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Sunset Bronson PGA Lot Lunch

Posted By Rembrandt Bell, Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The new PGA Studio Lot Initiative had it's 2nd lunch on Monday, March 11th - this time on the Sunset Bronson Studio Lot.  The lunch was hosted by Vance Van Petten at the PGA and PGA member Beth Talbert put it all together.  Thirteen of the 23 known PGA members on the lot attended and it was a great time!  

If you would like the PGA to host a PGA members-only lunch on your lot, contact Karen Covell at karen@karencovell.com or Jethro Rothe-Kushel at jrothe-kushel@scenario-la.com and they will help you set it up.  It's a wonderful time to have PGA members meet one another and talk about ways to invite others on that lot to join the PGA!  

If you would like to find out about other PGA members on your lot, just click here to fill out the short survey:  http://tinyurl.com/9eyqnok.

*Pictured.  From left:  Lance Lucas, Debbie Alpert-Orrall, Jeff Reilly, Vance Van Petten, Karen Covell, Lou Dennig, Jan Davis, Jackie Pratt, Brad Dumont, Deb Whitcas, Carlos Huizar, Jeannine Sullivan.Not pictured:  Jethro Rothe-Kushel, Beth Talbert

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9th Annual "Power of Diversity" Workshop Coming

Posted By Deborah Calla, Monday, March 4, 2013

"The Producers Guild of America: The Power of Diversity” is one of the most sought-after and successful producing workshops available today.

In 2004, the PGA Diversity Committee decided to empower producers looking to make a difference in the entertainment landscape through content that accurately reflects the environment we live in – a globalized world of many colors, religions, sexual orientations and physical abilities.

We wanted it to be an "A to Z producing" workshop and we wanted it to be inclusive. Our Celebration of Diversity (2002 – 2004) award recipients had given us a great legacy and we kept them in mind as we created the program.

"Every one of us matters. All our voices are primary voices. If I would look at my ideas in terms of film, it is to create a world where that is not only a reality for people of color like myself, but for women as well.”

-Danny Glover

"I've had an amazing journey that was fueled by my parents, who taught me how to work with people and that color didn't matter”.

- Chas. Floyd Johnson

George Sunga, Charles Howard, Steve Grossman, Yvonne Russo and I spent many late afternoons at the Guild and at different coffee shops, creating a format for the workshop. Although Charles and I are the only original founders who continue to be actively involved, we have been joined by a great many producers, including: Vicente Williams, Dan Halperin, Julie Janata, Megan Mascena, Cirina Catania, Luis Barreto, Karyn Benkendorfer, Rebecca Graham Forde, Christina Lee Storm, Rikki Hughes, Emily Barclay, Ayser Salman, Martha Cotton, and Paul Villadolid.

Since 2004, the workshop has evolved greatly, but it has never veered from its initial intent: to educate and create opportunity for projects and producers that pursue inclusion.

We have had the honor to work with hundreds of producers in the workshops, some new and some already established including Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (Southland CO-EP CSI: NY Supervising Producer), Sarah DeLio (Bless Me, Ultima Producer) and D'Arcy Conrique, Entertainment Finance Group at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

When asked about their workshop experience this is what two past alums had to say:

"The PGA workshop was invaluable in helping me with my television pilot and my career as a TV writer. The mentors enthusiasm,support and feedback was crucial to my development as a working writer and aspiring producer. They brought in the best producers, directors and executives in the business and have continued to foster relationships with all the workshop participants. I completed the workshop with a new found confidence and an understanding of the various facets of producing. This amazing opportunity provided me with skills that I continue to use on a daily basis.”

- Hollie Overton – The Client List

"Through dynamic instruction and unparalleled accessto top industry professionals and mentors, the PGA workshop has become a veritable masterclass for the next generation of producers.”

Ben Lobato – Justified, The Unit

The submission period for the ninth cycle of the "Producers Guild of America: Power of Diversity” workshop starts on March 11th 2013.

This is a unique opportunity to participate in the workshop with your dream project and advance your producing skills in one-on-one sessions with committee mentors and in master classes with such producers as Marshall Herskovitz, Bruce Cohen, Ali LeRoi, Damon Lindelof, Caryn Mandabach and Shonda Rhimes.

The program runs for eight weeks: once a week in the evening and two Saturday mornings.

Participants begin with a script for a project that they would like to see produced. The goal of the workshop is to get these participating producers’ projects ready for the marketplace by the end of the eight weeks.

