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Hiring From Within

Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hiring someone these days can be like finding a person you’d like to go into battle with … will they have your back? Will they come through when you need them the most? And most importantly, can you depend on them and have fun with this person along the way? In my eight years as a member of the PGA, I have always stood firmly behind the idea of hiring fellow members. As a Board member and Co-chair of the Produced By Conference, I felt it was a principle I had to demonstrate. Recently, when I was hiring my staff for season four of UFC Primetime, I knew I was going to follow my mantra again. Within the volunteer ranks of committee chairs, council representatives and volunteers, I found that I had seen first-hand a ton of people’s work ethics… I had found a producing talent pool like never before.
Rachel Klein (left) and Melissa Friedman

I hired Kimberly Austin, Melissa Friedman and even former PGA intern Ryan Willis. These three had volunteered for me at the Producers Challenge, a part of the Produced By Conference, and had worked like it was a high-paying job! I saw dedication, class, skills and responsibility first-hand … and we had a BLAST! I knew I wanted to bring these PGA members into any show I could staff.

Another example is John Peterman, who approached me at the PGA East Tribeca Party two years ago, and simply said, "When I grow up, I want to be YOU!” We struck up a conversation and through my initial impression and subsequent conversations, I knew I wanted this guy on my show one day. That day soon came, and I took JP on the road with me to New Orleans for Steven Seagal: Lawman. A brilliant slice of networking had put John on my radar, and I never forgot him. Each time I crossed his path, interacting with him became a positive experience, so when the coordinator left the show, I went to bat to bring on Peterman.

My essential advice for members looking for work is to volunteer and network. But don’t do either like you’re looking for a job or interviewing, but as if you’d simply like me to get to know you. I want people on my producing team that are energetic, excited about what they can do and looking to be a team player. So get out there, dedicate a few hours to the Guild, with people you know can provide work, and commit yourself to the task at hand… You will shine and be in the mind of people the next time they HIRE FROM WITHIN!

- Rachel Klein

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Jeff Gomez on Transmedia Producing

Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jeff Gomez, Member-At-Large of the PGA East Executive Board and CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, has been creating engrossing interactive environments since he was a teenager. In his recent presentation at the TEDx Transmedia event in Geneva, Switzerland, Gomez talks about how he was able to leverage his creativity and experience to become one of the most important producers specializing in transmedia storytelling. Whether he’s expanding the story of a pre-existing universe like he did with the transmedia campaign for James Cameron’s
Avatar or creating enthralling worlds for Acclaim Entertainment and The Walt Disney Company, Gomez has not only embraced the opportunities of cross-platform storytelling but also continues to define the methods that transmedia producers will use for many years to come.

We had a chance to connect with Gomez after the conference and ask him a few questions about the challenges facing transmedia producers.

What is the most common misperception people have about the term "transmedia”?

Jeff Gomez: Some people seem to think that "transmedia” is simply a buzzword made up to replace previous terms like cross-media, synergy or branded content. It’s really not. Transmedia is specified by the fact that it refers to a narrative that is significant in scope and plays itself out across different media platforms (traditional and digital) in ways that leverage the specific features of that platform.

Our kids can enjoy The Clone Wars, but if our thumbs itch, we can pick up a controller and visit different times, places and characters within the same Star Wars universe and play through The Force Unleashed. It all dovetails and works beautifully together, bringing mass audiences new depth and realism to their story worlds. This is more than sci-fi or tent pole franchises, and it’s more than corporate synergy or branded content. Transmedia storytelling allows for us as producers to interface with mass audiences in ever more artful and deeply satisfying ways.

Transmedia is also signified by the fact that by definition transmedia narratives invite dialog with the audience. Technology allows us as producers to remain in listening with our viewers, our participants, allowing them to express themselves and allowing us to act on that expression. The possibilities are gorgeous.

What were the primary challenges you faced developing the transmedia approach to James Cameron’s Avatar?

Jeff Gomez: Much of what Starlight Runner discussed with Jim and his team remains quite confidential, so I can’t get into too much detail. The challenge in working on Avatar was unique in that we were dealing with a visionary storyteller whose grasp of the scope and history of his storyworld went beyond anything we had ever encountered.

