21 LAPS FINDS ITS GROOVE p. 44
PRODUCEDBY THE OFFICIAL MAGAZINE OF THE PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA // OCTOBER | NOVEMBER 2017
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THE COVER: LYDIA TENAGLIA
32 THE COVER: LYDIA TENAGLIA
15 FROM THE PRESIDENTS
When it comes to embracing new frontiers in nonfiction TV, the producer and PGA member has no reservations.
44 THE ARRIVAL OF 21 LAPS Can a one-time family movie impresario and his hardworking team change the storytelling model? Stranger things have happened.
51 NAVIGATING THE PITCH MINEFIELD Sometimes thereâ€™s nothing more dangerous than a good idea.
56 SELLING SHORT The market for digital storytelling has never been more robust...or more confusing.
The invisible army
ON THE SCENE PGA reception at TIFF; Dodger Day
OPEN DOORS Embracing the CultureSHIFT
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OCTOBER | NOVEMBER 2017
62 FAQ: THE PRODUCERS MARK
ABOVE & BEYOND Start spreading the news...
Down the rabbit hole
70 THE BEST ON-SET PHOTO OF ALL TIME
Thinking outside the doc box
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FROM THE PRESIDENTS
THE INVISIBLE ARMY Producing is the ultimate team sport. There’s no way we could deliver our products to studios and networks without the help of a small army of dedicated industry pros, craftspeople, administrators and assistants. Similarly, there’s no way that the PGA could deliver all of the benefits and programming its members enjoy without an equally professional and dedicated team. Of course, the big difference is that the teams on our sets, production offices and editing suites are paid for their work. But the dozens of PGA committee chairs and hundreds of volunteers perform their Guild service for zero compensation. They do their PGA work for the same reasons we do—out of love for the Guild and their sincere belief in its mission. Flip through the pages of this magazine, and you’ll see bits and pieces of the work they do. The PGA members making valuable career connections at our east coast Job Forum (see page 29), for instance, didn’t just happen into a room filled with potential employers. That event was the product of months of planning by the PGA East Employment Committee, locating a venue, recruiting employers, maintaining RSVP lists, coordinating communications with attendees, special guests and the PGA office, and of course, staying late on a Monday night to run the event in person. No one paid those members after they went home that Monday night. They didn’t even know they were going to be featured in this issue of Produced By, let alone be singled out in our column. They did that work simply because they cared enough, because they wanted to give back. That volunteer spirit animates every single PGA event, from the annual holiday party to the most intimate seminar. When we produce movies and TV series, we have the benefit of being able to see a lot of the hard work happening right in front of us, and in the end, those people can point to their names in the credits. But the essential work of PGA volunteers is more dispersed and, unfortunately, more anonymous. When we stop a moment to consider the incredible constellation of PGA events and programs, and behind each of them, the cluster of hardworking members who put their shoulders to the wheel to create value for their col-
leagues, we are truly humbled and inspired. The next time you go to a PGA event, we’d like to ask you to do two things. First, introduce yourself to a volunteer. Learn their name and thank them sincerely for their work. And the second thing—on the way home, as you think about the event you just attended and the ways it might help your career, ask yourself: What can I share with my fellow producers? We bet you’ll have a good answer. And we’ll look forward to hearing from you.
O P E N D O ORS
EMBRACING THE CULTURE SHIFT A new initiative takes aim at bias in storytelling. Written by Lydia Dean Pilcher with Rachel Watanabe-Batton
he PGA’s Women’s Impact Network (WIN) in association with the PGA Diversity Committee, in partnership with the highly acclaimed Perception Institute, is undertaking a major national project—CultureSHIFT: Creating Content Toward an Inclusive World. Together we will explore the dynamics involved in culture and storytelling and work to create a new resource for content creators, institutions, studios and networks to better understand and counter explicit, implicit, systemic and unconscious bias in content. CultureSHIFT seeks to build upon the success of PGA WIN’s first initiative, The Ms. Factor Toolkit: The Power of Female Driven Content, a valuable online resource for filmmakers and organizations, which goes beyond advocacy for the pro-social value of female-driven and diverse content, arguing for its significant financial and commercial value as well. Those arguments continue to be proven every day in the pudding of data available, thanks to the rapid ascendance of digital age metrics. PGA WIN Chair and Co-Founder of CultureSHIFT Lydia Dean Pilcher states that, “In order to progress on a wide range of issues including gender, race, country of origin, class, age, sexual orientation, physical and neuro diversity, we seek to create interventions and develop strategies to disrupt the cycle of bias and harm. Our goal is to ultimately show how ’inclusive‘ content can expand our reach to viewers by connecting with undervalued audiences via multi-dimensional characters and strengthening authenticity by considering the perspectives we include in the creation, collaborations, and execution of our storytelling.” The United States continues to climb its long curve of shifting demographics toward a non-white majority population within the next few decades. This, alongside a dramatic continued growth in the economic power of women, represents a sea
Lydia Dean Pilcher (center) and Rachel Watanabe-Batton (right) with colleagues and PGA members at the “Unconscious Bias in Film/TV/Media” event presented by PGA WIN.
change in the dynamics of the cultural forces at play. Storytellers need an audience. Our mandate is to embrace the global and national demographic changes in progress. (Millennials already represent a third of the U.S. population; 40% are diverse and 51% are women.) How can we help pave the way to tell a new story of America where a profound understanding of our differences can stimulate deeper awareness and understanding for society as a whole? The work of CultureSHIFT will be undertaken through the lens of our experiences as producers. As CultureSHIFT member and PGA East Diversity Chair Rachel Watanabe-Batton asserts, “A true culture shift can occur only when we understand and acknowledge historical discrimination and pervasive stereotypes and narratives, which often pass as truth.” Member Vassiliki Khonsari adds, “The approach of CultureSHIFT is the future direction for content—something you need to exercise, something that is active, something you gain. There is a critical and timely nature to this moment of our inspiring the industry to be more accountable.”
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INSPIRING YOUR VISION
A B O V E & B E YON D
START SPREADING THE NEWS… The city that never sleeps is home to tireless PGA volunteers.
hey say that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, and the two PGA members being highlighted this month prove that old song true once again. Both are members of the Guild’s AP Council Board of Delegates and much, much more.ᐧ
iran Malhotra has served as Vice Chair of the AP Council and is a member of the National Board of Directors. She has been involved with the Employment Committee in NYC, but for the past couple years her main focus has been on creating education and training opportunities for PGA members. Kiran volunteers because, she says, “I want our members to be the most employable producers in the business.” The key for Kiran lies in giving her colleagues opportunities to learn new skills. “When I ran for a seat on the AP Council Board of Delegates,” she explains, “I promised to create more training classes for members, and I intend to keep that promise.” An essential element of that plan is to encourage even more of her fellow members to share their time and expertise. “If more people get involved, then even more amazing programming can be produced, meaning more opportunities to learn and to network.” When Kiran is not volunteering, she is a supervising post producer and story producer, most recently on History Channel’s Alone.
ackie Stolfi has been a member of PGA East for several years and has been involved since day one.She served as Co-Chair of the Employment Committee for many years and volunteered on the PGA East Screening Committee since its inception. She currently serves not only on the AP Council Board of Delegates, but as the Financial Officer for the PGA East as well. She thinks PGA members should get involved because, “If you want to help define the way our industry moves forward, you need a seat at the table.” When Jackie is not working her magic for the PGA, she is a producer and line producer who likes to mix it up among formats. She recently finished an indie film and is currently prepping a narrative comedy series for Adult Swim. ¢
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R I S K TA K E R S
DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE Once you fall in love with innovative storytelling, there’s no going back.
ANITA GOU LOS ANGELES, CA EXECUTIVE PRODUCER TO THE BONE THE LAST ANIMALS
ILLUSTRATED BY AJAY PECKHAM
PRODUCER ASSASSINATION NATION
EVERY PRODUCER HAS AT LEAST ONE “MOVIE THAT CHANGED MY LIFE.” WHAT’S YOURS, AND WHY? Pulp Fiction. I stumbled upon the film when I was probably too young to be watching a Tarantino film—and I had never seen anything like it before. I didn’t know a film could be so self-assured and confrontational. It led me down a rabbit hole of great and classic cinema and I haven’t looked back since.
WHAT’S THE MOST RECENT PROJECT YOU’VE BACKED? WHAT GOT YOU EXCITED ABOUT IT? Assassination Nation. Aside from getting to work with our visionary director Sam Levinson and a stellar cast, the story itself and the way we tell it is so singular that I believe it will be a pioneer in many exciting ways. I also wanted to support a project that truly and honestly confronted issues like female empowerment, personal privacy, and victim-blaming in the digital age, issues that are very important and dear to me.
WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL QUALITIES YOU LOOK FOR IN A PRODUCING PARTNER? WHAT FLAWS ARE YOU WILLING TO OVERLOOK? I strive to work with people who are honest, talented and aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and work hard. I’m willing to overlook a lot for someone who has these qualities; it’s a tough business to be in, after all.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE TAKEN ON A PROJECT? WHICH PROJECT(S) HAD THE MOST GRATIFYING PAYOFF (EITHER CREATIVELY OR FINANCIALLY)? Every project is risky in its own way. To the Bone, for example, was risky because we had to make a decision to get involved almost immediately. But we ended up with a beautiful and impactful film that premiered at Sundance and was released on Netflix this year. Likewise, The Last Animals is a documentary we supported that came with considerable risk. But the role the film now has in helping to influence public opinion on illegal ivory poaching is endlessly rewarding and a constant reminder of why we do what we do.
WHAT’S A STORY YOU RECENTLY SAW OR READ THAT REALLY CONNECTED WITH YOU? WHICH ARTISTS WORKING TODAY ARE DOING THE KINDS OF WORK THAT’S MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU? Sean Baker’s Tangerine is my ideal film as an indie producer. It’s a crazy fun slice of life that’s not only jam-packed with intense emotions and beautiful characters, but had such innovation and efficiency in almost every aspect of the filmmaking. Also love genre-defying films and filmmakers who have a strong visual language and point of view; Swiss Army Man and I Don’t Live at Home in This World Anymore are some examples from recent years.
WHAT’S THE QUICKEST WAY TO MAKE SURE YOU WILL NEVER BACK THE PROJECT I’M PITCHING YOU? To be unable to pinpoint something concrete that sets your project apart. ¢
C O M I N G ATTRACTIONS
PRODUCED BY: NEW YORK OCTOBER 28 The PGA’s premier event on the east coast returns to the Time Warner Center for another full day of career-changing conference sessions, mentoring roundtables and networking receptions. Luminaries including Nina Jacobson, Jessica Chastain, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sarah Jessica Parker, Amazon’s Ted Hope and Joe Lewis, non-fiction TV trendsetters Anthony Bourdain and this issue’s cover subject Lydia Tenaglia, and an incredible array of producers and collaborators from the year’s most anticipated awards season feature releases will be joining hundreds of producers and PGA members for autumn’s biggest day for New York producers.
PGA WEST CREATING CREATURES PRACTICAL & COMPUTER-GENERATED OCTOBER 28 Join us as we jump into the nuts and bolts of creating creatures in entertainment. This panel event will discuss and show examples of different options for creating animals, aliens, robots, and monsters for films through computer-generated graphics as well as practical effects.
AN EVENING AT GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY PLANETARIUM: PRODUCING CONTENT FOR 360 IMMERSION DOMES OCTOBER 30 Join your fellow PGA members at this highly informative evening at the iconic Griffith Observatory. With its spectacular Zeiss star projector, state-ofthe-art 8k 360 projection system, surround sound and theatrical lighting, the 290-seat Samuel Oschin Planetarium theater is the finest planetarium in the world. Guest speakers will present an overview of the 360 theatrical marketplace, including production workflow for digital domes with case studies, followed by a showcase of fulldome content, incorporating both animated and live-action content.
