Produced By: New York Brings Together Oscar And Emmy Award Winners, Producers And Creative Entrepreneurs For Educational Forum
Scene from "Hidden Figures," one of the films discussed during the Producers Masterclass on The Power of Collaboration at the Produced By New York Conference
Panelists provide insights into “Manchester by the Sea,” “Hidden Figures,” “Loving,” “Lion”; topics from digital production to diversity covered
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The Producers Guild of America's (PGA) third annual Produced By: New York Conference held this past Saturday, October 29, provided insights into recent television and film projects and explored 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. 

Here's a look at a few of the sessions...

The Storytelling Horizon: Digital Possibilities for Producers
Exploring the ways in which digital producers have moved beyond marketing and are helping to expand distribution and monetization opportunities for today’s productions, this session was moderated by Blaine Graboyes, CEO, GameCo.  Starting out by answering the question, what it means to be a digital producer, the panel was quick to point out that many traits are the same for all producers,  such as being flexible and wearing a lot of hats; the differences are in creating digital experiences for shows based on thinking about audiences in a completely different way. This is because there is so much two way communication with the audience that is made up of different types of  fans.  With help from the panelists, fans were described as: "divers," those super fans who would prefer to be in the green room than in the audience and are hard to please as they always want more; "dippers" who are social and who probably join a fan community - they are a show's most valuable evangelist; and "skimmers" who catch an occasional episode, maybe view a Youtube  video relating to the show.   Each group needs to be spoken to in a different way.   Further agreement from the panelists involved the need for digital producers to be involved in every stage of production and that branded content must be original and authentic because the digital audience is made up of specific communities, each looking for different kinds of connections to the programs.

Adam Abramson, director of digital content for The Late Late Show with James Corden, remarked, “We’re beyond the point of this being an appendage” to production.  Digital producers started as marketing and are now part of original production, monetization and distribution creating content that can stand on its own.  He talked about seeing positive changes in a short period of time and while digital producers still must "take a lean approach and do more with less," he is seeing more resources being made available.

Meaghan Wilson, senior producer, HBO Digital and Social Media, talked about how digital producers extend the storytelling, not just push the program, and that they are now "embedding a transmedia producer in a production from day one in order to have strong connections to the show."

Agreeing that "the audience expects transmedia storytelling" was JeJuan Guillory, supervising producer, The Gamer Agency for Microsoft eSports and Gaming.

Campfire vice president, creative, Mike Monello talked about how creative teams need to embrace digital producers from the very beginning of a program and how digital producers must understand marketing, advertising and storytelling.  He recommended the book "Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture" to the audience for a look at the changes taking place in media and how individuals are directly involved in the spreading of content.

360 Profile: Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea, one of the season’s eagerly anticipated releases and the third film from writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, presents an object lesson in the competing challenges faced by independent producers championing artistically ambitious stories.  The film stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler.  Joining producer Matt Damon, who participated via Skype, on the panel were the film’s other four lead producers Lauren Beck, Chris Moore, Kimberly Steward and Kevin J. Walsh.  The panel was moderated by Alison Bailes.

The audience was quick to learn that there were indeed considerable challenges involved in the film, first in the making of it and then in the selling of it.  Damon remarked, "how this was not a movie for the studio system because they would have wanted a happier ending." A very dedicated group of producers who clearly collaborated very well together have seemingly overcome those challenges as the film sold well and is receiving favorable early reviews.  Other initial challenges included the director himself, Lonergan, whose reputation had not yet recovered from the legal troubles with producer Daniel Gilbert stemming from his 2011 film Margaret.  Because of this Damon had "final cut approval as a way to keep everyone calm"; a provision that was not exercised.  Another challenge was not having a highly bankable star in the lead; Damon had originally planned to play the lead but timing with the filming of "The Martian" prevented that so he turned the role over to Casey Affleck who he thinks of "as his little brother."   

Damon had high praise for all of the producers including Steward and her company K Period for "their willingness to finance the film when no on else would."  Especially interesting about Steward is that this was her first major film project.  In discussing the role of a producer, Walsh stressed how a key component of the role is being the last line of defense to protect the director; in this case "protecting what Kenny wants, protecting the words on the page."

The challenge on the sales side involved not going after pre-sales but waiting until the film was completed.  Fortunately for all involved, Amazon and Roadside Attractions bought the distribution rights at this year's Sundance Film Festival.  Like Damon, Moore, who produced Good Will Hunting, also credits Steward with letting them make the movie before selling it to a distributor. He added what a unique experience it was, calling the film an anomaly in a film business that is “wildly in a moment of a bubble,” with money floating around for independently financed films but with a big problem--no audience.  He cautioned the need to figure out how to get people back out to watch these types of movies. 

Producers' Masterclass: Power of Creative Collaborations
Reprising a panel format from 2015, this session focused on the creative collaboration between producers and some of the other filmmaking artisans they work closely with on a film.  This year examples focused on creative collaboration between the producer and another artisan, including a production designer, casting agent, another producer, composer and screenwriter.  The films discussed were Hidden Figures, 20th Century Women, Loving, Lion and Sully.  The panel was moderated by Dave Karger, contributor to the Today show and Access Hollywood.

