The pandemic has stopped Hollywood in its tracks. Production is at a standstill. The financial ecosystem is disrupted. And the industry’s power structure is being challenged by the new and growing social justice movement and its demands for equity, access and representation. So how will Hollywood adapt and evolve? Will it take this opportunity to make transformational change?
Hollywood, The Sequel is a limited-run podcast series in which veteran film journalist John Horn asks some of the entertainment industry’s most influential artists and executives how Hollywood could and should reinvent itself.
Hollywood, The Sequel No Going Back to “Normal” with Guiller...
Thu, 9/10 1:29PM • 19:39
people, stories, movies, hollywood, guillermo del toro, laine, film, arnold, pandemic, zack, hours, safety protocols, work, life, director, carnival, set, production, virus, sequel
John Horn, Zack Arnold, Guillermo del Toro, Laine Trzinski
Guillermo del Toro 00:03
If we're lucky, we're going to assume some form of "new normal" after this thing fights its war with all everything that is made of flesh, bone, liquids. This is a battle of organic matter.
John Horn 00:20
Writer and director Guillermo del Toro.
Guillermo del Toro 00:25
We're just at the beginning. And this is the reality. We want every story to resolve itself in a 72-hour cycle. This is the rhythm of nature. This is not the rhythm of man.
John Horn 00:40
I'm John Horn. Guillermo del Toro has devoted his career to telling stories about creatures and their interactions with humans. So he has plenty to say about the Coronavirus, a real-life horror story whose ending has not yet been written. One thing we do know is that the virus has already forged major changes in the way the entertainment industry will operate going forward. We'll hear from some gig economy workers who think that's a good thing. This is Hollywood, The Sequel. Welcome to our podcast. It's where we ask some of the entertainment industry's brightest minds how Hollywood might reinvent itself as it comes out of the pandemic. Coming up: filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, but first, we ask our guests in every episode what they would do to fix Hollywood, and we've talked with actors, directors, executives, and writers. But what about the people on the front lines, the below-the-line workers, as they're called in the business, they do vital work behind the scenes and they have a lot to say about what needs to change if Hollywood is going to thrive after the pandemic.
Zack Arnold 02:01
Members of the gig economy, people that are creative professionals in Hollywood, we're essentially chewed up and we are spit out. We are treated like we are widgets, we are commodities that can just be replaced.
John Horn 02:12
That's Zack Arnold. He's a film and TV editor. He's worked on shows like Empire, Burn Notice, and Glee. He got a lot of attention for a blog post he wrote about what could happen when production resumes. The title: "Dear Hollywood, We Don't Want To Go Back To Normal. Normal Wasn't Working."
Zack Arnold 02:34
It had come from me having hundreds of conversations with people that all said the same thing. Because of the pandemic, I had this immense amount of self-awareness of how much I hated my life before all this started. Now that I'm not driving, I realized how much I hated my commute. Now that I'm not working 18 hours, I realized how much time I lost with my children. And I received hundreds upon hundreds of responses. I'm still getting them and I still can't sift through all of them.
John Horn 03:00
Arnold's blog is called "Optimize Yourself" and it gives advice about work-life balance, which is really important in an industry that is notorious for grueling hours with no guarantee of steady employment. Arnold shares a story that he heard from film editor Walter Murch. He worked on The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.
Zack Arnold 03:22
It was a famous story back in the mid-to-late 70s, about a film that was vastly over budget, and had very tight deadlines, and everybody was just getting pushed to the limit with 20 hour days. And they went to one of the heads of post-production at Universal Studios, and said, "We have to do something about these demands. Everybody is dropping like flies," and the response was, "Get more flies." Nothing has changed in the last 40 years. It's all about everybody having to create a miracle, such that today's miracle thus becomes tomorrow's expectation. And whatever it takes, however many people it takes to figure this out, they throw people at the problem and as soon as somebody can't deliver anymore, they find somebody else that will, and I think this is a systemic issue that needs to change. And if ever there was a time to figure it out, I think it's right now.
John Horn 04:09
The most immediate problem with that "get more flies" solution is that if someone on set tests positive for Coronavirus, it isn't simply a matter of replacing that person. One infected crew member could shut down an entire production, and the safety protocols that you need to prevent that--that requires time, and attention, and money.
Zack Arnold 04:33
So what we can't do is separate the conversation of safety from the conversation of hours, because the two are inextricably linked. If you're going to have a safer set, you need to have people that are healthy, that have strong immune systems, that are not sleep-deprived, that are working regular hours.
Laine Trzinski 04:48
I don't know why it has gotten to a point where we do work such long hours when, honestly, to have any sort of life, we shouldn't.
John Horn 04:58
Laine Trzinski is one of the many industry gig workers who read Zack's blog post. She's a hairstylist and she's been in the business since 1993. But back in March, when the pandemic hit, her work stopped.
Laine Trzinski 05:11
Gosh, it's just been ups and downs. My feelings change every single day. I'm not sure if I even want to remain in the film business, because the film business we had before was very stressful, and was very hard on a lot of families, and people, and things have to change there for sure.
John Horn 05:29
The hours for hair and makeup teams: some of the longest on set. They have to be there before the actors arrive and can't leave until the actors are done. Laine says the norm are 14 or 16 hour days, and she has worked four 24-hour days in her career. But she's hopeful things will get better.
Laine Trzinski 05:48
There's so much time entailed in getting our disinfecting right before we even get to work, and get to working on the actors, that the film business is going to have to slow down. I don't think it has a choice anymore, and I think it will be beneficial for all of us.
John Horn 06:03
Laine's work requires her to be on set. But people like editor Zack Arnold, well, they can do a lot of their work from home--as long as their bosses sign off.
Zack Arnold 06:15
I just had the conversation this week with an assistant editor who was told that in order for them to be able to keep their job, they have to work in the office. And they have to go into a screening room with 10 or 15 directors and producers so they can take notes, because that's just the way that it is and it's quote-unquote, "impossible to work from home." We've now learned that's not the case. And people are just making these excuses, number one, because they don't want to put in the effort, or number two, because they don't want to spend the money. But guess what? Disruption is uncomfortable. It is painful. But this is the point where we're going to have to fix these issues, because you can't just say to somebody, "Sorry, conform to these standards or we're going to hire somebody else."
John Horn 06:52
While it might have been possible in the past for the people doing the hiring to point to a pile of résumés and say, "If you don't do this job, someone else will," Arnold says that's changing.
Zack Arnold 07:05
Now there's nobody on that stack because nobody's willing to go in under these circumstances. And that is why I think COVID is such an inflection point for post, for Hollywood in general, is that before, whenever we thought about what are the consequences? Well, it's going to be really long days, and I'm going to be really sleep deprived, and something might happen, but what are the chances? Now we're literally talking about losing our lives if we do this wrong, and I think that is the big change that we're seeing. Just emotionally the groundswell is people saying, "Your entertainment is not worth me giving my life."
John Horn 07:40
That was editor Zack Arnold and hairstylist Laine Trzinski. When we come back, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Welcome back to Hollywood, The Sequel. i'm John Horn.
Guillermo del Toro 08:06
John Horn 08:07
I know. Who knew?
Guillermo del Toro 08:08
What happened? All of a sudden everybody's on Zoom.
John Horn 08:13
That is Guillermo del Toro, on Zoom. He is best known for his 2017 film The Shape of Water. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, and Guillermo won for Best Director. He was in the middle of shooting his next picture--it's called Nightmare Alley--when the production was shut down by the pandemic. We caught up with him when he got back home to LA. With some time on his hands, he was rewatching a lot of movies, like the 1986 James Cameron film Aliens, and re-reading books, like The Devils of Loudun, Aldous Huxley's story of 17th-century French nuns possessed by demons.
Guillermo del Toro 08:51
The other novel that seems very pertinent right now, for me, is H.G. Wells's War of The Worlds, where the arrogant giant Martian machines are rocked by the smallest thing in existence, a microbe, or a bacteria, or a virus, you know?
John Horn 09:09
For del Toro, it all seemed to connect to the current moment.
Guillermo del Toro 09:13
Some of the biggest entertainment machines are sputtering, in a very dangerous way, after eight weeks, or 10 weeks. I almost think of the tagline of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, "Who Will Survive? And What Will Be Left of Them?" We have created, in every aspect of our lives, an economy and a consumption system that could be collapsing because it needs, for it to be sustained, it needs an almost insane velocity of consumption and you look at large, large, large, the largest companies in the world and you think many of them are unable to sustain an eight-week loss. And it is quite astounding, but understandable because we... everybody counts on that speed being perpetual, and it isn't. It isn't.
John Horn 10:09
When we spoke, del Toro was looking at all the new, and sometimes conflicting, safety protocols that were being laid out in different places, like New Mexico, Toronto, and Australia.
Guillermo del Toro 10:21
The first mandate is safety. Once a vaccine is found, I still think that the way on set works may recuperate most of its fluidity. But I think things are going to change nevertheless. Taking temperature, inquiring on our health, inquiring about a lot of things. It's sort of the way travel changed after 9/11, in a way. You could still take a plane, but you have to leave yourself two hours to board it. It is safety protocols and health protocols. Normally, when I'm on set, it's almost like a carnival, you have all the artists, and the technicians are convivial, and it's a very, very efficient, but a very, very casual... I mean, you can be two feet away from each other.
John Horn 11:20
So if movie sets go from being a carnival, and this very convivial place, to something that sounds a lot like going to the grocery store, where you're socially distanced, and you have to be away from everybody, does it also change the kinds of movies that you can make? Because you always have, you know, half a dozen things in development. And when you're thinking about what you actually will be able to make, the way you want it to make, does it change what you're developing? Do you abandon things because you say there's no way I could pull that off?
Guillermo del Toro 11:51
So when you're when you're saying it'll become like a grocery store, I don't think so. But for about a year and a half or two, it'll be like an operating room. You will have to observe health protocols. Fortunately for us, we are in an industry that is creative, and so forth. But I think that when I think of where the world is at, it's a very, very dark place, at a human level.