Although we were granted complete access to the set, the actors and dozens of the production’s artists and technicians, our time with Cameron was relatively limited, so we had to be incredibly prepared during the hours we had with him. Without the right questions, you’re not going to get the keys that unlock the mythology and the essence of the narrative. Without those, you get crappy ancillary content and bad transmedia storytelling.

Perhaps the greater challenge in the case of Avatar, was the same challenge we faced with many of the studios a couple of years back: transmedia was an unknown term in Hollywood, and its value proposition had yet to be proven. Although there was some good content, we would love to have seen a fully realized transmedia campaign that slowly opened the world up to the excitement of Pandora months before the release of the film. It could have been followed by an array of rich content that continued to invite millions to participate in and nurture the ongoing mythos in the months and years between the first and second Avatar films. But such was not to be.

Then again, we’re fairly early in the life of the franchise, and there will certainly be more opportunities for Avatar from a transmedia perspective in the near future.

Transmedia is often discussed in the context of marketing campaigns -- for example, the signage, web sites, and additional video that enhanced the District 9 universe as a lead-up to the movie’s release. To what degree is it possible, at this point in time, to distinguish transmedia as separate from marketing? In your opinion, are the two disciplines more likely to grow closer together or further apart?

Jeff Gomez: I firmly believe that transmedia and marketing will grow closer together. Transmedia doesn’t replace marketing, it is infused into it, turning marketers into storytellers who are helping to enrich and expand the franchise. So many good (and expensive!) potential movie franchises have failed right out of the gate, not because they were terrible but because sometimes mass audiences need to be indoctrinated into these exotic worlds.

Peter Jackson has a fundamental understanding of this. He reached out to a doubtful core fan base of the Tolkien novels through a single web site and he turned them into torchbearers who beaconed millions into the theaters during the run of the Lord of the Rings films. He did this not only by respecting the source material, but by teaching the language, culture and mythos of Middle-Earth to them all.

More so, the film’s campaign was infused with the essence of Tolkien’s message of unity, diversity and making a stand against overwhelming odds. The marketing helped to tell the story, immersing audience members into this exotic world, generating true excitement for it, long before any of them purchased a ticket at the box office.

Transmedia will inform and inspire marketing, but it really can’t without the cooperation of the visionary and the producers. Without them, the marketers are making guesses. Why do that if we’re all playing on the same team?

What is the question you get asked most often from aspiring transmedia producers? What advice do you have for someone interested in exploring transmedia storytelling as a career path?

Jeff Gomez: The question I get most is, what are the qualifications for the job of transmedia storyteller or producer? The answer "you have to be a Big Bang Theory-level nerd” just doesn’t cut it, though.

To do good transmedia you have to have an enormous sense of story: how it works, how it can be conveyed through various media platforms, and how the essence of the storyteller’s meaning must be preserved at all costs. If you look at story and immediately begin to assert how you would tell it differently, this may not be the field for you.

Transmedia producers help studios and visionaries vastly widen the scope of the narrative, giving them a much larger and more thrilling canvas upon which to express themselves. You have to be able to lead them there and show them what’s possible, so that means you have to understand the nature of these media platforms and be able to talk with the artists and technicians who build for them. Right now, all of these people are so used to acting on their own and being separated from other silos, divisions, companies, that they will act suspiciously toward so-called transmedia producers (the "great unifiers”). So you also have to be patient, diplomatic and willing to go the extra distance to prove the efficacy of the technique.

Of course, it also helps to keep mental track of the progress of millions of bits of information, both real and imaginary, but good producers do that anyway.

This is an incredible time to move into the transmedia space. You can still absorb nearly everything that has been written or expressed about the subject and become something of an expert yourself. But that window is closing rapidly. I would suggest studying everything about it, joining the community of practitioners and theorists on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, keying into the best blogs and forming your own opinions about it. For me, the Producers Guild of America has been the single greatest organized support system behind the technique, so if you’re a member, you’ve started in the right place.

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Sizzle Reels: Produce Before You Pitch (Part 1)

Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Part 1: Why Make a Sizzle Reel? (Oh and er, um… "what’s a sizzle reel?”)

By Dan Abrams

In 2010, most producers must bring video to an exec to pitch their show, especially reality/non-fiction TV. Titans like Mark Burnett & Jerry Bruckheimer might be able to sell shows on just an idea. However for us mere mortals we need more than that because there is more that needs to be conveyed.

