In the ongoing standoff between the WGA and talent agencies, writers are being sourced for projects through other writers and online, according to producers speaking at the Produced By: New York conference Saturday in New York. They said it’s slower this way, but it’s going.
If we have a project, “We ask other writers we work with, ‘Are you interested and if you are not who are the right writers for that.’ … It’s more of the community and word of mouth,” said Dan Lin, CEO of Rideback, the film and TV production company behind Disney’s live action Aladdin and the LEGO movie franchise, speaking at the closing panel of the Producers Guild event.
Nina Yang Bongiovi, (Fruitvale Station, Sorry to Bother You), co-founder of Significant Productions and Forest Whitaker’s producing partner, agreed that most of the content she puts into development is staffed by reaching out directly to writers “whose work I have admired from afar and kept in touch with.”
“I think actually building those relationships with writers is the key. And those writers say, ‘You should meet those [other] writers.’”
The Writers Guild of America’s agency boycott that has dragged on since April over contested practices like packaging affiliated production, which means the process “take a little longer,” Bongiovi said.
Panelists, including Elaine Frontain Bryant, head of programming at A&E Network, and Banks Tarver, co-founder and co-president of nonfiction programmer Lef/Right Productions, have also had success using #wgawritersboost. Moderator Lori McCreary, CEO of Revelations Entertainment, is a fan of the WGA’s portal.
“If you like someone, it will connect you. … I have gotten through to some writers I’d been trying to [contact] for a while,” she said.
The wide-ranging conversation looked at balancing diverse slates of feature film, traditional television, streaming and short-form content, how to stand out in a massively crowded content landscape, and pros and cons of doing business with digital giants like Netflix.
Lin said several buyers had been circling Rideback’s film The Two Popes. “Netflix was the most passionate. Right in the room, they bought it. With Netflix, they make almost everything they develop. They said, ‘We know other studios want to buy this but we promise to make it.”
But he said, it’s hard to stand out on Netflix, too. The cool thing about this film, Lin said, is that Pope Francis, who inspired it, “has 1.2 billion followers. So there is a way to event-ize, even for a low or mid -budget film.”
A&E has had huge success with live in its blockbuster series PD. It gave new life to a moribund Friday, where reruns across the TV dial were driving viewers away, Bryant said. The demise of repeats has been a painful network casualty of the streaming wars.
“We have the same number of [slots] to fill, but repeats are not working, so we are looking at more content with pretty much the same budget,” she said. “So, often we are making bigger orders with less money for episodes for things we really believe in. That can turn into a gigantic order for something. And that is the conversation we are having with producers [that’s] allowing us to have more nights of fresh content. It’s been working for us.”
She noted — as many in traditional television have — that Netflix has no ratings report card and doesn’t provide producers with many details on how shows perform.
Bongiovi described “the huge discrepancy between what streamers and traditional distributors will offer you“ in producer deals.
“You could get spoiled getting deals at Netflix or Amazon or Apple, and you go to traditional distributors and you go into shock, ‘This is so low!’ But it’s really normal.”
With streamers so competitive, it’s a good time to be a producer, she said. Unless you want to control your own IP.
An indie producer with great IP has a really tough decision to make, she said. “Netflix will give me the money and get it made, versus having to raise the money and maybe not get it made.”