John Horn 12:18
Do you think that changes the kinds of stories the audience wants? And specifically, you make movies that can be really scary. They can be really disturbing. It could be Pan's Labyrinth, it could be, you know, elements of other movies. You make monsters, you tell scary stories, and I don't think anything is as scary right now as the Coronavirus. But do you think audiences are going to want to be scared again? Or are they going to want a different kind of emotional experience? How will they be changed?
Guillermo del Toro 12:48
That is absolutely impossible to predict. But what I do know is that we will always have the bandwidth for every kind of story. The concern I have is the way we connect with them, the way we digest them. Movies could be held in the theater for months in the past. And they were consumed, and there would be the sort of massive movie arriving, it had its place, its time, people digested it, people talked about it. Now, the amount of stories are referred often as "content." And the delivery system is often referred as a "pipeline." That tells you about a flow, rather than a main staying power. And I think the the culture consumes stories at an insanely fast rate, all of them. And I think part of our experiencing of this virus, part of what is challenging, is this slowing down. This slowing down, I actually thought, gave me pause to think and to absorb in a different way. I was fortunate enough to be able to take the time and systematize reading, and viewing, and things like that. But I actually thought, "Oh my god, I haven't had a pause like this." I actually, I was transforming in a strange way, I cannot quantify it.
John Horn 14:40
When you think about what movies meant to you as a child, and I know we've talked about this in the past, about going to the theater as a young boy and being struck by what movies meant, you can't go to the theater now. And who is that next young boy or girl who can't get into a movie theater, and can't have his or her imagination explode and become a filmmaker, because you can't do that?
Guillermo del Toro 15:07
Well, know that we have an immense social shift. Look, childhood in the 1800s was different than my childhood in the 1960s. If I was in the 1890s I would be like Toby Tyler and I would like to run with the circles. In the 1960s you wanted to make movies, or television, and there was the years of vaudeville and operetta. And I think that the way we communicate artistically changes with society, it has to shift. You know, a lot of people now don't depend, depending on the generation, they don't depend on the movie theater as much as we did. The one thing I'll tell you, that I'm very, very, very conscious now, the three things that became basic in this quarantine was health, food, and story. I have never seen so many people talking about what they watched, what they are bingeing, what they are doing. A lot of people, myself included, but everybody, for sanity, started depending on stories. And I think we are in a very peculiar time in humanity where most everything, rather than experiencing it, we hear about it. When we were in the 60s, 70s, you and I, you would open a newspaper and there would be shocking photography from Vietnam, or shocking photography from a disaster somewhere, and we would have a few weeks to process it. Now, we are processing 150 strands of storytelling in one hour, on Twitter, or on any social media you favor. And I don't think we have the emotional bandwidth to absorb them long. But we are very, very oriented to stories.
John Horn 17:23
When you get back to work, what are you most excited about in terms of returning to work? Is it being with other people? Is it the stories that are percolating that you want to tell?
Guillermo del Toro 17:33
I'll tell you one thing I have been doing this for almost 30 years, as director, and I have now come to value the experience of making a movie as much as the movie. I am not saying... not an easy one. It can be a very difficult experience. But then you are going through it with people that believe in you, or you have to believe in yourself. And it's equally valuable. And I really miss my second family, which is the people I've been working with, since the 90s: the grip, the steadycam, the gaffer. And I'm still working with them now. And new family that you gather, I mean, it's a very carnival-esque circles-oriented thing and I miss, I miss the others.
John Horn 18:38
Our thanks to Guillermo del Toro, Laine Trzinski, and Zack Arnold, and to you for listening. We hope you'll subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen, and please give us a rating, leave us a comment, and please share the podcast. This episode of Hollywood, The Sequel was produced by Shelley Lewis, Monica Bushman, and Jonathan Shifflett, with help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot. Our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez. Our theme music is composed by Nicholas Britell. And with this final episode, I want to thank the KPCC leaders who helped make this podcast possible. Station president Herb Scannell, the team at LAist Studios, Chief Content Officer Kristen Muller, and program director Sal LoCurto. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of LAist Studios. I'm John Horn. We'll see you next time.
Hollywood, The Sequel
Inside a Shifting Paradigm with Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, Casting Director David Rubin, Indie Filmmaker Ana Lydia Monaco
Season 1, Episode 11
Mon, 9/7 10:59AM • 22:17
actor, casting director, hollywood, production, starting, film, world, david rubin, story, pandemic, monaco, rubin, filmmaker, akiva, people, audition, lola, paradigm shift, point, experiencing
Marlene Luna, John Horn, Ana Lydia Monaco, Lola Excerpt, Akiva Goldsman, Guillermo del Toro, David Rubin, Ana Lydia Monaco (Excerpt)
Akiva Goldsman 00:03
We're experiencing a paradigm shift. And I don't know how the world doesn't change. I don't know how things don't react and respond to this in a way that creates a different landscape.
John Horn 00:17
That's Akiva Goldsman, screenwriter of films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code.
David Rubin 00:23
Our job is to open the minds of our directors, and our producers, and our studio executives, to point out that this particular role doesn't need to be a white guy in his 40s. It could be a woman, it could be a person of color, it can be a little person, it can be a different age.
John Horn 00:40
And that's David Rubin. He's a casting director and president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I'm John Horn. As Akiva Goldsman describes it, the entertainment industry is in the middle of a paradigm shift that will change every aspect of the business, but that shift brings the chance to fix many of the problems, like equity and inclusiveness, that Hollywood has only talked about until now. If you listen to industry leaders, the road to Hollywood's future is being paved with good intentions, but how does that actually translate into action? This is Hollywood, The Sequel. Welcome to our podcast. It's where we ask some of the entertainment industry's brightest minds how Hollywood might reinvent itself as it comes out of the pandemic. Akiva Goldsman is a screenwriter, director, and producer. His TV credits include Star Trek: Picard, but he's best known for his Oscar-winning screenplay for A Beautiful Mind. You probably saw that movie in a theater. Remember what that was like? Goldman's current project is the feature film Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, and he says he's not really worried about where audiences are gonna see it.
Akiva Goldsman 02:06
Well, I, perhaps controversially or not, am pretty platform-agnostic. There's delight in going out to see a thing, and there's delight in staying home to see it. And for me, I want eyes on it that want to watch it. I'm interested in the most people welcoming it as possible. And I'm interested in it being in the place where it can be best presented. And that to me can be one place, both places--hopefully, it's not neither place. I'm still not ready for it just to exist on my iPhone, but I don't know whether things have to be one thing or another.
John Horn 02:52
Does that mean that we're at a point where all of the assumptions that the industry has followed can be challenged? There's so many institutionalized ways about how things are done, like movies play in theaters for three months before they hit streaming or video-on-demand sites, that a TV show has to shoot a pilot and a network has to sign off on it before it goes into production. When you think about what could, and maybe should, be different going forward, even in the back of your mind, do you start putting together kind of a wish list of how things could be different that make a lot more sense?
Akiva Goldsman 03:28
Well, I do think, John, that in the old days, probably the first time you and I sat together--when we both had hair--there was really this hard boundary between the two. And I think, fundamentally, there's been this interesting exchange of talent now and quality has risen. Certainly in television, it is in equal measure a profoundly successful narrative delivery system. It is also, additionally, now advantaged by this idea of an eight-hour narrative. From a writer's point of view, holy ****. I mean, who doesn't want that? Like, wait, wait, I can tell the story in two, or I can tell it in eight? Or 10? Or 30? Well, that starts to create a whole other set of expectations and opportunities. It's funny because if you think about movies starting out there were Saturday morning serials, right? So why shouldn't we in fact have serialized motion pictures just as we also have closed-ended television objects, or streaming objects? I think the more we become flexible and break these boundaries, that I think were actually based on production needs and limitations that no longer exist, I think that suddenly we have this fluid idea of what entertainment is.
John Horn 04:59
Do you think on the other side of this, there are companies, and maybe talent agencies, studios, movie theater chains, that we know by name that won't be around? I mean, is there going to be some consolidation? Are some people not going to make it out of this intact?
Akiva Goldsman 05:19
Well, I honestly believe that we were, even before this, at a point where things would have to consolidate sooner than later. That there's so many different just streaming systems, for example, that at a certain point, they would have to find a way to eat each other, or absorb each other, or become part of each other. I think that we are experiencing a paradigm shift. We're actually in. We're living it. And I think one thing that is always true when you're in a paradigm shift is you can't quite see it, because you think you're holding a piece of ledge above your head, but in fact, it might be inverted, you might be heading straight down and that rock might be pulling you towards the bottom. It's impossible to see from the inside. I don't know how the world doesn't change. I don't know how things don't react and respond to this in a way that creates a different landscape. I do also believe that people want entertainment, that this has always been the case, that somehow to be distracted, to be transported, to be inspired, to have the opportunity to, as they say, laugh, or cry, or in our time, especially, to remember what it feels like to be empathetic, to learn from others' experiences, that's going to be out there somehow. How we craft it? I don't know.
John Horn 06:51
Writers are always trying to process what's going on in the world, and sometimes there's a long lag between what they're thinking about, what they're talking about, what they're obsessing over, and when that's reflected in new scripts, given that lag, are you starting to reassess the kinds of stories that you want to tell? I mean, is there a way to take a show like Picard and maybe even in a vague way, start writing about what we're going through now? I don't know if there's a pandemic plot that fits Star Trek, but are you starting to think about allegories and metaphors for what's happening now that you can apply to some fictional stories?
