Industry Trends

2019 Academy Awards: The Best Picture Nominees

2019 Best Picture nominees
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.

The final award of the night, Best Motion Picture of the Year, is handed out to the eligible producers of the film. Since 2009, the number of nominations has increased from five to a maximum of ten, based on a more complicated voting system that uses a modified preferential ranking process.

New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a closer look at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Picture:

Black Panther

Black Panther is the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture nomination and is notable for its themes of race and diverse cast and role models for children of color used to typically seeing white male heroes in Hollywood blockbusters. It was directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, while the sole producer eligible for the Best Picture Oscar is Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios and mastermind of the groundbreaking Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Panther is up for seven Academy Awards total.

BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman is the latest film from Spike Lee and earned him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Directing. Based on true events, the film tells the story of an African American detective who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Lee is also one of the five producers eligible for the Best Picture Oscar, including Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, and Jordan Peele, who won a Best Screenplay Oscar last year for 2018 Best Picture nominee Get Out. BlacKkKlansman is up for six Academy Awards total.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody is the latest Hollywood musical biopic to gain a groundswell of awards season buzz, focusing on legendary rock group Queen, with Rami Malek giving an Oscar-nominated turn as iconic frontman Freddie Mercury. The sole producer eligible for Best Picture is Graham King, who previously won the award for Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film, The Departed, and was nominated in the category for two additional Scorsese films, Hugo and The Aviator. Bohemian Rhapsody is up for five Academy Awards total.

The Favourite

The Favourite is the latest critically-acclaimed art house film from Greek writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer). The period dramedy depicts the rivalry between two cousins vying for the favor of 18th century British Queen Anne. Lanthimos is one of four producers eligible for the Academy Award, along with Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, and Lee Magiday. This is the first Oscar nomination for Dempsey and Magiday, while Guiney was previously nominated in the category for Room in 2015. The Favourite is up for ten Academy Awards total.

Green Book

Green Book is a dramedy set in the 1950s Deep South, based on a real life concert tour of African American pianist Don Shirley and his white driver and bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga. Five producers are eligible in the category, including director and co-writer Peter Farrelly, who made a name with his brother for slapstick comedies like Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. He shares the nomination with Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Brian Hayes Currie, and Vallelonga’s son, Nick Vallelonga, who is also co-nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Green Book is up for five Academy Awards total.

Roma

Roma is a deeply personal, semi-autobiographical film by Alfonso Cuarón set in Mexico City in the early 1970s and shot beautifully in black-and-white. In addition to sharing the Best Picture nomination with Gabriela Rodriguez, Cuarón also wrote, shot, and directed the film, for which he received additional Oscar nods. This is the first nomination for Rodriguez, and the first nomination in the category ever for a Latinx woman. Along with the The Favourite, Roma has the most Academy Award nominations this year, with a total of ten.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born is the third remake of the original 1937 film, updated by director and star Bradley Cooper after years of development hell with several filmmakers attached. Cooper shares the Best Picture nod with Bill Gerber and Lynette Howell Taylor. This is Cooper’s second nomination in the category (the first was for American Sniper) and seventh overall; it’s the first nomination for both Gerber and Taylor. A Star is Born is up for eight Academy Awards total.

Vice

Vice is a dramedy biopic of former Vice President Dick Cheney, starring Christian Bale in heavy, lifelike prosthetics. The film is writer and director Adam McKay’s follow-up to The Big Short, which similarly took a quasi-comedic look at the lead-up to the 2008 Great Recession, and which earned him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. McKay is eligible for Best Picture along with Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Kevin J. Messick. Gardner has been nominated for Best Picture six times in the last seven years, winning twice, for 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight; Kleiner has been nominated five times, sharing both Oscars with Gardner. This is the first nomination for Messick. Vice is up for eight Academy Awards total.

Check out the New York Film Academy Blog after this year’s ceremony for a full list of the 2019 Oscar winners and losers!

4 Online Organizational Tools Every Producer Needs

As wonderful as it is to watch a masterful film play out in the theatre or comfort of your home, rarely do audiences consider the weeks, months, and years of elaborate work it takes to produce. Usually, in the lengthy timeline of a film’s cycle from the final screenplay draft to the big screens, the person with the longest-running responsibility is the producer. It’s a widely known fact that producers play a vital role in bringing screenplays to fruition, but that’s not all; even after a film’s release, producers must keep on top of contract negotiations, revenue, and residuals, among other things. With so many responsibilities, it’s imperative for producers to stay organized, as they are essentially the highest-ranking project manager on a film. To support that all-important project management aspect of producing, here is a list of the best online organizational tools every producer needs:

StudioBinder

Cost: Scheduler – $19/month, Indie – $29/month, Professional – $49/month, Studio – $85/month

This software was made for the 21st century producer and filmmaker. It allows you to streamline your production management with an array of clever features, including contact management, stripboards, call sheet builder and monitoring, shooting schedules, and cloud storage. As well as providing interactive access for any team member to contribute — which is vital given that each film has so many contributors, many who are likely to be scattered around the world at different times — StudioBinder provides a modern, user-friendly interface that every beginner can navigate through with ease.

Yamdu

Cost: Development – $5/month, Academic – $9/month, Advanced – $49/month

A direct competitor of StudioBinder, this software has also tailored its features to suit the producer and filmmaker, also offers a financing and deliverables feature. Having the dedicated role of working out a budget and getting the film financed, every producer will need a budgeting and financing program at one point or another. Usually done on Excel spreadsheets, having an integrated program within Yamdu for your budget will make your life a whole lot easier.

Evernote

Cost: Basic – Free, Plus – $24.99/year, Premium – $49.99/year

Unlike the previous programs, Evernote isn’t targeted specifically to producers and filmmakers, but still offers some fantastic organizational tools. Some of its features include brainstorming whiteboards, checklists, meeting notes, reminders, and project-tracking timelines, to name a few. There’s more, too. Say you’ve just had a lunch meeting with the director — a creative, visually-driven individual, who likes to jot or draw things down on a napkin. With its multi-device syncing ability, Evernote allows you to take a photo of any notes or doodles and upload them right away on your smartphone. You can also record and upload audio and video for those great ideas that pop up at obscure moments.

Trello

Cost: Basic – Free, Business Class – $8.33/month/user, Enterprise – $20.83/year/user

This software is made for those who prefer visualizing the progress of a project. It uses a card-based layout for every idea, to which you can then make any changes or adjustments as you go, like adding notes or attaching files, categorizing, color-coding, or creating a task list. The simple, left-to-right format of the cards allows for a visual timeline to track the production process whilst also giving you the ability to sync other platforms like Google Drive into the app. It’s also collaborative and can sync to any device.

Learn more about film, television, and media production at the New York Film Academy.

8 Tips for Getting 1K Instagram Followers in One Month

From ambitious models and actors to small businesses across the globe, everyone is discovering Instagram’s tremendous usefulness in today’s competitive world. The popular social media platform boasts millions of active monthly users and has numerous features that benefit marketers, including the ability to show off your brand and talk to your audience.

There are tried-and-true tips all over the net that can help you find more success on Instagram. If your goal is to earn at least 1,000 more followers in a month, give this a try:

  1. Follow and study the competition.

There’s nothing wrong with checking out other accounts in your industry to see what they’re doing. This includes looking at how often they post, the hashtags they use, what kind of content they post, etc. The goal isn’t to completely copy their strategy, but to jot down what’s working for them and apply the best of it to your own plans.

  1. Become a hashtag master.

A great way to catch people’s attention is by being fun and creative with your hashtag use. You’ll also get more people to see you if you join in on trending hashtags that are receiving tons of attention at the time.

But most important of all, make sure you use hashtags that apply to you and what you’re about. If musical theater is your thing, make sure videos of you singing have hashtags that will draw others interested in the same things.

  1. Network, Instagram style.

Although things like college degrees and experience are important, a lot of people believe there’s nothing like a good connection to land a job. In a way, this idea can also apply when going for more Instagram followers quickly.

The trick is to frequently interact with the most popular influencers in your industry in hopes that you become one of their favorite followers. Make sure to activate your “Turn On Post Notifications” feature so you’re always among the first to post.

  1. Cross-promote on other platforms.

From Facebook and Pinterest to Twitter and YouTube, perhaps there’s a chance you already have another social media account with a few or more follows. Drive traffic from those accounts to your Instagram by frequently sharing your best posts in order to catch their attention. Chances are the people who follow you on other platforms also have an Instagram account as well.

  1. Go viral via Instagram Stories.

The Explore page on Instagram is an awesome feature that can earn you an unexpected level of likes and follows. This is because your stories have the possibility of being show on other accounts based on what kinds of posts and accounts you like/follow. For this to happen you have to create fun, engaging Stories that usually target a specific space.

  1. Make your profile stand out.

Recognition is all about infusing your Instagram with your own personality and visual style. Your profile theme and bio should be unique enough to stand out from the crowd while also doing a good job of representing who you are and what kind of content you like sharing. Although short, your bio will give readers a clear impression of what you’re about and hopefully convince them to follow you.

  1. Run contests and giveaways.

If there’s one thing everyone looks to get, it’s free goodies. Running a giveaway that lasts a few days and requires interacting with your account is a solid way to gain exposure and earn more followers.

A popular strategy is to run a contest in partnership with another influencer, setting up the rules so that people need to follow both accounts in order to be entered to win. It also helps if the gifts are related to your industry, such as giving away a free game or Gamestop gift card if you’re trying to create hype for your own upcoming title.