Top: Showrunners Joshua Safran, Julie Rotenburg and Cheo Hodari Coker talk TV at Produced By: New York 2016. Above: PGA members pack a seminar on VR production. Below: Executive producer Erin O’ Malley (right) mentors fellow PGA member Pamela Keller (center) on the set of New Girl.
PITCH TO WIN SEMINAR & PITCH SESSION NOVEMBER 11 & 18 The PGA’s Women’s Impact Network’s Annual two-weekend event, “Pitch to WIN”, sponsored in part by Roadmap Writers, is back this November! The first weekend event features a morning seminar focusing on verbal and written pitching and is open to all members. The following weekend is a chance for 40 members to exercise their skills by pitching their “marketplace ready” female-centric stories to executives.
WEEKEND SHORTS CONTENT AWARDS EVENT NOVEMBER 11 Join us for the PGA Make Your Mark Weekend Shorts Competition awards ceremony hosted at and presented in conjunction with NewFilmMakers LA. A pre-screening reception and after-party take place on either side of the screening of finalist shorts, which climaxes with the announcement of winning films and honorable mentions. This year, the PGA is pleased to honor producer Mike Nichols, using signature elements of his filmography to inspire the participants’ work.
PGA MEMBERS: For more information or to RSVP for events, please consult producersguild.org.
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M E N TOR I NG M AT T E R S
THINKING OUTSIDE THE DOC BOX A great mentor will push you to look beyond the familiar turf. Written by Zeva Oelbaum
came to producing from a career as a still life photographer—running my own studio for more than 20 years in NYC. About five years ago, I joined forces with acclaimed documentary editor Sabine Krayenbühl and we established an independent production company. Sabine and I had worked together years earlier on a film that I produced and she edited. We immediately began development on a documentary film about Gertrude Bell—sometimes referred to as the female “Lawrence of Arabia”—a British spy, explorer and political powerhouse who helped draw the borders of Iraq after World War I, before being written out of history. We each planned to wear several hats—I would produce, Sabine would edit, and we would co-direct. We had an ambitious vision for our film, Letters From Baghdad, but knew we needed guidance in navigating the challenges of producing and funding a historical doc about a long dead (and non-American) subject. As luck would have it, Wendy Neuss, co-chair of the PGA East Mentoring Committee, attended the very first screening of our trailer. She knew I was a PGA member and immediately suggested that I apply for the Mentoring Program. I was delighted to be accepted. Through the program, I was connected to Julie Goldman, the Oscar-nominated and Emmywinning producer of such films as Life, Animated and Weiner. Julie was incredibly generous about sharing her precious time and ideas. I knew that most of the foundations awarding funding for documentaries focused on social issue films, and the film had already been turned down by a few. Julie encouraged me to think outside the box and to consider international broadcasters, funders and European co-producers. She highly recommended attending the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers in order to meet this community of professionals. The result was several essential connections: a French coproducer who brought us a deal with ARTE/France, a contact at the BBC who also purchased broadcast rights and even a descendent of Gertrude Bell, who opened the door to all of Bell’s extended family. Julie was a great problem solver and her guidance was truly helpful. Although it was a long haul with plenty of challenges and obstacles, Letters From Baghdad was theatrically released this summer in the U.K. and U.S., far exceeding our expectations. The film was recently broadcast in France and Germany and is scheduled for its BBC premiere later this year. The PGA Mentoring Program was a major part of our success. I continue to be grateful for the advice and support of both Julie and Mentoring Committee chairs Wendy Neuss and Volga Calderon. ¢
“We had an ambitious vision for our film, Letters From Baghdad, but knew we needed guidance in navigating the challenges of producing.”
Jeff Orlowski shoots spectacular underwater footage for Chasing Coral.
MAKING WAVES The new generation of marine docs aren’t just raising awareness—they’re directing action. Written by Katie Carpenter
he green production movement is taking off—seems producers are trying even harder to help the planet in these fraught times, when that help is needed most. The next frontier: finding ways to increase and enhance the impact of green narratives on the big screen. Feature-length documentaries, about marine issues in particular, are starting to turn heads and just in time. It’s useful to examine the paths of three feature films which have made lasting impressions—Blackfish, Sonic Sea and Chasing Coral. Taking a page from the playbook of earlier eco-docs like The
Cove, today’s marine conservation producers want to change more than hearts and minds. They want to change policies, cultural norms and even laws, to help establish more protections for the ocean and its inhabitants. One little film with a big marine mission even spawned its own catchphrase—“The Blackfish Effect.” Former TV producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite wanted to make a murder mystery about a whale and a trainer at SeaWorld and ended up reeling in film festival honors and a BAFTA Award. According to Nielsen, over its first 28 telecasts on CNN, Blackfish reached
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY CHASING CORAL
28 million viewers across all age groups. “The story evoked empathy,” says reviewer Caty Borum Chattoo in HuffPost, “an emotional response that is an evidence-based powerful driver of attitude shift and intended action in response to storytelling.” Seizing the propulsion of that emotion, the director and her network set out to bring about lasting change. The film’s impact ricocheted around legislative and corporate worlds across the U.S. In 2016, California passed what became known as the “Blackfish Bill,” banning orca captive breeding programs, while New York proposed a ban on “possession or harboring of killer whales in aquariums or sea parks.” On the corporate front, SeaWorld’s attendance plummeted. They reported an 84% drop in profits and a 30% drop in stock price in one year. Even after stopping their captive breeding program, the company is struggling financially. Changing laws and stock prices only happens when you’ve riveted your viewing public, then followed up with an impact campaign targeting the audiences you need to reach most, through social media, screenings, blogging, direct email and personal visits to government officials. “It’s exceedingly rare to see this kind of result,” says Amy Entelis, co-founder of CNN Films. “Blackfish endures, even after dozens of viewings. It’s had a deeper impact and has been seen by far more people than we ever expected.” Soon after came Sonic Sea, a film about marine mammals in the wild at risk from damaging noise produced by seismic surveys and military sonar. Produced by Michelle Dougherty and Daniel Hinerfeld of NRDC, an environmental advocacy group, it was broader in scope, with celebrity interviews and narration by actress Rachel McAdams. The story was fresh, the evidence persuasive, and soon it was picked up by film festivals and ultimately by Discovery’s Impact strand. Following the broadcast, the real punch came with the individual screenings NRDC organized to make sure the message of the dangers of underwater noise was received loud and clear. The goals of the Sonic Sea producers were ambitious, and they got results. According to Michael Jasny, the head of NRDC’s marine mammal team, the film was widely used by activists in last year’s successful fight against seismic blasting off the Atlantic coast. “The film also helped to spur the release of NOAA’s long-delayed ocean noise strategy and persuade General Electric to develop an industry consortium to reduce underwater noise.” The summer of 2017 saw the art of impact campaigning reach a new level with the release of Chasing Coral. Less than two months after its launch on Netflix, it’s already apparent that the film is making a mark. “Part of our task as filmmakers is to capture those corals visually and bring them home,” says director Jeff Orlowski. “Less than 1% of the world population goes scuba diving, and of that percentage, the vast majority of recreational divers get brought only to the beautiful spots. So we needed to say, ‘You know, this is on its way
Few recent docs have had as significant an impact as Blackfish.
to dying. This is a really, really devastated reef right now.’” As part of their impact campaign, producer Larissa Rhodes built an outreach team to target multiple audiences, from schools to policymakers. They offered a take-action guide to enable viewers to help move their communities toward 100% renewables or to help protect the ocean, at home or abroad. Viewers can “Become an Ambassador,” “Share the Visual Evidence,” or “Dive and Swim Smartly.” There’s an action plan for everyone, scuba divers and couch surfers alike. Indian cricket star Rohit Sharma was moved to tweet about the film and used the social media kit to share with his 7 million fans online. “People are writing to us from all over, saying they want to get involved in some way,” says Samantha Wright, impact director for the film. “It’s been an incredibly humbling experience, learning the sheer diversity of ways people want to take action. They’re donating to local green groups, volunteering at climate change events, calling their legislators, throwing green-themed birthday parties for their kids.” We’ll know soon about whether the “Chasing Coral Effect” will replace the “Blackfish Effect,” but soon there might be all kinds of “effects” reaching new audiences. Add the Mission Blue and Plastic Ocean and Ocean Warriors Effects, and gradually, we will expand our understanding of what moves the needle. Jeff Orlowski is on a mission, but like most of us, he doesn’t want to compromise the artistry of his work. “We are working to create calls to action that we can bring to audiences after the film, and we’re doing an impact campaign to help people make a shift in their own community. But I look at that as a separate goal from the film itself, and the hope is to keep the film as artistically and creatively pure as possible.” It’s a one-two punch—open hearts and minds with your paintbrush, then deliver change with your catapult. And producers— fight for the budget for both up front! ¢ Note: whether your next film project has environmental content or not, save your own piece of the planet by producing with the green production guidelines of the PGA: www.greenproductionguide.com
ON THE SCENE
PGA EAST NONFICTION JOB FORUM AT FPWA, SEPTEMBER 18 The PGA East’s Employment Committee hosted the 2017 Nonfiction Job Forum, where ten of the busiest production employers in New York met with members in small groups to hear “elevator pitches” and learn about member skills and backgrounds. All employers received a binder filled with resumes of potential hires, and members continued to network with employers and peers through the night. Much thanks to the FPWA, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, for hosting the event. Participating employers included Backroads Entertainment, Eastern, EQ Media, Lion TV, Magilla Entertainment, NorthSouth Productions, Rock Shrimp, Space Station, Vice and Zero Point Zero Productions.
PGA members and employers pack FPWA.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY SAI KONKALA
Lion TV’s Lisa Peters introducers herself. Left: PGA member April Chang; right: PGA East Employment Committee co-chair Amita Patel
Rock Shrimp’s Tiffanie Young talks with PGA member Rick McGuire
Matthew Ostrom of Magilla Entertainment (second right) meets with (from left) PGA members Robin Foster, Daniel Flaherty, Colin Fitzpatrick and Jason Crow.
Employment Committee volunteer Steve Katz (right) chats with fellow PGA member Katy Garrity.
PGA RECEPTION AT TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, SEPTEMBER 10
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BRUNO MARINO
During the first weekend of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, the PGA International Committee hosted its 4th annual networking party at the exclusive Spoke Club. Sponsored by ARRI and the Canadian Media Producers Association, this event has become a must-attend for producers at TIFF and a prime venue for our members to meet with their international counterparts. More than 200 guests shared food and drink and heard from both ARRI and the CMPA about their exciting new products and programs. The ARRI group was headed up by Mandy Rahn, Senior Manager International Programs, while Marguerite Pigott, VP of Outreach & Strategic Initiatives, spoke on behalf of the CMPA. Also in attendance and saying a few words on behalf of the PGA were Guild Vice Presidents William Horberg and Lydia Dean Pilcher.
Producers, guests and luminaries mingle at the reception.
PGA Vice Presidents William Horberg (second left) and Lydia Dean Pilcher (center) are joined by PGA member and event organizer Bruno Marino, CMPA Vice President Marguerite Pigott and ARRI Senior Manager Mandy Rahn.
