Summer 2023 Reading List

By Rebecca Green

When I launched Dear Producer in 2018, I committed to writing a monthly digest, rounding up all the important articles I had read each month and sharing them with all of you (read the first digest covering AFM here and see how much has changed in just the last five years). It’s a skill I acquired when I was an acquisitions assistant at Lionsgate back in the early 2000s. My boss tasked me with putting Post-It Notes next to articles in the hard copy of Variety I thought he should read. This small part of my job taught me how important it is to stay on top of the happenings in our industry. Reading the trades daily taught me how big business and small business are connected, that independent film is not its own bubble and that we’re all playing in the same ecosystem. 

I was an assistant at a time when there was no online version of the trades and a hard copy subscription was very expensive. As a young person fresh out of film school, your only access to information was if you worked at a company that had a subscription to Variety or The Hollywood Reporter. Now in 2023, everything is online, the business is shifting so much faster and it has become overwhelming. My version of the Post-It Note strategy is text chains with producer friends who constantly send articles back and forth and when we’re on the phone, conversations usually start with, ‘did you read…’ making sure that we’re in the know. 

Past digests have included in-depth commentary, the last being in October 2022 titled The Sky is Falling, Take Shelter. However, for the sake of getting you caught up, and because I’m not quite sure how to wrap my brain around the last several months, I’m simply including a list of articles that have been shared in my producing circles that I feel are important for you to read. Some are big picture views of the industry while others will be specific to the work you are doing right now. All have important information to be tracking. 

As an aside, I wanted to acknowledge that you haven’t heard all that much from me/Dear Producer in the last few months… I was in production this Spring, hosted a Dear Producer panel at Tribeca that was in-person only and gave out the Dear Producer Award, which is behind-the-scenes work. And I haven’t been home for more than two weeks all year! But as I’ve been out in the world, I’ve been having tough/amazing conversations with producers and the thoughts that have been circling in my head will make it to paper soon. So stay tuned for more from Dear Producer. 

I also want to acknowledge that the articles I’m presenting are daunting and make the work we do feel impossible. And at the moment it is impossible! However, I believe producers are better equipped than anyone to ride out the storm. Personally, I am using this time to tap into my passions and ambitions (watching Cousin’s episode of The Bear over and over again to help…) and brainstorming what a sustainable path looks like for me. Something I will be writing more about in the coming months. In the meantime, I’ll be somewhere by a lake enjoying the rest of the summer.  

Has Barbie Killed the Indie Director? Why Credible Film-Makers Are Selling Out
“The recent writer and actor strikes in the US show that selling out is not just a question of personal ethics, but an industry-wide concern. A director’s decision to align themselves with these Goliaths of entertainment has consequences; makes money for the big guy, in opposition to fostering an industry where smaller films and creators have more opportunities.”
Casper Salmon, The Guardian 07/19/23

Indie Financier Bron, Which Backed ‘Joker’ And ‘Licorice Pizza’, Files For Bankruptcy
“Bron, the finance and production company that backed films including Joker, Licorice Pizza, Bombshell and Judas and the Black Messiah, has filed for bankruptcy, its co-founder Aaron J. Gilbert said Wednesday.”
Patrick Hipes, Deadline Hollywood, 07/19/23

Documentary Filmmakers Don’t Have the Option to Strike for a Better System
“With a fiery speech from SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher this week, Hollywood went into shutdown mode. Documentary filmmakers are a different story. Since no specific union represents their needs, many documentarians don’t have the option to strike, even as they suffer from many of the same issues raised by the unions in their demands.”
Eric Kohn, IndieWire 07/15/23

Bob Iger Says Linear TV “May Not Be Core” To Disney As Company Explores Strategic Options
“Disney CEO Bob Iger said the linear TV business “may not be core” to the company, and efforts are under way to explore a number of strategic options for them. Speaking to CNBC’s David Faber in a wide-ranging conversation in Sun Valley, ID, where Iger is attending Allen & Co.’s annual conference, Iger conceded his second stint as CEO has been more challenging than he expected. The 35-minute interview came a day after the news that Disney’s board unanimously voted to extend Iger’s contract to serve as CEO for another two years, through the end of 2026.”
Dade Hayes, Deadline Hollywood 07/13/23

