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Produced By: New York 2015 Recap

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 10, 2015
For the second year in a row, Produced By: New York (PBNY) was a rousing success for the vibrant and growing producing community in New York City and the tri-state area.  Headlining speakers included Michael Moore, The Revenant producers including Alejandro G. Inarritu (via satellite feed), producers from some of this years top films like Carol, Trumbo, Room, and Spotlight, and also so many more.  Session topics ranged from The State of Producing and The Rise of Digital Content to New Opportunities in Documentary Features and The Future of Film Financing.

PBNY is a unique event for producers, by producers.  It is a place where every kind of producer can meet under one roof in order to network, share, and learn.  Below is a selection of snapshots from throughout the day.  Thank you to everyone who made the event so special and we look forward to seeing you a gain next year! 

October 24, 2015 - Time Warner Center

Posted by The Producers Guild of America on Thursday, December 10, 2015

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Anything Is Possible! Jonathan Stern Creates The Space For The Ridiculous To Become Reality

Posted By Spike Friedman, Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Jonathan Stern, Abominable Pictures president and PGA member, says it during a morning all-staff meeting. And then he says it again. And again. And then eight or nine more times as he talked about projects in states from the purely conceptual to the fully produced. Anything is possible. And after spending a day in their offices, yeah, this notion feels true. It’s possible to produce a dozen pilots in a year and pitch them to outlets ranging from the largest studios to insurgent new media platforms; it’s possible to finance a one-off comedy special housed on a bus; it’s possible to get Bradley Cooper to Los Angeles to shoot a major role in an eight-episode series on his off-days during a Broadway run. Anything is possible.

The problem with anything being possible is that everything can be in flux. "I neither thrive on, nor enjoy the uncertainty,” Stern admits when asked about how he deals with having so much up in the air. "That said, the panic? That drives me.”


Abominable Pictures has been staggeringly prolific of late, with work that’s showing up everywhere. Childrens Hospital is on Adult Swim alongside spin-off NTSF:SD:SUV::. Wet Hot American Summer found a home on Netflix. The Hot Wives series lives on Hulu. A series of officially branded Star Wars parody sketches After Darth will be all over YouTube through a collaboration with Disney affiliate Maker Studios. VR Rockstar is gunning to be a comedy that streams into Oculus headsets. The live comedy special Crash Test went to Vimeo first. Filthy Sexy Teen$ is on Fullscreen’s new streaming platform. Abominable provides the West Coast production services for HBO’s Last Week Tonight, and Paul Feig’s sci-fi comedy Other Space is on Yahoo, where Burning Love debuted before moving to E!.

"I like to think I’m format-agnostic,” Stern muses. "A given idea is not necessarily a movie or a web series or a TV series. It’s more: Let’s develop that idea and then feel what’s the right form for it. Sometimes it’s evident early. Sometimes we don’t know until we’ve shot and edited the piece.” He adds, "It’s a continuum of budgets as much as it is platforms. The difference between projects is often: How much money are you going to be able to make it for? Almost anything can be made at almost any budget.”

That flexibility has turned Abominable into a veritable incubator for some of the most interesting minds working in comedy. Rob Corddry, David Wain and Paul Scheer, among others, all have offices in the space, and Abominable’s production footprint is growing rapidly. "It’s like Jon has a little empire over there,” says Wet Hot American Summer writer Anthony King, "It’s a well-oiled machine. It’s made the process of low-budget production effortless.”

Some semi-related observations made while sitting in the editing room for an episode of Childrens Hospital that might help illuminate why Abominable’s work is so damn funny, but also might not:

• Cutting each episode to 11 minutes means that the overarching goal in a Childrens Hospital editing room is trimming length. This episode, "Horse-pital,” had a first cut clock in at more than 14 minutes, and it’s still past 12 when the session starts. As the team, comprised of show EP’s Corddry, Stern and Wain, editor Dean Pollack and assistant Sam Tinsley, rolls through the footage, the questions typically circle back to what can be lost without sacrificing jokes or clarity. Getting the show down to time meant the show was getting funnier, scene after scene.

• Wain in particular has an intuitive sense for sculpting set pieces. Sometimes this would lead to the closest thing to conflict in the room: Wain can throw out a potential fix in shorthand so abbreviated that everyone else has to catch up to what he means before they can see if it might work. After a healthy dose of banter and mockery from all corners, it usually does.