ON THE SCENE
PGA DODGER DAY AT DODGER STADIUM, AUGUST 26 101 PGA Members and guests attended the annual PGA Dodger Day, as the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the Milwaukee Brewers. Unfortunately the Dodger bats could not unravel Brewers starter Zach Davies, and the home team ended up losing 3-0. PGA members still had a wonderful time in the Coca-Cola All You Can Eat Right Field Pavilion, where they feasted on unlimited Dodger Dogs, nachos, popcorn, peanuts and soda. Here’s hoping the Dodgers are still alive in the playoffs by the time this issue of Produced By is in the mail!
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MICHAEL Q. MARTIN
Special guest mascot Bailey (LA Kings) considers a career move to the Dodgers.
PGA member Michael Martin (left) is joined by former Dodger outfielder (1963-1968) Al Ferrara.
Top, above: PGA members and their families enjoy another spectacular afternoon (save for the Dodgers’ loss) at Chavez Ravine.
A CONVERSATION WITH TOM O’DONNELL AT VER-NY, SEPTEMBER 19
PHOTOGRAPHED BY KEVYN FAYRCHYLD
PGA East members took advantage of the opportunity to get some small-group face time with Tom O’Donnell, President of the Theatrical Teamsters Local 817. Of particular interest to the members was how the Teamsters’ new east coast locations agreements might impact upcoming studio and independent productions currently in prep. Special thanks to PGA East Managing Director Michelle Byrd for arranging the valuable sit-down.
Teamsters 817 chief Tom O’Donnell
PGA members ask detailed questions on how the Teamsters’ new agreements will impact production.
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IRST THINGS FIRST: THE G IS SILENT. “TE-NAL-YA,” SHE CORRECTS ME, PROUDLY ROLLING THE WORD AROUND THE L LIKE A CALABRIAN STREET VENDOR. “IT MEANS ‘PLIERS’ IN ITALIAN, WHICH I SOMEHOW THINK IS VERY FITTING,” SHE SMILES. ”IT FEELS LIKE A GOOD MATCH FOR MY PERSONALITY—TENACIOUS. TENAGLIA.” Having tenacity as a birthright seems like a pretty good starting place for a producing career, particularly one that’s based in the highly competitive and ever-shifting world of nonfiction television. A post-college, entry-level stint at legendary documentary company Maysles Films provided the next step, schooling her in the finer points of the classic verité style. She put that education into practice out in the field while still employed at Maysles, serving as camera assistant on the acclaimed 1992 doc Brother’s Keeper. After graduating from NYU’s graduate film program, Tenaglia started to hone her producing chops at the late and lamented New York Times Television, graduating from the edit bay to story development and field producing. Along with creative partner (and later husband) Chris Collins, Tenaglia began to look for material the duo could expand into larger work. She struck gold when she picked up Kitchen Confidential, the charged, abrasive, intensely readable memoir of then-chef Anthony Bourdain, which pulled the curtain back—way back—on the New York restaurant world. Upon learning that Bourdain was proposing an Innocents Abroad-style travel journal as his follow-up, Tenaglia saw the rich narrative possibilities of the idea and picked up the phone. The ultimate result of that cold call was A Cook’s Tour, which aired on The Cooking Channel for two seasons before hitting its stride as No Reservations following its pickup by the Travel Channel. Today Tenaglia, Collins and Bourdain’s flagship show lives at CNN, under its third title, Parts Unknown. While Bourdain’s ongoing gastronomic exploration remains the mainstay of Tenaglia and Collins’ production company, Zero Point Zero, the enduring appeal of the series has allowed its producer to refine her style and expand her own creative horizons. Shows like Meat Eater and The Hunt with John Walsh showcase Tenaglia’s skill at building innovative, culturally engaging series around fiercely distinctive voices, while feature work such as Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent and Fermented leans into the culinary cachet she’s earned through her championing of Bourdain. We’ll learn even more when she and Bourdain take the stage as two of the headliners for the Producers Guild conference Produced By: New York, on October 28.
Interview by Chris green Photographed by Noah Fecks
COVER STORY: LYDIA TENAGLIA
Producer Lydia Tenaglia and Anthony Bourdain, en route to the next exotic location and revelatory meal. (Photo: Chris Collins)
SO, VERY FEW PRODUCERS START OUT WITH THE IDEA THAT THEY WOULD BE PRODUCERS OF EITHER TV OR MOVIES. WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL PLAN FOR YOU? I’d say early on I was always interested in the field, but I took a circuitous route. I went to undergraduate at Smith College, and then I took two years off and worked at Maysles Fims. There I became interested in cameras and editing and got my first real sense of unscripted production.
HAD YOU DONE ANY SCRIPTED STUFF? THEATER STUFF, EVEN? No. When I was at Smith, I had started to dabble in producing short videos for friends who were doing thesis projects and who wanted a video component. I realized that I really liked being behind the camera and trying to tell a story in
that way, through a visual medium. So that was my very first intro to producing, all self-taught. And then I had my Maysles experience. Six months into my job there, I met some documentary filmmakers, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, and serendipitously ended up on their film called Brother’s Keeper, as a camera assistant. So I got a chance to explore camera. Bruce was also a great editor, so I would go into the edit room and watch him as he did his thing. So I kind of created my own internship that way. After Maysles and the Brother’s Keeper experience, I wanted to deepen my knowledge of film production, so I went to grad school, NYU Film and Television, and started making my own short films. I found work as an editor around the time production companies were pushing the model of “preditors,” editors who could also produce their own material.
RIGHT, YEP. Do you remember that?
SOME FOLKS STILL USE THAT WORD. Yes, it’s still used! There were “preditors” and then there were preditors who coud also shoot, so it was really the trifecta of fun, there! I did producing-shooting-editing at New York Times Television for a while and really got my footing producing stories. I rose up the ranks and started series producing and then executive producing. And then at one point my husband Chris Collins—we worked together as a producing team, as friends, before we were married—and I had this crazy thought, as many people do, “Hey, maybe we should try to go pitch our own stuff.” And very fortuitously, our paths crossed with Anthony Bourdain, almost 18 years ago. I had read Kitchen
COVER STORY: LYDIA TENAGLIA
Confidential and thoght it was a great read, and heard that Bourdain wanted to do a follow-up book called The Cook’s Tour, where he was going to travel around the world. So I went and I met him. Cold called him. He was still working in a restaurant at the time. And I pitched the idea of trying to make A Cook’s Tour into a television show. He’s like, “Whatever. What the hell. I’m just a writer who happened into a book that made a splash. I’m still working in a kitchen, for God’s sake.” Chris and I ended up shooting a 10-minute demo at Les Halles, the restaurant where he was working at the time. I edited it together and we pitched that, and that went forward as a series. That was the start of our production company, of our relationship with Bourdain. We formally created Zero Point Zero Production in 2003, and the Bourdain series really became our flagship show. It started at Food Network, where it was called A Cook’s Tour, and then moved to Travel Channel for eight years as Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and now we’re on CNN for the last few years as Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Many producers don’t have the luxury of that kind of steady anchor series. Its consistency and longevity is a production company’s dream, allowing it to grow and evolve. But we had that good fortune. We have about 150 people working at Zero Point Zero now, working on different series for a variety of networks. We continue to have a fantastic partnership with CNN and are working on a few new series for them right now; two are in production and will be announced next year. So that’s that! My career in a nutshell. [laughs]
CAN I SKIP BACK AND VISIT SOME POINTS? Yeah! Of course.
SO JUST GOING BACK TO BROTHER’S KEEPER , WHAT WAS THAT FIRST DOCUMENTARY EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD
LIKE? WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THAT GIG THAT MADE YOU FEEL LIKE, OKAY, I’M IN MY ELEMENT. THIS WORKS FOR ME? Well, even getting on that film was very fortuitous. I was working at Maysles at a really low-level, entry position. But I had become good friends with the guy who managed the equipment there, Marcel Dumont. He taught me a lot about film cameras—how to film load and focus pull, a lot of good AC stuff. Bruce and Joe were also both employees at Maysles at the time; Joe was headng up the sales and marketing department and Bruce was an editor. They happened upon this murder mystery story up in Munnsville, New York and drove up there on their own to check it out. The quickly realized that they had a good story on theor hands. So they very quietly gathered a small crew, as cheaply and economically as possible. The DP, Doug Cooper, was incredibly gifted but young at the time and willing to commit to the llong hours and low budget. And so was I. Having been at Maysles for over a year, and watching their verité style of filmmaking secondhand (from my desk chair!) I really wanted the experience of being in the field. So I threw myself into the project. For 10 months, every weekend, the four of us—Joe, Bruce, Dough and I—would load up the van and drive five hours to Munnsville. We’d spend the weekend there, gathering the material for Brother’s Keeper. I was just plunged into that whole world, feeling like: This is really cool. I felt viscerally connected to that kind of storytelling, that kind of camaraderie with a group. That was very eye-opening for me. It was what made me apply to grad film school. I think back on film school now, and honestly? I probably could have done a year of that and gotten the same amount out of it. I don’t regret going. But it’s really an apprenticeship industry. You learn by connecting yourself with people in the industry, a good editor or a good DP or a good producer, and just saying, “I’ll get your frickin’ coffee. I will do whatever it takes. I just really want to learn.” The industry has always been based
on that apprenticeship style of learning.
IT’S A CRAFT. It’s a craft. Exactly. It’s a craft and you learn by connecting yourself with the craftsperson. What I learned most by being involved in Brother’s Keeper and observing Joe and Bruce in the field is how, as a filmmaker, you walk the very fine line of connecting with a subject, but then pulling back quietly into an observational role. Working on both sides of that line, you come to understand something very deep about people. That was unbelievably fascinating. That kind of verité storytelling can be so powerful, so compelling, so riveting. I think my personal producing style probably walks its own line between Maysles-style verité and something more produced. I definitely lean toward wanting pieces of the story to have a more constructed beauty via recreations... but damn, Brother’s Keeper was a masterpiece.
BEING ABLE TO INTEGRATE THAT IN A WAY THAT FEELS COHERENT AND ORGANIC IS A REAL SKILL AND A REAL CHALLENGE. IN TERMS OF BRINGING ANTHONY INTO THE PICTURE, WHAT WAS IT THAT SPARKED FOR YOU, THAT MADE YOU PICK UP THE PHONE AND MAKE THAT COLD CALL? His writing was very funny, very sardonic. It was brash, almost punk. Kitchen Confidential was flung out there with no sense that it would have any consequences or ramifications. It was very unfiltered but also so smart. Clearly there were lots of references to books and films. So when I heard that he wanted to write A Cook’s Tour, where he was going to travel the world despite having virtually no travel experience, I was intrigued. Bourdain’s entire career up to that point was 25 years in various kitchens of New York. And suddenly he’s asking, “How does the rest of the world eat? What do they think about food?” I thought maybe there’s a series here, where we follow this guy around as he sort of stumbles through
COVER STORY: LYDIA TENAGLIA
the world. And that in fact is exactly what the show became. We found Bourdain at a point in his life where he was really traveling for the first time. Everything was new, everything was different and strange and outside of his comfort zone. I think we were able to capture that. At the same time, the show would not have worked quite the same way if Bourdain didn’t already have an encyclopedic knowledge of films, of literature and history... he was able to draw from all those references. As producers, Chris and I were feeding off of those creative references. We found that rhythm with Bourdain pretty early on. By the second location of A Cook’s Tour, Vietnam, we had hit our stride...The minute we landed and exited into that airport—an airport that we’d seen all through images of the Vietnam War—there was an immediate connection to that location for him. He’s a very avid reader of Vietnam history, especially the war period. He had a strong connection to works like Apocalypse Now and Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. He had all these references that he started to pull from, and from there, he came alive—and the show really came alive at that point. We ended up doing two seasons of A Cook’s Tour. Then the Food Network’s mandate shifted, and they asked Tony, “Could you try to do more domestic shows? Maybe a barbecue show?”
