Page 1

p .10 In te rvie w w it h BR OOKE SHI EL D S A ctress, m o d el, a n d en tre pre n eu r

p .16 I n te r v i e w w i th DA V I D F I AL K O W VC and Oscar-winning producer of Icarus

p. 22 T H E B IG B RE AK U P Will str e amin g se r vice s su r vive ?

p. 5 6 PU S H ING IT T h e tippin g po i nt i n e n te r tain ment ethi cs

Published by students for students.

Rescripting Hollywood


Words from the Editor or the past few years, social justice F movements have dominated awards shows. The trend began with the #OscarsSoWhite

movement in 2016, when no actors of color were nominated for the Academy Awards. One year later, actress Ashley Judd accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, opening the floodgates for women to share similar stories. Their testimonies inspired the #MeToo movement of 2017 and the #TimesUp movement of 2018. When powerful figures speak, people listen—an audience of millions watched from around the world as the stars of Hollywood advocated for race and gender equality. These movements prove that Hollywood is not static; it is an everchanging industry, shaped by the nature of the surrounding environment. This issue of Business Today explores recent changes in the Hollywood industry. Now more than ever, the content produced in Hollywood reflects its diverse audience. African American actors are starring in an increasing number of films, including Black Panther and Hidden Figures. Asian actors have seen increasing representation, as well—the new Mulan movie will give Chinese actress Liu Yi Fei majority screen time. Diversity in Hollywood also includes diversity of thought. Shows that cater to every conceivable interest have been popping up—conservative shows, liberal shows, health shows, crime shows, even shows that border on being unequitable. Notably, late night television has responded to our current government with satire. This edgy humor brings into question the role of political neutrality in television, and whether the line between entertainment and news can be blurred. Of course, as the type of content produced changes, the content distribution platforms must change as well. A prime example of this change is the rise of Netflix and similar streaming services. Only ten years ago, a Netflix subscription consisted solely of DVD rentals, delivered to your doorstep via snail mail. Today, Netflix has created a digital empire, with over 100 million streaming subscribers. Consumers are no longer willing to wait for a DVD to arrive in the mail: they want personalized content available to them at the press of a button. YouTube, another enormously popular platform, has capitalized on the need for quick, easily-accessible content. Its millennial friendly interface allows users to view content in quick bursts, with all of the fun and none of the commitment of traditional movies. As with all rapid changes, we must wonder whether the developments in the Hollywood industry are here to stay. Is Hollywood progressing, or are Black Panther and YouTube only temporary diversions from a set path? These questions are impossible to answer with full certainty. However, as the up-and-coming generation, it is up to us to shape the entertainment industry of the future. We will write the script for the next season of Hollywood, and I am truly excited to see where we take it next.

HANNAH POULER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

2 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


CONTRIBUTORS Business Today is America’s largest student-run publication. Published at Princeton University, Business Today is the most widely distributed student publication in North America and has extensive online readership at our website, www.journal.businesstoday.org.

Business Today is dedicated to presenting the opinions of students and business leaders. By examining controversial issues facing our world and exploring life after college, we hope to help readers prepare for their futures. The magazine has been published by Princeton University undergraduates since 1968. PAUL KIGAWA, President YIJIA LIANG, Director of Finance & Corporate Contacts HANNAH POULER, Editor-in-Chief of Magazine NICOLE ZIVKOVIC, Editor-in-Chief of Online Journal AIDAN CHODOROW, Director of International Conference MAYA EASHWARAN, Director of Aspire Conference HANSEUL NAM, Director of Designation Conference DAVID MAJOR, Director of Seminar Series SHARON ZHANG, Director of Design WILLIAM UGHETTA, Director of Web,Tech & Analytics ARIA WONG, Director of Marketing & Multimedia SWANEE GOLDEN, Director of Executive Relations HARRISON AARON, Director of Membership & Outreach SOPHIE HELMERS, Director of Operations HARRISON AARON, Director of Membership & Outreach NEEL AJJARAPU, Director of Strategic Initiatives

Photo by Aria Wong

HANNAH POULER Editor-in-Chief of Magazine RASHA SULEIMAN Executive Editor of Magazine NICOLE ZIVKOVIC Editor-in-Chief of Online Journal LIZA MILOV Executive Editor of Online Journal SHARON ZHANG Director of Design

ILENE E

Associate Director of Design EMILIE SZEMRAJ Magazine Business Manager AMANDA MORRISON Assistant Director of Executive Relations

Editorial Board CATHERINE BENEDICT LIZA MILOV MALLORY WILLIAMSON

WRITERS

DESIGNERS

mark agostinelli

charlotte adamo

catherine benedict

ashlyn chin

maxwell chung

ilene e

maya eashwaran

sonia murthy

gabrielle jabre

Business Today Princeton University 48 University Place Princeton, NJ 08540 609.258.1111 magazine@businesstoday.org Business Today is a publication of the Foundation for Student Communication, Inc.. FSC, a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation, is run entirely by students for students at Princeton University. In addition to the magazine, FSC sponsors domestic and international conferences held in New York City that bring together students and executives to discuss the future of business. For more information, visit our website, www.journal.businesstoday.org.

william keiser amanda morrison edward mowinckel yasmine shafaie angela wang mallory williamson

Cover design by Sharon Zhang

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

3


SECTION

An Enjoyable Career Awaits You at Myron!

For more than 60 years, Myron Corporation has helped over 1 million businesses strengthen and grow relationships through the use of business gifts. We take pride in our reputation as a world-class leader providing top quality products and services; but we know that our success lies in our ability to attract and retain talented individuals with the vision to succeed in our fast-paced environment. If you’re looking for a dynamic and creative work environment, Myron could be the place for you. Consider joining us – we believe the best is yet to come! www.myron.com/careers-at-myron

4 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


A DIVERSIFYING INDUSTRY THE EXPANSION OF HOLLYWOOD’S CONTENT AND AUDIENCE BASE

34 Diversity in Hollywood: Here to Stay or Just a Fad?

The future of diversity in film

38 Keri Putnam

Executive Director of the Sundance Institute

42 Ni Hao, Hollywood

INSIDE THIS EDITION 6 BT Bits: An Era of Change

Mapping the recent movements in Hollywood

BEHIND THE SCENES WHAT DOESN’T GET SHOWN ON THE BIG SCREEN

8 Movie Stars, Off Duty Celebrity investment and entrepreneurship

10 Brooke Shields

The evolving partnership between Hollywood and China

46 Rise of the Middle East in Hollywood The unspoken consequences of Middle Eastern films

HOLLYWOOD TODAY HOW CURRENT CULTURE HAS SHAPED MODERN HOLLYWOOD

PROGRESSIVE PLATFORMS EXAMINING NEW METHODS OF CREATING AND VIEWING CONTENT

48 News (ish)

22 The Big Breakup: Will Streaming Services Survive?

Founder of Good Machine and former CEO of Focus Features

The battle between streaming companies and media conglomerates

24 Move Over TV and Film— It’s YouTube’s Turn

Hollywood megastar, model, and entrepreneur

Business Today Editorial Competition winner

14 Restitching the Narrative

26 YouTube Channel Spotlight: SORTEDfood

Female editors in Hollywood

16 David Fialkow

Co-founder of General Catalyst and Oscar-winning producer of Icarus

20 Hashtagging Your Way to Hollywood A non-traditional path to fame

How one channel is navigating the business of YouTube

30 David Cohen

Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corporation

The politics of late night television

50 James Schamus

53 Paula Kerger

President and CEO of PBS

56 Pushing It

Are we crossing an ethical line to entertain?

60 Andrew Jarecki

Director of The Jinx and Capturing the Friedmans

64 Star Power

How influencers shape public opinion

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

5


BT BITS

An Era of Change

Mapping the Movements of Hollywood Hollywood has seen its fair share of controversy in recent years— here’s a running timeline of a few movements that exploded across the Internet

#OscarsSoWhite Jan 18, 2016 Spike Lee, whose film Chi-Raq did not receive any Oscar nominations, announces that he will boycott the ceremony, stating that he cannot attend the awards due to the lack of representation among the nominees.

Spike Lee, director of film Chi-Raq

2016 #OscarsSoWhite Jan 14, 2016 The Academy Award nominees are announced, and for the second year in a row, there are no actors of color nominated in any acting category. Almost immediately, #OscarsSoWhite, coined by activist April Reign, explodes on Twitter.

#MeToo 2006 Tarana Burke coins the phrase “Me Too” as a message of solidarity for women who have survived sexual violence. The phrase iss meant to give survivors hope and strength, and it goes on to inspire thousands of women to raise their voices against sexual assault.

Actor Daniel Dae Kim (left) and actress Grace Park (right) were regulars on CBS show Hawaii Five-O

#OscarsSoWhite Mar 2017 Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight, which depicts a young African American boy coming to terms with his sexuality, wins the award for Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars. Due to a mix-up in reading the winner, Jenkins does not get a chance to give his speech.

#OscarsSoWhite Jan 22, 2016 The Academy of Motion Picture Arts announces major efforts to increase diversity in its membership. The goal is to double the number of female and minority members by the year 2020, and the amendments are unanimously endorsed.

Kevin Spacey, accused in late 2017 of sexual harassment

#OscarsSoWhite Jul 2017 Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, two AsianAmerican actors on the CBS show Hawaii Five-O, leave the show after failing to negotiate a contract. Kim makes the statement, “The path to equality is rarely easy.” Many guessed that the two were earning less than their white co-stars.

6 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

#MeToo Dec 6, 2017 TIME magazine names the “Silence Breakers” its 2017 Person of the Year. By this point, the movement has gained a world-wide following. #MeToo Oct 5, 2017 Actress Ashley Judd accuses Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. Her story is published in the New York Times. This leads to dozens of women coming out with similar accusations against the media mogul.


#OscarsSoWhite Dec 25, 2016 The critically-acclaimed movie Hidden Figures debuts, which features three AfricanAmerican women— Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)— who were among the most important engineers to help launch astronaut John Glenn into space.

Taraji P. Henson (right) portrays NASA engineer Katherine Johnson (left)

2017

#TimesUp Jan 1, 2018 More than 300 women of Hollywood form a coalition called “Time’s Up.” The group is formed to stand against harassment and assault against women working in Hollywood.

#TimesUp Jan 7, 2018 Oprah Winfrey accepts the the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes. Her speech highlights the power of the Time’s Up and Me Too movements, as she mentions being inspired by all these women who “felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.”

Jordan Peele directed the 2018 Best Original Screenplay award winner, Get Out

2018 #MeToo From Oct 2017 through Jan 2018, many prominent media figures are accused of sexual harassment and assault. Some of these include Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., James Franco, and Today show co-host Matt Lauer. Louis C.K. and Kevin Spacey are eventually both removed from projects they had been working on at the time.

#TimesUp Jan 7, 2018 The 75th Golden Globe Awards are hosted in Beverly Hills. Many of the stars who attend the show wear black as a symbol of solidarity with the Time’s Up movement. Some attendees also wear a “Time’s Up” pin designed by costume designer Arianne Phillips.

#OscarsSoWhite Mar 2018 Several people of color are nominated in multiple categories, and a few win major awards. Jordan Peele, director of Get Out becomes the first black screenwriter ever to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

7


SECTION BEHIND THE SCENES

Movie Stars, Off Duty The Rise of Celebrity Entrepreneurship

BY YASMINE SHAFAIE

A

ctors and actresses make a living by assuming roles on screen. Whether they are in monologue or in action, we tend to see them as the characters they play. We often forget who they are offscreen: Reese Witherspoon, producer of Big Little Lies; Jessica Alba, founder of The Honest Company; or Ashton Kutcher, startup tech investor. Actors and actresses have developed their careers beyond Hollywood, whether that means taking on their own ventures to solve social injustices or discovering interests outside of acting. For Reese Witherspoon, this transition began with her passion for film production. The Guardian identifies Reese Witherspoon’s production of Big Little Lies as her transition from “America’s Sweetheart to Hollywood’s Most Powerful Female Star.” In 2012, Witherspoon was driven to start her production company Pacific Standard because she was concerned by the noticeably small number of women who were actually on camera or involved in the production of movies and television. By doing so, she has created dynamic roles for women, and has initiated a powerful trend that defies the inequality women see in the workforce today. Currently, Witherspoon is working on around 23 projects with female protagonists, CNBC reports. Her former projects include Gone Girl, Wild, and Big Little Lies. Big Little Lies won an Emmy in every category it was

8 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

nominated in, totalling 8 Emmys and 16 nominations. Gone Girl and Wild were also nominated for Golden Globes and Oscars. Witherspoon tells Glamour magazine that she now considers herself “a real player” in the producer game. While Witherspoon is spearheading a new movement for gender equality in the realm of Hollywood production, other actors and actresses are responding to the needs of individuals outside of Hollywood. One of these entrepreneurs is Jessica Alba, CEO of The Honest Company. The Honest Company manufactures “trusted products,” providing its consumers with an “Honestly Made Without” list on their website that enumerates the chemicals they do not put in their products. They are also committed to the “latest science,” which demonstrates how the company supports entrepreneurship and being at the forefront of toxicology. Alba was motivated to start The Honest Company in 2008, after she got welts from using a conventional brand of wipes. According to Forbes magazine, she tried to make her own facial cleaning products, but it looked like “salad dressing” instead of face wash. After Alba eventually perfected her products, web entrepreneur Brian Lee gave her a web domain, and she began selling Honest products online. Product sales in high-end baby boutiques turned The Honest Company into a billion dollar business. What began as a simple website has now expanded to

A FEW CELEBRITYBACKED VENTURES

Pacific Standard Films Reese Witherspoon, Founder

A-Grade Investments, LLC Ashton Kutcher, Co-Creator

The Honest Company Jessica Alba, Co-Founder


SECTION

platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, and the App store. Not only does The Honest Company have an extensive digital platform, but it also has been socially responsible through volunteer work with Baby2Baby, giving 3,000 backpacks with Honest Company products to children and donating 500 toys to families in Los Angeles and in the Inland Empire. Not all actors and actresses start their own initiatives like Witherspoon and Alba. Some use their income to hasten the implementation of social initiatives. Ashton Kutcher is an example. After his agent introduced him to a few Silicon Valley giants, Kutcher discovered an interest in investing. Initially, Kutcher claims that he spent 90 percent of his time with investors listening, not dealmaking. Then, Marc Andreessen, founder of Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, introduced him to the deal that changed his career. In 2009, Andreessen invited Kutcher to invest $1 million in Spotify. Microsoft bought Spotify 18 months later, and Kutcher’s investment quadrupled in value. He was able to expand his portfolio from $30 million to $250 million. This pivotal moment dramatically changed Kutcher’s image. All of a sudden, he was more than a face from That ’70s Show. Rather, he was viewed as an actor who also knew about the intricacies of investing. In 2011, he created the venture capital fund A-Grade Investments with Rob Burkle and Guy Oseary. Since 2011, he has made major investments in more than 70 companies, including Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, Shazam, and Warby Parker. Kutcher tells

Business Insider about how he initially underestimated Uber and Airbnb, but realized that “the foundation of great companies are extraordinarily counterintuitive.” The virtue that guides him the most, according to Howard Stern, is impacting others. Engaging with the world around him, whether that means learning about millenial technology or global issues, allows Kutcher to make a tangible difference in the lives of others. His large-scale success in investing does not mean he has stopped acting. According to IMDb, he is currently filming for a new Netflix series The Ranch. For Kutcher, as for other actors and actresses involved in business, the relationship between his Hollywood career and investment endeavors are interlaced. The more publicity and press these celebrities receive on their work inside Hollywood, the more people will be drawn to learn about their companies. Ultimately, the Hollywood status of actors and actresses allows them to put an emphasis on social injustices, such as the lack of females in film and access to safe hygienic products. While the ways in which celebrities increase their social awareness range from investing in startups that aid communities to creating companies, they have a powerful platform from which they can advertise their beliefs. This adds a philanthropic edge to their image and may also opens the doors to filming opportunities that relate to their pursuits outside of Hollywood.