• During a lull, the conversation turns to politics. As I’m taking notes Corddry turns to me and asks if I’m going to make them all sound like Donald Trump supporters. I make no promises. That said, I can report there was no vocal support for Trump in the room.

• The entire cast of Childrens Hospital is excellent, but my word, watching Lake Bell do a run of throwaway takes is an experience that everyone should get to have once in their life.

• A show as silly as Childrens Hospital may not revere continuity in traditional ways. (This is, after all, a show where characters who die often reappear with scant explanation.) But the cutting process for the show is just as rigorous, if not more so, than longer-form comedy.

"Childrens Hospital has made me so much better in the editing room,” Stern attests, "because you truly cannot take any shot for granted when you’re chasing the clock at 11 minutes.”

Abominable grew out of Stern’s production team for Childrens Hospital, which in early incarnations manifested as something closer to an explicit parody of Grey’s Anatomy. The unintended (or hell, maybe intended) consequence has been a lot of funny women on the premises from day one. Beyond Bell, Erinn Hayes, Megan Mullally, and Malin Akerman all have been regulars for the preponderance of the show’s run. This parity extends behind the scenes where the bulk of the producers employed by Abominable, including line producer Franny Baldwin and partner EP Becca Kinskey, are women.

Despite gender parity on his production staff, Stern and his company still have questions about the issue of gender parity in comedy more generally. "Becca is always asking where are the women directors? Women writers?” says Stern. "So when it comes to the writers room, we really do make an effort to have women in all of our rooms. It’s easy to gravitate towards the people you know, so you have to make the effort to reach out, learn about, and read the samples of people you don’t know. When people only work with the people they know? You get those all-male groups. If you look a little outside your immediate circle, you get more diversity and then they’re part of your immediate circle. It’s not that hard to do, and you find great people to work with.”

The results of that approach are right there in the credits. For Season 6 of Childrens Hospital, one episode was directed by Bell, another was written by Parks and Rec scribe Megan Amram, while Rachel Axler received a pair of "written by” credits before moving on to serve as supervising producer on Wet Hot American Summer. Hot Wives is created and run by Danielle Schneider and Dannah Feinglass Phirman. Scheer cites Stern’s championing of Erica Oyama, the creative force behind Burning Love. "Watching what Jon did with her; saying ‘I believe in you, let’s get money for you,’ people then realized, ‘Holy shit, this person is amazingly talented.’ Now she’s written a handful of movies. She’s in demand.” Abominable is not just a boys club, and the work benefits accordingly.

For Baldwin, Abominable’s strength comes from the relationships between collaborators. "Each of Jon’s relationships is unique,” she tells me, "and they’re all very important to him. He’s able to give his heart and soul to each project, even if he has a producer who is there to take over things he used to have to do. On a project like, say, Outvoted, which was a three-day shoot, he’s still there on the set. He’s still looking at scripts. He’s still looking over every budget. He’s just pretty amazing.”

She echoes this dedication in her work as Stern’s pragmatic other half. "We’re loyal,” Baldwin explains, "we hire the same costume designers, same production designers project after project.” Unprompted, she adds, "I’m not going anywhere. I’ve now been working with him since 2007. I get other offers and I don’t even consider anything. It’s like my family here.”

The office fosters collaboration, giving Stern a chance to brain storm and hash out every aspect of pre- and post-production with his producers.

"This space is a call to action,” Stern believes. "When Scheer and I find ourselves here at the same time, we plop down on the couch and get to the point where we’re talking about the projects that are floating around, the new ideas. That only happens because we have unstructured time together.” He goes on to say, "You can spend a weekend with a group of friends and collaborators and come up with so many great ideas, or things that would be fun to do. But I feel like a big part of my job is to move things from that ‘wouldn’t it be fun’ part of the conversation to ‘let’s do it.’”

Production services at Abominable are handled in house. Work can be done quickly without sacrificing quality. An internal shorthand language is shared between collaborators in every part of the process. It’s understood that every project has the capacity to scale up its creative and comic ambitions. Speaking to these advantages, Corddry states, "My favorite style of comedy is crystalized in Childrens Hospital. With the expansion of what qualifies as television, there’s more room to get away with this sort of absurdity. The question becomes, how much of this can we get away with? How mainstream can this get? How far can we go?”

