The opening of the first annual Produced By Conference was about confronting new challenges.
People from all parts of the country and all employment backgrounds crowded onto the Sony Pictures lot for the sold-out event, some looking to sell, some to buy and some just to learn. 3D screens were ubiquitous, with the biggest of all at 103 feet.
When Vance Van Petten, the executive director of the Producer’s Guild of America, got on stage to kick off the first annual Produced By Conference, he could not quiet the room.
Instead, Marshall Herskovitz, president of the PGA, told the crowd, “The producer is at the center of entertainment,” he said. “The producer is being forgotten and producers must seize the center of activity.”
Stands were set up for companies promoting cameras, public relations, private jets and credit while state film commissions had booths to advertise that they had the best (or cheapest) film locales.
The day began with director James Cameron, and people could be heard talking about his session until the day was over. (See related story.)
But the most entertaining panel of the day was probably “Episodic TV: Elements of a Hit,” where every panelist complained about how difficult it is to sell a show.
One of the biggest issues facing television, according to “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, is the inability of Nielsen to calculate real viewership by counting Tivo or online watching.
“There is no such thing as creating a hit anymore,” ‘Scrubs’ creator Bill Lawrence said.
Lawrence noted that when he first approached the networks with ‘Scrubs,’ they told him that a single-camera comedy would not work. Now, having helped make that genre successful, he is returning to the same networks and being told that a multi-camera comedy cannot work.
Both Lawrence and Weiner also lamented that having a hit show meant spending less and less time writing.
“If you want your show to succeed, you have to immediately develop business acumen,” Lawrence said.
Nonetheless, it was also the same duo that soaked up the spotlight with Weiner making the first of many self-deprecating jokes about his lack of business savvy. When he saw the producer of “Mad Men” write a check for $250,000, he turned to him and said ‘I literally got diarrhea watching you do that.’
Lawrence, rather than making jokes at his own expense, attacked the studios and NBC’s “My Own Worst Enemy,” which was cancelled after nine episodes.
At the “Storytelling in an Age of Diversity” panel, the panel members expressed the hope there would be no need for such a panel in the future.
In their opening statements, the speakers said that film and television should reflect reality, with everyone coexisting in front of and behind the camera. Yet, when it was producer Deborah Calla’s turn, she made sure to point out that the entertainment industry was a long way away from that reality.
Lee Daniels, director of Sundance-winning “Precious” and producer of “Monster’s Ball,” called the progress made for African-Americans in film and television embarrassing.
But that wasn’t the most embarrassing moment. During the question and answer session, a representative for handicapped individuals in the entertainment business pointed out that despite being one of the nation’s largest “diverse” demographics, disabled peoples get the least attention and the fewest jobs.
Moderator Bruce Cohen, producer of Milk, could only respond by saying “I am embarrassed” and for the first time the panel was silent.
One of the final panels of the day confronted the issue of intellectual property rights, raising the issue of how to deal with the challenge presented by emerging technologies.
Gaurav Dhillon, chairman and CEO of Jaman.com, laid out the problem this way: “As long as there are dorm rooms, there will be piracy.”
Panelists, who were mostly digital entrepreneurs, tried to explain how producers can either take advantage of the new technologies and user-based content or secure profits in spite of them.
Their best suggestion was to involve users and redefine the relationship between distributors and consumers, which is taking place already. For producers and companies committed to their unique vision, a couple of options were presented.
“In order for paid content to work, it has to be easier and better than anything that is available for free,” said Marc Zachary, senior vice president of business development at Auditude.
Still, both Dhillon and Laura Trunberg, a principal partner for We Get It Consulting, pointed out that people want to see quality movies and quality television.
“Websites with user-generated content don’t do as well as professionals,” she said.