Akiva Goldsman 07:29
Yes, I think the very first thing that's sort of happening is almost an intellectual vetting process, which is not necessarily even about what we're making, but what we've made, right? How will that feel? I, for example, think there will be, for a period of time, a cognitive dissonance. When you watch a movie with crowd scenes, I feel it sometimes when I'm watching it--if I'm home now watching something I'm like, "what are those people all doing?" So I think that that's starting to change our experience of what we see. I find that, of course, science fiction is more flexible when it comes to allegory, and so often you will find, in Star Trek for example, that issues of plagues have been the watchword of the episode, or the plot. I think that, like 9/11, it's gonna take a second to settle. We're still in the midst of it. I was in New York on that day, and the weeks and months after, and I find that, in a weird way, the possibility for storytelling around that is just emerging, that it's tough. You have to metabolize these things. And I don't know how this will affect storytelling. I think it will, but I doubt it's in the ways we imagine.
John Horn 09:00
As for how the pandemic affects the actual production of stories, Goldsman sees that picture more clearly.
Ana Lydia Monaco 09:07
I don't think that it can ever really go back to the way it used to be. I think that there are advantages that I have found, for sure. Will we ever really get 35 people together for a production meeting, where people actually typically are not working on-site and they all have to drive, virus notwithstanding? I think, today, you just go, "Let's Zoom." You're saving the two hours to get to and from. So I think in some ways it will help us. I think the other thing--it will help us be efficient. I think the downside of that is, it is yet again another death of the time between things. Remember, when we were young, there was all this time between things. You have to go from one place to another, you would walk there. You could even go out and not know what your messages were 'til you got home. And then suddenly there was the car phone, so there wasn't really time between. And then there was the internet. Now there's no time between, because you can just Zoom, click to the next Zoom, click to the next. So I think that the empty time starts to vanish more and more. But I think that there's a natural human pull towards company, towards being in a room with each other. And even not when it comes to the making of things, even in the thinking about and talking about things, I think we'll still end up in writers rooms together. I hope so.
John Horn 10:44
When we come back: casting director David Rubin, whose credits include Big Little Lies and Game Change.
David Rubin 10:50
One of the great joys of the arts, and film and television in particular, is to hold a mirror up to society. And all too often, we've been holding up a funhouse mirror and not a realistic one.
John Horn 11:04
And we'll hear how one independent filmmaker is navigating the new on-set safety protocols. Welcome back to Hollywood, The Sequel. i'm John Horn.
David Rubin 11:26
As difficult as these times are, the fact that everyone's minds and hearts are turning to these issues is a good thing.
John Horn 11:34
Casting director David Rubin was just reelected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And Rubin says Hollywood can, and must, do better.
David Rubin 11:45
Ostensibly we have an obligation to create an authentic world on screen. Now that doesn't mean it has to be total reality, because not every film and story is real life. But under the strictures of a particular narrative, we have to represent a world that's accurate and authentic, and particularly if it's a realistic piece. So it's incumbent upon us to mirror the world. I mean, one of the great joys of the arts, and film and television in particular, is to hold a mirror up to society. And all too often, we've been holding up a funhouse mirror and not a realistic one. And I feel we need to get back to reflecting reality. Because in truth, if you want to affect an audience, an audience member is going to be most affected by seeing a world they recognize in some form or another. And a manufactured artificial version of that world should no longer cut it.
John Horn 12:47
How does a casting director factor into that equation? What can the casting director do to advance this idea of Hollywood becoming more inclusive and more diverse?
David Rubin 12:56
I think casting directors have been part of the leading charge toward greater diversity on screen, and greater gender parity. One of the things that any good casting director does when beginning work on a particular script is to go through that screenplay and essentially ignore the very specific descriptions--physically, in particular--of each character. Because, to take nothing away from the great work of screenwriters, those descriptions are not written for a casting director, nor for a director or a producer. Those descriptions are written for financiers, for people who will write a check to finance a particular project with a very specific intent, so that when a reader is reading that screenplay, the story is as vivid as possible and as specific as possible. But when it comes around to deciding which actors are best suited to play a role, the focus should not be on those descriptors. It should be on how that character impacts the narrative. What job do they do in the telling of the story? And if you focus only on that, it opens up a myriad of possibilities in terms of age, in terms of gender, in terms of race. And casting directors have been hip to this for a long time, and our job is to open the minds up of our directors, and our producers, and our studio executives, to point out that this particular role doesn't need to be a white guy in his 40s. It could be a woman, it could be a person of color, it can be a little person, it can be a different age. All those things are conversations as part of the collaboration between a casting director and a filmmaker.
John Horn 14:41
When you think about how your job will be affected by working in close proximity with other people, especially actors, how will a casting director's job be fundamentally changed by new protocols that likely will be in place once production resumes?
David Rubin 14:57
The casting process is a very intimate dialogue between an actor and a casting director, and often a director or producer. And that happens in a room where interaction is key. Because an actor comes in with a particular preparation of a scene, let's say, in an audition, and that is then further informed by the dialogue that happens in that room--adjustments are made, specific nuances are discussed, another version of the reading takes place. And we not only get a sense of what an actor's potential final performance might be, but we get to a sense of what their process is. And if we're not in a room engaging directly with an actor in that way, the information is partial. So that's, to me, the fundamental difference of the notion that it's conceivable that I would not be in a room with an actor to engage in that interplay is distressing to me, because I think it makes all the difference in the world.
John Horn 16:06
There are alternatives, like self-taped auditions recorded by the actors at home. And there are also live online audition platforms. It's what Rubin prefers.
David Rubin 16:17
I am reading with an actor while they are doing the scene, I am giving notes after the initial reading, we're recording all of it. I am then passing along the best version of an audition to the filmmaker, the way I would normally do in a casting room. So it's, again, different from being in the same room, but it's a it's a facsimile of it. I think the feeling one gets from an actor in a room, and the things that result in notes given, conversations had about things completely aside from the material at hand, are all essential parts of it, and I will miss them terribly if they're gone forever.
John Horn 17:03
Ana Lydia Monaco 17:07
I'm Ana Lydia Monaco. I am a writer, director, producer--otherwise known as a filmmaker.
John Horn 17:13
We've asked a lot on this podcast about what it's gonna be like when production resumes again. Well, here's one filmmaker who can answer that question. Ana Lydia Monaco just made a short film called Lola. It was shot over a couple of days, and she filmed it with COVID safety protocols in place.
Ana Lydia Monaco (Excerpt) 17:33
And you can even make that like, blurrier. That's good, you see? And you can drop it a little bit more, drop it.
Ana Lydia Monaco 17:43
When the pandemic hit, I was working at an international production company as a junior creative executive on the development, as well as the sales, side. We started working from home early March, thinking it was only going to be a few weeks. My work went from "we're going to cut you down to part-time" to like, oh my god, maybe five hours a week, literally within a week. Coincidentally, I was in pre-production for my film, Lola. So I pretty much went hard at it because I didn't have any paid work. There was no paid work in town anyways. There's no productions, there's nothing happening.
Lola Excerpt 18:23
Lola Lola Lola
Marlene Luna 18:25
Lola focuses on the story of a woman of color who is coping with intense physical pain and then is ignored and not taken seriously because of her weight.
John Horn 18:37
Monaco needed about $4,000 to make her film, so she went to the crowdfunding site Seed&Spark and in just five days she met her goal. She was able to film in late July.
Ana Lydia Monaco 18:48
There was a lot of steps to make sure that we were a COVID-safe production. Early on it was recommended to just have a PA walking around and taking people's temperature, and my gut said "That's not enough." And I spent a little money and I brought in a COVID officer fairly early on, as well as I brought in an intimacy consultant, because I did have an intimate scene. And as we know, that actually does pose some risks for the actors and everybody else involved.
John Horn 19:17
But even before production started, there were complications
Ana Lydia Monaco 19:22
Two of our actors got COVID. They had to be replaced. Somebody on crew didn't want to take a COVID test. So we had to let him go.
John Horn 19:31
Monaco estimates that paying the COVID officer and buying all the necessary cleaning supplies increased her costs by about 20% and made her days a lot longer.
Ana Lydia Monaco 19:43
It's going to take more time to set up shots, it's going to take more time to break down between shots, it's going to take more time to sanitize each location, each item. It's gonna take time to prep each actor, to make sure that they're ready to shoot each scene and be COVID compliant.
John Horn 20:03
But overall she says things went smoothly even with so many mass lead actress Marlene Luna agrees
Marlene Luna 20:10
I feel surprisingly really comfortable, and everyone's taking precautions, everyone's making sure that they have a mask on, our COVID officer is constantly going around and giving us disinfectant and everything, soap, hand sanitizer. It's a little different with masks and everything, but it really makes me bring out more of the intention in my eyes. So that's really good acting thing, a little acting lesson there for myself. But other than that, it's great. It's great.
John Horn 20:41
Now Monaco hopes there'll be at least one Film Festival in LA where she can show Lola.
Ana Lydia Monaco 20:47
You got to take it day by day because what the plan was in the beginning is completely different now.
John Horn 21:02
Next time: Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro on what the art of storytelling has turned into.
Guillermo del Toro 21:09
Stories are referred often as content. And the delivery system is often referred to as a pipeline. That tells you about a flow rather than a main staying power. And I think that the culture consumes stories at an insanely fast rate.
John Horn 21:36
Our thanks to Akiva Goldsman, David Rubin, Ana Lydia Monaco, and to you for listening. We hope you'll subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen, and please give us a rating, leave us a comment, and share the podcast. This episode of Hollywood, The Sequel was produced by Shelley Lewis, Monica Bushman, and Jonathan Shifflett, with help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot. Our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez. Our theme music is composed by Nicholas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of LAist Studios. i'm John Horn. We'll see you next time.
Hollywood, The Sequel
2020 Visions For Hollywood’s Future with Glenn Close and Ruth Carter
Season 1, Episode 10
Fri, 9/4 12:10PM • 25:11
people, ruth carter, stories, hollywood, film, movie, actor, costume designer, hillbilly elegy, world, hope, theater, studios, artist, podcast, sequel, kinds, winning, carter, hear
Akiva Goldsman, Glenn Close, John Horn, Ruth Carter, Excerpt from "The 91st Annual Academy Awards"
Glenn Close 00:03
We will come back. How that will be, I don't know. But you can't keep us down. We will find a way. But it will take time and it will take a lot of creativity, with management, studios, everybody.