HOW DID HE TAKE THAT IDEA? He … politely pushed away from the table. [laughs] God love them, that stuff has worked very well for Food Network. Nothing against barbecue shows! Because hey, we did a barbecue show. But Tony’s like, no, I’m really enjoying this international thing. Fortunately, we were able to continue making the show with other networks.
AFTER DOING THE SERIES FOR SO MANY SEASONS, HOW DO YOU WORK TO KEEP THE FORMAT FRESH? The format for the show actually forces us to keep it fresh. For each location we travel
I was just plunged into that world, feeling like: This is really cool. I felt viscerally connected to that kind of storytelling, that kind of camaraderie with a group. That was very eyeopening for me.”
to, we ask: Is there a reference that we want to tap into for this particular place? Several years ago, we did an episode of No Reservations set in Rome. We did it all in black and white, very much fashioned after that Italian neo-realist style. That was the starting point. How do we shoot a Rome episode using Italian neo-realism as our reference point? That’s the starting point, I think, for every episode. Is there a film reference, a book reference, an historical reference we can use as inspiration? Is there a filmmaker we really like? Bourdain a fan of Wong Kar-wai, for example, so our Hong Kong episode became an homage to Wong Kar-wai films. Darren Aronofsky, the director, wanted to accompany Tony to Madagascar so that episode had its own texture and tone.
HIT MADAGASCAR WITH DARREN ARONOFSKY. COOL, CROSS THAT OFF THE BUCKET LIST. [laughs] Exactly. I mean, the only real format to the show is: It’s Bourdain and we go to a country. That’s it. The rest is asking the questions: What’s the story here? Who are the characters in that place who can tell that story? The show has moved way beyond just sitting down to eat food at the table. We did an L.A. episode where we concentrated the entire show in a three-block radius of Koreatown. We just made the entire show about that world of characters who live there.
YEAH, THAT NEIGHBORHOOD IS A REAL CROSSROADS. IN TERMS OF PREP, HOW FAR OUT ARE YOU PLANNING THESE SHOOTS? OBVIOUSLY YOU NEED TO HAVE SOME CONTROL OVER YOUR SHOOTING ENVIRONMENT, BUT SO MUCH OF THE BEST NONFICTION WORK COMES OUT OF SPONTANEITY AND IMPROVISATION. Prep can be anywhere from five to seven weeks, depending on the location and
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COVER STORY: LYDIA TENAGLIA
Tenaglia (second left) and Anthony Bourdain (second right) celebrate a delicious Vietnamese meal at Com Niue Saigon with hosts Dinh Hoang Linh (left) and Madame Ngoc (center), and producer Chris Collins (right). (Photo: Diane Schutz)
how difficult it is to access. It’s important to find good fixers on the ground who can help get that inside access, and find characters who can tell the story of that location in a unique way. If we have a strong visual conceit, like in the Wong Kar-wai episode, that will inform the kind of cameras and lenses we use, along with the color palette and style of shooting. That part gets carefully thought out. When shooting each individual scene, there is a tremendous amount of improvisation, but there is also a lot of structure in the way a particular story is going to be told.
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE MORE ABOUT THAT? WHAT ARE SOME TIMES ON LOCATION WHEN YOU HAD TO SCRAMBLE, WHERE YOU WOUND UP SOMEWHERE UNEXPECTED? I can answer that question pretty literally, in fact. [laughs] But I have to first note that I’m not physically producing that particular series anymore. It’s produced in the field by an incredibly skilled team of directors, producers and cinematographers, led by executive producer Sandy
Zweig, who are putting their own personal and very unique aesthetics into each episode. But very early on when we were doing A Cook’s Tour, it was just me and Chris and Tony in the field. For one episode, we were in Cambodia and suddenly had this opportunity to fling ourselves into the unknown—the fixer said, “If you want, you can take a boat ride up this river and it’ll take you to this interesting little town in the jungle on the border of Cambodia and Thailand.” Now, this trip was not included in any of our preproduction research, but we thought, sure, let’s see where this goes. We made our way down to the shoreline in a very remote location and suddenly this man pulls up … in full military fatigues. That was our boat. The three of us got on with him. He spoke no English. And we made our way up this river, deeper and deeper—it went on for a long time, hours and hours. The sun started to drop. The boat suddenly stopped. In the middle of nowhere, we picked up another passenger, a male passenger, also in miliraty fatigues. And at that point, we looked at each other and we were all a bit freaked out.
Now as producers, you can either sit there and be completely freaked out—and we were—or you can be freaked out and then try to make a scene out of that. Up until that point, we had been mostly shooting the scenery along the way, but then we decided to tap into what was actually happening there, tap into our fear and trepidation in that moment, and make that a piece of the story. We started prompting Tony, trying to shoot him in a way that hovered between fear and fascination with the situation and what we were all feeling. That became one of the strongest scenes in the episode. That was nothing we ever could have pre-produced. It was not on any outline. I think that is the strength of the Bourdain series, the way it walks that tightrope of improvisation.
SO IF AS YOU’VE SAID, BOURDAIN HAS PROVIDED THE FOUNDATION FOR ZERO POINT ZERO’S WORK, HOW HAVE YOU TRIED TO BUILD ON THAT? Across most of our work, we definitely lean in the direction of character-driven
Entertainment Partners is proud to sponsor the PGAâ€™s 2017 Produced By Conference, connecting and recognizing talented producers from around the globe.
COVER STORY: LYDIA TENAGLIA
stories. The characters have a really strong personal voice. Eight out of 10 times they’re actually very good writers; they’ve either written books or they’re accomplished journalists. So from the start, there is a strong editorial point of view and a strong writing style. We’ve done a series called Meat Eater, a hunting show, for six years now with a guy named Steven Rinella. That was a subject that I thought I had no affinity for and certainly had my own preconceived notions about. He walked in the door of our office that frst day and I was like, Oh, here comes the hunter guy. I already know what this is going to be. But I started to read his work. He’s written several incredible books about the ethos and philosophy of the hunter. He’s probably got a more honest relationship with food than any of us does, and he was able to articulate the world of hunting in a way that really attracted us to the subject matter. He surprised us, just like Tony did with food and the table. Food and the table was just an entry point to talk about something bigger. It isn’t just about that banh mi you’re eating in Vietnam, it’s about what is contextually happening around it. It’s sociopolitical, it’s cultural. Steven Rinella was able to articulate the story of the hunter to us in a very similar way. Hunting is just the way in to talk about a particular philosophy, about a personal ethos. We’ve done The Hunt with John Walsh about the search for criminal fugitives. John, of course, did years of America’s Most Wanted, and I had had my preconceived notions of who John was. But he came in and really started to articulate his world in a powerful way. He made us all understand deeply the importance of his work for the last 25 years, And we realized that there’s a way to redefine this subject matter from a new and very particular point of view.
HOW SO? What you realize when you speak to John is that his strong passion to capture criminals emanates from a very personal tragedy, and he has an ability to articulate
Lydia Tenaglia with iconoclastic chef Jeremiah Tower on location in Mexico. (Photo: Lydia Tenaglia)
that experience from the point of view of the victim and the victim’s family, So The Hunt is really about the internal life of the victim and of those left behind after something tragic has transpired. We don’t put John in the field like in America’s Most Wanted. Instead, we inteview him in this very gritty, raw space, where he’s able to comment on particular cases in a way that cuts straight through to the audience: This victim was a living, breathing person with feelings and dreams and a family... and this is the aftermath when a person’s life is tragically cut short. The people around them are left in a state of internal chaos and despair. The criminal who perpetrated this crime ran away from what they did. They must be found and must face what they have done. The series is very powerful and very effective. The audience becomes invested in the hunt and engaged in the process of calling the tip line. In the three seasons we’ve been on, the show has been directly responsible for the capture of many criminal fugitives.
THAT KIND OF MATERIAL REQUIRES A REALLY DELICATE TOUCH. Yes. I really credit the two showrunners, Shawn Cuddy and Ted Schillinger, for the way they crewed up the series. The teams they hired are highly skilled at riding that delicate line between caring for the victims while also getting the material they needed to tell their story. Not easy.
SO, HAVING DONE THIS FOR 17, 18 YEARS, YOU’VE BEEN ABLE TO WATCH WHATEVER WE CALL “REALITY TELEVISION” CYCLE AROUND A BIT. Yeah, we’ve watched a pretty big cycle go around.
HOW HAVE YOU GUYS ADAPTED TO THOSE CYCLES? I think it’s more like we purposely haven’t adapted. During the years where everyone was perhaps hovering around a certain kind of reality television, I think we held our own, in large part because we’ve never been any good at pitching to the mandates.
COVER STORY: LYDIA TENAGLIA
We just don’t. We can’t. A network will send out their signals, ‘This is what we’re focused on,’ but we can only pitch in a way that we truly can get excited about, that we find interesting, and that we feel like we could produce in our own Zero Point Zero style. Of course, that doesn’t always work out for us. Networks certainly have their own brands of storytelling. If our style meshes—great. If it doesn’t, we move on. But we’re not going to re-imagine the show in a way that’s less interesting to us just to fit a network’s brand identity. I’m sure a lot of production companies can relate to this.
THAT CAN BE TRICKY WHEN TRENDS DICTATE THAT “FOOD PROGRAMMING” MEANS COOKING COMPETITIONS AND RECIPE SHOWS. Yeah, in general, I would say most of the networks that we deal with here in the U.S., aside from CNN, do feel more comfortable with domestic-type programming. It doesn’t preclude them doing things that are international, but there’s an emphasis on trying to keep stuff closer to home. Whereas partners like Netflix, for example, who are inherently global by the nature of their platform, are looking for programming that can appeal to audiences all over the world. So I think they like what we do and know that we can do it well, and they believe that the material we create can be re-versioned for their different global markets. So that’s why we like working with them. The same is true of CNN. I mean, CNN’s a news organization. They’re not going to say, “Make another barbecue show.” They’re telling us, “Yes! Go to Myanmar. Go to the Congo.” Other networks more likely say—with complete justification, since they know their own brand—you know what? Our audience is not really interested in the Congo or Myanmar or what’s happening there.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO OTHER PRODUCERS WHO ARE LOOKING TO EXPAND THE BOUNDARIES OF THE FORM – GEOGRAPHICALLY OR IN WHATEVER OTHER WAY? Don’t be afraid to defy convention. Don’t
be afraid to break the mold. You see a lot of networks decide, “Oh, that’s working,” and then everyone falls in line. “Let’s try to repeat that.”
“AS PRODUCERS, YOU CAN EITHER SIT THERE AND BE COMPLETELY FREAKED OUT—AND WE WERE—OR YOU CAN BE FREAKED OUT AND THEN TRY TO MAKE A SCENE OUT OF THAT.” TV IS VERY GOOD AT THAT. [laughs] It’s very good at that. I’m not trying to sound arrogant or whatever, but if you believe in trying to push the ball forward, then push the ball forward. Don’t be afraid to put your inimitable stamp on something. If someone pitches me an idea and they’re like, “Hey, this is the next Deadliest Catch” or whatever … Well, I don’t want to do the next Deadliest Catch. Because they already did Deadliest Catch, and they did it really fuckin’ well. Why do you want to do the next Deadliest Catch? Move forward. Find somebody who can tell you a story that only that person can tell, then build a world around them and push the damn ball forward.