Producing a great sizzle reel is a solid way to demonstrate the three things we want to convey:

First, you’ve got a good idea,

Second, your particular vision of that idea is worthwhile, and

Third, they need you to execute/produce that vision for the series.

Here’s why: since there are so many ways to mess up a project, buying a pitch alone presumes the buyers truly imagines the same show in their head as the producers has in his/hers. By seeing a sizzle reel the buyers can better (literally) see the idea in action. They can get a better sense of the look & feel of the show. And finally, they can gauge the producer’s professionalism.

The pitch has six likely outcomes:

The good news is that now, because of lower equipment costs and their resulting ubiquity, it’s getting much easier to produce "sizzle reels" and increase your chance of success.

Each of the next three installments will provide advice on:

- how to turn your great idea into an effective sizzle reel (by advising on how to ensure it will be something the buyer will want to buy).

- how to actually produce your sizzle reel (by guiding you on the facets to consider).

- how to use your sizzle reel once it’s done)

Good luck!

Go to Part 2

Dan Abrams is the Supervising Producer of "The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie” airing on HGTV

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Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA (September 23, 2010) – The Producers Guild of America has announced the 2010 "Digital 25: Visionaries, Innovators and Producers,” an honor which recognizes individuals and teams that have made the most significant contributions to the advancement of digital entertainment and storytelling over the past year. The recipients will be honored at an exclusive cocktail and dinner reception hosted by comedian Kevin Pollak, on the evening of Monday, October 18th, as part of the Variety Entertainment and Technology Summit at the Digital Hollywood Conference at the Loews Santa Monica.

The 2010 "Digital 25” honorees, listed alphabetically by project then name:

  • Eddy Cue, Jonathan Ive and Steve Jobs for Apple: iPad

  • James Cameron and Jon Landau for AVATAR

  • Justin Day, Charles Hope, Mike Hudack, Dina Kaplan and Jared Klett of

  • Idan Cohen, Zach Klein and Avner Ronen of Boxee

  • Richard Rosenblatt of Demand Media

  • Andrew Adamson, Teresa Cheng, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Gina Shay and Aron Warner of Dreamworks: SHREK 3D

  • Erin Kanaley, Mark Zuckerberg and Randi Zuckerberg for Facebook Stories/The Social Graph/Facebook LIVE

  • Evan Cohen, Dennis Crowley, Harry Heymann and Naveen Selvadurai of Foursquare

  • Rishi Chandra and Vincent Dureau of Google TV

  • Josh Abramson, Barry Diller, Dae Mellencamp and Ricky Van Veen of IAC/Connected Ventures & Vimeo

  • Ron Yekutiel of Kaltura

  • Kevin Macdonald and Ridley Scott for LIFE IN A DAY

  • Max Haot of Livestream

  • Avichai Cohen of LiveU

  • Steve Ballmer, Todd Holmdahl, Alex Kipman, Don Mattrick and Kudo Tsunoda of Kinect

  • Robert Bowman of MLB Advanced Media

  • Reed Hastings of Netflix

  • Dan Konopka, Damian Kulash, Tim Nordwind and Andy Ross of OK Go

  • Jay Fulcher, Sean Knapp and Bismarck Lepe of Ooyala

  • Brett Leonard for "PopFictionLife” FragFilms

  • Peter Anton, Rick Engdahl, Evan Greene and Paul Madeira of The Recording Academy:, Grammy 365, Grammy Live

  • John Ham and Brad Hunstable of Ustream

  • Erin McPherson and James Pitaro for Yahoo – The Upshot

  • Kelly DiGregorio, Salar Kamangar, Chris Maxcy and Kevin Yen for Youtube: Partner Grants

  • Mark Pincus of Zynga

The 2010 "Digital 25” were chosen by an Advisory Panel of esteemed experts in digital entertainment, which included CEO of Mahalo Jason Calacanis, Founder of MySpace Chris DeWolfe, President of AOL Media & Studios David Eun, President of Time Inc. Digital Lifestyle Group Paul Greenberg, GM of Microsoft Windows Live Worldwide Brian Hall, Director of Facebook Developer Network Ethan Beard, CEO of World Wide Biggies/Founder of Spike TV Albie Hecht, EVP of Global Digital Media Marvel Ira Rubenstein, President of Ogilvy Entertainment Doug Scott, CEO of the Webby Awards/CEO of Internet Week Neil Vogel and creator of "The Sims”/CEO of Stupid Fun Club Will Wright.

