The Evolving Film Industry

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Judge Dismisses Most of WGA Packaging Fee Lawsuit Against WME, CAA and UTA
By Gene Maddaus
via Variety

A federal judge on Monday dismissed most of the Writers Guild of America's lawsuit against the major talent agencies, including claims that packaging fees amount to illegal kickbacks and were a form of racketeering.

U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte dismissed eight of the 14 claims brought by the WGA in its countersuit. The countersuit, filed last fall, is part of a broader battle between the guild and the major agencies over the practice of packaging.

The judge threw out eight of the nine claims brought against WME, CAA and UTA by the guild but allowed the claims of eight showrunners who joined the litigation as individuals, although one of those plaintiffs, David Simon, was already forced to drop out because of a previous legal settlement.

The judge's ruling was seen as a setback for the WGA's cause in the legal arena. The WGA and agencies have not had meaningful discussions in months about resolving their differences on packaging fee and affiliated production entities, which spurred the guild's antitrust lawsuit against Hollywood's Big Three agencies.

"The WGA's claims against the major talent agencies were gutted today by the federal court. This is a resounding victory for CAA, UTA and WME," the three agencies said in a joint statement. "What has become crystal clear is that David Young, David Goodman and this WGA leadership have led thousands of writers over a cliff, wasted their member dues on failed lawsuits, and left them without agents to represent and advocate for them for more than a year."

WGA West president David A. Goodman responded in a statement, saying the WGA's claims will be supported by further evidence.

"We obviously would have preferred a complete victory. But the court's decision assures that the Guild's core claims, namely that packaging is a breach of fiduciary duty and that agencies have committed antitrust violations by fixing the price of those packages, will be explored through discovery, and ultimately in court. That's what we wanted. There remain six powerful claims in our lawsuit that we will pursue, and discovery is underway. We are confident that the evidence uncovered in this process will support the claims detailed in our lawsuit," he said.

The battle ignited a year ago when the WGA imposed new rules for talent agents that represent guild members. The agencies balked at the guild's effort to ban packaging and agencies having ties to production entities, which led to the mass firing of thousands of agents by WGA members in April 209 and sparked the current litigation in Los Angeles federal court.

WME, CAA and UTA are also suing the WGA in federal court, claiming that the WGA's new franchise rules for talent agencies amounts to an illegal boycott and an overreach of the guild's authority. If the case makes it to trial, the case will hinge on whether the agencies can demonstrate the WGA is engaging in an unlawful boycott. On the heels of two favorable rulings for the agencies from Birotte, agency sources said the Big Three were inclined to continue an aggressive legal strategy and "bury the WGA" in paperwork and legal bills with discovery and deposition requests.

A trial date has been set for March 2021, and has been estimated to run 20-30 days.

The union argues that packaging fees — standard practice in the industry for decades — pose a conflict of interest, as agents are incentivized to suppress their clients' wages.

The guild has been defending the agencies' antitrust suit, and filed its own countersuit in October. In the countersuit, the guild leveled its own antitrust allegations, accusing the agencies of refusing to bargain individually, and instead working only through their trade group.

The countersuit also alleged that agencies had set an industry standard packaging fee schedule, which amounted to illegal price-fixing. Further, the guild contended that the agencies' acceptance of packaging fees from producers amounted to an illegal kickback under racketeering law.

Birotte dismissed the racketeering allegations, finding that the law was aimed at corrupt union officials and was not meant to apply to talent agents.

He also dismissed federal price-fixing claims, finding that the WGA did not have standing to bring the claim because, as a union, it does not buy talent representation services, and therefore cannot claim to have been injured by a price-fixing conspiracy.

The judge also held that the agencies had not violated antitrust law by working through their trade group.

The judge did allow the WGA to pursue its price-fixing allegations under the Cartwright Act, the California antitrust law. The guild claims that Lee Gabler of CAA and Ari Emanuel conspired in the 1990s to set the "3-3-10" TV packaging fee structure, and that the agencies have since exchanged sensitive information to maintain this cartel.

Birotte held that the guild pleaded sufficiently specific allegations to nudge the claim "across the line from conceivable to plausible."

Birotte also let stand the guild's breach of fiduciary duty and unfair competition allegations on behalf of several individual members.

The two sides are still in for a protracted court battle, assuming they do not reach a settlement. In January, Birotte denied the WGA's motion to dismiss the agencies' antitrust suit, finding a plausible claim that the union's hardball tactics had violated the law.

A trial date has been set for March 2021, and a trial is expected to take 20-30 days.

If you don't know/remember what this lawsuit was about, see these videos put out by the WGA:


UTA Reaches Deal With Writers Guild
July 14, 2020
The Hollywood Reporter

The agency breaking ranks could be the beginning of the end of the battle between the guild and major talent agencies.

UTA, the entertainment industry's third largest talent agency, has signed an agreement with the Writers Guild of America, the agency stated Wednesday in a letter to clients. Earlier, a source had informed The Hollywood Reporter of the deal and, on Tuesday night, multiple sources had said talks were in progress.

The agreement, although a compromise in certain aspects, marks a victory for the WGA that may presage an end to the ongoing battle between the guild and the major agencies. WME, CAA and UTA remain locked in federal litigation against the guild, with both sides asserting antitrust claims against the other.

UTA and the WGA will dismiss their cases against each other as part of the deal. The agreement came after UTA co-president Jay Sures reached out to the WGA several months ago seeking to resolve the deadlock, THR has learned.

In a note to members Wednesday (read it below or here), the Writers Guild of America West wrote: "The UTA agreement extends the packaging sunset date to June 30, 2022; until then packaging is only permitted with the informed consent of the writer. The agency can have up to a 20% non-controlling ownership of a production company." The guild had no comment other than to provide a copy of the letter.