  1. Don’t skip out on videos.

Photo posts are a powerful tool when it comes to growing your Instagram following — actors should definitely post new headshots or production photos often, and with the right hashtags.

However, it’s hard to argue with all the stats out there pointing to videos as being the best type of content for earning more followers. This makes sense considering that a static image will rarely be as attention-grabbing as moving video with sound and voice, so make sure to mix up your images with videos.

What’s your best advice for growing your Instagram followers? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about the visual and performing arts at the New York Film Academy.

7 Awesome Women in Film You Should Be Following Now

From directing to cinematography, writing to producing, women in Hollywood are working hard to have an equal voice and share of power in the movies being made … but we have a long way to go. According to the Annual Celluloid Ceiling Report, “In 2017, women comprised 18% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.”

Here, we present seven women who defy those numbers and stand as role models for generations of women to come. We couldn’t possibly decide which one of these women was more awesome than the next, so we put them in alphabetical order.

Ava DuVernay

  1. Ava DuVernay was the first African-American woman to win the Best Director Prize at Sundance Film Festival for Middle of Nowhere, and the first to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Selma. Recently, she became the first woman of color to direct a live-action film with a budget of over $100 million — a staggering sum for any director — for Disney’s upcoming A Wrinkle in Time.

Nina Jacobson

  1. Nina Jacobson is a producer who, in her time heading up Disney, brought such films as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Sixth Sense, and the Pirates of the Caribbean to life. After being fired from Disney, she created her own production company, Color Force, which produced the wildly successful Hunger Games movies. She is also openly gay, and has helped to create a more inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community in Hollywood by creating Out There with fellow producer Bruce Cohen.

Patty Jenkins

  1. Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman, the third highest grossing film of 2017. It gave her the biggest domestic opening for any female director. Before that, Jenkins wrote and directed Monster, another, darker, woman-centric film that garnered critical acclaim and the academy award for its star, Charlize Theron, whom we will meet below…

Kathleen Kennedy

  1. Kathleen Kennedy started out her career as Spielberg’s secretary and, as we mentioned in this article celebrating women film producers, rose to become one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. She heads up Lucasfilm, and is hence responsible for the Star Wars franchise and the highest grossing movies of the past few years, including The Last Jedi.

Reed Morano

  1. Reed Morano is a cinematographer, known for Frozen River, Kill Your Darlings” and The Skeleton Twins. More recently, she picked up critical acclaim for directing the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. In 2013, she became the youngest member of the American Society of Cinematographers, and, according to Wikipedia, is one of only 14 women in this prestigious organization of approximately 345 active members.

Mina Shum

  1. Mina Shum is a Chinese-Canadian filmmaker who prefers to be known simply as an independent filmmaker. Her feature films, Double Happiness and Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity, premiered at Sundance. Her most recent film, Meditation Park, starring Grey’s Anatomy’s Sandra Oh, will hit theaters March 2018.

Charlize Theron

  1. Charlize Theron is a South African-American who has established her career beyond her acting talent and beauty by founding her own production company, Denver and Delilah, named for her two dogs. Its first production was Monster, and its latest was Atomic Blonde.

For more on the usefulness of turning actor cred into producer cred, check out this article on why so many actors turn to producing, where you’ll find more awesome women like Viola Davis, Salma Hayek and Drew Barrymore, who all started production companies of their own.

 

 

 

The Impact of a Good Producer on Your Student Film

People often think that a producer simply puts up the money for a film and walks away. Though raising funds is certainly part of what a producer — especially an executive producer — does, they also do a lot more.

As this NYFA article demonstrates, there are a lot of disparate skills, artistic and entrepreneurial, that go into being a good producer. From spotting good material and  overseeing script development and bringing on directors, to overseeing casting and editing, producers are often in the unique position of being with a project from inception to distribution.

Too small for a producer?

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“All very interesting,” you say, “but I’m just making a student film on a micro/nonexistent budget! Why do I need a producer?”

The answer is that, even for the smallest films, production can easily get complicated and overwhelming.

For small films, producers may be tasked with day-to-day duties — typically the duties of a line producer on bigger films — such as setting up daily schedules and making sure cast, crew and extras know where to be and when, securing locations and clearing them, and organizing craft services. As we mentioned in this article, you might not be able to pay the people that are making your film dreams come true, but you should at least try to feed them!

There is also the matter of securing rights for any music you might want to use as discussed in this article, which is rarely easy or cheap. And don’t forget dealing with the inevitable paperwork: NDAs, contracts, invoices, W-9s, etc.

If you’re starting to think that maybe there’s more to this filmmaking thing than screenplays and storyboards, then you might start realizing just how important a producer is on even the tiniest of projects.

Pushing your film to the next level.

If you love your student film and want to expand it into something bigger and better, or if you want to get it into shape to enter into festivals, or pitch to studios as a feature or television series, or any of the many other ways a student film can turn into a career-starter, then having a producer already invested in the project will be an immense help for your cause.

With their skills in pitching, business, and human resources, as well as their big picture view of your overall concept, and an ability to work from pre-production to distribution, a producer will serve your project well as it grows and gains an audience. Having a producer onboard will also allow you as a director to move onto your next project without leaving the last one to molder in a hard drive or at the bottom of the YouTube dustbin.

Ready to learn more about film and TV production? Study producing at the New York Film Academy.

 

4 Things Students Should Know About the Movie Production Industry

1. Successful people never make it alone.

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How many times have we heard ad nauseam that it’s all about who you know? Those who are at the top now, likely didn’t get there working in a vacuum. They rose through the ranks with others they trusted to collaborate with in reaching their goals. They have a team.

Start by engaging with others not just at school but at workshops, festivals, and seminars. Like-minded people will gravitate towards each other. Folks in the industry often work together and respect one another enough to keep building a professional relationship for their mutual benefit. If you are a writer, find a producer who is willing to work hard with you, and the same goes for directors and actors. Build your team, knowing that these people will fill the critical roles needed to make your films a success.

2. You are the director of your career.

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You’ve heard that opportunity strikes when luck meets preparation. This increasingly digital industry, where we now have access to a plethora of media platforms for storytelling, is primed for you to create your own content.

Gone are the days where filmmakers could rely on studios to greenlight their projects and get the whole team on board. In the age of social media and reality television, an artist often has to have a certain level of presence to even be considered. Create a strong body of work so you can attract an audience and position yourself to be able to make better career making decisions. Become a content creator, and you can become the director of your own career.  

3. Learn the secrets of outsourcing.

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A common misconception of a director or showrunner is that they are the “boss,” when in reality there should always be 4 or 5 trusted people who provide critique or are better skilled in one area or another. Whatever your position, know when to seek the expertise of others who will only make your project better. You’ll always have a blind spot, and your own talent and skill will have a chance to serve the project best when you are successfully collaborating with the talents and skills of the others on your team. Outsourcing for different aspects of your filmmaking process, whether it is for budgeting, animation, or coaching your actors, is one of the tried and true secrets to successful production.  Mentors, film networks, and other resources can fill in these gaps for you.

4. Know the basics of storytelling.

While we can all agree that the fundamentals of storytelling are important to being a filmmaker, just as critical is knowing where you fit in the story that is actually taking place on set. Oftentimes, graduating from film school will leave you chomping at the bit to be hired as producer, director, or any other position of leadership. The truth is, your professional journey has only just begun. You are more than likely going to take on a PA role before doing anything else. How you handle what may feel like a lowly position is training ground for your future. Whatever your role is on set, it’s a critical one — or you wouldn’t be there. Every step of the way, you are paying dues—and all of it is a part of your story. Exhaust all of your opportunities to do what is expected, do it well, and always go the extra mile. Create your own track record, and be the hero in your story, where the only way to go is up.

Learn more about producing for film, television, and new media at the New York Film Academy.

What Does a TV Producer Do?

Do you have excellent organizational skills and a head for numbers? Are you also creative and able to see projects through from the planning stages to the very end? Well, you might have the makings of a television producer.

Television producers coordinate and supervise all aspects of a production, from the creative to the administrative. Producers also make the financial decisions and handle contracts, talent and bargaining agreements, and other administrative details. While producers get to be in on the fun of planning and executing a production, they also deal with troubles during production and keep everything within budget.

Some of the producer’s duties include:

  • Fundraising and networking
  • Working with financial backers
  • Seeking scripts and project ideas
  • Assessing proposed projects
  • Securing rights to books or other creative works
  • Commissioning writers

  • For news and sitcoms, producers are often part of the writing team
  • Hiring a director, crew, and actors
  • Organizing shooting and production schedules
  • Ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations during production
  • Supervising the entire project from beginning to post-production
  • Holding regular meetings with director to discuss progress
  • Ensuring the project is done on time and within the budget

There are several different types of producers and each one has different levels of responsibility on a production. The Producers Guild of America has a good overview of the different producer titles and responsibilities on their website.

Producers handle the business side of a production from finances to contracts and do a lot of trouble-shooting every day, so the job can be stressful. The fast-pace and working with other creative people can also be very rewarding. In an interview with Produced By, Marta Kauffman (“Friends,” “Grace and Frankie”) describes her typical day and how working on a series for Netflix is different from a network TV series.

Breaking into the field can be tough, but getting experience as a runner or a production assistant is often the first step. New York Film Academy’s Cheryl Bedford describes her career path and offers encouraging advice to students in this interview.

Ready to learn more about producing for film, television, and new media? Learn the trade at the New York Film Academy.