“Ultimately, the Hollywood status of actors and actresses allows them to put an emphasis on social injustices”

Illustrations by Ilene E

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

9


BEHIND THE SCENES

Brooke Shields Hollywood megastar, model, and entrepreneur talks about growing up in the spotlight, diversifying, and authenticity WITH MAHA AL FAHIM AND AMANDA MORRISON

10 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


SECTION

Brooke Shields has just launched her fashion and accessory line, “Timeless,” on QVC

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

11


BT: You have been a part of Hollywood since you were a child. In your view, how has Hollywood and your relationship with it changed over the years? I always had this slightly detached relationship with [Hollywood] because my mom was adamant about trying to maintain a life that was not just based on the industry. Education-wise, I never wanted to just take a test and get a high school [equivalency diploma]. I really wanted to go to high school, and my mom wanted me to go to high school. I got thrown in at quite a young age to very very big movies. Right out of the gate, I was doing movies like Pretty Baby, The Blue Lagoon, and Endless Love. It was such a loud, busy, noisy relationship. I don’t know if I had a whole lot of respect for it then. I’ve realized it’s an industry that really doesn’t care about you. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned to resent a little bit less the nature of the industry. I’ve been working very hard on having my relationship with the actual industry be more of a business one. Now what

a child actor in Hollywood? Do advanced technology and social media present new concerns and challenges? I was most blessed not to be that age in an era with this type of technology, I honestly think the scrutiny and the access to people is so much more brutal. I had the luxury of having my mother keep all the press away. I never read any reviews. All the vitriol that was out there, I just wasn’t privy to. In a way, I was kept in a little bit of bubble, but thankfully! I think it’s hard enough for kids that go out into that industry, but with social media, I think it becomes toxic because everybody has an opinion. And more often than not, people will give you a negative opinion. The only grounding force for me was education. I mean the kids go out and they’re told, “You’ve got to do this now or you’re going to lose your chance.” And there’s money thrown at them and they have nothing to ground them. They have nothing to fall back on, and their friendships get sort of diluted. I think it’s just really hard. Then there are the pressures

sure my mother was just like, “Oh this something to do in the late sixties,” and you get fifty bucks a day or something like that, so we kind of fell into it. Modeling was like a big game to me. I didn’t think of it as a career. I loved the approval. I loved having a place to go. It was like my version of sport. I didn’t play sports because I was busy working. It was what I did during my summer vacations or after school. So it was a world that was very creative and fun, but I never really looked at it as far as a future. When I started filming and getting a chance to work with such fabulous directors, it became a craft to me. It became something that I realized I had an affinity for and that I could do. And why did you choose Princeton? Princeton was just always a dream for me. My high school advisors said, “Oh forget it, your SAT scores aren’t strong enough, and extracurriculars—” and I said, “Extracurriculars! I spent my life extracurricular-ing!” They were not encouraging at all, but I just set my mind to constantly improving,

“In terms of authenticity for college students— open yourself up... You’ve got access to the greatest minds. Don’t be afraid to be scared. Don’t be afraid to not know something” I do creatively is where I am attached personally. But I think that when I was younger it was all sort of one big thing. From our vantage point, child stars seem prone to go off the deep end as they grow up. You wrote your thesis about children in film. In your memoir and elsewhere, you have said that your mother protected you, ensuring that your acting and modeling did not interfere with your education. You don’t want your own daughters to participate in the industry until after college. What are the benefits and risks of being

12 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

of it—public opinion, and having to show up, and having to be professional and all of that... You’re not old enough to really be able to handle it. You were the youngest fashion model on cover of Vogue. What do you do after becoming one of the most recognizable faces at age fifteen? How do you stay grounded and plan for a long career and life ahead? Well, this just happened. I was at the right place at the right time. When I was just a baby, I happened to be the Ivory Soap baby. Those things clearly didn’t get generated from me and I’m

whatever it was. I wanted my GPA to get higher and I did everything I could. Whatever extra things I could do at school, I would do (in addition to doing movies every summer and working after school). I became very motivated because I think I always had the long view in mind. And Princeton, to me, just epitomized everything that I dreamt of. Hollywood was not something I coveted because I’d already been in it and seen it. I looked to college as such a gift. It felt like it would be a wonderful safe environment for me in which I could really just grow up. You were a college student and celebrity. How did that affect


your experience at Princeton? Freshman year was a little tough because of the novelty of it all. You had press trying to sneak into Blair, or wanting to bribe students to take pictures of me in the shower… stuff like that. But the kids really rallied. They reported them to the security, they informed me. And then there was the flip side of it, which were teachers who wanted to prove to the other kids that they weren’t giving me any special treatment so they graded me really tough. I just stayed my course and threw myself into academics and then that helped me gain my footing because then everybody realized that I wasn’t just going to try to get a free pass, that I wanted to do the work. So I had to earn it and everybody else had to adjust and had to get to know me in a way. You are a model, actor, author, producer and you even have your own clothing line, “Brooke Shield Timeless.” What led you to take these various paths, how did each path affect the other, and what do you think is the value of diversifying your career path? Diversifying has been the only thing that kept me afloat. I got out of college and no one wanted to hire me. I could not get a film to save my life. I came out of college thinking, now I’m educated, now I’ve got an Ivy League degree, and now they’re really going to want to work with me. But by then there was another flavor of the month. So I had no choice but to try to go where there was still opportunity for me to work. My mom always said you have to just keep working, keep your name out there in some way, stay creative. I was at least still learning and committing to my craft and then finding a way to take my education and actually use it. The knowledge of learning how to think helped me. I had a professor who was head of the Romance language department. Before every role I got or every job, I would call him after class and I would say, “Okay here’s the part I’m playing or here’s this endeavor that I’m doing, what do you think I should read?” And he would come up with some French poem or some French story like Flaubert’s Parrot, and I would read it. Then we would discuss it and go back to the part that I had

to play, and he would say, “Alright let’s find out how we think that they’re similar and what we can learn.” So I was taking a literary approach to things, and it just felt more informed to me. I just kept going where the water was warm. They didn’t want me in movies, so I went to Broadway. After Broadway, television all of the sudden was interested. Then you do something in television, and movies pay attention again. You just have to be willing to adapt as long as you’re being creative. In the past you’ve underlined the importance of prioritizing authenticity. How do you suggest college students practically implement authenticity in their everyday lives? I think authenticity gives you a lot of time. The more authentic you are, the quicker you are able to separate people that you can trust from people that you can’t trust; people you can learn from, from those who are just somehow going to use you. And authenticity can come in many different forms. I think there is an importance that I always had with being honest because my version of full disclosure enabled me to actually have friends. I needed to strip down so that people could say, “Oh she’s not that different from us.” So that was my personal thing. In all the business endeavors that I have going on—whether with QVC, design, or executive producing—as soon as I got to the point and was honest and authentic, we were already ahead of the game. Because my coworkers knew what they were dealing with. I want to be told the positive and the negative. I need the negative because I need to understand how to get past it. I don’t need to be coddled. In terms of authenticity for college students—open yourself up to your professors, especially at somewhere like Princeton. You’ve got access to the greatest minds. Don’t be afraid to be scared. Don’t be afraid to not know something. I mean, I was a pain in the ass with how much I would sit in the front row like a geek and go into office hours and say, “I really don’t understand this.” I think the more authentic you are, the more open your mind becomes and the less your ego gets involved, and that

helps you get the full education that is available at a place like Princeton. How do you suggest students navigate different diverging opportunities? How do you know what might be the best path? What I’ve had to do is throw out a plan and be available emotionally to whatever it might be. And recently someone said something really fascinating to me: “be careful you don’t narrow your vision of what you believe would make you happy.” I think we get into these comparisons. Ok, example, as an actress: “Oh my God if I’m not in an academy award movie, I must not be valuable. I must not be worth it,” or, “That’s what’s going to make me happy. That’s going to be the answer.” We covet what is outside ourselves, and look at other people and say, “I want that, I want those, I want what she has, what he has.” I’m performing in the Virginia Beach Art Festival in May and I’m completely out of my element and I’m terrified. But I said, “Yes!” instead of saying, “No, I’m waiting for this,” or, “No I can’t!” I said, Ok, I’ll surround myself with good people and I’ll learn from the best. It’s what I say to my daughter when she says, “I’m the worst on the soccer team.” I’d say, “Good! Oh thank God you’re the worst! Think of how much you can learn!” And you also have to make mistakes. I spoke at Princeton as a commencement speaker and one of my templates was ‘Make Mistakes’. Just keep making them. There is an authenticity in that. That’s how you choose. You kind of have to be available to everything. Wow, those are really insightful answers. Well, you know, I went to Princeton! All the psychology courses that I took there, the philosophy—it helps you. You come out of a place like that, and unless you’re seriously just focusing on one thing—which is brilliant if you know what it is—you have to take all that’s there and see how it works with your DNA and be open to it. That’s my theory.

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

13


SECTION

Restitching the Narrative Honoring the Female Editors of Hollywood BY MAYA EASHWARAN FADE IN: EXT. HOLLYWOOD,1925 In the dark, a WOMAN, somewhere in her twenties, hunches over reels of film. She snips quietly for hours and then proceeds to glue the pieces together. She cranks a reel beginning another series of cuts. DISSOLVE TO:

14 14 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

The art of filmmaking has always been, to quote The New York Times, “invisible.” Even more invisible is the role of editor, a position historically held by women who work behind the scenes to construct the movies credited to predominantly male directors. Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s film editor, believes that “Filmmaking is a collaboration,” She told The Hollywood Reporter, “Very early on, a certain kind of trust developed between us which really is the basis of our relationship…I think he knows that I will do everything I can to carry out his vision on every film I work on with

him and I will work ’til I drop to do it.” Schoonmaker, who has edited well-known and celebrated movies such as Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Hugo is known for her dedication and steady rise through the ranks of Hollywood film editors. However, her name is not as widely known as her director counterpart, Martin Scorsese, demonstrating the understated presence of women in the industry. It is a little-known fact that women have chaired the role of editor, doing most of the “cutting” of film segments to transform still scenes into the magic we see on screen.


BEHIND THE SCENES

“The quietness of female film editors’ roles reaches into a broader narrative for women in Hollywood, pointing out a glaring mistake in how we talk about gender equality and feminism” Schoonmaker’s first film, according to Raindance LA, was a Scorsese brainchild titled, Who’s That Knocking at My Door? When asked about this experience, she described how she learned what “classic filmmaking” was all about. To Schoonmaker, filmmaking and stories told through film was about “going for the truth, all the time.” This concept of finding truth has held a consistent place throughout Schoonmaker’s long and lauded career. In an interview with Schoonmaker, Raindance LA uncovered some of the work Schoonmaker and Scorsese did during their early years at NYU before their rise to the top of the film industry. Her role began with learning how establish a dynamic between characters through clever use of cutting. Much later in her career, Schoonmaker would work on The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), showcasing her expertise by navigating the characters’ free flowing improvisation. She describes working on the film as “tremendous fun,” emphasizing the challenge and enjoyment that came with editing highly improvised scenes. Schoonmaker’s skill with editing has earned her three Academy Awards out of seven nominations. Raindance LA credits her as the “only female, among three other men, that holds the title for most awards in the category.” Film editing hasn’t always been a job of cutting negatives. According to The New York Times, Schoonmaker edited The Wolf of Wall Street to be a long movie with an unraveling plot. She redefined what editing truly is—no longer the task of merely cutting excess and highlighting important movements in movies. The role of film editor has evolved to be more vital and present in the final product. Schoonmaker said to The New York Times, “It’s hard for people to understand editing, I think…It’s absolutely like sculpture. You get a big lump of clay, and you have to form it— this raw, unedited, very long footage.” Schoonmaker’s rise has only been

possible by standing on the shoulders of other women in film, such as Margaret Booth. Booth, according to The Hollywood Reporter, was the reason why the title of “film editor” was established. Film editing, at its genesis, was known as “film cutting,” a nod to the tedious and painstaking work that had to be done to stitch a film together. Women were generally hired to do this work, as film cutting was known as more of “technical, rather than creative” labor than anything else, according to Columbia University’s Women Film Pioneers Project. The project notes an interesting shift in the role of film editor by viewing it through the lens of onscreen film credits. For example, according to the same essay, Jeanne Spencer was “credited as a ‘film cutter’ on The Amateur Gentleman (1926) and as a ‘film editor’ on Resurrection (1927).” Discrepancies in the way the profession of film editing has been described and catalogued shows an attempt to suppress the role of female figures in the film industry while taking advantage of the expertise they bring. Carol Littleton, another giant of the film editing profession, is a living testament to the ways in which women have clawed their way to the top. Littleton describes in an interview with the Alliance for Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) that it wasn’t an easy journey; she combatted both sexism and nepotism in an industry dominated by men. Littleton, editor to Steven Spielberg, edited the childhood classic, E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982) and over thirty other highly acclaimed films. According to the AWFJ, Littleton said, “I’ve never been militant about being feminist, but I am, and I have found ways to work as a woman in the film industry that was, certainly when I started, primarily men. I’ve worked in a man’s world the whole time, and I’ve just learned to be very patient, be very clear about how I see things and not be belligerent. That doesn’t get anybody anywhere.”

Other female film revolutionaries like the late Sally Menke, editor to Quentin Tarantino, described the same sort of relationship between the film editor and director Schoonmaker highlights. Menke, in an interview with The Guardian about her relationship with Tarantino, stated “We just clicked creatively. Editing is all about intuiting the tone of a scene and you have to chime with the director. It’s a rare, intense sort of a relationship and if it ain’t broke, you wouldn’t want to fix it.” The work of female editors, through their quiet and (more often than not) less credited genius, have shaped the movies of today. It’s an undeniable fact. Classic images from contemporary film, like the flying bike silhouetted against a pale moon in E.T. to the extravagance and hilarity of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, have all been carefully pieced together by women. The quietness of female film editors’ roles, however, reaches into a broader narrative for women in Hollywood, pointing out a glaring mistake in how we talk about gender equality and feminism. Feminism is not only about working to bridge the wage gap or improve gender diversity in film—it’s also about recognizing and questioning why the history of film appears entirely male dominated when female figures are the ones that bring directors’ ideas to life. The simple answer is that we’ve never even noticed she was there. Let’s cut to the first scene. The woman in the dark has better equipment now, employs complex technical tools to not only cut, but create. She’s been there all along. We just haven’t seen her because no one bothered to turn on the light. FADE OUT. Illustration by Charlotte Adamo

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

15 15


SECTION

16 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


BEHIND THE SCENES

David Fialkow

Co-founder of General Catalyst and producer of Academy Award-winning documentary Icarus On investing, filmmaking, and social impact WITH AMANDA MORRISON BT: Early stage venture capital investing is about investing, in part, in the entrepreneur. You’ve said you love helping creative people make a difference. Is there a connection in the way you approach investing in startups and in films? What do you look for in movie projects, directors or showrunners? I think early stage venture capital investing is very similar to filmmaking for the following reasons. At least early on, it’s about creative people who can change the world, and that’s what investing and venture capital is all about. Along the way companies make pivots and change course and take advantage of opportunities, and that’s exactly what this was all about. In particular, the movie Icarus started out as a movie about biking, and changed into a movie about truth and exposing the state-sponsored doping in Russia. That became the much more dynamic story. Kind of like venture capital, very often, you need to pivot towards where the

best opportunities lie, and that was the case in Icarus. The summary of points is: backing great people who can change the world, who have a creative vision of the future; working with them to take advantage of the opportunities; and being prepared to pivot towards where those best opportunities come from. Were you involved in Icarus before Rodchenkov Grigory was in the picture? Were you worried about political or personal repercussions of producing Icarus? How did investors change the course or potential of the project? We got involved early, right at the beginning of the movie. Grigory was involved as an advisor to Bryan, but it was after we got involved that Grigory became the major character in the film. We’ve always been nervous for Grigory’s safety, but never scared or concerned about our own safety. After all, we’re Americans, we live in America, and there would be no reason for us to be concerned. But

for Grigory, we worry every single day about his safety, even this week when the Russians allegedly poisoned one of their own people in Britain. You studied film in college before going on to law school and later founding your own VC firm. What led you down each of these paths, and how are the experiences interconnected? I was always interested in filmmaking and the creative part of it. I was a filmmaker in college. I went to law school because I was always interested in studying law, and in college I had studied film, so I didn’t study the traditional curriculum of business or finance or things like that. I was always interested in business, but I thought law school would be a good way to study that. And then starting businesses, being a founder and CEO, was really back to the creative process. Building something with great people is what being the founder of a company is all about. I do think when you are an entrepreneur or founder, you have to do three things BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