The four largest agencies — WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners — had been steadfast in their refusal to sign with the WGA, as the guild's 2019 agency agreement largely prohibits packaging fees and affiliate production, both of which are business practices key to the large agency model. UTA holds only a minority interest in its affiliated production entity, less than 20 percent, while that cap may be less palatable to WME and CAA. Meanwhile, under the new agreement, new packaging will end in two years, but only if the WGA reaches a similar agreement with one of the other major talent agencies. Existing packages will continue in force, THR is told.

The agencies also contend that the WGA's preferred approach to the new agreement, which replaced a 1976 pact, requires the agencies to violate client confidentiality by providing excessive data to the union. But UTA obtained a compromise, allowing writers to opt out of data sharing.

In April 2019, more than 7,000 writers fired their agents at the direction of the WGA, and the guild filed suit against the four largest agencies. In the time since, Endeavor, the parent company of WME, had planned and then scuttled an initial public offering.

Amid the fight, the WGA has reached agreements with midsized shops, as well as key boutiques, including Paradigm, APA, Gersh, Verve, Kaplan Stahler, Culture Creative Entertainment, Buchwald, A3 Artists Agency (formerly known as Abrams) and Rothman Brecher – and has now achieved agreement with UTA as well. (The parent company of THR, Valence Media, has a partnership with UTA through Civic Center Media.)

All eyes are now likely to turn to ICM Partners, which is not in litigation with the guild and has no affiliated production entity.

The representation business has taken a financial hit amid Hollywood's production shutdown. CAA underwent companywide pay reductions, UTA temporarily laid off 171 staffers, Paradigm temporarily laid off 130 employees, and Endeavor laid off 83 staffers in Beverly Hills, per disclosures with the California Employment Development Department.

That economic weakness stands in contrast to the guild's situation: Its members were pretty much the only entertainment personnel working over the past few months, via virtual writers rooms and the like. And so it appears that the novel coronavirus gets at least some of the credit for tipping the scales.

The full note to members from the Writers Guild of America West is below:

QuoteDear Members,

The WGA and United Talent Agency (UTA) have agreed to a new franchise agreement. Therefore, effective immediately, UTA may once again represent WGA members for covered writing services. WGA and UTA have also agreed to withdraw the legal claims each has brought against the other in federal court.

In line with the previous agency agreements the Guild has made, the UTA agreement protects writers in three fundamental areas emphasized since the beginning of the campaign:

Contract, deal memo and invoice information will be provided to the Guild, allowing the WGA and the agency to partner in systematically addressing late pay and free work.
Strict limitation on agency ownership of production entities.
A sunset period that ends the practice of packaging.
The UTA agreement extends the packaging sunset date to June 30, 2022; until then packaging is only permitted with the informed consent of the writer. The agency can have up to a 20% non-controlling ownership of a production company.

You can read a red-lined version of the franchise agreement here (reflecting changes from the Paradigm agreement). Click here for the list of all franchised agencies.

Our goal remains to move the negotiation process forward with the remaining unsigned agencies. We will let you know when there are further developments.

In solidarity,

WGA Agency Negotiating Committee


Quote from: The Hollywood ReporterUTA, the entertainment industry's third largest talent agency, has signed an agreement with the Writers Guild of America

Meanwhile, under the new agreement, new packaging will end in two years, but only if the WGA reaches a similar agreement with one of the other major talent agencies.

Quote from: The Hollywood ReporterAll eyes are now likely to turn to ICM Partners, which is not in litigation with the guild and has no affiliated production entity.


ICM Partners Nears Deal With WGA
August 5, 2020

ICM Partners is close to signing a franchise agreement with the Writers Guild of America, Variety has learned from sources.

Sources say that the agreement between the agency and the guild would be similar to the one signed by UTA in July. Under that deal, UTA agreed to end packaging fees in two years as well as agreeing to disclose financial details around deals they broker for writers, but only at the express consent of those clients.

UTA also agreed not to launch any any majority-owned production studio. They will keep their interest in Civic Center Media, a joint TV production venture with MRC, and cap its minority profit participation in the independent film sales space.

ICM and the WGA declined to comment.

With the deal, ICM would be the second of the four major Hollywood agencies to come to an agreement with the WGA along with UTA. CAA and WME have not yet come to such an agreement and remain engaged in a lawsuit with the guild, accusing the union of engaging in an illegal group boycott. With the agreement, UTA formally agreed to withdraw from the suit. ICM was not a part of that lawsuit.

Under its deal, UTA agreed to end packaging fees in two years time on the condition that another of the four major agencies signs a similar agreement. They also agreed to disclose financial details etc.
More than 80 agencies are now allowed to represent WGA members again after WGA West president David Goodman originally instructed guild members to fire their agents in April 2019 over the issue of packaging fees and affiliate production.

Several other prominent agencies — Paradigm, APA, Gersh, Innovative Artists and Verve — have signed deals with the WGA in recent months.

Like the rest of the entertainment industry, the agencies have found themselves under heavy financial strain due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic all but shutting down physical production. Writers have proven to be one of the few segments of the industry to still able to work under quarantine conditions, which no doubt played a part in many agencies' recent decision to sign agreements with the guild.


A new frontier for Hollywood

After a five-month hiatus, Hollywood film production has returned. But you won't find cast and crew members in Los Angeles County, where coronavirus cases remain high and testing is scarce. Instead, studios are shooting overseas, bringing numerous safety protocols with them. Among the first test cases is Universal's "Jurassic World: Dominion," which has become a model for moviemaking in the Covid-19 era.