As Scheer puts it, "You spend a lot of time in Hollywood taking these meetings. It’s basically the ‘water tour’ of LA. You go to an office. They give you water. You talk about your idea. They tell you they’ll talk about it internally. Then most likely, it fades away. When I first met Jon, I pitched him an idea and he sat up in his seat, and he said ‘let’s do this.’ He’s just different. He makes stuff happen more than any producer that I have ever worked with. He never lets anything die. He is a producer who gets people’s ideas executed.”

A brief anecdote that may illuminate why Abominable’s work is so damn funny, but also might not:

Sitting in an After Darth production meeting, prior to my even meeting Wain, he leans in, looks at me and narrates, "Sometimes at Abominable, even David Wain just pops his head into a production meeting.”

He walked away without saying another word.

Despite the volume and diversity of the content he produces, Stern deflects any attempt to pin down his comedic taste. "I don’t know how to describe what I find funny, but I know how to identify in myself what I find funny,” he says. "You get shown, sent and pitched a lot of ‘comedies,’ but I’m not laughing at them. There are lots of shows with the tone, shape and structure of a comedy, but eventually you have to get in touch with your gut and whether you’re actually finding the thing funny.”

Flexibility is, again, the implicit virtue here. Stern keeps a board in his office of all projects that are alive in his company, from mere concepts to in-production. Currently there are 37 items on it. It would be easy for Stern to lay out a comedic rubric for his company’s work. Looking at the success of Childrens Hospital, NTSF, Hot Wives, and Wet Hot American Summer, Stern could say that his comedic taste is absurd, quick hitting joke machines that mine the inversion of tropes and meta-commentary on the entertainment industry. But generalizing in that way would be limiting, inflexible. That wouldn’t leave room for Abominable to provide production services on a show like Last Week Tonight or branch out into using its production resources to support the work of documentary filmmakers, as it aspires to do in the future.

Of the projects on that board, the one about which Stern waxes most rhapsodic is Outvoted, a pilot written by Wet Hot American Summer scribe and former UCB Theatre artistic director Anthony King as part of the Fox incubator program. The show follows a Mitt Romney-type failed presidential candidate as he retreats with his family in the wake of electoral defeat. While this premise could be built into a joke machine, King, Stern and Scheer instead steered the piece towards a character-driven story along the lines of Veep, despite being produced on a new media contract.

"We worked on Outvoted as if it were a $3 million network pilot,” Stern declares. "It’s as legitimate to us; the money doesn’t get to decide how legitimate the project is.” Using a nimble new media contract, with relatively short shooting schedules and loose contractual attachments to secure Harry Hamlin as the lead, the cast was filled out with Abominable irregulars like Rob Riggle, Jerry O’ Connnell, Rich Sommer and Mookie Blaiklock. "One of the cool things about working with Abominable,” King says, "is that the people whom they work with want to keep working with them.”

The type of work that Abominable aims to create going forward is very much on Stern’s mind. "I think that the tone these projects share is not a mean comedy. At its absolute meanest, it’s making fun of media in a ‘meta’ way, but it’s not attractive to me to make fun of people. Outvoted, Last Week Tonight … those start working on a deeper level. Sometimes it can be just fun and sketches, but it can be deeper, about characters and the human condition. I think for a while, I’ve shied away from that, because it’s harder to write and do well. But I’m starting to realize that if you can crack that other nut, that can be very fulfilling.”

Maybe it’s a risk for a production team that has mastered small-screen absurdism to expand its footprint in this way. But having spent some time around Stern and his team, I’m fully convinced that anything is possible.


Photographed by Kremer Johnson Photography

- View all articles from the October/November issue of Produced By magazine

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Ilene Chaiken - Produced By magazine

Posted By Chris Green, Friday, November 6, 2015

Forgive us: we went to Ilene Chaiken, showrunner of FOX’s music biz mega-hit series Empire (and before that, the creator and showrunner of Showtime’s groundbreaking The L Word) with the idea that she would unravel the mysteries of running a hit TV series … lay the whole thing out, step by step. Instead, we found a producer and writer whose unique career trajectory all but forced her to invent the job as she went along, one who’s still far more inclined to be asking questions than handing out answers.

"I have never worked with another showrunner,” she confesses. "It’s still a mystery to me, and I still find myself wondering, is there something they do that I don’t know about?”