17


very well: you have to have a creative vision of the company you want to build, you have to surround yourself with awesome people, and you have to work through the creative process and adversity to build a company. And I think a lot of those are very similar to the process of making a film. The difference is, companies are not one shot deals. Making a film has a beginning, middle, and end, whereas companies don’t. So the biggest challenge with a film is you’ve got to get everything that you want into that one presentation. And I guess the preparation is always the same. You’ve got to tell a story that has truth and veracity to it, and is going to be believed by people, and that is going to inspire people. And a lot of that is the same skills as running a company. Is it common for venture capitalists or other business people to lean into the entertainment industry? Do you think this will become more common as entertainment is utilized as

“I think early stage venture capital investing is very similar to filmmaking... it’s about creative people who can change the world, and that’s what investing and venture capital is all about ” a space for social impact? What I do, I wouldn’t call it entertainment. Documentary filmmaking is about telling stories that people need to know about. This means developing characters that are interesting to people, and most importantly for us, making a social impact. That’s a little different than the traditional Hollywood entertainment

18 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

model, which is more about entertaining people. Business people are more focused around the entertainment part than the documentary part. Although there are people like Jeffrey Skoll who built a fantastic documentary film business. So people can do it. Do you think that documentaries can be entertaining? Can

“entertainment” be used as a method to attract wider audiences? I think that you have to entertain and inspire. You have to tell a story that is intriguing, with characters that are appealing. However, you’re telling something that’s not scripted and doesn’t have actors. So you have to be really focused around making sure that what you research and


Fialkow (center-right) with coproducers Jim Swartz (left), Dan Cogan (middle-left), and director Bryan Fogel (right) accepting the 2018 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award for Icarus

we were telling a story about Russian cheating. We had a whistleblower, and this put Grigory in major harm’s way. There was and continues to be a significant risk to Grigory’s safety. To put people at risk, you have a moral obligation to protect them. So in our case, by telling Grigory’s story, and asking Grigory to come forward as a whistleblower, we have an obligation to make sure he is protected and safe. And that is part of the filmmaking process.

what you show is accurate because these are nonfiction. The beauty of documentaries is that you can tell people a story that they don’t know. The reason Icarus was so captivating was that Grigory was a really interesting guy, and the story was really compelling. You made documentary films throughout law school and continue to produce them, focusing on healthcare and social justice. How do you see the market for documentaries changing in the future? I think over the last five years, the success of streaming—Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, CNN, ESPN, Discovery— all of those have made it possible. This is the Golden Age of documentaries. More than ever, all of these films have been made available for people to see. Years ago, you got to see them either on PBS,

BBC, or at an arthouse theater. But now, with all this distribution, there is a huge demand for content. And who is going to provide that content? Documentary filmmakers! So the timing is great. We, as audiences, will learn more. Relative to VC, how do you weigh risk in investing in a film project—whether financial, legal, or in the case of Icarus, even security-related? To pick Icarus, there’s a lot of aspects of risk in making the film. First of all, the financial risk: you have no idea if you will be able to sell it or get your money back. So you have to make the movie based on telling a story that you really want to tell, because there’s no guarantee that you’ll make any money back at all. That’s really the major risk in a documentary film. In Icarus, we had another layer of complexity, since

Is it possible for undergraduates to produce a film or cultivate a business idea that matters and can grow to have reaching social impact? With films, it’s easy to have a social impact. We make films all the time that are both socially, artistically, and financially successful that focus on social impact. Business ventures, however, will not take a lower return to provide social impact. The best businesses that have social impact are ones that also focus on great returns. A good example is Warby Parker, a company that people your age would understand. It has created a huge amount of value for its shareholders and employees, yet at the same time has a tremendous focus around social impact by doing three things. First, Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa have managed the business to give growth opportunities to their employees and they have benefits that are really good for young people—equity and stock in the company. Second, they utilized best in class manufacturing practices that are in-line with human rights and good social policies. Third, they have a social mission. When they sell glasses, they give glasses away to people in developing countries. So that to me is the perfect model. You have a great business with great investment opportunities and great social outcomes.

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

19


BEHIND THE SCENES

Hashtagging Your Way to Hollywood How Instagram is Revolutionizing the Modeling Industry BY EDWARD MOWINCKEL

H

ollywood is the epicenter of the film industry, a melting pot of wisdom, creativity and beauty towards which thousands of individuals gravitate on an annual basis. Some of the industry’s leading figures, such as Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt, are so adored that they have reached an almost godlike status. Who wouldn’t want to be a Hollywood superstar? However, although Hollywood stardom is the dream for many, the industry is a notoriously ruthless place. Few ever make it to Los Angeles, and even fewer get the breakthrough role needed to ignite their acting careers. The calling upon of connections, relentless “hustling,” and a sizable amount of good luck are all necessities for being seen in an industry where, despite the constant array of cameras, the majority go unnoticed. Making it to Hollywood is undoubtedly a challenge. However, some paths offer less resistance than others. One route into the industry, which has been reliable for decades, is entering Hollywood’s golden gates through the modeling industry. A young child embarking on this pathway usually goes through the following steps: first, they participate in a state beauty pageant, often multiple times. Next, the most “perfect” contestants step up to the national level, and it is there that the cream of the crop is chosen by recruiters for modeling agencies. Finally, after months of primping and preening, the real game begins. From here, modeling agencies attempt to build the brand of their new models. Models may be placed on the cover of a magazine, or selected to model the latest designer clothing for fashion week. The modeling agency makes the majority, if not all, of the decisions; a young model can only do as they are told and wait for Hollywood to come knocking. Despite the difficulties and uncertainties, the modeling industry has

20 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

provided a stable platform for entering into Hollywood for decades. Longstanding relationships between modeling agencies and Hollywood gives those who have signed contracts with such agencies an unquestionable advantage over those who have not. However, whilst in the past one would not have been wrong in saying that signing for a modeling agency was a borderline necessity for a young actor looking to make it to Hollywood, the industry is evolving. The rise of social media, particularly Internet-based photosharing applications such as Instagram, means you can make it to Hollywood from the comforts of your own home. This phenomenon is known as the Instagram model. The Instagram model is a new breed. Instead of building their reputation through beauty pageants or through an agency, they do so by flooding their Instagram profiles with images that market themselves in their own world, wearing their own clothes, next to their own friends. In order to be successful, an Instagram model needs a large number of followers. These followers prove that the model is an individual who people admire, and desire to see more of. The primary method of gaining followers is through the use of the hashtag. Hashtags group a model’s photo with other photos containing the hashtag, giving them immediate exposure and boosting their follower count. The hashtag has a second purpose: connecting Instagram models with modeling agencies. Almost every modeling agency has a distinct and official agency “hashtag” which, if included in the caption of an Instagram photo, will ensure that the photo appears on that specific agency’s instagram feed. Recruiters and scouters search through these feeds on a regular basis, looking for talent. In other words, the simple inclusion of a hashtag can turn a

photo into a modeling application. An example of a successful Instagram model is Anok Yai. After photos she posted on Instagram went viral, Yai had modeling agencies lining up to sign her. She ended up signing with NEXT Worldwide, and since then she has seen her instagram following increase from 150 followers to 120 thousand. Instagram is also changing the power dynamic of the modeling industry. Now, young models have complete authority over how they choose to brand themselves. Instagram enables models to portray their true selves, in all aspects of life. Numerous individuals have achieved international fame through building their own brands on Instagram. An example of this is Reece King, a bisexual 23-year-old model who has amassed 558 thousand followers while embracing an androgynous high-fashion look. Another example is Chessie King, who has risen to fame through her inspirational Instagram posts on body confidence and the redefinition of the “plus-sized” model. These are just two of a multitude of people who have used Instagram as a medium through which thousands, even millions can be inspired. Many don’t even need to hired by modeling agencies anyone, as their brand image and public following is already suitably substantial. Instagram has propelled the modeling industry from an unchanging, traditional space, into something more accessible, dynamic and inclusive. Thanks to social media, anyone can be a model, and the definition of a “model” is no longer static. The effect that this paradigm shift will have on Hollywood in the long run remains unclear. However, it certainly represents the beginnings of a movement towards a more diverse, inclusive Hollywood. Illustrations by Sonia Murthy


BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

21


The Big Breakup: Will Streaming Services Survive? BY MALLORY WILLIAMSON

I

f you were to travel back in time fifteen years and ask an individual off the street about their experience with Netflix, they would probably tell you that they’ve never heard of it, or launch into the details of their monthly DVD rental subscription. Though it now defines the way millions of people around the globe access multimedia content, streaming television is a relatively new invention, even in the modern era.

22 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

Industry giants Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have forever changed the way people build and maintain their media libraries. Low-cost access to giant libraries of content— starting at $7.99 monthly for Netflix and Hulu, and $12.99 monthly or $99 yearly for Amazon Prime—are almost single-handedly responsible for a significant drop in Internet piracy and a collapse of the oncemammoth DVD-production industry.

The enormous cash flow into this still-developing market fostered the creation of original content, which is now one of digital streaming’s key selling points. Bolstered by an outpouring of capital, Netflix has been able to produce hit series like Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, and even collaborations with Marvel such as The Defenders and its prequels. Hulu, for its part, has produced Emmy Award-winner The Handmaid’s


PROGRESSIVE PLATFORMS

Tale. Though arguably none of the Amazon Prime originals share the national recognition of some of Netflix and Hulu’s preeminent offerings, it too offers over a dozen original series available at the fingertip. Further, while the limited viewership which comes from syndication used to be the “last stand” for shows taken off the air, streaming television has given “has-been” shows a new generation of audiences. Criticallyacclaimed series like The Office and Mad Men, which left broadcast networks NBC and AMC in recent years, obtain new viewership daily by remaining on Netflix. In this way, the relationship between broadcast TV and streaming is mutually beneficial; the streaming platforms gain subscribers while the producers continue to rake in royalties. However, a new host of media conglomerates looking to share in the profitability are poised to potentially take down the consumer-friendly streaming system currently in place. Perhaps the greatest wildcard in the game is Disney, whose recent moves in multiple sectors may threaten the structure of the streaming industry as it stands today. On August 8, 2017, Disney announced it had acquired a controlling interest in BAMTech, LLC, a company whose expertise lies in digital streaming services. With the technology from their new acquisition, Disney laid out a plan which threatens both cable and streaming television; it intends to stream sports content through the ESPN brand starting in 2018, and to exclusively stream Disney television and movies starting in 2019. Perhaps most significantly, this announcement signals the end of a deal held between Disney and Netflix since 2012. Starting in 2019, all of Disney’s original content, including its new movies—which in calendar year 2019 will include likely blockbusters Toy Story 4 and the follow-up to the 2013 hit Frozen—will begin to stream exclusively on its proprietary platform. Less obviously, however, another recent Disney move may have an even greater impact on the streaming world. In December 2017, Disney announced its acquisition of majority stake in 21st

Century Fox. The deal not only grants Disney ownership of all FOX TV series and movies, but also FOX’s 30 percent stake in Hulu. When combined with an additional 30 percent share in Hulu already owned by the Disney Company, the purchase will give Disney controlling interest in Netflix’s largest competition. Disney’s acquisitions are not only indisputably bold business moves but also have the potential to shake up streaming as we currently know it.

“It is possible that the streaming industry as we know it will be gone nearly as quickly as it came” Though there exists a possibility that Disney’s new controlling interest in Hulu will be challenged by Comcast on legal grounds, the control that the company nonetheless already exerts over the service and the additional gains it will make through controlling FOX content is enough to put Hulu’s independence on shaky footing. But Disney is just one piece of the puzzle. Other content producers from several different sectors are introducing plans to investors to launch independent streaming services, which limits the future expansionary ability of Netflix and Hulu’s acquired content libraries. Chief among them is Viacom, owner of Paramount Pictures movie studio along with television giants Comedy Central and MTV. Although Viacom’s new service does not plan to be comprehensive enough to cater to cord-cutting crowds, it nonetheless will become just another service in a developing sea of streaming content producers and providers competing

for the average consumer’s limited supply of disposable entertainment spending. While more options for consumers may drive individual streaming service prices down, or be a great bargain for individuals only interested in a narrow subset of media, the overall devolution of the industry may make it more expensive overall for customers to access a wide variety of content across different networks. Additionally, individual cable television providers are beginning exclusive streaming arms which could chip away at the current catch-all appeal of services like Netflix and Hulu. CBS All Access, though founded in 2014, has skyrocketed in breadth and subscriber count over the past year as it has introduced Star Trek: Discovery, a hit television series viewable exclusively on the platform. Similarly, Fox News recently announced the upcoming launch of its own streaming service. The new platform, called Fox Nation, will be offered independent of cable news packaging and is intended to cater to its devoted base. Though Fox News, as the U.S.’s leading source of conservative cable news and commentary, maintains a market more niche than those of its cable counterparts, this new proposition portends to erode at the final exclusive selling point of cable subscriptions. It is possible that the streaming industry as we know it will be gone nearly as quickly as it came. Threats to cable TV like the new ESPN and Fox News streaming deals may make it more difficult for the three-letter cable providers who have come to define American television to produce meaningful content. In true domino effect fashion, this poses an existential threat to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, who ultimately depend on content produced by big-name network television to sustain subscribership. And, perhaps most startlingly, the popups of new streaming ideas from content conglomerates might threaten to fragment streaming in a way it truly cannot come back from. Illustrations by Charlotte Adamo

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

23


PROGRESSIVE PLATFORMS WINNER OF THE BUSINESS TODAY EDITORIAL COMPETITION

Move Over TV and Film — It’s YouTube’s Turn BY INDRA SOFIAN

“G

et on YouTube now! Casey just dropped his vlog for today!” For more than a year, Casey Neistat, a prolific vlogger, filmmaker, and online personality has released a vlog (a videoblog) about the daily happenings in his life almost every single day. Whether he’s reviewing a brand new video camera or taking a shower on one of the most expensive flights in the world, Casey produces his video with candor and an eye for quality. In doing so, he has amassed a cult-like following of aspiring vloggers and enthusiastic fans in the form of over nine million subscribers. All together, his videos total over two billion views. Every day, hundreds of thousands of fans wait in eager anticipation for his next video, even if it’s just so that they can all discuss his most recent escapade or quintessential electric skateboard riding shots after they’ve watched it. To them, it’s regular scheduled programming that gives them something to look forward to when they get off work or leave school. Sound familiar? It’s because it sounds like a television show…only on YouTube. For millions of people across the globe, and especially for those of the younger generation, people like Casey Neistat aren’t just random content creators on the Internet. These personalities are their role models, their main sources of entertainment, their online classrooms, and their repository for news and information. Everything that television was — a place where you could hear about current events, watch entertaining shows, learn about things like animals around the world or people in history — has been utterly displaced by the phenomenon of YouTube. Every month, people watch a

24 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

staggering 3.25 billion videos on YouTube. It’s a global experience — a person can go on YouTube in over 75 different languages, allowing it to reach over 90 percent of the world population. With only a few giants like Facebook and Netflix to compete with, YouTube has utterly dominated online entertainment. But beyond just hosting funny vlogs and viral challenges videos, YouTube has also made a huge impact in the advertising industry, generating over three billion dollars in net advertising revenues in 2017. YouTube does all of this while simultaneously democratizing both access to content and the ability to create and distribute it through their platform. For a company that’s only a little over ten years old, that’s impressive. But why has YouTube succeeded despite the competition it faces in the television and film industries? Relatability of its content creators What makes a YouTube personality like Ryan Higa or Lilly Singh different from a Hollywood star like Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson? Simply put, it’s  their personality. YouTube prides itself on creating a platform where viewers can feel closer to their stars than they ever could watching movies or TV. It’s felt in the excitement you get when your favorite YouTuber replies to your comment in their video. It’s that feeling of control you have over the content you watch, like when a YouTuber makes a video based on a suggestion that you made. It’s the fact that these YouTubers just feel like normal people, with dreams, problems, and lives of their own, that really speaks to us. With this relatability, these content creators can influence us in so many

ways: our purchasing behavior, our views on the world, our lifestyles, our attitudes. They’re aspirational figures, but they’re also people who we feel like we know and trust. People who listen. Diversity of its platform It’s no secret that people can find a video made about almost anything on YouTube. Want to watch people opening a box of a new product? Need some good background music for a video? Looking for a list of ideas for Halloween costumes? YouTube’s got it all, which is what has allowed the website to become the one-stop shop for any content that’s remotely educational or entertaining. That diversity also extends to its content creators. YouTube is a world of niches in a way that television never could replicate at the same cost and scale. CorridorDigital is a channel with over four million subscribers run by filmmakers who make action sketches


SECTION YouTuber Casey Neistat at the TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2016 conference

with incredible special effects. Epic Rap Battles is a channel with over 14 million subscribers run by rappers who make rap battle videos with historical figures. Anna Akana is an amateur filmmaker and YouTube personality with over two million subscribers who makes videos about everything from Asian culture to motivational self-help. The freedom to upload and distribute their videos has allowed for an extremely diverse array of content creators, ensuring that people can find very specific videos produced by very specific people. There’s something for everyone, and that’s a powerful message that has resonated across a younger generation of people who live in a global, connected era. Ability to measure engagement YouTube’s technology is more attractive to content creators and advertisers than traditional television and film in that they can actually see who views

their videos, how long they watch them for, and what they do next. The days of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on producing a commercial and dropping it in a television ad slot black hole in the hopes that people will see it  are gone. We live in an era where massive amounts of data are being collected, and the industry’s changed such that brands and content creators want to see what the ROI of their spending and information on their viewers is. Using this data, they can create content that caters to the viewers’ preferences much more accurately and quickly than people on television can. A New Era In a very real way, YouTube represents a paradigm shift in how and what people want to watch today. It has changed how aspiring content creators define career success. When asked about future aspirations, the new generation isn’t dropping everything and going to

acting school or film school to become Hollywood stars. They’re flipping open their laptop screens and vlogging to make it big on YouTube. For people like Casey Neistat, who chose to leave HBO and industry for online video, it’s the main career path now. YouTube now reaches more people under the age of 35 than cable television. That trend will only continue as millions of people across the world are growing up watching YouTube instead of television, inculcating a habit that will remain with them for a long time. The online platform has grown tremendously over the years and shows no sign of slowing down in its path to complete dominance. Like musicians on the subway tunnels of New York, YouTube used to be considered the place where content creators got their start. Now, it’s the place where they can make their fame.

