By Rebecca Green
I recently came across a Tweet of a SAW X promo / AMC parody with the character Jigsaw playing the role of Nicole Kidman that apparently AMC wasn’t too happy about. As part of the marketing campaign for the film, Lionsgate created the parody of the often mocked AMC ad starring Nicole Kidman that the theater chain felt took things a little too far. At a time when we desperately need people in theater seats, it’s disappointing that AMC can’t see the value in marketing ideas that can go viral and engage audiences in a fun way.
I have a particular soft spot in my heart for the SAW franchise, a weird thing to say about horror movies, I know. I worked at Lionsgate in the early 2000s as the assistant to Peter Block who at the time was the head of acquisitions, home video and new media. It was my first real job in the industry after only working as a receptionist for less than a year for producer Peter Hoffman’s company Seven Arts Pictures who made Rules of Engagement and The Believer.
Tangent: Hoffman is a former lawyer turned producer who once ran Carolco Pictures, which, before filing for bankruptcy, made such films as Total Recall, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Basic Instinct. In 2014, Hoffman was convicted for the crime of submitting fraudulent claims for Louisiana’s film tax credit program and while convicted eight years ago, still faces a 20-month prison sentence at the age of 73.
I was barely out of college and not qualified for the job at Lionsgate, as Peter pointed out to me on my first day, so I had a lot to prove. I had not worked as an assistant to anyone at any level nor had I worked at an agency or bigger company (Seven Arts only had five employees, one being Hoffman’s daughter), but yet I was stepping in to assist a top level studio executive (though this was a smaller Lionsgate prior to their merger with Artisan and pre Hunger Games). However, I was recommended by my friend Tori who was Hoffman’s assistant at Seven Arts when I was the receptionist; she had left Seven Arts to be an assistant at Lionsgate. Peter said that with Tori’s recommendation and a particular spark and enthusiasm he saw in me, he figured he’d give me a shot. Peter saw my potential before so many others.
When I’m telling the story of how I started my career, I always say Lionsgate was my grad school. I went to undergrad at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and learned so much, but it was at Lionsgate where I learned the acquisitions and distribution side of the business, which would become instrumental in my producing career. Specifically, I learned the ins and outs of distribution agreements (which I can tell you have barely changed in the last 20 years). Every week Peter would have breakfast with his vice president of legal affairs, Wendy Jaffe, and would let me join so long as I didn’t interrupt. I would listen intently and take notes and then about once a month, Wendy generously made time to sit down with me at another breakfast or lunch and answer my questions. Truly remarkable access for an assistant when I look back on that time.
Tangent: In 2018, Wendy Jaffe, told the Wall Street Journal that Lionsgate’s general counsel, Wayne Levin, mistreated her for more than a decade, including non-consensual sexual conduct in 2002 and 2003. Jaffe left the company in 2016, and received a $2.5 million settlement. Wayne Levin resigned from the company in November of 2017.
During my time as Peter’s assistant, I had a front row seat to the birth of the SAW franchise, which passed $1billion at the global box office in 2018. The project came to Peter from Twisted Pictures with a feature script written by Leigh Whannell and James Wan and a 10 minute short film on DVD directed by James Wan. Before reading the script, I remember joining Peter in his office to watch the short – it was the iconic jaw-trap scene where Amanda has to unlock the trap around her head that is on a ticking clock to rip her face open unless she digs the key out of a dead man’s stomach to take it off. The short was financed by Whannell and Wan for just a few thousand dollars so the production value wasn’t through the roof (remember this was in 2002/2003 before huge advancements in production technology), but it was scary as hell. It was clear that these filmmakers could craft a suspenseful story full of jump scares and make the audience (me) feel the need to cover their eyes. With the script and short, Lionsgate bought the distribution rights to the film for barely 7-figures and Twisted Pictures made the film with that money and no more. The film wasn’t originally planned as a theatrical release – Lionsgate had a robust horror DVD library curated by Peter which was the plan for the film – but after several sold out midnight screenings at Sundance in 2004, Lionsgate put it in theaters and the rest is history.
Peter was a horror aficionado whereas I knew little about the genre. During my time as his assistant, Peter introduced me to all the not-so familiar classics I had not seen and I got to work not only on SAW, but also extraordinary horror films such as the wonderfully campy Cabin Fever, the ultra low-budget Open Water, which the filmmakers shot on multiple weekends out in the middle of the ocean, The Descent where a cave expedition goes horribly wrong, the original Ju-On The Grudge, the very profitable DVD release of Bill Paxton’s Frailty, the French film High Tension and Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, which had an amazing DVD Halloween release party. Yes, DVD release parties were a thing studios did at that time. In addition to schooling me in distribution, it’s clear that working at Lionsgate, specifically for Peter Block, gave me the tools I needed to produce and help make It Follows a success.