Shot mainly outside London, "Jurassic World" resumed production in early July with some 750 people. To keep the virus at bay, Universal spent about $9 million on measures that include an entire rented hotel for the cast and crew, 150 hand sanitizer stations and temperature stations staffed by nurses. A comprehensive manual covers details like how to serve meals, which are vacuum sealed and distributed from behind plastic barriers.

Production has been divided into two categories: a larger one with departments that don't need regular access to the set and a smaller "Green Zone" for the director, cast and essential crew. Green Zone workers and hotel staff members are screened three times a week for the virus, thanks to a supply of 18,000 tests, and sets are regularly fogged with antiviral mist. After an initial two-week quarantine, the cast and crew have been able to wander their hotel bubble mask free — no social distancing required.

Only two crew members who had been on set in England have tested positive for the virus. Others have been sent to a second filming location in Malta, where four have tested positive. Universal said no one had fallen seriously ill.

Production changes are one thing, but the pandemic has also thrown a wrench into film debuts. Some Hollywood executives believe consumer behavior may be shifting permanently as big-budget films opt for streaming debuts over theater premieres, explained Nicole Sperling, a Times reporter who covers media and entertainment. "But then there's the argument that once theaters are open again, aren't people going to want to get out of the house?"

Changes onscreen. People in the film industry say the future of TV and movies will be defined by austerity, The Washington Post reports. Don't expect many crowd scenes, real-world locations or displays of romance. And expensive virus safeguards could mean there will be cutbacks in other areas, like the number of takes for each scene, resulting in a less polished final product.



Map of the 2020 Media/Entertainment/Tech universe, from Evan Shapiro

(click to enlarge)


Pledging to Tell More Inclusive Stories, MGM Remakes Orion Pictures
The 36-year-old producer Alana Mayo will lead the division, which will release two or three films a year and focus exclusively on underrepresented filmmakers.

By Brooks Barnes
Aug. 20, 2020
Updated 3:09 p.m. ET

LOS ANGELES — Checks have been written to racial justice organizations. Training programs for Asian, Black and Latino filmmakers have been created. "We must do better" has been tweeted and retweeted by studio executives, most recently after the killing of George Floyd in police custody prompted a national conversation about racism and inequity.

But power in Hollywood still belongs almost exclusively to white men. "There are almost no people of color in the film industry who have the power to say, 'This movie is getting made and by this person,'" said Ana-Christina Ramón, an author of studies about Hollywood hiring that are published annually by the University of California, Los Angeles.

On Thursday, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the 96-year-old home of James Bond, Rocky and RoboCop, took a modest yet meaningful step toward correcting the imbalance, hiring a young producer, Alana Mayo, to remake its Orion Pictures division to focus exclusively on underrepresented filmmakers and stories. Ms. Mayo will lead a greenlight committee made up entirely of women — meaning the chairman of MGM's film group, Michael De Luca, will not have a vote in selecting the films that Orion makes or acquires for distribution.

"As a person who is a woman and Black and queer, I want to create something that will hopefully make other people like me feel like they are finally a part of the Hollywood system," Ms. Mayo said in a phone interview.

"One of the most exciting things about this opportunity is being able to greenlight movies," she added. "Who gets to say 'yes' is massively important. A lot of studio executives still have a fairly myopic view of what and who is film worthy. The human experience is 360 degrees. We have been looking at 20."

The overhauled Orion will initially release two or three films a year with budgets of up to $15 million, about the same output and budget level as before. (MGM's signature division works with higher budgets — a coming biopic about Aretha Franklin starring Jennifer Hudson cost MGM about $55 million to make — and aims to release eight to 10 films annually.)

Ms. Mayo, 36, has worked in the film business for more than a decade, climbing rungs at Paramount Pictures and, most recently, producing films and television series with Michael B. Jordan. They were instrumental in pushing WarnerMedia in 2018 to adopt an inclusive hiring policy for productions, and their recent civil rights drama, "Just Mercy," with Mr. Jordan in the lead role, was the first movie to adhere to it.

"We will absolutely have an inclusion policy on all Orion productions," Ms. Mayo said. "I now know how it is done in a practical sense. How it's achievable."

Such policies, still rare in Hollywood, evolved out of the concept of an "inclusion rider," a term Frances McDormand brought public attention to in her 2018 Oscar acceptance speech — a contractual obligation that actors and filmmakers could potentially wield to increase diversity in productions.

Orion has lately put out horror and comedy films with predominantly white casts and directed by white men. "Child's Play," a remake of the 1988 movie about a murderous doll, was a moneymaker last year, costing about $10 million to make and selling $45 million in tickets worldwide. But other recent releases — "Gretel & Hansel," the spiritual romance "Every Day" — have disappointed. The next movie on Orion's release schedule is the goofball comedy "Bill & Ted Face the Music," which will arrive in theaters and on VOD on Aug. 28.

John Hegeman, who has been Orion's president since 2017, is leaving the company, along with his entire team.

Mr. De Luca and Pam Abdy, president of MGM's film group, said in a statement that remaking Orion to focus on people of color, women, the L.G.B.T.Q. community and people with disabilities was "a moral and business imperative." Kevin Ulrich, chairman of the MGM board, cited Ms. Mayo's "fearlessness" as one reason she was hired.

"It was essential that we find an exceptional executive who will be a leader at the forefront of change in our industry," Mr. Ulrich said in a statement. He is the chief executive of Anchorage Capital Group, a New York investment firm that is MGM's largest owner. The plan to bring in Ms. Mayo was hatched with Creative Artists Agency, which serves as an adviser to Mr. Ulrich, not long after Mr. Floyd's killing in late May.