The "Digital 25” is a unique project by the Producers Guild of America in association with Variety that aims to give a much-deserved spotlight on those who have contributed the most important work in any (or all) of seven categories: Internet (Broadband), Interactive Television, Visual & Digital Effects, Console & PC (Multi-user online) Gaming, Home Entertainment and Mobile & Digital Animation. The 2010 "Digital 25” Committee includes Co-Chairs Shawn Gold and Marc Scarpa, as well as Alison Savitch, Mariana Danilovic and Joe Goodman.

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Producing Animation and Games for Mobile Devices

Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

As the fastest growing media segment, mobile devices rely heavily on games and animation. In fact, Disney reports that games have the biggest appeal on users within mobile. Earlier this year, a panel of key players (hosted by PGA Mobile Co-Chair John Heinsen) at the CTIA Wireless conference discussed the producer’s role in developing mobile games and animation for wireless devices.

The producer is key

Panel experts agreed producers are an integral part in all aspects of game and animation development. "The producer is really the glue in designing, developing, and producing the game itself,” stated David Postal, Senior Producer of the Domestic Wireless Disney Interactive Media Group. To develop the "best user experience” producers must be aware of all devices on the market, as content should be equally engaging for high-end as well as lower-end devices. To stay on top of the mobile network, Postal adds, "Producers recognize audience insight is equally important, as the user experience should be constantly improved by advancing tools such as touch screens, favorites menus, and the introduction of additional games that consumers would enjoy.”

Saving time and money are a priority at mobile, so producers utilize existing content several times over to focus on the above priorities. For example, when developing a game Disney will utilize and repurpose different pieces of pre-existing content—for instance, releasing one version of a game with a Hannah Montana-themed "skin,” and a second version with a Justin Bieber theme.

In the beginning

As mobile pioneers, Animax has been producing mobile animation for six years. Through trial and error they have mastered mobile games and animation by developing projects such as How to Cook Like a Soprano , ESPN mobile, Hot Shot Photo DARTS, PopZilla.TV, Little Pim’s Word Bag, and Fun For a smooth project run, at the beginning of any assignment Animax producers ask the following questions: Who is the end user? What are audience expectations? How will users experience this animation piece? The answers to these questions – arrived at with as much clarity and specificity as possible – will impact developing decisions and increase work efficiency.

A journey like no other

Lin Tam, co-founder of Digital Munch, shared her four-month journey developing DJ Music, an iPhone game that is played in sync with music. As expected, there were challenges; most fell into three categories: technical, design, and production. Technical challenges included coding the algorithm in the game (the music component made the algorithm extremely complex), the installation of a cocos2d engine (after Digital Munch invested substantial man-hours building their own game engine), and finally the optimization, framework, and performance testing, which took longer than expected, particularly the prototyping and play testing to determine the final look and feel of the game. Design challenges consisted of redesigning the game’s appearance several times to fit the iPhone. Producing challenges included staying within budget parameters, scheduling , managing overseas teams, training new staff, advising current staff, communicating between technical/design/and business departments and finally translating those conversations into reports to upper management in a language management could comprehend.

After all is said and done, Tam’s best piece of advice to mobile producers is to have a plan for the unplanned.

What does the future hold?

The next evolution of gaming will be focus on Flash and HTML5, social gaming, free primary game offeringswhichinclude fees as one progresses to higher levels, virtual currency, and game advertising specifically targeted to the end user.

While the iPad is the most widely-adopted new mobile device of the past six months, technology continues to advance rapidly. Meanwhile, the relationship between development and execution bring hurdles such as the need to publishing numerous times for diverse devices, and unfamiliarity with a game’s target audience. Future mobile developers should tackle these stumbling blocks through a focus on developing the ability to publish one time for all devices, creating faster machines, and increasing user interactive capabilities.

Tam concludes, "Making a game is not easy. But at the end of the day, when you see all the pieces fall together, it is well worth it.”

By Gina Traficant

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