Thanks to a lengthy industry apprenticeship that included jobs with (among others) CAA, Aaron Spelling, Quincy Jones, Alan Greisman and Armyan Bernstein, Chaiken found herself installed as the showrunner on her very first series, The L Word. Since then, she’s run every series she’s worked on …

the rare instance of a writer/producer starting out running the room, rather than working her way up through the staff ranks.

Sitting face-to-face with Chaiken, it’s easy to sense the reasons for networks’ confidence. Serious-minded and empathetic, sensitive to the necessity of getting not only the broader story arcs but the characters’ individually specific flourishes of language, costume and design exactly right, Chaiken’s facility for running a show starts with her commitment to listening closely to her colleagues, and guiding the storytelling enterprise from there.

We don’t often get to talk to people who learned TV at the feet of Aaron Spelling. working today, how often do you flash on something you learned from Aaron?

All the time. And especially working on Empire, which has gotten a rep as the Black Dynasty. My principal memories are of Aaron Spelling kind of lording over everything, of his unbelievably, unthinkably vast office, and his liveried butler, who came in every day at 5 p.m. with cut crystal goblets on a silver tray and poured him a tequila. But just as much, I remember listening to him spin story. Whatever you might think of Aaron Spelling or the product he created, it all came from him, came through him. His sensibility infused everything.

Maybe the most important thing I learned from him—and something that I didn’t appreciate fully until many years later—was how essential the editing process is in television. He was brilliant. I had never been in an editing room other than as a student in film school and I sat in there and watched him review cuts and saw how he remade the story in editing.

Ilene Chaiken (center) on the set of "The L Word" with cast member Jennifer Beals


What a cool thing to feel that Aaron’s creative DNA is a part of Empire. So how long did you spend with Aaron, developing shows?

Five years. And it was probably the five worst years of his entire television career. Not because of me [laughs] but because the moment when I went to work for Aaron was the dawn of the Steven Bochco era. Bochco’s approach was antithetical to Aaron Spelling and what he did. Aaron railed against it and didn’t understand it, and tried to slouch in that direction, but it wasn’t what he loved at all. We did a number of television shows that started out trying to be more in the new style, but always wound up being 100% Aaron Spelling. All of the new shows I developed for Aaron failed except one. And the one show that didn’t fail, nobody today recalls as an Aaron Spelling show. But I put Twin Peaks together.

Really? Wow, you’re right. I do not have Twin Peaks in my mental database under "Aaron Spelling shows.”

I think it’s probably just a production company title on the show; I don’t think that he took a producing credit. CAA definitely helped put the package together. But I pursued it avidly, almost desperately.

Chaiken chats with "The L Word" co-star Katherine Moennig


It must have been exciting to watch the Twin Peaks phenomenon play out.

It was. I was working really hard, and enjoying it, but also frustrated because I was an executive and not a creative.

So how did you ultimately get to the point where you made the great leap into the creative unknown?

I had one more big job after Spelling. I went on to Quincy Jones Entertainment and worked for Quincy for close to three years. Working as an executive for Quincy Jones was fabulous and exhilarating, and it was also my crash-and-burn executive job. I just hit that moment at which I said, "I want to be making my own things, and if I don’t do it now I’m never gonna do it.” During Christmas vacation of that year, I went with a bunch of friends to Telluride and while they all went out and skied, I locked myself in the house and wrote a script in 10 days. I came back and I gave the script to an agent at ICM that I had worked closely with and said, "I’m a writer. Now get me a job.” And lo and behold, within two or three weeks I had a job writing a movie.

What was it like to be on the other side of that divide, after years of being the development person?

It was more gratifying, because it was what I always thought that I was put on this earth to do. Also, I had a great, great advantage over other fledgling screenwriters because of all of my years as an executive. I really understood how the businesses worked, what notes were about and what the executives and producers I was working with were trying to elicit from me.

And so how did that lead back to television and to The L Word?

Although I spent a number of years just writing feature films, my first TV show was The L Word. Gary Levine, who is still EVP of original programming at Showtime, was my executive. I had worked with Gary on a number of projects when I was at Spelling and he was at ABC. And when they ordered The L Word, Gary looked at me and said, "You know how to do this. You can run the show.” I’d never even written on staff before, and Gary made me a showrunner because he had worked with me as an executive.