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

25


SECTION

youtube channel spotlight:

sortedfood 26 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


Members of the SORTEDfood team film a video for YouTube, on which they have nearly two million subscribers

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

27


PROGRESSIVE PLATFORMS

Jamie Spafford co-founded SORTEDfood in 2009

YouTube has dominated as an online entertainment platform. Jamie Spafford of SORTEDfood discusses the business behind that website BY WILLIAM KEISER 28 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

S

crolling through SORTEDfood’s YouTube channel is a bit like walking through a supermarket while hungry. Video titles like “The World Class Eclair Challenge!!!” and “ULTIMATE CHEF vs CHEF RAMEN BATTLE (The Brownie Point Finale),” immediately and irresistibly draw us into an entertaining kitchen universe in which four goofy british men hang out, crack jokes, douse each other in edible materials, and yes, cook in front of the camera. Despite all the irreverence and informality of its presentation, SORTEDfood is one of the most popular cooking shows on the web. A simple Google search of the top ten cooking shows on YouTube brings up SORTEDfood again and again. The secret ingredient to their success? Certainly the irresistible hilarity and chemistry among the friendly cooks add to the show’s appeal, but there’s a specific element of their personal brand

and business model that is integral to their success, reflecting the rapidly changing media landscape that allows SORTEDfood to skyrocket to the top. This primary reason for YouTube SORTEDfood’s success is its consumerdriven, highly personal approach to entertainment. Unlike traditional cable TV shows, which are pitched, developed, filmed, and broadcasted, YouTube enables SORTEDfood (and others) to quickly manufacture new content, read viewers’ responses, continue building their fan base, and tailor their content to the present moment. The traditional model is one-directional: large companies invest and create while marketing to an existing audience of TV or selective streaming services. In contrast, the YouTube model is highly flexible, built on an exchange between creators of content and consumers, who immediately respond through “likes”


“The future belongs to companies and products that offer ‘trust and authenticity as their priority’” and “comments.” SORTEDfood’s Jamie Spafford phrases it in terms of an enormous virtual conversation. In an interview with BT, he explained that “SORTED started as a conversation in a pub, and nothing has really changed since back then...The only real difference is that this now mainly takes place online and includes millions of people from all around the world.” In addition to allowing content creators to engage interpersonally with their consumers, over the last decade YouTube has democratized who can create content, and changed the way revenue reaches those creators’ pockets. Money from advertising now reaches content creators without the middleman of large production companies and TV channels. As SORTEDfood’s Jamie Spafford explains, originally consumers moved over to YouTube and social media in order to escape the “noise and mistrust within mainstream media.” But, as this shift occurred, mainstream media and advertising predictably began to make inroads into YouTube’s territory. Spafford especially emphasizes the importance of the aforementioned element of trust between YouTube providers and their audience that attracts them away from mainstream platforms in the first place. “All this while [while mainstream advertising moved into social media], we’ve carried on doing our own thing, consistently and carefully building our own bubble, staying away from the noise,” Spafford says. “The level of trust we have with our community is unlike anything else I’ve seen.” So what does this mean for SORTEDfood’s business model and revenue generation? Spafford outlined two basic ways YouTube channels have control over advertising. The first is Google AdSense. AdSense provides videos which YouTube places at the beginning or in the middle of a creator’s content. The creator does not choose these advertisements, but can choose whether to blacklist certain

advertisements. The other route is through the creators themselves, as they feature brands within their content. As an example of the in-video partnership, SORTEDfood teamed up with an application called Workshop to launch a new resource of online recipes in users’ phones. In addition, SORTEDfood publishes a book-ofthe-month subscription. Spafford mentioned that a physical restaurant, the “SORTED pub” may be next, a testament to how far they’ve come in 20 years of friendship and business. The dark side of YouTube’s immense popularity stems from the same forces that make SORTEDfood so successful—the way personal, unfiltered content can now be broadcasted to an audience of millions and the audience’s capacity to immediately respond. At the beginning of 2018, YouTuber Logan Paul filmed a dead body in Japan, causing an enormous Internet-wide controversy that led YouTube to eventually suspend his advertising revenue. Spafford alluded to Paul’s negative effect on the entire network of YouTube content creators, remarking that when one YouTuber does something unsavory, controversial, or illegal, “we all get dragged down with it and the level of trust shown to us by brands diminishes.” For now, however, SORTEDfood is going strong, staying true to its loyal following, creating new brand partnerships, and resisting the unpredictable fluctuations stirred by Logan Paul. Spafford chalks it up to “trust,” and that seems about right. In Spafford’s words, the future belongs to companies and products that offer “trust and authenticity as their priority.” This recipe has worked well for SORTEDfood, as it seeps into every aspect of the changing media landscape of creators and consumers—especially when it’s paired with a sizeable dollop of good-natured humor and a pinch of creative camera angles.

THE FACES OF YOUTUBE YouTube has become a huge social platform, with top influencers garnering tens of millions of followers

Logan Paul 16 million subscribers Logan Paul ran into trouble earlier this year after filming a controversial video of a dead body in Nagahira, Japan

Lilly Singh 13 million subscribers Better known as Superwoman, the Canadian YouTuber has written a #1 New York Times bestseller book and started the #GirlLove movement

Mark Fischbach 19 million subscribers Creator of the YouTube channel Markiplier, Fischbach signed with a Hollywood agency in 2016

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

29


PROGRESSIVE PLATFORMS

David Cohen

Senior EVP and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Corporation On business unity, politics, and changing viewer habits in television WITH HANNAH POULER AND PAUL KIGAWA

30 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


SECTION

Comcast owns Comcast Cable, XFINITY and NBCUniversal

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

31


BT: One of your roles at Comcast is as Chief Diversity Officer. We were wondering what this role entails, and what has been one of the most challenging aspects of this role? At Comcast, and I think at most companies, the Chief Diversity Officer role involves leading the conversation on diversity and inclusion at the company. Done right, diversity and inclusion can’t be run exclusively, or even primarily, by a corporate person or group. It’s at the departmental, divisional, and regional levels where you can really influence diversity and inclusion. I try to serve as a thought leader, helping to create educational programs and efforts around diversity and inclusion, convening groups of people to talk about diversity and inclusion, and sharing best practices. We know that Comcast has a number of subsidiaries and business operating units in very diverse areas. How do you glue those units together to make a strong, organized team? I think one of our strengths is the culture of the company. It was founded by Ralph Roberts in 1963—so five years before Business Today was created by Steve Forbes—and I think that one of his enduring philosophies was that this would be an employee and family-friendly company where culture matters. We believe in a collaborative and collegial culture. One of the most important elements of our culture is rewarding and giving credit to people who take steps to help other people’s businesses succeed, as well as their own business. Steve Burke, the CEO of NBC Universal who used to be the CEO of Comcast Cable, has created a program called “Symphony.” Symphony is exactly what it sounds like: it takes all the different elements of the business and has them work together

32 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

to advance the interests of the entire company. For example, we’re in the middle of the Olympics now. You see the Olympics, which are part of NBC Sports, being supported by the Today Show and the Tonight Show and by Comcast Cable through our X1 platform. We’re going to use our whole company to get behind the Olympics and to promote them. What is the relationship between corporate Comcast and the content produced by its business operating units? How do you avoid conflicts of interest? Are there any overarching values that Comcast seeks to uphold across all of its businesses? Generally speaking, at Corporate, we have next to nothing to do with content production decisions. There are people who know what they’re doing in terms of production and content, and we like to let them do their jobs. Certainly, some of the content that we produce requires corporate decision making—investing billions of dollars in the rights to carry the Olympics is a decision that Corporate made. Once we have those rights, it’s the fantastically talented, creative people at NBC Sports and our Olympics group who make the decision how to present the Olympics. The one place where there’s a particularly strict rule is with the News Division. There is actually a real firewall between Corporate and the News Division—really between the News Division and everyone else in the company. We do not interfere with news judgments. In fact, we go out of our way to protect the integrity and the independence of the news organization. It’s very hard to keep politics out of the Olympics, especially this year. How do you maximize your platform when you have a news organization as well as talk shows and

sports coverage? Is it a difficult landscape to navigate when the news organization must stand on its own? I think it’s a matter of respecting the boundaries of news. This isn’t something that Corporate has to mandate. Mark Lazarus, who is the Chairman of NBC Sports, and Gary Zenkel, who is the President of NBC Olympics and Business—their job is to create and present the most visually inspiring and creative Olympics. Their job is not to be political or tell news stories, and if some big news or political story breaks in the Olympics, then the News Division will be there to cover it. I’m a big fan of the Olympics, but I just don’t have the time or a cable news subscription when I’m at school. Comcast’s coverage of the games on Snapchat has been a great way for me to tune into the highlights. Can you discuss your decision to partner with Snapchat this year to provide exclusive coverage of the Olympics? The Snapchat experience, if you will, comes out of a realization that not enough millennials were watching the past two Olympics. You won’t find a lot of millennials who want to sit down on the couch and watch anything for three hours. Since Snapchat is used almost exclusively by millennials, and features very short content, we created the partnership. Snapchat has helped us create one to three minute clips of the Olympics that tend to appeal and catch the millennial interest in watching and enjoying the Olympics. Speaking of the Olympics, in the past, you’ve stated that live sports will ensure that there is always a market for live TV. We were wondering if you could expand on that thought a bit. I’m more optimistic about the future of video than many people are. I do


think millennials, pretty demonstrably, are subscribing less to cable television than my friends and I did at that age. I have two millennial sons who have graduated from college. One of my sons has always had a cable television subscription. He is a huge sports fan, and although he watches a lot of things on his laptop, iPad, and smartphone, he is not going to watch the Philadelphia Eagles on his smartphone. He wants a 60-inch high definition picture to watch the Eagles. One of the steps Comcast is taking to deliver television in ways that are more appealing to millennials is the X1 platform. With X1, you can watch

of net neutrality. People are saying that it has the potential to really change the telecommunications industry. Do you see any major changes in Comcast’s future resulting from the new policy? I don’t know anyone who supports the repeal of net neutrality rules. To be fair, the FCC didn’t repeal net neutrality, they reclassified broadband under Title I of the Telecommunications Act and repealed the Title II classification of broadband that had been in place for the past two years. So, for 18 of the 20 years that the Internet has been in place, there were

removes the specter of intrusive regulations which is a disincentive to investment and allows the overall Internet ecosystem to flourish the way it has over the last 20 years. Is there anything in particular that excites you about the future of the telecommunications industry? I love everything that the Internet enables. I’m excited about the prospects for telemedicine: bringing cutting edge medicine to rural hospitals and improving treatment of chronic conditions through the importation of medical treatment into people’s

“I love the industry and the company I’m working for, because we’re at the cutting edge of those technological advances, and it’s a fantastic place to be” videos on your television, but you can also download recordings from your DVR to your portable device and take them with you. You can stream On Demand shows to your portable device. X1 is beginning to become a huge aggregator of online video content, so right now we have Netflix and YouTube built into the X1 platform. Let’s say you like the show Scandal. The X1 search results for Scandal will include where Scandal is available live on TV, episodes On Demand, recordings of the show, where it is on your DVR, and past seasons available on Netflix. So, in one search on one device, you can find all the Scandal that you want and the simplicity of it is very compelling to millennials. Something that’s been a hot topic recently is the repeal

no net neutrality rules in place. As far as I know, the Internet did pretty well. This is a fight about whether the Internet, which one could say is the most dynamic technology ever invented, should be subject to hundreds of regulations under a regulatory scheme called Title II, which was put in place in the early 1930s to regulate railroads and monopoly telephone companies. That’s too rigid a regulatory scheme to deal with something as dynamic and changing as the Internet. There’s a really easy solution to this: Congress should pass a law with established, durable, strong, enforceable net neutrality rules and give jurisdiction to somebody—the FCC, the FTC—to issue interpretive regulations and to enforce those rules. In the meantime, getting rid of Title II regulations

homes. I’m excited about the prospects of autonomous vehicles—a little nervous as well. I’m excited about the customization of video viewing to the desires and tastes of millennial Americans. I’m personally excited about the transformative nature that the Internet can have on educational outcomes. I want to get home Internet services into every American’s home, regardless of whether they live in urban or rural America, and regardless of the income level of their parents. As you can tell, I love the industry and the company I’m working for, because we’re at the cutting edge of those technological advances, and it’s a fantastic place to be.

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

33


SECTION

RACIAL DIVERSITY IN HOLLYWOOD

here to stay or just a fad? BY CATHERINE BENEDICT

34 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


A DIVERSIFYING INDUSTRY

I

n 2016, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign highlighted the lack of racial diversity in Hollywood by pointing out that, for the second year in a row, all 20 actors nominated in the leading and supporting categories were white. Thus far in 2018, movies featuring racially-diverse casts such as Black Panther, Hidden Figures and Get Out have dominated the box office and awards shows and are at the forefront of cultural conversations. What changed in two years? Shifting racial norms, potentially. Market forces, such as a growing awareness of nonwhite moviegoers and an increase of movies produced in independent studios, are also responsible for this shift. Moreover, racially diverse films perform better at the box office. The free market economy can be a powerful force for social change, as movies both reflect and influence cultural norms. However, statistics show that popular racially-diverse films are still outnumbered by films with less diverse casts, and that sustained progress for all of Hollywood will continue to be slow. The #OscarsSoWhite campaign, spearheaded by activist April Reign, led to criticism of the 91 percent white membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who vote on the Oscars slate. In June 2017, the Academy responded by inviting 774 new voting members, 39 percent female and 39 percent non-white. However, racial homogeneity in Hollywood exists beyond the mainly white voters who recognize mainly white films.