 

 

 

4 Lessons to Learn from Major Film Producers

A producer is the person most involved in any given project, all the way from pre-production to post-production, whether it’s a film, new media, or television show. The duties of the producer range from the development of the material to hiring writers, and locating buyers and financiers. They oversee the development of the script, they’re involved with the hiring of the cast and crew for the project, and they even look at locations for the project.

Producers are involved with every creative, technical, and financial aspect of each project. In short, the producer commands the show.

At the New York Film Academy, you will begin your first day of class as a producer, not as a student. You will be treated as a professional and right out of the gate, you will learn how to manage multiple productions while learning the ins and outs of the industry. NYFA offers BFA, MFA and AFA degree programs, a one-year intensive certificate program, and in-depth four- and 12-week producing workshops.

While we give our students the opportunity for hands-on experiences as producers, there are always more lessons to be learned and more inspiration to be drawn from real-world examples. Check out our lessons learned below from major film producers.

Simon Kinberg

Simon Kinberg, a London native, was the writer and producer for “X-Men: Apocalypse,” part of FOX’s mutant-minded franchise. The latest movie in the series was not well received by critics when it was released last year. In an interview with IGN, Kinberg stated that “Apocalypse” was supposed to be about “a family splitting apart and coming back together.” Kinberg also said somewhere in the process of creating “Apocalypse,” the message ended up getting buried and the message on the surface focused on a guy trying to destroy the world.

The end result of the movie was that “Apocalypse” was about global stakes. Kinberg said that he learned “that human and personal stakes always trump global stakes.” According to Kinberg, Brian Singer’s “X-Men,” the first movie in the franchise, was a good example because it was balanced: Magento had world-sized ambitions but the movie was really about saving Rogue.

Lesson: “Human and personal stakes always trump global stakes.”

Sarah Winshall

Sarah Winshall produced “Affections,” a film that premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and was directed by Bridey Elliott. In an article with Filmmaker Magazine, Winshall discussed her prior experience as an assistant to producers and she outlined some of the things that she learned while she was producing “Affections.” One of Winshall’s tips involved creating a comprehensive script breakdown — or a spreadsheet outlining everything that will be needed for each scene.

Winshall admitted during the interview that the comprehensive script breakdown allowed her to really wrap her head around the scope of the project. After that, it became easier because everything was right there on the page in front of her — production costs, special effects, costumes, locations, and crew members.

Lesson: Be organized! Try Winshall’s method of creating a spreadsheet that comprehensively outlines everything that will be needed for each scene in production.

Adam Leipzig

Adam Leipzig is not new to the Hollywood scene: He supervised films such as “Dead Poets Society” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” and produced “Titus” and “The Way Back.” He is also the CEO of Entertainment Media Partners and is the publisher of the online arts magazine Cultural Weekly.

In a blog post published on CEO.com, Leipzig analyzes the importance of producers and how they are expected to lead. Leipzig wrote that through previous experience, he learned that producers may not have a lot of power but they lead in any project — no matter how big or small.

One of the biggest things he’s learned over the years? Toss the ego out of the window. “Replace the word ‘I’ with ‘we.’ As a corollary, don’t get worried when other people claim credit for your successes. That’s immaterial,” Leipzig wrote. If you remove your ego off the table, other people will too and it will make collaboration so much easier.

Lesson: Be a leader. Remove your ego.

Nina Jacobson

Everyone knows the line, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Producer Nina Jacobson bought the three-book series “The Hunger Games” to the silver screen and gave author Suzanne Collins a promise of staying true to the war scenes in the book. Jacobson was able to deliver a franchise that made Collins and “The Hunger Games” fan base proud of the film adaptations. She was also able to show Hollywood that money can be made on female leads.

Jacobson landed four blockbuster films with release dates spanning four years. In an interview with SyfyWire, Jacobson talked about the importance of the actors you select during casting playing a critical part in accomplishing tight deadlines. Part of achieving success lies in the people you select, because they are a huge part of the project.

“It was greatly affirmed to make the decision to pay attention to who these people are as human beings and to know it would make an enormous difference in getting through something like this,” Jacobson said during the interview.

Jacobson also admitted that it was at times difficult to juggle projects — making movies while others were in post-production was sometimes stressful. The process of it all proved to have its challenges. But according to Jacobson, Collins was a great monitor and guide, and she made a huge difference being involved with the films.

Lesson: The people involved in a project can make all the difference. Choose your team wisely.

As a producer, what are some lessons that you have learned? Sound off below! And, if you want to learn more about production, check out our producing programs at New York Film Academy.

Pilot Season 2017 Part 2: Here’s What’s Coming Your Way

Pilot season is a secret peek into TV’s future, when broadcast network execs decide which pilots go to series and which get scrapped. That trend may be changing with Amazon asking viewers to vote on their choices. Four Amazon shows already have the green light, but for the others, we’ll have to wait and see.

What follows are some trends in pilot season and some examples of shows that may be coming your way in the 2017-2018 season.

Enter Pilot Season Politics

Family dramas, comedies and police procedurals are joined this year by what the Hollywood Reporter calls the broadcast networks’ “efforts to appeal to Trump America.” NBC’s offering is a military hero drama ”For God and Country,” and CBS picked up a Navy SEALs drama, which, according to Variety’s Development Scorecard, “Follows the lives of the elite Navy SEALs as they train, plan, and execute the most dangerous, high stakes missions our country can ask.”

On the other hand, ABC’s “Red Blooded,” starring Reba McEntire as a “Red State” sheriff, will have her views challenged by a Muslim FBI agent. Speaking of ripped-from-the-headlines dramas, CBS has “Perfect Citizen,” about an Edward Snowden-like character. If you prefer your politics wrapped in allegory, ABC”s “The Crossing,” where the ill-fated refugees are Americans, is for you.

Seeking Out New Stories in New Frontiers

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Another trend moves us off this troubled planet with CBS’s astronaut drama called “Mission Control,” and NBC’s comedy “Spaced Out.”

Netflix and Amazon are also in the space-race, with the reboot of beloved ’60s sci-fi classic “Lost in Space” and futuristic “Oasis,” which Rolling Stone calls a “space-madness headscratcher.”

FOX has Orville, a comedy drama set 300 years in the future, as well as the apocalyptic “Passage,” based on Justin Cronin’s best-selling mixed-genre trilogy.

Marvel Comics teamed up with FOX to create the latest from the X-Men universe. The logline for “Gifted” runs: “After discovering their children possess mutant powers, two ordinary parents and their kids are forced to go on the run from a hostile government, eventually joining up with an underground network of mutants.”

Under the Influence

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CBS picked up the idea for “Living Biblically,” about a middle-aged man who decides to follow the Bible to the letter with hilarious results, from a book by AJ Jacobs.

Fox has loosely based its office comedy “Type A” on “*ssholes: A Theory” by Aaron James.

In Netflix’s “Disjointed,” Kathy Bates heads up a ragtag and mostly stoned bunch in the legal cannabis business.

Amazon is also into the pot game with “Budding Prospects,” a show about marijuana farmers in 1980s California. That show, along with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” about a perfect wife turned queen of comedy in 1950s New York, were given the green light to go to series by Amazon viewers.

What new shows are you watching this season? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re ready to learn more about film and television production, check out our producing programs at New York Film Academy!

Projects That Made the Most of Their Monstrous Production Budget

The amount of new movies hitting the market continues to grow every day, and each new film uses more exotic filming locations, special effects and well-known actors and actresses. Blockbuster movies make use of their big production budgets in hopes of creating successful and unforgettable entertainment. While many aspiring filmmakers yearn for larger budgets, wisely allocating and managing a large film budget is an artform in and of itself. Below, we have compiled a list of movies from the last two decades with monstrous production budgets that were, arguably, used to great effect.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

Andrew Garfield took to the building tops of New York City in 2014 once again as Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” A reported $500 million was spent to reboot the classic superhero series, which only featured two movies. The sequel to “The Amazing Spider-Man” was shot exclusively on 35mm film and entirely in New York.

The production budget for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was an estimated $255 million and performed well in the box office. However, Sony Pictures decided to cancel the series and has partnered with Marvel Studios to include Spider-Man in upcoming films. Tom Holland portrayed Spider-Man in the newest Captain America movie.

“Avatar”

James Cameron’s “Avatar,” which hit the big screens in 2009, was at the forefront of film technology and motion capture animation. It took Cameron’s team over a year to develop new technology and software for the film’s motion capture. He also employed over 900 people at Weta Digital to work on digital after effects.

Reports speculated that the budget for “Avatar” had cost $280 to $500 million due to all of the visuals. However, Fox officially released production cost and the movie’s budget was only $237 million. Cameron’s “Avatar” was the first film to make more than $200 billion worldwide and remains one of the highest grossing films.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Joss Whedon’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” is the follow-up movie to his first successful “Avengers” movie. The second blockbuster featured big-name actors and actresses including Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Evans. The film was shot in multiple locations such as England, Bangladesh, Italy, New York City, and South Korea. In addition to a large cast and multiple filming locations, post-production special effects made the move’ budget quite high. The tax rebate from the United Kingdom confirmed the cost of the film was $330.6 million.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” made $1.403 billion worldwide in the box office, making the movie the sixth highest-grossing movie of all time. The sequel though, did not out-perform “Avengers” in the box office. There is a rumor that the third film in the series, “Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part 1,” and the fourth, “Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part 2” will be even more expensive.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”

Harry Potter has been a cultural phenomenon that has dominated the last two decades. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth installment of the series, had the largest production budget out of all the movies, which was an estimated $250 million.

The seventh and eighth installment of the movie series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” had a budget similar to “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” but because the movie was filmed simultaneously, production costs were cut in half. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” brought in $934.4 billion worldwide.   

