- NEW YORK
The Producers Guild of America's (PGA) second annual Produced By: New York Conference held on Saturday, October 24, provided insights into recent film and television projects and explored far-ranging topics ranging from collaboration and diversity to technological and economic innovations. Produced By is held through the Producers Guild of America’s charitable entity, the PGA Foundation, whose core mission is to educate those who work in the producing profession.
As we know, the successful collaboration between producers and directors, between producers and financiers, and between producers and just about everyone else involved in a production is crucial to the success of a production. Collaboration was a theme running through several of the panel discusstions...
An Adventurous Partnership with Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Following on the heels of Birdman, director, screenwriter and producer Alejandro G. Iñárritu has switched gears, bringing his highly personal storytelling to an epic and deeply immersive frontier adventure of survival in The Revenant. Moderated by the PGA's Vance Van Petten, the panel "Producers' Masterclass: An Adventurous Partnership with Alejandro G. Iñárritu" included panelists Steve Golin, founder/managing partner, Anonymous Content; Brad Weston, president/CEO, New Regency, and Mary Parent, co-founder of Disruption Entertainment. Iñárritu joined the conversation via live feed from Los Angeles where he is in postproduction on The Revenent, the topic of the discussion. Directed by Iñárritu and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, The Revenent was co-written by Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith.
The film follows trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) who, driven by his love for his son, sets out on a quest for revenge on those who left him for dead after a brutal bear attack against the harrowing backdrop of the 19th century American frontier. Iñárritu is also a producer on the epic adventure film, which is inspired by true events and will be released on December 25 by 20th Century Fox. Requiring intensive collaboration, the challenges involved in filming were many, including the ultimate challenge of non-cooperative weather. Filming scenes that were all exterior in the Canadian winter from late autumn through winter, the team found themselves literally chasing the snow as warm Chinook winds moved in and would wipe out the snow. The conditions forced the production to conduct final shooting in Argentina. The film was completed with no use of green screen and no re-shoots. It was clear from the conversation that this close-knit group of panelists, who had previous relationships working together on one or more previous film (i.e. Babel, Birdman) and/or were introduced by mutual contacts, all had a great respect for and trust in each other.
Golin is the producer of over 50 film and television projects, including Babel, directed by Iñárritu, in addition to being the founder and managing partner of Anonymous Content, a leading production and management company working across feature films, television, commercials, music videos and new media. Golin discussed the backstory on how the various players involved in the film came together. With a smile he said "that it helped that Iñárritu has an office within the company so he was able to walk in and drop off a draft." Golin also discussed the challenges and the beauty of the wilderness and while he may not have truly experienced the coldness the way people in the 1800s did since "they didn't have the benefit of wearing $2,000. worth of protective clothing," he could imagine how cold it felt.
Weston, who has presided over both major and independent studios, joined New Regency in 2011 where he has overseen the production of Birdman in addition to other major films. He talked about how the original budget for The Revenent from which contracts were signed off on was $60 million but once they went out with a line producer, the budget grew to more than double that. The trust in Iñárritu and the producing team was complete right down to having to shoot the end of film somewhere else. Weston explained, "Great movies get made by great directors. We just hang on."
Parent was brought on board after production started to bring her big production (Noah, Godzilla among others) experience to the team. She noted that her biggest surprise when she first arrived was how little equipment there was. The reason being all natural lighting was used. Iñárritu noted that it sometimes took hours to get to the shooting location where they would then only have a few hours of natural lighting before dark.
Iñárritu was indeed a larger than life presence on the screen during the panel. He was warm and funny and offered insights into the film and advice for filmmakers. He introduced his remarks by saying, "Now I know how Matt Damon felt shooting The Martian." He talked about agreeing to direct The Revenent before Birdman and while the films are completely different, he was able to utilize some of the techniques from Birdman. Iñárritu shared that "the filmmaker's duty is to make the improbable probable and the main thing that attracted me was that it's a story of endurance and human spirit surviving though conditions physically and emotionally. Nothing is known but that he was attacked by a bear and had to survive." He said that making The Revenent was a beautiful experience. In addition to directing and co-writing the film, Iñárritu was a producer. Parent joked, how when discussing something she knew that he didn't have his producer hat on. With regards to budgets, Iñárritu said, "Nobody's going to go to a film because the guys came in on time and under budget." He offered the advice, "Your mission, your ambition should never be compromised." He added, "The worst thing for a director is when you don't know what you want and don't know how to get it. The next worst is when you know what you want but don't know how to get it. We knew what we wanted to do and how to get it." He mentioned that the process does inevitably provide unexpected risk and "I have to feel fear, to feel uncertain, to have doubts. I need that adrenaline."
