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PGA BOOKSHELF: "Fade Up: '26' The Movers and Shakers of Variety Television" by Steve Binder & Mary Beth Leidman

Posted By Administration, Thursday, September 22, 2016

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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TOMORROW COMES TODAY - Cross-Platform Innovator Charles Segars Matches The Message To The Medium

Posted By Steve Pesce, Monday, September 19, 2016
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 as 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, 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, 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 says.

On 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.”


Written by Steve Pesce

Additional text by Jeffrey McMahon

Photographed by Kremer Johnson Photography

- This article originally appeared in the August/September issue of Produced By magazine.

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PGA Dodger Day 2016

Posted By Michael Quinn Martin, Tuesday, September 13, 2016

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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CONTENT ES REY - A Pair of PGA Members Launch Pongalo To Capture One Of The World's Biggest Underserved Markets

Posted By Matt R. Lohr, Thursday, September 08, 2016


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 potential audience.

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.

2007 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.

Meanwhile 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 later.”

The 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 executive-produced Jane the Virgin (based on RCTV’s Juana la Virgen), has been an acclaimed success for the CW network and won its star, Gina Rodriguez, a Golden Globe.

Granier 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 user experience.”

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 breaks us.”

And 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.”

"I 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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BRUNA PAPANDREA - Telling Stories About Women Means Telling Stories For Everyone

Posted By Chris Green, Tuesday, August 30, 2016

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 make them.

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.

Produced By 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 Watt

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 development?

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?

It 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 make.

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 constant reminders.

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 relate to.

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 Buyers Club, 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 Odd 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 "chick flicks.”

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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