Posted By Administration,
Thursday, September 22, 2016
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Book Review by Bob Boden
The task of assembling most of the living titans of variety television to share their experience, anecdotes, memories, and predictions is monumental at best, but thanks to the tireless research and in-depth interviews of the authors, FADE UP: “26” THE MOVERS AND SHAKERS OF VARIETY TELEVISION, by Steve Binder and Mary Beth Leidman, is a brisk and entertaining read that triggers many memories and insights for producers in all genres.
As a television genre, variety dates back to the earliest transitions from radio, and has endured through the decades, though inconsistently. This book takes you from the pioneer days of Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen through the eras of weekly series starring Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Andy Williams, Perry Como and Carol Burnett, as well as paying homage to the specials headlined by the likes of Bob Hope, Mitzi Gaynor, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand.
The modern era of variety, dominated by Saturday Night Live, America’s Funniest Home Videos, The Kennedy Center Honors, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, numerous late night talk shows and the legacy awards shows, also comes alive in vivid detail, as told by those who made it and witnessed it first-hand.
Stories of the groundbreaking and controversial turning points of the genre, including The Smothers Brothers, The T.A.M.I. Show, The Elvis Presley Comeback Special, Laugh-In and The Petula Clark/Harry Belafonte Special are peppered through the candid (and sometimes rambling) recollections of the producers and directors who were there, including Ellen Brown, Ken Ehrlich, Spike Jones, Jr., Nigel Lythgoe, Lorne Michaels, Don Mischer, George Schlatter, and most notably, co-author Steve Binder, whose contributions to variety TV are truly impressive.
This esteemed roster has collectively won almost 100 Emmy® Awards; they laid the foundation for one of the cornerstones of classic and contemporary television. Sadly missing from this vibrant exposé is the late Dwight Hemion, former directorial partner of Gary Smith, whose spectacular talent and style were honored by numerous contributors to this book.
Courtesy of this veritable “Who’s Who?” of variety television, one fascinating story follows another in this comprehensive tribute to an art form sometimes labeled irrelevant in today’s television landscape. Significant attention is paid to reality-competition shows that feature musical performances, which have in many ways inherited the elements and popularity from their ancestors, the traditional variety shows of days gone by.
Most recently (and perhaps ironically), there has been a recent resurgence of interest in resurrecting the classic variety form, with mixed results. But variety, in whatever form it takes, is here to stay, and will continue to evolve in the multi-platform universe. Thanks to these visionary men and women who helped lay the groundwork, there is much to review and emulate.
FADE UP is a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane for all fans of the genre, and a tremendously valuable master class for those who want to learn about how the business evolved. If I were forced to find a negative about this fascinating book, it would be the lament of an audience member at an awards show who is enthralled by an emotional acceptance speech, only to hear that person played off the stage. I wish there was more to share.
- You can purchase Fade Up at Amazon or Kendall Hunt Publishing
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Posted By Steve Pesce,
Monday, September 19, 2016
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PGA member Charles Segars has a lot going
on. A pioneer in digital media, the CEO of Ovation TV, senior digital advisory
roles with companies like DreamWorks Animation, a faculty member at Carnegie
Mellon University—and in his spare time, he leads advance teams for the
President of the United States. Through all of his many activities, Segars has
insisted on staying on the cutting edge of media and technology. "What’s
happening in entertainment right now is very much what those guys must’ve felt
like when they were working in radio and saw this TV thing starting up,” he
says. While this constantly changing landscape is daunting for most, Segars has
thrived thanks to his ability to spot the leading trends of the day and combine
them with a reliance on tried-and-true principles: trusting the audience,
staying flexible and always keeping story first.
A native of Pittsburgh, Segars was hooked on
movie magic from an early age, taking the Universal Studios Tour at age 14 and
sneaking back onto the lot a few years later to see the filming of the pilot
for the ABC series Tales of the Gold Monkey, with its giant sets, big logistics and great
special effects; "I was hooked!” he recalls. During college Segars worked as a
PA and segment producer on the "Making of...” documentaries for some of the
biggest films of the time; "I got to see up close how they made movies,
including Poltergeist and Back to the Future... I was in heaven.”
Almost as a footnote to his pioneering online work, Segars is responsible for launching a smash movie franchise, the National Treasure series. "While I was at the National Archives doing research, I learned that the glass case holding the Declaration of Independence had started leaking,” Segars recalls. "The case cracked over time, allowing fresh air and moisture to decay that most important document. Document specialists were urgently discussing what to do, saying ‘If you open it up the document will disintegrate. If you don’t open it up, it’ll still disintegrate.’ The National Archivist showed me a photo of when the Declaration of Independence was transported there from the Library of Congress. The guys guarding it looked like The Untouchables. They were driving those great old Fords and carrying big tommy guns. Here’s this giant motorcade to transport the Declaration of Independence to the National Archives. And I started thinking, what if someone stole the Declaration of Independence?”
Segars took the idea to producer Oren Aviv. "Oren and I worked together on the story, and when we felt we were on to something we took it to Jon Turteltaub, who immediately jumped out of his chair, saying, ‘I want to direct this movie!’” Thank goodness he did. He made key contributions to to our story that made it the franchise it is today.
The pitch was picked up quickly. "The next thing we’re in front of [Disney head] Joe Roth. That’s how quickly National Treasure came together. Disney bought it in ’99, long before The Da Vinci Code was even a thought. Now the script is in for the third movie. It’s very gratifying to see National Treasure’s continued success.”
Turteltaub, who would go on to produce and direct the movie that would become National Treasure and its sequel, knew it was a great idea as a result of his previous experiences with Segars: "When I first met Charles, he was some stranger who was full of ideas/” Turteltaub remembers. "And every subsequent time I met Charles, he had a different job and even more ideas. Always supportive, always enthusiastic, always a cheerleader, and always a mystery.”