Racial diversity among filmmakers is low. Ethnic and racial minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the US population, but only 18 percent of directors, 12 percent of film writers, and 6 percent of studio CEOs and chairmen, according to a study by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. From 2016 to 2017, the Bunche Center found that the percentage of minorities receiving film writing and directing credits decreased by 2.7 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively. Furthermore, talent agents, who negotiate contracts for actors, writers, directors, and producers, are 91 percent white. These positions held by majority white males in turn facilitate the promotion of other white men. This dynamic works to maintain the existing power structure. Director of the Bunche Center Darnell Hunt told NPR that since movies are so expensive to create and distribute, executives are risk averse. “Gatekeepers and decision-makers, who are typically white men, want to keep their jobs,” said Hunt. “They want to succeed. And they feel that their best chance for success is by surrounding themselves with other white males.” The racial homogeneity of those in power behind-the-scenes results in a dearth of stories primarily about nonwhite characters being told on the big screen. “There just aren’t enough Latino executives,” Mary Beltrán, film and television professor at the University of Texas at Austin, tells The Verge. “While it doesn’t always take a Latino writer to

create these characters, I think Latinx writers care more about it and want to change the depictions we constantly see.” In accordance with this stagnation of diversity in behind-the-scenes roles, the proportion of minorities in leading roles in major Hollywood films has remained flat since 2013, measuring 13.6 percent in 2015, the latest year examined in the “2017 Hollywood Diversity Report” by UCLA. In 2015, just 28.3 percent of speaking characters were non-white, according to a USC Annenberg study (NPR). Although it is too soon to look at data for 2017 and 2018, the success of recent films about the African American experience have seemed to indicate that major film studios are increasingly willing to produce films highlighting the stories of non-white characters in ways that were previously rare. Hidden Figures, Get Out, and Black Panther are all notable for portraying African Americans as powerful, heroic, autonomous figures. These stories contrast with the six most recent Best Picture nominated films that were produced and directed by black people. Three of these films were about slavery (The Color Purple, Django Unchained, and 12 Years a Slave), two about violence against black women (Selma and Precious), and one about a white woman who “rescues” an African American teenager and turns him into a football star (The Blind Side). Hidden Figures, Get Out, and Black Panther all transcend such stereotypes. Hidden Figures tells the story of black female mathematicians working at

then vs. now

The ongoing paradigm shift in African American representation in film

Enslaved

Independent

Helpless

Heroic

Violent

Strong

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

35


SECTION

87%

OF OSCAR VOTERS ARE WHITE SOURCE: LATIMES.COM

36 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


NASA during the space race. While there have been other movies starring black superheroes, Black Panther is unique for portraying its heroes not as monsters or outsiders, but as complex, multifaceted characters who derive power from their racial and national identity. Jamil Smith in TIME argues that the film “may be the first mega-budget movie—not just about superheroes, but about anyone—to have an African American director and a predominantly black cast.” Get Out used the genre of horror—known for often having black characters die first—to comment on today’s fraught race relations. These films have received a high degree of success. Hidden Figures grossed $236 million worldwide and was nominated for three Academy Awards. Black Panther’s opening weekend was the second-highest of all time, and set the record for largest debut by an African American director. The film’s first month mirrored its opening weekend success; after just 26 days, Black Panther passed the $1 billion mark at global box offices. Get Out grossed $255 million worldwide against a $4.5 million production budget, and director Jordan Peele became the first black director to win three nominations (for original screenplay, best director, and best picture), and the first African American to win the Oscar for best original screenplay. How have these films been able to achieve such great success despite the glaring lack of racial diversity in film production? Two emerging developments in the film business are responsible. First, minorities are becoming an increasingly larger presence in America, with minorities predicted to comprise a majority of the population by 2043. Although minorities account for almost 40 percent of the population, they buy movie tickets at a higher rate than white people, with people of color purchasing 45 percent of all movie tickets sold in the U.S. in 2015, according to the 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report. A study by the Creative Artists Agency found that there are financial benefits to increasing diversity in film. For the top ten grossing movies in 2016, 47 percent of the opening weekend audience was non-white. At every level of budget, films with a diverse cast (at least 30 percent nonwhite) outperform films without diverse casts, grossing almost three times as much. Studio executives have clearly seen the writing on the wall: racially-diverse films appeal to a large and powerful market. The rise of independent film and smaller studios has also led to more

diverse stories being told through film, in all senses of the word. Smaller studios are more willing to take risks on films, as they have less to lose, and pride themselves on innovation and pushing boundaries. Get Out was produced by Blumhouse Productions, which describes itself as “pioneering a new model of studio filmmaking by producing high-quality micro-budget films.” A USC analysis of independent films found that these films are more likely than major studio films to feature underrepresented minorities in charge. Large American film studios also have international audiences to please. Large studios are dependent on international revenue, which is twice as large as domestic revenue, and international audiences do not respond well to racial diversity. In an analysis of over 800 films from between 2005 and 2012, The Conversation found that adding one non-white lead actor led to a 40 percent decrease in international revenue, but had no effect on domestic revenue. The studio concern over diversity was highlighted in a leaked email from the 2014 Sony email hacks, in which a producer wrote that, “I believe that the international motion-picture audience is racist—in general, pictures with an African American lead don’t play well overseas… But Sony sometimes seems to disregard that a picture must work well internationally to both maximize returns and reduce risk, especially pictures with decent-size budgets.” To continue, increased racial diversity in Hollywood must be prompted by financial incentives that can overcome these barriers to production. “Money follows money,” notes Princeton University professor Diana Fuss, whose teaching and research interests include film studies and who teaches a popular course on America Cinema. “Hollywood will certainly try to replicate its success with the terrific Black Panther, and they should. Disney deserves credit for embracing a vibrant diversity more often associated with independent films. But if diversity really is here to stay then I think the big Hollywood studios need to resist welcoming indie creativity into the corporate fold only in order to implant their own brands and their own biases. Let’s hope that the brainwashing plot of Get Out does not prove in the end to be an allegory for what happens to diversity in Hollywood.”

45%

OF TICKET BUYERS ARE PEOPLE OF COLOR

Illustrations by Ilene E

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

37


38 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


A DIVERSIFYING INDUSTRY

Keri Putnam

Executive Director of the Sundance Institute On diversity, the role of storytelling, and the mission of the Sundance Institute WITH AMANDA MORRISON

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

39


BT: The mission of the Sundance Institute is to “discover and develop independent artists and introduce audiences to their new work.” What do you look for in new artists? What kind of work are you eager to support? We support artists in film, media and theater with independent points of view and voices—especially those who might not otherwise be heard. By championing these creators and their work, and providing them with resources and expertise to build sustainable careers, we believe we can help create a more vivid and equitable world, rich with diverse stories that provide nuance, bring deeper understanding and spark conversation. How does The Sundance Institute envision the future of the film industry? Is there a difference between the future you hope for and the future you predict? This is a time of seismic change in both the culture and technology of the film industry, and it’s hard to predict what the future will hold. When it comes to the impact of new technologies on independent film, the only reasonable prediction is to expect more change. As an organization, Sundance is trying to rise to this challenge and become even more nimble and entrepreneurial—as is the

They understand that a media more reflective of the world in which we live is both culturally important and financially successful. So I’m hopeful about a more equitable future. How do you think independent filmmakers will change the landscape of film and entertainment in the next 10 to 20 years? How does Sundance hope to support that? We’ve seen remarkable examples of the way stories can create change over Sundance’s 40 year history. From the legislative change brought about by a film like The Invisible War and the shift in public perception that followed the premiere of Blackfish, to more subtle empathetic evolutions—for example, of portrayals of LGBTQ+ and other underrepresented characters in popular media and theater from artists we’ve supported—we’re proud to play a role in driving culture forward. Independent filmmakers will continue to provoke discourse, challenge the status quo, and help us more authentically understand other perspectives—and we’ll fiercely champion that at every stage in their projects’ evolution and development. What responsibilities do you think filmmakers have outside of the art form, if any? Responsibility is an interesting word here. I don’t think I can generalize

individual practices, but from the extraordinary community they are part of, I hope they will take seriously the responsibility to share experiences, learning, resources and best practices with one another—so the collective strength of the field is fortified by each individual’s experiences. The Sundance Institute operates as a non-profit organization to support a creative field. How do you balance the creative, financial, and strategic aspects of your role? As with any nonprofit, it always returns to the mission: how can we best support independent artists? We’re continually listening and adapting how to best answer that question, but everything revolves around that core commitment. We’ve got incredible people at Sundance: from the dedicated teams that curate our Festival program to those who scout new talent for our Labs and granting programs, and many more. Across this diverse cohort, there’s a wide range of expertises and points of view. I think we sustain our organization with support from our extraordinary community of funders because we are passionate about the artists we support and the purpose behind our work— and conveying that passion comes naturally to all of us who work here.

“I really think we’re at an inflection point, in terms of awareness and advocacy... people inside and outside our field are demanding change” broader independent film community. In the area of culture and equity in representation, I’m very hopeful about the future. I really think we’re at an inflection point, in terms of awareness and advocacy around the need to hire more women and traditionally underrepresented people, where people inside and outside our field are demanding change.

40 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

about filmmakers’ responsibilities except to say I believe they are responsible for protecting and guiding the creative vision and integrity of their story through the collaborative process of filmmaking. I also think they are responsible for hiring diverse teams and treating them with respect. And because I know that independent filmmakers thrive not only from their

What was the motivation behind expanding the Institute to launch international festivals and labs in countries like China, India, the UK and Morocco? How do you imagine the future of global film development, distribution, and partnerships? As the world has grown increasingly interconnected and large, and


commercial entertainment travels globally, we wanted to nurture and elevate a global community of independent voices with more personal stories to tell. We saw a need and an appetite for deeper connections across cultures and regions, and, whether it’s nurturing local talent or showcasing a program of unexpected stories, we’ve built a strong and growing global network of artists and audiences.

have historically been excluded from mainstream media. Open calls for submissions weren’t proving sufficient, so Bird Runningwater, who runs our Native Program at Sundance, created new programs to reach into these communities more intentionally, underlining the message that Sundance is for everyone with workshops and alumni artist involvement. These efforts led to a meaningful increase

and we don’t consider commercial prospects of that work when we make curatorial selections. However, we do recognize that many of our alumni artists move between the independent and the commercial place, and of course that our Festival is a platform for the discovery of new talent and projects by the industry. So in these ways we are connected and collaborate. Several of our board members are also leaders in the commercial production

“We believe that stories and storytellers who reflect the full diversity of experiences and backgrounds are imperative to a healthy culture” The Institute has designed new outreach initiatives to support diversity of stories and storytellers. Why are these programs important and what benefits have you gleaned since their installment? The Sundance Institute has been committed to the work of supporting diverse storytellers since its founding and we are proud of the talent and stories launched through our labs and festivals. We believe that stories and storytellers who reflect the full diversity of experiences and backgrounds are imperative to a healthy culture, because the stories we tell in a society reflect what we value, and the wide range of perspectives in these stories connect us emotionally with experiences outside of our own. One of our biggest learnings in this ongoing effort has been the key role of research and data in addressing specific barriers and opportunities facing different populations. Research on women behind the camera, for example, illuminated specific challenges they face in accessing financing—so we developed several new programs at Sundance and in partnership with Women in Film to provide knowledge, empowerment, and access to financing for women filmmakers. Another learning came through our longtime work with Native and Indigenous storytellers, who

in submissions and advancement of Native talent in just a couple of years. Now, our whole roadmap of learnings like these informs how we support artists from outreach through fieldbuilding, and most of them come from research, listening to constituents, and learning from our own attempts. Prior to joining Sundance, you were President of Production at Miramax films for four years. How does that role inform and differ from your position as Executive Director of Sundance? What has been most rewarding about each position? I got into this field in the first place because of stories that could make me feel something new, apprehend something outside of myself, and spark the recognition of what we all share as humans. And also because I love working with artists, and helping them realize their creative visions. The two positions actually share a great deal, including the greatest reward: seeing the stories you support and shepherd go out into the world. What is the relationship between Sundance Institute and major Hollywood production companies? We’re in separate, but obviously related, lanes. Our goal is to advance the work of independent, risk-taking artists

realm. We’re all interested in elevating great stories. We are proud of artists like Ryan Coogler, Taika Waititi and Ava DuVernay who move from Sundance labs or festival to commercial productions—though there are, of course, many paths to success. At the Creative Tensions lab at Sundance Film Festival this year, I heard many provocative questions about the nature of storytelling. I wonder how you might answer them: Should stories represent every voice or champion specific voices? Should stories document past wrongs or write a new future? Should stories reach deeply the hearts of a few or as many people as possible? I think that the more personal a story is, the more potential it has to be universal and to strike at the core of our common humanity; that documenting past wrongs can lead to the spark that inspires a new future; and that, given the opportunity to reach as many people as possible, well-told stories will find the communities they need to resonate within. But I love storytelling in all its forms and don’t think there is any right or wrong—just what moves, inspires or entertains us.

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

41


SECTION

NI HAO, HOLLYWOOD From “What’s Her Face” in X-Men to Liu Yi Fei in Mulan BY ANGELA WANG

42 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


SECTION

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

43


A DIVERSIFYING INDUSTRY

I

n 2014, Fan Bingbing’s miniscule role in Marvel’s X-Men was greeted with fanfare in China. Although she appeared in less than ten minutes of the film, her debut was considered a milestone in Chinese cinema at the time. Now, in 2018, Disney has announced that Liu Yi Fei, another famous Chinese actress, will star in the upcoming Mulan remake by Disney. Hollywood has been altered in the past decade with the addition of Chinese actors. The motives behind such Sino-Hollywood cooperation are multifaceted, but financial benefit is one of the biggest propellants for this bridge in the Western and Eastern hemispheres. Another reason for this change is the deep entrenchment of state control of the Chinese domestic film industry. Before the discussion of the reasons behind Sino-Hollywood cooperation, it is imperative to trace the ever-growing types of Chinese representation in Hollywood films. In the 1970s, kung fu was perhaps the only reason Hollywood would feature a Chinese man. Bruce Lee’s appearance in American TV and cinema began an era of kung fu mania, and Jet Li and other actors followed. For many decades, martial arts was the extent of this relationship. This raised the question: would there be other ways for Chinese stars to make it in Hollywood? Fast forwarding to the 2010s, the answer became yes. Fan Bingbing, one of the first nonKung fu actresses in a U.S. blockbuster, is known as “the Angelina Jolie of China”. Despite her fame in East Asia, X-Men only managed to spare her 10 minutes of screen time, a far cry from the 90 minutes she would get in a Chinese film. Similarly, Angelababy, the equivalence of Selena Gomez in China, has two lines in Hitman 47, a role she accepted in 2015. During the same year, she played the principle role in Love Yunge from the Desert, a Chinese television series. For Chinese actors and actresses, success meant making it to Hollywood, even if it was merely for a cameo. The Sino-Hollywood relationship slowly got more serious, eventually going beyond just featuring Chinese actors. Warcraft marked the very first

44 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

occasion when a Chinese state-owned enterprise, China Film Group, invested in Hollywood. This move was crucial. It showed that the Chinese government was willing to let Hollywood films into their country; if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was appropriately compensated. In 2017, the off-screen connection extended from co-production to co-directing and co-production in The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon. Not only did China have a share in equity, but also the power to direct. Finally, the new Mulan will

“From ten minute cameos to a onewoman show, from acting to producing to directing, Chinese actors continue to put themselves on the Hollywood radar” give Liu at least 60 percent screen time, not much different from what she would have had back home. Looking at the big picture, the Sino-Hollywood partnership has been snowballing. From ten-minute cameos to a one woman show, from acting to producing to directing, Chinese continue to put themselves on the Hollywood radar. The biggest motivator of this

cooperation is profit. According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, China has become the country with the most cinemas, totaling to 41,179 screens. To put things into perspective, America, the current largest box-office market, has 40,759 screens. China’s movie ticket sales are multiplying year-to-year by approximately 8.9 percent, according to State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) data. The constant growth rate suggests China is on its way to claim the world’s largest box-office market. Undoubtedly, Hollywood is seeking to carve out a larger piece from the ever-growing Chinese pie. This also explains the recent increase in appearances of Chinese celebrities in Hollywood films in the past decade. Take X-Men as an example: Fan Bingbing’s fame in China brought moviegoers there to sit through two hours in theater just to see her perform for ten minutes. X-Men reaped over $116 million from China alone, a fifth of the total foreign box-office profits, and half of the U.S.’s total. This large return has spurred many more Sino-Hollywood collaborations. The strategy goes beyond casting, however. U.S. filmmakers are entering multi-million dollar film partnerships with Chinese production companies to circumvent the government’s quota for foreign films. In 2012, China signed an agreement with the World Trade Organization, which set a cap of 34 foreign films per year. This quota system aims to protect domestic Chinese films from being crowded out by Hollywood blockbusters. Disney’s Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens was a victim of the quota system. The U.S. release date of December 18th could not be applied in China since the 34 films had been filled up by December. Star Wars was “forced” to sleep a while longer, being pushed to an early 2016 release in China. However, if a film is produced or directed by Chinese citizens, it meets the quota standards. The Great Wall was the first film to take advantage of this technicality. Directed by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, the action film starring Matt Damon meshes Chinese martial arts