Producers Dan Cohen, Shawn Levy and Dan Levine
THE ARRIVAL OF 21 LAPS
Can a one-time family movie impresario and his hardworking team change the storytelling model? Stranger things have happened. Written by Spike Friedman Photographed by Kremer Johnson Photography
hile I was binging the first season of Stranger Things last year, along with the rest of America, I had a moment. Maybe you had it too. During the show’s credits, a producer’s name jumped out at me. “Shawn Levy? The guy who directed Night at the Museum and Real Steel?” A quick IMDB search revealed that yes, not only did Levy produce Stranger Things, a sci-fi phenomenon that is getting people to rethink how television series are structured, but he was also a producer of last year’s Best Picture nominee Arrival, and his production company 21 Laps is shepherding an ambitious slate of projects through development. So in sitting down with him and his 21 Laps producing partners, Dan Levine and Dan Cohen, I wanted to know how a guy went from making big, mainstream family features to being a standard bearer for the disappearing, artist-driven studio feature and event miniseries. What I found was a trio of producers who don’t just love movies (boy, do they ever) but also love the work it takes to get great movies to the screen. From finding compelling material, to assembling the right team, to lining up finance and distribution, 21 Laps blew me away with their ability to do the hard work required to bring challenging material to big audiences. But it didn’t start that way. 21 Laps started almost 12 years ago, in the aftermath of the success of Levy’s Night at the Museum. The idea initially from Fox, still 21 Laps’ home studio, was for it to be a standard filmmaker-driven production company; they’d get first dibs on Levy’s work going forward, and he’d have a space on their lot. The company operated like this for a couple of years, supporting Levy’s work but not yet finding its larger creative groove. That changed when Levy brought in Dan Cohen and Dan Levine, now inevitably referred to around 21 Laps HQ as The Dans. The trio coalesced in a matter of weeks. Levine came on first, meeting in the narrow slot between a Real Steel motion capture session and Levy’s daughter’s school play. “[Levine’s] was the most cursory interview for literally the president position at a company,” says Levy, “but I had an instant good vibe.” Cohen came on just a week
later. At the time, “I was focused in the genre world, working on indie horror films, and at first, looking at 21 Laps, there was really no overlap,” Cohen recalls. “But I’d heard such great things about Shawn and when I met him, I just wanted to work here.” The Dans themselves immediately bonded over their idiosyncratic taste in classic films. “That eclecticism was the key,” Levy says, looking back. “That range of tonality was the key to what we three aspire towards.” Unlike many of the other production companies that have had success making filmmaker-driven films over the past decade, 21 Laps has done so with medium- to large-scale movies. Films like Arrival and the upcoming Kin and The Darkest Minds live in a space that’s bigger than indies but smaller than tentpoles; these films used to represent the bulk of what Hollywood produced, but it’s a space that has been increasingly squeezed across the industry. Even something like Stranger Things has an old-school, mini-series vibe, sharing more DNA with classic long-form events like 1984’s V than with most modern sci-fi TV series. Levine admits, “They’re hard. You look at Arrival or Stranger Things, they all had their disbelievers, people who passed.” But he credits the team’s relentlessness for getting them across the finish line. “It was our sheer conviction and passion for what our filmmakers were doing.” “There were two things I realized early on when we started working together,” says Levy. “We all were truly passionate about movies, and we all are grinders. We work really hard. It’s a deep passion and belief, and the discipline is there to back it up with persistent, gritty hard work. That’s the culture of this company.” “And we can take a punch,” Levine adds. “You rarely get a good incoming phone call, or a good incoming email. Every time you pick up the phone there’s some hammer dropping. You gotta be able to get your heads together and go, ‘Okay we had this setback. How are we gonna go forward?’” In describing the process that it took for Arrival to go from a critically renowned short story to a commercially successful Best Picture nominee, directed by the heir to the Blade Runner franchise, the grittiness of the trio comes through.
THE ARRIVAL OF 21 LAPS
“We pitched it,” Cohen smiles, “and it was amazing. The screenwriter, Eric Heisserer, pitched it with note cards, each with pictures that he laid out in a circle. It was a truly awesome pitch. Of course, no one bought it.” “There were years when Arrival didn’t look like it had a path to production,” Levy remembers. “So you’d better love it. Because it’s gonna knock you down everyday.” Since Heisserer’s passion for the project was every bit equal to 21 Laps’, the team continued working together, getting the script right on spec. “That was the moment,” Levine declares. “We had a suspicion it might not get set up as a pitch. We might need a script. It was a huge moment when Eric stepped up and said, ‘I’ll write it on spec.’” Levy points out this is not unique at 21 Laps. They have a number of projects that are sufficiently execution-dependent that they’re unlikely to be sold as ideas. But they readily keep the development work going in-house, gambling with their time and energy that partners will bite on a final product. The recruitment of Denis Villeneuve to direct was another signal moment for the group. As Cohen explains, “We were just in the process of getting [author Ted] Chiang to say ‘okay’ [to giving us the rights]. Ted, to his credit, had this beloved short story and looked at our credits at the time and he goes, ‘Convince me.’ After all, Eric had written only horror. We as a company had almost only made family films. And one of the key factors was that we said, ‘We’re gonna send you a movie. This is the guy we want to direct it.’ And we sent him (Villeneuve’s 2011 feature) Incendies. This is four years before Denis directed our movie.” Levy lays it out: “When we gave Incendies to Ted, we didn’t have Denis committed. When we
gave Denis the short story, we didn’t have the rights. It really was that crazy producorial juggling act. You have to act like it’s real to have any chance of making it real. That’s what we do. Bet on the come.” Once they got the package together and everyone onboard, the financing fell into place, and there was effectively a bidding war for the distribution rights on the project. “The work had to be done internally for the lion’s share of the process,” Levy explains, “so that it could become so self-evident that studios wanted to acquire it.” Cohen’s even more sanguine on the journey that led to the film’s production. “What if we did sell that fantastic pitch? It probably would never have even gotten made. It was
such a specific story and process that it had to stay singular in its vision.” What comes through in talking to Levy, Cohen and Levine is that 21 Laps’ ability to make filmmaker-driven, midsized features and culture-bending television comes from bringing the best of the indie film model to bear with studio-sized resources. “I get asked often now, ‘What is the 21 Laps brand?’” Levy admits. “I’m way less concerned with that answer than ‘What is the 21 Laps culture?’ And the culture of 21 Laps is ‘do the work.’ That is an indie model. You believe in the idea. You do the work to turn it into a movie. And you trust that the financing will arrive as a result of that hard work.”
Producer Dan Levine (center) on the set of Arrival with fellow producer Aaron Ryder (left) and director Denis Villenueve
PHOTOGRAPH BY JAN THIJS
“IT REALLY WAS THAT CRAZY PRODUCORIAL JUGGLING ACT. YOU HAVE TO ACT LIKE IT’S REAL TO HAVE ANY CHANCE OF MAKING IT REAL.”
THE ARRIVAL OF 21 LAPS
Even with Arrival’s success, which culminated in a Best Picture nomination, Stranger Things is the project that definitively changed the company’s perception in Hollywood. “It started with Dan Cohen coming in and saying, ‘stop and read,’” recalls Levy. “He said it was possibly the best spec pilot he’d ever read. I read it, agreed, and we brought in the [Duffer] brothers. And at that point I had no idea whether anyone would want to make Stranger Things, but I knew it was awesome. And I knew we wanted to help. So I told the brothers straight up, ‘Let’s link arms, let me help, let us help bring this into the world.’” Cohen lovingly recalls another set of pitch materials. “We had the pilot obviously,” he says, “but the Duffers had a lookbook that looked like an old, faded Stephen King paperback, which ultimately became the basis for our one-sheet. And they did a mood reel that was very cool, and it used Survive, who they ended up hiring to do their amazing score. You would sit with
them and in 20 minutes, they pitched you exactly what you’ve seen.” For the group, the strength of the Duffer Brothers’ vision on the show made pitching it a dream even if sometimes it was a tough sell. “They had the show in their soul from the get go,” says Levy, “but they were these unknown brothers, so it was a long shot. Unknown showrunner/directors with kid leads on a show that isn’t for kids? Conventional wisdom says that’s poison.” The producers didn’t fault the instincts of the many potential backers who passed on the project. But they held out hope. “We always believed Netflix was the perfect platform,” says Levy, “because the brothers from day one said, ‘We don’t want this to be a typical series. We want this to be an eight-hour movie.’ So then we went with the Duffers and we pitched Netflix. And the next morning, they bought the whole season. It’s worth saying that there are very few buyers who are ready to bet to this extent on brand
new television creators the way Netflix has on the Duffers.” Truthfully, when it came to putting together Stranger Things, things sometimes felt appropriately strange. There was no studio. The showrunners were inexperienced, but had Levy, a successful studio director, shooting episodes alongside them. The room in general was kept very small. “This ride with Stranger Things has been truly gratifying because of the creative team,” Levy says. “Those of us who actually make the show are an inordinately small group, so everyone does the work.” This small team allows Stranger Things to maintain a unique feel. “It’s almost like a book,” says Cohen. “Each episode is a chapter and it feels like these paperback books these guys read as kids.” Levy puts it another way: “The Duffer Brothers’ instincts are the law of Stranger Things. They want to do what they feel is right. And as a result we’ve got this, now, quite singular show. I think season 2 will be equally renegade
Walk it like you own it; Levine, Levy and Cohen on the Fox Studios lot.
THE ARRIVAL OF 21 LAPS
industry and the audience alike, 21 Laps has hit its stride. While I was surprised to see Levy’s name on Stranger Things and Arrival, going forward it’s no surprise that he’s connected to a wide range of interesting projects in the pipeline, from the aforementioned Kin to Kodachrome with Ed Harris.
In speaking to the future of the company, Cohen puts it best: “Stranger Things came out of nowhere. That was new terrain for us. So we have to keep that hunger.” He pauses a moment, then clarifies, smiling, “I think we want to keep doing whatever we want with whomever we want.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY JACKSON LEE DAVIS/NETFLIX
in its refusal to follow rules.” That respect goes both ways. “Making Stranger Things with Shawn and Dan [Levine] has been a dream,” the Duffers told Produced By. “From day one—long before the show was a hit—they believed in our vision. What we love about the company is that Shawn is a director first, so he’s extraordinarily protective of a director’s vision. He’s both our shield and our collaborator.” The success of Stranger Things has been enormous. The October debut of season 2 is a tentpole by any other name, with some movies even moving off of the release date to accommodate it. But again, like Arrival, it’s a midsized production. It wasn’t initially a massive investment for Netflix like Adam Sandler’s slate of films or David Ayer’s upcoming feature, Bright. It’s filmmaker-driven, a throwback, and it hit huge because it was shepherded by a production company that cares first and foremost about the visions of its artists. Now that they have redefined themselves as a producer of filmmaker-driven work, a place where artists can come to expand how they are perceived by the
Shawn Levy (left) on the set of Stranger Things with showrunners and creators Matt and Ross Duffer.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ERIC CHARBONNEAU/INVISION
Producers Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen at the Stranger Things premiere.
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Pitch Minefield Sometimes thereâ€™s nothing more dangerous than a good idea.