MGM's primary movie operation underwent its own shake-up in January. Out: Jonathan Glickman, who stepped down after nine years as the studio's film chief. In: Mr. De Luca, a former Sony Pictures and New Line Cinema executive (and a producer of the infamous 2017 Oscars telecast that found Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty naming the wrong film best picture). MGM has since shown a new aggression, finalizing a deal Mr. Glickman had started for an adaptation of "Fiddler on the Roof" to be directed by Thomas Kail ("Hamilton"), lining up a 1970s-era film from Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights") and signing Ryan Gosling to play an astronaut in a movie produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller ("22 Jump Street").

There is speculation in Hollywood that Mr. Ulrich is sprucing up MGM ahead of a potential sale to a company like Apple, which lacks a library for its streaming service. An MGM spokeswoman declined to comment.

Orion, founded in 1978 as an independent company, sizzled in the 1980s and early '90s, in part because it took risks on challenging stories. Oscar-winning hits included "Amadeus" (1984), "Platoon" (1986), "Dances With Wolves" (1990) and "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991). Orion also gave the world "Caddyshack" (1980).

But the studio also had misfires, among them Francis Ford Coppola's "The Cotton Club" (1984) and "She-Devil" (1989), which paired Meryl Streep with Roseanne Barr. Orion eventually found itself unable to compete with larger studios and declared bankruptcy. MGM bought Orion in 1997, and it remained largely dormant as a film business — it also has a TV division, which will not be part of Ms. Mayo's purview — until Mr. Hegeman was hired in 2017.

Ms. Mayo, who grew up in Chicago (her mother was a paralegal, and her father was a radio executive), graduated from Columbia University with degrees in English and film studies. She got her start in show business as an intern for Lee Daniels ("Precious," "Empire"). She said Spike Lee was as an important influence, in particular his "Bamboozled," a 2000 satire about a modern televised minstrel show.

Ms. Mayo was briefly married to Lena Waithe, the Emmy-winning writer behind the Showtime series "The Chi."

There are other Black women in senior roles at film studios. Nicole Brown is the executive vice president of Tri-Star, a Sony division that recently won a bidding war for "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," a Whitney Houston biopic. Vanessa Morrison oversees the development and production of original films for Disney+.

But they are extremely few and far between, and most do not have the kind of movie-picking power that Ms. Mayo has been promised. According to the most recent U.C.L.A. study on diversity in Hollywood, senior management teams at studios are 93 percent white and 80 percent male. Five years ago, they were 92 percent white and 83 percent male.

As Ms. Ramón and her fellow researchers noted in the report, "Decisions about what types of films to make, how large a budget to assign to them, how they will be marketed and who will be at the directorial helm are all made by the men and women who occupy Hollywood's executive suites."


Crew death renews concerns over film set safety amid COVID-19
SEP. 1, 20206 AM

QuoteThe death of a 51-year-old assistant director who lost a battle with COVID-19 last week after returning to work on a commercial shoot has heightened concerns about the safety of film sets.

The assistant director's death has ignited debate on social media about the safety of returning to film sets, according to John Elmore, a 20-year veteran assistant director and colleague of Nolan's. Some have raised concerns about the lack of testing on sets, while others defended the production.

Commercials, which tend to have smaller crews and shorter shoots than television or film productions, don't require COVID-19 testing under local health orders or industry guidelines.

"Some people are afraid," Elmore said, who worked on the 2002 "Spider-Man" blockbuster and television series "The Oath." "They're thinking of just getting out of the business completely. It's important to know what happened and what still needs to be done for this industry to get back to work safely."

The untimely death of a crew member highlights the conflicts faced by filmmakers and workers on sets as they resume production. While many in the industry want to return to filming, with thousands of jobs lost in the hiatus, they have to balance the risks of exposure to COVID-19 as sets are typically crowded locations. Producers, unions and health officials have been working together for months to create a series of safety protocols for sets.

"If any good can come from John's passing, it would be for the production side of our industry to be more mindful this COVID thing is still out there waiting for us," said Ben Ketai, a Los Angeles-based film and television director who worked with Nolan for several years on his TV show "StartUp" that first aired in 2016 on the streaming video service Crackle. "Film sets are busy, crowded places and it's very easy to get into a comfortable rhythm and let your guard down. "


'The Batman' Pauses Filming After Robert Pattinson Tests Positive for COVID-19

QuoteThe Batman has pressed pause on its London production after star Robert Pattinson tested positive for COVID-19, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. Warner Bros. would not comment specifically on the individual who tested positive on set.

"A member of The Batman production has tested positive for Covid-19, and is isolating in accordance with established protocols," a Warner Bros. spokesperson said in a statement Thursday. "Filming is temporarily paused."



What is a COVID-19 compliance supervisor? What to know about Hollywood's newest job

QuoteThe pandemic has spawned a new job on Hollywood sets — the COVID-19 compliance supervisor.

The role was created under an agreement last month between entertainment unions and an alliance of producers as part of the terms for Hollywood's return to production. Already, an industry is emerging around this important position. Some companies are offering training and certification, others are providing consulting services to productions.

The film and television community in the U.S. has slowly been returning to work since June after an almost complete shutdown in March because of the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost as a result.

Producers and crew members used to working on crowded and messy sets are now having to adapt to new arrangements and are looking to compliance supervisors to keep them safe and to keep productions going.

"The challenge is that we're living in a new world; the way that people have gone about doing their jobs on the set has changed dramatically" said Thom Davis, business manager of IATSE Local 80, which represents set medics, grips and other workers. Productions are required to have set medics; some of them have also taken on the position of compliance supervisor.

"You've learned to do things in a certain way," Davis added. "And now, all of a sudden, you can't do that. It takes a mental retraining."

What is a COVID-19 compliance supervisor?

According to the agreement, producers must hire a supervisor who is responsible for compliance and enforcement of industry protocols on each production.