The Hobbit: “An Unexpected Journey,” “Desolation of Smaug,” and “The Battle of Five Armies”

The three-part installment of “The Hobbit” had a whopping production budget of $745 million. It is hard to determine the budget for each individual film due to the fact that the three films were created simultaneously. Even if the films’ budget could be divided, the films would still be one of the most expensive – both films were filmed in 3D and in 45 frames per second.

The budget for the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was $281 million and made $2.917 billion worldwide. The monstrous budget for “The Hobbit” trilogy paid off because the trilogy made $2.932 billion worldwide.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “At World’s End,” and “On Stranger Tides”

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” were filmed simultaneously, so it’s hard to determine the exact cost for each film. However, the cost for Disney to film both movies in tandem was an estimated $500 million. A-list actors such as Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly coupled with exotic filming locations and special effects led to the increase in productions costs.    

The fourth movie of the installment, “On Stranger Tides,” is the first movie in the series to cost more than $400 million. The production team used 1,200 generated sequences, similar to the 3D technology that was used in “Avatar,” for special effects. It was confirmed that the total for the production’s budget was $410.6 million.    

“Spider-Man 3”

“Spider-Man 3,” not to be confused with “The Amazing Spider-Man,” featured Tobey Maguire as the web-slinging hero of New York City. In the third installment of the series, Spider-Man faces three villains: Sandman, Venom, and Harry Osborne, also known as New Goblin. The movie was filmed in Los Angeles, Cleveland, and New York City. Multiple filming locations could have attributed to a higher budget.  

Sony Productions confirmed that the movie’s production budget was $258 million, and the movie grossed $890.9, leading “Spider-Man 3” to be the most successful movie out of the three-movie installment from a financial standpoint. But Sony Pictures and the movie’s director, Sam Raimi, had a falling out and Sony cut ties. The falling out with Raimi led Sony to reboot the series five years later using Andrew Garfield as the leading man.

“Tangled”

Who doesn’t love a good animated film? Disney’s 2010 musical comedy featured the first princess to be rendered in 3D, not 2D (Rapunzel). It is estimated that the movie production budget was around $260 million, making “Tangled” one of the most expensive animated films to date.

Two reasons as to why the budget was so high: 1) the movie was in production for six years, and 2) the production team developed a state-of-the-art program to code how Rapunzel’s hair should move and behave in water.

The animated film made $591.8 million worldwide; it was also nominated for two Golden Globes, an Oscar and won a Grammy for “I See the Light.”

What are your favorite monster-budget blockbuster films? Let us know in the comments below! And apply to NYFA’s producing programs to learn more about how to maximize a production budget.

 

 

 

Celebrating Women Film Producers

With this year’s Best Picture going to producer Dede Gardner for “Moonlight” and the top-grossing “Rogue One” produced by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, you’d think the “celluloid ceiling” had been thoroughly busted — but sadly, the numbers tell another story. For Women’s History Month, we at NYFA think it’s important to honor the milestones in pursuing gender equality, while being realistic about the continuing, painful disparities.

According to research reported at The Center for The Study of Women in Television and Film, the numbers for women behind the scenes actually dropped last year: “In 2016, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from last year and is even with the percentage achieved in 1998.” According to the study women accounted for 17 percent of executive producers and 24 percent of producers.

At NYFA, we encourage women to make careers for themselves in the biz not only in front of the camera but also behind the scenes, where diverse perspectives have the power to shake the industry. This is only one of the reasons why, for five years, our producing programs have attracted a majority-female student community.

Finding Academy Award-winning Adventures

This year Dede Gardner took home a Best Picture Oscar for the (surprise) winner “Moonlight.” She and Jeremy Kleiner head up Brad Pitt’s Plan B, which has become a reliable source for quality films — for example, the 2012 Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave.” Regarding their process at Plan B, Gardner, quoted in an IndieWire article said, “We spend a lot of time reading, a lot of time watching movies in small corners of libraries and hotel rooms. It’s probably our favorite thing to do. We fall in love with a movie and we reach out. We ask to meet, see more work and listen to what they’re interested in, what world they want to live in, what stories they want to tell. Time and time again, those conversations can result in movies. They just need to be had in an honest space. The only intentions will ever be to continue the conversation, and not think about these things as products, but adventures that we might embark on together.”

What many people may not know, however, is that Plan B was not the only (or the first) productive force behind “Moonlight.” Adele Romanski was one of three Florida State University friends who brought the project to life long before Plan B entered the picture. Romanski set up weekly Google chats to help motivate her friend, writer/director Barry Jenkins, to start another feature film project after an eight-year hiatus. As Romanski explained to Vulture last December: “… I came to the realization that I wanted to work with good people who I knew, who I could trust or who I did trust, and [do] good work together. And so the top of the list obviously was going to be Barry. And there was a lot of noise, it was becoming sort of a louder and louder conversation about where’s Barry’s next movie? Why hasn’t Barry made a movie? We would be at festivals or other industry functions, and people were coming up to us like, Why hasn’t Barry made a movie? And I would say, I don’t know, why don’t you ask him? But also, like, why are you asking me? You’re coming to me? So anyway, I just called him and said, You’ve got to make a movie. I’m gonna make you, I’m gonna help you, we’re gonna make it, make you make a movie.” And she did — a movie that went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. In her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, Romanski said: “And I think, I hope even more than that it’s inspiring to people, little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized and who take some inspiration from seeing this beautiful group of artists held by this amazing talent, Barry Jenkins, accepting this top honor. Thank you.”

From Secretary to President

Kathleen Kennedy started out as Steven Spielberg’s secretary, but quickly proved herself. An Entertainment weekly article celebrating women producers describes her early rise: “Spielberg tells EW that her ‘creative intuition’ while working as his assistant on 1981’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ especially ‘in the crowded streets in Kairouan, Tunisia…gaining the cooperation and participation of the people living there,’ inspired him to hire her as a producer on “E.T.” Now Kennedy heads Lucasfilm and is responsible for the Star Wars franchise, whose last two releases, “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One,” were the box office winners of 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Taking Control Behind the Scenes

Kathryn Bigelow was the first (and still the only) woman to ever win Best Director for “The Hurt Locker,” for which she, as producer, also won for Best Picture. Bigelow started her career as a painter and then went to film school. She has made a name for herself directing action and thriller films that belie any notions about typical female-run projects, such as “Strange Days” and “Point Break.” A Guardian article quotes her as saying, “I suppose I like to think of myself as a filmmaker” (not a female filmmaker). In other words, she seems to attach less significance to her gender than the media and the industry does.

Fun fact: NYFA New York Producing Chair Neal Weisman worked with Kathryn Bigelow on her film “Blue Steel,” starring Jamie Curtis during his time as vice president of Edward Pressman Film Corporation.

Telling Untold Stories

The producing team of Amanda Posey and Finola Dwyer, do tend towards stories that feature female perspectives, such as “An Education” and “Brooklyn,” both of which were nominated for Best Picture. In a Guardian article Posey was quoted as saying, “We are always looking to tell something from a fresh perspective and with a fresh insight and it just so happens that, because of the way history is told, a lot of the untold stories are female. We are drawn to it from a storytelling point of view rather than specifically because it is based around women.”

Happy Women’s History Month! Do you have a favorite female producer? Or do you aspire to be the next female powerhouse behind the scenes? Let us know in the comments below, and check out our producing programs at New York Film Academy.

4 Films That Won Both The PGA and The Oscar

It’s mid-January and the award-season excitement is palpable. Which is exactly why you must tune in to your television on Saturday Jan. 28 to watch the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards. Not only do these awards accurately predict the Oscars much of the time, but every film that has won a PGA has also received a Best Picture nomination for the Academy Award.

Here we’ve rounded up a few films that have won both the awards, for your re-viewing pleasure. What better way to get you started in the award season mood?

1. “Birdman” (2014)

 Also known as “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” this is a black-comedy drama film that appears to have been filmed in one long single shot. The story focuses on Riggan Thomson, a fading actor who was once a huge name for playing the Birdman superhero and is now trying to reinvent himself as well as his career by directing and acting in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story that eerily reflects his dysfunctional life and relationships as well. With elements of meta-narrative and magic realism blended in, this makes for an intoxicating watch.

2. “Frozen” (2013)

A musical fantasy animated film, this Disney delight blends the old Snow Queen tale in a beautiful story about sibling bonding. Princess Ella has always suppressed her magic after a childhood accident with her sister Anna until the day of her coronation, when she sets off her powers before everyone, without meaning to. Ashamed and fearful of herself, she flees the castle to live a solitary life in an ice palace hidden deep in the mountainous woods. Anna takes it upon herself to rescue her estranged sister. This film also won an Academy Award for the Best Original Song “Let It Go.”

3. “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008)

A drama film set in India, this movie has an extremely interesting plot. Slum-dweller and Muslim, Jamal Malik is a quiz show contestant who is detained and tortured by the sceptical police who refuse to believe how an impoverished boy knew so much to get a place in the show. In a series of flashbacks, each linked to a question that Jamal correctly answers, we come to know the heartbreaking story of his life.

4. “Up” (2009)

A beautiful animated family film, “Up” centres on the adventures of the ageing widower Carl and a young adventurer Russell who set out to explore the wilderness of South America. Using helium balloons, Carl manages to levitate his house and turn it into an airship and meets a variety of creatures that help him along the way and join in their adventures. Packed with humour and warmth, this is one delightful film that is also the second animated film in history to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination (after “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991).