Committed to a career in
entertainment, Segars started working in television with producing jobs on
magazine shows like Lifestyles
of the Rich and Famous
well as production exec roles on Viacom syndication hits like The Montel Williams Show.
"About this time,” he
recalls, "I got the greatest call ever. Jeff Sagansky and Rod Perth called and
said, ‘We need to reinvent late night on CBS.’” After years of attempting to
fill late-night with talk shows and game shows, network president Sagansky was
ready to try something different. Segars and Perth were tasked with launching a
group of scripted shows that came to be known as Crimetime After Primetime
, a string of unique
adult-themed series such as Silk Stalkings
and Forever Knight
. After serving as a
crucial part of the team that recruited David Letterman to CBS, Segars was made
head of Special Programming for the network,where he oversaw awards events like
the Grammys and the Tonys, as well as experimented with shows consisting of
wedding videos and animal attacks, years ahead of the reality TV boom.
After years of experience
in television, Segars began to see opportunities in the early dotcom boom, and
in 1998 co-founded CountingDown.com, based on the idea that movie fans would
flock to a site designed around their unique community. "I quickly learned
online video worked better in short form— two minutes max—than the longer form
I was used to doing,” Segars recalls. He also learned that
painstakingly-crafted content, while usually well-received, could be quickly
upstaged by fan-made content. The world of TV, with its overnight ratings,
critics and focus groups, was being replaced with the digital realm’s ability
to provide instant, constant feedback. "It was exciting and terrifying at the
same time,” Segars says.
A major opportunity came
Segars’ way when Jeffrey Katzenberg asked him to consult on an idea for a show
tailored specifically to the YouTube audience, called YouTube Nation, which curated content
from the ocean of videos uploaded every day. "The idea was that since there was
so much content being uploaded to YouTube every day, literally years of video
each day, many great pieces of content deserve but can’t get the spotlight.” YouTube Nation used curators to scour
the internet looking for content, then would contact the creators and ask them
to allow the video to be used as part of the seven-minute daily show. The show
reached two million subscribers before ending in 2014.
The differences between
traditional TV content and video made specifically for online platforms are vast,
and Segars was quick to identify the unique requirements of new media. "You
have to put great story first. In that sense, there’s no difference between
traditional and online video. Where the pathways diverge is you have to
understand the best practices for where you’re airing that content. A reality
segment for television is very different from one for YouTube or Snapchat.
While cable television wants a 22-minute or 44- minute show, each online
platform has a different sweet spot. The second common mistake is failing to
understand that each platform has its own best practices. Third, and most
importantly,online producers need to upload content almost everyday,
sometimes multiple times a day,feeding their fanbase with exactly what
they ask for. TV can’t come close to that. Online platforms like Vine, YouTube,
Snapchat, and Instagram are populated by content creators who have a one-to-one
relationship with their audience.” As a result of his success with
CountingDown.com, Segars has become an expert in emerging online markets, doing
consulting work for major players in the digital realm.
Segars has concrete ideas about how online
media differs from traditional broadcast models: "One thing that’s new for
traditional media producers is figuring out the discovery mechanism. How do you
get your audience to find you among a billion other uploads a week? Just like
when you’re trying to sell a show to ABC, it’s an easier sale with a movie star
in it because there’s already a fanbase. Where digital diverges is you need be
to across five or six platforms. And you have to bring an advertiser, which
requires a whole new muscle for producers to develop.”
Additionally, online programming has to be
produced differently from broadcast content. "Most online video is reality or
sketch-based. This is mostly because scripted takes too long to bake and by the
time it’s ready, fans are moving on to something else. Most content that
resonates is two to four minutes, authentically delivered right to camera by
the creators themselves, with a call to action to their fanbase to share it and
give feedback that can be incorporated into the next piece of content.”
However, exciting things are emerging for
long-form producers as well, with platforms such as YouTube Red."I have no doubt it will be a platform on which
all types of content, at all lengths and at all production price points, will
be exhibited,” Segars says. "Facebook is not far behind and will also be a
monstrous video platform and buyer of content.”
Segars also consults for
successful digital companies like Machinima and Whistle Sports—production and
distribution companies engaged in building brands, finding talent and making
content for unique platforms, with particular interest in young audiences. "The
phone goes with kids everywhere,” Segars reminds us. "They carry it to school
in their backpack. It’s their connection to the world. So to have someone tell
a story over it is very powerful. If they have a few minutes during lunch or on
the train, that five to six minutes is valuable real estate.”
In 2008, Segars took a
leap into an older media form, the traditional cable network, with an eye to
modernizing its business model. "Back in 2008, we raised some money and bought
a tiny arts network called Ovation TV, which is now in over 45 million
paid-subscription homes. Ovation couldn’t be more traditional in some of the
content we make. We just did a $40 million miniseries called Versailles, airing this October. But at the same time
we’re doing short-form, arts-centric content for specific arts verticals
online. And we’re starting to aggregate some very interesting indie films and
offering them to people on their handsets. We have a great team here and we
move content across every conceivable platform,” Segars declares. "If there’s a
tin can and a string people are using to talk to each other, one of our arts
documentaries will be vibrating into there soon.”
These ventures plus
massive growth in streaming services make it a very lucrative time for
companies that know how to use these new platforms, which is why Segars
launched Innov8 Design Studio two years ago, an agency dedicated to helping
content creators connect with audiences.
"Content is king, but it
takes the right balance of process—ideation and storytelling that is customizable
for many differing platforms. Everyday we are learning and trying,” Segars
top of all of these business endeavors, Segars is committed to public service,
serving as a sworn deputy in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and has led
advance teams for White House, setting up itineraries when President Obama
travels. "Recently I was on Marine 2, and the White House photographer took a
picture of me working on my phone trying to figure out where the motorcade was
going next and what handshake was at the bottom of the stairs … He got this
great shot and posted it on Instagram. In two minutes my phone was blowing up.
