2015 Produced By Conference: 15 Things Every Producer Should Know

So much of what I learned at the Produced By Conference (presented by the Producers Guild of America) is extremely useful to producers and filmmakers at every level. Over two days, numerous panels featured seasoned producers, celebrities, CEOs, and industry professionals discussing the latest trends and offering advice for navigating film, television, and web production.

On any level of production, producers deal with similar issues, have a lot of the same questions, and each has their own style for problem solving. With new technologies and ever-changing film production resources, a conference like this is beyond valuable for staying on top.

Here were the top 15 takeaways:

  1. ARM YOURSELF WITH INFORMATION

As a producer you need to be able to speak to people. You need to establish trust, be kind, be central in the process so your crew will respect and listen to you. A key part of producing is diplomacy. In many ways, producers have to be politicians. I personally like to think of the director as the General and the producer as the President and we’re at war to make this movie! Choose your battles and learn as much as you can. Make sure to learn from other producer’s experiences and always trust your gut.

Also, when arming yourself with information, stay on top of what’s happening in all aspects of the production world. The latest in film financing incentives, film legislation, new technologies, trends, similar movies (past and present) to what you’re working on now, cultural relevance…absorb as much as possible. When you want to keep learning, that’s also when you know you’re doing you truly love.

This is from a panel that included Ian Bryce, producer of Transformers and World War Z; Tracey Edmonds, producer of Jumping The Broom and “With This Ring”; John Heinsen, CEO of Bunnygraph Entertainment; Stu Levy, producer of Priest and Pray for Japan; Gary Lucchesi, President of PGA and producer of The Lincoln Lawyer and The Age of Adaline; and Lori McCreary producer of Invictus and “Madam Secretary.”

  1. INCENTIVES ARE KEY FOR FINANCING

When financing and packaging a film, it’s critical to have some sort of incentive offered by a state or country to attract production and boost a local economy. Creative is the most important when dictating where to shoot the film or series but having some sort of tax incentive is a must. The balance is backing creative into the tax incentive options. Deborah Wettstein of Indian Paintbrush tells the story about how because of the German tax incentives, Wes Anderson explored a region he wasn’t thinking about and found the abandoned department store that became The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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The 2015 Produced By Conference was held on the historic lot of Paramount Pictures in Hollywood.

However, there are problems with shooting in a tax incentive state or country when there is no production support or crew. David Glasser of Weinstein Company spoke in great detail about how Malaysia offered an amazing incentive but there was no support. Since the shoot was big enough, they worked with the government to beef up the incentive in order to build studios and infrastructure for production support. They trained local crew and transformed the region.

When exploring tax incentives and how they will affect production, create a budget that explores the local resources and then factors in freight shipment of equipment needed and traveling crew. Then, see if the incentives are worth the additional costs.

Big things to look for in terms of production incentives:

  • Are there any funding caps or ceilings?
  • Factor in the losses because of exchange rates.
  • What are the production services available in the area?
  • When is the upcoming legislative session and will that have an effect on your upcoming shoot?
  • Incentives need to be a two-way street. Moviemakers get an incentive but what does the region get in return?

On the incentives panel: Debra Bergman, Senior VP of Scripted Production for Fremantle Media; Shirley Davis, VP Physical Production for Alcon Entertainment; David Glasser, COO and President of The Weinstein Company; and Deborah Wettstein, CFO of Indian Paintbrush Productions. Moderating was Joe Chianese, EVP of EP Financing Solutions.

  1. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY SHOULD BE MULTI-PLATFORM

Content now exists across multiple platforms. What’s important is the Intellectual Property behind the content. Don’t call your pitch a “movie” or a “TV series” or “web video,” call it your IP that can exist in many formats. Sure it can start as a movie, but think about how pieces can exist on YouTube or Vine for either ancillary content or for marketing purposes.