The demands of the job are big: sanitization, testing, safety equipment and distancing. Cast and crew are split into different zones, based on the frequency of testing and ability to wear masks. The compliance supervisor is responsible for making sure these groups don't mix and has to intervene if crew members crowd together and masks slip.

The compliance supervisor is also responsible for training other crew members, such as first assistant directors, so they can pass on safety directions to their units. They have to be available at all times during working hours, according to the agreement.

Critically, this person has the power to stop a production if there are concerns about safety and has the ability to discipline — or even fire — safety protocol violators. Given that shutdowns on large productions can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, that is a big responsibility.

How do you become a COVID compliance supervisor?

There is no one route to the position. Unions and producers didn't set out required qualifications or training. As a result, compliance supervisors have a variety of backgrounds in medicine, film production or set safety.

For L.A.-based Jessica Lesley, it was an opportunity to start a new business. Lesley, 35, has a bachelor of science degree from Alabama's Tuskegee University and went on to the L.A.-based Streetlights production assistants course, which helps young people from diverse communities access Hollywood.

This summer, she thought her science background made her a good fit for providing COVID-19 safety services to the industry. "I started my company, and I've been going since June, and I've been extremely busy," Lesley said, adding that she's been booking jobs and hiring others to work with her on commercial shoots around the country.

She charges about $500 a day for a COVID compliance supervisor, less for assistants. Some charge as much as $1,000 a day.

Other companies have started up to offer compliance services and training to productions. Some focus on training for compliance supervisors.

One such company is the San Carlos, Calif.-based Health Education Services. It offers a two-hour webinar for $50; participants who pass the course receive a certificate and their names are listed on the the company's database. About 300 people a week are attending, said DJay Brawner, who helps teach the online sessions.

This course is targeted at those who have on-set experience, such as assistant directors or production assistants, but who may not have a background in science. Once the course is completed, participants get access to resources they can use in the job, such as screening surveys.

L.A. resident Will Nitch took the course and is on a public database of trained officers. Nitch, 40, has held various jobs in the entertainment industry, including as a production coordinator. About a month ago, he started a new business with actor Eddie Hargitay, focused on compliance services. They bought up trailers, hand-washing stations and cleaning products to provide all the services needed to make a production compliant, he said.

"My livelihood operates on whether Hollywood is operating or not," Nitch said. "I take it very seriously. I don't want Hollywood to shut down again."

Pure Sets, an LA-based company founded in the pandemic, provides a one-stop shop for productions. It has a roster of supervisors who have worked as medics, first responders, even a Navy seal. "One of the big challenges is finding people with a leadership quality," said founder Julian Lemaitre.

As part of the industry agreement, every production employee must complete a COVID-19 safety course. One such provider is a Burbank-based nonprofit, Contract Services. However, the training isn't intended to cover all that a compliance supervisor might need.

For some, that job is seen as a possible way into the industry when work is in short supply. But industry experience is often expected.

"All the producers I've talked to, especially the studios, indicate that what they are looking for, is somebody who has extensive on-set experience and preferably has a medical background, but that's not an absolute requirement," said Crabtree-Ireland.

No set standard of training has raised concerns.

Although unions and filmmakers agree that this role is necessary to keep the industry going and casts and crews safe, the new protocols do not lay out specific training requirements.

Consequently, experience and knowledge can vary widely.

One worry is that producers may not take the role seriously enough, for example by hiring production assistants to double as compliance supervisors. Some crew have been concerned when the compliance supervisor on set has not stepped in to limit crowding or enforce sanitation standards or mask wearing. "A lot of people are jumping on it as a quick way to make a buck and don't take the responsibility seriously," Lesley said.

Union officials even changed the name of the position, which originally was known as compliance officer, to reflect the authority needed on set, said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA's chief operating officer and general counsel.

"I've heard sporadic concerns about the training, but I've also heard concerns more about how that role fits in with the existing structure of the management representatives that the people are used to dealing with," said Crabtree-Ireland, who is leading the union's safety and reopening initiative.

Pasadena-based Neil Larson has been doing production safety work as a third-party contractor for several years and is now a compliance supervisor on sets. Larson, 61, said he took contact tracing and epidemiology courses online from Johns Hopkins University, along with other safety training. Since spring, he has been a compliance supervisor on shows like MTV's "Ridiculousness" and Nickelodeon's "Top Elf."

The level of experience and effectiveness of the supervisor varies between productions. "People will come back to me from other shows saying, 'Oh, God, it was horrible. I didn't feel safe,'" Larson said. Some producers want the compliance supervisor to just "show up and shut up" and simply tick a box by being on set, Larson said. "You can't do that. You have to keep people safe."


Hollywood's Obituary, the Sequel. Now Streaming.

In the 110-year history of the American film industry, never has so much upheaval arrived so quickly and on so many fronts.

By Brooks Barnes
Nov. 28, 2020

LOS ANGELES — "Hollywood's like Egypt: full of crumbled pyramids. It'll never come back. It'll just keep on crumbling until finally the wind blows the last studio prop across the sands."

David O. Selznick, the golden era producer, made that glum proclamation in 1951. A new entertainment technology, TV, was emasculating cinema as a cultural force, and film studios had started to fossilize into bottom line-oriented businesses. As Selznick put it, Hollywood had been "grabbed by a little group of bookkeepers and turned into a junk industry."

Since then, Hollywood has repeatedly written its own obituary. It died when interlopers like Gulf + Western Industries began buying studios in the 1960s. And again when "Star Wars" (1977) and "Superman" (1978) turned movies into toy advertisements. The 1980s (VCRs), the 1990s (the rise of media super-conglomerates), the 2000s (endless fantasy sequels) and the 2010s (Netflix, Netflix, Netflix) each brought new rounds of existential hand-wringing.