Chaiken discusses an upcoming shot with actress Mia Kirshner on the "L Word" set


Wow. I didn’t realize that you just stepped into that role, cold.

My television showrunning apprenticeship is atypical. Most television showrunners come up through the ranks, starting as staff writers, working for years and years on other television shows, learning from other showrunners. My apprenticeship was my years as an executive, and then I was a showrunner. I’ve never been anything other than the showrunner on every show I’ve done.

Not a lot of people can say that.

That’s true. I have never worked with another showrunner. It’s still a mystery to me, and I still find myself wondering, is there something I don’t know that they do? I’ve mostly learned from the people I’ve staffed on shows that I’m running. I’m pretty open about it. I say, "Talk to me about how other showrunners have done this and tell me if there’s something I’m not doing that you think might be valuable in this process.”

So in terms of the collaboration that made The L Word what it was, who helped keep you on track as a rookie showrunner?

Gary told me, "We’ll get you a senior-level person who’s worked on other shows, who gets your sensibility. You’ll get to choose her. But she’ll be the person who shows you how it’s done.” I met a handful of people—I’d never even done the whole staffing rigmarole before—and chose Ellie Herman. She really taught me the ropes, sat with me and talked me through what’s involved in breaking 13 episodes of television.

The L Word also had the burden of expectations on it, as the first show to spotlight the lesbian community. I mean, it kind of declares its intentions right in the title.

Looking back on it, it was the right moment in time, though when we started, that moment hadn’t quite arrived yet. The great thing about Showtime was, and still is, I think, that they’re willing to go out on those limbs, independent of looking at the numbers. Jerry Offsay was running Showtime at the time, and I remember him saying, "You won’t get any stars.” They had just done Queer as Folk, and they couldn’t get any name actors to do it. And I kind of sensed that in terms of our show, he was wrong. Because women are different from men. Actresses are different from actors. The public perception of male sexuality is different from the perception of female sexuality. That continues to be true to some extent. But Jerry said, "We’re not making it casting-contingent. Just cast the best actresses. Because you won’t get any stars.” And lo and behold, leading the cast is Jennifer Beals. So that was the first thing that suggested The L Word was a little different. The show continued to kind of defy the conventional wisdom in that way. We did the series for six years. It was all I did. Even though it was initially 13 and ultimately 12 episodes a year, I spent my whole year working on it, promoting it, preparing for the next season. I did one or two projects in between, but I didn’t really have much time. What I had been wanting to do was a women-in-prison show. Tonally it was quite different from Orange Is the New Black. I likened it more to Oz, although it wasn’t quite that dark. I directed the pilot. And then that year, Showtime didn’t buy any new shows. I remember that vividly because it was 2009. What have we all decided to call it, "the financial crisis”? Everybody was cutting back. Showtime made five pilots and didn’t program a single show. So I started developing and I figured that I would see what it was like working in broadcast television.


Chaiken (right) joins cast members Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard for a Q&A session
at Carnegie Hall about hit series Empire


So Having been in the middle of The L Word, what’s it like to step in as the showrunner of a show that you haven’t created, like Empire? you’re basically becoming the captain of somebody else’s ship.

The very first job that I did like that was coming on as the showrunner for a pilot for Warners and the CW. It was written by Amy Holden Jones. We remained friends, and some years later, another script that she had written got picked up in an unusual deal at ABC. She asked me to come and work with her as her showrunner, so we did Black Box for a year, 12 episodes. That was the first show that I ran that I didn’t create. But when Black Box was finishing, I said to my agents, "I’m going to take some time now to go back and do my own work. I’m not interested in taking another gig writing somebody else’s show.”

Yeah, famous last words.

Yeah. [laughs] "Leave me alone for a little while, please.” But of course, they never do. So my agent and my manager both sent me some scripts, because it was that time of year, pickup season. I read a few and was not interested. They also sent me the script for Empire which was from Lee Daniels and Danny Strong. I said to myself, "Well, I’m not interested, but I will read this,” because Lee Daniels and Danny Strong are not people that you just bury at the bottom of the pile. I read the script, and thought it was pretty cool. But I said to my team, "It’s really good. It’s really interesting. But I still don’t want to do it.” And they asked, "Well, would you go and watch the pilot? It’s just finished and it’s starting to get some buzz.” I said, "Fine. But I don’t want to do the show.”