“Orange Is the New Black” Signalled the Rot Inside the Streaming Economy
“Television actors have traditionally had a base of income from residuals, which come from reruns and other forms of reuse of the shows in which they’ve appeared. At the highest end, residuals can yield a fortune; reportedly, the cast of “Friends” has each made tens of millions of dollars from syndication. But streaming has scrambled that model, endangering the ability of working actors to make a living.”
Michael Schulman, The New Yorker 07/12/23

High-Profile Exits Spark Fears That Hollywood Diversity Pledges Are Just ‘PR’
“Last fall, veteran Hollywood diversity executive Karen Horne sought to reassure aspiring artists who were shaken by the elimination of the Warner Bros. Television Workshop, which for decades stood as a beacon for the development of emerging talent of color. Facing a torrent of outrage, Warner Bros. Discovery vowed to revive the program. But Horne’s celebration was short-lived. Last month she was laid off, becoming the fourth high-level diversity, equity and inclusion executive in Hollywood to leave during a 10-day stretch in late June.”
Greg Braxton, Meg James, Los Angeles Times 07/11/23

Is The Sundance Film Festival On The Move?
“Amid all the strike news and Emmy noms on the horizon, here’s something wild we heard recently and that’s that the Sundance Film Festival has been fielding bids from a handful of cities to relocate the festival from its Park City, UT home base. Sources tell us that Sundance is looking for another city to host future editions of the indie film festival and market. Already, Sundance has a contract with Park City city hall to remain in the ski town until at least 2026.”
Anthony D’Alessandro, Dominic Patten, Deadline Hollywood 07/10/23

An Announcement From Jess Search: No Time Like The Present.
“Today I am sharing that I’m currently under the care of a neurosurgeon because like 300,000 others every year around the world, I’ve been diagnosed with a brain tumour. I’m stepping back from Doc Society — after 18 years of nonstop creative collaboration, dedicated craft, joyous partying and fierce camaraderie. You may know that for years 6 women directors – Beadie, Maxyne, Megha, Sandra, Shanida, and myself – have been leading the organisation in a flat power-sharing model. So I can do this, knowing that someone else will step in to be unfeasibly late for meetings and break the printer constantly.”
Jess Search, Docsociety 07/08/23

After “Barbie,” Mattel Is Raiding Its Entire Toybox
“Mattel has amassed a long slate of other projects. Daniel Kaluuya, for example, has agreed to produce a feature about Barney, the purple dinosaur. Thirteen more films have been publicly announced, including movies about He-Man and Polly Pocket; forty-five are in development. (Some of the projects have an ouroboros quality. Tom Hanks is supposed to star in “Major Matt Mason,” which will be based on an astronaut action figure that has been largely forgotten, except for the fact that it helped inspire Buzz Lightyear—one of the protagonists of Pixar’s “Toy Story” franchise.)”
Alex Barasch, The New Yorker 07/02/23

Documentary Community Still Wary as AVOD and FAST Channels Proliferate
“Unlike an SVOD licensing deal, there is no upfront payment for an AVOD deal. Instead payment depends solely on performance, which sounds promising but since AVOD services typically license a mass amount of content instead of individual films from distributors like Gravitas Ventures, Giant Pictures, and FilmRise, it can be difficult for a docu to stand out on AVOD.”
Addie Morfoot, Variety 06/30/23

Sundance Institute Hit with Layoffs
“Sundance Institute has laid off 11 employees — about six percent of its 180-person staff — on Wednesday, with the non-profit organization citing a drop in earned revenue, rising inflation, and a “more challenging fundraising climate.” Sundance Institute CEO Joana Vicente informed the team on Wednesday in a memo sent to staff and obtained by IndieWire, and the laid off employees were informed earlier today. The cuts impacted multiple departments, but no specific names or roles were revealed.”
Brian Welk, IndieWire 06/29/23

Gotham Lays Off Longtime Awards Staff and Cancels Project Market
“The Gotham Film and Media Institute laid off two key staffers this week after canceling the Project Market, where seminal indie breakouts from “Clerks” to “Moonlight” have gathered early financial resources, for the first time in its 45-year history. The Project Market, formerly known as the Independent Feature Film Market, was called off after the Gotham was informed by the WGA that writers would be in violation of their contract with the union if they participated in the event. Senior programming director Milton Tabbot, who has worked at the organization since 1996, was let go along with director of narrative programming Zach Mandinach.” 
Eric Kohn, IndieWire 06/29/23

