- SANTA MONICA, Calif.
Amidst a week-plus of wheeling and dealing on completed features as well as projects in various stages of development, the 2018 American Film Market (AFM)--which wraps today (11/7) in Santa Monica--delivered much more in its distribution pipeline than just content for theaters and digital platforms. Also being distributed at AFM was advice on how to promote diversity and inclusion within that content and throughout the industry as a whole--along with insights as to why it’s important to bring ethnic minority and female perspectives to the fore.
Among the AFM conversations delving into diversity and inclusion was an Engage symposium presented by Pepperdine University’s Institute for Entertainment, Media and Culture (IEMC) on Friday (11/2). The afternoon of Engage sessions included a panel on “21st Century Creatives and Storytelling” featuring a trio of noted female producers: Effie Brown of Duly Noted Inc. whose credits include Real Women Have Curves, and Dear White People; Chay Carter Of Little Bricks Entertainment who’s served as an exec producer on Best Picture Oscar winner Argo, and producer on such films as Live by Night and Serve Like A Girl; and Suzanne Farwell of Resonate Entertainment, known for her work in years past with director Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give, The Intern). The AFM discussion session was moderated by actor/comedian/author Kim Coles (Living Single) and Dr. Joi Carr, academic director of Pepperdine University’s IEMC.
Carter came up the industry ranks and established herself as a producer at Pearl Street Films, the motion picture company founded by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. After serving as EP on the Affleck-directed Argo, Carter went on to launch Little Bricks Entertainment. She was driven to take what she learned at Pearl Street and apply it to her own company where she could “create stories” centered on people outside the mainstream. Affirming that “storytelling is about connection,” Carter equates stories to traveling where the experience opens you up to new voices, races, religions and cultures. “Seeing a different piece of life” is integral to growth, establishing empathy and community, said Carter.
Brown views promoting that growth as a prime career responsibility, creating films that are diverse, inclusive and that “build a bridge to different cultures....sometimes cultures we don’t see as being human. It humanizes those cultures. We become you.”
Farwell broke out from a prolific, fruitful relationship with Meyers to partner in Resonate Entertainment, a company committed to making “movies for and about, and marketed to women.” Diversity and inclusion both in terms of storylines and generating career opportunities are essential to “changing people’s hearts and minds” by “creating empathy,” said Farwell.
Brown, Carter and Farwell all moved up the industry ladder over the years to attain their current status. Farwell, for example, started out at the William Morris Agency (now William Morris Endeavor). She referred to the talent agency as “a boot camp” where she could learn all about the business. Farwell harbored the ambition to work on a movie set. She saw on a job list the opportunity to be an assistant to Meyers who was about to direct her first feature, a remake of The Parent Trap. Farwell graduated to full-fledged producer, working on a high-profile Meyers filmography over the years.
Carter meanwhile gained her initial industry footing in the corporate public relations division at Disney, focusing on its worldwide real estate holdings before dovetailing to the company’s entertainment business. She then wound up taking a gig on Project Greenlight, which connected her with Affleck and Damon who produced the HBO filmmaking competition show. This led to Carter becoming Affleck’s assistant. And when Affleck extended his creative reach to directing, Carter was afforded the opportunity to produce those films, including Argo, for which Affleck won the DGA Award.
And Duly Noted’s Brown paid her dues in the production trenches, initially as a production assistant, moving up to coordinator, production manager, line producer and producer. She’s now a film and TV producer who thanks to her broad-based experience in the nuts and bolts of the business can confidently declare “nobody can tell me differently now” about how the industry functions. Brown has an intimate understanding of “how to build something from the ground up.” She experienced first hand how the biz works and ways to bring a creative vision to fruition.
Investing in Gender Diversity
Another AFM panel, held Sunday (11/4), focused squarely on diversity. Titled "International Awakening: Investing in Gender Diversity for Expanding Audiences Around the Globe,” the session featured panelists Alison Thompson, co-president, Cornerstone Films; producer Janet Yang; Marguerite Pigot, VP, outreach and strategic initiatives for the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA), and Jonathan King, president of narrative film and TV, Participant Media. Moderating the discussion was Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of Women in Film, Los Angeles.
CMPA’s Pigot noted that the push to have male and female directors at a 50/50 parity by the year 2020 “obviously is going well if we’re at 44 percent (films directed by women) in 2018, but the percentages are different across the programs. Where we really need to push is in the higher budget levels, but what we’re told for the higher budget levels is that they can’t get the financing from the international marketplace because international buyers aren’t willing to invest in talent with a lack of track record.”
Pigot added, “We [as an industry] don’t really know how to be inclusive. It’s about being really conscious about training people in how to do the hiring and how to do the retaining of that staff.”
Participant Media’s King noted, “We place a high priority on crew on our movies. Everyone’s focused on how many movies were directed by women, but often men graduate from other positions on the crew to directing and the pipeline isn’t really there [for women], so we focus on trying to diversify crew.”
The British Film Institute has taken a proactive policy stance, related Cornerstone Films’ Thompson who shared, “The BFI has brought in a set of diversity standards...if you want to apply for funding through the BFI, you have to comply with these standards, otherwise you won’t get funded.”
Producer Yang expressed optimism over prospects for attaining diversity. “As soon as there’s a paradigm shift, it’s infectious...A lot of paradigms are breaking up and so that’s why I feel encouraged.” Still, there’s much work to be done. Yang observed, “With any of these (diversity/inclusion) programs that are being implemented… the question comes down to: What do you do after that woman or person of color got their opportunity? Is there opportunity for continued success? [because] the system is still skewed.”