SNAPSHOT with classical Hollywood romance. Due to the transnational cooperation, the limit for quota was eliminated. Despite myriads of negative reviews, its over-the-roof-profit made up for such a cooperation. The $170 million box-office revenue in China accounted for four times the gross in America, and 60 percent of the foreign total gross. As China’s film industry continues to grow, more co-productions will likely emerge as a mechanism to bypass the strictly regulated quota system. Dead Pigs, a new film directed by Princeton graduate Cathy Yan ’08, demonstrates the reward of ChineseAmerican cooperation. The film was produced by Jia Zhangke, an alumnus of Beijing Film Academy, and later a prominent Chinese film director and producer. During an interview with Yan, she described the process of how to pass the CCP censorship. According to Yan, you need to first submit a script, then wait for the department to get back to you. If you pass the censors, you will get a permit to shoot. Throughout the filmmaking process, you send periodic clips to the censors, and they make demands pertaining to the creative and administrative aspects of the film. Luckily, Yan claims that her team does not need to alter much of the plot due to censorship. However, waiting to get the permit was tortuous for her: “[The Publicity Department] said that they will get back to you in two weeks, but it is almost always more than two.” Still, she attributes her relatively smooth interactions with state control to the big name of Jia Zhangke. “Having him on the team gives my film a sense of legitimacy, and makes people think I know what I am doing,” she says. As can be seen from the example, having a Chinese producer enables a film to get past censorship, because he has ample experience with the CCP regulations. Moreover, having someone like Jia allows the censorship process to proceed faster due to his reputation, or connections on the inside: 关系 (“guan xi”), as local Chinese put it. As Yan comments, “everything is about guan xi. Without it, your film will not survive in China.” Lastly, such collaboration allows

Hollywood films to have more advantageous screen time. The China Film Bureau controls when foreign films are shown in theaters, and foreign companies have no say in the matter. The purpose of this practice is twofold. First, China tends to schedule high-profile Hollywood films head-tohead to diminish foreign dominance on home turf. As can be seen on the right, Chinese moviegoers would have to pick and choose which foreign movie(s) to watch during the months of November—it would be difficult to watch them all. Second, China blocks out foreign films during the “blackout period”, referring to the months from June to August when children are on vacation, and movie sales are the highest. Such periods give local films the best release windows and the maximum amount of profit without the threat of Hollywood. Warcraft, however, was able to avoid a bad release time due to its co-production by a Chinese state-owned company. In fact, it was released in June, one of the best months for movies. Not surprisingly, the ticket sales were enormous, accounting for 50 percent of the box office revenue across the world. A release time can make or break a foreign movie in China, and receiving a good show time makes cooperation just that much more attractive to Hollywood. In short, the acceptance and addition of China in Hollywood spawned over the past two decades is due to three main reasons: namely profit maximization, a quota system evasion, and control over release dates. While the ulterior motives from Hollywood are obvious, the Chinese motives are not as clear. Is China hoping to set up more Chinese stars for international prestige? Does China plan to dominate the film industry by controlling the competition? Is the collaboration meant to sweeten the relationship between China and the U.S? Perhaps Mulan will offer some of the answers we are looking for. Until then, all we can do is watch and wait.

2015 China Hollywood Film Release Schedule

PAN October 10

EVEREST November 3

MAZE RUNNER November 4

PEANUTS November 6

SPECTRE November 13

THE HUNGER GAMES November 20

THE MARTIAN November 25

THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE December 1

Illustrations by Sonia Murthy

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

45


A DIVERSIFYING INDUSTRY

Rise of the Middle East in Hollywood BY GABRIELLE JABRE

H

ollywood has always been dominated by Western movies and culture. Yet, recently, there has been an increase in films from the Middle East. One can easily view this phenomenon by noting the burgeoning Middle Eastern representation in the Oscars. While Middle Eastern movies have received positive press for their ability to overcome adversity, one less savory fact is often hidden: these international films often create rifts in their home communities. Recently, there has been an increasing number of films submitted to the Oscars from the Middle East. The films feature themes that illuminate the societal hurdles overcome by the moviemakers. For example, in 2014, Saudi Arabia submitted its first film, Wadjda, to the Academy Awards. Wadjda reflects on the complexities of being a woman in Saudi Arabia, and describes the journey of a girl trying to earn money to buy a bike. The theme of gender inequality was an issue off-screen, as well: the director of the movie was a woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour. In Saudi Arabia, there are strict restrictions placed on women. By directing the film, Al-Mansour was breaking cultural norms. The film was written and shot in secret, and sometimes Al-Mansour had to hide in a van when she was not accompanied by men. When the film was finally released, people watched it in cultural centers and foreign embassies. It seemed Saudi Arabia was recognizing her work. Wadjda received positive press, not only for the movie itself but for its social impact: in the eyes of the press, Al-Mansour had helped the country on its path to overcome gender inequality. Similarly, Jordan received its first Oscar nomination in 2016 with the film Theeb. This film is about a boy stranded in the desert, trying to survive the violence of the Arab Revolt

46 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

against the Ottoman Empire. The film delves into the historical issues of Jordan. In an attempt to be realistic, it was filmed near the Jordan-Israel border, creating a dangerous filming environment. The movie was seen as revolutionary, and gained a 12-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. It also received glowing reviews in the United States. Critics

“The medium of film has allowed people from these countries to represent themselves, their history and their culture in the way they want to be portrayed” applauded the global participation fostered by the film, as well as its ability to change the public’s view of Jordan. Another first comes from Lebanon. The 2017 film The Insult, directed by Ziad Doueiri, earned Lebanon’s first Academy Awards nomination. The Insult tells the story of the conflict between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee. Like Wadjda and Theeb, the movie highlights real tensions existing in the Middle East today. And like Wadjda and Theeb, the film was relatively well-received by Western critics. However, there is another side to the movie that

is scarcely noted in the press. The Insult, was extremely controversial in Lebanon. The film, rather than unifying a divided country, actually created even more of a separation. Muslim critics claimed that the movie holds Lebanese Muslims responsible for the atrocities of the civil war, and is sympathetic towards Christian ideology. So, while Christians flooded the cinemas to watch the film, many Muslims boycotted the movie. In parts of the Arab world, especially Jordan and Palestinian territories, the film has been banned. The conflict created by The Insult, represents the rarely-discussed downside of a controversial Middle Eastern film. The film seemed to worsen the very issue it was attempting to highlight. When the film was released, there was already a strong rift between religious communities. By bringing this animosity to the big screen, The Insult simply set fire to a house that was already doused in gasoline. The rise of the Middle East has recently been very prominent in Hollywood. The medium of film has allowed people from these countries to represent themselves, their history and their culture in the way they want to be portrayed. Yet, despite the positive reception these films receive in the Western world, we must remember they affect local communities in ways we cannot imagine. These effects are rarely seen and rarely spoken of. However, these negative effects do not render controversial Middle Eastern films any less valuable. After all, not every movie has the power to unite a population. But, by raising the questions, and projecting them on the big screen, directors move one step closer to finding a solution. Illustrations by Sharon Zhang


SECTION

HOLLYWOOD DEBUTS The past five years have been an era of firsts for Middle Eastern films. Here are a few of them.

The Jordani film Theeb, directed by Naji Abu Nowar, received the country’s first Oscar nomination in 2016

In 2016, the Yemen drama I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced, directed by Khadija Al-Salami, marked Yemen’s first film submission to the Academy Awards

Lebanon received its first Academy Awards nomination for the 2017 film The Insult, directed by Ziad Doueiri

The 2012 Saudi Arabian film Wadjda, directed by Haifaa Mansour, was the first Saudi Arabian film to be submitted to the Academy Awards

Syrian director Firas Fayyad’s Last Men in Aleppo received a nomination in this year’s Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature

Due to the immigration ban on Iran at the time, The Salesman director Asghar Farhadi was not present at the 2018 Academy Awards to receive his award for Best Foreign Language Film

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

47


HOLLYWOOD TODAY

News (ish)

The politics of late-night television BY MARK AGOSTINELLI

E

ver since the infamous comedian George Carlin hosted the first episode of Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975, no prominent figure or current event has been safe from skewering satire. However, few could have forecasted how influential Saturday Night Live’s comedy sketches would become in shaping American public opinion on such current events. Over the last decade, SNL has placed a stronger emphasis on political satire than ever before. But at what cost? To begin with, we should examine how SNL has adapted to tumultuous times. At the height of the 2008 election between Obama/Biden and McCain/ Palin, the iconic show featured more political satire than in prior years and reached its highest Nielsen ratings since 1997. Beginning in September of that year, weekly sketches featured Tina Fey’s infamous impression of Sarah Palin, which painted the Alaskan governor in a wholly unflattering light. These jabs reached new heights two years ago, when President Donald Trump was campaigning against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. Ever since the months leading up to the election and including now, many sketches and every cold open at 11:30 pm EST contain blatant elements of political satire. These sketches include Alec Baldwin portraying a confused Trump who torpedoed his chances of winning any debate, or Kate McKinnon singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” dressed up as Clinton in her typical pant suit the weekend after she lost the election. How has this increase in political satire influenced ratings? A purely quantitative analysis would substantiate the claim that SNL has only positively gained through its sardonic shots at these politicians. According to NBC and Variety News, Saturday Night Live reached 10.6 million viewers in the 2016-17 season compared to the 8.7 million over the comparable period in the 201516 season. The increased viewership correlates with the time in which SNL satirized the 2016 presidential election. While true, the uptick in audience size is not an indicative factor of

48 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

success. Saturday Night Live has managed to turn off a section of the country while berating the current President of the United States. Many avid SNL fans looked to the show as a way to escape from the seemingly ubiquitous political climate that could very well be the most divisive in American history. Trump himself is not a fan: Saturday Night Live’s depictions of Donald Trump have led our current president to express his indignation at the show’s evolution through strongly-worded

“Political humor has become incessant, especially to those who watch television in hopes of tuning out reality” Twitter posts. Further, opponents of this humor are outraged these these unfair and unjust depictions had real-life consequences. According to Telegraph, Newsweek polled people before these sketches began about their perception of Palin. One poll showed that since Tina Fey began appearing as Palin in sketches, 16 percent of people changed their opinions and now considered Palin “unqualified” to be in a position of power. Critics of the show claim that Saturday Night Live pushes a liberal agenda. Those who believe this notion may be prisoners of the moment. People who have watched the show since the 1990’s would vividly remember SNL actor Darrell Hammond ridiculing Bill Clinton for years. Though they hardly mocked Barack Obama during his presidency, head writer Seth Meyers

told Huffington Post that he attributed that to the belief that Obama was an “overthinker” and was hard to mock “because [he] thought everything through.” It is still evident that they have made more jabs at Trump than any other president; this may be because Trump’s seemingly more brash nature provides the media with constant sound-bites to scrutinize. Perhaps the problem is not that people watch this satirical show, but that some viewers accept the events and depictions of people as truth: in a world full of distractions, some viewers watch short SNL skits for a quick dose of “news.” However, SNL is clearly a comedic program and is not meant to be taken at face value. While it is possible for SNL to educate viewers, it would require extra research on the viewer’s part. For instance, a young person could watch late night talk shows or comedy sketches, and certain references to current events may intrigue him. If this youngling is inspired to research these topics further, reading articles from neutral sites and with multiple perspectives, he will become more informed. While this may be a benefit, too many people do not take the time to sit down and perform the extra research due to busy schedules, online gaming drama, and other burdensome activities. It should be noted to all that SNL is a comedic show that makes fun of both political sides, so challengers of such satire may be basing their arguments on weak, momentary ground. The show does not claim to be a source of accurate news representation, as it admittedly embellishes some storylines to make them more entertaining. Further, the political figures on both sides (especially one man in particular) have acted in a manner that presents a lot of “mockable” material. Where is the line? Political humor has become incessant, especially to those who watch television in hopes of tuning out reality. However, one fact is certain: as long as so many people continue to watch, NBC writers will hesitate to change their gameplan. Illustrations by Sharon Zhang


SECTION

PRESIDENTIAL COVERAGE How viewership of two SNL seasons compare

8.7 million viewers 2015-2016 season

10.6 million viewers 2016-2017 season

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

49


SECTION

Schamus produced Golden Globewinning film Brokeback Mountain and co-wrote of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hulk

50 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


HOLLYWOOD TODAY

James Schamus Golden Globe-winner, Oscar nominee, and former CEO of Focus Features

On starting over, the future of business in Hollywood, and having good taste WITH AMANDA MORRISON AND EMILIE SZEMRAJ BT: You have a robust academic background—three degrees including a Ph.D. in English—a rare distinction in the entertainment world. How has academia influenced your career in the movie industry? It has influenced my career the same way, I guess, that Diet Coke enhances Donald Trump’s presence. That is to say, it has nothing at all to do with my work and yet heavily infuses everything. I teach only academic subjects— nothing practical at all—at Columbia. I often get this question from my students asking whether studying Eisenstein is going to help them in their future film careers. I make sure always to answer, “I hope it does not.” I think education obviously has its purposes, but I do think it has its limits. Under your leadership, Focus Features was known for producing smart films between tentpole (big-budget films) and tadpole (smallbudget indie films). What was your guiding principle in selecting films to produce? My guiding principle is quite original— that is, “buy low, sell high,” or “buy medium-low, sell medium-high.” By that I mean staying in the middle zone, which has allowed me to make specialized films, and potentially reach a wider audience. I make films

for often marginalized voices in the community, but it’s in a language that can be understood by a lot of different people. My key has always been plan to allow for a breakout success, but manage to more modest expectations. After leaving Focus Features in 2013, why did you decide to start over and found second production company, Symbolic Exchange? How do your past experiences influence the way you run your new company? To be more precise, I was fired, and freed at that point. When I left Focus, I had many discussions about the idea of starting up a new studio, using a few million dollars to recreate the independent distribution and finance production. I spent a fair amount of time convincing people I had no interest in doing that. I had spent 25 years at a desk and really wanted to get out from behind the desk and really go back to making often very tiny independent films, working with mainly first and second-time directors, including myself. So, I turned down a lot of opportunities to work at the scale I had before and instead really worked at the smallest scale possible for a while. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been building up a reservoir of development and projects that are moving up the ladder again. In the

meantime, I’ve executive produced around nine low-budget features, and worked with an incredibly diverse crew, under circumstances that are extremely trying but really fun. It’s been a blast, and I’ve learned a lot that I would have never learned if I stayed behind a desk. What was it like directing for the first time? Did you expect Indignation to turn out so well? I expected Indignation to turn out horribly. As a former studio chief who turned their head to directing, I didn’t have a track record, so the odds were against me. But the experience was hilariously fun, my investors got their money back, and the film was in the official selection for Sundance and Berlin [Film Festival]. While it did not have phenomenal success at the box office or during awards season, those were expectations beyond what even I had even thought. As a director, the only complaint I have is that I did make a commitment to working and producing a fairly large number of feature films from other emerging directors, and I’ve had a great time, but that has left me to put aside my directing career for the last couple years. I do want to get back to that. What are the respective challenges of writing, producing, and directing? Are

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

51


you better at each because of experience in the others? I know that a really bad producer is a producer who thinks he can direct a film better than the director. Same with writing, same with directing. A great deal of my time is spent doing jobs where I have to hold back the very human urge to say, “move over, I can get this done faster, let me!” And sometimes that means allowing directors to make mistakes, or go down routes that don’t end up going right, but that’s part of the experience that makes movies. And you don’t tend to make better movies when you tell the people you work with that they’re wrong and you’re right. Your co-founder of Good Machine, Ted Hope, said, “There’s no business model for a truly autonomous arthouse-film company within a studio operation.” Do you think indie films will ever be compatible with major studios? Is the business of Hollywood a threat to creative potential? One of the reasons that Ted and I were such good partners and such good friends is that he’s always wrong and I’m always right. And this is a perfect example of that. Of course, all creative businesses are both a threat to and grounds for creative

off without a business model? They clearly have a business model: it’s one that allows for an autonomous arthouse company within a studio operation. What drives consolidation of production companies in Hollywood? How has it changed over time? What do you expect in the future—more consolidation or splintering? Consolidation and monopolization are functions of market capitalism. This applies to every industry. Market capitalism has always functioned in a dance with state formations that both enable it and in various forms regulate it from destroying itself. This is not a unique story, and you’re watching it play out again and again. You could ask the same question about the film business in 1918, 1928, 1938, and so on, all the way until 2018. The same things are going on, in variations. You would have both more splintering and more consolidation; sometimes too much splintering, sometimes too much consolidation. The consolidation now is of a quite different nature than it was before because of the increase in hyper-financialization of the economy and the corporate and state entities increasing deriving value from the dataveillance of populations, which is a new approach to both corporate and state productivity.

economics majors who tend to cram for exams—when they take one step back from what is actually being said and think about something as simple as “what is money,” they freak out. Money is weird, right? That is a weird thing. And I really enjoyed doing that for people who would otherwise think of themselves as very sophisticated economic thinkers. Do you hope to do more projects like this in the future? Is there a growing space for filmmakers to pursue short, informative, but also entertaining projects? I think a few hundred million people are trying to become YouTube celebrities right now. The place for short-form, educational, audio and video entertainment is one that will clearly have an impact on the entertainment business. Some describe you as an “iconoclast with good taste”. Do you identify with that description? I guess that sounds better than a reformist with bad taste. On the other hand, I do have my qualms with the entire idea of good taste, which I think is often a regulator of culture, politics, and aesthetics. Taste can be an instrument in the hands of people

“My key has always been plan to allow for a breakout success, but manage to more modest expectations” potential, no matter what their size, they’re businesses. I’d point out that, for example, the team at Sony Pictures Classics just celebrated many decades of arthouse mastery a couple weeks ago with an Academy Award for Call Me By Your Name. It was given to the screenwriter James Ivory, who was the director of another Academy Award-winning film that the same team distributed, called Howards End, back in 1992. Think about that for a moment. How do you think that the team at Sony Pictures Classics pull that

52 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

You’ve called yourself an “economic theory junkie.” What made you write and direct quirky two-part short film That Film About Money? Do you like doing personal projects like that? That film was a lot of fun, and it was an incredibly successful project, just the reach alone. The crazy thing about the film is that it may be quirky, but it is educational as well. And I do think that for a lot of people—even

who want to regulate other people’s behavior, and to sort them into socioeconomic classes. That said, I have been willing to work in the “good taste” zone, that kind of middle brow zone. Oftentimes, people look down on things made with “good taste.” But they can be just as interesting as things that have avant-garde cred, or mass culture weight. I don’t prejudge any of those cultural zones.