After Filmmaker Outcry Over TCM Cuts, Warner Bros. Reverses Course (Sort Of)
“It wasn’t that David Zaslav wasn’t cautioned. He was, explicitly, in a December 2022 conversation with CAA’s Bryan Lourd, who said that damaging the relatively small but beloved Turner Classic Movies would lead to backlash from “a lot of important people” — people whom Zaslav most admired and wanted to be admired by, such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson. But while Zaslav repeatedly declared and continues to declare his love for TCM, by the time that conversation took place, the channel had been undergoing months of layoffs and budget reductions that ultimately led top executives to depart on June 20. Among them: Charles Tabesh, the longtime programmer considered by many to be the heart of the network.”
Kim Masters, The Hollywood Reporter 06/28/23

Rebelling Against the Independent Film Industrial Complex
“The hyper-industrialization of the independent film space and the shift away from in-person screening to the vertically integrated streaming-sphere means that content curation is increasingly more general (massified), with fewer people participating in the process of sharing films with the public. In general, the U.S. A-list film festival circuit, where independent voices used to be able to thrive in more ragtag and aesthetically diverse ways, is now mostly a self-reflexive bourgeois echo chamber of sanctimonious gatekeepers serving corporate interests and neoliberal logics. Something has to change.”
Sophia Haid & Keisha N Knight, Filmmaker Magazine 06/27/23

NYC Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Projectionists File Petition to Unionize as Company Looks to Scrap Position
“Projectionists at an Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn, the movie theater chain known for serving food and drinks during screenings, filed a petition to unionize with the National Labor Review Board on Wednesday. Two days after the petition was filed and one day after the NLRB sent official notice to the company, Alamo sent an internal email notifying staff of the company’s intention to do away with the projectionist position and replace it with a more expansive “technical engineer” role.”
Curtis Brodner, 1010 Wins 06/24/23

Oscars: Academy Approves Major Change To Best Picture Eligibility Rules Requiring More Extensive Theatrical Runs
Long in the works, and indicating stronger support for theatrical exhibition in the increasing age of streamers, the Board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has approved a landmark change in eligibility rules for Best Picture.Beginning with the 97th Academy Awards for films released in 2024, there are some significant added requirements for Best Picture eligibility after completion of the current initial qualifying run of a one-week theatrical release in one of six U.S. cities.
Pete Hammond, Deadline Hollywood 06/23/23

Netflix UK Reworks Emerging Filmmaking Initiative Breakout and Reshapes Local Film Team
“Netflix UK is reshaping the Breakout scheme for emerging filmmakers it is running with Creative UK, with none of the films being greenlit for production, but three of the six projects receiving £100,000 awards for further development. Netflix executives contacted each of the six filmmaking teams individually on May 31 to confirm it would not be progressing their projects to production through Breakout.” 
Ben Dalton, ScreenDaily 06/15/23

Daily Digest: Oscar vs. Organized Labor – the Forgotten History
“While the picket lines march into Week Eight with no clear path to resolution in sight, it’s interesting to recall how one institution, now seen as purely ceremonial and above the fray of these battles, played an unlikely role in early Hollywood labor disputes, and that the Academy Awards’ very existence sprang out of studio attempts to derail strike talk.”
Vincent Boucher, Strikegeist 06/13/23

Sundance Institute’s Carrie Lozano Named President & CEO Of ITVS
“ITVS today announced the appointment of Carrie Lozano as the organization’s new president and CEO, succeeding longtime chief Sally Jo Fifer. Lozano, an Emmy and Peabody-winning documentary filmmaker, joins ITVS from the Sundance Institute, where she has served as director of Documentary Films and Artists Programs since 2020.”
Matthew Carey, Deadline Hollywood 06/07/23

The Binge Purge
“Across the town, there’s despair and creative destruction and all sorts of countervailing indicators. Certain shows that were enthusiastically green-lit two years ago probably wouldn’t be made now. Yet there are still streamers burning mountains of cash to entertain audiences that already have too much to watch. Netflix has tightened the screws and recovered somewhat, but the inarguable consensus is that there is still a great deal of pain to come as the industry cuts back, consolidates, and fumbles toward a more functional economic framework.” 
Josef Adalian and Lane Brown, Vulture 06/06/23