One particular panel was all about social media and new technology challenging traditional media. Walter Newman at Adult Swim talks about how social media is a great incubator for talent and ideas. If a concept or character works in a six-second Vine video, maybe it can become a series of videos that develops a fan base.

In the world of social media, comedy works the best, especially in the shorter format platforms. The celebrity Viners on the panel talk about how hard it is to tell a story in six seconds. They do, however, still adhere to the three-act structure: a beginning, middle, and end.

On this panel: Brandon Calvillo and Greg ‘Klarity’ Davis Jr., two celebrity Viners; Jason Mante, the head of user experience at Vine; and Walter Newman, the Director of Comedy Development for Adult Swim. Sanjay Sharma of All Def Digital moderated.

  1. THINK OUTSIDE THE TRADITIONAL MODELS FOR FINANCING

The most inspirational voice I’ve heard in a long time was that of Sophie Watts, President of STX Entertainment. She talked about taking risks and thinking outside the traditional financing structures and industry rules. She explained how she didn’t understand where money came from and how projects get theatrical releases so she started calling the exhibitors and theater owners directly. She started striking her own deals that allowed for more variety in theaters and smaller films to have a voice. In a world of digital distribution, why isn’t this happening more often? Audiences want the theater experience and also want variety. Why can’t we have more content to choose from in theaters?

What she did is extremely difficult and time consuming, but the message is clear: carve the path for your project.

Sophie is inspiring because she’s passionate and states that there is a lot of money out there for films with a decent script, name actors, and a somewhat recognizable (or at least competent) director attached. If you have that, you’ll get financed.

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President of STX Entertainment, Sophie Watts discusses alternative financial models.

There are so many outlets for film other than theatrical or DVD. Netflix, iTunes, VOD, and other online platforms are allowing for more opportunities to reach and audience and to make a sale. And don’t forget that Netflix and iTunes exist in multiple countries and those are separate deals.

Crowdfunding can be helpful, but it can also be a total pain. It’s great for docs and could be a strategy for matching funds with an investor. Some films use crowd funding lately as a marketing tool, but keep in mind that there is strategy and a particular type of content that does the best in crowd funding.

In addition to Sophie Watts on the panel was Johanthan Decker, President and COO of Voltage Pictures; Elsa Ramo, Founding Partner of Ramo Law; Hal Sadoff, Producer; and Adrian Ward, Division Manager of Pacific Mercantile Bank. Moderating was producer and Producer’s Guild President Gary Lucchesi.

  1. SELL DOMESTIC FIRST, THEN SELL FOREIGN

Right now, foreign sales for your project will vary depending on what the US domestic distribution is. If you have a large theatrical release, you have a better chance at an overseas domestic release. A small theatrical release may sometimes help or hurt foreign sales depending on what type of content you have. However, a small theatrical release can help for marketing VOD and broadcast sales domestically but not for foreign. If it’s content that will mainly live on television, sometimes it’s best to go after broadcast sales directly. Arm yourself with as much information as possible about similar types of productions and how they preformed. But keep in mind as global markets are changing, our North American domestic territory may not influence foreign territories as much.

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2 Comments

  1. Nadine Patterson

    June 29, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    Great post! And yes, Philip, you are right about the contradictions. I think there are a lot of story ideas that industry outsiders, women and people of color have pitched in the past that have been ignored. Hopefully, now that films with women and people of color have proven their ability to make money and engage audiences, we will see more innovative content. It will take producers with vision and the desire to take risks to usher in a new era of original storytelling. America and world is waiting for us…..the outsiders!

  2. Philip Onions

    June 18, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Very interesting stuff here, I like the idea that CONTENT IS KING and that one should be HONEST AND PASSIONATE about one’s work. I am also encouraged that Graham King thinks that there is a lack of new ideas and original stories in the industry today, being “out there” myself…but none of this ties in to the fact that one’s chances of getting a film made are reduced if one is an outsider. Maybe that’s the problem…or part of it…it feels to me like they are contradicting themselves in some of these comments? I wonder if anyone agrees??

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