Underneath the tumult, however, the essence of the film industry remained intact. Hollywood continued to believe in itself. Sure, we churn out lowest common denominator junk, studio executives would concede over $40 salads at the Polo Lounge. It's how we make our quarterly numbers. But we can still generate the occasional thunderclap, with ambitious films like "Get Out" and "1917" and "Black Panther" and "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" arriving on big screens and commanding the culture for months on end.

In one breath: All is lost! Big Tech is going to eat us alive.

In the next: Everyone still loves us. Just look at all those pinwheel-eyed fans buying tickets.

But the moment of crisis in which Hollywood now finds itself is different. In the 110-year history of the American film industry, never has so much upheaval arrived so fast and on so many fronts, leaving many writers, directors, studio executives, agents and other movie workers disoriented and demoralized — wandering in "complete darkness," as one longtime female producer told me. These are melodramatic people by nature, but talk to enough of them and you will get the strong sense that their fear is real this time.

Have streaming, the coronavirus and other challenges combined to blow away — finally, unequivocally — the last remnants of Hollywood?

"The last nine months have shaken the movie business to its bones," said Jason Blum, the powerhouse producer whose credits range from "The Purge" series to "BlacKkKlansman."

The feel of a dismantled film set
Streaming, of course, has been disrupting the entertainment business for some time. Netflix started delivering movies and television shows via the internet in 2007. By 2017, Disney was trying to supercharge its own streaming ambitions by bidding for Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, ultimately swallowing most of the company for $71.3 billion in an effort to expand its library of content and gain control of Hulu.

In recent months, however, the shift toward streaming has greatly accelerated. With more than half of the 5,477 theaters in the United States still closed, more than a dozen movies originally destined for big screens have been rerouted to streaming services or online rental platforms. Pixar's latest adventure, "Soul," will debut exclusively on Disney+ on Christmas Day. It will compete with "Wonder Woman 1984" (Warner Bros.), which will arrive in theaters and on HBO Max on Dec. 25, a crossing-the-Rubicon moment in the eyes of analysts.

Meantime, the owner of Regal Cinemas, the No. 2 multiplex chain in North America, just took on emergency debt to avoid insolvency. Trying to keep his own company afloat, Adam Aron, the chief executive of AMC Entertainment, the No. 1 chain, quoted Winston Churchill on his most recent earnings call. ("We shall fight on the beaches!") And the National Association of Theater Owners has found itself begging for a federal bailout. Deprived of one, the trade group warned, "movie theaters across the country are at risk of going dark for good."

Without appearing on big screens, are movies even movies? Wrestling with that question alone has pushed Hollywood into a full-blown identity crisis. But the film industry is simultaneously dealing with other challenges. Outrage over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer has forced the movie capital to confront its contribution to racism and inequity. Coronavirus-forced production shutdowns have idled tens of thousands of entertainment workers. The two biggest talent agencies, Creative Artists and William Morris Endeavor, have been hobbled by the shutdown, resulting in a diaspora of agents, some of whom are starting competing firms, a once-unthinkable realignment.

There has been an abrupt changing of the guard in Hollywood's highest ranks, contributing to the sense of a power vacuum. Nine of the top 20 most powerful people in show business, as ranked a year ago by The Hollywood Reporter, have left their jobs for one reason or another (retirement, scandal, corporate guillotine). They include the No. 1 person, Robert A. Iger, who stepped down as Disney's chief executive in February, and Ron Meyer (No. 11), whose 25-year Universal career ended in August amid a tawdry extortion plot.

Retrenchments at Warner Bros. have also bruised Hollywood's psyche. Over the years, as other film studios were lobbed between owners (Universal), downsized (Paramount) or subsumed (20th Century Fox), "Warners" remained virtually untouched, emerging as an emblem of stability and spending. In recent months, however, the studio has been streamlined by an aggressive new owner, AT&T, resulting in the departure of a startling number of executives who had been there for decades. For now, Warner Bros. has 10 movies on its 2022 theatrical release schedule, according to the database IMDbPro. Last year, it released 18.

The black icing on the cake: The shutdown has stripped Hollywood of its internal culture, the otherworldly (some would say silly) rituals that have long served as a magnet for so many. It has been a year without red carpets. There have been no see-and-be-seen power lunches at Chateau Marmont. Zoom is the new awards ballroom.

In a recent phone conversation that felt more like a therapy session, one Warner Bros. executive told me that "the town" felt like a dismantled movie set: The gleaming false fronts had been hauled away to reveal mere mortals wandering around in a mess.

Or perhaps, he continued, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid conflict with his employer, the proper metaphor was a movie — perhaps "The Remains of the Day," the 1993 drama starring Anthony Hopkins as an English butler. As Vincent Canby wrote in his New York Times review, the Merchant Ivory film was about "the last, worn-out gasps of a feudal system that was supposed to have vanished centuries before."

'Normal wasn't good enough'
Not everyone in Hollywood is walking around in a stupor. Some people even seem energized, especially those who have spent their careers wielding jackhammers against the Hollywood status quo. Ava DuVernay, for instance, has been outspoken about the need for studios to remake themselves — to dramatically diversify their upper ranks, which are overwhelmingly white and male, and to prioritize storytelling from a kaleidoscope of voices. Her production company, ARRAY, uses "change is ours to make" as its slogan.

"I see this as a time of opportunity," Ms. DuVernay told me. "Sometimes you have to take it down to the studs and build something new."

She continued: "It's not going to go back to the way it was, nor do we want it to. We want to move forward. I hear people saying that they can't wait for Hollywood to get back to normal. Well, I really resist that. Normal wasn't good enough. All of this change in such a short amount of time really lays bare how shaky the ground was to begin with."

