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

Posted By Deborah Calla, Friday, July 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Voices From ABFF

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

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

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

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

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

Pharrell Williams with Mimi Valdes

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


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

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


Do you have any upcoming projects?

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


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

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


How do YOU bring diversity into your work spaces?

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


Dennis Williams

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


Shirley: What would you call social responsibility?

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


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

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


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




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

Moths and Butterflies written and directed by Alfonso Johnson


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

Connected – written by Rashim Cannad



Harold Williams Wait…What Had Happened Was



Craig T. Williams Allergic (Comedy)

Terrence L. Moore Uptown (Drama)


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

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


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

Sprinter directed by Storm Saulter


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

 Storm Salter, Sprinter


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

Not in My Neighbourhood, directed by Kurt Orderson


2018 JURY AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY, sponsored by Time Warner

 JINN, by Nijla Mumin


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

 Sprinter, directed by Storm Saulter



Kamie Crawford

Winston Marshall


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

Zoe Renee, performance in JINN


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

Courtney Perdue & Baindu Saidu, African-America

April Blair, Curves

Darnell Brown, The Good Book


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

Blaq Ron


Post by Shirley Vernae Williams



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

Posted By Katie Grant, Friday, July 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted By Kevin Perry, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translation: stay scrappy, stay cheap, stay millennial.

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

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

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

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

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Produced By Conference 2018 - Press Roundup

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 12, 2018

 BLEEDING COOL / Kaitlyn Booth
June 9, 2018: “Marvel Movies Will Have More Female Directors in the Future, According to Kevin Feige”


COMICBOOK / Matthew Mueller
June 9, 2018: “Kevin Feige On Marvel Studios Getting X-Men Rights”


COMICBOOK.COM / Cameron Bonomolo
June 9, 2018: “Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige On Making 20 Marvel Movies in 10 Years”


COMPLEX / Victoria Johnson
June 9, 2018: “Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige Promises to Hire More Female Directors For Films”




DEADLINE / Dawn Chmielewski
June 9, 2018: “Lena Waithe Says “The Things That Make Me Different Are Also A Commodity””


DEADLINE / David Robb
June 9, 2018: “Hollywood’s “Disgrace Insurance” On The Rise To Cover Productions’ Sins And Losses – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Anthony D’Alessandro
June 9, 2018: “Jim Gianopulos On Why He Chose Paramount, What Makes A Hit And Sparking To ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’ – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Anthony D’Alessandro
June 9, 2018: “Kevin Feige On Marvel’s Success, ‘Black Panther’, ‘Infinity War II’ & How He’s “Bad With Numbers” – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Anthony D’Alessandro
June 9, 2018: “‘Fargo’ EP Warren Littlefield Provides Update On Season 4 – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Anthony D’Alessandro
June 9, 2018: “‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Team On Season 2 Closer & How Bonnets Were Nearly Cut From Hulu Series – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Dawn Chmielewski
June 9, 2018: “Netflix Accused Of Favoring Tentpoles Over Indies — Produced By”


June 9, 2018: “Marketplace is more receptive to diverse content, says Mudbound producer”


June 9, 2018: “Kevin Feige Says He Walked Out Of Superman 4 Thinking About A Sequel”


June 9, 2018: “‘Ant-Man And The Wasp’ Has Just Completed Post-Production”


June 9, 2018: “Produced By: Paramount's Jim Gianopulos Stresses Originality As The Key To Deciding What Movies to Make”


June 9, 2018: “Marvel's Kevin Feige on Awards Season: "It Doesn’t Mean Everything"”


June 9, 2018: “Produced By: Writer-Actress Lena Waithe Advises "Make Sure You Are Surrounded By Greatness"”


INDIEWIRE / Anne Thompson
June 9, 2018: “Kevin Feige on the Future of the Marvel: More Women, More Diversity, and More Sequels”


June 9, 2018: “Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige reflects on making 20 superhero movies in 10 years”


SCREEN RANT / Thomas Bacon
June 9, 2018: “A Lot of Future Marvel Movies Will Have Female Directors Says Kevin Feige”


SCREEN RANT / Thomas Bacon
June 9, 2018: “Kevin Feige Is 'Waiting for a Phone Call' About X-Men & Fantastic Four”


SYFY WIRE / Josh Weiss


VARIETY / Dave McNary
June 9, 2018: “Produced By Conference: Kevin Feige Promises More Female Directors on Marvel Movies”


VARIETY / Dave McNary
June 9, 2018: “Paramount’s Jim Gianopulos: ‘Diversity is Good Business’”