John Horn 00:19
That's actor and producer Glenn Close.
Ruth Carter 00:22
The creative process is what excites me the most; the research, and development, and how do we figure out how we're gonna make these elements. So stage one, I'm very excited about. Stage two, I'm not sure how to do it, but we'll get there.
John Horn 00:39
And that's Ruth Carter, the Oscar-winning costume designer from Black Panther. I'm John Horn. Well, Glenn Close works in front of the camera and Ruth Carter behind it. Many of their concerns are actually the same. How's the industry going to return from all of this? And who's gonna fight to make sure that the same old stories and the same old storytellers don't come back with the same old power? This is Hollywood, The Sequel. Welcome to our podcast. It's where we ask some of the entertainment industry's brightest minds what they do to fix what's broken when production resumes. First up, costume designer Ruth Carter. She's worked on films like Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, Steven Spielberg's Amistad, and the upcoming Coming To America sequel. And at the 2019 Academy Awards, this happened to her:
Excerpt from "The 91st Annual Academy Awards" 01:49
Black Panther, Ruth Carter! This is the first Oscar, and third nomination, for Ruth Carter. She was previously nominated... [Fades]
John Horn 02:00
She won for her work on Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, and that made her the first Black person to ever win an Academy Award for costume design.
Excerpt from "The 91st Annual Academy Awards" 02:10
This has been a long time coming. [Laughter] Spike Lee, thank you for my start. I hope this makes you proud.
John Horn 02:23
Carter was also the first Black person to be nominated for an Academy Award for costume design, way back in 1993 for Malcolm X. Despite her personal success, Carter believes there's always been something fundamentally wrong in Hollywood.
Ruth Carter 02:39
I think it was built on a broken narrative. You think about D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation. It was totally a broken narrative. And people bought into it hook, line, and sinker, and that became the standard in Hollywood itself, even though those films were were going on, and people were in redface, and blackface. There were people behind the scenes, building those costumes, and doing the props, and they were people of color, doing all kinds of supportive crafts that created that cinematic event that was not including them. So I feel like the work is to be done still, and to shine the light on a lot of these supportive people, not only as directors and producers, but also as craftspeople like myself.
John Horn 03:45
Back when Ruth Carter was getting her start in costume design. She didn't have a lot of role models. And at a certain point, as she progressed in her career, Carter realized that she was blazing a trail for others.
Ruth Carter 03:59
I wasn't overly concerned about a mentor that looked like me in the beginning because I expected that there wouldn't be any, or many. I looked for a costume designer that I wanted to be like. And so I was forging this path of, volunteer at Western Costume when it was on Melrose, and I'd hear the names of costume designers over the loudspeaker being summoned calls and I thought, "wow, that's Milena Canonero, I've heard of her. Wow, that's Ann Roth. I've seen all of her films," and I looked at my role as an artist, and I was seeking out other artists. But as a Black woman, I started to realize when I worked with Spike, and I started to become more of a film student, because I started in theater, there wasn't very much representation, in front of the camera and behind the camera. And it was our quest to create images for in front of the camera that we felt represented our community better. And my passion from behind the camera was to say, "Well, I'm here because Spike Lee said, I am the costume designer for his film." And now I can take on that leadership as an artist, but also as a mentor. So I always had interns, I was an intern, I knew the value of internships, and it was my hope that there would also, even though I was young in the game, that there would be another person who was as passionate as I was to reach the top. And I dreamed about like, wow, what if I were to win the Oscar, how fantastic would that be? And realized after I got on stage and maybe also before, but especially after winning, that I was a role model. I didn't expect anything, I had no expectations. Honestly, I just wanted to be a good costume designer. And when I got Black Panther, I knew I had a responsibility to the culture and representation to the culture. And that was something that had been a part of my whole trajectory of my career.
John Horn 06:24
So how does that continue? Because I think one of the things that everybody is thinking about is, okay, there are gonna be practical implications for what's going to happen next. How do we do social distancing on set? How does hair and makeup work? And then there's the bigger question, that while the town is shut down, the nation, and the world, has had this global reckoning about how we treat people who look differently than people like me, than white guys. And the question is being asked at companies like Nike, it's being asked inside studios, and I think the question that we're trying to answer is what is the response for Hollywood gonna look like, and what could it be like? So if you imagine that there's a way out of this, that's going to pick up where the town left off and maybe really start making some meaningful change, what would that entail? What are the kinds of things that you would hope for when things get going again?
Ruth Carter 07:18
My dream now, and my hope for the world, is to put a new lens in and look at people for their value and for their contributions. It's not the same game. It's not the same world. And we no longer have patience for the old establishment and the old worldview. We really want to create a new world for ourselves that's passionate about everybody's story. And I used to think that a certain group didn't go see my movies. And that's why I had to get an Oscar nomination to actually get an interview for a big Hollywood film, and that's kind of how it was for me. I was nominated for Malcolm X and--but I was also protected by a group of filmmakers that really did want me to excel. And that had a vision for where we are in creating a new Hollywood and a new view. And so I think we have been shaken up. And I hope shaken up enough for people to see that it's not just one view of excellence. There's many views of excellence and that we need to know about each other and we need to embrace it.
John Horn 08:50
As we're talking, the whole idea of a theatrical movie is in, I guess, total chaos. Tenet might come out, but a lot of movies aren't coming out in theaters. Some movies that were gonna be in theaters are coming out on streaming services. As a designer, and as somebody who cares a lot about your craft, it could be, you know, the detail in a brocade, it could be the stitching. If you're watching that movie on a streaming service, you're not gonna notice that. Do you worry about people saying, well, it doesn't have to be that good because they're gonna watch it on their laptop? And how do you fight that fight, where you go, every stitch matters, and I'm not going to cut corners?
Ruth Carter 09:32
Yes, I always thought about TV versus film, and there was always kind of this thing where you had so many episodes to do that people wanted you to just kind of get to the idea, and move on to something else. And that's why I loved film, because film was a slower process. It was a deeper dive. I could do a lot more detail in my work. I could really be passionate, and care, and people love that and embrace it. Actors love that, and embrace that I have thought through the costumes for their characters, and added details that help them to support their characters. And so when I look at a lot of things that have come out recently, I just--I'm kind of sad that they weren't on the big screen because I would have enjoyed them even more on the big screen.
John Horn 10:23
Unlike a lot of the filmmakers and artists that we've spoken to on this podcast, Ruth Carter isn't platform-agnostic. She wants people to see her work in theaters first, not at home on a TV.
Ruth Carter 10:36
My work is for the big screen. For now, that's where I set my sights, and I'm very aspirational. My last movie was Coming to America 2, and you've got to see that on the big screen. There's time for that later, to go into everyone's home, but some of the spectacle of it is so grand that you'll have a feast of beautiful artistry and cinematography to enjoy. And that's how it was meant to be seen.
John Horn 11:08
If you're making a movie that's set in Wakanda, people are not gonna be wearing masks. They're not going to be socially distanced, because that world doesn't exist. If you're making a movie set on Wall Street, people might have masks, if it's modern day. Do you think it's going to really change the way that costumers think about how people are dressing if they're doing a modern-day story? And are they ignoring the pandemic, pretending it doesn't exist? What are they going to do in terms of how people dress, and look, go to the street now, at least around here, people are wearing masks, maybe not another states.
Ruth Carter 11:43
Yeah, I mean, it's 2020. This is how we're going to show 2020, and hopefully just 2020, we're going to show people on the streets, some with masks, some without. It's up to the writers and the producers how much of that they want to see. Certainly, there are some more intimate scenes that can be without masks, in homes where people have quarantined together, if it's 2020. So it's creative. But it's a sign of the times.
John Horn 12:15
And here's my last question. You talked about role models and mentorships. And part of the problem in Hollywood is that the typical hiring decisions are made from a group of people that people have worked with before, it becomes kind of a self-repeating, self-perpetuating cycle. So what are the kinds of things that anybody can do to break that cycle and make sure that the doors are open to people who haven't had a chance, who aren't the same band of people who get hired again and again, that there's a path in for people who don't normally have an easy access to break it in?
Ruth Carter 12:50
There's two ideas about how to bring about change, in my opinion. There is my decision that we're going to have a crew, a wardrobe crew, that's representative. It's not all one thing. It has a nice balance of all of the world. And that makes me feel comfortable in my own environment, that there's someone who looks like me. There's also someone who is non-white, who is LBGTQ. I like that kind of a world. But that doesn't mean that everyone understands what I'm requesting on my crew. They don't, maybe, understand the value of it. So I think the responsibility lies in us communicating with each other. And I sit down with my white compadres and I say, the expansive community, the people of color here, need to know that they have an opportunity to grow in this environment. And if there is a position that's opening up, they may not have the experience and the know-how, but they need to know that they at least will be considered for upward mobility. Because we haven't been included. We haven't been discussed enough. And it's my job to point out what about that is a value, and the opportunity itself is a value. So I have those conversations, and they get it, and they understand it. Because in this environment, the entertainment industry, we only kind of see this place where we got things done, and we want to keep it the same because we know it, but we have to train these people. We have to empower them and let everybody know that there's an opportunity they are candidates for.
John Horn 15:02
When we come back, actor and producer Glenn Close.
Glenn Close 15:06
Something that I've always aspired to, is to make choices that add positively to the human experience, and to our communal nervous system.
John Horn 15:33
Welcome back to Hollywood, The Sequel. When the pandemic brought production to a halt way back in March, Glenn Close headed off to Montana. She had just wrapped Hillbilly Elegy for Netflix, and her long-delayed remake of Sunset Boulevard was still on hold. With so much time on our hands. She decided to work on a screenplay. And back when we talked to an early summer, returning to work as an actor? On a set? Well, that seemed way out on the horizon.
