As part of Urbanworld Film Festival, HBO hosted a series of panel discussions at their New York headquarters as part of Urbanworld Digital.
One of the panels was presented in partnership with the Producers Guild of America was the Producer’s Fireside Chat between producers Nina Yang Bongiovi (Dope, Roxanne Roxanne, Sorry to Bother You) and Donna Gigliotti (Shakespeare in Love, Silver Linings Playbook, Hidden Figures).
Speaking on Boots Riley (writer of Sorry to Bother You) Nina said:
Nina Yang Bongiovi: I spent time with Boots Riley and just really loved his energy, his vision and I kind of bet on him, I’m like you know what he’s gonna be a revolutionary director, he’s gonna be able to set a trend and also set precedent that filmmakers of color can direct outside of what they’re expected to do.
Donna Gigliotti: That’s amazing because it takes a huge amount to get any movie made, but a movie like that (Sorry to Bother You) is not easy because he never directed. How did it come to you?
Nina Yang Bongiovi: It came to me because of Fruitvale Station. I collaborated with San Francisco Film Society which is now called San Francisco Film and he’s from Oakland so they brought it to my attention that they have a filmmaker that I should meet and that was the first time I heard about him. Then of course I knew him from the Coup. Then I heard he was the unofficial mayor of Oakland so then once I met him I was like ok he’s super cool. But there were a slew of issues with trying to get that done. He had signed his rights away to many many other producers. This is why we want to talk about issues as emerging directors and producers to be careful what you do with your rights. It took a lot of unwinding on my part where I was finally comfortable to get involved and say let’s bring the money in, let’s produce it.
Nina Yang Bongiovi: How many times have you had projects come to you with 10 producers attached?
Donna Gigliotti: Actually I’m gonna say this. I’ve been lucky. I had an incident once on Shakespeare in Love, it came with a lot of baggage producers, who never showed they didn’t do anything, and they still collected Oscars actually, it was pretty amazing. I’m not gonna name names, but I’ll say this a movie like Silver Linings Playbook didn’t have any producers just me. Then I think it takes a lot to make a movie and sometimes doing it on your own is not easy. So Bruce Cohen and Jonathan Gordon came with me on that project. But I can see where that’s the case.
Donna Gigliotti: Nina and I share a great pal together Mimi Valdez, how did that work with the two of you?
Nina Yang Bongiovi: She came on to Dope with Pharrell. Forrest and I were producing it, and at that time WME put us together on the project and unbeknownst to us both of us had very similar notes for the original script separately. The original script for Dope the drug of choice was heroin, and both parties said let’s change the drug of choice lighten the film up. So we changed it to molly. She was doing that on her side and Forrest and I were doing that on our side. We finally met and I just connected with her instantly. But she’s like yeah we’ll pass by, we’ll help you curate the music, but I’ll stop by set the first week into production. So I go cool. So I’m prepping the film and having a real hard time because it was a challenging film, it was very ambitious (not as ambitious as Sorry to Bother You, but it was ambitious). She showed up the first week on set and I keep telling her this is what we’re doing this is what happens and as she’s learning I can see her completely engrossed into the process. And I go how long you here for, and she goes two or three days. And I’m like can you stay until the end and she’s like why. I go I want you to learn what I do, I need an ally before I kill somebody. So that’s what happened.
Donna Gigliotti: The thing that’s really interesting to me is I’ve always been interested in movies as a means of shifting the culture and there’s a real way to do this with movies, with television, with theater, with literature and with advertising. People in Hollywood deal in tropes that’s all I can say. It is this is standard, this is what woman do, woman don’t talk and look pretty in movies and black people are slaves and Chinese people are frugal. If you really want to make an impact, if you want to shift the way people think about other people the way to do it in my opinion is portray woman of color as mathematicians. I can not tell you, what this was like. In Hidden Figures you had invented the wheel. To suggest there were black woman mathematicians who worked at NASA it was revolutionary. I mean it was crazy what happened. By portraying that up on screen it was not only important to me, it actually had an effect on the way people think.
Nina Yang Bongiovi: I think I felt that when I watched Crazy Rich Asians even though that doesn’t represent Asians and Asian Americans across the board it represents progress that I was able to see Asians on the big screen and I didn’t realize it was gonna make me emotional, so that was really interesting so that’s a first step. Sometimes it’s kind of unfortunate that it’s Crazy Rich Asians because it falls into a certain stereotype. I was a little concerned but since the film was good I’m happy there’s progress. Now I can carry along those Asian American projects getting greenlit. It’s a great thing.