- Friday, Sep. 21, 2012
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- LOS ANGELES
Producer perspectives have always been varied but now even more so as they encompass different platforms and more crossover than ever before. Consider a web series that found life on TV and has just won an Emmy in the Outstanding Special Class--Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs category. Or an executive producer and producer whose choice for director on a nuanced, gently comic story about love and identity theft led them to a lauded commercialmaker. Or an editorial house that has diversified into feature production with a slate that includes a movie that recently made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
In this first installment of SHOOT's Producers: Advertising & Entertainment Series, we explore all three of these real-world scenarios, starting with the aforementioned awards category which is brand new to the Emmy competition.
"This category, which is essentially short-form comedy, represents recognition that there's more than the standard formats for producers," said Abominable Pictures' Jonathan Stern, an executive producer/writer of Childrens Hospital, the original Webby Award-winning digital series that is now part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim program block. Childrens Hospital won the Emmy in the Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs category at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony this past Saturday (9/15). An absurd parody of medical shows spanning a range from Scrubs to ER, the Rob Corddry (of The Daily Show correspondent fame)-created Childrens Hospital has stayed true to its spirit and timeframe after making the leap to TV.
"We stayed at 15-minute episodes," explained Stern, "because we thought that would be a more faithful transition from the web episodes. Every season we are confronted by the question, 'Should we bump the show up to a half-hour?' We've determined that the show is better in the shorter format. It's shorter because that's the length that serves the kind of comedy and this particular show best. Who said the human brain is wired to just watch stories in a half-hour, an hour or 90-minute increments? Our format allows the show to be more like a short film rather than going to a cliffhanger of some sort and then coming back from a commercial. With the shorter format, we pack more into each minute.
"The Emmy nomination [which became a win since SHOOT's interview with Stern] is recognition that there's a wider berth for different ways to present programming," he continued. "As producers, we clearly see that whether people are watching on TV or the web is becoming less important every year. I personally watch more than 50 percent of my programming streaming through my iPad. That percentage might actually be low for a lot of people. It doesn't matter how you get your shows. It doesn't matter if they fit into certain scheduling holes. I won't pretend that Childrens Hospital is for everyone out there. It's not Everybody Loves Raymond, which is a terrific show. But by breaking old format rules, you can create programming for smaller, sometimes more passionate and enthusiastic audiences."
Starting probably in January will be Newsreaders, a spinoff series of Childrens Hospital, which each season has had one episode told in a behind-the-scenes TV news story manner. This programming genre/approach will be more fully explored in Newsreaders.
Stern and his Abominable colleagues are also behind NTSF:SD:SUV (National Terrorist Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle), a send-up of action thrillers in which an elite counter-terrorist unit combats various threats. NTSF:SD:SUV currently airs back to back with Childrens Hospital during Adult Swim.
While condensing more laughs into short-format programming can be a daunting proposition, creative freedoms do emerge from the process. "We're fussing over Childrens Hospital as much or more so than any other show or for that matter, independent feature," said Stern. "We're constantly writing and rewriting scripts. One of the nice things about cable is often you're not in the same situation as the broadcast networks where you're developing an episode every week, chasing your tail, worried about ratings from one week to the next and sometimes compromising what you do based on those ratings, giving weight to insights like 'everybody loves that character so let's do more of him.' With Childrens Hospital, we're working more in a bubble. We write the entire season before shooting and in Corddry's case acting in it. We have to block shoot a lot of the season with a number of these shows."
The show's creative team is led by Corddry and fellow executive producers/writers Stern and David Wain. Children's Hospital is produced by Abominable Pictures and Warner Bros. Television Group's Studio 2.0 and distributed by Warner Bros. Television.
Childrens Hospital topped a field of fellow nominees in the inaugural Outstanding Special Class--Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment category consisting of: The Daily Show Correspondents Explain (thedailyshow.com, Comedy Central Digital Media); Parks And Recreation: April and Andy7's Road Trip (nbc.com, Universal Television); 30 Rock: The Webisodes (nbc.com, Universal Television); and Web Therapy (Istudio.com, An Is or Isn't Entertainment production in association with Intelligent Life Productions for LStudio).
The expanding universe for producers extends well beyond Adult Swim for Stern and his compatriots. Recently launched online are two web series: the well-received Burning Love, which pokes fun at reality romance shows/contests (Ben Stiller's creation to rival The Bachelor) which Stern produced with Red Hour and Paramount Digital for Yahoo!; and Garfunkel & Oates for HBO.