Ms. DuVernay, whose film and television credits include "Selma," "Queen Sugar" and "When They See Us," grew more pointed. "Some folks are scared, and I have sympathy," she said. "But it's mostly the folks who are clinging to the idea that Hollywood is theirs and it was built in their likeness, and they will do anything to cling to it, even if that means destroying it."

She concluded by rolling her eyes at the Chicken Littles who fret that moviegoing is over.

"Talk about dramatic," she said. "Theaters aren't going anywhere, at least not all of them."

In fact, multiplexes may get a post-pandemic bump. Because so many studios have pushed back their biggest movies, next summer's theatrical release calendar looks like a blockbuster heaven: "Black Widow," "Fast & Furious 9," "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It," "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," "Minions: The Rise of Gru," "Top Gun: Maverick," Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "Hotel Transylvania 4," "Venom: Let There Be Carnage." (To name a few.) With any luck, studio chiefs say, the newly vaccinated masses will come out in droves, in part because they won't take the theatrical experience for granted anymore.

In Japan, where cinemas are fully operating again (the country's response to the coronavirus has kept cases and deaths low), more than 3.4 million people turned out last month to see an animated movie, "Demon Slayer: Mugen Train," on its opening weekend. One Tokyo theater scheduled a jaw-dropping 42 screenings in one day to meet demand.

Popcorn for everyone!

"There's a reason that the Roaring Twenties followed the 1918 pandemic," J.J. Abrams, the Bad Robot Productions chairman, said by phone. "We have a pent-up, desperate need to see each other — to socialize and have communal experiences. And there is nothing that I can think of that is more exciting than being in a theater with people you don't know, who don't necessarily like the same sports teams or pray to the same god or eat the same food. But you're screaming together, laughing together, crying together. It's a social necessity."

Streaming services and theaters will settle into coexistence, he predicted.

"I think going to a theater is like going to church and watching a movie at home is like praying at home," Mr. Abrams said. "It's not that you can't do it. But the experience is wholly different."

Over? Hollywood? C'mon. "I'm working on and excited about and hopeful about a number of theatrical projects," Mr. Abrams said.

His most recent film, "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," took in more than $1 billion at the global box office. It was one of nine movies to reach that threshold last year, with "Avengers: Endgame" collecting nearly $3 billion. All told, ticket sales stood at $42.2 billion, with weakness in North America ($11.4 billion) offset by an increase overseas ($30.8 billion).

The hoary tradition of exhibiting movies on big screens, which dates to the 1890s, may have vast challenges — not the least of which is a 78 percent plunge in domestic ticket sales for the year to date. But a business of its scale, as Mr. Abrams and others will tell you, does not vanish forever in the span of a few self-quarantining months.

'People change their habits'
But what happens in 2022, once the thrill of mingling together has burned off, studios have worked through their blockbuster backlogs and streaming services are stronger than ever?

Will young people — trained during the pandemic to expect instant access to new movies like "Hamilton" and "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" — get into the habit of going to the movies like their parents and grandparents did? Generation Z forms a crucial audience: About 33 percent of moviegoers in the United States and Canada last year were under the age of 24, according to the Motion Picture Association.

Most young people will have gone a full year without visiting a cinema by the time vaccines are expected to be widely deployed.

"Yes, there is pent-up demand to see movies in a theater," said Peter Chernin, whose Hollywood career has spanned four decades. "But people change their habits."

Mr. Chernin, who oversaw the release of theatrical megamovies like "Titanic" and "Avatar" while running Mr. Murdoch's empire from 1996 to 2009, has already voted with his feet. Last year, he aligned his Chernin Entertainment with Netflix, where he has more than 70 movies in development. The films in which he specializes — high-quality dramas like "Hidden Figures" and "Ford v Ferrari" — are a dying breed in theaters. It's too hard to make money when marketing campaigns start at $30 million.

But the audience has also shifted. Sorry, film snobs: Most people seem fine with watching these films in their living rooms (sometimes, shudder, on their smartphones).

"Cinema as an art form is not going to die," said Michael Shamberg, the producing force behind films like "Erin Brockovich," "The Big Chill" and, rather appropriately, "Contagion." "But the tradition of cinema that we all grew up on, falling in love with movies in a theater, is over. Cinema needs to be redefined so that it doesn't matter where you see it. A lot of people, sadly, don't seem to be ready to admit that."

In other words, the art may live on, but the myth of big screens as the be-all and end-all is being dismantled in a fundamental and perhaps irreversible manner. Because of the pandemic, the film academy has decided for the first time to allow streaming films to skip a theatrical release entirely and still remain eligible for the Academy Awards, nudging the Oscars closer to the Emmys. (The academy deemed the move "temporary," but some people, including Ms. DuVernay, one of the organization's 54 governors, think it will be hard to backtrack.)

Imagine what that means to Hollywood's sense of self. Since always, the film industry has swaggered into every room it has ever entered — Spielberg on line one, Scorsese on line two. Nothing less than "ensuring film's legacy as the great art form of our time" is one of the stated goals of the soon-to-open Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.

Mr. Abrams, as much a television wunderkind as a movie one, described the difference between small screens and big ones by summarizing something he once heard on National Public Radio. Television, he explained, is the child and the audience is the parent. It's smaller than you. You can control it by changing the channel. With movies, the roles are reversed. You are the small one. You're supposed to look up at them.

Exactly how does that work in the streaming age?

No wonder Hollywood has been experiencing, as the trade newsletter The Ankler recently put it, "a heart attack wrapped inside a nervous breakdown."