In addition to attendance at the weekly master class and sessions with committee mentors, participating producers must prepare a plan of action for their project to be presented at the end of the workshop. This plan develops during the run of the workshop with the guidance of their assigned producer-mentors.

Subjects covered during the workshop include such topics as story development, pitching techniques, packaging, possible buyers for the project, how to approach and connect with buyers, financing, marketing plans and new media concepts and techniques.

If you are working on a project for the web, television or the big screen, the PGA Workshop can help take you and your project to the next level.

And the workshop is free.

Application requirements and forms can be found at: www.pgadiversity.org . There is a $35 application fee.

-Deborah Calla

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The Road to Argo

Posted By Jesse Gordon, Monday, February 25, 2013


By Jesse Gordon

The Producers Guild of America would like to pay tribute to Argo in celebration of its claiming Best Picture at the 2013 Academy Awards.  The following article is re-purposed from the Produced By Magazine.

Producer Grant Heslov brings real Hollywood experience to a "fake” Hollywood thriller

How does one create a suspenseful thriller in which the audience already knows the ending? It was a unique challenge faced by the team responsible for Argo, but as producer Grant Heslov will tell you, with a compelling story and the right personnel, the job is far less daunting.

"When you’re producing a film like this, you find a kernel of something, and you see the potential of it,” Heslov explains. "You see the end product in your mind, and your job is to realize that.” The film that Heslov and his colleagues were ultimately able to realize is the declassified story of CIA operative Tony Mendez, and his daring plan to free six Americans from Tehran in 1979. After Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy, six employees of the State Department managed to escape to hide out in the Canadian Ambassador’s home. With their lives at stake, Mendez crafted a caper in which the rescue team would pose as a movie crew for a fake science fiction film entitled Argo.

It’s a rich story, to be sure, but as Heslov would surely profess, that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making a quality film. "In this case,” he notes, "it was about finding the underlying material, finding the right writer, getting a script that we felt really strongly about, and getting a director that could then make the film we imagined from the first moment we thought about this.” That director turned out to be Ben Affleck — who also stars as Mendez — and his vision helped create a film that has garnered both wide critical praise and commercial success.

"Ben turned out to be a great partner,” Heslov shares. "He turned out to be one of those directors that allows a lot of input from a lot of people ... and not just from me, but from the cinematographer on down. And he’s able to filter out and take those bits that make sense.” It stands to reason that Affleck’s collaborative style as a director would resonate with Heslov, as the latter has spent the majority of his career working in tandem with another one of Hollywood’s most famous leading men, George Clooney.

Heslov was born and raised in the Palos Verdes area of Los Angeles, and he began his entertainment career working as an actor while attending the University of Southern California. He was taking an acting class at the time, and it was there that he met Clooney, now his longtime business and writing partner, as well as close personal friend. In what has become a wonderful piece of Hollywood legend, Heslov actually loaned Clooney a couple hundred dollars to get his first set of headshots. The two men have come a long way from the rigorous life of struggling actors, thanks in large part to their cooperative relationship. "Mostly, I work with George,” says Heslov, "and we have a real shorthand in the way that we work. We’re very collaborative because we mostly write the stuff together.” That partnership helped the duo garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Good Night, and Good Luck. The two gentlemen also operate their own production company, Smokehouse Pictures, which has a deal with SONY.

Like many success stories of the entertainment industry, Heslov has become a Hollywood jack-of-all-trades, having worked as an actor, producer, director, and writer. Though he spends the majority of his time behind the camera these days, Heslov’s work as a producer/writer/director has been directly impacted by his time as an actor. In fact, the first project that Heslov ever wrote and directed was inspired by a unique experience that he had had in the acting world. A short film titled Waiting for Woody, it’s the story of a Woody Allen fan who goes to audition for the eclectic director. Regarding a bizarre series of events that befell him, Heslov recalls, "My experience going to audition for him was like something out of a Woody Allen film. I was taking the subway there, it was summer, it was hot, and I got a bloody nose and bled all over my shirt. But I was almost an hour early, so I went and bought a new shirt. Then, when I got there, I couldn’t get in because they didn’t have my name, and they didn’t have the right information from my agent. And when I finally got in, and I was sitting there with all these weird people in the waiting room, everything from a midget to this unbelievably hot chick wearing snakeskin leather pants.” The experience was so unique that Heslov felt compelled to put it on paper, and thus began his writing career.