Written by Neville Johnson and Douglas Johnson Illustrated by Ajay Peckham
NAVIGATING THE PITCH MINEFIELD
heft of idea and copyright litigation keep lawyers very busy, as dishonesty involving literary property is very real. Hollywood’s true currency is good and valuable ideas. A creative executive who has no ideas can find him or herself without a job. Protectable intellectual property can be as simple as an expression of an idea or as complex as a completed screenplay or book. The starting point in idea theft is whether the idea is protectable. The fundamental belief is that ideas, on their own, are not legally protected. Some ideas are so commonplace and ordinary that they are excluded from copyright law protection under the scenes a faire doctrine. The most common example of this doctrine is the plot from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the story of two young people from warring families who fall in love with tragic results. A Wikipedia page currently lists 88 film and television adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet.” The most important method of selling ideas in the film and television industry is the pitch. So how does the intellectual property exchanged in a pitch meeting secure legal protection? Ordinarily before the pitch, there is no written contract between the two parties to buy and sell the idea. What is to stop the recipient from appropriating every good idea that comes his or her way? One legal protection for ideas is known as the “implied-in-fact”
contract. California courts have held that an implied contractual right to compensation may arise when a creative submits material to a producer with the understanding that the creator will be paid if the producer uses that idea. Given the possibility of an implied-infact contract, the recurring question asked by clients on both sides of the pitch is how to avoid claims of idea theft. How can the writers submitting intellectual property
movie. The central idea of the movie was the life story of Floyd Collins, a boy who became trapped in a cave 80 feet deep. Desny could not get past Wilder’s secretary, who told him the 65-page treatment was too long for Wilder to read. Three days later, Desny called back with a three-page outline. Wilder’s secretary asked Desny to read the outline over the phone so she could take it down in shorthand, and he did. The secretary told Desny she liked the story, would talk it over with Wilder and “let him know” what happened. Desny told the secretary that Paramount and Wilder could only use the story if they paid him. To Desny’s surprise, Wilder and Paramount made a movie concerning the life and death of Floyd Collins, Ace in the Hole, which closely paralleled Desny’s synopsis, as well as the historical material on Floyd Collins. However, the film also included fictional material unique to Desny’s synopsis. Desny sued, claiming that Wilder and Paramount breached an implied contract. The California Supreme Court agreed with Desny, recognizing that even when an unsolicited idea submission is made, the circumstances of the disclosure may support the finding of an implied-in fact-contract. Usually the parties will expressly contract for the performance of and payment for such services, but in the absence of an express contract, when the service is
“IF A CREATOR BLURTS OUT AN IDEA TO A HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER SHE JUST MET AT A BAR, THERE IS NO CONTRACT. THE CREATOR MUST BE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO REJECT THE DECISION BEFORE IT IS CONVEYED. UNSOLICITED PITCHES RARELY HAVE LEGAL PROTECTION!
protect their rights in their submissions? And conversely, how can recipients of submitted scripts protect themselves from accusations of idea theft?
DEVELOPMENT OF THE IMPLIED-IN-FACT CONTRACT IN CALIFORNIA California’s courts began wrestling with these questions in 1956 in the seminal case Desny v. Wilder. In that case, Victor Desny called director Billy Wilder at Paramount Pictures, with a “great idea” for a
NAVIGATING THE PITCH MINEFIELD
requested and rendered, the law does not hesitate to infer or imply a promise to compensate for it. In other words, the recovery may be based on a contract either express or implied. The person who can and does convey a valuable idea to a producer who commercially solicits the service or who voluntarily accepts it knowing that it is tendered for a price should likewise be entitled to recover. A plaintiff suing for breach of implied-infact contract relating to an idea submission must prove that (1) she conditioned her offer to disclose the idea to the defendant on the defendant’s express promise to pay for the idea if the defendant used it, (2) the defendant, knowing the condition before the idea was disclosed to him, voluntarily accepted its disclosure, and (3) the defendant found the idea valuable and used it. For an implied-in-fact contract to form, the recipient must understand the conditions under which the idea is being disclosed. If, for example, the creator blurts out the idea to a Hollywood producer she just met at a bar, there is no contract. The recipient must be given the opportunity to reject the submission before it is conveyed. Unsolicited pitches rarely have legal protection! Therefore, the eager creative should not tell anyone and everyone in town about their idea, because the likelihood is that it will be stolen unless the disclosure is made under circumstances where the recipient either requested the idea or it was understood from the circumstances that there is an expectation of payment, e.g., a pitch meeting at a studio. Two elements are required to raise the inference of use: that the defendant had access to the plaintiff’s idea, and that he copied it. Copying can be demonstrated by showing that the defendant’s work is substantially similar to plaintiff’s idea. Where a writer or producer conveys an idea to a potential purchaser, and the defendant produces a product similar to that idea, an inference arises that recipient used the idea. Moreover, less similarity is required when the evidence of access is stronger, but the similarity must be to a
material element or qualitatively important part of the idea, and could range from a mere basic theme up to an extensively elaborated premise. Access to the idea is proven if one is able to demonstrate that the person creating the movie had an opportunity to view or copy the plaintiff’s work. Access can also be established is the recipient of the idea is an individual in a position to provide suggestions or comment to a supervisory employee, or is an employee within the unit from which the defendant’s work was developed. However, there is a recent example in which a court dismissed a case—on the grounds of its being too speculative—wherein a project had been submitted to an agent at a major agency and the plantiff argued that a different agent at that agency could have had access to it. The “substantial similarity” standard in a Desny claim is much lower than in a copyright case. “Substantial similarity” in Ninth Circuit copyright cases is complicated and it is generally thought that the studios and recipients fare better in copyright cases.
New York also recognizes Desny-type claims, but adds an extra element: An idea must be novel to the buyer for an impliedin-fact contract to exist.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF DESNY CLAIMS VERSUS COPYRIGHT CLAIMS A Desny claim and a copyright claim may be brought together in the same lawsuit. Both types of claims will revolve around the timing of the idea theft. The same evidence will be used to establish the case, i.e., emails, computer hard drive searches, witness depositions. While a Desny claim and a copyright claim may be brought simultaneously, each type of claim has advantages and disadvantages. Damages: The winner of a copyright infringement case is entitled to his or her actual damages, as well as all profits the infringer made from the project. A prevailing plaintiff in a Desny claim, however, must prove the reasonable value of the ideas used by the defendant. If a submitter has no proven track record of having his or her work produced, the defendant will assert
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NAVIGATING THE PITCH MINEFIELD
that damages are limited by the writer’s stature. Whereas if a producer has previously earned fees and backend participation in the past, damages will likely be greater. However, some courts have held that damages should be based on the value of the idea to the defendant. Damages are problematic for rookie writers and producers in Desny claims, and a case may not be worth pursuing for this reason. State court advantage: The Desny claim can be filed in state court, while copyright claims are limited to federal court. In California state court, a plaintiff may prevail if he convinces 9 out of 12 jurors. Federal courts require a unanimous jury verdict for a plaintiff to prevail. Attorney fees: The prevailing party in a copyright case may be able to recover his or her attorney fees and costs incurred in the litigation. This could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, this award cuts both ways—an unsuccessful plaintiff could find himself bankrupted by these fees and costs. Attorney fees are not automatically given to the winning party, but are subject to the court’s discretion. The court must give substantial weight to the objective reasonableness of the losing party’s position before making such an award. For example, in two recent trials involving songs by Marvin Gaye and Led Zeppelin, the courts used their discretion in denying the attorney fees award, finding that the case presented novel issues and the outcome of those issues was far from clear during the litigation. Because of this issue, we commonly recommend that a plaintiff file only a Desny claim in state court, rather than filing an additional federal copyright claim. Copyright claims require registration: A copyright claim is predicated on registration of the idea with the U.S. Copyright Office. An owner of intellectual property can’t recover statutory damages (minimum damages) or attorney fees unless the idea was registered with the copyright office three months before the disclosure or publication of the work. Copyright registration opens the door to these damages, which can be a valuable
tool in obtaining a settlement. Independent creation defense to Desny claim: The independent creation defense is the primary defense against a Desny claim. This defense allows the defendant to overcome a claim by affirmatively proving that any similarity is purely coincidental and that no use of the plaintiff’s idea occurred because the defendant’s project was independently created.
MAKING SUBMISSIONS – BEST PRACTICES The easiest way to protect ideas when making a pitch is to create a clear paper trail long before that meeting with a potential producing partner. Creating a paper trail begins with registering the idea. We recommend all treatments and scripts be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office immediately upon creation. The Writers Guild of America provides a registration service for use by the general public, as well as its members. The purpose of this registration is to establish the completion dates of material written for film and television. The registration provides a dated record of the idea, a date that will be the crux of any infringement or breach of contract action. In our opinion, registration with the Copyright Office is the way to go. A “leave behind,” the written pitch, is and should usually be left with the person(s) being pitched. The paper trail should continue after the pitch. Send a follow-up email to the recipient of the idea thanking the person who took the pitch. Again, this will help prove the timing of the submission. Protection of the idea with this paper trail implicates more than payment for the idea. It also protects a potential writing credit. The importance of receiving a writing credit goes far beyond immediate monetary compensation. In the film and television world, the writing credit is particularly valuable and can be career-defining, as it performs a marketing function in that it helps to obtain work and helps set the writer’s “quote”, assists in negotiating for a higher rate of compensation once a job opportunity has been offered and can
assist in obtaining additional compensation based on a substantial contribution to a project as reflected by the credit received.
RECEIVING SUBMISSIONS – BEST PRACTICES The recipient of ideas should also be concerned about possible claims of idea theft and should take steps to avoid such claims. The obvious first step is to refuse to accept unsolicited submissions of ideas. The second line of defense is use of a submission agreement, which should be fully executed before the contents of the submitted work are disclosed. These agreements will commonly include a provision stating that the person submitting the idea understands that the recipient may have a similar idea in progress. The submission agreement may also include a provision for mandatory mediation or binding arbitration in the event of a dispute, and a provision giving attorney fees to the prevailing party. The downside of demanding mandatory arbitration is the cost. Another downside with commonly used arbitrators like JAMS, is the issue of potential institutional bias. (See Johnson & Johnson, “Hollywood Docket: One Sided World,” 27 New York State Bar Assn, Entertainment, Art and Sports Law Journal 23 (2016).) This article points out that the major studios love mandatory arbitration, and there is a perceived bias by arbitrators who are suspected of being more lenient in the hopes of garnering repeat business. The submission agreement often is not required when the writer is established and represented by a reputable agent or attorney. In conclusion, theft of ideas is commonplace, as are meritless lawsuits. Beware and do your best to protect yourself. Courtrooms are not the theatre in which you want your ideas to be played out. Neville Johnson and Douglas Johnson are partners at Johnson & Johnson LLP, in Beverly Hills, CA, which specializes in entertainment litigation and transactions. Associate Ron Funnell assisted in writing the article.
