Wednesday, December 12, 2018

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  • Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017
Panelists for the Wednesday, January 11th CDDP Showcase discussion (l-r): Jimmy Smith of Amusement Park Entertainment; Maddi Carlton of Gorgeous; Charlie McBrearty of Shortlist; Allison Amon of Chelsea; and moderator Geoff Edwards of CAA.
CDDP Holds 1st Showcase, Looks To Open Up Opportunities For Women and Minority Directors
Joint effort of AICP and DGA aims to connect promising talent with commercial production companies for representation

Born out of contract talks between the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) and the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the Commercial Directors Diversity Program (CDDP) held its first ever Showcase on Wednesday (1/11) evening, drawing industry decision-makers to the DGA Theater in Los Angeles. The event consisted of a panel discussion during which several notables affirmed the importance of attaining a more diverse directorial talent pool, followed by a screening which featured the work of select women and ethnic minority directors who are in the market for commercial production company representation. The night wrapped with a reception during which the industry socialized and had the chance to meet with several of the CDDP Showcase directors in attendance.

The lineup of 13 Showcase directors was selected by a blue-ribbon panel of judges who viewed and assessed the work of 122 entrants solicited by and submitted to the CDDP. A joint effort of the AICP and DGA, the CDDP aims to increase the number of women and minority directors in the commercialmaking/branded content industry, while also bringing new blood into DGA membership ranks.

Screened for attendees was a select piece from each of the 13 directors. The industry at large can see this work and much more online. Many of the 13 directors submitted as many as three pieces. All of this work, along with the directors’ biographies, can be viewed on a newly launched website (click here). Via the site, the directors can also be contacted by production companies interested in exploring a working relationship. The CDDP initiative is designed to help gain production house representation for these deserving directors.

The audience saw select pieces from the following directors: 

  • Elle Ginter (whose BMW “Retrospect” piece was shown)
  • Chad Howitt (“From 35,000 Feet/Praise Aviophobia”)
  • Masha Kondakova (“Je Suis Mal,” a piece on domestic abuse/violence)
  • Elizabeth Ku-Herraro (“Taking The Plunge--Trailer”)
  • Jasmin Kuhn (Leja Lips’ “Colors”)
  • Stacey Lee (Smirnoff’s “Hoofer”)
  • Sonia Malfa (Butterscotch Records’ “Leyohma”)
  • Dina Mande (Silver Oak’s “Into The Bottle”)
  • Monty Marsh (airbnb’s “Where Will Life Take You?”)
  • Stacey Muhammad (The Creed)
  • Bao Nguyen (Google’s “OK Google”)
  • Sharat Rajo (Scandal, “Episode 513”)
  • Sarah Rinaldi (Thursday Night Football, “The Quarterback,” a moving portrayal of Green Bay Packers’ legendary quarterback Bart Starr)

More Showcases to come
Matt Miller, AICP president and CEO, said that this is the first of what he hopes will be perhaps as many as three CDDP Showcases during the course of the year with more to come beyond that, exposing the work of women and minority talent to the production community. He noted that the first group of 13 Showcase directors was deemed by judges as immediately being “ready to work in this industry.” 

Miller added that many of the remaining 100-plus entrants in the first go-around also demonstrated considerable potential. The CDDP intends to provide a number of these promising directors with mentoring and guidance. Miller conjectured that work from these directors may in some cases need some tweaking like, for example, a different editing approach.

The judges who selected the directors for Showcase #1 included:  Sally Antonacchio, owner/executive producer, The Artists Company; Roxanne Artesona, owner, Roxanne & Co.; Brian Carmody, co-founder/managing partner, Smuggler; Keith Cartwright, executive creative director, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners; Lisa Clunie, CEO, Joan; Susan Credle, global chief creative officer, FCB Global; Jules Daly, president, RSA Films; Michael DiGirolamo, founder/managing director, Hey Wonderful; Candice Dragonas, executive producer, PRETTYBIRD; Robert Fernandez, CEO, Moxie Pictures; Oliver Fuselier, managing partner, Tool; Yirayah Garcia, creative director, UWG; Mindy Goldberg, chief creative officer/co-founder, Epoch Films; Laura Gregory, CEO/founder, Great Guns; Alma H’arel, director, Epoch Films; Shawn Lacy, managing director, Biscuit Filmworks; Brian Latt, partner/executive producer, m ss ng p eces; Ralph Laucella, founding partner/executive producer, O Positive; Sasha Markova, creative director, Mother; Margo Mars, managing director, B-Reel Films; Charlie McBrearty, owner, Shortlist Management; Mary Nittolo, president, The STUDIO;  Kate Oppenheim, partner/executive, m ss ng p eces; Jaime Robinson, chief creative officer, Joan; Jimmy Smith, chairman/CEO/CCO, Amusement Park; Shelly Townsend, executive producer, Skunk; Mark Waites; founder and creative partner, Mother; Natasha Wellesley, head of integrated production, 180LA; and Peyton Wilson, director, Chelsea.  

Betty Thomas, 1st VP of the DGA, made opening remarks to the DGA Theater gathering. Thomas said the Guild has made diversity a priority and is gratified to see the first CDDP event come to fruition. She hopes the initiative will lead to “a new wave of undiscovered talent.”

