Sunday, August 18, 2019

News Briefs

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  • Friday, Aug. 16, 2019
"After the Wedding" was a family affair for Julianne Moore
In this Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019 file photo, director Bart Freundlich, left, and wife, actor Julianne Moore, attend a special screening of "After the Wedding" in New York. The film, written and directed by Freundlich, is a remake of director Susanne Bier's hit Dutch movie of the same name. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Julianne Moore is accustomed to working with her husband, director Bart Freundlich, on set, but it was a real family affair when their daughter joined them for their latest collaboration.

Liv Freundlich, 17, was a production assistant on "After the Wedding," which was released earlier this month.

"We loved having her around more than she loved being around," laughed Freundlich. "The best part of it was just getting to be with each other constantly."

The film, written and directed by Freundlich, is a remake of director Susanne Bier's hit Dutch movie of the same name. To put his own stamp on it, Freundlich swapped the gender of the two leads to women, using Moore and Michelle Williams. Billy Crudup plays a role that was portrayed by a woman in the original.

In the movie, Williams plays Isabel, an orphanage volunteer living in India who comes to the United States to ask Moore's character, Theresa, to fund her organization. She ends up attending a wedding for Theresa's daughter and meets Theresa's husband, played by Crudup, whom she has a history with.

Moore also served as a producer. Freundlich said it helps to be married collaborators because they don't compartmentalize their home life and work life. Moore joked it "might've been more fun for him."

"I'm usually used to going home and dropping it," said Moore. "It's sort of a relief for me to get in my car and be like, 'Phew, that's the end of my day and I'll think about tomorrow later,' but for a director it's constant. The amount of work that they have to do is really extraordinary. So, we would talk about it in the car on the way home, we would talk about it before we would go to bed, we would talk about it first thing in the morning. But, like I said it was a shared passion, too, so that was wonderful."

This is the fourth time the couple has worked together.

  • Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019
Gyllenhaal attributes conquering fear to Oscar-winning "Free Solo" documentary
In this June 17, 2019 file photo, actor Jake Gyllenhaal poses for photographers upon arrival at the photo call for 'Spiderman: Far From Home' in London. Gyllenhaal attributes conquering his fear of performing in a one-man play, by watching the Oscar-winning documentary about the free climber Alex Honnold. Few performances are as daunting as the one-person play. That’s why Jake Gyllenhaal had to find a way to conquer that fear when he took on the role of Abe in the second half of “Sea Wall/A Life.”(Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP, File)

Few performances are as daunting as the one-person play.

That's why Jake Gyllenhaal had to find a way to conquer that fear when he took on the role of Abe in the second half of "Sea Wall/A Life."

"Before I did it, I was terrified," Gyllenhaal said of "A Life," after the play's Broadway opening. Tom Sturridge stars in "Sea Wall," the other half of the pair of one-act monologues.

Gyllenhaal admits that nervousness extended to the rehearsal room. But then he found confidence in an unlikely place. The story of Alex Honnold's 3,000-foot (914-meter) climb of the El Capitan rock formation at Yosemite National Park.

"I was sort of quaking in my boots thinking about it. Then I saw 'Free Solo,' that documentary about the free climber Alex Honnold that won the Academy Award. Amazing, amazing documentary, and I thought to myself, if he can do that without any rope I can do a monologue. And then that was it," Gyllenhaal said.

From then on, it was smooth sailing.

It was a little different for Sturridge.  "I feel like weirdly — like before I walk on stage I feel fear. But I feel safest on the stage," Sturridge said.

Both actors say the lack of an onstage partner to play off of can add to the stress; there isn't a safety net if you blow a line. But Sturridge uses the audience.

"Normally when you're on stage you're pretending to be in a room and pretending like you're in Russia in the 1920s and you're pretending the audience don't exist. But with this, I'm having a conversation with real people who are different every night. And if I blow a line, then we just change the conversation," Sturridge said.

"Sea Wall/A Life," a pair of plays written by Nick Payne and Simon Stephens, respectively are tragic comedies that deal with love and loss.

Gyllenhaal says the emotional value shifts with each audience.

"It's very emotional through all of it. But it changes every night. It's different. Sometimes I'm telling the story, I'm just telling it. Sometimes things happen. Sometimes I hear someone in the audience have an emotional response. He was laughing or crying, and it makes me feel something," he said.