Hidden Figures: producer Donna Gigliotti and production designer Wynn Thomas
Hidden Figures is the story of a team of African-American women who provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program's first successful space missions.  Directed by Ted Melfi, the film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.

The film's producer, Donna Gigliotti, and production designer Wynn Thomas  discussed the challenge of showing NASA and the Hamptons in the 1960s, a time when the three female mathematicians featured in the film worked in segregated facilities.  Also important to the production design was to get the homes of the five women right, depicting their various economic circumstances.

In response to a question about the Oscars So White controversy, Thomas feels that the matter "is more an employment issue" and that "the whole thing was misdirected, that if you want there to be product, you have to hire the people, not just black people but all people of color, and put them in positions of power. Where the system is failing is in still not hiring people of color to the positions of power to greenlight movies.”  Thomas added that audiences play a role too, that it's important to see the movies; Hollywood listens to where people spend their money.  He went on to say it's a conversation he has with his family, telling them to go to the movies or you can't complain.

Gigliotti said she feels “a huge responsibility” to bringing diversity to the screen and elicited a laugh when she said that “I love Tom Hanks but he is getting his ass whooped by Medea this week” referring to how Boo! A Medea Halloween is beating Inferno at the box office.

Loving producers Sarah Green and Peter Saraf
Loving is based on the real-life story of Mildred and Richard Loving whose interracial marriage got them jailed and exiled from Virginia in 1958.  The couple persevered and eventually lived in hiding in Virginia, taking taking their case tot he US. Supreme Court which in 1967 ruled in their favor, overturning Virginia's ban on "the crime" of a mixed marriage.

On the topic of diversity, Peter Saraf remarked that diversity is “essential and important, and it is commercial. And it’s not as challenging as people think it is."

Lion producer Iain Canning and composer Volker Bertelmann
Lion is the story of a five-year-old Indian boy Saroo who gets lost, ends up on a train and travels thousands of miles from home.  He somehow survives and is eventually adopted by a family in Australia.  25 years later he sets out to find his home and first family.  Dev Patel stars as the adult Saroo with Nicole Kidman starring as the mother who adopts him.

Canning explained that one of the biggest challenges was finding the boy who would carry the first half of the film and they saw 2,000 kids for the role.  Not only did they need to find the right child for the role but it was important that that they find a way to follow the young Saroo in such a way that the audience would see the journey through his eyes.  Canning said that another important aspect to the film "would be the music as it  would be the soul of the film, connecting the two parts of the movie."  Bertelmann described meeting director Garth Davis who waited in a meet and greet line after one of his performances inviting him out for a drink to discuss the film which led to his composing the score for the film together with Dustin O’Halloran.  Bertelmann is known for his use of the prepared piano, a technique for getting new sounds from the acoustic keyboard by resting pieces of objects on the strings of the instrument.

Sully screenwriter Todd Komarnicki and producer Allyn Stewart
Sully is the story of Captain "Sully" (starring Tom Hanks and directed by Clint Eastwood) gliding his disabled airplane onto the frigid water of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all onboard.  As Sully was being heralded as a hero, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and career.  Allyn Stewart's company, Flashlight Films, specializes in screenplay development with a fund that acquires rights from various material to develop properties.  Todd Komarnicki came on board as screenwriter.  During the session, he remarked that "producers get movies made and are filmmakers too."  Stewart, told the audience that "groundbreaking films that are excellent have a great chance to be made." 

Based on the films discussed during this session and the successful creative collaborations between all the parties, Stewart's remark certainly rings true.  It is interesting to note as pointed out by panel moderator Karger, all the films discussed are based on true stories and all involve some form of diversity--well except for Sully but how many films are made starring actors in their 60s with white hair?

Additional sessions
In the session “The Future of Producing,” a panel of producers and industry executives on the front lines of content creation discussed the years ahead, and the ways in which they’ve adapted their creative and commercial strategies to account for the changes to come. Lori McCreary, PGA President (and also the founder of the PGA's Motion Picture Technology committee and a computer scientist) and CEO/co-founder, Revelations Entertainment, drew laughs and positive head-shaking when she talked about the need for future-proofing content and setting a standard so that in the future, “when we're in our living rooms watching content in 16K, Madame Secretary (she was executive producer on over 40 episodes) doesn't look like an old VHS.”

Other sessions focused on showrunners, documentary distribution, a conversation with Tina Fey, brand partnerships, digital platforms, nonfiction television and comic storytelling (with panelist Chris Rock).

Editor's Note
SHOOT recently interviewed several of the filmmakers involved in Hidden Figures, Loving and Lion
To read the digitial versions of these articles please visit the following links:
Click here for profile of Garth Davis, director, Lion
Click here for profile of Ted Melfi, director, Hidden Figures
Click here for profile of Jeff Nichols, director, Loving
Click here for Cinematographers article in which Adam Stone, cinematographer, Loving, is featured
Click here for Road to Oscar Prequel article in which Julie Moore, editor, Loving, is featured
To see the print issue version of the above articles Click here


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