It was jumping out of my hand.” And yet, even in this moment of fame, Segars
returns to his passion for digital media. "People from all over the world were
going, ‘Wow, what a great picture!’ That is the instant moment of digital. You
get immediate feedback. And producers should listen to it. If your fan base is
saying ‘I wish this would happen,’ take the layup. Make it happen for them.”
Segars is insistent that anyone with an interest in entertainment and
communications take an interest in the burgeoning world of social and online
media. "The great stories you create can go everywhere to find an audience. I
look at these new platforms as exactly the same as when someone built a movie
theatre or put up a radio or TV antenna. It’s just that now the delivery system
is a phone and a social media platform.”
by Steve Pesce
text by Jeffrey McMahon
by Kremer Johnson Photography
- This article originally appeared in the August/September issue of Produced By magazine.
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Posted By Michael Quinn Martin,
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
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As Vin Scully says before every game, “Hi everyone, and a very pleasant good evening to you, wherever you may be.” On Saturday, September 3, 100 PGA members attended our annual Dodger Day as the Los Angeles Dodgers took on the San Diego Padres on a beautiful Labor Day weekend with a 71 degree temperature at game time. The Dodgers sent Pitcher Rich Hill to the mound to face Luis Perdona of the Padres.
In the 4th inning, Adrian Gonzales singled to send Corey Seager home and put the Dodgers up 1-0. Shortstop Seager is in the running for National League Rookie of the Year this year. Later in the inning, with Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzales on base, Yasmani Grandal hit a three run home run over the center field fence to put the Dodgers up 4-0. The home run was estimated at 440 feet.
In the 6th inning, Josh Reddick tacked on a solo home run to put the score at 5-0. This was his first home run since the former Oakland A‘s outfielder joined the Dodgers on July 3. Rich Hill was pitching a no-hitter for the Dodgers into the 6th inning until Alexi Ramirez singled for the Padres. Hill ended up with 8 strike outs for the evening.
Joe Blanton pitched a scoreless 7th inning for the Dodgers. Casey Fein gave up one run in the 8th and Kenley Jansen kept the Padres off the board in the 9th, leaving the Dodgers with 5-1 victory.
Fans were also treated to a positive video report on recovering Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw as he pitched a three inning rehab start for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, after missing two months with lower disc herniation. Since Kershaw was placed on the Disabled List on June 26, the Dodgers have clawed their way from 8 games back behind the San Francisco Giants, to 5 games ahead, and now lead the National League West.
Rookie Dodger Manager Dave Roberts (and possible NL Manager of the Year candidate) has accomplished this while the Dodgers have placed 26 players on the Disabled List this year, a National League record.
And, least we forget, this is 88 year old Vin Scully’s farewell season as the Dodger’s TV and Radio Broadcaster, a position he has held when he started with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950 at the age of 21. Thank you Vin for 67 wonderful years. You are the Dodgers!
- Article and Photos by Michael Quinn Martin
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Posted By Matt R. Lohr,
Thursday, September 08, 2016
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The most recent United States census, conducted in 2010,
revealed Hispanics as the country’s fastest-growing population sector.
Approximately one in five individuals counted in that survey professed Hispanic
heritage, and population-growth experts expect this number to more than double
in the next 25 years. For rich hull and Jorge Granier, these numbers added up
to opportunity, in the form of a massive, growing, and seriously underserved
Hull and Granier are the executive
chairman and CEO, respectively, of Latin Everywhere, a diversified digital
media organization dedicated to providing Hispanic audiences worldwide with
Latino-focused film and television content unavailable anywhere else in the
digital space. Since 2014, Latin Everywhere’s YouTube and social media
networks, branded under the name Pongalo (Spanish for "play it”), have
collected over two billion viewers for the exclusive Hispanic film and tv
content available through the services. Pongalo is also available as an ad-supported
over-the-top (OTT) viewing platform and in a few months will be launching a
subscription vod service priced at $5.99 per month.
While many industry leaders saw reports of the
emerging Hispanic market as a revelation, it was a fact of life for Hull from
the beginning. "I grew up in Texas,” he says. "Hispanic media’s always been in
my world.” In the years following the census, Hull recalls that "For the first
time in my life, you pick up the Wall Street Journal, and you’d see big giant U.S. advertisers Verizon and Target
advertising to Latinos, as if they just got here. I was like, what is everyone
talking about? This has always been a thing.”
For Granier, Hispanic
media was almost literally in his blood, as a scion of Venezuela’s most
celebrated broadcast media dynasty. His great-great-grandfather launched one of
the country’s first radio stations in the 1930s, and it evolved into RCTV, once
the most powerful and influential Venezuelan television network. Granier’s
father Marcel served as the station’s general director as well as the host of Primer Plano, a
controversial politically-oriented talk show. Granier was focused on a
televised media career from the start. "When I had my first job at 15, I
quickly turned that into an opportunity to produce a piece for television,”
Granier writes via email from his home base in Miami. "And from that moment, I
haven’t stopped. I always thought of my career as an international one. In
today’s world, there is no other way.” Dividing his time between New York, Caracas
and Los Angeles, Granier produced acclaimed televised news programs and
documentary features, including 2007’s Pablo Escobar doc Pablo of Medellin.
also saw a spectacular development that would prove unexpectedly instrumental
to the development of Latin Everywhere and Pongalo. Venezuelan president Hugo
Chávez long regarded RCTV as a threat to his administration, partly due to
their airing of advertising from anti-Chávez protest groups. So when the
president won re-election in 2006, he announced that the network’s operating
license would not be renewed. RCTV’s broadcasting equipment was seized, and its
feed was usurped by a state-run network. Granier, based in Los Angeles at the
time, relocated to Miami to assist RCTV’s international headquarters during
this paradigm-shifting period for the company.