Tangent: I have worked for/with some shady Hollywood figures, this was just the beginning.
And now to pick up where the Summer Reading List left off, below are the articles over the last few months (and one I missed from the spring) that I feel are worth digging into as we head back into the school year. The reads continue to be daunting, but a few rays of light are starting to poke through and more talk of change is happening.
Paradigm Shift: The Current State of Development Labs
“Every organization is different, of course. But over the past year, the cutbacks across several filmmaker-driven nonprofits have been stark. The Gotham Film & Media Institute (which publishes this magazine and until its 2021 name change had been supporting filmmakers as the Independent Filmmaker Project since 1979) recently placed its Documentary Feature Lab, Fiction Feature Lab and TV Series Lab on hiatus. And because of the WGA and SAG strikes, The Gotham paused its Project Market and laid off two long-time staffers.”
Anthony Kaufman, Filmmaker Magazine 09/20/23
25 New Faces of Independent Film 2023
Filmmaker Magazine 09/20/23
TIFF 2023 Has 50 Acquirable Films & Few Stars To Promote Them; Will Hungry Distributors Pounce?
Ask buyers and sellers at the Toronto Film Festival what they expect for the festival acquisitions marketplace that opens Thursday, and they’ll say either boom or bust. Even though there are almost 50 available titles here.
Mike Fleming Jr., Deadline Hollywood 09/07/23
The Decomposition of Rotten Tomatoes The most overrated metric in movies is erratic, reductive, and easily hacked — and yet has Hollywood in its grip.
“To filmmakers across the taste spectrum, Rotten Tomatoes is a scourge. Martin Scorsese says it reduces the director “to a content manufacturer and the viewer to an unadventurous consumer.” Brett Ratner has called it “the destruction of our business.” But insiders acknowledge that it has become a crucial arbiter. Publicists say their jobs revolve around the site. “In the last ten years,” says one, “it’s become much more important as so many of the most trusted critics have retired without replacements.” Studios are so scared of what the Tomatometer might say that some work with a company called Screen Engine/ASI, which attempts to forecast scores.”
Lane Brown, Vulture 09/06/23
As Success-Based Residuals Dominate U.S. Labor Strife, Could Netflix’s European Payout Structure Be The Blueprint To Solve Strikes?
“In recent days, some in the U.S. have begun to discuss success-based residual metrics that already exist in parts of Europe, most notably with Netflix. The systems are driven by European copyright legislation that ensures “authors” receive what business affairs execs would call “fair and appropriate compensation,” and can broadly be seen as a reward for making a show or film that cuts through globally.”
Jesse Whittock, Max Goldbart, Deadline Hollywood 09/05/23
Deadline Strike Talk Week 18: Jennifer Fox On Strike Summer & Why Producers Need Union Protection
“Deadline Strike Talk host Billy Ray engages Jennifer Fox, producer of such films as Michael Clayton, Nightcrawler, The Last Duel, and the Sundance sensation Magazine Dreams. They dig into the current labor stalemate and how AMPTP might find common ground with WGA and SAG-AFTRA. And they also engage the plight of the producers who assemble projects from inception, don’t get paid until production starts, and are the first to be asked to take a haircut on their fees. Producers don’t need an alliance. What they need is a union, Ray and Fox argue.”
Billy Ray, Deadline Hollywood 09/01/23
Don’t Blame Me: Taylor Swift Concert Film and AMC Infuriates Studios, Creates Chaos
“Multiple sources told IndieWire that distribution execs — who might be very, very interested to know about the wide release of a concert film that captures the billion-dollar, sold-out global tour of a cult-like figure with armies of fans — learned about this from either the press release or an early-morning phone call from the exhibitor-distributor. The only exhibitors who knew about the deal were the film’s partners, AMC and Cinemark; other theaters are now playing catch up. AMC, the nation’s largest circuit also chose not to tip off its studio partners and that’s causing major anger.”
Tom Brueggemann, IndieWire 08/31/23
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival To Launch Filmmaker Forum With Support From Corporation For Public Broadcasting
“The Filmmaker Forum “will serve as a major convening of documentary filmmakers and industry leaders from throughout the South/Mid-South and across the U.S.,” according to a release. “Through its dynamic programming and extensive networking opportunities, the Forum will establish stronger ties between filmmakers and public media. A partial list of public media organizations expected to participate includes ITVS, Arkansas PBS and Reel South.””