I went over to Fox. When you go and see an unaired pilot, it’s like everything is top secret, on lockdown. You go into the studio and some assistant meets you and walks you into a dark little room and they pop a DVD in and they close the door and you’re sitting in a little conference room all by yourself. So I watched the pilot for Empire sitting alone in a dark little room, having said, literally, on the phone on my way in, "I’m not going to do this.” And as I was walking out of the tiny room I was on the phone to my agent, saying, "I want to do this.”

I don’t often have that feeling about projects that aren’t mine, but I watched that pilot and felt something I hadn’t felt since The L Word. There was something very special about it; it’s a game-changer. So I told my agent I would love to be involved. "What’s the drill? Who do I have to make fall in love with me now?”


Chaiken (left) on location for "Empire" with fellow producer Lee Daniels


So you had to audition for this job, effectively?

I had to meet with Francie Calfo at Imagine, and then with Lee and Danny, who were meeting other potential showrunners. I have the utmost respect for Francie. She’s a really good producer and executive. I’m pretty sure that in our first meeting she wasn’t sure that I was the right person to do this show, for some obvious reasons. But she also knew that the most important thing was how Lee and Danny felt. My first meeting was with Lee here in LA, with Danny Skyping in from New York. It was the typical meeting of that sort. I told them what I thought of their show, mostly how much I loved it and how I responded to it so viscerally. Then I talked to them about my approach to producing television, because neither of them had ever done series television from this side. I saw it as my chance to talk about what’s involved, the kinds of choices they would have to make, how I would collaborate with them. And in a general, cautious way, I talked about the story, where I thought the show might go, without wishing to presume on any plans they may already have had for the characters. We had two meetings like that and then I had one more meeting with Lee at the Chateau Marmont, so he could double-check to make sure that I was a lesbian. [laughs] Because he thought that I was, but wasn’t sure.

Well, good thing he locked that down.

Yeah. It was important to him. I mean, obviously he would’ve liked to find someone who he felt could deliver his show, who also shared his particular background and sensibility. I think that that’s a given. It would’ve been obvious and natural had that person come to him. But what was important to him about the fact that I’m gay is that I come at the world as an outsider. And Empire is largely about coming at the world as an outsider. For me, the parallel between The L Word and Empire is the understanding that although you’re telling stories that want to connect with everybody, you’re writing about a cultural experience and you have to honor and capture the cultural specificity. You’re not really telling the story, you’re not serving it unless you really grasp for that cultural specificity in every facet of the show. I came at Empire in that way, and I think understood it intuitively from having done The L Word.

Right. So obviously on The L Word, you could serve as a source of that cultural specificity and shared vocabulary. As the showrunner of Empire, where do you go for that depth of material?

It starts with Lee, and he infuses Empire with that sensibility in every possible way. But I also have staffed the show predominantly with African-American writers. I think we have 12 or 13 writers, plus Danny is working on the show full time this year. Of those writers, three are not African-American. Even among the African American writers, it’s a very diverse room. I looked first and foremost for great and talented writers but also for an array of voices and experiences that speak to that cultural specificity. Running this show, I really need to listen. I know what I think the stories should be and I play a large role in choosing and directing them. But they’re Lee’s and Danny’s stories. Especially in the first season, I started out listening, channeling, trying to get from Lee and Danny what I’m then going to put into each of these scripts and stories. I’m the one who knows how to do that, who knows what the process is and when it’s working.

At the start, I was less sure of what the show would be. I wasn’t sure how fast it would move, what kind of tone of it would have, what the mix would be between the grounded and socially relevant, and the wild and flamboyant. I had to find all of that, and it was a very distinct, almost palpable target in the first season … I can taste this, it’s working now, this where it lives. Once I figured it out, with the help of a lot of colleagues, both my writing staff and at the studio and the network, then it clicked. What Danny and I have done for both seasons of Empire is gather the room a couple of weeks before the heavy lifting starts, and we figure out what the season is about, overall. Season 1 of Empire was: Who will inherit the throne? Season 2 is focused on warring kingdoms. That’s going to be our big creative template, and a couple of stories that we think we might want to tell will come out of that.

