What Hollywood Producers Are Thinking About Right Now

As a member of the Producer’s Guild of America (PGA), I attended our annual “Produced By” Conference yesterday at Fox Studios. It’s a gathering of producers from feature films, television, digital media, special effects, commercials, and more, all discussing changes in the industry, projects we’re focusing on, and especially to hear from industry leaders about what’s happening in today’s changing media world.

Since so many creatives and filmmakers read my blog, I thought I’d share a few highlights that resonated with me. These are good examples of how top producers are thinking right now, and what you should be exploring as well.

First of all, who was there attending and speaking:
Major motion picture studios and distributors like Fox, Warner Brothers, Universal, Lionsgate, Dreamworks, etc…
Major TV networks and producers are here as well – Universal TV, Fox Broadcasting, NBC, Starz, HBO, AMC, Sundance TV, etc..
And the significant digital platforms – HULU, Amazon Studios, Netflix, YouTube, Awesomeness TV, etc…

What were they talking about?
The biggest discussion was producing for emerging platforms and audiences. The feeling among many is that the big-budget tentpole movie ecosystem operates on it’s own, so the place for producers and filmmakers to engage is on the emerging digital and broadcast platforms. A good example is the critically acclaimed original productions being created by HULU, Netflix, STARZ, and others. That’s where so much of the most innovative dramatic and documentary films and series are being produced these days.

As a result, almost every session focused very little on mainstream traditional theatrical features, and were really zeroed in on how that traditional world along with the digital world are continuing to merge, and the implications for filmmakers.

And many of these issues are things passionate filmmakers should address – for instance, Jeffrey Hirsch, COO of STARZ, cited an FCC statistic that 22% of the African-American audience is engaging media programming on a mobile device only. That’s a significant audience most producers are missing.

This is so important because on a regular basis I see creative filmmakers failing simply because they don’t understand how the industry works, or where it’s going.

The bottom line is that we can’t define the media worlds as “film,” “TV,” “Radio,” or “Digital Media” anymore. The convergence has picked up speed and programmers and filmmakers need to define their projects across all those platforms. Which is why we need to continue encouraging all creative filmmakers to change our thinking towards where the media world is moving, rather than where it’s been.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Karen Covell

    I agree with you, Phil, that the major conversation at the Produced By Conference was for the independent filmmaker and the New Media producer and those work in all mediums. In the sessions I was in, which I very much enjoyed, the speakers embraced both film and TV in their conversation. I was at a Workflow panel where they discussed the workflow for both films and TV series, multi-camera, single camera, Reality and cable movies. It was very informative. When listening to the principals for 21 Laps Entertainment, (of Arrival, Night At the Museum & Stranger Things to name a few) they don’t even define their main focus because they have their hands in every medium. In a discussion there about back-end participation, it was stressed that we must include “ALL MEDIUMS, even those not yet discovered” in our contracts! It’s no longer a feature film conversation but one that embraces all media across all platforms – even those that don’t yet exist!

    • That’s a great issue with the contracts. Thanks for including that Karen!

      • mr.perky

        right on Phil – Karen… my philosophy has always been “start small”. Millions of dollars from Christian investors have been tossed down a dark hole because they invested in a sexy theatrical film (and usually don’t even get real distribution) start with a streaming series that are 3 to 5 minute bites (be it a doc or faux doc or narrative fiction) and grow an audience from there. Only nowadays can one do that successfully.

  • Marion MacKenzie Pyle

    Great article, Phil! Convergence is certainly the theme of the day. I’m also a proud PGA member and thought the sessions and speakers were terrific. Here are some of my takeaways:

    1. No matter how sophisticated our tools get or fragmented our audiences, everything begins with good content! A great story is still the genesis of every step no matter how small or large the project, fancy the effects, high profile the celebrity, or clever the multi-platform strategy. That’s good news for us writers! :)

    2. Who are you trying to reach? Do you have an audience in mind or are you just hoping your content will attract eyeballs somewhere?

    3. What impact are you trying to have – what do you want to leave people with?

    4. Tell the story you want to tell and make it great – don’t twist, adapt or water down what you’re passionate about and hope it fits what you imagine others want. Stay true to your vision…and be brilliant at it.

    5. Be robustly prepared for when you pitch. Know who you’re meeting with and what they’re looking for. Know your show’s demographics. Share your media strategy. Bring in any and all materials that can help them visualize your concept. Be organized and rehearsed! (Hey, write a thank you note!- my two cents.)

    • Excellent points Marion. Worth inserting in every creative producer’s notebook! Thanks for sharing!

    • Suzy Sachs

      Love your notes! Thank you Marion!

  • Paul Nethercott

    Thanks for the helpful report on PGA and thanks for not ignoring what’s going on in the world of entertainment. By next ear I aim to attend Produced By as a member. Hope to see you then.

  • Paul Nethercott

    Thanks for the helpful report on PGA and thanks for not ignoring what’s going on in the world of entertainment. By next year I aim to attend Produced By as a member. Hope to see you then.

  • Suzy Sachs

    So many times people try to hit it out of the park with a major motion picture and a budget to match, especially when they are new content creators. I whole heartedlly agree that many times it is best to aim for something that gets you on base, is a realistic goal with an obtainable distribution path. Thanks for your insightful recap on the PGA “Produced By” conference, Phil this is very helpful information.

    • I think that’s a brilliant insight Suzy. It’s one reason I enjoy producing documentaries. With a limited budget, I can produce a really terrible dramatic feature, but with the same budget, I can produce a terrific documentary.

  • Emilio Martinez

    Thanks for the highlights! I’ve noticed lately that it looks pretty bleak for any faith-based comedies to succeed theatrically–especially since their core audience also takes money advice from Dave Ramsey.

    As a result, I’m retooling my latest effort towards a streaming platform.

    • Smart move Emilio. Most people in Hollywood don’t equate “religion” with “funny.” :-)