View from the Top
AFM discussions ventured into assorted other areas beyond diversity and inclusion. An opening session on Friday (11/2), “The Global Perspective--View from the Top,” featured Jean Prewitt, president and CEO of the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), which produces the AFM; and Charles H. Rivkin, chairman and CEO, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
Prewitt and Rivkin addressed varied issues, including piracy. Prewitt commented, “For piracy, there are a lot more solutions for larger companies than small ones. One of the issues with independents is the lack of capital to delegate to legislation and court, which is a reflection of how independent film financing happens. If an independent financier had to stop and go back to a previous film to fight piracy or try to recover money lost, they would lose their place in the marketplace and lose investors for the next project. What is the next solution? Can you stop piracy pre-release, push a button and get a response without having to go through a court process? Piracy can stop independent movies before they can start, slowing down the financing.”
On the subject of China, Rivkin related, “The Chinese market grew 21 percent last year. The Chinese market over the next 12 months will surpass the U.S. market and it will be the largest one in the world....It’s a win win for both China and the U.S.”
As for the big picture, Prewitt shared, “The message for the upcoming year is to hold your breath. I think change is coming so rapidly that everyone in this room has to really buckle down and stay as flexible and courageous as they can. One thing we are seeing is that companies that are repositioning are doing so in a wide range of ways: changing content, diversifying, platforms (VR, genre, new partnerships). The watch word here is: the audience is there but everyone has to keep striving to not lose heart, not be discouraged to the fact that there was an old golden age that we wish would come back. This is this golden age. Independents are good at making these adjustments but it is a scary time. People need to bolster their fighting spirit.”
Rivkin said that industry organizations like MPAA and IFTA can play a pivotal leadership role. “IFTA and the MPAA address so many common issues around the world, and when the MPAA and IFTA stand side by side there is truly nothing we can’t accomplish together, on behalf of creatives around the world.”
The art of the pitch
The AFM’s Pitch Conference panel on Saturday (11/3) brought together panelists Tobin Armbrust, president, worldwide production and acquisitions, Virgin Produced, and indie producer Cassian Elwes. Talk was moderated by Pilar Alessandra, instructor/consultant with On The Page.
Elwes observed that “this whole business is a series of pitches, frankly.” Elwes noted, “You take their idea and you run it up the flagpole to whoever your boss is, and your boss runs it up the flagpole to somebody else. And so that idea has to be so clever or distilled into such a clever way that literally the person who hears it can tell somebody else.”
And then “ultimately the final pitch isn’t the studio that is making the movie, its them pitching the poster and the trailer which is essentially a pitch to the audience to come and see the movie. So, pitch goes all the way up from the very bottom to the very top.”
Virgin Produced’s Armbrust related, “I would say the largest volume of pitches that I hear now are on the phone. Which is a very difficult scenario.. .you can’t read the room, you almost feel as though you have less time… But I do get a lot of my pitches on the phone because it is almost impossible for people to continually get physical meetings, hear pitches, have people come in and out.”
In terms of advice, Armbrust said, “Know the room, know who you’re pitching, know what they’ve done before, know their credits. Speak to their ego. Because, everyone has egos, so make sure you understand what it is that they do. If you come in and you’re pitching an animated epic to a company that does 2-million-dollar horror films, then it’s not going to go well. And it’s not even worth either of your time. But I think if you get into a room where someone is more of a generalist, if it’s a company that does films of multiple genres, then figure out what you can speak to as part of your pitch, that attaches itself, however tangentially to something that they have done before. It will work for you.”
IFTA elects board of directors
During AFM, the IFTA announced the results of its annual elections to select its board of directors.
The following new board members were elected to serve for the 2018-2020 term as part of IFTA’s 20-person board:
- Alison Thompson (Cornerstone Films)
- Nat McCormick (The Exchange)
- Gene George (Lionsgate)
- Frederick Tsui (Media Asia)
- Pierre David (Reel One Entertainment)
- Anna Marsh (StudioCanal)
- Lloyd Kaufman (Troma Entertainment)
- Alexandra Cocean (Voltage Pictures)
IFTA’s executive committee will continue to be headed by chairperson Michael Ryan (GFM Films), vice chairperson Andrew Kramer (Global Entertainment Strategies, Inc.), and vice chairperson/secretary Clay Epstein (Film Mode Entertainment).
These executives join those currently serving the second year of their two-year term as IFTA board members, including Tannaz Anisi (13 Films), Paul Bales (The Asylum), Caroline Couret-Delegue (Film Seekers), Gabrielle Stewart (Hanway Films), Carl Clifton (Hyde Park International), Jason Buckley (Lakeshore Entertainment), Jeffrey Greenstein (Millennium Media, Inc.), Jeannine Tang (Participant Media), and Lise Romanoff (Vision Films, Inc.).
Chairperson Ryan commented, “This board represents the true global breadth of IFTA’s membership which has grown to 22 countries, as well as the diverse film and television programming they finance, produce, sell and distribute. The expertise each one brings to the table will be invaluable to the organization as we face the future.”
Headquartered in Los Angeles, IFTA represents and provides significant entertainment industry services to more than 140 member companies worldwide consisting of independent production and distribution companies, sales agents, and financial institutions engaged in production finance. Collectively, IFTA members produce more than 400 independent films and assorted hours of television programming each year, generating more than $4.5 billion in distribution revenues annually.