"Sea Wall/A Life" plays on Broadway at the Hudson Theater until Sept. 29.

  • Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019
Women In Film extends Harassment Help Line to NY
NYWIFT Board president Jamie Zelermyer

Women In Film, Los Angeles (WIF LA) is expanding the services of its Sexual Harassment Help Line to New York State, in partnership with New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) and The Actors Fund.

The WIF LA Help Line was launched in December 2017 as an active measure to provide support to those who have experienced sexual harassment or misconduct while working in the entertainment industry. In October 2017, the #MeToo movement transformed the landscape of the film and television production field, and WIF LA’s Help Line has since emerged as a crucial community resource. An integrated program designed to meet the specific needs of victims and survivors working in entertainment, the Help Line’s trauma-informed responders provide emotional support and information on victims’ rights, along with referrals to pro bono employment attorneys, a free and confidential support group, and low-fee individual therapy.

With extended hours to serve the East Coast, WIF LA’s Help Line responders will provide services to New York-based callers, with referrals to pro bono employment attorneys, low-fee individual therapy in the New York City area, and Safe Space at The Actors Fund NY—a free support group facilitated by The Actors Fund clinicians who advocate for the empowerment of survivors in entertainment.

“NYWIFT is proud to join forces with our sisters at WIF LA to bring their Help Line to the New York entertainment community,” said NYWIFT executive director Cynthia Lopez. “We are committed to giving women in film and television the tools and support they need to excel in their careers, and that includes making sure they know their rights.”

WIF executive director Kirsten Schaffer said, “To reach gender parity in the entertainment industry, women need to feel safe in the workplace and to have recourse when their rights have been violated. In the nearly two years since the WIF Help Line launched, we have noticed a need coming from our colleagues in New York. By expanding the Help Line, in partnership with our dedicated colleagues at NYWIFT and The Actors Fund, we will provide crucial support to film and television workers in two of our industry’s busiest cities, and continue to empower our community to transform the culture of entertainment.”

“NYWIFT is proud to partner on the Sexual Harassment Help Line’s expansion to New York,” said NYWIFT Board president Jamie Zelermyer. “Providing structured support, guidance, and actionable solutions--in addition to a caring and sympathetic ear--is vital to the creation of safe, equitable and inclusive working environments in our industry.” 

For support and more information about Safe Space at The Actors Fund New York, call the Women In Film Help Line toll-free at 855.WIF.LINE.

The Help Line is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time (7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific time), and Tuesday and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time).

After-hours calls will be returned during business hours.

Women In Film Los Angeles, along with 17 other organizations working to end workplace sexual harassment, received a grant from CBS to support the expansion of the Help Line. Seed funding for the Help Line was provided by William Morris Endeavor.

  • Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019
Privacy questions as humans reviewed user audio at Facebook
In this Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, photo an iPhone displays the apps for Facebook and Messenger in New Orleans. Facebook says it paid contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its Messenger service. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

Facebook has paid contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its Messenger service, raising privacy concerns for a company with a history of privacy lapses.

The practice was, until recently, common in the tech industry. Companies say the use of humans helps improve their services. But users aren't typically aware that humans and not just computers are reviewing audio.

Transcriptions done by humans raise bigger concerns because of the potential of rogue employees or contractors leaking details. The practice at Google emerged after some of its Dutch language audio snippets were leaked. More than 1,000 recordings were obtained by Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS, which noted that some contained sensitive personal conversations — as well as information that identified the person speaking.

"We feel we have some control over machines," said Jamie Winterton, director of strategy at Arizona State University's Global Security Initiative. "You have no control over humans that way. There's no way once a human knows something to drag that piece of data to the recycling bin."

Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy privacy-advocacy group, said it's bad enough that Facebook uses artificial intelligence as part of its data-monitoring activities. He said the use of humans as well is "even more alarming."

Tim Bajarin, tech columnist and president of Creative Strategies, said it's a bigger problem when humans use the information beyond its intended purpose.

Facebook said audio snippets reviewed by contractors were masked so as not to reveal anyone's identity. It said it stopped the practice a week ago. The development was reported earlier by Bloomberg.