VARIETY / Dave McNary
June 9, 2018: “‘Mudbound’ Producer: ‘The Marketplace is More Receptive to Diverse Content’”


WE GOT THIS COVERED / Joseph Falcone
June 9, 2018:” Kevin Feige Says He’s Waiting For The Call To Bring The X-Men Into The MCU”


THE WRAP / Jeremy Fuster
June 9, 2018: “‘Fast & Furious’ Producer, Paramount CEO Explain Why They Greenlit ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’”


THE WRAP / Jeremy Fuster, Umberto Gonzalez
June 9, 2018: “Marvel Boss Kevin Feige on Ryan Coogler’s ‘Black Panther': ‘Best Movie We’ve Ever Made’”


June 10, 2018: “Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige Promises Different Incarnations of Characters After Avengers 4”


CBR / Anthony Couto
June 10, 2018: “Marvel’s Feige Says Fandom is More Precious Than Prestigious Awards”


CINEMABLEND / Jessica Rawden
June 10, 2018: “Kevin Feige Is Waiting Around For An X-Men Answer Like The Rest Of Us”


COMICBOOK.COM / Jamie Lovett
June 10, 2018: “'Ant-Man and the Wasp' is Officially Complete”


COMIC BOOK MOVIE / Vincent Hernandez
June 10, 2018: “Kevin Feige Is Waiting On The Phone Call That Will Let Him Bring The X-MEN Into The MCU”


DARK HORIZONS / Garth Franklin
June 10, 2018: “Marvel’s Feige On Female Film Directors”


DECIDER / Dawn C. Chimelewshi
June 10, 2018: “Netflix Is Being Accused Of Neglecting Indie Films In Favor Of Big Hits”

*Please note this is pick-up of the DEADLINE feature


DEADLINE / Anita Bennett
June 10, 2018: “Hollywood Harassment: Best Fight ‘Is to Have Inclusion’ – Produced By”


DEADLINE / Anita Bennett
June 10, 2018: “Bill Hader: HBO’s ‘Barry’ Is ‘Less Stressful’ than ‘SNL’ – Produced By”


DIGITAL SPY / Chris Edwards
June 10, 2018: “Marvel boss Kevin Feige vows "a heck of a lot more" movies will feature female directors”


FADER / Opheli Garcia Lawler
June 10, 2018: “Lena Waithe on Hollywood: “We deserve a seat at that table.””


THE MARY SUE / Chelsea Steiner
June 10, 2018: “Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige Promises “A Heck of a Lot” More Female Directors in the MCU”


PAGE SIX / Dawn Chmielewski
June 10, 2018: “Lena Waithe says ‘The things that make me different are also a commodity’”

*Please note this is pick-up of the DEADLINE feature.


REFINERY29 / Meagan Fredette
June 10, 2018: “The Handmaid’s Tale’s Creator Hinted About Offred’s Baby’s Future In Season 3”


SCREEN RANT / Ana Dumaraog
June 10, 2018: “Kevin Feige Shrugs Off Marvel Studios' Lack of Awards Success”


VARIETY / Joe Otterson
June 10, 2018: “Bill Hader, Alec Berg Talk ‘Barry’ Throwing Out Hitman Tropes”


VARIETY / Kirsten Chuba
June 10, 2018: “‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Costume Designer on Offred’s Look as a Political Statement: ‘It’s Throttling in a Beautiful Way’”


WE GOT THIS COVERED / David Pountain
June 10, 2018: “Kevin Feige Says Future Marvel Movies Will Have A Lot More Female Directors”


WE GOT THIS COVERED / Joseph Falcone
June 10, 2018: “Kevin Feige Addresses The MCU’s Lack Of Awards Season Success”


CONTACTMUSIC / Daniel Falconer
June 11, 2018: “Kevin Feige Prefers The Marvel Cinematic Universe's "Engaged Fans" To Awards”


June 11, 2018: “Kevin Feige Teases Kamala Khan’s Big Screen Debut After ‘Captain Marvel’”


June 11, 2018: “Kevin Feige Again Won’t Rule Out Marvel TV And Film Crossovers”


LADBIBLE / Daisy Jackson
June 11, 2018: “Studio President Is Waiting To Get X-Men Into Marvel Cinematic Universe”


SCREEN RANT / Thomas Bacon
June 11, 2018: “Kevin Feige Wants Ms. Marvel Movie To Be Comics Accurate”


YAHOO! / Hanna Flint
June 11, 2018: “Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige promises more female directors for future films”

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