Glenn Close 16:04
Well, for me, because I've had a lot of pneumonia issues, I won't really be totally safe until there's a vaccine.
John Horn 16:12
But that could be a year away.
Glenn Close 16:14
I know. So my career's over! [Laughter] It's been wonderful. I had a great time. [Laughter]
John Horn 16:25
I'm glad you have a good sense of humor about it. She was able to laugh about it, but she also had a new perspective.
Glenn Close 16:32
I think--I hope--that people are re-evaluating what's important in life. I certainly know for me the process is everything. As an artist, the process of creation, with a whole collaborative team, that we deal with on a daily basis, and what we do, that is what feeds my soul and that is about getting together every day, and looking into other people's eyes, and reacting from that, and reflecting off of it. And how that will affect our industry, I'm not sure, but I did a virtual, or whatever they call it, ADR for Hillbilly Elegy last week, and it kind of--it made me sad. Because I was in this little upstairs guest room, and with pillows around this device, this wonderful device that allows you to do ADR, but everybody was in different places, rather than being all together in a studio, and the director there, and you're in the soundstage. And it's just again, it kind of is the final collaboration that an actor has with a project, the ADR.
John Horn 17:52
When you're re-recording dialogue.
Glenn Close 17:54
Yes. And I realized how much the process, and actually being in the room with creative people means to me. So I hope we will find a way to go back to that. I sure long for that day. And that's where I think the value of what we do has always rested with me, is with the collaborations.
John Horn 18:16
You posted an Instagram video where you said, and I apologize for quoting yourself back to you, but you said "one of the most important things that can come out of this global crisis is a profound understanding of how important each one of us is to the other, that your fate is my fate." So it's one thing to talk about how we treat another, but how is that expressed through stories? What does that mean to an artist, as you, as an actor, as a producer? How does that translate into the choices that we make, or can make, that might be different or may be inspired by what's happening now?
Glenn Close 19:02
I've, more than ever, but it's something that I've always aspired to, is to make choices that add positively to the human experience, and to our communal nervous system, because we are, we still are, animals, and we still have our chemistries, and we still are affected emotionally. And that goes into our bodies. And I think why we have endemic stress, and depression, and suicide is because our nervous system is all messed up. And I think the arts is actually something that feeds into our--the body politic. And I would rather be known for something that feeds positively into it, either in stories that make people realize what it means to be a human being, or stories that can inspire you to be something other than what you think you are. It's just something that puts out positive energy. So I seek stories that help us understand the human condition.
John Horn 20:12
Do you think others will come out of this sharing that? Is it possible that there might be a reassessment? Or are we going to go back to Transformers, and Avengers, and Fast and Furious, and life as it's always been, that kind of escapism that has no tether to how we talk and live together?
Glenn Close 20:32
I think there's probably something in the human psyche that always wants to have those kinds of movies to get absolutely away from the realities of life. But I do think, hopefully, there will be a new golden age of deeper stories, which they used to make all the time, but now it's always independent films that seem to fill that that role. And maybe we'll come to a time where... I don't know, it's really interesting, because now there's so much content on all the streaming platforms that people are telling stories like that again, I think. It really does give a possibility and a platform for those kinds of stories, that reach right into people's living rooms. So I think what will happen, I think is happening now, actually.
John Horn 21:25
I want to ask you about an audience. Because outside of doing film and TV, you've done stage work. And the idea of going back into a theater, not a movie theater, but a live theater, and about what it means to be close to an actor doing his or her job, and that communal experience. And it's not like you get that when you go see a movie, it's different with theater. That seems so important. And I don't even know when that's going to come back, and what we miss by not having that when we return.
Glenn Close 21:58
I know! My theater in New York is my home. There's nothing that will ever substitute for a live audience experiencing the same thing from live actors at the same moment. I think the thing that theater does, that live theater does, is create a community in the moment. And they all are experiencing something in the moment together. And it's basic, basic, basic to human need. I really believe that. The guy getting up in the fire in the cave and telling a story is the same thing, and there's nothing that will substitute for that. It's molecular, it's--you disturb air, the actors, you actually have to have muscles and tendons, to thrust that kind of emotion out into an audience, and then they throw it back to you. So it's this incredible molecular exchange that ends up with both parties: those of us on stage who feel that something magic happened, and those in the audience who will never forget that particular performance. And then it's gone. There's nothing, nothing will ever substitute for that. And I think--I hope--we might not be able to get back to that until there's a vaccine or maybe there'll be a way to... I don't know, I just don't know, but I know that the theatre community is hurting. I think we will come back. We will come back. How that will be, I don't know. But you can't keep us down. We'll find a way, but it will take time, and it will take a lot of creativity with management, studios, everybody.
John Horn 24:01
In the weeks to come, we're gonna hear from Akiva Goldsman. He's the Oscar-winning screenwriter from A Beautiful Mind and the co-creator of Star Trek: Picard.
Akiva Goldsman 24:10
I think the more we become flexible, and break these boundaries that I think were actually based on production needs and limitations that no longer exist, I think that suddenly we have this fluid idea of what entertainment is.
John Horn 24:27
Our thanks to Glenn Close and Ruth Carter, and to you for listening. We hope you'll subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be sure to give us a rating, leave us a comment, and share the podcast. This episode of Hollywood, The Sequel was produced by Shelley Lewis, Monica Bushman, and Jonathan Shifflett with help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot. Our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez. Our theme music is composed by Nicholas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of LAist Studios. i'm John Horn. We'll see you next time.
Hollywood, The Sequel
Two Comedians Walk into a Pandemic…with Samantha Bee and Ramy Youssef
Season 1, Episode 9
Thu, 9/3 2:07PM • 22:33
people, samantha bee, pandemic, thinking, ramy, stand, youssef, happening, stories, season, comedian, episode, watching, comedy, hollywood, bee, comedy clubs, imessage, home, hire
Ramy Youssef, John Horn, Ruth Carter, Samantha Bee, Excerpt from "Full Frontal"
Samantha Bee 00:02
We could build the show any one of 25 different ways every week. But we're building it on a very survival basis, like, what can we talk about without getting so wrapped up in the sadness that we actually can't make comedy?
John Horn 00:20
That's Samantha Bee, host and executive producer of the TBS late night show Full Frontal.
Ramy Youssef 00:27
There's a lot of observational humor about the situation that is there, but I think if TV shows are going to take it on, they need to be doing it from a really nuanced, fresh way. Otherwise, I think I would have a hard time watching that, because it would just feel like reliving something I'm trying to shed."
John Horn 00:44
And that's Ramy Youssef, co-creator and star of the Hulu series Ramy. i'm John Horn. Bee and Youssef are writers and comedians trying to figure out not only how to work during the pandemic, but also what might be funny about the times that we're living in. Behind the scenes, they're both fighting for deeper change, including better representation. But is the TV industry ready to come along? This is Hollywood, The Sequel. Welcome to our podcast. It's where we ask some of the entertainment industry's brightest minds how Hollywood might fix what's broken as it comes out of the pandemic. On her weekly late night show Full Frontal, which debuted in 2016, Samantha Bee offers a satirical and feminist take on the news. But more than laughs, she's also showing her audience how to become agents of change. Recently, she's done segments on saving the US Postal Service, fighting voter suppression, and addressing hunger exacerbated by COVID-19. For her own industry, Bee says this is what a better future might look like:
Samantha Bee 02:01
So many more voices would be brought to the table, so many different types of shows, so many different filmmakers, and female filmmakers, and people of color who are just given opportunities in this space, and more people of color who become showrunners. Just really more showrunners alone is a huge step in the way that we tell stories and broadening the kinds of stories that we tell.
John Horn 02:29
What about hiring on your level? Maybe more women on late night? Is that a possibility?
Samantha Bee 02:34
Well, we've had that and then we've regressed terribly, but please hire more. Please hire more women in this space, for God's sake. Oh, there are so many stories to tell. And we just get locked into these patterns all the time. But it's--we don't have to have those patterns anymore. We don't have to just accept it that way. Storytelling takes all forms, I think we all can see that. My kids watch TikTok, I'm sure your kids watch TikTok. The level of comedy on TikTok is off the charts. And it looks completely different from anything I would ever even imagine. And I love it. Like, just watching a girl on TikTok describing the fish in men's photos makes me laugh my ass off. I don't know what television will look like, but if the old dinosaurs keep trying to make it the same way, it's just going to be a failure. Just a failure. Old people like me, we have to bend our mind around a new reality. I'm ready to do that. I don't know what TV will look like, but I'm excited to find out. I'm not fearful of that. I think it's losing that fear.
John Horn 03:50
When production halted, the first question for Samantha Bee was: could her weekly show continue, with no studio, no audience, and its staff all working from home? And then, should it?
Samantha Bee 04:02
We didn't know what we would even say. The news was just--everyone was just drowning in news, and everything on the ground was changing at every second. So we took the following week's show off the schedule and just did a pause. And there was a moment where I was like, "should we do a show? I don't know, should we even do a show?" But then we were like, "Well, we should try, because this is going to go on for a really long time. And do we really not want to be saying our piece during this time, this big lead up to an election, this huge pandemic. We're a topical news show. There's never been a larger story than this thing that's happening right now to all of us. So we should plant a flag in this somehow. I think we can do it." And we just started lightly filming some content in the backyard.
Excerpt from "Full Frontal" 04:52
Oh, hi there! I'm Samantha Bee, and I'm just hanging out at my house, fully made up. If there's one takeaway from the videos the other late night hosts put out, it's that they have incredible homes, but I can do you one better. I have got a woodshed. Why? Because I've been preparing for something like this for years. So... [Fades]
Samantha Bee 05:10
We have this big backyard that's quite forested, it seemed like the perfect backdrop. We thought we could do things in a lo-fi way, literally just using the sun as the light that we used. So we didn't have hung lights or any--there's no electricity back there, so everything's on batteries.
Excerpt from "Full Frontal" 05:26
I'm gonna give you daily tips for how to survive and thrive while also social distancing. This is: "Bee-ing At Home!"