Google said it suspended doing this worldwide while it investigates the Dutch leaks. Amazon said it still uses humans, but users can decline, or opt out, of the human transcriptions. Published reports say Apple also has used humans, but has stopped. Apple didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

A report from tech news site Motherboard last week said Microsoft also uses human transcribers with some Skype conversations and commands spoken to Microsoft's digital assistant, Cortana. Microsoft said in a statement that it has safeguards such as stripping identifying data and requiring non-disclosure agreements with contractors and their employees. Yet details leaked to Motherboard.

After the Motherboard report, Microsoft said it "could do a better job" explaining that humans listen to the conversations. It updated its frequently asked questions for Skype to say that using the translation service "may include transcription of audio recordings by Microsoft employees and vendors."

It makes sense to use human transcribers to train artificial intelligence systems, Winterton said. But the issue is that companies are leading people to believe that only machines are listening to audio, causing miscommunication and distrust, she said.

"Communicating to users through your privacy policy is legal but not ethical," she said.

The companies' privacy policies — usually long, dense documents — often permit the use of customer data to improve products and services, but the language can be opaque.

"We collect the content, communications and other information you provide when you use our Products, including when you sign up for an account, create or share content, and message or communicate with others," Facebook's data-use policy reads . It does not mention audio or voice specifically or using transcribers.

Bajarin said tech companies need to use multiple methods to refine artificial intelligence software, as digital voice assistants and voice-to-text technology are still new. But he said being more clear about the human involvement is "the very least" companies could do.

"They should be very clear on what their policies are and if consumer messages or whatever it is are going to be seen," he said. "If humans are part of the process for analysis that needs to be stated as well."

Irish data-protection regulators say they're seeking more details from Facebook to assess compliance with European data regulations. The agency's statement says it's also had "ongoing engagement with Google, Apple and Microsoft" over the issue, though Amazon wasn't mentioned.

Facebook is already under scrutiny for a variety of other ways it has misused user data. It agreed to a $5 billion fine to settle a U.S. Federal Trade Commission probe of its privacy practices.

Lerman reported from San Francisco.

  • Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019
14 producers graduate from PGA's 2019 Power of Diversity Master Workshop
The PGA Diversity Master Workshop graduating class of 2019

Fourteen producers representing 11 projects in TV, film, and documentary have completed the Producers Guild of America (PGA) 15th annual Power of Diversity Master Workshop. The eight-week workshop, led by PGA-member chairs Sasheen R. Artis and Matt Johnson, teaches master classes on pitching, premise development, film finance, line producing, demystifying the writers’ room, agent and manager representation, distribution, dealmaking and the world of virtual and augmented reality, headlined by some of the top producers and executives in the industry. The Power of Diversity Master Workshop is free and open to members and non-members of the PGA.

This year’s speakers included: former PGA president and president of Lakeshore Entertainment Gary Lucchesi, TV showrunners Tawnya Bhattacharya and Ayanna Floyd Davis, Film Fund founder Jeff Geoffray, distribution and finance attorney Schuyler Moore, Equitable Management partner Sonia Gambaro, Schemers Entertainment’s Daniel Seco, Kim Roth, president of production for MACRO, James Lopez, president of Will Packer Productions, and EPIX resident Michael Wright.

The Power of Diversity Master Workshop participants worked with 22 PGA member mentors to develop their pitch and prepare their projects for the marketplace.

The Class of 2019 consists of:

  • Nathan Bennett with the Jordanian teen feature, The Camp Beauty Queen
  • Samantha Culp with the docu-series, The Futurists
  • Gabriela Gonzalez and Candy Ibarra with the TV comedy, Mentiritas (Little White Lies)
  • Zimran Jacob, with the Indian mythology fantasy series, The Queen and the Goddess
  • Tricia Lee with the trans-gender led feature, Mother-Daughter
  • Monice Mitchell Simms with the football rom-com, SACKED
  • Sade Oyinade and Deshawn Plair with the female-centric feature, Better Than I Know Myself
  • Diana Romero with the female-driven police procedural, SOLD
  • Widad Shafakoj with the Syrian war crimes documentary, Caesar (Tsar)
  • Justine Wentzell with the tweenage TV comedy, Identity Crisis of a Banana
  • Delbert Whetter and Jevon Whetter with the deaf teen coming of age feature, Flash Before the Bang

In a joint statement, Master Workshop co-chairs Artis and Johnson shared, “What a way to celebrate 15 years of the Power of Diversity Master Workshop!  Already, this class is making strides within the industry, winning development grants, becoming Nicholls Quarter Finalists, securing representation and getting read by some of the top companies in our industry. This is the only program in the Industry dedicated to training the next wave of producers. After so many years, there’s now a groundswell of diverse voices spreading throughout our media. Audiences are eager to embrace stories that reflect their own experience, so we’re convinced industry leaders will be just as eager to embrace these producers.”