Though he relished the experience of writing and directing Waiting for Woody, Heslov continued to act in small roles for the next seven or so years, racking up credits in everything from The Scorpion King to True Lies. Then, in 2005, he sat down to pen Good Night, and Good Luck with Clooney, beginning his transition away from full-time actor. Since then, Heslov has stuck largely to writing (The Ides of March, The Monuments Men) and producing (The American, Leatherheads and Memphis Beat, in addition to the titles he’s co-written), although he does continue to act in many of the films he is involved in.

In 2009, Heslov made his feature length directorial debut with the film adaptation of The Men Who Stare at Goats, which starred Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, and of course, Clooney. While most first-time directors might feel pretty nervous being entrusted with a $20 million budget, Heslov seems to have been better prepared than most to make the leap. As he says of his prior cumulative experience, "I learned a lot through osmosis, just being on set. I would try to soak up everything; I was like a sponge. I think what I learned most was how to create an atmosphere where everyone can work and do their best work, without a lot of tension. I think that those are the best kind of sets, and where the best work gets done. There are some people that believe that if it’s chaotic and crazy and people are yelling, out of that comes good art and good work. While I believe that it can happen that way, it doesn’t have to happen that way. We’re so lucky to get to do what we do, to make it a drag seems counterintuitive.”


Heslov’s experience across different roles in the industry undoubtedly helped to prepare him for Argo. As with most historical dramas, the ultimate challenge lay in maintaining the perfect balance between doing justice to the events that occurred while at the same time juggling the cinematic elements that make for a quality film. In the interest of properly capturing the story’s essence, Heslov, Affleck, and Clooney (who also worked as a producer on the film) were in constant contact with Tony Mendez, himself. "I talked to Tony when we bought the article [on which the screenplay was based],” Heslov says. "Once we bought the article, we also optioned a chapter out of Tony’s book that dealt with this particular incident, so he was a consultant on the film. I talked with him, and then the writer [Chris Terrio] talked with him a lot, and went and visited him a bunch. When Ben [Affleck] came on, he met with Tony and went to Tony’s house, and they went to the CIA together. Tony also came to shooting, so he was pretty involved.” According to Heslov, Mendez and his family even make a small cameo in the airport scene when Affleck’s character is leaving for Tehran.

Despite working hard to portray as many of the details as accurately as possible, there were some clear artistic liberties that are taken in the interest of ratcheting up the suspense. The pacing, particularly in the third act of the film, departs a bit from the historical accounts, but Heslov is content with how the film ultimately balances the truth and the suspense. "We wanted to make sure that we were getting things right,” Heslov says. "And when I say ‘getting things right,’ I don’t mean that every beat of our story matched every beat of [Mendez’s] story, but that things looked right, and that the spirit of the operation was intact.”

Though Argo is largely billed as a thriller, the film does have its bits of lightheartedness, mostly provided John Goodman and Alan Arkin, who play the producers in the fake production company set up by the CIA. Though the majority of the films that Heslov is involved with tend to be dramatic, he remains a huge fan of comedy. "I love comedies,” he adds. "I wish that we could find some comedies to do, but it’s hard to find ones that are funny and aren’t just silly. The comedic elements of Argo are really up our alley.” The laughs in Argo mostly come as a self-aware critique of the ostentatious nature of the movie industry, with Goodman delivering lines like "So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything? You’ll fit right in.” The humor creates a more complex and varied story, which ultimately helps make the suspense toward the end even more palpable.

Visually, the film does a remarkable job of creating an accurate portrayal of the time period. From the cars, to the costumes, to the constant smoking, Argo’s viewers are instantly transported back to 1979. Even the color saturation feels native to the ’70s. The level of accuracy is made fully apparent in the film’s credit sequence, which presents a juxtaposition of the passport photos of the six actual U.S. diplomats with the passport photos made for the actors in the movie; the similarities are incredible. When asked if casting decisions were made in the interest of having the actors physically resemble the people they were portraying, Heslov responds, "Some of that was just dumb luck, and some of that was great hair and makeup work.” The sequence is beautifully tied together with a voice-over from President Jimmy Carter praising the efforts and bravery of the diplomats and Mendez. Interestingly, that sound bite is not actually from 1979, but was collected by the filmmakers specifically for the movie. "Ben had the idea of talking to Carter, which I thought was a brilliant idea, and a great touch.”

