This Sunday I attended day 2 of the Produced by Conference that was held at the Warner Bros. Studio lot. It was a great experience, and I’m very glad I was able to attend. The Produced by Conference is a conference for producers by producers, and is put on each year by the Producers guild of America. This is the 6th year of the conference, but only my first year going. It is made up of different guest speakers and panels of industry experts, and I signed up for 4 panel discussions that I would like to share with you.
Conversation with Norman Lear:
I’m embarrassed to say that I did not know who Norman Lear was before signing up for this session. I still did not know the impact he had on the industry even after looking him up online in advance and finding out about the shows that he wrote and produced. I have heard of the shows he made, but never actually seen any of them. All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, and Sanford and Son to name some of the big ones. So having this chance to hear his stories was very fascinating. He was so influential that the Producers Guild’s comedy series award is actually named after him. The person that won the Norman Lear Award the most times was Steven Levitan, and he was the one moderating for this conversation. Steven Levitan created such TV series as Just Shoot Me!, Stark Raving Mad, Stacked, Back to You, and Modern Family. This paring of the two made this conversation even more rewarding. Norman talked about how he felt like he never did anything that was that earth shattering, but was just telling stories. He said when he was first getting into the industry the biggest issues in TV shows was that the boss was coming over for dinner and they burned the roast. He wanted to tackle the most controversial issues of the time. His shows touched on racism, abortion, and sexism. He had to fight to get the networks to be OK with many of the shows’ subject matter. His hard work paid off, and paved the way for many shows that have controversial subject matter in them. Including Steven Levitan’s show Modern Family which has a homosexual couple in it. He also talked about how he is still working on projects, and he is not having any luck on getting his most recent project made. It is a comedy that’s set in a retirement village, and is called Guess Who’s Dead. He said “They don’t want to touch the demographic”. It sounded like it would be pretty funny, and I would be interested to see it made. When asked what advice he had for producers today, he said the greatest lesson he could pass on came from Jean Stapleton, the late co-star of All in the Family. He said,
“She’s always where she is, always be where you are.”
The Emerging Majors: New Possibilities for Scripted Storytelling:
This was a panel of four executives moderated by Chris Thomes, VP Digital Media Studio at Disney/ABC Television Group. The four panelist were; Laura Allen, Head of Production for Yahoo!, Michael Klein, EVP Programming and Content Strategy for Conde Nast Entertainment, Erick Opeka EVP Digital Networks for Cinedigm, and John P. Roberts, SVP Digital Media and Commercial Affairs for Endemol USA. None of these people were lacking in overly long titles. It was interesting to hear that 3 of the 4 panelists have cut the cable cord. They felt cable TV did not provide them with anything they could not get from online. This was really interesting to me since it was further evidence on the changing landscape of the cable industry. They also talked a lot about packaging scripts and stories from a business point of view. They want that ideal Youtube star that “writes”, directs, creates, and produces their own content for practically nothing. They also wanted to find talent that helped with their brand. “Brand integration” is the key, said John P. Roberts. It was good to hear what they were looking for, and what was of interest to their companies. This panel was helpful in the fact it gave me an insight on what was important to them. If I was ever to pitch an idea to them I would have a better understanding on how to approach each one.
Financing Independent Film: New Business Models:
This was one of those panels that highlights all that you don’t know about raising financing for movie. You go into it thinking you know a little about the subject, and walk thinking you know nothing. Instead of listing out all the panelists I included a picture of the title card with all their names and positions. It was made up of producers, agents, attorney, and other experts in film financing. There was a lot of very intelligent, and experienced people on this panel, and they are the kind of people you want on your team when you are trying to raise money. They talked a lot about crowd funding which is something I have already thought about doing to make my first project, but know I need to get a little more credibility first. Sky Moore(attorney) talked about other ways that I had not thought of before. These were; Advertise private offerings, Money from advertisers, and retailers. Honestly I’m not real sure what he meant about the first one, but it had something to do with talent going out and raising money on their own. If someone knows more about this please comment below. The second one, money from advertisers, he used the example of the Lego Movie. Working with advertisers to fund the project if you put their product in the film. You have to be careful with this method, since you don’t want your movie to turn into a hour long commercial. The last one, Retailers, could be money for showcasing products, or products to use in the film for free. It could be clothing, cars, food, or other products. He mentioned Netflix, and Walmart being good examples. Stephan Paternot, Co-Founder and CEO of Slated talked about his company, and how it can also help you raise money. He explained it by talking about a tail, and at one end you have the studios, and the other you have crowd funding. His company is in the middle of the two. It is a network that helps connect creators with investors. While sites like Kickstarter can be for anyone including people with no experience, Slated is for more experianced film makers. It helps investors filter down all the people wanting to make a project to people with more of a proven track record. Slated provides tools for investors to see who is involved in the project, and give an idea of the market value of each project. For example the director could be inexperienced which would lower the value, but it might have other experienced key people and talent that would increase the value. They also talk about domestic and international options, but many of this was over my head.
Indie City: Finding Your Niche in the Digital Eco-System:
I attended this panel instead of the conversation with Francis Ford Coppola. Although it would have been amazing to see him I felt this panel would be more beneficial to my goals. This ended up being the most interesting session of the day, and I felt justified with my decision. I have been very intrigued with the power of YouTube lately. I have seen first hand how quickly a video or channel can go viral, and quickly bring the creator into the spotlight. This panel talked a lot about YouTube, and YouTube success strategies. Panelist Tim Street kept making the point that you just need to get started, and that is the best way to learn. Most people already have everything they need to make a video for YouTube, and you add that with a great idea, and you might have something. I think the reason I liked this session the most was that it was inspiring. As mentioned before I plan to get my animation studio started by doing commercial work, but this inspired me to think I could start making movies. It got me thinking about ways to make fun short animated videos to start building my YouTube audience. The fact that animation is expensive is still there, but it got me exploring other ways to make inexpensive animated videos. I always wanted to have highly polished animation, but maybe there is value in making rougher animations to start. On the other side it kind of depressed me on what kids made popular these days. YouTube channels like Fred and Annoying Orange in my opinion are horrible, and can’t understand why they are so popular. If this is what kids are watching then I really don’t understand my target audience. I have to hold onto the belief that quality animation is still of value.
I had a great day in these sessions, and met a lot of very interesting people. I look forward to next year’s conference.
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