Miller then addressed the audience, noting that there’s growing awareness that different styles, perspectives and ways to tell stories for marketers are essential. This means that new untapped talent--such as women and ethnic minority directors--is more important than ever. This fact, he said, is not lost on AICP member company executives, many of whom have stepped up to lend assistance and support to the CDDP initiative. Describing talent as “the lifeblood of the industry,” Miller related that commercial producers are adept at grooming, refining and selling directors. The CDDP initiative, he continued, is simply going to help “find the directors,” making it that much easier for production houses to then do what they do best, helping to create opportunities for previously unsigned women and minority filmmakers, yielding a more diverse directorial talent pool.

A pressing need
Prior to the screening, a panel discussion was held to address diversity--or the lack thereof--in commercialmaking. Moderating the dialogue was Geoff Edwards, creative executive at CAA. Panelists were Allison Amon, co-owner and executive producer, Chelsea Pictures; Maddi Carlton, executive producer, Gorgeous; Charlie McBrearty, a founder of indie rep firm Shortlist; and Jimmy Smith, partner, chairman, chief creative officer, Amusement Park Entertainment.

Edwards asked Amon how Chelsea has managed to assemble a diverse roster. Amon noted that she and company partner/co-owner Lisa Mehling have a love of storytelling and documentary filmmaking, and have crafted their roster based on that love. “We went after diverse storytelling...not diverse directors,” said Allison, adding that “What spoke to us wasn’t always the most commercial work. But we’ve been able to translate it to other people we respected,” opening up opportunities for storytellers with different approaches and sensibilities. She cited as an example Lauren Greenfield. Amon and Mehling saw Greenfield’s Thin, a grueling verite look at anorexia and bulimia, at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, and were immediately drawn to the director, admiring how she connected with her subjects. Chelsea signed Greenfield who has gone on to become a lauded commercialmaking talent, with her P&G/Always “LikeAGirl” winning the primetime commercial Emmy Award in 2015 as well as earning her a DGA Award nomination for Best Commercial Director of the Year.  Now Amon and Mehling are about to embark on their 15th year at Sundance scouting talent. Amon said that their being open-minded about different kinds of storytellers has helped to naturally evolve the Chelsea roster into being inclusive of diverse talent.”

Smith observed that the catch-22 relative to creating opportunities for new directors from different backgrounds is the pressure to always hit a home run for clients--and the desire of agency creatives to do award-winning work, which often leads them to well established star directors. So it’s still an uphill climb even though you know, said Smith, that a “young cat” has what it takes based on his or her reel.

McBrearty affirmed, though, that despite the obstacles, “We need more voices” in order to enrich the work and give a new perspective and dimension to creative approaches.

Carlton described herself as “an idealist” about this issue, saying it all comes down to the work. “If the reel stands up, you’re way ahead.” She observed that there is still a minority of people resistant to women directors--conjecturing that such resistance is more of an issue relative to females than it is to different ethnic minorities, though some may dispute that. But if a director--whether female, a minority or whomever--can articulate his or her vision, be persuasive, make other people see that vision, then doors will eventually open up for new talent. Helping matters is the greater variety of projects now being done in the ad sector--digital and varied forms of branded content. This at times lower budgeted work generates more opportunities for which new up-and-coming filmmakers can be considered.

Edwards said that initiatives like Free The Bid--launched by director Har’el (a CDDP judge)--have sparked positive movement and raised awareness of the need for female directors. The Free The Bid program calls for agencies to bid a woman director on every ad assignment. Several agencies have pledged to do that, including FCB Global, DDB North America, BBDO North America, McCann New York, J. Walter Thompson, Leo Burnett, Pereira & O’Dell, Mother, Joan, Phenomenon and 180LA. Free The Bid is also reaching out successfully to clients and production companies, a number of which have committed to the program.

McBrearty said that some folks at agencies committed to Free The Bid have not necessarily embraced being required to bid women directors. But overall the initiative has created opportunities and been a catalyst for conversation about the importance of inclusion and diversity. He noted that agencies not part of Free The Bid have been positively impacted by the program as they are now much more conscious of the need for a diverse talent pool for spots and branded content.

Carlton said that Free The Bid is a form of affirmative action, a topic which is the subject of long-standing debate. She sees value in the program but thinks individual proactive behavior remains key. She is enthused over the prospect of production houses reaching out to female filmmakers who haven’t considered a career in advertising. This will lead to an infusion of new talent into the business whom agencies, whether part of Free The Bid or not, will have to strongly consider.

Smith said such outreach is also valuable when extended beyond traditional advertising/filmmaking borders. He cited as an example going to poetry readings/poetry slams, finding women and people of color who can write, who have perhaps done films about their poetry. There are rich veins of undiscovered talent that the industry needs to make an effort to connect with and tap into.

As for what she would like to see the CDDP initiative accomplish, Carlton shared that she hopes it helps “open people’s eyes to the range of possibilities” and leads to the realization that “there’s something to be gained by reaching beyond their comfort zone.”

AICP’s Miller said that CDDP is a simple, direct approach that comes at a time when awareness and momentum are building "to make something positive happen."

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