Despite the success of Argo and all the other projects he has been involved with, Heslov is not resting on his laurels, and he is currently hard at work on two major projects that look to be very promising. The first is an adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize–winning stage drama August: Osage County. Heslov and Clooney are involved as producers, with John Wells directing and Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts attached to star. In addition, Heslov and Clooney are co-writing their next screenplay, The Monuments Men. The World War II–era film is set to star Clooney, Daniel Craig, and Cate Blanchett, with Clooney once again donning the director’s cap. With those two projects taking up the majority of his time, Heslov has yet to figure out what his next project as a director will be. "I’m not looking too much past [those projects] at this point,” he admits, "but I definitely want to get behind the camera again.”

Given the significant success of Heslov’s career as a producer, this magazine can only counsel: Take your time.


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Nominees Interviews and Video

Posted By Administration, Thursday, February 14, 2013

Best Picture Predictions Montage:

Ben Affleck talks Argo leading up to the Academy Awards:

Kathleen Kennedy talks Lincoln leading up to the Academy Awards:

Ang Lee talks Life of Pi leading up to Academy Awards:

Donna Gigliotti and Bruce Cohen talk Silver Linings Playbook:

Josh Penn talks Beasts of the Souther Wild leading up to Academy Awards

Michael G. Wilson talks Skyfall

Eric Fellner talks Les Miserables leading up to Academy Awards

Stacey Sher talks Django Unchained leading up to Academy Awards

 

MORE COMING SOON...

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Producing Animation with Alex Schwartz and Kristine Belson of DreamWorks Animation

Posted By James Fino, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

While preparing for our upcoming PGA/Dreamworks Master Storytelling event, I had the great fortune to spend time with two very accomplished DreamWorks Animation producers and fellow PGA members, Alex Schwartz (Mr. Peabody & Sherman) and Kristine Belson (The Croods).

Alex and Kristine were gracious enough to share details of their professional backgrounds and producing styles in the epic world of feature animation.

What are some of your favorite animated movies and TV shows that continue to influence and inspire you?

ALEX SCHWARTZ: Lately I find myself looking back at many of the classic Disney movies. The stories were simple and well told and yet elicited such deep emotional reactions. At the same time I am inspired by the unbridled zaniness of shows like Adventure Time. (And in the spirit of full disclosure I learned most of what I know about classical music from Bugs Bunny.)

KRISTINE BELSON: Bambi, Totoro, Spirited Away, Finding Nemo, all three Toy Story movies, The Incredibles, Coraline, Despicable Me, Spongebob, Adventure Time, Lilo and Stitch, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and last but for sure not least, Shrek.

Would you please share what your producing "path” in animation has been and what drew you to this very unique type of storytelling?

AS: I worked as a producer and a studio executive in live-action films for over 15 years before I began working in animation. One of those jobs was as a studio executive at Walt Disney Pictures under Jeffrey Katzenberg. Then, about five years ago, I found myself at a crossroads, leaving a company at which I had been head of production for some time. Jeffrey offered me the opportunity to become Head of Development at DWA. It was a leap into something I had never done before, and I had a fair amount of trepidation. But I have fallen completely in love with this art form, the way animated movies are made and the people who make them.

KB: Throughout my career I’ve worked both as a film executive and film producer, but always in live action. I became fascinated with animation when I was running the film side of the Jim Henson Company, which at that time was starting to explore various types of animation. My experience there led me to DreamWorks Animation in 2005. Although I had been producing films for Henson, I did not come into DWA in a producing capacity. I was initially running the development department, primarily working on scripts like Puss in Boots, Shrek 4, and Rise of the Guardians in their earliest stages. I was also lucky enough to get a little involved with a few shows that were in production, including Kung Fu Panda and Shrek the Third, which taught me a lot about the animation pipeline. However, while my time on the development side was invaluable, at heart I am a producer, and I yearned to get back to that. And fortunately, Bill Damaschke and Jeffrey Katzenberg were kind enough to give me my first shot at producing in animation with The Croods, a project I started working on five years ago, which finally hits screens this March!

When you are developing and producing an animated feature, what skillset from live-action proves most useful and which new skills did you find you needed to develop?

AS: Regardless of whether the film is live-action or animated, stories and characters have to compel, delight and surprise people, and it’s one of our jobs to help ensure that’s the case in either medium. In regards to animation specifically, one of the most challenging shifts in approach I came to embrace is the understanding that the story reel (as opposed to the screenplay) is really the draft form of the movie, and many elements, including the script, contribute to it. That said, I am probably more "script-driven" than many traditional animation producers, and I think that approach of committing to a strong story on the page is something I brought with me from live action.

