"That's all gone now, the old Hollywood. All gone."
I attended Produced By Conference this past weekend on the 20th Century Fox lot. For the past few years, Produced By has been one of my favorite entertainment industry conferences. It's lean (three panel discussions at a time; thus, little paradox of choice) and consistently attracts top-tier producers/entertainment industry heavyweights as speakers. Where else can you experience 50 Cent, John Favreau, Mark Burnett and Jerry Bruckheimer all at once? Maybe on the set of Iron Man 5, starring 50 Cent and Jeff Probst, but that's make-believe!
As a writer/producer/director, Produced By Conference is one of the few conferences I feel I must attend each year. It's consistently a great place to meet other producers, actors, writers, sales brokers - really, all types of potential collaborators. It's two days of going into sponge mode and soaking up everything experts have to say. My antennae is somehow now tuned to cracking the code for the next "Duck Dynasty", which is completely strange yet also somehow normal.
I heard the expression "the new abnormal" several times throughout the weekend, though not in reference to a Ryan Murphy series. It applied to where things are at in these DigitalObsessed-TentpolePropped-InternationalLeaning-BeardedRealityStarSeeking times. I'm into embracing the new abnormal, where anyone still can pick up a camcorder/DSLR, shoot video and eventually attract a large audience on any permutation of platforms. There are so many options in 2013, so many places where good content can exist. Whether the goal is to get a big feature project off the ground at a studio, an indie "film" produced on a tight budget, a series onto TV or somewhere new/digital, etc., there's no shortage of decisions to make and roads to navigate.
At its core, Produced By Conference is an inspiring event for producers at all levels, of fiction and non-fiction, and I really appreciate having been able to attend again this year. In no particular order, what inspired me most from Produced By Conference 2013:
I've been a Jon Favreau fan since Swingers, and I'll forever be cool with Roland Emmerich for making the first Universal Soldier. Mark Gordon's a force as a producer. Hearing these three shoot the shit was wildly entertaining. Mark Gordon changed the rules for submitting questions on the fly (screw written-down questions on index cards, shout 'em out!), and in general came across like a boss. Jon Favreau is an artist who continues to test the limits of his talents. He really does it all as a writer-producer-director-actor, and I'm eager to see what he cooks up with Chef, pun intended, on a much smaller scale than Iron Man. I'd love to see Jon Favreau bang out a bunch of star vehicles in which he also writes, directs and produces. Dinner for Fiveturned into a real-time horror comedy could be epic...
Showrunners panel with Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy), Darlene Hunt (The Big C), Beau Willimon (House of Cards), Jason Katims (Parenthood), moderated by Marshall Herskovitz (thirtysomething/My So Called Life).
I haven't seen much of Kurt Sutter's Sons of Anarchy, who is intense, tattooed and comes across very warm and polite. (I wonder what he'd be up to if he wasn't a successful writer/producer?) I had no idea that the neurotic Yuppie Wife from the beginning of Idiocracy, also Marcia Langman on "Parcs and Rec", created "The Big C." Mind blown. Darlene Hunt's hilarious on screen and exceptional at writing comedy-drama. Love her. Beau Willimon, cool and polished, wrote the play (Farragut North) that went on to become The Ides of March, which he co-wrote with George Clooney and Grant Heslov. He then he joined up with David Fincher and is currently show runner on "House of Cards." Willimon is killing it right now, and whoever is managing his career deserves props, as well. The camaraderie between Marshall Herskovits and Jason Katims was inspiring. Katims came up through working on Herskovits' "My So-Called Life" staff, and it was clear each holds the other in high regard. Some inspiring quotes from this panel:
"Success has been hiring people who are a lot smarter than me." - Sutter
"What's the place where I can have the most value? Working with writers and scripts." - Katims
"Writing is literally about hours...about banging your head through a wall until you break through." - Willimon
The State of Film Financing Panel with Bill Block, Howard Cohen, Cassian Elwes, David Linde, Cathy Schulman and Gary Lucchesi as moderator.
The sky is not falling, but the world of independent film has changed dramatically in the past several years. Indies without major stars are being squeezed out. Dependency upon foreign pre-sales is at an all-time high. No one knows exactly how Netflix will affect things long-term. Theaters aren't loving same day releases on VOD. Okay, maybe the sky is falling, but everyone on this panel was sharp, all producers who are proving movies can still get made. At least, horror is alive and well. Bill Block says "Danse Macabre" by Stephen King is the absolute bible for horror.
Selling Reality/Non-Fiction TV Panel with Neil Cohen, Nancy Daniels, Stephanie Drachkovitch, Phil Gurin, moderated by Screech Washington.
It's more challenging to sell reality concepts off of paper than ever before. Ideas need to be sticky. The more visually arresting the better. Are the stakes (emotional, physical) in your concept high enough? Why these people? Why now? Do you have sample footage, or a tight sizzle reel to show? Can your concept be distilled down to a TV Guide log line? Don't sleep on syndication. Really, what's the format of your show? Can you attach a celebrity? Audiences crave an all-access pass to celebrities. Really look at the whole spectrum; non-fiction can apply to A LOT. What do you really have to offer in this space? Anyone? Bueller?
I was introduced to Vincent Bruzzese in the New York Times piece about him solving the equation for hit film scripts through data. Then, John August and Craig Mazin's follow-up Scriptnotes podcast was like BDP's "The Bridge Is Over" and effectively tore the whole article to shreds. Vince was a gracious moderator, and the panel communicated some interesting thoughts: Producers need to add and spell. Data won't fully replace "gut." The new abnormal: international driving decisions more than ever before. The data on movies with incest themes isn't too promising. Bridesmaids defied research! Research works great in fixing a movie when there's a rough cut. (Duh. But, oh yeah.) Tracking is still "wobbly." Figuring out the best way to spend marketing dollars is as crucial as ever. Overseas likes the stars of the immediate past.
Mark Burnett, 50 Cent.
Each was on a different panel, but witnessing these two larger-than-life personalities from up close and personal was awesome. I love Mark Burnett's enthusiasm, and whatever skin care products he uses seem to be working exceptionally well. Or maybe he's just in the tropical sun all day on "Survivor" sets? Burnett is THE force in reality TV, and he consistently takes big swings for big hits. I love that he referenced Babe Ruth in that the greatest hitters ever still missed over half the time. It was a little unfamiliar for me when he proclaimed everything in the Bible really happened during his talk, as my name is Abraham Schwartz, but diff'rent strokes for different folks. When you're leading the league in hits and batting average, the mic is all yours.
"If you know 50 Cent only as a rapper, you only know part of his story," said in strong movie announcer voice. I know a lot of people who regard 50 as just a rapper, but he is an insanely savvy businessman and pusher of brands, a la Jay-Z, Kanye, Richard Branson, you name it. He got filthy rich off of Vitamin Water, peaking as a rapper/brand at just the right time (before all turned digital), and now he wants to make his mark as a producer. If you haven't read the book he co-wrote with Robert Greene, The 50th Law, I highly recommend it. Hell, it's practically a part of me. The 50th Law is all about living without fear. If you're not afraid of producing content on your own and you're willing to remain open to all of the new places in which content can exist, 2013 is an exciting time to be a producer. There's no going back.