The Power of Successful Creative Collaboration
Producing is, by definition, a team sport. A story isn't truly alive until it's handed off to another artist, to give it shape, put a frame around it, or make it come to life. Often, it's a producer's relationship with a single collaborator that provides the defining elements of a memorable film. In this session moderated by Academy Award-winning producer Bruce Cohen, a panel of producers and some of their key collaborators on some of this year's most acclaimed features discussed how their partnerships unlocked the power of a great story and are poised to affect change on meaningful social issues. Panelists included Lenny Abrahamson, Noah Sacco, Elizabeth Karlsen, Christine Vachon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael London, Tom McCarthy and Michael Bederman.
Set in 1950s New York, adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel "The Price of Salt" and directed by Todd Haynes, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol tells the story of a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life and falls for an older, married woman.
Veteran producers and long-time friends Elizabeth Karlsen, co-founder of Number 9 Films, and Christine Vachon, co-founder of Killer Films, discussed working together on Carol. Karlsen stressed that while Carol is a love story between lesbians, it is simply a love story. The panel was in agreement that the first rule of any movie is entertainment, not a message.
Directed by Jay Roach, Trumbo tells the story of Dalton Trumbo, who in 1947 was Hollywood's top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. Panelists for Trumbo were Michael London, an Academy Award-nominated producer and the principal and founder of independent financing and production company Groundswell Productions, and Michael Sthuhlbarg, the actor who portrayed Edward G. Robinson in the film. Sthuhlbarg talked about how his role "is to steep myself in the life of the character." He researches and offers that research up saying, "Here's what I've learned, you can use it or not." London recounts how when he first met with Trumbo's screenwriter and television show runner John McNamara, it was actually to discuss television projects but McNamara's real agenda was to pitch him on Trumbo, a project he wanted to direct. London told him, "that with another director it could take several years to get the film made but it could take ten years if he wanted to direct." They made the film with Jay Roach directing.
Directed by Tom McCarthy and co-written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight tells the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core. The film stars Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber. Panelists McCarthy and the film's producer Michael Bederman also worked together on 2014's The Cobbler. McCarthy remarked that even though Ruffalo announced that he was attached to the film before it was real, the making of Spotlight had not been easy which was confirmed by Bederman who had to go to McCarthy with the suggestion of filming interior news room scenes in Toronto instead of Boston. “My head hit the table. I can’t make a movie about Boston in Toronto” McCarthy said when he heard it. Since Boston itself is such a key part of the film, it wasn't a welcome decision at the time but doing so allowed the film to continue. McCarthy explained that the name of the film, Spotlight, came from the name given the Boston Globe's investigative team which pursued the story at the urging of then new editor Martin Baron, a classic outsider who "asked basic questions that proved to be prophetic."
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room tells the story of 5-year-old Jack and his mother who escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life where the boy makes a thrilling discovery: the outside world. Abrahamson talked about reading the book, Room, by Emma Donoghue, and being very moved by it as his son was about the same age as Jack at the time. Abrahamson realized that “persuading Emma to give the book rights to a relatively small independent Irish production company wasn't going to be easy especially since it was getting attention from bigger companies." He wrote Emma a very long letter which she thought was great. After making other films, he was able to get the rights. Joining Abrahamson on the panel was A24 Films executive, Noah Sacco, who recounted how he got in touch with Abrahamson after seeing a past film and stayed in touch making it known that A24 would like to work with him, which paid off. Sacco explained, "that A24 (U.S. distributor for Room) got involved in the project nine months before production started, the earliest that A24 has been involved in a film. He went on to say how gracious Abrahamson was in listening to and responding to suggestions from A24 and how they feel "lucky to be at the table" especially after an early meeting in which he admitted to not having heard of the book "even though it was massive."