Samantha Bee 05:35
And we got everybody on board. And once we had this proof of concept, the network was like you should try. And everybody at the show, we all wanted to just try to make a show, because this is what we do. I mean, this is literally what we do. What are we going to do if we're not making a show?
John Horn 05:51
So the logistics are one thing, and then the content is another thing, and I keep thinking about this concept of what my kids call "doomscrolling," where you're kind of looking through what has gone wrong in the world every day. And when you think about your own doomscrolling and how you react to it as a person, and then how you react to it as somebody who has a show, how much do those things overlap, and how much are you thinking in real time about how you are positioned to react to things that are happening in the real world?
Samantha Bee 06:23
I think doomscrolling is very apt. And I do think I'm always thinking about the show. It's never really--it's never very far from my mind. But I think we're all kind of human beings first in this moment. So there's a lot of crossover, there always is. There always has been since the beginning of the show. Right now, I would say that I lean more towards the preservation of humanity than thinking about content for the show. Content for the show flows out of that full anxiety that we're all experiencing in our various quarters--literally everyone from the show living in their own apartments. I mean, we could build the show any one of 25 different ways every week. But we're building it on a very survival basis, like, what can we talk about without getting so wrapped up in the sadness that we actually can't make comedy? What are we capable of saying right now?
John Horn 07:24
Do you think that's fundamentally different than before the pandemic, that question of what is and is not funny, what you can and cannot add to the conversation?
Samantha Bee 07:32
Yeah, I think it is different. I mean, we've always--listen, we've always wrestled with material that no one else had any interest in making comedy with. [Laughter] That's nothing new. But this is global anxiety. And this specter of the pandemic is--I mean, obviously, that's wildly different.
John Horn 07:54
Sounds like you have some homeschooling going on.
Samantha Bee 07:56
Yeah, there's a lot of education happening right now. [Laughter]
Excerpt from "Full Frontal" 08:04
Hi, welcome to Full Frontal. I'm Samantha Bee. Protesters are taking a stand against the horrors of police brutality, and to show how not brutally violent they are, the police have responded with absolutely brutal violence.
John Horn 08:23
When you were thinking about what you're going to do on a certain episode, obviously you're choosing a topic and then you're choosing what it is you're going to say about it. And I was just watching your episode about police brutality against Black Americans. And at the end of that episode, you said their names, which is reciting the names of Black Americans who have died at the hands of the police.
Excerpt from "Full Frontal" 08:45
We also need to be talking about Tony McDade. David McAtee. Michael Lorenzo Dean. Eric Reason. Atatiana Jefferson.
John Horn 08:55
So when you're thinking about how you give some sort of shape, or commentary, or even an occasional laugh to something that isn't really funny, how do you try to figure out what that balance is, and what your path is, as a storyteller and a comedian, to share that information?
Samantha Bee 09:14
Well, that is a long process. That is not just Sam Bee out there on her own. There's that episode, and every episode of the show represents the work of 65 to 70 people. So that was--the process can be agonizing. It just, frankly, can be an agonizing process. And I would say that it was because, again, you're wrestling with these huge issues, and the subject is death and brutality, and what we've all witnessed. So getting it exactly right is something that we're so--it's such a curated, thought-out moment in the show. And I worry a lot. It's very different, also, to perform it in the forest to my husband. It's different from--[Laughter]--there's no feedback, really. So that's a very different experience too, and birds are chirping in the background, and it's very, very quiet. And so we think long and hard about every episode, but particularly in those episodes that are responding to something massive that has happened, or is happening, or something that requires just the right kind of approach.
John Horn 10:31
One of the things that has happened across the country as the Black Lives Matter movement has really permeated the way that we see ourselves, the way we see our jobs, everybody's reexamining all of their beliefs and their behaviors. And something that may happen out of this is that the entertainment business--TV, film, however you want to define it--is going to ask some hard questions about its own behavior.
Samantha Bee 10:56
John Horn 10:56
And I'm wondering if you think a) that will happen, and b) if it does, what are the kinds of questions that need to be asked? And how can entertainment start to address its own history and its own shortcomings?
Samantha Bee 11:11
I welcome these changes and these conversations for sure. I think even I look at my own leadership team, and I don't have an executive producer, who's Black, Indigenous, person of color. I need to look at that within my own show. Diversity has always been something we've thought about in every single hire and every single moment of the show. But even we can do better. And if we can do better, that means everybody can do a lot better. So it's really putting voices in positions of leadership, at every level of the production, that's so vital to making the kind of changes that need to be made. When we started the show, too, when we started the show, I had this big lofty goal that we were going to start a big mentorship program at the show, because when you're trying to hire, and you have diversity on your mind, you really have to reach into other--you have to work harder, you have to really work harder, to recruit the right people for the jobs. So it was such a point of focus for us. And I really wanted to make a mentorship program that accompanied that goal. And it was Season One of the show, we didn't know what we were doing. Everybody was so strapped, it was so stressful just trying to make a show every week that that goal really fell by the wayside. And then years passed, and we never really came back to it. So this actually has been a really great wake up moment. Continuing in that mission, but also materializing this goal that always was in the back of my mind, but not really possible. Now it's possible and it has to be possible for everybody. It's just, the old days are gone. They are not worth remembering. [Laughter] We have to create a new trajectory,
John Horn 12:58
Because I think what you're talking about is the barriers to entry are really high. And that one of the reasons that people hire the same people is it's hard to get a job until you have a job. And that means that the same people are going to be considered for the next job because they have it. And that's the real problem, that once you get in, you might get work, but getting in requires action. It might be mentorship, it might be something else.
Samantha Bee 13:24
Yeah, it honestly just requires employers to hire people. And that is not always--there's been--it can be--people just end up hiring people who they know, because by the time that you know that you have a show, and you have to make that show, you have not very much time to make a perfect workplace, or a workplace that's functioning, so people don't actually take chances. I feel really proud of the chances that I did take when we were making the show. We have so many people working at our show who never worked in television before. And that has had immense value. I can't state how valuable that has been for the voice of the show. It just expanded the possibility of the stories that we could tell with authority. It's such a smart, and creative, and better way to story-tell.
John Horn 14:23
When we come back, actor and comedian Ramy Youssef. Welcome back to Hollywood, The Sequel. i'm John Horn.
Ramy Youssef 14:44
How are you?
John Horn 14:44
I'm good! How's the hair, that beard, looking good.
Ramy Youssef 14:47
Oh my God, it's a mess. It's a mess. [Laughter]
John Horn 14:52
Ramy Youssef is a stand-up comedian, and he's the co-creator and star of the Hulu series Ramy. It's a fictionalized version of his life growing up in New Jersey as a practicing Muslim and the son of immigrant parents. We talked with Youssef on Zoom, just as he was wrapping up post-production on Season Two of his series, and he explained how things unfolded for the show once Hollywood started to shut down.
Ramy Youssef 15:16
We had three days of shooting left that we canned, but we basically had all our principal photography done, but we had stuff that we needed to grab that I wanted, all that kind of thing, that all went out the window, and we're like, "Alright, whatever, we're just going to figure it out in post, it's like, not a big deal." It is the artist in me is like, "****!" But I'm like, people aren't gonna notice that I wanted this other or whatever. But by the time we weren't allowed to see each other again we'd only finished edits on I think four of the episodes, or three of them. It's so wild. Because we're at a distance, it takes a long time to upload stuff, so they do low-res exports, and the fastest way to send them is iMessage. So I'm editing the show via text message in Google Docs, it's the craziest. I'm like, "has anyone finished a television show via iMessage?"
John Horn 16:03
The show has been renewed for a third season and then it made history, becoming the first sitcom about Muslim Americans to land an Emmy nomination. Both Youssef and his Season Two co-star Mahershala Ali were nominated. I asked Ramy how he thought the pandemic would work its way into comedy and storytelling.
Ramy Youssef 16:24
To talk about this time, yeah. I mean, we're still getting World War II movies, I think that we will be getting corona movies and TV shows for a very long time, because it's affected so many people in so many different ways. I think there's actually going to be a pretty deep well of stories that go around it. But I also think that with meme culture and online reactions, I think it's artists' responsibility when making something for TV or film to try and accomplish or say something that can't be done via meme, or via TikTok, or via whatever, because there's a lot of observational humor about the situation that is there. But I think if TV shows are going to take it on, they need to be doing it from a really nuanced, fresh way. Otherwise, I think I would have a hard time watching that, because it would just feel like reliving something I'm trying to kind of shed. But if I'm watching something that gives me some new perspective on it, to help me digest it, then I'm excited.
John Horn 17:24
There was a story I saw a couple of weeks ago that said, in shelter-at-home circumstances, the average American is streaming eight hours of content every day. It was four before. Now, there are people who clearly have a lot of time on their hands. And also, they might have lost their jobs. But in terms of how the world is changing--and you've got a show that's on a streaming site--oddly enough, do you think the whole way that we think about entertainment, even if the shift was happening before this happened, is it accelerating? How do you see the world changing, in terms of where and how we watch stuff?
Ramy Youssef 18:05
Yeah, it's interesting being--I think it hit me the first time last season where it was, like, 10 years of doing comedy and stand-up really went into Season One. And then someone will walk up to me on the street and be like, "dude, I watched your show on Saturday, it was pretty good." And I'm like, "oh, this is so funny." You do all this stuff, and somebody watches it in one day. And they're like, "cool!" There's something as a creator, where you realize how the streaming cycle works, where it's like, on one hand, it's amazing because there's a need for more content. So I feel like, oh, even with what's going on with the pandemic, or even before, there's something about television that's almost low-key kind of blue collar. It's like, "yeah, we need TV shows. Let's get a TV show done." There's something about it that it feels like a solid job, oddly, because there really is this need that people have to be entertained in this way. It's so different from movies.