KB: For me, producing boils down to a few simple ingredients: having good taste, being good with people, being hard-working and organized—and not being afraid. Those skills serve you equally well in animation and live action.

As for new skills I had to develop, I think people in the live-action world can be more aggressive than they are in animation, so, I’ve had to learn to be less pushy and more patient – a virtue that is definitely required when you can spend upwards of four years making one movie!

What are key distinctions between live action and animation developing and production would you would stress to other producers who are interested in crossing over to animation from live action?

AS: Animation development and production is a focused and iterative process. It takes a long time because every element of the movie is created -- characters, light, dust, shadows. There are no happy accidents. And while actors bring a great deal to the characters they play in animated films, you don't get the built-in gift of their charm, charisma or beauty on the screen, so the characters have to be invented in a very deep way. The market in animation also seems to have its own rules. While you can have 5 live-action super-hero movies out in a single summer or several horror movies at Halloween, that simply doesn’t seem to be the case in animation. Animated films are expected to deliver an almost impossibly high degree of originality – both in the characters they feature as well as the worlds they live in, which is part of makes them both unbelievably challenging and fun to make.

KB: I was immediately impressed by how story-focused DWA is. The studio’s commitment to storytelling excellence was evident even in the interview process. It was exciting and refreshing – I loved it. There’s a rigor to story development in animation, with greater attention to character, plot and theme, so I would caution any live-action producers who are looking to cross over: if you don’t like to talk story, don’t become an animation producer!

What are some myths about developing or producing animation you’d like to see people let go of?

AS: The idea that somehow producing animated movies is a slow-moving process. They may take a long time to make, but they are anything but slow. It's a multi-year sprint.

KB: That’s tough. Perhaps that animation people are more nerdy than live action people? If so, then the people here are the coolest nerds I have ever met. The truth is that every film here evolves differently, so any set myths about producing animated movies must not be true.

What are some new breakthroughs, either technological, or creative, you feel have made a significant impact on the way modern animation is being developed and produced?

AS: Animation is the ultimate intersection of art and technology. At DreamWorks, we have integrated technology into our business – not only as a way to help filmmakers achieve their vision, but also as an initiative in its own right, creating open source technology to help elevate the field as a whole. In regards to Mr. Peabody & Sherman specifically, we’re using advancements in lighting technology earlier in the filmmaking process—in the layout stage—to help us better understand how to improve the final film. Layout artists are the cinematographers of animation. It is the first rough stage of the pipeline. Traditionally, layout looks gray and colorless with no approximation of lighting or acting; the characters are blocky and move like robots with very little expression. On Mr. Peabody & Sherman, our layout team has been taking advantage of improvements in the Maya software to create more sophisticated movement than was previously possible. And while lighting typically takes place much later in the process, our layout artists work very closely with our lighting team so that early on, we have a sense of how the scene will really look and feel. This also enables us to screen layout for audiences where previously we might have needed to go back to story boards.

KB: Not being a technical person, I am not going to address specific technical breakthroughs. I will say that technology and R&D are a very big priority here, and I am constantly impressed. One of the creative breakthroughs that has been exciting to me personally is that our philosophical approach to lighting has gotten much more sophisticated. Roger Deakins has consulted on several of our films including The Croods. Also the use of camera continues to become more bold with each new film. And I continue to be amazed by how the bar for character animation just gets higher and higher – wow.

On Feb. 5th we are very excited to work with you and Dreamworks to host the second Master Storytelling event focusing on the role of storyboarding in feature animation development. What do you intend PGA members and guests to come away with?

AS: I hope PGA members gain a greater understanding of how visual story telling can be part of the development process. I also think it’s a great opportunity for members to develop an appreciation of the amazing versatility and virtuosity of animation board artists.

KB: I hope they come away with a deeper appreciation of the artistry of our story artists, who combine the skills of a writer, visual artist and actor.

What would you say is the most valuable benefit you’ve experienced as a PGA member?

AS: I appreciate the sense of community. And I am very excited about the Producers Mark. I can't wait to use it!

KB: Good timing to be answering this question, as I just attended the Producers Guild Awards last weekend! It was a fun night. It always feels so gratifying to hang out with my community of peers. The PGA has come so far since I joined, and I’m excited for its future. I’m also excited for The Croods to come out this March, when my producing partner Jane and I will have the Producers Mark next to our names.
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WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU ALL AT OUR EVENT TONIGHT! Please Stay tuned for additional Master Story-telling sessions in the near future! http://www.producersguild.org/events/event_details.asp?id=291107


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