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Jump Shot - Feature producer David Friendly makes the creative leap to documentary

Posted By Michael Ventre, Thursday, September 18, 2014

David Friendly greets a visitor to his quietly exquisite Monterey Colonial home in Brentwood by saying, “Welcome to the house that Big Momma’s House built,” a reference to the Martin Lawrence–starring franchise whose three installments raked in more than $400 million worldwide. A longtime producer of studio multiplex fare that includes My Girl, Courage Under Fire and Doctor Dolittle, Friendly also earned a hefty dose of awards season love with Little Miss Sunshine in 2006. Friendly and fellow producers Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger & Ron Yerxa took home the PGA’s top film honor, the Darryl F. Zanuck Award, and the film snagged a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

By contrast, Sneakerheadz might bring Friendly a gazebo, a toolshed or a doghouse — and that’s not a reflection on its worth. It’s just a tiny documentary, made for a relative pittance, whose profitability is promising but uncertain. A look at the subculture of those who covet and collect “kicks,” or sneakers, and made for about $700,000, Sneakerheadz represents Friendly’s directorial debut, sharing helming duties with 28-year-old Mick Partridge.

But it is more than that. Sneakerheadz is Friendly’s step away from pricey stars, huge crews and bountiful craft services tables to shoestring filmmaking on a labor of love. Some might see that as a step down. Friendly views it as quite the opposite.

“There is something really exciting about ‘Let’s put on a show,’” he explained.

He is used to that, of course, the putting on shows. It’s just that his previous shows were mainstream and well funded. Since 1991, the former journalist (who still pens occasional columns for The Hollywood Reporter) and son of legendary news producer Fred W. Friendly has been churning out pictures under the banners of companies like Imagine Entertainment, Davis Entertainment and Deep River Productions and working with stars like Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan (Courage Under Fire), Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (Out to Sea), and Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore (Laws of Attraction).

“For about the last 25 years. I always had a company or a production deal,” he said. “And about two years ago, around 2012, all of that suddenly dried up. I often think of this Italian expression, ‘Don’t cry with a loaf of bread under your arm.’ I felt like I was doing fine. But there was no more support system. I was completely on my own. I started working out of my house, and at a little office on 26th Street (in Santa Monica) called ‘the Office,’ which is like a big study hall.

“Things were not happening,” he added. “There were no movies happening. I knew I had to dig my heels in. I think what got me into doing this documentary was, a) I didn’t have any movies to make, which was rare, b) I was excited by the subject matter, and c) I always wanted to make a documentary.”

What really caused Friendly to dive in was watching Coco take a plunge. A 10-year-old chocolate lab, Coco is Friendly’s regular swimming partner in their pool. One morning it was cold, and Friendly was just as hesitant to immerse himself in chilly water as he was to make a documentary. But Coco wasn’t hesitant. About the pool, at least.

“I noticed one morning, she came out and just dove in,” he recalled. “And it created a kind of epiphany for me. I thought, ‘If I’m going to do this documentary, I can’t check the water. I have to just dive in. Just like Coco.’ From that point forward I said, ‘I’m doing this. I’m moving forward. I’m going to make this documentary.’”

At that point, Coco stepped aside as Friendly entered the fundraising stage. In the meantime, he kept in mind one particular nugget he learned during his long producing career.

“A good producer has to be a good initiator and a good closer,” he said. “You must be a closer.”

So he began. He hit up golfing buddies, friends in the fashion business, former NBA player Michael Finley, his older brother Andy. “It took a while, but people were really interested,” he said. “They liked the topic because the amounts were not huge for these people. We were able to get enough money together to do the movie the way we wanted to.”

David Madden, president of FXTVS, has known Friendly for more than 25 years, dating back to Friendly’s days at the Los Angeles Times. The two are currently shopping a pilot called Queen of the South, an adaptation of the novel La Reina del Sur. So when Friendly told him he was making Sneakerheadz, Madden was impressed but not surprised.

“I thought it was incredibly ballsy of him, in a good way,” Madden said. “When David said he was going to do it, I saw it as coming from his journalistic background. He’s always been an intellectually curious person. It seemed like a great way for him to combine his reportorial instincts with his filmmaking skills.”