Which is your favourite film to win both the coveted awards? Which films are you rooting for, this time? Let us know in the comments below!

5 Actresses Who Became Successful Producers

Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality during her Oscar acceptance speech earlier this year; Emma Watson being appointed by the UN as a Goodwilll Ambassador, heading the gender equality initiative, He For She; Amy Schumer being the first female comedian to headline a show at Madison Square Garden (scheduled for 2016)… with all of these women making big moves on an international stage, it seems feminism in the entertainment industry is well and truly alive. That said, it’s not news to say that women have been long overshadowed by their male counterparts in show-business. I mean, when considering nearly 70% of characters in speaking roles were male among the top 100 films between 2007 and 2014, it’s safe to say the industry hasn’t quite overcome gender imbalance as yet.

Nevertheless, females are taking a stance and continue to make headway, particularly behind the camera—a place where the imbalance is most evident. With women being so grossly underrepresented, it’s no wonder many actresses are making the transition and taking part in the production of their creative platforms. Here are a few of the women who have dared to challenge the status quo and transitioned from acting in front of the camera, to producing behind it.

Drew Barrymore

Quite literally growing up in the public eye after she shot to stardom with her adorable, blonde pigtails and lisp in Spielberg’s E.T. (1982) at the age of six, Barrymore famously experienced a tumultuous adolescence and early adulthood but came out on-top with a prosperous acting career. What is lesser known about the talented actress is her extremely successful career as a producer and founder of her own production company Flower Films in 1995. Knowing longevity wasn’t always synonymous with a woman’s career in Hollywood, she embarked on the project with long-time friend, Nancy Juvonen. “Doesn’t matter how far or high I go; if I can keep working, that is the most profound amount of success I in my personal life can ever find,” says Barrymore. Her self-initiated enterprise earned her the role of Executive Producer for the company’s debut film, Never Been Kissed in 1999. Since then, she’s consistently produced big, money-making films that have received several accolades and critical acclaim—many of which she also starred in. Along with the Charlie’s Angels films (2000, 2003) and the TV show in 2011, she’s also produced instant cult classics like Donnie Darko (2001) and Whip It (2009), followed by a string of romantic comedies like 50 First Dates (2004), Fever Pitch (2005), and He’s Just Not That Into You (2009).

Reese Witherspoon

Beginning her acting career from the age of fourteen in The Man in the Moon (1991), Witherspoon’s resume went from strength to strength, starring in classic hits like Election (1999), Cruel Intentions (1999), and box-office successes, Legally Blonde (2001) and Legally Blonde 2 (2003)—the latter which she produced and from which she earned $15 million, fifteen-times the amount she got for the original. Becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of lead female roles and the majority of scripts sharing the common theme of women needing to be saved by men, she decided to establish her own production company. “I think it was literally one studio that had a project for a female lead over 30,” she said, “and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to get busy.’” Using much of her own funds, she launched Pacific Standard with Australian producer Bruna Papandrea in 2012. The production company released its first two films just weeks within each other—the first was an adaptation of the blockbuster novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl, and the second was based on the bestselling memoir of Cheryl Strayed, Wild. Both films were a huge success and the latter earned Witherspoon nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes and SAG Awards for her part as Cheryl.

Elizabeth Banks

Having taken on 70 roles in front of the camera so far, including those in major hits like The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Spider-Man 2 and 3 (2004, 2007), and The Hunger Games franchise, Banks has certainly accrued some Hollywood brownie points through the years. Using those points and knowing the difficulties faced by actresses in Hollywood after a certain age, Banks took a pragmatic turn to production in 2009, creating Brownstone Productions with husband, Max Handelman. “There was a group of us girls coming up … a lot of us surviving, some of us not,” recalling her days at auditions with Tara Reid, “We’re not all still here.” The company earned Universal $113 million at the box office on a $17 million budget, and another $103 million in home video sales for its surprising hit Pitch Perfect in 2012, which she also starred in. She also jumped into the director’s chair for the sequel Pitch Perfect 2, released this year in May, which snagged a $69 million debut weekend.

Sandra Bullock

Boasting an illustrious acting career that began with the motion picture Hangman in 1987, Bullock has continued to capture audience’s hearts with her girl-next-door persona. Her big breakthrough came when she starred alongside Keanu Reeves in the famous thriller, Speed (1994), shortly followed by romantic comedy, While You Were Sleeping (1996), which earned her a nomination for a Golden Globe. It was in this genre she really soared, founding the production company Fortis Films in 1998, which went on to produce a string of well-received romantic comedies and dramas she also starred in. Some of them include Hope Floats (1998), Miss Congeniality 1 and 2 (2000, 2005), Two Weeks Notice (2002) and The Proposal (2009).

Margot Robbie

A newcomer to the producing scene, this 25 year-old Australian is trying out her hand at the creative process behind the camera, after bursting onto the Hollywood scene two years ago with her life-changing role in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Since her big break, the young actress has scored major roles beside Will Smith in Focus (2015) and again (alongside many other big names) in DC Comics’ antihero film, Suicide Squad—due for release in August next year. Robbie recently revealed that she’s been working on two projects that she’s producing, focusing mainly on one called Terminal in London, a “thriller-noir flick” comparable to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) and Sin City (2005). Admitting that she’s really enjoying being behind the lens, the young star says her focus for the next year will solely be on producing, despite the media frenzy that’s likely to follow the Suicide Squad release. “The experience has really opened my eyes to the world of indie film producing,” she said. “It’s such a hustle—extremely difficult but very rewarding.”

Learn more about the School of Producing at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Producing Movies in 2015: Subcultures and Niches

As mentioned the last time we covered the role of the producer, it’s a very fluid role that is extremely hard to sum up with a two-line job description. Throw into the mix that the industry is evolving at a rapid pace—forcing the role itself to change with it—and it’s little wonder that so many people are struggling to find their feet.

Producing school will naturally put you way ahead of the game, but the question of what to produce lies squarely with you. One thing to consider as you traverse this exciting terrain is how subcultures and crowdfunding can provide a tried-and-tested path to fund and produce a great work of passion, and it’s that which we’ll be discussing today.

Crowdfunding: More Than Just The Cash

It won’t have escaped the notice of anyone reading this that crowdfunding has, at long last, come to be taken seriously as a means for funding productions (and at a scale which has really silenced the naysayers.)

Obviously, raising enough capital to do justice to your vision is a very important concern for any producer. But it has to be said that, as many have before you have found out the hard way, crowdfunding is not a big pile of cash that anyone can dip into at will.

If you look at just about any successful crowdfunding project—even outside of the realm of filmmaking—you’re likely to notice a common thread running through them: they identify a very specific demographic, then figure out how to best serve the people within it.

Movie production is no exception. Free from some of the restrictions of traditional, big studio-fuelled productions, a filmmaker in 2015 no longer has to try and appeal to the largest swathe of potential moviegoers and can instead hone in on very niche subjects.

Consider the likes of Indie Game: The Movie, which pulled in over $70,000 in crowdfunding and went on to huge critical acclaim, or the Bronies documentary which smashed its $60,000 target and ended up raising over $320,000. The success of both lies with excellent marketing to an extremely passionate (and pre-existing) audience who were happy to pay to see a film that wasn’t even released yet.

But this brings us onto the golden rule of producing a movie for a specific subculture:

You Can’t Fake Passion.

Circling back to the aforementioned message about crowdfunding not being a method of making a quick buck, trying to take advantage of a subculture you’ve got no interest in is a very quick route to failure. A producer with no passion or reverence for the subject matter will not be able to create a quality film that does it justice, and those who are passionate within the subculture can spot a fake from a thousand miles away.

And anyway, you probably already learned very early on into your career that there is barely enough time to do justice to the interests you are passionate about, never mind the ones you aren’t.

In short, pick a niche that really interests you. It’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll find a group of like-minded individuals who will happily invest in what you have to say on the topic via the medium of film.

The Importance of Branding and Subculture in Production

To further demonstrate the efficacy of keeping the potential audience in mind first and foremost when scouting for a potential production, let’s examine the trend for marketing to pre-existing audiences on a huge scale.

Studios are increasingly turning to—and snapping up—intellectual properties that come with their own inbuilt audiences. If we look at the top grossing movies of 2015 so far, you’ll notice a common theme:

1. Jurassic Worl($1.6bn)
2. Furious 7 ($1.5bn)
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1.4bn)
4. Minions ($1bn)
5. Inside Out ($734m)
6. Fifty Shades of Grey ($569m)
7. Cinderella ($542m)
8. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation ($509m)
9. San Andreas ($469m)
10. Terminator Genisys ($435m)

By and large, the above entries already come from strongly-established franchises or had a huge amount of anticipation and almost guaranteed audience attendance before release (such as Pixar’s Inside Out and Fifty Shades of Grey). The same went for 2014, a top-grossing list made up almost completely of sequels, reboots, and comic book movies with already eager audiences (namely Guardians of the Galaxy.) The only anomaly this year was San Andreas, and the only brand new intellectual property last year was Interstellar

… and obviously, directly following the success of the Dark Knight trilogy, it wouldn’t exactly be a risky gamble to predict the success of any Christopher Nolan release.

Even  this year’s Pixels movie—which performed poorly from a critical perspective—has doubled its budget at the box office, likely owing to its tapping of a strong and rising crowd of indie game enthusiasts.

The Takeaway for Indie Producers

Of course, this is all a very scaled-up example from the very top of the box office for demonstration purposes. You don’t have to compete at this scale and nor should it be deemed a failure if you don’t make millions or double your budget—remember, it’s all about making serving a subculture or niche with a strongly branded work that you can be proud of, and the principles behind this work at any level.