Matthew Carey, Deadline Hollywood 08/30/23
Toronto Film Festival to Lose Lead Sponsor Bell After 28 Years
“Bell Canada is ending its long-standing sponsorship of the Toronto International Film Festival, Variety has confirmed. The telecommunications company, a lead sponsor since 1995, will not continue its partnership with TIFF after the festival’s 48th edition this year.”
Michaela Zee, Variety 08/26/23
BAFTA Survey Shows Members Are Mulling Quitting TV Amid Production Drought — Edinburgh TV Festival
BAFTA has said that a third of members surveyed in a recent poll are considering quitting the British television industry amid the perfect storm of a commissioning drought and strikes.The organization questioned 1,000 of its members ahead of the Edinburgh TV Festival, with 26% providing responses about their place and future within the business. A third of those who responded said they have “considered” or are “seriously considered” leaving the industry, according to the research.”
Jake Kanter, Deadline Hollywood 08/23/23
AI-Created Art Isn’t Copyrightable, Judge Says in Ruling That Could Give Hollywood Studios Pause
“A federal judge on Friday upheld a finding from the U.S. Copyright Office that a piece of art created by AI is not open to protection. The ruling was delivered in an order turning down Stephen Thaler’s bid challenging the government’s position refusing to register works made by AI. Copyright law has “never stretched so far” to “protect works generated by new forms of technology operating absent any guiding human hand,” U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell found.”
Winston Cho, The Hollywood Reporter 08/18/23
WGA West Calls For Government Regulation Of “Anti-Competitive Practices” Of Disney, Amazon & Netflix
“In a shot across the bow of the giant media companies that it’s negotiating with to end its 108-day-old strike, the WGA West released a report today that calls for more government regulation of what it calls the “anti-competitive practices” of Disney, Amazon and Netflix, which it accuses of “abusing their dominance to further disadvantage competitors, raise prices for consumers, and push down wages for the creative workforce.””
David Robb, The Hollywood Reporter 08/17/23
Gotham Awards Eliminates Budget Ceiling, Opens up Categories to International Filmmakers
“The Gotham Film & Media Institute, Filmmaker‘s publisher, announced today significant changes to its Gotham Awards eligibility criteria, removing entirely the previous $35 million budget cap for submitted films. That means studio films like Barbie and Oppenheimer could potentially compete against smaller-scale independents, films like 2022 nominees Best Feature nominees The Cathedral and Dos Estacionnes.”
Filmmaker Magazine, Scott Macaulay 08/10/23
Story Syndicate Workers Win Voluntary Union Recognition From Management
“Workers at documentary powerhouse Story Syndicate, which has produced projects like Harry and Meghan, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and the Unknown series, have secured voluntary union recognition from management to bargain for their share of what they called “windfall profits for the largest streaming platforms in the world” on the back of their work.”
Winston Cho, The Hollywood Reporter 08/08/23
Death Spiral of Hollywood Monopolies
“The monopolistic streaming system, as it turns out, works for nobody in Hollywood — not the execs, not the shareholders, and not the audience. Even the most successful creators of TV and film are screwed in this arrangement.”
Alena Smith, The Ankler 08/07/23
‘We Are Very Ripe for an Overhaul, a Revolution, a Reset,’ Says Former IFC Films Exec Arianna Bocco on Indie Cinema at Locarno’s Think Tank: Five Takeaways
The themes of this year’s four StepIN roundtables were: the theatrical battlefield between independents, majors and streamers; how to protect the “biodiversity of content and voices” in the current production ecosystem; the dynamics of film festivals torn between commercial constraints and cultural considerations; and the state of gender equality and diversity representation five years after France’s Collectif 50/50 took to Cannes to protest the lack of female representation and diversity across the film industry. Here are five takeaways:”
Nick Vivarelli, Variety 08/04/23
BFI Launches Global Data Hub For UK Indie Sector
“The TV and film organization this morning launched the UK Global Screen Fund Data Hub, a free resource aimed at providing the independent sector international VoD data and insights into demand and content value. The BFI says the ultimate aim is “assisting UK content creators, distributors, sales agents and financiers to make better-informed decisions, devise data-driven strategies and enhance the global opportunities for UK content.””
Jesse Whittock, Deadline Hollywood 07/31/23
Hollywood’s Slo-Mo Self-Sabotage
“To survey the film and television industry today is to witness multiple existential crises. Many of them point to a larger trend: of Hollywood divesting from its own future, making dodgy decisions in the short term that whittle down its chances of long-term survival. Corporations are no strangers to fiscal myopia, but the ways in which the studios are currently squeezing out profits—nickel-and-diming much of their labor force to the edge of financial precarity while branding their output with the hallmarks of creative bankruptcy—indicate a shocking new carelessness.”