HOLLYWOOD TODAY

Paula Kerger

President and CEO of PBS On leadership longevity, adaptation in the media industry, and political balance WITH AMANDA MORRISON BT: Working for PBS since 2006, you are the longestserving president and CEO in PBS history. What are the benefits of staying with a company for so long? Have you been able to pursue long term projects and see them to fruition? It’s interesting, because there are always two schools of thought around leadership. One is the importance of continuity and the other is the importance of a fresh perspective. I think if you’ve been in a job for a long time, as I have been running this organization, it’s important to have a lot of people around who are constantly bringing new ideas—a different look—to the organization. I think from a continuity standpoint, so much of the work that we are doing, we are building over multiple years. Over the last 12 years, the landscape has shifted tremendously. When I first took this job, I spoke about the fact that Apple was selling episodes of Desperate Housewives for $1.99 on iTunes. It felt like such a weird idea—you know, who was going to buy a show like that? And obviously, it has been on the front end of how people consume content, which is in streaming form. Netflix at that time largely sent you DVDs. This whole industry has gone through an enormous change, so as an organization and for my own personal development as well as my professional development, everything has shifted fundamentally. I think tenure is important, not just for continuity, but as a membership organization, so much of what we are able to

accomplish is through what one might call “soft power,” or the ability to bring people along with you. That comes from trust, and trust often comes from relationships built over time. I think the answer to the power of having been in this job for such a long time is that people do understand me, they know who I am, they trust that I am working cooperatively with them in order to forge a future for public television, both as a national entity and specifically for local stations. I understand the issues they are grappling with, in that I have a profound understanding of the work that they’re doing on the community level, all based on my own tenure here. Founded in 1969, PBS is one of the earliest broadcasting services. With the rise of Internet content and streaming services, how is PBS adapting to the changing media and entertainment landscape? We’re on most of those services, so it’s become a big part of the way we distribute content. In fact, for kid content, our streamed audiences are almost larger than the broadcast audiences. We distribute on Netflix and Amazon, on our own streaming platform, on Roku and Apple TV. We have evolved in the digital landscape now for quite some time. We are also using platforms to develop unique content, especially places like YouTube, where we run PBS Digital Studios. Right now, about 35 different series are produced by people that work in the YouTube space. We look at the various streaming platforms as a further extension of the work we

do in broadcast, but we also look at them as opportunities for work that would never have been broadcasted in the traditional television sense. Independent Lens and POV have given a space for creative and edgy filmmakers to share content. What is the importance of creating this space of diversifying the voices in media and entertainment? For us, it’s actually a mission. Our goal is to serve America, and if we’re going to do that, then we need to be reflective of what this country looks like. This country is made up of people from many different backgrounds and with different perspectives, and so as a point of practice we have for years looked at trying to represent a diversity both in front of and behind the camera. There’s a lot that’s written about different aspects of diversity, including representation of women as well as representation of people of color. PBS itself is an organization that is majority female, and more than one third of our staff is people of color. It’s important to look at diversity, not just as what shows up on the screen itself, but in terms of who’s making the decisions and who’s making the content. We make sure that as we’re looking at platforms, it gives us an opportunity to attract younger generations of filmmakers. A lot of the people who work in the digital space are younger than what one might consider to be a usual public broadcasting viewer. Different series are of interest to people of different ages. I think the opportunity with the digital platform system is our outreach. BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

53


SECTION

54 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


The Digital Studios audience in television is significantly younger. We have two significant independent film series—one is Independent Lens and the other is POV, both of which have always attracted a range of people of different ages, but I think as more and more younger people are drawn to documentary film, that’s created newer opportunities in this more recent time.

him—they will shake his hand instead. But it’s becoming less unfamiliar to see women in leadership roles. I think that organizations and corporations have a priority to think about “what are the impediments to having women in significant positions?” Some are referring to the recruitment process, and making sure that it’s cast wise, some is ensuring that the talent is given

personal standpoint—I really value being able to give back to organizations that are meaningful to me—but also it’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to look at another industry, another organization, and how its wrestling with some of the challenges I’m dealing with. Challenges like succession planning, challenges around expanding audience reach—museums have some

“Our goal in public broadcasting is to bring light, not heat, to the conversation”

You are one of the few female CEOs of a major media company. Being a woman in the industry, were there any hurdles that you had to overcome to rise to the level of CEO? With the recent deluge of sexual harassment allegations in media, do you expect a shift in the number of women in leadership roles? I didn’t intend to become a CEO when I was a kid growing up. I started out in medical school, and after flunking organic chemistry, I took a different path and ended up getting a business degree. I didn’t have a clear fix on what I wanted to do. But by circumstance and fortune, I ended up getting a job in the nonprofit sector, and I’ve worked on that side for all these years. I had the good fortune of having a lot of mentors, and that’s something that I always look for in my professional life— people who I can learn from and talk to and understand how they’ve made decisions. I have had the experience of being in meetings and being one of the few women in the room, like when I became station manager of our station in New York. I went to go to meetings and there weren’t a huge number of women in leadership positions. I still to this day have gone to events with my husband and people haven’t understood that I’m the president, not

an opportunity to develop, and some are looking at the internal practices of organizations to ensure that women have equal opportunity. All of those are things that come into play. I hope that more and more women will be given an opportunity as we move forward, and I think many women and men view it as their responsibility to mentor those coming up behind. I try to carve out time on an ongoing basis to mentor and work with some of the younger talent at PBS, and we’ve created our own network of women in public media. We have a Facebook presence, and for our big meetings, I always host big events as networking opportunities, to bring people together, to facilitate mentoring opportunities, and I think all of those play into making sure we’re seeing more diversity within the C-Suite. In the past, you have worked with many nonprofits, including UNICEF and the International House. How has your philanthropic work informed how you run PBS? I am a chairman of the board of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History right now. That’s my key principle involvement besides PBS, but I’ve always engaged in other organizations. For people who are thinking about their own life path and career path, I think being in other organizations is helpful to me from a

of the same issues. They’re also dealing with technology challenges, which is similar to some things in media. I think that kind of philanthropic involvement has been important to my life, and a very satisfying aspect of my life. Do you have any advice for undergraduates, especially women, hoping to pursue a career in media and entertainment? If you could go back to school now, what is one thing you would have done differently? In terms of what I would have done differently, I think I was very career focused from an early age. If I look back now, I see a lot of students who take gap years, who take some time to do further exploration before they dive deeper into a career, and I did not do that. I think that that would have given me other experiences. But to be really honest, I think that even when you have been involved in things that have not been as successful, I think every step on your career path takes you where you end up, and I’m not sure I’d be doing what I’m doing now if I’d made different decisions. I don’t spend time looking back and regretting. To me, life is a journey, and every step along the way I look for different opportunities to learn. Each experience, I use it to learn.

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

55


SECTION

Pushing It the ethics of investigation and entertainment BY AMANDA MORRISON

56 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


SECTION

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

57


HOLLYWOOD TODAY

“C

an we be manipulated through social pressure to commit murder?” asks Derren Brown, the mastermind (and manipulator) behind Netflix’s The Push. Brown, an English mentalist and illusionist, designed a TV experiment in which 70 actors participate in an elaborate rehearsed scenario. The goal? To convince one unknowing subject to consider pushing a man off a building. The show is an immersive study about social compliance, but achieves its illusion through the artifice of film. The audience, however, is subject to as much manipulation as the unsuspecting man. The ultimate reveal may be less about whether or not “the push” happens than if the audience is enthusiastic or disappointed by the outcome. The Push employs extreme measures to distinguish itself in an online world competing for finite time and attention of viewers. However, the show arguably goes beyond strictly commercial objectives. Brown argues The Push has important social implications. “The point is we are all profoundly susceptible to this kind of influence. But by understanding this, understanding how we can be manipulated, we can be stronger, we can say no, we can push back,” Brown says. The Push may spark a discussion about bullying and ostracized victims, shifting the debate surrounding the issue. But when it comes down to it, the entertainment is delivered through one man’s trauma. Two rationales offer possible explanations for why video content pushes the boundaries of expectation, and at times, ethics. On the one hand, filmmakers may create radical content to educate, stimulate, and provoke audiences. Video and editing allows filmmakers to create a calculated world and submerge an audience in it. On the other hand, in order to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive market of online platforms, producers must find attention-grabbing content that will draw viewers to their

sites. Outlandish and risky premises, however, are not entirely novel. In the 1970s, prominent psychologists undertook inhumane experiments in the pursuit of academic inquiry, claiming their work contributed to the greater good. Conversations about experimental ethics typically mention Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) and The Milgram Experiment (1974) for crossing the line. In both experiments, scientists manipulated human subjects, ultimately inflicting psychological damage on participants. The tension between ethics and social experiments is relevant not just in the lab but also in entertainment. Reality TV shows have been notorious for compromising the safety of subjects to achieve higher shock factor and entertainment value. For instance, Fox’s The Swan featured “ugly duckling” contestants who would undergo plastic surgery makeovers on the show. A&E’s Intervention showcased alcohol and drug addicts’ behavior and allowed subjects to drive under the influence for authenticity. Notably, there are no regulations regarding ethics in entertainment, further facilitating the production of borderline content. Journalistic ethics are far more widely discussed, with considerable scholarship about the “code of ethics” in journalism, including factual reporting and the harm limitation principle. There are also strict standards imposed on human research and experimentation. The Institutional Review Board assesses the ethics of research proposals and approves experiments accordingly. However, there is no such regulatory body in the entertainment world. Without clear ethical boundaries, there is no standard for what methods can and cannot be employed to entertain outside of production companies’ discretion. In addition to the absence of clear ethical guidelines, the technical changes in the industry encourage risky or alarming media and methods. With the rise of streaming services, a rapid influx of content has made the

“Without clear ethical boundaries, there is no standard for what methods can and cannot be employed to entertain”

58 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

entertaining or unethical? Historically controversial television shows

intervention Producers shadowed drug and alcohol addicts, allowing them to drive under the influence for “authenticity”


“In order to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive market of online platforms, producers must find attention-grabbing content”

The Swan The show gave extreme surgical makeovers to “unattractive” participants

the push A single unwitting victim is manipulated into committing attempted murder

industry increasingly competitive, encouraging content creators to grab viewers’ attention. As competition for subscribers stiffens, the market for attention-grabbing content expands. There is a distinction, however, between knowingly increasing risk for added “shock value” and accepting some risk in an effort to bring an important story or issue to light. The former tends to be a feature of reality TV while the latter is more often the case in investigative short and long-form documentaries. Netflix erroneously groups reality TV and documentary together in a singular classification. Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki contends, “some films or TV series seem to push the envelope in showing salacious content for its own sake.” Jarecki’s films, on the other hand, are boundarypushing because of the uncertainty in investigating perplexing real-life stories. Jarecki is known for his deep-dive projects such as Capturing the Friedmans, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival, and The Jinx, an award-winning HBO miniseries. The Jinx attracted controversy when billionaire Robert Durst was unknowingly recorded confessing to murdering multiple people. As a result, his final interview concluding the series led to his arrest on firstdegree murder charges the day before the series finale aired. Throughout the series, drama was derived from actual deceit and tragedy, but the final episode implicated the subject in reallife. Despite the incrimination of the subject, the extremity in The Jinx was not calculated. “I personally went from suspending my disbelief and trying to tell a fair story about a complicated man, to being convinced that he was guilty of murder,” Jarecki remembers. “When that phase of the production began, I became more concerned about my safety and that of my family. And once the series was running on HBO,

and Bob Durst was still walking around and not incarcerated, we thought there was a chance I was in personal danger and we took steps to protect ourselves.” Whether a scientist, journalist, or filmmaker, relations with and treatment of subjects are at the heart of ethical considerations. However, when it comes to ethics in entertainment, an important distinction must be made. TV shows like The Swan, Intervention, and The Push are built on calculable risk to the subject, whereas The Jinx or this year’s Academy Award-winning documentary Icarus aim to uncover evidence with potentially risky implications. “I have seen documentaries that felt like they were exploiting their subjects or making fun of them. That doesn’t usually work in making a good film,” Jarecki remarks. “But for the most part, the further a filmmaker is willing to go in his investigation— assuming the subject matter supports the journey—the more the audience appreciates being along for the ride.” Documentaries are visual research that can educate, provoke, and incite action. Changes in the industry landscape and in the way viewers consume media may be encouraging filmmakers to push the boundaries more than before. The Push claims to have a social mission, but it becomes difficult to separate business from social incentives. For many filmmakers, it comes down to weighing the risks and benefits of producing a story. David Fialkow, producer of Icarus, says, there is no risk in documentaries going too far “as long as what they are recording is the truth.” Educating through entertainment will likely become an increasingly powerful tool. As the trend continues, it will be important to evaluate who is at risk and for what purpose. Illustrations by Sharon Zhang

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

59


HOLLYWOOD TODAY

Andrew Jarecki Director of The Jinx and Capturing the Friedmans On becoming a filmmaker and the impact of investigative documentaries WITH AMANDA MORRISON

60 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


Jarecki (right) with Bob Durst (left), the subject of The Jinx

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

61


BT: What drives you to tell the stories you do as a documentary filmmaker? Ah, you are starting with the hard questions first. There has been no real logic to the subjects I choose, but in retrospect you can see some kind of commonality emerge. My first fulllength film Capturing the Friedmans started as a documentary about professional children’s birthday party entertainers in New York City. I had met a few of them and they had a weird energy— they were adults who spent almost all their time with children, but they had a kind of fraternity about them. They called each other by their stage names; Princess Priscilla was best friends with Silly Billy, and when they had relationship issues they would go to Professor Putter to work things out. It was a strange world, and I thought if I met enough of them and walked around in their little community for a while, I might run into an interesting story. Then, after filming these guys for about six months, I was interviewing Silly Billy—who was the number one kids party entertainer in New York and did all the fancy Park Avenue parties— and I discovered he had a secret story that had to do with his family and a series of crimes they had been accused of in the 80s. When I saw the scope of what had happened, it dwarfed all the other characters we had been looking into, and it was clear we had found our story. So that’s what the film became. I find it often happens like that. You start out with a hunch that there is a story behind a story, and you keep sniffing around and shooting and learning and eventually the story reveals itself. I always say you can’t see the inside of the house if you are standing on the front lawn. You need to go knock on the door and once the door opens and you are standing in the foyer, then you can crane your neck and see a little of the living room. You have to learn to trust your intuition and be emotionally and intellectually open to what you are learning, and the people you are meeting, and if they trust you are truly open to hearing their story, they will share it with you. One of my mentors was the great documentarian Albert Maysles and he always said “No one wants to die without telling their story.” It seems like you entered the industry though entrepreneurship when you founded Moviefone. How

62 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY

did you manage to start a company just a few years out of college? What did you learn from the experience? I was always a moviegoer, and in around 1987 I was trying to go to the movies with a friend and called the local theater to get the showtimes. As usual, the movie theater’s phone line was busy every time I called—because each theater had just a couple of phone lines but hundreds of people calling them at the same time. By the time I got through it was 8:30 and the machine told me the movie had started at 8:15. Having missed the movie, I had some time to kill and I started thinking about why there wasn’t a single phone number you could call to get all the showtimes for all the theaters in my area playing a particular movie. So we called it Moviefone and got an easy-to-remember phone number—777-FILM—and set up an interactive system that would have all the information in one place and never give a busy signal. And one we had the system built and the data electronically available, we quickly expanded to the Internet by launching Moviefone.com. And since we had the customers on the phone or online already, we realized a lot of them would want to buy tickets as part of the same call and avoid getting sold out for the movie they wanted. The theaters loved it and helped us promote it, and we were getting thousands of users, then hundreds of thousands, then millions of users a week. When did you know you wanted to get behind the camera and make content? When I was at Princeton I directed theater, at Theatre Intime, 185 Nassau, and that kind of thing, and it always interested me. Not long after graduation a friend of mine and I produced a short film about a group of kids growing up together in Harlem who went to a swimming group. It was a really nice little film and was one of the first short films to ever get into the Sundance Film Festival. Making it was a great experience and I knew even when I was running Moviefone that it was something I wanted to get back to. But Moviefone was a kind of wild ride and needed all my attention—we took the company public in 1994 and eventually sold it to AOL in 1999. After that I had my life back and decided to make another film, and that became Capturing the Friedmans.