Go find your niche. Discover the audience that is already out there and waiting, then make sure you create something that truly speaks to them. 

So What Exactly IS A Film Producer?

Of all the jobs in film that we’ve covered so far, there’s one in particular that seems to cause a lot of confusion. Namely, we’re talking about film producers.

And it’s not hard to see why the job title causes so much confusion. Such is vagueness of the term ‘producer’ that we’ve even met film producers who have struggled themselves to describe the job in a few concise sentences.

So as much as trying to define the term ‘film producer’ is akin to successfully nailing jelly to a wall, today we’re going to do just that and definitively explore:

What Exactly IS a Producer?

From the off, we can state that a producer wears many different hats during the course of a movie’s completion (and it’s for that reason that it’s tricky to sum up in just a few words.) That said, there are two hugely essential parts of the process that the producer nearly always takes sole care of:

Development: Long before pre-production can start, there naturally needs to be something to produce! It’s up to the producer to find and discover a story worth committing to celluloid—a property that they own—whether it comes in the form of an original screenplay, a novel that’s ripe for adaptation, or even the life story or personal tale from an interesting subject.

Of course, it’s not as easy as just reading a book, thinking “that’d make a good film,” then assembling the crew. A producer must initiate and enter into negotiations with whoever’s responsible for the source material, with the ultimate aim being to acquire the rights on their terms.

Financing: Once the film rights have been bought, the monetary fun doesn’t stop there. Producers are the ones who pitch the movie to studios (or their employer) in the hopes of securing financing, and thereafter managing said finances throughout the life of the production to make sure everything is delivered on time and on budget.

Even once the movie is in the can, the financing duties still aren’t over. Distribution of the final product also needs to be sorted out, and that’s squarely in the remit of the producer.

So A Producer Handles the Cash, Basically?

Not quite! It’s a large part of the job of being a film producer, but depending on personal style, he or she may get personally involved with a number of tasks.

The hiring of the director and screenwriting staff is nearly always handled by the producer, but from here things depart from the conventional. Depending on the scale of the project, the producer may wish to get involved with hand-selecting any or all members of team.

Sometimes, however, that is left in the care of the director. On multi-million dollar productions, practicality may dictate that a hierarchy of producers are required that the executive producer can delegate to. From top to bottom, the chain of command runs:

  • Executive Producer
  • Co-executive Producer
  • Line Producer
  • Supervising Producer
  • Producer
  • Co-producer
  • Coordinating Producer
  • Consulting Producer
  • Associate Producer
  • Segment Producer
  • Field Producer
  • Edit Producer
  • Post Producer

How much the executive producer passes down the chain varies from movie to movie, but to make matters more complicated, the individual producer titles listed above also come with separate duties—for instance, a coordinating producer will organize scheduling and the division of labor, while a supervising producer may have a big hand in script rewrites and the edit producer will oversee post-production.

So Production Staff are Like Management?

It’s not quite as simple as that. While producers generally have the final say on anything they decide to get involved in, more often than not a good producer will hire professionals that can do their respective jobs without supervision so that they can focus on the bigger picture.

But as we all know, the creation process behind filmmaking is a very fluid one and subject to change at any given moment.

Sometimes, you’ve got to put the finance book down, roll your sleeves up, and get your hands dirty.

Top Indie Producers Shaking Up Hollywood

To an outside observer looking in, it would appear that the film industry of late is comprised solely of gigantic corporate entities churning out endless, CGI-laden blockbusters.

And anyone would be forgiven for thinking that. Alongside the hundred-million-dollar budgets that go into such movies, an almost equal amount is spent in the run up to release making sure virtually every person on the planet knows about them.

But get away from all the noise and you’ll come across some extraordinary independent producers that are creating superb work despite being overshadowed by the massive industry players. If you’re in (or have recently graduated from) producing school and want a little inspiration from those who are going against the grain, read on!

Indie Producers Hollywood Should Be Watching

Since the term ‘indie’ can be a little blurry when it comes to movie production, for the purpose of clarity we’re going with the widely-accepted definition that an indie production company doesn’t have big distribution contracts, tends to operate with a core crew of ten people or less, and generally finances movies with budgets below the $1 million mark (though some team up with other studios to bring big projects to life).

Gilbert Films

While the Los Angeles-based Gilbert Films only has two people at its helm, those two producers—the eponymous Gary Gilbert and Jordan Horrowitz—have plenty of provenance between them. Gilbert himself had early success with the indie breakout Garden State (for which he won an Inde­pen­dent Spirit Award for Best First Feature) and Horrowitz joined him to put his decade of filmmaking experience to work as producer on the multiple award-winning The Kids Are Alright.

Gilbert Films is going from strength to strength, but the duo is clearly keen to put quality before expansion, selecting projects that are both artistic and commercially viable. If you want an example of an indie production company that started off strong and kept getting better, this is it.

Red Crown Productions

From L.A to New York, we now move to the indie powerhouse Red Crown Productions… although there is an interesting tie-in with Gilbert Films, too.

Founded in 2010 by Daniela Lundberg and Dan Crown, the former co-produced The Kids Are Alright alongside the Gilbert duo above (her first big Sundance success after numerous years at the festival.) Dan Crown was a former theatre owner who sold up the family business to partner with Lundberg—of the partnership, Crown stated that they approach productions from dramatically different perspectives, while Lundberg refers to Crown as the company’s “godfather and true partner to me.”

EFO Films

Founded by Randall Emmett and George Furla (and later merging with Oasis Ventures) way back in 1998, EFO is an indie production company that has really gone the distance. Despite its small team size and conservative budgeting, since its inception the company has gone on to create over 80 films which, collectively, have grossed a little over a billion dollars at the box office.

Having worked closely with Mark Wahlberg on many titles and produced a number of movies featuring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro (including Righteous Kill which co-starred them both), even more intriguing is that EFO has been licensed to produce the first ever movies based around the Monopoly and Hungry Hungry Hippos board games…

BCDF Pictures

As far as quirky backstories go, BCDF takes the cake.

The Dal Farra brothers originally worked in biochemistry before selling their biotech firm, hooking up with a cardiologist, then purchasing a 35-acre farm from which to operate their private equity film financing outfit. Sounds strange on paper, but in practice it has paid off—since 2010, the trio have had a string of Sundance hits including Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, Higher Ground, and Bachelorette.

Annapurna Pictures

Megan Ellison is in a unique position in the world of independent film production: money is no object to her.

The daughter of a billionaire, Ellison has been able to approach film financing with an indie heart but with none of the constraint, and it’s a killer combination that she’s leveraging to its fullest extent. How killer are we talking? Consider that in just a few years, her company has produced Her, Zero Dark Thirty, and American Hustle, three of the most daringly brilliant movies of the early 2010s.

It’s little wonder that she was listed in Time‘s Most Influential People last year, and is definitely among our own indie producers we’ll be keenly following over the next year. Know of any other great indie production powerhouses we should be checking out? Don’t hesitate to leave your hat-tip in the comments below… we’ll see you down there!

 

No, Not Lenny!: 5 Ways The Simpsons Can Keep Harry Shearer

Simpsons fans around the world woke up this morning to news that veteran comic actor Harry Shearer may be leaving The Simpsons at the end of this season. While a vague tweet is hardly confirmation, fans have known for years now that it was only a matter of time before someone from the core cast left before the show had run its insanely long course. Shearer has been the most vocal of cast members about the show’s record-length run and a decline in quality that has riled fans since the late 90s and even spawned entire podcasts.

The Simpsons was just recently renewed for at least two more seasons, and it’s hard to imagine the show continuing on without trademark characters like Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Dr. Hibbert and Lenny (no, not Lenny!) While it can theoretically continue, it just wouldn’t seem right for a Shearerless Simpsons.

As students are challenged to do at our producing school, we’ve decided to conduct a thought exercise using real world cases and hypothesize 5 ways The Simpsons and Harry Shearer can find a happy middle ground and keep him and his beloved rogue’s gallery of Springfieldians (and Rigellians) on the show. One option not included on this list is raising his salary even higher than the millions he already takes in a year, as the salaries of the rest of the cast would also then need to be raised, and the only thing keeping The Simpsons still on the air is that it is profitable. Another option is just ending the show with Shearer. While this makes sense, the show has already been renewed and frankly nothing short of nuclear war is ending the sitcom’s run anytime soon. A third option we simply won’t consider is letting Shearer sail off into that good night, because a Springfield without Principal Skinner is a Springfield we cannot stand.

1. Reduce His Role(s)

Harry Shearer has been around a while (it’s been over thirty years since Spinal Tap!) so you can’t blame the guy for wanting to relax and enjoy his mill-diddily-illions. But maybe he can still come in here and there so that Springfield still seems full of his characters and the world continues to feel whole. A Smithers line here and a Reverend Lovejoy joke there can go a long way. We may not get any more Mr. Burns-centric episodes, but there’s already been about fifty—we can probably get by without more.

2. Make It Easy For Him

The cast still get together for table reads so writers can hear the script out loud and alter the drafts accordingly, a tradition that the show has held on to since the late 1980s. Maybe the producers can compromise and let Shearer sit them out, having another cast member or someone else fill in for the table reads. Also, with the millions the show generate, they can probably afford otherwise absurd accommodations, like setting up audio equipment in Shearer’s house. He can record his lines from anywhere in the world and never even have to put on his pants. That beats any pension plan we’ve got!