Hull, a Hollywood producer whose credits include the hit teen comedy She’s All That (1999), was looking to
shift his focus to digital media. He decided after a key conversation, that
whatever form his digital endeavor would take, it would have a Hispanic focus.
"One day,” Hull remembers, "I went to go have a beer with a friend of mine who
was Latino, and he said, ‘I just got this Android phone, 99 bucks, and I can do
everything on it but watch (Hispanic) films and TV shows because there’s
nowhere to get them.’ And I said, well, of course there is. You just don’t know
where to look. But sure enough, my friend was right. It didn’t exist. So I
said, maybe I just need to start this.”
Around this time, Hull and
Granier first met and forged an immediate friendship, though the idea of
partnering to pursue potential opportunities in the Hispanic digital media
space developed more gradually. "We knew we were both in the same wheelhouse,”
says Granier, "with the opportunity we saw in the Hispanic space. But it took
us a while to finally say let’s do this together.”
Hull and Granier’s first
innovative step was to reverse the usual trajectory followed by start-up
digital distribution platforms. "We said, ‘What are the mistakes everybody
makes when they launch a streaming platform?’” says Hull. "It seems like they
always had this same point of failure. They would get all this technology and
then go out and try to get content. And as it turns out, getting content is
hard. But Jorge and I are content guys, so we thought, let’s just build it in
reverse. We’ll deal with the content first, and then we’ll get the technology
key content acquisition—the bedrock on which Latin Everywhere was able to build
the foundation for Pongalo— came from a homegrown source. Since losing its
broadcast license, RCTV no longer had a major outlet for its thousands of hours
of archived programming. So, in order to keep these programs available to the
broadest audience possible, and thus still lucrative, Granier was able to
convince his father to grant him exclusive worldwide digital rights to RCTV’s
television library in perpetuity. These rights also gave Granier the
opportunity to pitch RCTV series to U.S.-based producers and networks for
possible English-language remakes. One such show, the Granier
(based on RCTV’s Juana
has been an acclaimed success for the CW network and won its star, Gina
Rodriguez, a Golden Globe.
was able to combine the RCTV library with a considerable catalog of Latin
American films Hull had acquired, and together they leveraged these holdings
into additional acquisitions. "We started adding a whole bunch of other
content,” says Hull. "Movies from Mexico, TV shows from Colombia and Argentina.
We still continue to do that, and we have more than 50,000 hours of content.
You put that on par with a U.S. studio in terms of volume, and we believe
content gives you options, it gives you a certain amount of power.”
With this extensive
content library in place, Hull and Granier then began weighing their options
for the technology on which to build their streaming platform. They decide
acquiring pre-developed tech, with its own practiced engineering team in place,
would be a more effective use of resources than attempting to develop their own
platform from scratch. After examining virtually every streaming platform then
available, the partners purchased the start-up platform InMoo, also bringing
the design and operations team onboard under their employ. "A lot of people had
money and were pouring it into technology,” says Granier, "but with InMoo we
saw a group of sophisticated engineers that could build a platform that would
scale at a competitive price.”
Hull stresses the
quick-action customization options that come with owning and operating your own
platform. "If you just rent someone’s out-of-the-box technology platform, what
you get is a platform that, while it may work, it also looks like every other
platform. You have the same white background, the same layout of your movies
and TV shows. It’s just your logo instead of somebody else’s. It just makes it
really hard to make changes, and we wanted the ability to make changes really
fast and experiment.”
Latin Everywhere launched
the initial Pongalo YouTube channel in the spring of 2015, and the Pongalo
label now covers a broad range of Hispanic-oriented channels presenting films
and TV series, including telenovelas and children’s programs, none of which are
otherwise available in the digital space. Collectively, the Pongalo YouTube
channels now boast over 10 million subscribers from around the planet. From the
start, Hull and Granier have emphasized the importance of making Pongalo an
"authentically Latino” service, while recognizing the heterogeneous nature of
the world’s Hispanic cultures. "Latinos speak the same language,” says Granier,
"but they all have their different subtleties that make each group unique.
We’ve found a language and programming strategy that works throughout our
YouTube networks.” He is proud of Pongalo’s ability to offer its viewers and
future subscribers "a truly Latino platform, with the content that they love,
more variety than any other, more depth of catalog and a truly Latino feel to the
Hull feels that Pongalo’s
specifically Hispanic focus gives it the luxury of not having to "out-Netflix
Netflix. We’re a great complement to Netflix, because at Netflix, you can get
your Hollywood content and your House of Cards. We’re your option for everything else Latino ... Right now, I
would love to go to Netflix and even see what kind of Latino-oriented content
they have. I can’t, because Netflix has decided I’m not Latino. There’s not
even a tab I can go to that says, ‘Latino Content Here.’ So if you think about it, we’re that tab.”
In addition to expanding
their reach through Pongalo’s upcoming SVOD option, which will offer exclusive
content not available through YouTube, social media, and OTT platforms, Latin
Everywhere is also diversifying the range of content it will soon be able to
bring to its viewers. Not only is Granier continuing to option RCTV series for
English-language remakes (producers Daniel and Ben Barnz are currently
preparing an English-language take on the telenovela Valentina for ABC Freeform, with
Granier as an executive producer), but the company also has two original
telenovelas currently in production in Latin America, both of which will be
available exclusively through Pongalo streaming services.