John Horn 19:03
Let me ask you about stand-up, because you're a comedian. Comedy clubs, like movie theaters, are closed, and who knows when they're gonna reopen. And there are a couple things that are central to that. One is, the whole idea of going to hear somebody who can make you laugh, and how important that is. The other thing is how people get discovered. A comedian becomes an actor, that that is in many ways, the new audition site for the next generation of performers. And it's gone. So what does that mean for not only the audience who misses being with people and laughing, but how important comedy clubs are for people launching their careers? How important it was for you?
Ramy Youssef 19:44
Yeah, it's interesting, man. It's really... I feel super fulfilled, on a level, because I get to make my show. And I feel this hole, this empty feeling of not being able to go out and do stand-up the last couple of months. There's something about, like you said, people watching eight hours of streaming at home, and this and that, that's such a bubble. There's something about being able to get in front of people and talk about something that happened today, in real time, and connect in that way that is so important. It's just this connection that I think for someone like me, I could never fulfill doing my show, I could never fulfill doing--even putting out a stand-up special, it's not the same as live stand-up. And so it definitely hurts on that level, and then in terms of... yeah, I got discovered through stand-up, through sketch and through stand-up. Those were the things that it was all about live performance. And so, there's people who get discovered from TikTok, or whatever, online now, but there's something about prepping your work for a live audience that I still think makes the work sharper, because there's something about that real life contact, where it's not just likes and comments, but you just you can feel how an audience is breathing, like where you--it really helps you tune into what what's good, or what's working, or what's not working about what you're making. And so yeah, on a developmental level, I feel for people who are coming up, but I also feel for myself because a lot of the stuff in my show I work out on stage.
John Horn 21:26
In the weeks to come, we'll hear from Ruth Carter, the Oscar-winning costume designer for Black Panther.
Ruth Carter 21:32
When I look at a lot of things that have come out recently, I'm kind of sad that they weren't on the big screen. It's something that I think will never go away. We'll always have movies. But my work is for the big screen.
John Horn 21:50
Our thanks to Samantha Bee and Ramy Youssef, and to you for listening. We hope you'll subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please give us a rating, leave us a comment, and share the podcast. This episode of Hollywood, The Sequel was produced by Shelley Lewis and Monica Bushman with help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot. Our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez. Our theme music is composed by Nicholas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of LAist Studios. i'm John Horn. We'll see you next time.
Hollywood, The Sequel: "Fast, Nimble, and Very Big" with Net...
Mon, 8/17 4:48PM • 21:47
netflix, theaters, film, people, movies, big, company, hollywood, pandemic, world, stories, business, months, filmmakers, production, dear white people, couple, moment, studios, reed hastings
Ted Sarandos, John Horn, Samantha Bee
Ted Sarandos 00:04
I think that there was a belief in the business world that big companies could always just eat small companies. So once you got big, you could slow down. Because you know, no one was gonna come along.
John Horn 00:16
Ted Sarandos, the Chief Content Officer and co-CEO of Netflix.
Ted Sarandos 00:21
So when I think about the early days of Netflix, and we were this small company, and our biggest worry was that some big company was gonna eat us up. And the truth--what we learned is that big companies don't always eat small companies. But fast companies always outrun slow companies.
John Horn 00:40
I'm John Horn. The pandemic has devastated Hollywood, Disney has lost billions of dollars because of it, some of the biggest movie theater chains are on the edge of bankruptcy, and hundreds of thousands of creative workers are out of a job. Amidst all of that one company isn't just surviving--it's thriving. And that's Netflix. This is Hollywood, The Sequel. Welcome to our podcast. It's where Hollywood leaders talk about how the industry might come out of the pandemic changed for the better. And we couldn't very well consider how the business should reinvent itself without talking to the biggest change agent of all: Netflix. With so much of the world forced to stay at home, the streaming service has added 26 million subscribers in the first half of the year. But the company had shaken up the industry well before the pandemic. A little history: Netflix started in 1997 as an online DVD rental outfit. It launched its streaming service 10 years later in 2007--and back then, TV networks and movie studios were happy to sell the little upstart their old shows and films. But in so doing, they helped create their worst rival. Netflix will spend an estimated $17 billion this year on content. To fight back, competitors like Disney, Time Warner, and NBC Universal have launched their own streaming services. But does Netflix have too much power? Some movie theater chains and others would say yes. In addition to being Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos is now co-CEO with founder Reed Hastings. And one important disclosure: my wife is a Netflix lawyer. The basic premise of our podcast is this: and that is--are we in the middle of a moment where Hollywood can--or should--reinvent itself? And if so, what might that future look like? So I'm going to start with the basic business right now. When things get back to normal--whenever that happens--how do you think the fundamental business is going to evolve, post-pandemic?
Ted Sarandos 03:06
Well, look, I think, largely, a lot of things are going to go back to what we were doing. There'll be many things that will linger. The good thing, I think, is in the return to production, kind of, safety protocols. Many of those things that they're going to prove to be very effective in making production safer and more efficient, and will stick around. But I can tell you our experience of shooting around the world under these new safety protocols is that the shoots are more organized, people know where they're supposed to be, they actually run quite smoothly, and all the extra steps that is going into making the production environment cleaner and healthier has--actually doesn't result in a big delay of time because of the efficiency of the production schedules. Fewer people who don't need to be on the set or not on the set and all those kind of things which actually changes the way--the rhythms--of production pretty significantly; I think some of those things will stick around. In terms of the business itself, who makes movies, who makes TV shows, who watches them--I think that this time that we're living in right now has kind of accelerated choice, and accelerated options, and gives a lot more storytellers a place at bat to be able to get out and get their stories told.
John Horn 04:27
So, I'm going to deal with that in a second. But I'm going to go to what's going on right now. There's a very spirited debate going on between a couple of theater chains and Universal. Universal has taken a couple of its planned theatrical releases, Trolls: World Tour and King of Staten Island, and put them directly on video-on-demand platforms. AMC has now capitulated and said they will run Universal movies for 17 days before they can go to digital platforms--the owner of Regal is like "No, terrible idea,"--but as you're watching that distribution model be challenged and kind of break apart in real time, how does that affect streaming companies and your ability to get your movies into theaters, which has been a real obstacle in the past?
Ted Sarandos 05:11
The great thing is, is getting our movies into theaters has not been an obstacle to getting them to audiences. Our films enjoy enormous audiences on Netflix, and on on our film releases, like The Irishman and others where we've had pretty large theatrical releases, the big theater chains--AMC's and others--have refused to book the films, which I think is really just bad for their business and bad for their customers, because the independent theater chains enjoyed sellout performances near throughout--nearly the entire runs of those shows. They're just smaller rooms, so it was harder for people to get tickets and get seats or to do, you know, a big box office number, but that's not the business model for us anyway. We're thrilled that we got the film into hundreds--thousands, actually--screens around the world for a nice long theatrical run for people who wanted to go to the theater. But it was also on Netflix if you chose to stay home and watch it at home. And for me, like I said, not being in theaters does not prevent us from getting an audience for a film. But I would like to be able to offer choice to movie--filmgoers, and film lovers, and to filmmakers to be able to make their films available in the best theaters and on Netflix if consumers choose to watch that way.
John Horn 06:27
And what happens to that experience just for people like you and me that like to go see movies in theaters? I'm certainly not headed back to a theater anytime soon, even if they reopened. Do you think that that way of seeing movies for any consumer is going to be fundamentally changed if and when theaters open? Maybe middle of next year, next spring? Who knows when?
Ted Sarandos 06:47
It's really hard to tell. I mean, you think about what consumer behaviors it took a couple of years, you know, for commercial air travel to get back to normal post-9/11. So I do think that that's a really big necessity. So if you think about a lot of things like that, it's very hard to predict now what, how people are going to feel emotionally six months from now, three months from now, 12 months from now. But I think going to the movies is kind of a fundamental social event for people around the world, and getting out of the house, and, you know, seeing some things together. That's, you know, not--it's not the way most people see movies anymore. But it is a nice, it's a nice night out. And I would let you know, I'm looking forward to having that option again. I--like you, I'm not positive when that will be or when I'll feel good enough to do it. But I'm hopeful that it'll come around again.
John Horn 07:35
The other thing that I think is happening as theaters remain closed is that the kinds of movies that the studios make, I think are pretty much in question because companies like Disney have made a huge bet on big franchises. It could be Marvel, it could be Lucasfilm, it could be Pixar. And the fact that you can't go to a theater, I have to imagine it's going to change the kind of films maybe that studios are going to make. But right now, does that create more of an opportunity for a company like yours that isn't really in that business of big event movies, that it does mean that there is a shifting taste that is really kind of driven by what you can and cannot see in a theater?
Ted Sarandos 08:16
I'm not sure. I mean, I feel like we have got to be great at the, you know, the full complement of movies, that kind of things that people like to see. I mean, like, kind of like in our TV business, where we're trying to make things for your, whatever your mood is, whatever your taste is. And for movie goers, you know, that could be a big action-adventure escape film, you know, like Extraction, or The Old Guard on Netflix right now. Or, you know, or it could be a small, much smaller, more intimate film like Marriage Story that is tougher, I think, to get people out to the theaters for, but I think what happens is over time, people get used to watching movies at home, and then they get used to watching premiere movies at home, and they kind of like it. So when we get a movie like Extraction--which, you know, almost 100 million Netflix accounts have watched the movie at least once--you think about that and say that's about a, you know, the cultural equivalent of a billion dollar movie at the box office. I do think the way we think about what movies you do and don't see, I think the bigger they are, the more spectacular they are--that's kind of needed to get you off the couch. And the bar for that is going to keep getting higher and higher, I think.
John Horn 09:29
As for the shows that are meant to be watched on the couch and not in theaters, Netflix just collected the most Emmy Award nominations ever. When we come back: Hollywood is grappling with its troubled history of representation and inclusion. And that's where Netflix can use its power to make real progress.
Ted Sarandos 09:49
The opportunity to give filmmakers the resources to tell the stories that matter to their audiences is a responsibility, but it's also great business.