But the 58-year-old Friendly, recently elected (along with fellow producer Lydia Dean Pilcher) as the PGA’s Vice President of Motion Pictures, also realized he needed a collaborator, a younger filmmaker who could help steer the project so it would better appeal to the desired 18-to-24 (orthereabouts) demo. Partridge, who attended USC film school and has a background in music videos, met Friendly through a mutual golfing pal.

Partridge wasn’t just there to serve as hip, on-set window dressing. He offered a good deal of practical input that contributed to the shaping of the film.

“For example,” Friendly said, “when we were working on the first pass, I had a whole overview section about the history of the sneaker dating back to the formation of Converse. And he made the point, ‘Guys like me will just turn it off right here.’ I never would have realized that. We wound up feeding that into the doc [in small portions] rather than having a whole section that felt like medicine.”

There was another instance involving music (initial clearances will be done for a cheaper “festival cut”) in which Partridge politely suggested to Friendly that perhaps there was a better way to go. “He had had this old-school blues song over some footage,” Partridge remembered, “and I talked to him and said, ‘No one knows what this is. It will turn people off. A Jay-Z track or something more exciting would be better. Something you can bob your head to.’ ”

But well before he and Partridge began shooting, Friendly prepared himself. For the two years prior to shooting, he watched three or four documentaries a week and studied them.

He also researched the world of sneakers and collectors, marveling that it’s a $42 billion a year business. He estimates he owns more than 75 pair of sneakers himself — and that collection wouldn’t even qualify him for entry into his own film. It was his own particular affection for the adidas Superstar — he stumbled upon a pair of chocolate brown Run DMC models in a little shop in Soho in New York City and fell head over soles in love — that sparked his interest in the topic as a documentary.

“I started going on the Web to find more Superstars,” he explained. “When I was 14, that was the shoe I wanted that my parents wouldn’t get for me because it was $25. Later in life, of course, you hopefgetully get to the point where you can buy whatever sneakers you want. What I discovered was websites devoted to the Superstar. There were sneaker blogs. There were incredible amounts of sneakers available for sale on eBay. And I wanted to penetrate this world. The deeper I got into it, the more I realized it was a great subject for a documentary.”

Most of the time, working with just Partridge and director of photography Paul DeLumen, Friendly shot 47 hours of footage, which is being cut down to an anticipated running time of 88 minutes. They flew coach — sometimes cashing in airline miles — to places like Tokyo, Boston, Miami and New York City. They schlepped equipment. They dined in restaurants that were a few stars short of five.

“I kept scratching my head saying, ‘Really? That’s all? That’s what we have?’” Friendly said with a chuckle about his doc’s paltry budget. “To be honest, it was fun, because sometimes on a movie, because you’re a producer, they won’t let you do anything. Literally when you go to help out, to pick up an apple crate, they say, ‘You can’t touch that.’

“I really enjoyed walking onto the set and being asked what I want to do,” he added. “Most of the time when I walk onto a set, I’m hoping the director is in a good mood. ‘How can I support him or her? What do they want? How can I accomplish this?’ And this time it was ‘OK, what is the shot?’ I love that.”

It was down-and-dirty doc making, the kind that would have made his father proud.

“I was influenced by my father throughout my career,” David Friendly said of Fred, who worked closely for years with the esteemed Edward R. Murrow. “Whether it was journalism or making movies. Largely on a character basis. My father had great integrity, and he taught me and my siblings the importance of having a conscience and being responsible. That was one of his greatest gifts to me.

“Obviously growing up watching things like Harvest of Shame [the 1960 documentary about American migrant workers] and the documentaries on [Joseph] McCarthy were influential. Believe me, I was absorbing this stuff internally.”

Friendly also is pondering a unique distribution model when Sneakerheadz is finished. “Doing this movie theatrically would not be impossible, but it would be difficult,” he said. “The target demo for this kind of movie is the millennials. And they don’t really like to pay for content, as you know. So I thought, ‘Why not try to involve a corporate sponsor as a presenter? Have them take us out of our costs and even a little more. And then release it digitally. For free.’

Just prior to this magazine going to press, Friendly finalized his deal with his sponsor — a little company called AT&T. “I think it’s a model that works,” says Friendly, who hopes to set up screenings at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game in New York City on the weekend of February 15. “We’re going to get lots of eyeballs for AT&T, who wants to reach the millennials. And we’re going to get, in exchange, money to complete the film and to get it out to the widest possible audience.”