Also, in May, Latin
Everywhere announced that a stake in their company had been purchased by the
Hollywood-based production/distribution outfit Revolution Studios. This deal
will grant Pongalo exclusive digital rights to a 120-title library of
Spanish-dubbed films from the Revolution catalog, including Granier favorites Black Hawk Down and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
"It was great to see a
major Hollywood producer see the value of the Latino audience and make a real
move in order to serve it,” says Granier. "I’m sure we are going to see a lot
more of that in the space, and it makes me happy because I’ve fought for years
to get that recognition.” Hull acknowledges that the Revolution deal is still
in the early stages but says Latin Everywhere is actively pursuing similar
potential partnerships with other production and distribution shingles.
"Whatever it is that gets us content, that’s what drives us,” he says. "It’s
that offering of content that we’re presenting. That’s what either makes us or
of course Granier and Hull recognize that, even with their own proprietary
platform technology, exclusive content, and current and future production
company partnerships, it is Latin Everywhere’s unique ability to target and
serve its demographic that has allowed it to become the digital leader in
Hispanic film and TV content presentation—a not-inconsiderable proposition when
weighed against a currently estimated $1.4 trillion in Hispanic buying power in
the United States alone.
"It’s the fastest growing
demographic in America,” Hull says of Pongalo’s viewership. "And for Latinos,
there’s nowhere else you can get the kind of content we offer, stuff you can’t
get at Netflix, stuff you can’t get at Amazon. So we’re an alternative.”
think Latinos in the U.S. are finally realizing their own importance, both to
the society and the economy,” says Granier. "In terms of entertainment,
viewing, advertising and tech habits, we see that Latinos are early adopters of
tech, want to be talked to directly by advertisers and want programming that’s
relevant to them ... I think we have the best user interface and the most
varied pure Latino content of anyone. If you want to watch telenovelas, series,
super-series, movies and documentaries with Latinos, you come to Pongalo. It’s
just like home.”
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Posted By Chris Green,
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
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If you make your living in any corner of the
greater Hollywood storytelling apparatus, the last year has been a series of
wake-up calls. Whether it was Maureen Dowd’s scrupulously researched reportage
for the New
York Times Magazine or
the collective raised eyebrow at another year of all-white Oscar-nominated
actors, everyone who works in this business has been forced to confront some
difficult truths about our industry and the structural obstacles it presents
for women and people of color.
In the aftermath of these
insights has come a flurry of activity to address the problem—community
outreach, new hiring and credentialing initiatives, a renewed commitment to
mentoring, and greater scrutiny of conventional wisdom. All of those
initiatives have value. But there may be no simpler or more effective approach
than the one embraced by producer and PGA member Bruna Papandrea, who formed
the company Pacific Standard with Reese Witherspoon in 2012.
The Pacific Standard
approach is pretty simple, actually. They produce movies—and soon, a TV
series—that tell women’s stories. And for the most part, they hire women to
The directness of purpose
is characteristic of Papandrea—instantly accessible and zero bullshit—who grew
up hovering around the poverty line in Adelaide, Australia. After some
soul-searching, she abandoned the relative security of law school to follow her
passion for the arts, working in local theater and cutting her production teeth
on TV commercials. A bad breakup, she admits laughing, landed her in New York,
where a volunteer gig on a low-budget thriller grew into a role as co-producer
of the film. Taking that experience back to Australia, she found an essential
mentor in Aussie film institution Robert Connolly, who guided her through her
debut feature Better
Than Sex. The
festival circuit connected her with other mentors, most notably Anthony
Minghella and Sydney Pollack, then at their zenith as producers of sterling
literary adaptations. Less than a decade later, Papandrea was producing her own
adaptation, of Isaac Marion’s zombie romantic comedy Warm Bodies. With Pacific Standard, her signature film
has been Wild, adapted from Cheryl
Strayed’s memoir and starring Witherspoon in an Oscar-nominated performance.
More recently, the company released the comedy Hot Pursuit starring Witherspoon opposite Sofia Vergara
and looks forward to the debut next year of their series for HBO, Big Little Lies.
editor Chris Green recently got to sit down with Papandrea in the bright and
airy Beverly Hills office of Pacific Standard. The discussion touched on
everything from mentoring to marketing—don’t get her started about the
pigeonhole of "chick flicks”—but always seemed to circle back to questions of
equality and representation, and how one producer—and one company—can lead an
industry-wide sea change.
Bruna Papandrea with Reese Witherspoon at the Telluride Film Festival for the premiere of Wild
So how did you gravitate toward producing? You had done some acting,
and some writing…
I don’t think anyone wanted me as an actor.
There are some amazing drama schools in Australia and I got rejected from all
of them. [Laughs] So my dreams were
killed very early on. I also had a lot of friends who were actors, and came to
believe that unless it’s literally going to kill you not to do it, don’t do it.
Because it’s so hard. It’s just hard on the spirit, I think.
I wanted to be more in control of my own kind
of destiny and storytelling. I just got the bug. I had gotten to know Robert
Connolly, who’s a wonderful man and a very successful Australian producer,
director and writer. He had made a $900,000 movie that I loved called The Boys. So I really looked to
him, basically asking, "How do you make a $900,000 movie in Australia?” He had
been offered/approached by a filmmaker to produce this movie, Better Than Sex, which
was right at that budget level. He couldn’t do it. And so he suggested me,
because he knew what I’d just done in New York. That was really the beginning
of my career as I know it now. Together we raised money through government
subsidies in Australia. There’s still a great system there to support homegrown
movies. We produced this movie, Better Than Sex. And it
was amazing. I did everything from decorate the production office to driving
the actors to set. My friend who owned a restaurant was the caterer, still the
best caterer I ever had.
Australia has a system where they provide funds
to send you to film festivals if your film gets in. They’re really trying to
grow their talent, particularly producers. A lot of their subsidy goes toward
producers. Their big incentive is a producer offset. It’s not called a
"filmmaker offset.” It’s a "producer offset.”