Stern's prior projects in TV as a producer include the pilot for Louie on FX, and Funny or Die Presents on HBO--and on the web, the Webby Award-winning Wainy Days (created by David Wain), Horrible People and Hot Sluts (both created by A.D. Miles). Feature film projects produced by Stern include Oxygen (starring Adrien Brody and Maura Tierney), Mexico City (directed by Richard Shepard), Scotland, PA (starring Christopher Walken), and Wain's The Ten.
Arthur Newman Having debuted at the recently wrapped Toronto Film Festival, Arthur Newman centers on the title character, played by Colin Firth, who stages his own death, adopts a new identity and starts a new life. He then becomes involved with a woman, portrayed by Emily Blunt, who too is trying to escape her past. A mix of humor, emotion and idiosyncratic characters makes for an unconventional story of self-discovery--which leads us to the story behind the "discovery" of the film's director, Dante Ariola.
Arthur Newman marks the feature directing debut of Ariola, best known for his spotmaking exploits at MJZ which earlier this year earned him his sixth career DGA Award nomination. Back in 2006, Ariola won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials. He was additionally nominated based on his work in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2011. The latest nom was on the strength of several spots, including Jim Beam's "Parallels" spot starring Willem Dafoe for agency Strawberry Frog.
"Parallels" went a long way towards convincing producer Mac Cappuccino that Ariola was right for Arthur Newman. "It was a hell of a commercial," assessed Cappuccino, talking to SHOOT from the Toronto Fest. "Seeing that Jim Beam piece among Dante's other work really told me that this guy can tell a story in 45 seconds. Imagine what he could do with a full-length feature."
Beyond the director's spot work, Cappuccino noted that he did due diligence on Ariola, going back to his days at Propaganda Films on music videos and connecting with some of the filmmaker's former colleagues there. "Everyone had great things to say about Dante," recalled Cappuccino. "He was clearly not only a talent but someone whom people liked to work and collaborate with."
On the flip side, it wasn't just the producers having to approve of Ariola. The director had to approve of the project. Helen Cappuccino, an executive producer on Arthur Newman, related, "People had been trying to get him [Ariola] to direct feature films for about 10 years. He's been very selective. We felt lucky that he was even looking at this project."
Mac Cappuccino noted that Ariola had earlier been on the verge of directing a theatrical feature but it fell through at the 11th hour, perhaps making him a bit gunshy about again pursuing a film. Thankfully, said Mac Cappuccino, "Dante found our project through a writer [Becky Johnston] who's repped by the same agent as him at UTA. There were a lot of different forces combining to bring us all together."
Helen Cappuccino expounded on that dynamic, relating that Alisa Tager, one of the producers on Arthur Newman, was friendly with Natalie Hill, Ariola's long-time producer. Similarly, another of the film's producers, Brian Oliver [at Cross Creek Pictures], had been good friends with Ariola over the years. "We were getting first-hand knowledge of Dante not only as a director but also about his being a decent, reasonable person," said Helen Cappuccino. "We have had a relationship with Brian on a couple of other projects and his input was important to us [relative to how Ariola would be on Arthur Newman]."
A natural Union When Noah C. Haeussner joined bicoastal Union Editorial in early 2010, having served as director of national promotions for film and TV at Level 1 Promotion, the plan was for him to help diversify Union into movie trailers and the like as head of entertainment development. The diversification seemed a natural in that Union Editorial's roster had a roster of editors involved not only in commercials but also features, thus making for a foundation of talent that could easily extend its reach into the theatrical ad arena.
As it turned out, though, that blueprint wasn't realized, instead giving way to what has become a more organic evolution for Union with last year's formation of Union Entertainment Group founded by Haeussner and Union Editorial president Michael Raimondi, along with partners/editors Jay Friedkin, Jim Haygood, Einar Thorsteinsson and Sloane Klevin as well as Union Editorial New York exec producer/partner Caryn Maclean. Also partnered in Union Entertainment Group is investor Leo David.
Fast forward to today and Union Entertainment Group is a full-fledged film financing and production business, having announced a slate of features with the intent of producing five to seven motion pictures annually. Most notably, Union co-produced The Brass Teapot, which made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month. The Brass Teapot is the feature filmmaking debut of director Ramaa Mosley who's best known for her commercials and music videos (see separate story on Film Fest/Awards Season for more on The Brass Teapot.)
"Oddly enough," related Raimondi, "our plan with Noah evolved differently when we found it a much more cohesive fit to work with directors on films instead of doing theatrical advertising. It came naturally. We already had relationships with commercial directors and producers, for example, who were going on to features."