Sundance 2023 Documentary Sales and Beyond: Stark Realities, Golden Opportunities
“Let’s start with the same two sentences that began my Special Report on Sundance 2019. At the end of that bullish report, I wrote ”I hope we are at the beginning of a Golden Age, but it will require progress on several fronts to achieve.” Four years later, Sundance revealed that the Golden Age of major sales and numerous acquisitions is over for documentary filmmakers. Later in this report I’ll highlight Golden Opportunities in the New World of Distribution. This year I saw 31 films at Sundance, as I had in 2019. The quality of the documentaries was exceptional as usual, but the lack of response from distributors was alarming. Documentary sales during Sundance were the worst in years.”
Peter Broderick, Filmmaker Magazine 06/02/23

Putting the Spotlight on Producers
“In 2019, alongside Helen Simmons and Sophie Reynolds, we set up the UK Producers’ Roundtable to shine a light on the challenges indie producers were facing. We conducted a survey of 149 emerging producers in the UK with features in active development or who had already made a feature film. The survey showed that 82% of BAFTA-nominated/winning emerging producers earned less than £15k a year during the past five years, and that 24% only earned £1k. So, surviving the years needed to establish your career becomes inherently linked to how able you are to financially support yourself.”
Loran Dunn, British Cinematographer 05/26/23

France’s Ministry of Culture Is a Model Example of How the Government Can Support the Movies
“This week, French minister of culture Rima Abdul-Malak came to Cannes, where she announced a new program to invest $350 million in the film and TV sector over the next seven years. The initiative is part of the larger “France 2030” initiative unveiled by president Emmanuel Macron last fall, and will go toward the support of production studios and inclusive training programs throughout the country. When I sat down with Abdul-Malak at the Unifrance terrance at Cannes over the weekend, even she sounded stunned by the extent of the plan.”
Eric Kohn, IndieWire 05/21/23

Public Film and TV Funds in Europe Face Crisis as Streamers, Other Forces Upend Traditional Business Models
“As Europe’s multitude of film agencies prepare to plant their flags atop Cannes’ pavilions, a host of public servants are mindful that they face an existential crisis in the bruising battle for cinema’s hearts, minds and future political support. Under attack from Ministers of Culture (Germany), losing top box office status in their home markets (France) and most recently an acknowledgment of institutional racism at the British Film Institute (U.K.), the guardians of the European filmmaking ecosystem valued at more than $3 billion is facing a reckoning like never before.”
Angus Finney, Variety 05/17/23

Time to Break Up Hollywood
“It’s a good moment to have this conversation, because the strike has focused everyone in Hollywood on problems in the industry. Different stakeholders in the industry are going to have to build a political argument for a revival of some form of the fin-syn or Paramount Decrees. We need Congressional hearings, and industry commissions with recommendations. It could be a Terms of Trade type arrangement so producers get to keep IP, or it could be something else. But it will have to split the industry giants so they are either distributors or studios, but not both. Markets have to exist again.”
Matt Stoller, BIG 05/14/23

Netflix, IFC, and 4 Seismic Exits: The Great Indie Contraction Continues
“When you cover the arthouse business, you get used to familiar faces more than famous ones. Programmers, distributors, and sales agents may not walk the red carpet alongside their stars, but they’re at all the afterparties, in the trenches of every major film festival, constantly plotting ways to get new work seen. Their ubiquity makes it possible to visualize this pocket of the entertainment industry so when the faces change places, it stands out. In that respect, this week was extraordinary. Within 48 hours, news broke of senior independent film executives leaving jobs they held for years, in some cases not of their own volition. Welcome to the great indie contraction.”
Eric Kohn, IndieWire 04/01/23

The Streaming Purge: Behind The Wave Of Library Content Removals & Its Impact On The Creative Community
“Removing titles may offer attractive write-downs for media companies, but it’s creating plenty of ill will with creatives who have grown frustrated with the underwhelming size of streaming residuals – a key negotiating point going into the upcoming WGA, DGA and SAG-AFTRA contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.”
Lynette Rice, Nellie Andreeva, Deadline Hollywood 02/14/23