The Produced By NY 2019 conference was held at Florence Gould Hall on November 9th. The conference covered exciting topics such as the popularity of streaming and the accessibility to financing in our current market. The halls bustled as business cards were exchanged, and new connections were forged. Everyone from young up-and-coming filmmakers to seasoned professionals were excited to learn about the latest trends in producing and overall filmmaking.
The conference began with a conversation between director Ron Howard, and head of Netflix’s original film division, Scott Stuber. Stuber reminisced reading through the production charts in Variety, writing a letter to every UPN, and never getting a single reply. He discussed working as a personal assistant for free; eventually leading to a marketing and public relations job at Universal were he collected newspaper clippings of films for Lew Wasserman. While working at Universal, Richard and Lauren Donner taught him the value of respecting a director’s vision, as Lauren told him, “When you meet a director, listen to the director.” Stuber and Howard both addressed an increased need for mentorship programs in the film industry, with Stuber stating, “Mentors are important, it’s something as an industry we need to do better.”
Stuber then addressed how the Netflix production house is organized by specialized groups that each focus on genre, indie, animation, and prestige films. For aspiring produces, he recommended based on Netflix’s policies, such as:
-Teams have buying power
-Netflix doesn’t believe in pitches except for comedies
-Dramas and thrillers are execution-based not pitched based
After the opening conversation, the conference hosted a series of Producing Masterclasses, in which directors and producers talked about working their experiences and challenges working on high-profile films. These Masterclasses included:
–Greta Gerwig and Amy Pascal (Little Women)
–James Mangold, Michael McCusker, and Tracy Letts (Ford v Ferrari)
–Alma Har’ el and Daniela Taplin Lundberg (Honey Boy)
–Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, and Julie Goldman (One Child Nation)
–Noah Baumbach and David Heyman (Marriage Story)
–Steven Bognar (American Factory)
–Mark Ruffalo, Christine Vachon, and Pam Koff (Dark Waters).
The panelists all addressed their goals and challenges during the production of their films. Greta Gerwig, Amy Pascal, Cynthia Erivo, Debra Martin Chase, and Kasi Lemmons discussed how their films attempted to increase the visibility of women, and the extensive research that went into their films. While making Little Women, Greta Gerwig and Amy Pascal created a film bible, collecting poems, pictures, and feelings that informed the tone of the film. Kasi Lemmons talked about working with historians during the creative process while directing Harriet.
The panelists addressed unique risks that came with their projects. Alma Har’ el and Steven Bognar both addressed how to maintain their budgets and artistic quality while working with non-actors and maintaining everyone’s safety and security. Alma Har’ el and Daniela Taplin Lundberg discussed the stresses of working on Honey Boy, a film that involves the psychological trauma for Shia Labeouf. Since LaBeouf was diagnosed with PTSD, the challenge was to capture him while he was going through therapy and recovery. LaBeouf needed to bring himself to darker places to play the role of his alcoholic father. Har’ el further explained how a number of the extras were from actual AA meetings, to add to the realism of the film. Building on the stresses of working with real-life subjects, Bognar talked about the deals and arrangements required while shooting American Factory. Both he and his co-director Julia Reichert needed to get the approval of the factory owner and workers to capture on-site conflicts while maintaining a positive relationship with their subjects.
Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang, and Julie Goldman discussed their challenges working with the actual subjects of One Child Nation. They encountered tremendous risks due to the strict censorship laws of the Chinese government. Goldman explained that while Wang was shooting, Zhang was often tracked with a GPS. If Wang stayed in one place for too long, they knew there could be an issue with government officials. Since the directors filmed in unsafe zones, they were unable to get insurance, relying predominantly on grants and outside funding. Since the participants were speaking primarily in favor of the One-Child Policy, there was not a risk of the government targeting the participants, as their speech would not be considered subversive.
Other panelists discussed producing more commercial properties. James Mangold, Michael McCrusker, and Tracy Letts explained how their film was made without corporate participation from Ford or Ferrari when making their film, Ford v. Ferrari. As a result, they were able to focus more on the more personal aspects of the story and the personal stakes of the characters.. For the film Marriage Story, producer David Heyman addressed preparing the film’s budget from both a commercial and practical level, while keeping filmmaker, Noah Baumbach, needs the top priority. Additionally, Mark Ruffalo, Christine Vachon, and Pam Koff discussed producing Dark Waters, a film with an environmental message and the desired call for activism. Ruffalo explained how he partnered with activist groups during the production process, along with working with the actual journalists depicted in the film.
After the Masterclasses, the conference hosted a panel about the future of producing. Moderated by Lori McCreary, the panel included:
-Banks Tarver (Co-Founder and Co-President of Left/Right)
-Dan Lin (Producer; The Two Popes, Aladdin)
-Elaine Frontain Bryant (EVP and Head of Programming at A&E Network)
-Nina Yang Bongiovo (Producer; Godfather of Harlem, Sorry to Bother You)
The topics they discussed ranged from the proliferation of streaming services, working with a global marketplace, and transitioning between different formats and genres. Bongiovo addressed the challenges of developing projects that champion stories about race and identity. She stated, “When you do a film starring people of color and stories like the ones we do, we’re always told there’s no international worth or value. So you just have to go to trusted investment parties that believe in culture shifts, telling multicultural stories, and hopefully create a social impact.” The moderator, Lori McCreary agreed and assured attendees, whose projects haven’t found funding yet, that, “Every project has its time and its team, you just might not have the right one yet.”
The panelists addressed how to promote their projects when streaming services provide audiences overwhelming amounts of content. Bryant talked about how she developed Live PD with the mindset that it needs to be a timely series without repeats since repeat shows are not popular anymore. How she developed the show’s social interactions, helped to gradually engage the audience with the series. Dan Lin built upon that point, and talked about how to take an old format and change it just enough for a modern audience so that it becomes appointment viewing. Banks Tarver covered about how, one of his non-fiction shows, transformed into the scripted series Odd Mom Out. The panelists also discussed various mentorship programs, such as Nina Yang Bongiovo’s commitment to having two production shadows on every shoot, or Dan Lin’s Incubator at his production company Rineback.
The conference ended with a networking party, as people discussed what they learned from the various speakers. Attendees drank Champaign and made their final networking connections as the conference wined down. By the end of the night, everyone was excited to take what they learned and incorporate those ideas into their projects.