Christopher Chen, VP of business development at Endgame Entertainment and a self-described “mild sneakerhead,” is helping with the marketing and distribution of Sneakerheadz. Because people are watching content in different ways now, he explained, “We wanted to find a way to break the model.” Chen says they’re still pondering their distribution options.

But one aspect of Sneakerheadz he is sure about: The film is the result of Friendly’s passion. “He’s sending me emails at two or three in morning about somearticle about sneakers that he just read,” Chen said. “I can be on the phone with him and we can have a discussion about anything under the sun and before you know it, 45 minutes have passed. He’s passionate about anything he puts his heart into. I enjoyed working with him. He’s really a 24/7 guy.”

After a long and accomplished career that included Martin Lawrence in drag and a specialnight in black tie at the Oscars, Friendly has arrived at a creative oasis because he followed Coco into the water.

“It’s important to try,” said Friendly, who is also producing a feature called I.T., starring Pierce Brosnan, as well as serving as executive producer on another documentary, this one about Earl Lloyd, the first African-American NBA player. “It’s important to take that shot. For me, this has been, other than Little Miss Sunshine, the most creatively satisfying project I’ve worked on. The reason I single out Little Miss Sunshine is because that was a project that had been turned down by every studio and every specialty division in town. My partner Marc Turtletaub and I just

loved the script, and we just said, ‘We’re gonna go do this.’ And we followed our instincts and succeeded beyond our wildest imaginations.

“So nothing will probably top that as an experience for me culminating in an Oscar nomination,” he added. “But I like the feeling here of complete responsibility and the fact that I’m on a high wire and there’s no net. It’s a good feeling.”



DAVID FRIENDLY: TAKE FIVE

“When I got serious about making my first doc,” says David Friendly, “I started watching at least one a day to draw inspiration and to settle my nerves.” Friendly graciously shared with Produced by five recent films that stayed with him and strongly influenced him in making Sneakerheadz.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
Directed by David Gelb. Beautiful storytelling, beautiful cinematography and editing. This was the doc that made me pursue mine. I even asked Gelb to direct Sneakerheadz. Only after he passed, did I decide to keep it for myself.

Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) 
Directed by Stacy Peralta. Peralta completely nails his landing with this raw and energetic take on the Zephyr skateboarding team. This is rock and roll filmmaking and my editor Steve Prestemon is really tired of me saying, “We gotta pace it up like Dogtown!” The vintage footage, which could have felt old-fashioned, makes it.

Life Itself (2014)
Directed by Steve James. This one brought me to tears. I loved Hoop Dreams and this just demonstrates that epic was no fluke. James literally takes us into the most private spaces in the final days of Roger Ebert’s astonishing life. What comes across is Ebert’s pure passion for life and James’ equal passion for filmmaking. A living eulogy for the iconic Chicago film critic.

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010)
Directed by Alex Gibney. I could have picked any number of films from Gibney who along with Errol Morris just may be the preeminent doc maker today. I may have been biased a bit since I went to grade school with Spitzer, but this is one where you can’t take your eyes off the screen. Sometimes the success or failure of a great doc (or a great news story) rests on the big GET. Somehow, Gibney interviewed Spitzer on camera and the interviews are brilliant and revealing. You keep asking yourself, ‘Did this really happen?’ Come to think of it, that question may be the litmus test for all doc subjects.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) 
Directed by Malik Bendjelloul. This won the Oscar and for good reason. The story was so improbable and unpredictable. You know you’ve got something when the real-life “plot” could not be bettered by fiction. I loved the music and the fact that I had never heard of its subject. In this one, the star of the film was the story.

 

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PGA Dodger Day 2014

Posted By Michael Quinn Martin, Tuesday, September 09, 2014

On Saturday, August 23rd, 100 PGA members enjoyed our annual PGA Dodger Game at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers beat the New York Mets 7 to 4 in duel that pitted the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke against the Mets’ Jacob deGrom. Greinke spotted the Mets three runs when he gave up a three run home run to Juan Lagres in the 4th inning. The Dodgers closed the gap in the bottom of the 4th inning and scored two runs to make it 2-3. Then in the 5th inning, Adrian Gonzales hit a three run home run to make it 5-3. Gonzales ended up being a run producing machine on Saturday, with 5 RBI’s , including his three run homer, a broken bat RBI single, and a sacrifice fly. Greinke gave up a solo home run to the Mets Lucas Duda in the 6th, but the Dodgers tacked on two more insurance runs in the 7th to pull ahead 7 to 4.