3. Pay Him More Than Money

So clearly throwing money at Harry Shearer wouldn’t work, if he is truly willing to walk away from Fox’s cash cow. But Fox still has something Shearer doesn’t necessarily have—broadcast power. Maybe as part of his contact they can agree to greenlight and commit to a passion project of Harry’s—a movie, television show, live act, anything. He has the money to make these on his own but he can’t necessarily distribute them to the masses as easily. Maybe he wants A Mighty Wind sequel? We sure do!

4. Use the Power of Editing

If Shearer is indeed gone for good, perhaps we can still salvage his characters. After 26 seasons and 600+ episodes, there are probably hours of deleted scenes and outtakes including his roster. Maybe scenes in new episodes can be written about this additional footage, incorporating a Flanders line from 1996 that never saw the light of day. Also, catchphrases like Burns’ “Excellent!” or Dr. Hibbert’s chuckle could be replayed and used. It’s cheap but we’re desperate here!

5. Cast “Harry Shearer”

Supposedly if Shearer does leave, an option Fox is considering more so than eliminating his characters all together (or, God forbid, killing them off in-universe with some kind of boogie woogie superflu) is replacing Shearer with other voice actors. This seems sacrilege (Lunchlady Doris has never been the same since beloved voice actor Doris Grau passed twenty years ago) but it does seem to be a better option than Springfield with a reduced-population. There are certainly very talented voice actors and impersonators who can come very close to imitating cartoon voices, even if it takes a small team of actors to replace one very talented man. It’s not ideal, but if Harry Shearer ultimately does call it quits, we might be very grateful for Sheareresque replacements.

Most Successful Female Producers In Hollywood

The film industry is notoriously male dominated, to such an extent that only 25% of Hollywood producers are female. Other professions within Hollywood are even less balanced, as we observed when we studied gender inequality in film last year.

While things are slowly improving with a few institutions trying to redress the balance (our own producing school is actively dedicated to this), sadly there still isn’t a gigantic pool of female producers at the upper echelons to list. That said, the names below are more than worthy of mention.

We’re not going to put the following list in ranked order, nor are we going to rate their success simply in terms of either critical or commercial performance. As far as we’re concerned, the work of any female producer in this (currently) gender biased industry should be equally celebrated, but the following five have had particularly notable careers to date.

Emma Thomas

As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman, and arguably the same is true of great movie projects and great producers.

We’ve previously covered the cinematic powerhouse that is Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister, but what we didn’t have space to address in that post is the woman who brings their vision to life. Given the gigantic scale of the duo’s recent outings (namely Interstellar, Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy), this is no small feat, but Nolan’s spouse, Emma Thomas, has consistently risen to the challenge.

While Thomas remains quiet about her own role in the filmmaking process (and Nolan never speaks of family life or personal relations), she has never dropped the ball when it came to commanding a budget of hundreds of millions and turning it into a return of billions. Along with the exemplary critical reception her work has garnered, there are very few producers – not just those of the female persuasion — that can be seen as having the same level of success as Thomas.

Darla K. Anderson

To date, the only Pixar animated feature created under the helm of a female director is Brave. Given that the Scottish anti-princess tale was widely applauded for its depth and positive feminist message, hopefully the studio will address the gender imbalance going forward.

To the general audience hers may not be a household name (other than the Finding Nemo character which was named after her in retaliation for a practical joke), but lurking amongst Pixar’s animation team is the very underrated female producer Darla K. Anderson, who has produced some of the most recognizable titles in the Pixar filmography: A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Cars and the third instalment in the Toy Story franchise.

In fact, Anderson has the highest average movie gross in her role as a producer (of any genre) at $221 million per flick (according to Guinness World Records in 2008), and the combined gross of the four aforementioned movies stands at well over $2 billion. While this was mainly thanks to the success of Toy Story 3, given how undeniably brilliant it was, we can’t wait to see what she does next.

Megan Ellison

Ellison has only been on the producing scene since 2010, but has already chalked up numerous Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations and landed herself on Time’s 2014 list of Most Influential People in the World.

A lot of Ellison’s appeal is for her unflinching bravery when it comes to personally financing and producing projects in which lesser mortals would be afraid to invest, before turning them into multi-million grossing Oscar magnets. Her recent films include Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Her, (2013) and American Hustle (also 2013) are superb examples of this.

Next up, Ellison will be producing a film based on the life of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. She also managed to impressively outbid Lionsgate for the rights to the next Terminator reboot.

Nina Jacobson

There are few commodities as hot as young adult literature adaptions right now, and Jacobson was pretty much the first to both kickstart and capitalize on the trend.

Following lengthy and successful stints at Universal, Dreamworks and Disney (notably working on M. Night Shyamalan’s earlier movies before parting ways under creative differences) Jacobson went on to set up her own production company, Color Force, in 2007. Solely under her own steam, Jacobson’s career entered into a new era adapting books into huge franchises. The biggest among them is the global smash Hunger Gameswith that series soon coming to a close, all eyes are on Jacobson to see where she’ll go from such great heights.

Kathleen Kennedy

Kennedy initially started out as Steven Spielberg’s secretary, but it wasn’t destined to be her line of work — she was, by all reports, an atrocious typist.

The only reason she kept her job was thanks to the sporadic production input she gave. Spielberg saw great worth in these nuggets of inspiration, and hired her as an associate producer for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It was a decision that went on to pay dividends for Lucas, and indeed the wider industry. Kennedy co-founded Amblin Entertainmenta production company with a filmography no one-line summary could do justiceand personally had a hand in producing some of the most famous flicks in family enterntaiment (E.T, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Jurrasic Park, Hook) as well as some major war-time heavy hitters such as Schindler’s List, War Horse, Munich, and Persepolis.

With over 120 Academy Award nominations, 25 wins and over $11 billion in gross box office takings, she’s already one of the most successful female producers in Hollywood, but her next project is perhaps the biggest job (by any measure) a producer could be tasked with.

As the president of LucasFilm, she has been entrusted to produce the next Star Wars movie…

… no pressure, Kathleen.

What Does Amazon Studios Mean for Hollywood?

This week, corporate juggernaut Amazon.com announced it would be producing feature films for theatrical release, a huge if not all-that surprising move for the company and its ambitious leader, Jeff Bezos. With Ted Hope as its creative chief, Amazon Original Movies plans to release up to a dozen features a year, making it a perfect case study for any producing student. In many ways, it’s a match made in heaven—Ted Hope is a wildly successful indie producer who also delivered a guest lecture at the New York Film Academy, and Amazon has a very popular streaming service that can distribute the films to homes after their big-screen runs. While movies traditionally took several months to transition to home video, and more recently, up to a year to streaming services, Amazon can have its movies prepped and ready to stream on Prime Instant Video a month or two after their initial release.

Pitches & Pilots

While their announcement that they’ll be producing their own movies is huge, Amazon Studios itself is nothing new. It actually launched in 2010 as an online platform to develop and crowdsource original content. Amazon made a loud call for aspiring writers, directors, animators, editors, storyboard artists and other artists to come together and make movies. Writers could submit spec scripts, treatments and pitches, and by doing so, automatically option their work to Amazon for free. Amazon instantly made these works public and anyone else was allowed to tweak or completely rewrite these works. If the end result was strong enough, Amazon would package and sell the project with a set commission for the original creator as well as anyone who worked on the successful draft.

This system was both innovative and controversial. Many writers claimed the company was taking advantage of artists who had no power and not many options. In many ways they were right, but it also offered opportunities to artists who felt they had nowhere left to turn. Amazon also held contests with large financial prizes as incentive for filmmakers to willingly give up the rights to their work. While Amazon Studios had a buzzy beginning, receiving and crowdsourcing thousands of spec scripts, it never really shook Hollywood in the way many insiders expected.

In retrospect, Amazon Studios may have just been a first step in a long-term plan Bezos had in his head all along. Amazon eventually started focusing its crowdsourcing on television pilots, and in 2012 began production on a slew of original pilots it planned to stream on its still-nascent Prime Streaming. While most of these pilots were from established writers, directors and actors as opposed to the undiscovered talent its Studios originally sought to promote, it was still a big step both for the company and Hollywood. Amazon’s Prime streaming service had finally come-of-age and established it as a firm and equal competitor of Netflix. Its initial pilot season was successful and Amazon has continued to release original content in televised form, winning critical praise and Golden Globes.

From Small Screens to Big

With its foray into TV a definitive win, it’s only logical for Amazon to try its hand at feature films. By self-producing content, it not only makes the question and price of streaming rights a nonissue, but allows the company to get the content into homes as quick as possible, a genuine advantage in an socioeconomic climate where many Americans would rather watch new films at home than at the movies. While Amazon could theoretically release the film day-and-date with theaters, giving consumers the option to stream a new release immediately, it has opted for a 4-8 week delay.

This may seem counterproductive to their interests, but is a shrewd move and could end up reaping big rewards. Netflix, Amazon’s biggest streaming competitor, has also announced its plan to produce its own movies to distribute, also following its success in self-producing television content. However, unlike Amazon, Netflix plans to release its movies, including four Adam Sandler features and a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the same day as their theatrical releases. After all, Netflix has the most to gain from streaming a brand new movie.

But theater owners disagree, and are still a powerful force to reckon with in Hollywood. They have been fighting instant on-demand tooth-and-nail as it obviously hurts box office and their own profit margin. Many have threatened Netflix that they would not screen their productions in protest. While this could cost the theater chains money, they have many other movies they can show, and it will hurt Netflix’s potential income on its produced content. Since Amazon is giving theaters a month or two head start to play their films for an audience unwilling to wait for it on demand, theaters will more likely show their films on more screens, making bigger profits for both parties.