The market for digital storytelling has never been more robust…or more confusing. Written by Chris Thomes
he wave of original programming targeted at digital and social platforms continues to gain steam. Social networks like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and even Google’s YouTube Red subscription service are diving headfirst into exclusive original streaming video content. And they aren’t the only buyers. The list of potential backers of shows and movies in the digital space has grown exponentially over the last few years. The list includes telecommunications giants such as AT&T and Verizon, traditional linear TV net-
works that are looking to broaden their offerings to include digital series, legacy and digital publishers such as Time Inc. and Refinery29 and, of course, streaming services from the 800- pound-gorilla Netflix to smaller operators such as Fullscreen and its in-house wiseacres Rooster Teeth. Funding in this digital space comes from an ever-shifting crowd of buyers, but one new player bringing lots of poker chips to the table has some serious reach—Facebook. The social networking giant is talking to Hollywood studios and agencies about producing TV-quality
shows. In meetings with major talent agencies including Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency and William Morris Endeavor, as well as with major networks, Facebook has indicated it is willing to commit to production budgets as high as $3 million per episode, people familiar with the situation say. While that’s the price range of high-end cable TV shows, Facebook is also interested in more moderate-cost scripted shows in the mid-to-high six-figure-per-episode range. And you can bet the company will be aggressive about trying to own as
much of that content as possible. The push for TV shows is part of a twotrack effort at Facebook to up its game in video and target the tens of billions of ad dollars spent on television. Snapchat is also playing in this space. Last year, Snap introduced “Shows” to its Discover platform. These premium, original, TV-like series are produced exclusively for mobile by leading TV networks and entertainment studios. These shows can be based on existing IP, giving networks the chance to reimagine classic TV franchises for a whole new audience, or they can be original new concepts, built directly for mobile. NBC, ABC, CBS, Discovery Networks, Turner, Scripps Networks, Vertical Networks, VICE, and MGM Television are among the networks and studios working to develop and produce Shows for Snapchat. Even Apple is getting into the game and is reportedly investing $1 billion in original content efforts next year. They recently plucked Sony TV veterans Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg away from the studio in June and have taken over video production responsibilities from the Apple Music team. The execs have already held meetings around town to find shows to acquire. With all of these buyers getting out their checkbooks, several companies are looking to cash in on that market demand. New Form Entertainment, a company backed by Discovery and filmmakers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, is looking to do just that, aggressively developing and selling a variety of programs. They know
the space is highly competitive, with everyone from independent digital studios to legacy print outlets to distributed-media publishers furiously jockeying for position. Another new player, helmed by digital
“THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES THAT SOME OF THE SOCIAL PLATFORMS CURRENTLY SEEKING SHOWS WILL BE WILLING TO PAY FOR THEM IN A FEW YEARS’ TIME.”
entertainment veteran Larry Shapiro, is Ensemble Studios, a next-generation digital management production company, focusing on emerging artists. Shapiro’s mandate is to capitalize on the wave of funding to champion writers, directors and artists
who have successfully built audience and created original IP. Shapiro explains, “The filmmakers that I work with are native to the platforms that they are being distributed on. Every medium creates its own stars, so the filmmakers who grew up on digital are the ones I like working with.“ To that end, Ensemble only looks to produce projects they are passionate about and where they feel a strong affinity for the subject matter. As far as funding, they look for independent financing or buyers who give the most freedom to the producer. All this competition between producers really requires compelling marketplace differentiations in order to gain an upper hand. New Form’s Chief Creative Officer, Kathleen Grace, explains, “What sets New Form apart is the quality of our storytelling and the fact that our content is guided by data-driven audience insights. Through measuring the potential of specific audiences and taking chances on emerging talent of all backgrounds, New Form is able to develop narratives that millennials want to watch and won’t find on TV. In addition, our ability to create for specific platforms, including digital-first platforms [e.g., YouTube Red and Fullscreen], brands, premium SVODs and linear television networks, allows us to experiment with new formats and find the best venue for our shows.” While that approach may be giving scripted programming a leg up, most of the short form currently in the market still consists of talk shows or other
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Facebook hopes that plenty of users will turn to its platform for original content.
non-scripted lifestyle programming. To really hold on to an audience and build a loyal base of viewers, the content will have to be more than commoditized social material. A lot of buyers want premium quality storytelling, which means that skills like putting together a writer’s room, locking in showrunners, and generating season-long arcs are becoming as important in the short-form space as they have been in traditional TV production. Snapchat has a very different value proposition to partners in this competitive landscape. Their shows are an extension of traditional TV, not a replacement for it. Snap believes their programming can help traditional TV networks reach new audiences who many not be watching their linear programs. The company has decided that building a core, loyal audience for their TV partners is critical to building their own IP brand equity and a long-term, sustainable model for producing mobile TV. Similarly, New Form is also helping traditional players find new audiences. As these players look to reach younger, mobile audiences, Grace’s team may be the secret weapon they need. “Currently,” she
states, “New Form is focused on making original content for existing franchises (like MGM’s Stargate Origins) and new IP (almost all series released to date), not generating ancillary content to network shows. But that doesn’t mean we won’t start looking into these kinds of partnerships in the future.” That may be good news for traditional media companies, who have seen consumers shift their media time away from live TV, opting for services that allow them to watch what they want, when they want. This includes a massive migration toward original digital video such as YouTube Originals, SVOD services such as Netflix, and now originals on social platforms like Facebook. But for the producer, wading through this complex marketplace requires more than simply understanding the funding model. The work approach with the buyer is also complicated. Facebook has been described as being “hands off” with the short-form content it’s buying, although the social platform is more involved with longer-form shows. Snapchat, on the other hand, tends to be much more closely involved, including piloting shows before
approving them for a full season. They are also known to weigh in at all stages of production, from brainstorming ideas to graphics. Facebook, contrarily, may order full seasons of short-form shows without ever piloting them and may leave producers entirely to their own devices during the show’s development. Ensemble has its own approach, focusing on a leaner production model that is closer to the filmmaker, de-emphasizing development/ executive teams that they fear can dilute the creative process. With all this demand for video, it would appear that there has never been a better time to be a digital entertainment producer. But while the market for digital entertainment content is healthy now, it’s also volatile. There are no guarantees that some of the social platforms currently seeking shows will be willing to pay for them in a few years’ time and there are no guarantees that some of the streaming platforms commissioning or licensing series will even stick around. In fact, in the three years since New Form’s launch, the digital ecosystem has changed dramatically. Platforms that were once hungry for short and mid-length series are now looking
for projects that can help them compete in an increasingly competitive streaming environment. That means more traditional-length series with established stars and creative talent attached. YouTube Red, for example, recently tapped Naya Rivera and Ne-Yo to star in a Step Up revival executive produced by Channing Tatum. Cable networks, meanwhile, have also begun to look to digital to mine projects for linear distribution, with TBS recently ordering a first season of the New Form-produced animated series Final Space. Despite the challenges inherent in the space, some producers maintain that even if one major video buyer drops out—Yahoo, for instance, made a lot of bets in entertainment shows before scaling back, while NBC Universal’s Seeso went big before it announced its demise in August— there is always a new buyer to take its place. New Form acknowledges the churn but believes they have a smart approach that can help them weather market shifts. “Audiences are moving and will continue to move to digital platforms,” Grace asserts. “New Form breaks through the clutter with performance-based marketing and premium storytelling driven by data. Our production and development process allows us to be incredibly agile in this rapidly changing media landscape, taking advantage of trends and ideas in real time—meaning we are making content that has never been made before. And lastly, we give our creators storytelling freedom to ensure the content is authentic, thought-provoking and diverse.” Ultimately these new buyer/distributors are looking for shows that will help attract audiences over time, and the challenge of staying on top of what audiences are looking for is nothing new for producers. It is an age-old problem, regardless of format or platform. But as Grace suggests, one new tool may hold a critical key to success in this new market—data. It’s the key to understanding one’s audience, and now more than ever, there is an abundance of data at the producer’s fingertips. Depending on the platform, that information may be unique. Snapchat, for example, is a closed
Short-form content producers Lara Clery (above) and Larry Shapiro (left) run point on their sets.
system within an application. They do share data with their partners, but it’s proprietary and their viewers’ behaviors are unique. Facebook is completely different, trying to reach everyone, everywhere. But between daily active users, daily unique users and video views, the metrics are starting to have some standards everyone can rely on, even if context around usage is different. Shapiro agrees and contextualizes the value of data all under the banner of engagement: “The use of influencers with big audiences will only get you so far. You can’t have one-offs if you are working with creators who have a footprint, and it will be hard to change the entertainment behavior of their audience. One thing will never change—we as a species like to be storytellers. Since cave drawings, it has been part of our culture. But we sometimes forget that it is a two-way exchange.
Today’s content is about stories that create conversation. Some say content is king, others say distribution is king. I’m a fan of the idea that engagement is king.” This data-driven, engagement-above-all approach for content development may be the producer’s best tool yet. If they are lucky enough to land funding from one of the new exhibitors, readiness to listen to and act on the viewing data may help guarantee another season because the ultimate test of longevity may not rest solely on great programming. As Netflix has proved, you also need to have a great discovery platform and tons of data insights. With so much competition, getting a viewer to find your content may be the biggest challenge producers face today. But armed with data-driven, high-quality programming, producers can be ready to engage viewers as fully as possible, whenever—and wherever—they show up.
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FAQ: THE PRODUCERS MARK those three little letters have a lot backing them up.
WHEN I SEE P.G.A. AFTER A PRODUCER’S NAME IN A MOVIE’S CREDITS, WHAT DOES IT MEAN? It means that according to the rules of the Producers Guild’s certification process, that producer performed a major portion of the producing functions on that particular motion picture.
DOES THE P.G.A. AFTER THE PRODUCER’S NAME MEAN THAT THE PRODUCER IS A MEMBER OF THE PRODUCERS GUILD? NO. A producer does not need to be a member of the PGA to receive the “p.g.a.” designation after their name. In many cases, the sets of initials you see in movie credits (such as A.S.C. and A.C.E.) indicate membership in an organization. The Producers Mark is different. It’s a certification mark; its purpose is to designate that the producer has met an officially recognized standard of performance on that film.
IF A PRODUCER DOESN’T RECEIVE THE P.G.A. MARK FROM THE PRODUCERS GUILD, WHAT HAPPENS TO THEIR PRODUCING CREDIT? Nothing. The Producers Mark doesn’t control or affect the “Produced by” credit in any way, nor does it invalidate that credit by its absence.
WHAT IMPACT DOES THE P.G.A. MARK HAVE ON AWARDS? Determinations for the Producers Mark and for producer award eligibility are determined at the same time and via the
same process. In addition to the PGA, AMPAS, HFPA and BAFTA all rely on the PGA process to guide their decisionmaking. However the final selection of nominees is always at the discretion of the organization giving the award. Overwhelmingly, these organizations concur with the PGA determinations, but occasionally, the decisions diverge.
WHAT’S THE PROCESS? The process is initiated by the copyright owner of the film. After the postproduction process has commenced, but 4-6 weeks before credits are locked, the owner submits a film for consideration via ProducersGuildAwards.com. Within 2-3 weeks, the PGA sends out eligibility forms to every producer credited as “Produced By” or “Producer” on the film and sends confidential verification forms to a wide variety of third parties associated with the production of the film: the director(s), writer(s), department heads, company executives and key crew members. Once forms have been returned, the PGA convenes a panel of arbiters, each of them active and experienced producers with numerous (and recent) credits, typically in the genre or category of the film under consideration. (i.e., If the film is a major studio tentpole, we try to utilize arbiters with considerable experience in making those big-budget studio pictures. If the film is a smaller indie movie, we rely on producers familiar with that type of production, etc.) An initial arbitration panel typically has three arbiters, though in rare circumstances two are used. The arbiters review all materials
returned to the PGA by the producers and third parties, with all personal names and company names redacted, so that arbiters can arrive at a judgment based on the testimony provided rather than the name recognition and perceived reputation of the producers. Following the determination, the PGA staff informs the producers of the decision. Producers who object to the decision have five days to notify the Guild of an intent to appeal. After giving producers the opportunity to add to or clarify their testimony, the PGA will convene a new panel of arbiters. All appellate panels consist of three producers. If the initial decision was unanimous, the appellate panel will consist of one producer from the original panel and two new producers; if the initial decision was not unanimous, the appellate panel will consist of three new producers. The decision of the appellate panel is final.
SO WHEN ARBITERS ARE LOOKING AT THESE FORMS, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING? The eligibility form filled out by producers asks them to indicate their level of responsibility for a variety of producing functions spanning development, preproduction, physical production and post-production. The form also includes a free-response section for the producer to more fully elaborate on the specifics of the production and their role on the film. The verification forms filled out by third parties typically ask the respondent questions related to the nature of their collaboration with the credited producers.
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(For instance, the verification form for editors asks the editor to designate which producer(s) consulted with the editor regarding dailies, gave notes on cuts or participated in screenings.)
WHO SELECTS WHICH ARBITERS VET THE CREDITS OF WHICH MOTION PICTURES? That determination is made by the PGA’s Director of Legal Affairs and Arbitrations in consultation with the National Executive Director.