Additional sessions covered topics including "The future of film financing," "Tactics for Equality and Diversity in Film and Television," "The Art (and Business) of Showrunning," "New Opportunities in Documentary Features," "The State of Producing," "The Rise of Digital Content," "Conversation with Michael Moore," "Building Your Media Empire from VC Funding to Achieving Your Vision" and "The Value of Postproduction Artists Early in the Process"
The Ms. Factor
It was announced during the day that an unofficial session had been organized to discuss some of the findings in a report created by the Women’s Impact Network (WIN), a volunteer committee of the PGA created almost two years ago. The committee was founded to promote the viability of female-centric storytelling and advocate for greater gender balance in positions of power behind the camera.
WIN put together a report called The Ms. Factor: The Power of Female Driven Content, a compilation of data, advice, pro-tips and inspiration. Conceived as a “toolkit” to provide ammunition in the struggle for women’s stories and creative autonomy, “The Ms. Factor” touches on virtually every aspect of the industry. With the help of researchers and advisors, “The MS. Factor: The Power of Female-Driven Content,” was written by Lydia Dean Pilcher, independent film and television producer, production company owner, VP of Motion Pictures, Producer’s Guild of America, and Chair of PGA Women’s Impact Network and Melissa Silverstein, founder and editor of Women and Hollywood. A handout providing the link to the full report was available at the event and SHOOT is pleased to provide some of the key findings below and the complete report can be found here.
The toolkit was created to raise awareness among entertainment decision makers on the commercial viability of investing in female producers, directors, and female-driven storylines. The Ms. Factor debunks the myths that perpetuate gender bias by providing a compilation of analytics, statistics, and action steps, which offer filmmakers the pitching tools they need to demonstrate the power of female audience and how female participation can lead to profitable outcomes.
The adage “follow the money” in and of itself makes a case for female-oriented stories and more gender balance in filmmaking positions. Women have become a force in the workforce, representing significant buying power which will only increase in the coming years, according to the WIN report. Though women currently earn roughly 77 cents on the dollar when compared to white men, the average American female is expected to earn more than the average American male by 2028. In education, women now earn more than 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, 59 percent of master’s and 52 percent of doctoral degrees, as well as from one-third to one-half of professional degrees. Women currently account for nearly half of the overall labor force (as compared to just over 38 percent in 1970). More than 9 million firms, or 30 percent of all privately held businesses, are owned by women. And women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men for the last 20 years.
Buying power and decision-making by women figure prominently in theatrical feature box office success. Consider the performance of the Twilight franchise, with success driven by girls and women. The first Twilight film, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, brought in nearly $70 million in its opening weekend--nearly double the film’s budget, and females comprised 75 percent of its audience.
The trend of female-oriented youth movies with huge box office success has broken the barrier to making films targeted at the under-25 female demographic. In the past, studios have stayed focused on romantic comedies, fantasy, and adventure stories for girls and young women. As studios begin to have more confidence in making a variety of different genres for this age group, doors are opening for dramatic films like The Fault in Our Stars, one of 2014’s biggest hits, grossing more than $300 million worldwide ($125M domestically and $180M plus in foreign markets) on a $12 million budget. These major returns can be attributed to female audiences, which constituted 82 percent of the film’s viewers on opening weekend, and 80 percent of those women were under 25. In turn, the studios are rewarded because girls are coming to the theaters again and again, creating repeat business, multiple engagements and additional revenue streams.
But girls and women aren’t the only ones interested in female protagonists. The first installment of The Hunger Games franchise grossed over $152 million on opening weekend, and its audience was made up of 61 percent women and 39 percent men. Catching Fire, its sequel, earned over $158 million opening weekend, and this time around, women accounted for 49 percent of moviegoers. The third installment, Mockingjay–Part 1, landed the biggest domestic box office weekend of 2014, with women comprising 60 percent of the audience. Catching Fire and Mockingjay– Part 1 were the first and second top-grossing domestic movies in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Prior to 2013, a female-led film had not topped the box office in 40 years since The Exorcist. Female audiences and protagonists have become powerful catalysts in achieving box office success.
On the TV front, women have been the majority of the mainstream network audience for quite some time. And this is becoming increasingly true as men--especially young men--are diverted to games and other forms of digital entertainment. Programs airing on ABC featured the highest percentage of female characters (44 percent), followed by CBS (42 percent), Fox (41 percent), CW (40 percent), and NBC (39 percent).