Inkoo Kang, The New Yorker 07/30/23
Inside The Battle For A New Streaming Residuals Model: Data, Transparency & “A Fight For Power”
“Unlike Nielsen or self-reported metrics from some of the studios, which use viewing time as their primary measurement, Parrot Analytics, a data analysis firm for the entertainment industry run by Wared Seger, which works with companies such as Sony, Lionsgate and Starz, uses other metrics such as Google searches and social media engagement. The goal is not to determine viewership but rather to understand the impact of a piece of content on a studio’s revenue. It uses quarterly earnings data as well as subscriptions and ad revenue to estimate that impact for each series or film on a platform.”
Katie Campione, Deadline Hollywood 07/27/23
Seattle’s Big-Art Culture Has No Future After the Death of Paul Allen
“With the prince’s death, we are now looking at a future with no big announcements in the arts. Sure, Seattle has had other rich patrons in the past, but it has seen nothing at the scale of Paul Allen. Indeed, when one compares his collection to Martin Selig’s, you realize the big difference between having a little over $1 billion (Selig) and over $20 billion (Allen’s wealth at the time of his death.) As a city, we are, at present, only sustaining or continuing what Allen left behind.”
Charles Dudede, The Stranger 07/27/23
After the Podcast Gold Rush, Is Audio Too Corporate to Be Cool?
“Nearly two decades later, a great deal of podcast strategies have still hinged on the idea that anyone can make a podcast. Though, to streamers, that’s often meant investing in people who already had worldwide audiences but minimal familiarity with the medium. There was a not-too-distant time when every celebrity, their mother, and a former president wanted a podcast, and signed multimillion-dollar deals to do it. But now, although listenership is consistently up year-over-year, and podcasts are still projected as a billion-dollar industry, the once new media darling seems to have lost its cultural cachet.”
Rebecca Sanaes, Vanity Fair 07/25/23
Documentary Workers Union Ratifies Groundbreaking Contract With International Documentary Association
“Progress on one labor front in the media industry. Documentary Workers United announced its membership has voted unanimously to ratify its first ever contract with the International Documentary Association, capping months of negotiations.”
Matthew Carey, Deadline Hollywood 07/22/23
After a Mass Exodus of Diversity Execs, What’s Next?
“Amid ongoing merger-induced reorganizations and layoffs, the long tail of COVID economy, two union strikes and general cost-cutting, The Hollywood Reporter talked to a dozen individuals working in and adjacent to the DEI space who express worry that the recent high-level departures could signal a larger unraveling of endeavors Hollywood companies trumpeted in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd.”
Mia Galuppo, The Hollywood Reporter 07/20/23
UK Film & TV Industries To Be Probed By Influential Parliamentary Committee
“Around two decades after the previous probe, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee will investigate “what needs to be done to maintain and enhance the UK as a global destination for production and how the independent film production sector can best be supported,” it said in a statement today. On the agenda will be the rise of AI – a key sticking point in the current labor disputes across the pond – along with skills, retention and the challenges for British cinemas following the recent Cineworld restructure and collapse of the Empire chain.”
Max Goldbart, Deadline Hollywood 07/20/23
American Theater Is Imploding Before Our Eyes
“The American theater is on the verge of collapse. Here’s just a sampling of recent dire developments: The Public Theater announced this year that the Under the Radar festival, the most exciting of New York’s experimental performance incubators, would be postponed indefinitely and later announced it was laying off 19 percent of its staff. The Humana Festival of New American Plays, a vital launching pad for such great playwrights as Lynn Nottage and Will Eno over the past four decades, was canceled this year.”
Isaac Butler, The New York Times 07/19/23
Please Don’t Call My Job a Calling
“The implication that love is a suitable stand-in for job security, workplace protections or fair pay is a commonly held belief, especially in so-called dream jobs like writing, cooking and working in the arts, where the privilege to do the work is seen as a form of compensation itself. But the rhetoric that a job is a passion or a “labor of love” obfuscates the reality that a job is an economic contract. The assumption that it isn’t sets up the conditions for exploitation.”
Simone Stolzoff, The New York Times 06/05/23
Producer Data: The Numbers Don’t Lie (The Truth about Independent Film Revenue)
“Last fall, desiring information to aid our own filmmaking careers, we launched an experiment to see whether we could obtain hard data on independent film revenue. Having experienced firsthand how difficult it is to get this information, we created a Google form and asked filmmakers to self-submit not just their feature film top-line revenue data, but thorough, detailed and specific numbers on everything from their budgets to best- and worst-performing revenue streams to cast to how much their films made in gross and net terms. From the details of the 104 submitted films, we have drawn critically important—and many surprising—conclusions.”
Naomi McDougall Jones and Liz Manashil, Filmmaker Magazine 03/16/23