This dynamic first took hold for Union on the documentary Buffalo Girls which tells the story of two eight-year-old girls who are prize fighters in Thailand; their paths cross in the boxing ring and then separate as each one deals with the outcome of their pivotal bout, critical to the financial future of their respective families. The documentary is moving, engaging and at times enraging, the latter sparked by the discovery that child boxing is a mainstream way of life, economic survival and "entertainment" in parts of rural Thailand. The film was directed by Todd Kellstein, produced by Jonathon Ker and Lanette Phillips, and exec produced by Haeussner, Raimondi and Paul Rachman.
Raimondi explained that Union Entertainment's involvement in exec producing and co-financing Buffalo Girls sprung from its relationship with Paydirt Pictures' exec producer Ker, having edited assorted spots for his directors, including Iain Mackenzie, over the years. "There's a comfort level between us and when we found out about this passion project, we got on board," said Raimondi. Production company Buffalo Girls Movie produced Buffalo Girls in association with Union Entertainment Group. Buffalo Girls debuted at this year's Slamdance Film Festival.
Further underscoring the organic evolution of Union's involvement in feature production, continued Raimondi, is the fact that director Mosley was at Union Editorial working on a commercial when she heard about Buffalo Girls. This led to her coming together with Union Entertainment Group on The Brass Teapot. Union Entertainment co-financed, co-produced and supplied postproduction services for this film.
Union Editorial has also worked on projects, including Volkswagen campaigns, for Victoria Guenier, director of broadcast production at Deutsch LA. That collaborative relationship led to Union Entertainment Group working with Guenier and her husband, producer Hans C. Ritter, on feature films, including two movies on Union Entertainment's current slate: Between Us and Hello I Must Be Going. For the former, Union Entertainment Group provides postproduction financing and serves as editorial producers--the film is produced by Ritter, Dan Mirvish and Mike S. Ryan, and executive produced by Guenier, Dana Altman, Christo Dimassis, Barry Hennessey, Elana Krausz and Brent Stiefel. Cast includes Julia Stiles and Melissa George.
As for Hello I Must Be Going, Union Entertainment Group provided partial postproduction financing and post services. Hello I Must Be Going was the opening night film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival where it was acquired by Oscilloscope and has since been scheduled for release this year..
A key source of support that Union Entertainment Group can provide filmmakers comes from the post side. "We have editorial, finishing, Lustre for color correction, a mixing room [at Union Editorial] which all appeal to independent filmmakers who are struggling to find financing to finish their films," said Raimondi.
Other features on the recently announced Union Entertainment slate are The McKennas (which Union is producing and co-financing), The Shallows (Union is producing and financing). Hours (Union providing editorial services and postproduction consultation), Snake & Mongoose (Union providing partial postproduction financing and serving as post producers), and an untitled Janis Joplin documentary (Union is executive producing and providing postproduction financing).
Among the producers on the latter is Oscar-winning documentarian (Taxi to the Dark Side) Alex Gibney. Union is working in association with Gibney's Jigsaw Productions on the Joplin project which came about due to his collaborative relationship with Klevin of Union Editorial who cut and was a producer on Taxi to the Dark Side. She also edited director Gibney's segment of the documentary Freakonomics, and his Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God, a documentary about pedophilia in the Catholic Church. Mea Maxima Culpa recently debuted at the Toronto Film Festival.
Union Editorial has several editors who like Klevin are accomplished in spots as well as feature-length fare. Haygood's theatrical movie credits, for instance, include Tron: Legacy, Where The Wild Things Are, Fight Club, Panic Room and The Game. Among editor Matt Chess--'s credits are Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball, Stay, and Quantum of Solace. Friedkin also had an editing hand in Babe, Babe: Pig In The City, and Pathfinder.
While none of Union Editorial's editors are attached to any of the films on the current Union Entertainment Group slate, Haeussner noted that many of those editors have consulted on the movies, "We have guys like Jim and Jay who can stick their heads in and provide some help and expertise," said Haeussner who is sr. VP of financing & production at Union Entertainment Group.
Friedkin noted, "We are all reading scripts and as an editor if I see a script for a film I'd like to work on and that we [Union Entertainment] are considering, I might put my name in the hat as a possible editor. But our [Union Entertainment] taking on a film is not conditional on one of our editors being hired to cut it."
"Our roles on each movie are so diverse," said Haeussner. "We try to get involved in the best way to make the movie happen."