The Reign of the Movie Studios

Amazon’s deal with the theater chains could give it a big edge on Netflix and position the company to become a powerful studio in Hollywood. But it will take a lot of luck and smart business for it to stand with the giants of Hollywood—the major studios. Almost all of the films to come out of the Golden Age of Hollywood came from five major studios and a few smaller ones. Today, the majority of content to hit the big screens still only come from the Big Six, three of which were part of the original Big Five—Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox and Paramount. Universal and Columbia have grown from that era as well, with only Disney being the relative newcomer in the pack.

Indie films are considered independent because they are not produced by these major studios (though the studios’ power is so broad they may end up distributing independent productions.) These studios are nearly as old as Hollywood itself, forming a powerful dynasty that has been nearly impossible to shake. Some production companies have come close, taking a sizable portion of the market, though they still are dwarfed by the Big Six. These include Lions Gate, MGM (a former Big Fiver), CBS, and Dreamworks, which was created by the some of the most powerful men in Hollywood, like Steven Spielberg. But even with history, popularity, insider knowhow and a lot of money on their sides, they haven’t challenged the major studios in a revolutionary way.

So the question is, if Amazon Studios keeps to its plan and starts producing films, can it reach the level of Lions Gate or Dreamworks? An even bolder question is: Can it join the Big Six?

Is Amazon the Next Major Studio?

As long as Amazon keeps up with its plan, it’s more than likely to become at least a minor contender in Hollywood. Its foray into television has proven that it has both the creative and financial prowess to handle original content. Cracking the Big Six is a very big deal. Only Disney has been able to do so in almost a century of Hollywood business and politics, building its empire on an ambitious founder and a lovable cartoon mouse.

Amazon doesn’t have Mickey, but it does have Jeff Bezos, who has shown at every chance that he is as ambitious as Walt Disney. Bezos and his company also have billions of dollars, from a wide-ranging empire. Netflix might be the bigger streamer, but it doesn’t come close to Amazon in income. Practically no corporation does. When Bezos sets his mind to something, he usually becomes an unstoppable force with unlimited resources driven toward that goal. Under his guidance, Amazon has practically invented modern online shopping and revolutionized reading and the literary industry with ebooks and the Kindle. If there’s a company that can transform Hollywood permanently, it’s Amazon.

Then again, there’s the Fire Phone. Sometimes Amazon doesn’t get it right. But while the Big Six have been dominant for decades upon decades, the medium has more-or-less been the same the entire time. We’re living in a new millennium, in a new world. 20th Century Fox and its brethren may have been the rulers of the 20th century, but the 21st century may end up belonging to forward thinkers like Bezos, and innovative mega juggernauts like Amazon.

The Interview And The Demand For On Demand

When Seth Rogen first pitched The Interview to his buddy and future executive producer , he likely didn’t expect the film to eventually become a powder keg that would shake both the film industry and the American government. With its now infamous plot—Rogen and Franco assassinate a fictional depiction of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un—The Interview managed to rile one of the world’s most unstable, unpredictable powers and led to the protest of Sony Pictures’ release of the movie. Sony was then hacked by a group widely believed to be backed by North Korea, releasing confidential data and emails that revealed a diverse array of Hollywood’s dirty laundry and offering lay people a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the studio system.

When physical threats were made to the cineplexes and theatergoers planning to see The Interview, however, the danger of the situation became impossible to ignore. Most theaters pulled the film entirely before its December release, robbing viewers of a chance to see Rogen and Franco make dick jokes—but controversially—and robbing Sony of millions of potential box-office dollars.

And, suddenly, Video on Demand became relevant again.

Not that VOD hasn’t been relevant, but the so-called challenger to theater-released blockbuster movies has been a virtual nonfactor for so long that it had become more of an afterthought to most average consumers. While VOD and streaming has largely replaced post-release home rentals and the straight-to-video tactic B-movies and indie films have used for decades, the technology has rarely been used for brand spanking new releases of A-list Hollywood movies—movies that most believe would make much more money on the big screen.

Occasionally, smaller films by bigger names, like Steven Soderbergh, or buzzy cult flicks like 2014’s Snowpiercer, are released on video the same date it’s put out in theaters—giving audiences a choice to go out and see it or stay home and sit back on the sofa. If anything, they proved that some audiences would still choose to pay extra for the experience of seeing a movie in the theater. The general theory, though, is that studios will make more money restricting that choice, forcing viewers who want to see the movie first, as soon as its released, in the theaters. Since the Golden Era of VHS, contracts have been fought over by teams of lawyers to determine when a film can finally be released on video after its initial theatrical release. The time period in between used to be several months, though as clunky VCRs were replaced by DVDs and DVDs by Blu-Ray and Blu-Ray by Netflix and other streaming sites, the gap between theatrical and home release can be as little as a few weeks.

Studios, making more money from the more expensive tickets of theaters, have been reluctant to shrink the gap any smaller. If audiences realize they have the purchasing power to dictate how they receive their entertainment, they will in theory start demanding their On Demand. Between a recession that refuses to go away and a culture increasingly glued to smaller screens they have more control of, this fear of the studios is very much rooted in reality. They’ve seen what happened to the broadcast networks and what is happening to cable companies. Choice is winning the consumer war. Rather than fight it, major industry players are trying to figure out how to profit from it.

Unfortunately, the massively influential theater owners of America complicate this. As rapid and overwhelming as the streaming revolution has been, people still go to the movies and buy tubs of popcorn bigger than their heads, and theatrical releases still take in billions of dollars every year. Theater owners have the infrastructure the studios don’t, and control what goes out and to whom. They also arguably have the most to lose as consumers become more homebound, and have been fighting On Demand tooth-and-nail. When studios have brandied the notion of releasing major motion pictures On Demand before or concurrently with their theatrical releases, theater owners threatened to pull the film in question—as well as other movies in the future—threatening, basically, to take millions in profit from the studios. The theater owners, scared and desperate, have taken an Us or Them stance, leaving studios, their films, and audiences, in the middle.

Which is where The Interview comes in. Because of vague threats of physical violence to the theaters and theatergoers who would see The Interview, the major chains decided to pull the film. In other words, in the middle of their battle of Us or Them, theaters took out the Us.

Sony, despite reeling from its hack attack, had two problems with The Interview being pulled. For one, it was very bad publicity. Many people found the withdrawal of the film a political misstep, a “letting the terrorists win” scenario. Even President Obama publicly decried the decision. And it was Sony’s name everyone remembered, not the vague bureaucratic union of theater owners. Secondly, Sony now had a big-budget comedy starring two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, a movie that was garnering unprecedented free publicity from the media, a movie that out of sheer curiosity the entire nation wanted to see—and no way to make any money off it. With the theater owners taking themselves out of the equation, Sony was free to release The Interview On Demand.

The Interview was now the most high-profile Hollywood film to get the small-screen treatment before a major theatrical release. It was also surrounded by an unheard of level of buzz. And with HDTVs and high-speed Internet finally the norm for most of the country, this was, in essence, Video on Demand’s moment to shine.

So did VOD shine? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Probably.

In its first weekend On Demand, through YouTube, Google Play, Xbox Video and a website dedicated solely to streaming the film, The Interview made $15 million, an incredibly high amount for an online release. It was undoubtedly a win for the digital medium. Now that it’s proven itself and broken a cultural and mental barrier that “real” movies come out in theaters first, the industry is wondering whether this will become the new normal. As of now, most signs point to…. not yet.

Studios actually make a lot more money through VOD per viewing, as the infrastructure is considerably cheaper and they share a lot less of the profits with theater owners, which can take up to half. However, theatrical releases traditionally make more for studios in that audiences have to pay once to see it on the big screen, then again when renting it for home, then again through TV or cable or in-flight screenings on airplanes, etc. But the culture is changing—millennials in particular are driving subscription-based entertainment. Flat fees are becoming the norm even for computer programs like Photoshop, and perhaps presciently, eBooks. Audiences are becoming repulsed by the idea of paying for something more than once, and studios are realizing it.

But going to the movies is a tradition that’s been entrenched in our culture for decades, and it will most likely be a while before it’s routed out. And while The Interview is a high-profile comedy with big movie stars and a ton of buzz, it isn’t Avengers 2. It’s hard to imagine a megahit spectacle like that getting a same-day release on VOD anytime soon, unless audiences do radically shift their behavior and theaters consequently lose their bargaining power.

Maybe that would be for the best. There will always be a place for movie theaters—they replicate an experience that isn’t quite possible in the average living room, even with bigger and cheaper and better technology. But maybe theaters will need to find a new identity. Become an experience worth leaving the house for. IMAX and table service and vibrating chairs have been steps toward a direction like that, but something as simple as enforcing no-texting rules and cleaning the sticky off their floors could go a long way for fickle consumers. Movies as a Good Time seems like a marketable niche—Alamo Drafthouse has made a name for itself in this vein.

For now, though, movie theaters are content with handing out some recyclable 3D glasses and audiences are content on waiting in line for overpriced tickets in a crowded, sticky theater. VOD is still considered its own medium as opposed to an alternate to the multiplex. But after The Interview, the seeds of change have been planted in everyone’s minds from Us to Them and everyone in between. Right now it’s hard to see audiences turning their backs on the big screen once and for all, but then who would’ve thought ten years ago that those silly red Netflix envelopes were going to totally transform the industry? Who would’ve thought that North Korea would draw the line at Seth Rogen? Just like the movies—anything can happen.

Learn more about producing for film, television, and media at the New York Film Academy.