WHAT IF THE PGA SELECTS AN ARBITER WHO (UNBEKNOWNST TO THEM) IS BIASED AGAINST A GIVEN PRODUCER OR FILM? The Guild takes proactive measures to prevent that from happening. Prior to convening the panel, the PGA provides all producers with a list of potential arbiters. Producers are free to strike any arbiter for any reason. Such arbiters will not be empaneled for that particular film. Furthermore, all arbiters are asked to affirmatively state that they have no interests in the films to be arbitrated that might result in a biased judgment. Even if all of those hurdles are cleared, an arbiter will be removed from the process if they or the PGA administrator feels that bias is affecting their judgment.
WHY CAN’T THE PGA BE MORE TRANSPARENT ABOUT THE PROCESS? We maintain the strictest confidentiality around the identities of the producers, third parties and arbiters involved because such confidence is the only
p.g.a. way we can hope to get accurate and truthful information. Many producers are powerful figures in this industry and this might put pressure on third parties and arbiters to achieve a desired decision. Keeping those identities confidential is the only way to maintain the integrity of the process.
participate, we can’t force them to submit for certification. The Producers Mark also is recognized by the WGA, DGA and SAG-AFTRA. The PGA has agreed not to license the Producers Mark for use with any combined credit (e.g., “Directed and Produced By …”)
ONCE A PRODUCER’S CREDIT IS CERTIFIED WITH THE P.G.A. MARK, IS THAT CERTIFICATION APPLIED PERMANENTLY TO ALL OF THE PRODUCER’S FILMS?
WHO DOES THE PRODUCERS GUILD REPRESENT?
No. A Producers Mark appended to a producing credit applies to that film only. It represents the nature of the work performed on that film alone and does not “carry over” to future productions.
WHY DO SOME FILMS CARRY THE P.G.A. MARK, BUT NOT OTHERS? The Producers Mark is voluntary. Each of the major studios—Universal, Disney, Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount and Fox— has signed a contractual agreement to submit their films to the Guild for credit certification, as have The Weinstein Company, Lionsgate, DreamWorks and DreamWorks Animation, Lucasfilm, Marvel, MGM, New Line and Pixar. If an independently owned film elects not to
The PGA is composed of over 7,500 professionals working in motion pictures, television and digital media throughout the United States and around the world.
HOW IS THE PGA DIFFERENT FROM ITS FELLOW GUILDS? Unlike the DGA, WGA and SAG-AFTRA, the PGA is not a labor union. This means that we can’t go on strike, set wage minimums, or negotiate collective bargaining agreements on behalf of our membership. As we are now the largest professional trade organization in the entertainment industry, the PGA provides numerous benefits for its members, including educational and training events, employment opportunities, social and networking functions, and a collective voice that represents and protects the varied interests of producers and their teams, including the Producers Mark. ■
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MEMBER BENEFITS ■ Discounted registration for Produced By Conference and Produced By: New York. ■ Vote on Producers Guild Awards and receive discount tickets to the event, as well as DVD screeners for awards consideration. ■ Admission to special PGA pre-release screenings and Q&A events. ■ Full access to PGA website including events, calendar, social networking tools, members-only video library.
■ Eligibility for PGA Mentoring Program. ■ Listing of contact and credit information in searchable online roster. ■ Arbitration of credit disputes. ■ Eligibility for individual, family and small business health care options through Producers Health Insurance Agency. ■ Free attendance at PGA seminars.
■ Access to PGA Job Board, online resume search, employment tools and job forums.
■ Wide variety of discounts on events, merchandise, travel.
■ Participation in the Motion Picture Industry Health, Welfare & Pension Plan.
■ Complimentary subscription to Produced By.
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NEW MEMBERS The Producers Guild is proud to welcome the following new members, who joined the Guild in July and August, 2017. PRODUCERS COUNCIL Bruce Benenson Lisa Black Kenneth Branagh 1 Eli Bush Kristina Ceyton Marcus Cox 2 Barbra Dannov Jonathan Deckter Deena Dill Crystal Emery Mel Eslyn Dan Farah Stephen Feder Anthony Fiorino Karen Gaviola Stephanie Germain Ben Gerry Steve Harding Dionne Harmon Jimmy Holcomb Jinny Howe Mike Jackson Tyler Jackson Martine Jean Mel Jones Lisa Kridos Chris Lancey Warren Leonard John Lerchen Adam Lipsius Hunt Lowry Stacy Lynn Rupert Maconick Giulio Marantonio Mary-Liz McDonald Brent Miller Patrick Newall McG Nichol Sean Owolo Clay Pecorin Alessandro Penazzi Robert Petrovicz
Paul Presburger Allison Roithinger Kirk Roos Lauren Rosenberg Michael Sammaciccia Nicole Sawatzke David Segel John Seraphine Risa Shapiro Deanna Shapiro Evan Silverberg Jonathan Sinclair Sara Spring Shana Stein Stacy Transou Lucy Treadway Charlotte Ubben Teddy Valenti Stephanie Wagner Brad Weston Jack White Seanne Winslow
NEW MEDIA COUNCIL Bob Chambers Whitney Clinkscales 3 Joe Ferencz Kate Grady Joshua Greenberg Peter Hammersly Michael Kaczmarek Aron Korney Sean Krankel
Roland Luitgaarden Sara Moskowitz Erick Opeka Steve Petersen Ann Podlozny 4 Robert Smith Karen Somers Jon 9 Stolzberg Lawrence Terenzi
AP COUNCIL ASSOCIATE PRODUCER/ PRODUCTION MANAGER/ PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR Michelle Blosser Gil Brozki Steven Chew Nicole Colombie James Crawford Jason Crow Melanie Cunningham Jessica Derhammer Gilbert Fitzgerald April Janow Yuna Ma Kim Mackey Kammie Mann Jessica Meier Cathleen Pienaar Kim Planert Kristina Rivera Elizabeth Skadden 5
Tracy Thomas Andrew Ward Skye Wathen
SEGMENT/FIELD/ STORY PRODUCER Karla Esquivel Timothy Furlong Jamala Gaither Alissa Latenser Jessica Mathews Andrew Nastri Alisa Sherrod
PRODUCTION COORDINATOR Michael Adams Beatriz Chahin 6 Shima Majidi Stephanie McGann
POST PRODUCTION Lesley Demetriades 7 Michelle Fowler Joelle Spencer-Gilchrist LaurenTruman
Daniel Barrow Jason Chen Lacey Hutchison Matteo Veglia 8
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AMERICAN ASSASSIN Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, p.g.a. Nick Wechsler, p.g.a.
AMERICAN MADE Doug Davison, p.g.a. Kim Roth, p.g.a. Ray Angelic, p.g.a.
MARKING TIME The Producers Guild proudly salutes the following whose credits have been certified with the Producers Mark. This list includes films released in August and September.
ANNABELLE: CREATION Peter Safran, p.g.a. James Wan, p.g.a.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES Danny Boyle, p.g.a. & Christian Colson, p.g.a. Robert Graf, p.g.a.
Certification via the Producers Mark indicates that a producer undertook a major portion of the producing duties on the motion picture.
BIRTH OF THE DRAGON Michael London, p.g.a. & Janice Williams, p.g.a.
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE Matthew Vaughn, p.g.a. David Reid, p.g.a. Adam Bohling, p.g.a.
THE LAYOVER Keith Kjarval, p.g.a.
THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE Phil Lord, p.g.a. & Christopher Miller, p.g.a. Dan Lin, p.g.a. Maryann Garger, p.g.a.
LEMON Houston King, p.g.a. Han West, p.g.a.
MARJORIE PRIME Uri Singer, p.g.a.
BRAD’S STATUS Dede Gardner, p.g.a. & Jeremy Kleiner, p.g.a. David Bernad, p.g.a.
COLUMBUS Andrew Miano, p.g.a. Aaron Boyd, p.g.a. Giulia Caruso, p.g.a. Ki Jin Kim, p.g.a. Chris Weitz, p.g.a.
MARK FELT: THE MAN WHO BROUGHT DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE Ridley Scott, p.g.a. Giannina Scott, p.g.a. Marc Butan, p.g.a. Anthony Katagas, p.g.a.
MOTHER! Scott Franklin, p.g.a. Ari Handel, p.g.a.
CROWN HEIGHTS Nnamdi Asomugha, p.g.a. Matt Ruskin, p.g.a. Natalie Galazka, p.g.a.
PARADISE CLUB Richard J. Bosner, p.g.a.
SHOT ELIZABETH BLUE Joe Dain, p.g.a.
Jeremy Kagan, p.g.a. Dave O’Brien, p.g.a. Josh Siegel, p.g.a.
FLATLINERS Laurence Mark, p.g.a. Michael Douglas, p.g.a. Peter Safran, p.g.a.
THE GLASS CASTLE Gil Netter, p.g.a.
TULIP FEVER Alison Owen, p.g.a. Harvey Weinstein, p.g.a.
THE VEIL Brent Ryan Green, p.g.a. Jeff Goldberg, p.g.a.
HOME AGAIN Nancy Meyers, p.g.a.
To apply for producers mark certification, visit us online at producersguildawards.com.
WIND RIVER Basil Iwanyk, p.g.a. Matthew George, p.g.a.
IT Barbara Muschietti, p.g.a. Seth Grahame-Smith, p.g.a. David Katzenberg, p.g.a.
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THE BEST ON-SET PHOTO OF ALL TIME
IN THE TRUNK
roducer and PGA member Jack Sojka has worked with ostriches (temperamental), flamingos (unassuming), tigers and lions (who pace a lot and can make you nervous), horses (easily spooked), bulls (don’t wear red) and cobras (just really huge snakes, ‘nuff said), but says that working with an elephant was “magical and inspirational.” Every day when he was standing next to Thai, the animal star of the forthcoming Saving Flora, he would look right into her eyes and talk to her. “She would move her trunk ever so slightly across my face,” he recalls, “bat her long curly lashes, tilt her head, flap her ears and raise her trunk letting me know she was listening to me. Being next to Thai was like being in a different realm as she emitted tranquility and a sense of happiness.” The bond between producer and pachyderm was close and affectionate enough to result in the between-takes “hug” that we feature in this issue’s Best On-Set Photo of All Time. By Jack’s accounting, elephants make for terrific colleagues on set; it’s your fellow humans who are more likely to be the problem. “Plan ahead,” Jack warns. “Every vendor and every location we went to was always taken aback that we were shooting a full day’s schedule with an elephant. We had to have additional insurance coverage, and some payroll companies turned us down. I asked why, and one company actually said because the elephant could turn quickly and her trunk could swing and knock someone over, resulting in a worker’s comp claim. Really? An elephant moves as slow as molasses!” Clearly some uptight payroll company reps need to spend more time with Thai. To be sure, working with an elephant
isn’t exclusively composed of affectionate hugs and deep inter-species communion. “Be sure to have a big bucket and shovel ready at all times,” Jack reminds us. “Elephants don’t announce they need to ‘go.’ They just drop it, in a very big way.” But long after the bucket-and-shovel work is
done, his time with Thai is something he’ll treasure. Special thanks to Jack for submitting this photo and to his production coordinator Rebecca Keszycki for snapping the pic. It’s an on-set experience he’ll always remember. And if the proverbial wisdom is right, so will Thai. ■
We know what you’re thinking. “Best of all time? No way. I’ve got an on-set photo way better than that.” If that’s the case, we dare you to prove it. Submit it to BOSPOAT@producersguild.org. Before you submit, please review the contest rules at producersguild. org/bospoat. Because no matter how great your photo is, we have no desire to get sued over it.
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