PGA Workshop participants have gone on to produce top television shows and major films, including LaToya Morgan (two-time NAACP Image Award-nominee for Turn: Washington’s Spies, Into the Badlands), Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (S.W.A.T., Sleepy Hollow, CSI: NY, Southland), Ben Lobato (Ice, Queen of the South, Justified), Hollie Overton (Shadowhunters, The Client List) and Sarah DiLeo (Bless Me, Ultima).

In addition, the PGA Diversity Committee has fostered partnerships with international producers’ organizations, accepting creatives from around the world into the Power of Diversity Master Workshop, and in exchange, conducts the Workshop on four continents, in Jordan, South Africa, Brazil and Taiwan.

Applications for next year’s program will be available in February 2020. Click here for more info.


  • Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019
Cicely Tyson joins cast of Ava DuVernay series on OWN
In an April 27, 2018 file photo, Cicely Tyson speaks at her Hand and Footprint Ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre, in Los Angeles. PWN Netwoek said Tuesday, August 13, 2019 that Cicely Tyson will join the cast as a series regular in Ava DuVernay’s new romance anthology series on OWN, “Cherish the Day.” (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)

Cicely Tyson will join the cast as a series regular in Ava DuVernay's new romance anthology series on OWN, "Cherish the Day."

The network said Tuesday that the 94-year-old legend will play Miss Luma Lee Langston, a star of stage and screen in decades past. She joins previously announced leads Xosha Roquemore and Alano Miller.

The series, which premieres in 2020, will chronicle the lives of one couple per season, with each episode spanning a single day. It's DuVernay's second series on OWN since the creation of "Queen Sugar."

Roquemore plays Gently James, Luma's live-in assistant who is encouraged by Miss Luma Lee to strike up a romance with Evan Fisher, played by Miller. DuVernay is the creator and executive producer.

  • Monday, Aug. 12, 2019
Apple releases teaser for "The Morning Show"
In this March 25, 2019, file photo, from left, Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston speak at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, Calif. Apple is offering a first look at its web television series “The Morning Show.” It posted a teaser of the show, which stars Witherspoon, Aniston and Carell. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Apple is giving a first look at its upcoming web television series that is centered on a behind-the-scenes view of early morning TV news.

The company posted a teaser Monday of “The Morning Show.” It stars Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell and is set to debut will debut this fall on Apple TV+.

Apple’s new original video subscription service will feature original shows, movies and documentaries without ads and will be available on demand.

  • Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019
Universal cancels controversial "Hunt" in wake of shootings
In this Aug. 23, 2016 file photo, the entrance to the Universal Studios lot is pictured in Universal City, Calif. Universal Pictures has canceled the planned September 2019 release of its controversial social thriller "The Hunt" in the wake of recent mass shootings and criticism from President Donald Trump. The studio said in a statement Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, that it had decided to cancel the film's release altogether, saying "we understand that now is not the time" for the film. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Universal Pictures has canceled the planned September release of its controversial social satire "The Hunt," in the wake of recent mass shootings and amid criticism from President Donald Trump.

The move came several days after the studio suspended the ad campaign for the film, a gory, R-rated thriller that tells a tale of liberal "elites" hunting people in red states for sport.

In a statement Saturday, Universal said it had decided to take the further step of canceling the film's Sept. 27 release, saying "We understand that now is not the right time to release this film."

Left open was the possibility that the movie could be released in theaters or on streaming at a later date.

Trump criticized the planned movie on Twitter Friday, without mentioning its name, saying it was intended "to inflame and cause chaos."

The president also had harsh words for Hollywood in the tweet, saying "Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level."

Asked if the decision to scrap the release had been impacted by Trump's comments, a person familiar with the decision process, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations, said the cancellation had been under discussion by the studio and filmmaking team well before the comments were made.

The studio paused the ad campaign in the middle of last week in light of the tragic mass shootings in Texas, Ohio and California.