But then how I run the room is to put these ideas out there and not be attached to any of them. I encourage the writers I’m working with to to explore them, blow them up, to come up with better ideas. We’ll spend a couple of weeks just talking about those ideas that we started with, figuring out where to go with them. And at a certain point we start breaking a season. But as I said, the way that I run the room is largely by listening. I’ll try to listen for the best ideas and let those ideas run away with the story for awhile. But I won’t start the outline process until I’ve heard all of those things that I know make an episode of Empire.

One challenge of the showrunner’s job is that you can’t stay inside the "story bubble” all the time. How do you juggle that responsibility with the needs of the network, the producing team, and so on?

They’re not such different worlds, really. I almost always invite the writer of an episode to join me on the network and studio notes call. So that writer will hear how I interact with the network, how we respond to notes, how we implement them. The other piece of it is the interface with production. We always deliver scripts that are ambitious; very rarely are they producible on the first draft. On The L Word, I utilized a process that I kind of devised for myself—I have no idea whether other show-runners do it this way—where I ask for three scheduling meetings during the course of prep for each episode. I always ask the writer of that episode to join me on those meetings. We used to call them board meetings because we’d literally map out the shoot on a white board. The AD and our producing director, Sanaa Hamri, estimate the shooting times for each scene. I know that we can shoot 14 hours at most, but that we prefer to shoot a 12-hour day. So I look for a board that probably has one or two 14-hour days, but not more than that. Not infrequently, that first board will come to me and it’ll have an 18-hour day or a 22-hour day on it.

So early on we have a board meeting, and then in the middle of prep we have another one, and maybe two days before we start shooting we have another one. And we all figure out how to make the episode shootable in eight days at roughly 12-and-a-half hours each day. So you start to realize, "This scene could go. Let’s reset this. Let’s combine these two.” That’s a big part of showrunning and producing, and something that I’m trying to get all of the writers to understand.

So what are your hopes going forward? Sitting here this time next year, what would you like to be able to say?

At this point all I can do is just stay hunkered down and keep trying to tell stories that deliver on the promise of the show. I just hope the show is still beloved and that we continue to be a cultural touchstone and make people scream and gasp and everything else that Empire has done so far.


- Photographed by Kremer Johnson Photography


- View all articles from the October/November issue of Produced By magazine



Tags:  empire  film  ilene chaiken  Produced By  the l word 

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Video Highlights: Produced By Conference 2015

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Produced By: New York 2015 is pounding on the doorstep.  October 24, 2015, the Producers Guild is excited to present the 2nd iteration of Produced By: New York.  Gathering speakers, stars, and experts from every corner of the industry, the Conference proves to be one the most valuable and enriching events available to Producers from all fields.  Line producers, show runners, financiers, new-media experts, documentarians, and all other types of producers converge at the Time Warner Center to network, educate, and uplift the producing profession.

To keep your appetites wet for Produced By: New York we are providing some highlights from this past summer's immensely successful Produced By Conference 2015 at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood.  Watch the ever-expanding playlist below with clips from such speakers as Reese Witherspoon, Lee Daniels, Kevin Smith, Eva Longoria, Ilene Chaiken, Blumhouse Productions and more.


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Posted By Administration, Monday, October 5, 2015

Drones have emerged as a powerful tool for producers in film, television, and new media- offering the capability to get never-before-seen shots and a freedom to go places that traditional aircraft can't reach.  Drones offer an exciting opportunity for producers and directors to create visual magic like never before.

However, as drone use has exploded in recent years, regulations, restrictions, and fees have popped up, creating a confusing landscape for producers.  Thankfully, on August 1st, 2015 the PGA AP Council put on a Master Class seminar, "Shooting With Drones", in which they covered what all producers need to know when shooting with drones: how to choose the right aircraft and camera for your shoot, location concerns, safer regulations, FAA paperwork, finding the most experienced crew, and insuring your drone production, plus more.

Featured was a panel of industry leaders who offered a chance to learn from the keenest minds working on the front lines in drone cinematography.  Included was an opportunity to interact with a full range of drones including small, medium and full-sized "heavy lifter" aircraft, including one outfitted with a Black Magic Cinema camera.

PGA Members can watch full panels from the seminar on Why Drones?, What You Need to Know to Fly Legally, and Shooting On Location

For everyone else, or simply for quicker viewing, the PGA is also proud to provide the below playlist which includes highlights on "advantages of drones", "putting together a drone crew", "when something goes wrong", "working with flight plans", and more!

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