Greinke, coming off of a sore elbow, pitched a solid seven innings, with J.P Howell and Brian Wilson pitching a scoreless 8th inning, and Kenley Jansen pitching a scoreless 9th inning to get his 37th save of the year. PGA members who arrived early got to see the “Pups In The Park” parade, as owners paraded their dogs (many wearing Dodger gear) around the warning track, before going to the All You Can Eat Right Field Pavilion, where I’m sure many dogs consumed some Dodger Hot Dogs. This event was arranged by your PGA Events Committee. We hope to see you at the ballpark next year.

- photos by Michael Q. Martin

 

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UPDATE: AB 1839

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Our upcoming feature in Produced By magazine in support of AB 1839, the Film and Television Job Creation and Retention Act, went to press just prior to news breaking that the legislature had arrived at – and that Governor Jerry Brown would support – a compromise on the bill, expanding funding for California’s production incentive program to approximately $330 million annually for the next five years.

Obviously, this is tremendous news.  The PGA has been proud to support AB 1839, and are excited with Governor Brown’s signing of the bill this month.  As the PGA leaders cited in this piece attest, it’s gratifying to see our industry’s home state stepping up to the plate to keep these valuable jobs in California, and encouraging producers to reinvest their production budgets in our local communities.

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First, for the record, our Guild strongly supports all of the production incentive programs found among the 50 states. Any legislation that helps to keep production in the U.S. is good for producers and good for our national and state economies.

But Assembly Bill 1839, The Expanded Film and Television Job Creation Act (aka The California Film and Television Job Retention and Promotion Act), which is currently making its way through the California State legislature, has a special importance. California isn’t just the birthplace of the modern entertainment industry, it’s the state that roughly 75% of PGA members call home. To date, California has lagged behind many other states in terms of the incentives it offers producers, and among the individuals who have borne the brunt of that shortcoming are our members. The lack of a competitive California incentive has translated to more members being uprooted from their homes and families for weeks or months, compelled to travel out of state for production jobs that otherwise might have remained in California.

AB 1839 seeks to change that, increasing the funds available to in-state productions to a robust $400 million, and allocating those funds to productions based not on a lottery system, but on how many jobs they would create for the state’s residents. It’s a strong piece of legislation, and our Guild supports it wholeheartedly. You should, too. If you are one of our thousands of California-based PGA members (or simply a subscriber who resides in the Golden State), we encourage you to call your State Assemblymember, State Senator, and particularly, Gov. Jerry Brown, and urge them to support AB 1839.

 

 

Our industry has shown that productions will go where the incentives are — and take their valuable production jobs with them. At the end of the day, producers want to be able to go home to their families, not Skype with them from out of state. This legislation will help keep producers closer to home, and keep our production spend in California. It’s time we leveled the playing field..

–FRED BARON, Board Member, Producers Guild of America, California Film Commission


The California tax incentive is absolutely essential to maintaining the film and television industry presence in the state. Given the number of cast, crew, writers, directors and producers employed state- wide in the entertainment industry, it is imperative that we do what we can to stem runaway production, with billions of dollars at stake. The PGA has worked tirelessly (and successfully) with our fellow Guilds and unions to lobby for passage of this critically important legislation.

–GALE ANNE HURD, Executive Producer, The Walking Dead

 

California is where this industry was born. Jobs that could (and should) stay in California are going to other states because our incentives aren’t competitive. This is our chance to reverse that trend. Call your state assemblyman and your state senator. Call Gov. Brown. Let them know how important this legislation is to you, to our industry, and to all of the California businesses who benefit from our productions.

