s fun about the job. You can always come up with a solution. And when you’re forced into going down a road where you thought, “No, this can never work,” oftentimes I’ve found the absolute best things have come from that. It leads to completely unexpected discoveries. A problem can be your greatest gift in disguise. Most importantly, a producer must always protect the story. We can never take our eyes off the story.

 

What are some other fun parts of the job?

I find one of the most thrilling things is I have a profound respect for editors, and I think brilliant editors are kind of the unsung heroes of our business. I’ve seen an editor create alchemy out of their own idea—their own thought about what a moment could be—that is completely brilliant and not what anyone intended, and then it turns out to be the best of all. I am just in awe of that. So I love the post production process and watching editors work. I love talking to editors about why they made choices or how they did things. I know what an editor can accomplish, and I think that most people don’t, and I wish they were better understood and celebrated.

 

What change in the industry have you embraced most?

I’m embracing all of the change that we’re in right now. We are in a difficult transition period with the shrinking of the traditional movie business. We are learning to adapt to a lot of new things and new ways of watching movies with the advent of the streamers. At first I was resistant. I’m now open and embracing of it. The appetite for smaller movies is diminishing at studios, but the streaming business is healthy and robust and wants those movies. And that’s a great thing. I don’t separate those two things anymore. I look at them all as just opportunities to tell good stories and get films made.

 

So does that mean you’re ready to tell your three acts in 10 minutes, like on Quibi?

You know what? I want to learn that form too—a complete experience in 10 minutes. That’s fantastic. I’ve never done it before. I’m game. That might be the most fun I’ve ever had!

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Producers On Producing: Emma Tillinger Koskoff interviewed by David Hinojosa

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 21, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The PGA co-hosted a "Producers on Producing" segment as a part of the 57th New York Film Festival on September 30th. PGA member David Hinojosa (First Reformed, Vox Lux, Beatriz At Dinner) interviewed producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff (The Irishman, Joker, The Wolf of Wall Street). Koskoff is President of Production for Sikelia Productions and Hinojosa is an independent producer and producing partner at Killer Films. Koskoff discussed her priorities as a producer, and how she fosters creative, collaborative sets. Koskoff and Hinojosa also answered audience questions on topics such as working with financiers, getting through gatekeepers, and the impact of streaming platforms like Netflix on the industry. You can view the full segment below. "Producers on Producing" is part of the PGA's One Guild initiative supporting inclusive membership, employment, content and depictions.

 

 

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