Hey, props to Australia, doing right by producers.
Yeah! So I feel very lucky to have come from
that system. My movie got into the Toronto Film Festival and I went with the
film. And it was at that film festival that I met Anthony Minghella, who had
just started a production company with Sydney Pollack. And so we got to know
each other. He told me, "Well, come see me when you’re in London.” Someone said
to me, "He’s looking for someone to run their London office.” I said, "Don’t be
ridiculous. No one is going to pay me to do that.”
But by chance, my movie
then got into the London Film Festival and I ended up in London about three
weeks later. We met a couple of times and I read some books for him, some
scripts. And then he said, "Look, I really like you. And we really need someone
like you.” Of course, he really wanted me to go meet Sydney Pollack. That was a
very surreal experience, driving onto a studio lot for the first time. I mean,
Hollywood is exactly like you imagine it from the movies. It was one of those dreams-come-true
moments. I just loved sitting with him and listening to him. We had a great
meeting, I went back to Australia, and then my phone rang two days later and
they offered me a job. Less than a month later I was living in London, working
for these two amazing gentlemen.
What a whirlwind.
And I will emphasize, gentlemen. I kind of make a lot of
jokes, but after you’ve worked for two people like that it’s hard to work for
anyone else. I worked for them for five years. It was a wonderful time in my life.
That’s where I really learned my love for novel adaptation, because Anthony and
Sydney had done it so brilliantly. That’s where I got my exposure to LA, and I
have gotten to know the agencies and the culture. It was an amazing time. So
often, mentoring is a matter of giving someone access to relationships,
understanding the culture of the business side of it. Those first agents I met,
the first directors and producers—they’re still very significant to me. Those
people are still in my life. If you’ve produced a movie, people assume you must
all know lots of agents. But it’s just not true. Access is a big thing. I’m
always aware of how access is particularly hard for people who don’t have prior
relationships. If you weren’t born into the business, it’s very difficult to
feel like that’s accessible to you.
So one of the things I
always try to think about and help guide my future and inspire is supporting
diversity not just within gender and race—which are hugely important—but also
diversity of socioeconomic status, which I think is just as valid and valuable.
And rarely talked about.
Rarely talked about in any country, in fact. That’s a cause that’s
so close to my heart, making sure that those people are represented and that
they have the kind of access to make their dreams come true, like all of us
should. Anthony and Sydney always understood that. I was always a bit
dumbfounded as to why they hired me. I mean, I was 29. I’d made one low budget
movie. I didn’t finish college. And I remember asking Anthony years later, "Why
did you hire me?” He said, "Well, I thought you were smart, and you made me
smile.” It was a very loving environment. You just wanted to have good
conversations. And it was just so exciting to kind of be around that knowledge
and those stories. It still inspires me.
One of the things they
taught me is —and I don’t think this is an obvious thing, sadly—just always do
the right thing by people. It’s actually rare. I’ve had a couple of people not
do the right thing by me in my career. But they always treated people with
respect and did the right thing. I think that can’t be undervalued because not
everyone in our business behaves like that.
A bit of an understatement, to say the least. So you were doing mostly
development for Anthony and Sydney?
Papandrea (right) with mentor Anthony
Minghella and Naomi Watts.
I did a lot of development over those years, but I ultimately got
the bug to be back on set. So I spent a year in New York with GreeneStreet
Films, after which I got offered a job with Michael London, who had just raised
a fund for Groundswell Productions. That was another boom time for learning the
industry, because it was the beginning of all that equity pouring into
independently-financed movies. And I also got to produce five or six movies,
one after the other. So it was a very productive time.
So this was more of an on-set production position as opposed to
It was a little bit of both, the very beginning of those kind of
hybrid production/finance companies. But Michael was the final decision maker.
It was his company, so he had every right to be that person. But I wanted to be
in control of exactly what I was making. And the only way to do that was to
start my own company. So after five really great years, I just decided to back
myself. I’ve been poor my whole life. The good thing about being poor your
whole life is you’re not scared to be poor. I make jokes, but it’s kind of
true. I’m pretty scrappy. I don’t long for really expensive things.
But it was time to back myself and to do more
of what I’d been doing with Anthony and Sydney, adapting novels from the
outset. So I started my own company and optioned a couple of novels. A friend
of mine named Laurie Webb had a little business working with unpublished
novelists and screenwriters and very successfully took a couple of novelists
through publication. She kind of went through that process with them. She had
edited this one novel, Warm Bodies, and she called me and said, "Look, I know
you’re not someone I think of for zombie stories. But it’s so special. This guy
is really a talent.” So I read this novel on a plane and, oh my God, it was
magnificent. It was this incredibly beautiful, character-driven genre story,
which, I mean …
You don’t come across a lot.
… You don’t come across a lot! His voice, it was just … People
always ask me what you look for as a producer and I think it’s so hard to
quantify until you read it or feel it or see it. But when you read good writing
and see a unique perspective on the world, it’s so invigorating. I literally
got on a plane the next day to meet Isaac, this brilliant young novelist. And I
said, "I’m going to give you some money out of my own pocket. I don’t have very
much. But we’ll work together. Eventually, we’ll sell it. You’ll do a deal that
you’re happy with, and I’ll do a deal I’m happy with.” We just joined hands and
took the leap. I really believe in the power of sweat equity. It’s what
producers do. We work and put the pieces together until a project becomes
something that someone wants to make.
Honestly, I thought it
would take a really long time with Warm Bodies, but it didn’t actually
happen like that. Erik Feig and Gillian Bohrer at Summit just fell completely
in love with the book. They saw exactly what I saw. We got an amazing filmmaker
interested straightaway. A year and a half later we were making the movie. It
was a phenomenal experience from start to finish.