–HAWK KOCH, President Emeritus, Producers Guild of America

 

FIND Your State Assemblyman and Senator: findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov

CALL Governor Brown: (916) 445-2841

 

- Click here to read more about the PGA's support of AB 1839 and the California Film and Television Alliance

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Produced By Conference : New York

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Updated: Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Producers Guild of America brings the Produced By Conference to New York

 

Produced By: New York TO TAKE PLACE AT THE TIME WARNER CENTER on October 25, 2014

 

Bob Weinstein, Bruce Cohen, Donna Gigliotti, Gary Lucchesi, Harvey Weinstein, James Schamus, Jenni Konner, Lori McCreary, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Mark Gordon, Morgan Spurlock, Peter Saraf, Terence Winter, among speakers for the inaugural Produced By: New York

 

LOS ANGELES (August 19, 2014) – Following the highly successful Produced By conference in Los Angeles, the Producers Guild of America (PGA) will hold the inaugural Produced By: New York (PBNY) conference on October 25, 2014 at the Time Warner Center in NYC.  Confirmed speakers for PBNY include: 

 

  • Barbara Hall (“Madam Secretary,” “Homeland,” “Joan of Arcadia”)
  • Bob Weinstein, Co-Chairman, The Weinstein Company & Dimension Films (SCREAM franchise, SCARY MOVIE franchise, SIN CITY and PULP FICTION)
  • Bruce Cohen (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, MILK, AMERICAN BEAUTY)
  • Colin Carrier, Chief Strategy officer, Twitch.tv
  • Donna Gigliotti (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, THE READER, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE)
  • Gary Lucchesi, President of the Producers Guild, President of Lakeshore Entertainment (LINCOLN LAWYER, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, UNDERWORLD)
  • Harvey Weinstein, Co-Chairman, The Weinstein Company (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, THE KING’S SPEECH, THE ARTIST)
  • James Schamus (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, HULK, CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON)
  • Jenni Konner (“Girls”)
  • Keith Arem, President, PCB Productions
  • Lori McCreary, CEO of Revelations Entertainment, President of the Producers Guild (INVICTUS, “Madam Secretary,” “Through The Wormhole”)
  • Lydia Dean Pilcher, President, Cine Mosaic (CUTIE AND THE BOXER, THE LUNCHBOX)
  • Mark Gordon (“Ray Donovan,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Criminal Minds,” SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, SPEED)
  • Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME, THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN)
  • Peter Saraf, Co-Founder, Big Beach Productions (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, KINGS OF SUMMER)
  • Stephen Totilo, Editor-in-Chief, Kotaku
  • Terence Winter (THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Sopranos”)
  • Tom Fontana, (“Borgia,” “St. Elsewhere,” “Oz,” YOU DON’T KNOW JACK)

 

Additional speakers will be announced in the coming weeks.  Produced By: New York is hosted by HBO and Time Warner Inc. and will take place the Time Warner Center.  

Lori McCreary and Gary Lucchesi, Presidents of the PGA said, “The Produced By conference has proven to be an industry-defining event which offers unparalleled networking opportunities, as well as a wide array of educational seminars, and professional resources.  We are thrilled to expand Produced By to New York City after six successful years in Los Angeles.”

 

Cynthia López, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in New York City said, “New York City is home to a vibrant creative community who lend their talents to the hundreds of films and television series produced here each year. It is a pleasure to welcome Produced By to New York City for the first time, and we look forward to the thoughtful and insightful conversations about the production industry that will emerge from the conference.”

 

Peter Saraf, Vice President of PGA East said, “Produced By: New York will be an event of discovery, learning and creative inspiration that is built by producers, for producers.  We could not be more excited to merge the energy of Produced By with the vitality of the New York producing community.”

 

Produced By: New York will feature 12 full conference sessions.  Additionally, the event will provide intimate mentoring roundtable opportunities where in

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Producers Guild at Tribeca Film Festival 2014 - Video Playlist

Posted By Administration, Thursday, August 07, 2014
The Producers Guild was on the red carpet at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and had a great time capturing interviews with producers and stars talking about their projects and their experiences within the industry and within our very own guild. 

Videos include:
  • Tribeca Film Festival - 5 to 7 Red Carpet
  • Life Partners - Gabourey Sidibe
  • Tribeca Film Festival - Love is Strange - Interview with John Lithgow
  • Marshall Herskovitz on the Producers Mark and the PGA
  • About Alex Producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick at Tribeca Film Festival
  • The Nature of Producing - Marshall Herskovitz PGA President Emeritus
  • Tribeca Film Festival - Love is Strange - Interview with Jayne Baron Sherman
  • Life Partners - Producing Partnerships

 



Check out the playlist above to watch all of our 2014 Tribeca Film Festival content and do not forget to subscribe to the Producers Guild channel.  www.youtube.com/ProducersGuild

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