"The Hunt," produced by Jason Blum's Blumhouse, stars Oscar winner Hilary Swank and Betty Gilpin, and is directed by Craig Zobel.

  • Friday, Aug. 9, 2019
Dascha Polanco's back in the acting hustle after "Orange"
This July 1, 2019 photo shows actress Dascha Polanco posing for a portrait in New York to promote the 7th season of "Orange is the New Black." (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Agencies, writers, producers: The time is now for Hollywood to do more in terms of diversity behind the scenes, Dascha Polanco said.

In front of the cameras, the "Orange is the New Black" co-star said the industry must stop thinking of her and so many of her co-stars on the recently wrapped Netflix series as non-traditional Hollywood types based on size, looks, race, age or sexual orientation.

"We are the tradition. We are the reality," Polanco told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "Hollywood has been very exclusive in who they consider an actor, who they want to depict on screens."

Polanco said diversity on screen is slowly lurching forward, but it's equally important to do the same off camera. Her struggles finding work are not without emotional scars. She struggles daily over "self-love, self-acceptance, self-care."

"A lot of my life as a young girl and as a young adult has been influenced by how people will accept me or feeling that I am not enough to accomplish certain things because of how I look. I was very fearful of going out on auditions and being told, 'Well you have to lose weight, your hair is curly,'" Polanco said.

Learning how to make peace with discrimination and prejudice in her past is key for Polanco.

"It's learning how to embrace those scars and how we use them as foundation and not as identity," she said.

Now that "Orange" has wrapped, Polanco said she wants to spend more time enjoying every moment as she pursues life after the hit show launched her career. She'll appear in the film version of "In the Heights," and she's auditioning like the old days.

"I'm back in the battlegrounds," she said. "I'm still out here not getting roles, and I see who they cast, somebody who looks totally opposite of me, size, look, experience, totally opposite. Not necessarily not talented or more talented. It's just, you know, there's a lot that has to be done to change."

Polanco said she has the mind of a hustler.

"I don't have time to sit here and wait," she said. "I'm always thinking about how can I capitalize? I learned that from 50 Cent."

  • Friday, Aug. 9, 2019
Joaquin Phoenix to receive Tribute Actor Award at Toronto Film Fest
Joaquin Phoenix (photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic, courtesy of TIFF)

Three-time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix will be honored at next month’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Phoenix will receive one of two TIFF Tribute Actor Awards at this year’s TIFF Tribute Gala awards event. Taking place on Monday, September 9 at Fairmont Royal York, during the 44th Toronto Film Fest, the Gala is an annual fundraiser to support TIFF’s year-round programs and core mission to transform the way people see the world through film, and to celebrate the film industry’s outstanding contributors. 

With a wide-ranging career spanning over 35 years, Phoenix has starred in such films as The Master, Inherent Vice, Walk the Line, Gladiator, To Die For, and Her. He has been nominated for three Academy Awards for his roles as Commodus in Gladiator, Freddie Quell in The Master and Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, for which he won a Golden Globe.​ This fall, Phoenix portrays the title character in Todd Phillips’ Joker, ​a standalone origin story that will have its North American Premiere at TIFF.

“Displaying both raw instinct and consummate technical skill, Joaquin Phoenix is the complete actor, and one of the finest in contemporary cinema,” said Cameron Bailey, co-head of TIFF. “Over three decades, he has brought a piercing truth to each groundbreaking role. TIFF is thrilled to be celebrating an artist of his caliber with this inaugural award. We can’t wait for Festival audiences to experience his electric turn in Joker.”

Joana Vicente, co-head of TIFF, said of Phoenix,. “His outstanding contribution to cinema acts as a testament to TIFF’s core mission to transform the way people see the world through film.”

Director Todd Phillips’ J​oker​ centers on the iconic arch-nemesis and is an original, fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society.

TIFF previously announced that Meryl Streep will receive the other TIFF Tribute Actor Award, sponsored by RBC. Taika Waititi will receive the TIFF Ebert Director Award, and Participant Media will receive the TIFF Impact Award, accepted by founder and chairman Jeff Skoll and CEO David Linde. In addition, there will be a special tribute to multi-hyphenate musician David Foster. The Mary Pickford Award, presented by MGM and honoring a female emerging talent in the industry in celebration of United Artists’ 100th anniversary, will be given to a recipient to be announced shortly. 

The 44th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5–15, 2019.

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