And that experience put you on the path toward Pacific Standard?
was during the making of that movie that I met Reese. We’d met socially a few
times through friends but really didn’t know much about each other. Evelyn
O’Neill at Management 360 and Maha Dahkil, an agent at CAA, thought we might
like each other. I felt I’d be definitely interested in a partnership at some
point, but our tastes would have to be aligned. So we started the conversation,
and it happened very organically. We started sending each other material and
the first thing she sent me was Wild, before it was published. And I fell
completely in love with it. This was exactly the kind of movie I wanted to
So we decided to team up.
It just became clear that we were incredibly like-minded and developed a goal
from the outset that we wanted to make things with women at the center. I have
a lot of friends who are actresses and we’d all been constantly disappointed by
the quality and quantity of roles that were available to women.
Reese naturally felt the
same way, and so that goal became clear early on. So Pacific Standard was born
and grew very organically. It’s a true partnership.
How did you guys tee up Wild as the company’s debut?
Wild was obviously going to be the first movie
through this brand. It held a lot of emotional importance to me and what it
represented in the world. It was a great movie to launch a company with. We
were going to make movies with women at the center. We wanted them to be well
reviewed, but we also did want them to make money. And of course, movies with
women at the center historically have always made money. But it’s like the
industry needs constant reminders of that. So we try to keep giving them
The other thing that
drives us crazy is this perception that anything with a woman at the center is
a "chick flick”. And it’s just not true, obviously. Why can’t a movie with a
woman in the center appeal to all sexes? Because of course they do. Cheryl
Strayed got as many fan letters from men as she did from women, because Wild was just a human story that everyone could
One of the real
challenges of Wild is the degree to which
it’s all in the voice. It’s not just that Cheryl’s memoir and story are
magnificent; her writing is magnificent and it’s why the book is so successful.
One of the things that excited me, the same as with Warm Bodies, was that the story
didn’t conform to traditional film structure. I’m not a big believer in that. I
believe that if a story feels like something you haven’t felt or read or seen,
then that’s exciting.
With Wild I think Reese and I considered ourselves the
gatekeepers of Cheryl’s story. Now sometimes the author is the screenwriter. I
don’t believe it’s always the right path. It can be a risk if a novelist has
never written a screenplay. But my feeling is—I feel this with actors as well—
they are the best judge of what they can achieve. I think most people have good
instincts about themselves. Nick Hornby, for instance, is a wonderful novelist
and a wonderful screenwriter, but he doesn’t adapt his own books.
In the case of Wild, we got an incoming call from Jenny
Cassarotto, a wonderful agent in the UK, saying that Nick Hornby had read the
book and loved it and would like to be considered. That was such a gift to get
that news. He came to LA, we sat with him and he just knew. He understood how
he had to be involved structurally but also really retain the aggressive beauty
of Cheryl’s voice.
That’s a good
way of putting it.
Yeah, aggressive beauty. Not shortchange it
and not soften it. He told us, "I’m going to give you a draft in eight weeks.”
I said, "Yeah, sure you are.” And eight weeks to the day, he gave us that
screenplay. And it was magnificent, I have to say. It was one of the most
exciting first drafts I’d ever got.
Soon after, we got into
business with River Road, Bill Pohlad’s company, because it was important to us
to try and develop the script a little bit more outside the system. Then with
that script, without a director, but with Reese attached to star, we took that
to studios and kind of auditioned them to see who we wanted to be our partner.
We really were in a position to choose the right one, which turned out to be
Searchlight. We continued to work on the script with them, but it was a very
fast-moving train at that point, because the weather was going to dictate when
the movie got made. Searchlight was amazing. They stayed true to their
promises. They’re very filmmaker friendly. Together we went out and attached
Jean-Marc Vallée to direct it.
How did you settle on him?
We had the script out to quite a few people.
Jean-Marc had been one of the first people we thought of. I had been such a fan
of his earlier movie, Crazy, and Reese had just seen
some scenes from Dallas
which hadn’t come out yet. But he was attached to something else, so we
couldn’t really get the script to him for a while. It wasn’t until late in the
day that we finally got him to read the script, and he just fell in love with
the story, Cheryl’s story and Nick’s script. So we flew to Montreal and we
convinced him to consider putting the other thing on hold because we were ready
and we wanted to go straightaway. And then the kind of train took off, and it
was great. Even though we were making it with a studio partner, it still felt
like making an independent movie. It had that spirit. Jean-Marc and Nick spoke
through the process as we made the film; Cheryl stayed a part of the whole
process as well.
Is that typical? I mean, I know some producers would rather not have
screenwriters that closely involved, let alone authors of source material.
No. We are very collaborative with our
novelists. I mean, it’s their book. That said, every situation is different.
Some novelists don’t necessarily want to be involved. They’re busy writing
their next novel. Also, it being a memoir, Cheryl is very close to the story.
We literally wanted to replicate everything as she had experienced it: the
color of the tent, the shape of the tent, what was in the backpack, what the
hospital really looked like when her mother was ill. So she was very involved
every step of the way, including how the movie was put into the world.
And of course, how your movie goes into the
world is everything. I’ve seen movies I’ve made destroyed by the way they’ve
gone into the world. Often that can be a matter of where a distribution
company’s business is at a given time, what their priorities are. Some movies
have the wrong home or the wrong timing. It’s often got nothing to do with the
quality of the work. So we’re always very conscious of choosing our partners
well. Everything has its own home.
Bruna Papandrea reviews footage alongside Sydney Pollack.
So tell me more about your approach to book adaptation. How do you seek
out and secure material? There’s a lot of competition for good stories.
