The Producers Guild of America handed out its Digital Visionaries awards Friday night, recognizing nine notable organizations and the people behind them for using technology to advance the ways stories are told. “These are the top Hollywood people who are ultra-forward thinking in their vision of telling stories,” said Marc Scarpa, co-chair with Shawn Gold of the committee selecting the award winners. “We’re about pushing the medium forward.” Producer/Writer/Director Marshall Herskovitz (ThirtySomething, The Last Samurai and a prominent PGA member) handed out the night’s awards with short comments about each:
- The people behind the elaborate, and endlessly charming, confabulation that turned the city of San Francisco into a giant superhero playground for one ailing child dressed as “BatKid.” This award went to Patricia Wilson, Executive Director of Make-A-Wish Foundation, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee and the city’s residents.
- Netflix, for its swath of original programming. Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said the company’s event Thursday evening featuring notable women actor/directors who are part of its shows House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, as well as the Oscar-nominated documentary The Square, “show you where we’re going, particularly for the directors on that stage (Jodie Foster, Robin Wright, Jehane Noujaim). We get to really broaden the spectrum (of programming options and voices).” As for innovation on the technical side, Sarandos said the company is streaming the second season of House of Cards in 4K resolution, one of the very few content sources available with that extremely high level of quality.
- Wattpad, the Toronto-based company and online community that hosts millions of free stories read by 28 million users. The site, which is mostly accessed through a mobile app, has exploded in size the past year. Company executive Candice Faktor said the company hopes to become the YouTube of the written word, with 1 billion users. It’s headed the right direction: users spend more than 6 billion minutes a month reading the stories on the site, and is adding 70,000 users a day. One series of stories, “After,” has broken out enough that UTA signed author Anna Todd to represent the stories for a movie adaptation.
- Snapchat, the Los Angeles-based mobile messaging app best known because its photo-based messages disappear after being viewed, and for turning down Facebook’s $3 billion acquisition offer. But this year, the company added the ability for users to string together a series of those disappearing posts into a potentially narrative story line that could last as much as a day.
- Vine, the short-video service launched by Twitter about 18 months ago that now has spawned an entire class of creators with followings in the millions who are getting signed by Hollywood agencies and major brands for projects that last longer than 6 seconds.
- AwesomenessTV Network, the YouTube multi-channel network purchased a year ago by DreamWorks Animation. The PGA honored the company for its efforts to educate tens of thousands of young video creators with tips and tools for making online content. “I guess (it was because) we were helping kids become the creators of tomorrow,” CEO Brian Robbins said. “We have 90,000 channels doing a billion views a month.” Beyond its big online footprint, the site now has a Nickelodeon show, AwesomenessTV, and is working with Nickelodeon on a movie as well. The site also just launched a DreamWorks Animation channel on its own site.
- Alfonso Cuaron and visual-effects company Framestore were honored, Herskovitz said, “for pushing visual effects to new levels” for their Oscar-winning work in the feature Gravity.
- Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell, whose crowd-funded feature adaptation of their millennial TV series showed a new way to both finance and market a small film with a devoted fan base.
- Rockstar Games, for the massively successful video game Grand Theft Auto V, which sold a record $1 billion worth of units in its first five days last fall. The controversial and violent game features a deep storyline wrapped around three characters in a fictionalized version of Los Angeles.