You have directed films, produced films, created music for films, and started a company that organizes ticketing for and information on films. What guided your decisions? I had a great directing teacher at Princeton named Alan Mokler who ran the Program in Theater and Dance. I was doing my first large-scale production of a French play for which I had spent months with my producing partner writing an adaptation, and I had a meeting scheduled with Alan where I had to go in and tell him my “vision” for the play—what I wanted to do with visuals and sound design, and I was totally petrified of the meeting. So when we sat down I started to intellectualize and chatter about all the different possibilities for what we could do, and he stopped me. He said “Andrew, you have been working on this play for months, you already have a picture of it in your mind. I’m just asking you to tell me what you see.” What a revelation. I realized that he was absolutely right and if I could get my thinking mind out of the way long enough to access what my feeling mind was already seeing, I would have most of the answers I needed. So I shut up for a minute and took a deep breath and started to describe the version of the play I had in my mind. I am telling you that story because that experience influenced the way I think about doing anything new creative project. I do lots of homework and read everything I can about a subject and talk to lots of people, but then I try to step back and see what it’s all been saying to me. So when I say I try to follow my intuition that’s what I mean. I don’t always succeed in figuring out what I am feeling, but that’s the goal. Both Capturing the Friedmans and The Jinx rely on original footage and enter the personal lives of the criminals. What draws you to these deeply personal investigations? Did you have any concerns showing such raw footage? I agree that footage is very personal. In fact, in Capturing the Friedmans there is a video of our main character David Friedman that he recorded himself at a time when his family and life were falling apart, talking to camera in a kind of personal diary form where he says “This is private. This is between me and me, between me now, and me in the


future so if you’re not me you shouldn’t be watching this so turn it off.” I did everything I could to think through the right way to handle it. I even got an ethics advisor—the brilliant Bob Coles who was the James Agee Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard—and talked through all the issues associated with using this kind of footage. Ultimately, I went to David and talked it out with him and he agreed to let me use it. He knew my intention was not to exploit

how close we would get to Robert Durst, our main character—a man who had been accused but never convicted of three murders over 30 years. Then there were questions about his family—one of New York City’s greatest real estate fortunes—who had threatened many times to sue us, to try to force us not to make the film, and so on. But those were obstacles we thought we could overcome, and did. But once we knew that we had evidence we believed was

of the blue from Bob Durst saying “I’ve heard good things about the movie, and I’d like to see it.” We had breakfast together in LA and then arranged for him to see a private screening that same day. Immediately after the screening he called me to say “I want you to know I liked the movie very much.” After that we agreed to get together again and eventually decided to have me film an interview with him in which he could give his side of the controversial story.

“When we can see all those dimensions in our subjects we will end up with a far better understanding than if we make a polemic that is just trying to sell the audience a particular point of view” him or his family. At the time, his younger brother was in prison, and he felt that a fair film that showed both sides of the story could give his brother a chance, and even give the family a chance to put the pieces back together in some form. As for what draws me to these kinds of personal subjects, I am interested in the grey area in life. I tend to identify with the underdog. To see both sides of stories that have for many years been buried under a kind of “common wisdom” about a case or a crime. When you look more closely, you generally find out that the person in question is less a monster than a real three-dimensional person with hopes and dreams and flaws. We found that with Catfish, a film I produced but didn’t direct, about a woman who creates a web of false online identities to seduce a young man. By the end of that film you don’t see her as a monster—you see very clearly the troubles and needs in her life and understand what would motivate someone to do what she did. When we can see all those dimensions in our subjects we will end up with a far better understanding than if we make a polemic that is just trying to sell the audience a particular point of view. Were you ever nervous during the production of The Jinx? Making The Jinx was a real roller coaster ride. So there was lots to be nervous about. First there were questions about

determinative, we were on different footing entirely. I personally went from suspending my disbelief and trying to tell a fair story about a complicated man, to being convinced that he was guilty of murder. When that phase of the production began, I became more concerned about my safety and that of my family. And once the series was running on HBO, and Bob Durst was still walking around and not incarcerated, we thought there was a chance I was in personal danger and we took steps to protect ourselves. Did you expect that The Jinx would create such buzz and widespread acclaim? What drove you to make it in the first place? Did they start with a seed or moment that sparked your documentary investigation? In the previous three years, I had made a narrative feature film about Bob Durst’s story, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, called All Good Things. During the filming of that movie, which focused on Bob’s relationship with his wife and her disappearance, we had reached out to the real Bob Durst to let him know what we were doing and that we were willing to meet with him to get his input into the story. Through a lawyer, he had declined to participate. But after we finished the movie but before it was in theaters, I got a call out

At first we thought we might make it a DVD extra for All Good Things. But as we filmed it, it became clear that he was such a compelling character, and was talking for the first time about all these crimes he had been suspected of, that we were going to make a separate film with that material—this time a documentary. And as we tried to edit that material and tell the whole story with Bob’s interview as the backbone, we realized it would not fit into a traditional 90- or 120-minute structure and that the subject would be better served if we made a documentary series, and it ended up being six episodes. Do you think investigative documentaries can go too far? Or is pushing the boundaries the best way to move the medium forward and have the greatest impact with the art form? I have seen documentaries that felt like they were exploiting their subjects or making fun of them. That doesn’t usually work in making a good film. But for the most part, the further a filmmaker is willing to go in his investigation—assuming the subject matter supports the journey—the more the audience appreciates being along for the ride.

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

63


SECTION

Star Power How Influencers Are Shaping the Market BY MAXWELL CHUNG

64 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


HOLLYWOOD TODAY

O

ftentimes, people think of Hollywood celebrities as influential exclusively in their professions, but this perspective overlooks the ways in which celebrities exercise considerable power in the market. On February 21, 2018, in response to Snapchat’s new update, social media personality Kylie Jenner tweeted: “sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me... ugh this is so sad.” Just 20 minutes before she released her statement, the share price of Snap (Snapchat’s parent company) was evaluated at $19.02. However, following her critique, on February 22, 2018, the market closed with Snap’s share evaluation at $17.51—which is a shocking 8 percent down from just moments prior to Jenner’s statement. There are many factors to consider when evaluating Snap’s share prices. Indeed, many users were disillusioned with Snapchat’s update, so one cannot attribute Jenner’s words as the sole reason for the drop. Investors were already cautious about Snap’s share prices dropping. On Friday, February 16, 2018 the market closed with Snap’s market capitalization at $24.96 billion. By Tuesday, February 20, 2018 Snap’s market capitalization had already fallen to $23.2 billion. This trend would continue throughout the week until Kylie Jenner’s statement on Thursday. By Friday, on close, Snap’s market capitalization had fallen to $21.41 billion. In just one week, Snap had lost $3.55 billion in outstanding shares. To even the earliest investors since IPO, Snap has been quite disappointing: the company’s market capitalization has fallen by 6.23 billion since Snap went public. Some may argue that Jenner had little effect on the company as the share price and market capitalization has been dropping over the past year. However, the speed at which the share price fell after Jenner released her statement, and the shocking severity of the drop, indicate that Jenner’s words impacted the market. From close on February 21 to close on February 22, the market capitalization had dropped a whopping $1.38 billion. The drop on that day alone accounted for 22 percent of Snapchat’s loss throughout the year. As one of Snapchat’s most popular users, Jenner’s words are some of the

most influential on the market. Her tweet critiquing Snapchat has inspired nearly 76,000 retweets and over 376,000 likes on the Twitter platform alone. While Kylie Jenner does not embody the whole Snapchat community, it is clear that she wields considerable influence. Despite tweeting “still love you tho snap ... my first love” just 11 minutes after her initial statement, the second tweet only garnered approximately 6,300 retweets and approximately 81,000 likes. Having mobilized so many people to endorse her critique, Kylie had already dealt the damage.

“I’m not a businessman. I am a business, man” Jay-Z

Another instance in which a celebrity has damaged a company’s public image is in the feud between Jay-Z and Cristal, the high-end champagne brand. Cristal, the iconic champagne created by the Louis Roederer estate specifically for Tsar Alexander II of Russia, has enjoyed wide commercial success in Europe and abroad for over a century. Jay-Z had previously endorsed Cristal in his music video “Hard Knock Life.” In 2006, Frédéric Rouzard, managing director of the Louis Roederer company, responded to the Economist about the champagne’s association with Jay-Z and the American hip-hop industry. Rouzard

stated: “What can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug [Cristal’s most prominent competitors] would be delighted to have their business.” Jay-Z quickly responded that Rouzard’s comments were unwarranted. After advertising Cristal without compensation, Jay-Z was shocked that Rouzard would’ve rather prohibited him and his colleagues from purchasing the product, and that Rouzard had patronizingly recommended Jay-Z to Cristal’s competitors. For this, Jay-Z boycotted the Louis Roederer and soon afterwards began promoting Armand de Brignac of House Cattier. Since Jay-Z renounced Cristal and promoted Armand de Brignac, Armand de Brignac has emerged as Cristal’s newest competitor. Cristal retails at approximately $200. In comparison, Armand de Brignac retails at about $300. While many professional tasters have come out in favor of Cristal to the young Armand de Brignac, Jay-Z’s endorsement of the newer brand ensures its high price tag. In Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s Empire State of Mind, he cites industry professionals such as Lyle Fass. Fass, while staunchly opposing the quality of Armand de Brignac, states that it’s profit margins are “something I’ve never heard of before” and that “it is probably the most brilliant marketing in the history of wine.” By 2014, Jay-Z would’ve acquired Armand de Brignac shares from Sovereign Brands. While the obscurity of Jay-Z’s acquisition have led many to question the exact specifics of the deal, JayZ’s profits are not to be ignored. The power of celebrities to influence the market lies in their large outreach. In the case of Kylie Jenner, her statement catalyzed a shocking drop in share prices. Jay-Z, on the other hand, displays the potency of boycotting and endorsement—whether sponsored or not. Even Fass, who claimed, he “would not touch [Armand de Brignac] because we knew this was a scam,” respects the power of Jay-Z: “we all know Jay Z is a good businessman.” Jay-Z says himself: “I’m not a businessman. I am a business, man.” Illustrations by Ashlyn Chin

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

65


FROM THE DIRECTOR OF THE 44TH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE Dear Reader, The workforce is inescapable. The nature of work is continuously evolving—society transforms as technology advances, new methods of production are adopted, markets integrate—and each evolution has the power to define a generation’s experience in business. Today, we rest at the tipping point of the next evolution in the workplace, shaped by technological progress, globalization, shifting demographics, climate change and urbanization. An understanding of the emerging and disappearing jobs and their implications for human capital are essential to capturing the opportunities that the new world of work will offer. The future of work is one of the hottest topics in business; publications ranging from McKinsey & Company’s New Works of Work podcast to the World Bank’s 2019 Development Report have outlined the relevant questions facing the next generation of workers. Substantial developments in artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and machine learning mark a shift from mechanized assistance to automated replacement. The structure of the workforce is changing, driven by the rise of independent and fissured work, an increase in outsourcing and enhanced globalization, and the growing gig economy. Further, stagnation of incomes in economies worldwide and the income inequality that has traditionally accompanied technological change present the incoming labor force with numerous driving questions and tensions to address. The 44th International Conference seeks to explore these questions and to provide students with the necessary understanding and tools to capitalize on the changing nature of work. Over the three days, we will examine issues ranging from the freelance workforce to emerging markets, assembling knowledge from the world’s contemporary pioneers into a framework for its next generation of leaders. Business Today’s conferences provide attendees with an opportunity to benefit from exposing themselves to diverse mindsets and viewpoints, not only from many industries and companies, but also from different countries, universities, and backgrounds. True to our mission, the Business Today conference team connects influential executives and leaders with top undergraduates to educate the leaders of tomorrow. Through the International, Designation, and Aspire Conferences, Business Today connects smart, motivated, and diverse students with experienced executives eager to share their expertise. Whether in their first or 44th year, our conferences aim to innovate and improve and we hope to pass that spirit on to those who joins us. The issues that will shape the future of work—whether people can work effectively and sustainably alongside machines, the trend toward an independent workforce, and income stagnation and inequality—will define the next generation’s experience in business. At the 44th International Conference, we aspire to facilitate the thoughtful and open exchanges between students and executives necessary to engage with the approaching transformation. I urge you to apply and to become an active part of the conversation and the Business Today family. Warm regards,

AIDAN CHODOROW DIRECTOR OF THE 44TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE PRINCETON UNIVERSITY

66 SPRING 2018 BUSINESS TODAY


bt sponsors LEGACY

VENTURE

PATRONS

Kathryn Hall Aman Kapadia

SPONSORS AAR Corp. ALM Media Ariel Investments ASICS Balmoral Funds Chealsea Hotels

CME Group Crown Castle Danfoss Power Solutions EQT Ventures General Dynamics Goldman Sachs

Hulu Hustle Iconix Brand Group Intuit Kekst and Company NeuroStar

Sigma Investments Steris Corporation Turner Broadcasting System RED Rubin Postaer and Associates TBWA

Three Square Market VSA Partners

Full Circle Insights Insitu Emile Karafiol Kay Unger Family Fund Lexicon Minnesota Vikings Mitsubishi International

NOVEC Rosenthal & Rosenthal Sally Metzler Smithfield Trust Snap-On Tools Standard Fiber TokioMarine HHC

John Diekman Fuji Water Genesis Prize Foundation The Hersh Foundation Boston Scientific C.R. Bard Farrell Family Foundation

Federated Investors Fdn. NBC Universal Novak Biddle SPHERE Technologies Teknion Terex

Daseke Inc. Daniel Driscoll Evergreen Fibres Alexander Farman-Farmaian Georgescu Family Foundation Carl Greppin Tate Holt Houlihan-Lokey Ivy Realty Services, LLC

Jasper Ridge Partners JC Penney Keller Family Foundation Charlotte Ken, Rob Khoury Mike Laidlaw Adam Lieber Laconia Capital Marshall, Gerstein & Borun

Mercadien Asset Mgmt. New Mountain Capital Open Arms Health Paris Presents Portal Instruments Property Group Partners Buddy Reisinger Benedikt von Schrรถder Smiling Tiger

James Soldano Spencer Hall, Inc. Strock & Strock Symantec Todayte Wendell Family Foundation Winstead PC Steve Wunker

CONTRIBUTORS Alliant Credit Union Armdale Back Bay Life Science Advisors Benchmark Wine Group Covestro CrowdComfort

DONORS Ash Stevens Atrium Capital Norman Augustine Bentley Associates Berkshire Partners BrainScope Company, Inc. C.H. Douglas & Gray Canusa Corporation CWS Capital Partners

BUSINESS TODAY SPRING 2018

67


Want more? Visit the

www.journal.businesstoday.org

Rescripting Hollywood  
Rescripting Hollywood  
Advertisement