In terms of finding material, I think a lot
of that depends on where you are in your career. I found Warm Bodies because a friend of mine
was editing the book. A lot of material comes through literary agents who we’ve
established relationships with and who have come to trust us with that material
and trust that you’ll get it made.
I think one thing to keep
in mind even if you’re competing with other so-called big producers, there’s a
lot to be said for passion and "sweat equity,” which is a phrase I use all the
time—meaning, I got on a lot of planes. I used those airline miles! I got on a
plane to meet Isaac Marion face-to-face. I think there’s a lot to be said for
meeting in person with a novelist and showing them how deeply passionate you
are with respect to their work. Even if you have no money you can make a
gesture of some kind to option the book … "Look, I don’t have any money now but
in 12 months, if I still have the option but I haven’t done anything, I’ll give
you x amount of money.” There are lots of ways to structure deals so that
people feel like you’re moving forward and that you’re going to put your time
and energy into it.
We haven’t even talked about Hot Pursuit yet. And it’s hard to imagine
a film that’s less like Wild.
I give Reese a lot of credit for that. We
both talked a lot about Latinas not being represented on screen, particularly
given how much of the movie-going audience they represent. And we were both big
fans of Sofia’s. So very early on in the company Reese determined, "Well, let’s
develop a movie for me and Sofia.” At the same time Dana Fox, who’s a wonderful
screenwriter and producer, had an idea that she was developing for this kind of
Couple-type story. She and Reese were friends, and we
decided to team up. And then suddenly this script was born. We sold it. But we
had developed it on spec. It really came from simply identifying something that
we wanted to do, which was pair these two women.
The film wasn’t a huge
financial success, but it certainly wasn’t a bust either. They weren’t very
kind to us in the press, which is fine. It’s a comedy. People are going to have
different opinions. But it’s actually a movie I’m very proud of. l had a great
experience working with a female director, Anne Fletcher, for the first time.
That was an amazing experience for me, just to have those conversations and
work in that way. I definitely plan to work with women directors a lot more.
Simply putting women behind a camera makes a huge impact—though there’s
definitely a different standard when there’s a female at the helm. You see it
in the way that they’re treated. If a woman raises her voice, she’s a problem,
and if a man raises his voice, then he’s a leader, a genius.
The past year, this industry and the media surrounding it have given a
lot more attention than I can ever remember being paid to gender and ethnic
equality and representation. You guys are clearly near the center of that. I
mean, you’ve made it part of your company’s mission.
For me as a producer, I was honestly just sick of not seeing
interesting female characters at the center of our movies. I mean, setting
aside the behind-the-camera issue, because that’s a whole other problem. As a
culture, we need to give young people an example of a wider range of women,
even if they’re complex or sometimes do selfish or destructive things. We
simply need a better representation of women in the world. If we’re not
reflecting that in our art and in our culture, then where are we doing it? I
feel like the sea change actually started in literature. I feel like writers,
collectively, have done a better job of putting women at the center of novels.
And those books have become wildly successful. Because, guess what? Women buy
the most books. And, guess what? Women watch the most movies. And, guess what?
Women buy the most consumer products. So we need a better gauge of what our
marketplace looks like.
The flipside—and this is my other big thing—is
that women’s stories are not just for women. It’s insulting, quite frankly. I’m
supposed to be interested in anything with a man at the center, but it’s like a
special event if a man is interested in a movie with a woman in the center?
That’s crazy. My job is to provide content that is interesting for everyone to see. Marketing plays
into it too. We have to stop marketing movies with women at the center just as
Is that a function of marketing departments being a little further
behind the cultural curve than the creatives are?
Both groups play an important role. It’s my job as a producer to
try and align myself with a distributor that I feel is going to put it out into
the world in the right way. It took me a long time to learn that lesson.
Michael London really taught me that, actually. Your movie is not done when you
call "cut” and you wrap, or even when you finish post. You have to pay
attention to what your poster looks like and what your trailers look like.
You’ve spent more time with this film than anyone. What is it supposed to feel
like? Who is it being marketed to? What’s the plan for the campaign? You cannot
just drop the ball. The job of a producer spans from first identifying a story
you want to tell right up until the release.
Do you feel that you have more access to those marketing and
distribution conversations than you might’ve had earlier in your career?
I always try to take an active role definitely. But my experience
is that my partners have been very open to that. I mean today, you’re marketing
from the second you’re on set and someone is tweeting out a picture of you at
first look. It no longer just happens at the end of the movie or TV show. For
our series with HBO, we had a meeting with the marketing people before we
started filming to talk about what we were going to do and the way it can be
presented in the world. There’s lots of reasons to work with a company like
HBO. But the way that they market and put their series into the world is
magnificent. And that played a big part in our decision to align ourselves with
them as partners.
So just getting back to the long view with gender representation … When
will we know that we’ve succeeded? Or at least that we’re on the right track?
I like to aim for the stars. Even just by
aiming big, stuff will shift. It is a little astounding to me that we haven’t
come nearly as far as we should have in terms of equal pay and women’s rights.
I mean, just in the world—forget about our business. But look, for my part I’m
just going to keep trying to put as much as I can into the world that I believe
will hopefully help shift some of it. My worry is over the way that these
conversations can become very fashionable. Gender, equality, and diversity are
very fashionable right now. But I pray that it’s just not a passing thing
because it’s something that we can’t stop talking about, ever.
I mean, I’m on the
Producers Guild Board and when I look at the makeup of that group, I’m very
conscious of diversity. Do we have enough socioeconomic diversity? Do we have
diversity from different parts of our business? And I feel that now with every
movie I make, with every board I sit on, I vote that way a little bit more
consciously. I think that’s good. I mean, we all need to be more conscious of
it. It’s the only way things change.
- photographed by Kremer Johnson Photography
- this article originally appeared in the August/September 2016 issue of Produced By magazine
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