Next week, the Oscar race will kick into high gear with the wide release of David Fincher's "Mank." Set mostly in the 1930s and filmed in black and white, the film focuses on Hollywood's romantic heyday — back when pictures were pictures — by telling a story about the creation of "Citizen Kane." (The Australian actor Toby Leonard Moore plays David O. Selznick.)

Critics have been transported. "Time-machine splendor," wrote Owen Gleiberman in Variety. "A tale of Old Hollywood that's more steeped in Old Hollywood — its glamour and sleaze, its layer-cake hierarchies, its corruption and glory — than just about any movie you've seen."

You can find "Mank" on Netflix.

Jeremy Blackman

Christopher Nolan on Warner's HBO Max decision:

"Some of our industry's biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service."




Interesting conversation with Jason Kilar (CEO of Warner Media)--the guy that pulled the trigger on this new exhibition model for WB.


From Brian Newman's mailing list

Bye Bye Equity Pie
December 9, 2020

Another week of Covid-19, another accelerated demise of a business model seemingly central to the life of the movie industry. You would think in light of the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth caused by the Warner's decision to launch its entire slate on HBO Max that I'm thinking of windows again, but no, folks – I'm talking about the death of equity financing for films. Or once again, I'm writing about something no one wants to discuss.
Like so many accelerated changes, this is a death that was coming prior to the virus; a change that had been happening for at least a year or longer, but that can no longer be ignored. It's also so shocking that when I discuss it with my friends and colleagues – or bring it up on panels – I get the long, blank stare of disbelief.
So, let me turn to two recent pieces that kinda flew below the radar, but speak directly to the reality we face. As Exhibit A, I give you James Schamus during a virtual keynote Q&A at the Film London Production Finance Market (back in Oct) as reported in Screen:
Schamus pointed out that the competition between the streamers is taking place "in the absence of a time-honoured approach to the financing and selling of independent media", with "egotistical, bloviating, ridiculously self-centred individuals and family members who've made it in the used car business, the laundromat business, real estate, whatever business" no longer putting their capital into independent film.
The former Focus Features boss noted there are now only "a tiny handful of gatekeepers" financing independent content. "They have very little incentive to acquire more than a tiny handful of things, especially feature-length films," Schamus said.

That was Schamus speaking about independent media. Exhibit B would be Richard Rushfield in The Ankler speaking about Hollywood (just yesterday), which is now facing the same death thanks to the Warner's announcement:
"beneath the surface of people trying to make movies and do well for each other, there's the real Hollywood, which is a business of fleecing the arrivistes for every penny they've got while they still have stars in their eyes."

In both instances, you have some super smart folks reading the writing on the wall for those of us not willing or able to slow down and look more clearly at what's going on – as the industry has shifted to SVOD and original content, there's no longer any incentive for equity investors to get involved, because there is no upside.
What Warner's made abundantly clear this past week was that there is no path to profits (much less riches) for investors in their individual movies; all in the hopes that Wall Street investors will take a chance on their overall fortunes as tied to HBO Max (so far, Wall Street doesn't seem super-impressed, but business writers are giddy). In this particular case, they only gave their investors, folks like Legendary Entertainment, about 90 minutes notice before they announced that there would be no back-end, and those partners are hoppin' mad.

But it's not just Hollywood. The fact is none of the major streaming services have much appetite for buying finished feature films anymore. While it was always a precious few who got lucky and sold Netflix for the big bucks out of Sundance, you're increasingly seeing a world where they don't bother to compete for indie or other arthouse films – and especially not documentaries, anymore. Nope. It's all about originals and series now. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are increasingly rare, and Covid-19 has only accelerated this trend.
Time was – just about two years ago, even – I could honestly look an investor in the face and say that while the film business was a tricky one, and a bad investment most of the time, there was a path forward to potentially recoup your investment. That's not a pitch I think I'll be making again anytime soon. But while coronavirus has brought this trend to the fore, it was happening B.C. Over the past year, it's become increasingly apparent that one can't produce "on spec" anymore – you have to work on commissioned work, where distribution and financing are locked-in from an early stage. That's because you can't count on a decent sale – because not only are the major buyers (SVOD) not buying, that also trickles down to the mid-tier buyers. It becomes really difficult to see a path towards recoupment. Now that we can add that it's impossible to get insurance for an indie film, and if you manage to get it made, there might not be any buyers, the dynamics around investment are going to change/disappear, and fast.
This is a profound shift, and the implications are still being sorted out. While there will remain some exceptions – most smart producers and talent will have to move to a model that relies a lot less on equity. The smart equity that remains should probably be focused almost solely on IP development and early-stage financing, where the dollars needed are lower, and the "out" is more focused on an early pre-buy or commission, with a smaller profit margin. I think a lot of companies will go out of business as well, because the profit margins on commissioned work (and TV in general) are much lower. An entire eco-system of support for indie films – from programs like Catalyst at Sundance, to Impact Partners for docs, will have to be re-thought (oh wait, that was already underway). Efforts like the DPA's waterfall guidelines (which just came out in September (!)) will need to be re-written. Heck, the definition of indie film will have to change (again), once you can't make much of anything as an independent anymore (if you want to reach an audience and recoup; there will always be soft money docs and crowdfunding, but that can't sustain an industry). And while the industry will adapt, I think it will lead to a lot more safe-choices and thus less surprises and less artistic risk being taken.
Of course, this brings many opportunities as well. I can think of many ways to "bridge" this gap, and coming from the branded entertainment world, that's near the top of my list. But it's also a very tough puzzle to figure out – and those who can do so will be best positioned to thrive for the next five-ten years, before this all shakes out again and we try to build another new model. In the meantime, we need to add to our list of conversations to be openly had – and problems to solve – what to do when the equity vanishes?