John Horn 10:10
In 2013, Netflix commissioned its first original production: the White House drama House of Cards. Months later, it debuted Orange is the New Black. It was a series that was acclaimed for the diversity of its characters, including transgender actor Laverne Cox. And the series signaled a direction that Netflix was comfortable taking: investing in programming created by and featuring people of color--shows like Dear White People or When They See Us. As for the future, what does the company's commitment to equity look like, given that its three most powerful executives are white men? So clearly there has been the disruption from the pandemic, but there's also been another massive thing that's happened in the country, and that is this conversation about racism and equity, from government, to policing, to the entertainment industry. So I want to ask you about a couple of things: in June, Netflix launched the Black Lives Matter Collection--had films like Ava DuVernay's 13th, Justin Simien's Dear White People, Barry Jenkins's Moonlight, Dee Rees's Mudbound--and your homepage for the BLM Collection said "More than a moment." So as a company, what does that mean, "More than a moment," in terms of your priorities going forward, and about how you might see things differently, and how you're responding to that conversation?
Ted Sarandos 11:30
This has been an ongoing effort for the entertainment industry, but particularly I can speak to Netflix. That "More than a moment" was not a tagline that we created this summer. That was actually a spot that we created a couple years ago called "Great Day in Hollywood," where we put together our filmmakers of color, and the cast of their shows together to kind of reenact this photo from great--called Great Day in Harlem, from the old jazz movement, and the tagline for that message was "More than a moment." And it has been an ongoing part of who Netflix is since the beginning of our original content initiative. The films that you just talked about, we were able to assemble that collection because we've been doing it for a long time. It wasn't a scramble. And I would say that the opportunity to give filmmakers the resources to tell the stories that matter to their audiences is a responsibility, but it's also great business. You've mentioned 13th with Ava DuVernay. I happened to meet Ava for the first time at a screening of a movie she did called Middle of Nowhere, and made a phenomenal film about, you know, basically about prison reform, and that--I was my wife's plus one at that screening--but we wound up becoming great friends and after Selma we started talking about documentary projects and some things that she made in her time--because earlier in her career, she was making docs, and the idea for 13th came up in those early conversations with Ava, myself, and Lisa Nishamura, and it was such a powerful film, and got an enormous audience--it got Oscar nomination and, you know, brought the public to that conversation, and that was years ago. So we're--we have an ongoing commitment in--to invest in storytellers as legendary as Spike Lee, as proven as Ava DuVernay, as new as Dee Rees, or somebody, even, like Stefan Bristol, who was not yet out of NYU when we funded his film See You Yesterday for Netflix, or Gina Prince-Bythewood who directed The Old Guard--first African American woman to ever direct a big-budget, star-driven action feature in the history of Hollywood. So we're committed to finding the best storytellers and giving them the access to the assets to make those films.
John Horn 13:56
Would you say your commitment has changed? Have you redoubled? Have you made it even more of a priority now than it might have been, say, three months ago?
Ted Sarandos 14:04
I, you know, it's just--it's been in our DNA for so long. The thing that people forget, Netflix is a lot different than many media companies in that the green light power doesn't reside just with me. In fact, I haven't greenlit a show or a film in a couple of years. My team--I have vice presidents and directors who have more greenlight authority than most network presidents and studio presidents; so the commitment that we all have to make to each other is to make sure that our company represents our audience. And if folks want to get these stories made, and they come in into a room full of people who they don't think understand their story, that's a, you know, that's got to be a super disheartening meeting to have for a filmmaker. It's hard enough to get your things made, you know, even if they're great. You definitely don't want to not get it made because you don't think the person you're pitching to gets it. So we want to make sure that the audience for those pitches is as diverse as the audience who may watch it down the road. We've been investing and growing in that--now, am I happy with the numbers that we have now? Of course not. But we continue to do the work and we continue to push forward.
John Horn 15:10
So one of your filmmakers, you mentioned her name, Ava DuVernay, said on our podcast that as long as white men are calling the shots and at the top of the food chain, truly meaningful change is impossible, that there needs to be a total reset--and the three top people in Netflix are all white men, Reed Hastings, yourself, and Greg Peters. Does that concern you at all? And if not, why not?
Ted Sarandos 15:34
Well, Ava also said in the New York Times that Netflix is the largest distributor of black images in the world. We have a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion. And we're getting better and more representative about it all the time. So I do think--I think that the, again, that if all of the decision making authority was wrangled with myself, or even the three of us, that would be a problem, but it certainly is not. And like I said, projects find their home on Netflix because of the diverse and rich group of executives who hear those stories and inbound those stories.
John Horn 16:11
If you were really trying to make sure that going forward, or even now, the company is gonna look as much like the country as possible--do you look at stated targets? Do you look at mandates? How do you measure your own progress, and make sure that you're doing as good a job as you can?
Ted Sarandos 16:28
Look, I think the main thing is, is a commitment to ongoing improvement. Because I think if you lay out numbers and targets, you wind up having all kinds of things that make you comfortably check boxes, which is not what we're after. And, you know, you've got a group of people who really like to win, so if you define the win as X number of people doing this, they're going to figure out a way to do that. But I think what's really much more important is that you are putting resources in the hands of folks at a very large scale. So like, I would argue that the impact of having Gina direct a, you know, 100 million dollar budget-plus movie is far more impactful than having 100 people with a million dollars making, you know, million dollar movies. And we're doing both, which I think is really important. I don't want to get lulled into any false sense of confidence that we're done--our work is not done--but I think it was a good example, I think--is that if you don't use your position in the world to just be another gatekeeper. That's not what we're trying to do. I'm trying to be an enabler. We're trying to figure out ways to enable storytelling, not to block it, and not to prevent unproven talent to prove themselves.
John Horn 17:38
What have you learned during the pandemic? Obviously, a lot of people are sheltering in place, and the company is gaining a lot of subscribers. What has it taught you about what people want in terms of stories and how your role as a entertainment company might have evolved just in the last six months?
Ted Sarandos 17:55
It's funny--I haven't asked his permission to share this quote, but Guillermo Del Toro, we talked a few months into the quarantine. And he said, it's come--become clear to him the things that he really needs in life are food, water, and stories. And that without those stories he couldn't have gotten through. And you think about, you know, that is kind of an essential element to the human condition, is being able to connect with people far away, and worlds that you don't live in, and all those things. So, in general, I think what we've learned in, in our short time, and, you know, hopefully making this experience a little more bearable for folks, is that people just really want stories. And they want stories that are really diverse and really reflect how they're feeling that day. And that could be something as intimate as Unorthodox, or as, you know, head scratching as Tiger King, or as big as Extraction. So I do think that gets at the variety of things that really caught on for us during this period of time was remarkable--everything from competition shows, to big budget films, to, you know, crazy documentary worlds like Tiger King.
John Horn 19:10
Just to trade Guillermo del Toro quotes--we talked to him a couple months ago, and he said, the business is like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: who will survive? And I thought it was a really good point--that we're at a moment of profound disruption and what's going to happen coming out of this is anybody's guess. How confident are you that, you know, what you're doing is going to be viable, that the way the world is changing so quickly, that streaming is still gonna be important, that, you know, people are gonna still want entertainment? We don't know the future. And there are a lot of people around, you know, could be actors. It could be studios that aren't going to make it through this.
Ted Sarandos 19:51
But I could say, you know, professional filmed entertainment has been pretty resilient, you know, over 100 years so I do think--and storytelling has been resilient as long as there's been people, so I do think that I'm 100% confident that if anything, our relationship with content and storytelling has deepened, and our need for it--now, when we can go out, will there be a period of, you know, like you see in Europe as soon as the weather clears and everyone's on the street? Probably, but I don't know, you know, but I don't think it's gonna happen, you know, like, winter and spring. I think it'll just get to be one of those things where gradually people will get closer to their old habits, but they will have formed new ones, and which ones stick and which ones don't--that's what's going to be yet to be understood.
John Horn 20:46
In the weeks to come: we'll hear from late night host Samantha Bee. For years, she has made putting together a diverse staff a priority.
Samantha Bee 20:54
Diversity has always been something we've thought about in every single hire, and every single moment of the show, but even we can do better. And if we can do better, that means everybody can do a lot better.
John Horn 21:08
Our thanks to Ted Sarandos and to you for listening. We hope you'll subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And please give us a rating, leave us a comment, and share the podcast. This episode of Hollywood, The Sequel was produced by Shelley Lewis and Monica Bushman with help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot, our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez, and our theme music is composed by Nicholas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of LAist Studios. I'm John Horn. We'll see you next time.
Hollywood, The Sequel
"Rewriting Hollywood's Story" with Janet Mock
Season 1, Episode 7
Wed, 9/2 4:08PM • 22:21
hollywood, people, janet mock, stories, trans, black, pose, black trans woman, black trans women, industry, specifically, lgbtq, characters, hattie mcdaniel, world, camille, ryan murphy, play, incoming calls, life
Janet Mock, Excerpt from "Hollywood", Ted Sarandos, John Horn
Janet Mock 00:03
I think our stories have great impact, and the stories that this industry chooses to tell have great impact.
John Horn 00:12
That's trans activist Janet Mock. She's a writer-director on the FX series Pose and Netflix's Hollywood.
Janet Mock 00:19
I know that in a world where there's not that many trans people, most cisgender people do not have an interaction with trans people. But they can sit for an hour and invite these characters and these people into their homes, and they can get an education. They can be inspired and enlightened, and also entertained, and want to spend time with people unlike them.
John Horn 00:48
I'm John Horn. As Janet Mock sees it, the pandemic work stoppage and the Black Lives Matter movement gave Hollywood a rare chance to take a hard look at itself. But after all the soul-searching, will the industry finally get it right with real representation? And not just in hiring, but also in the kinds of stories that get told. Mock believes the images we see are critical because they change how we see the world. This is Hollywood, The Sequel. Welcome to our podcast. It's where we ask some of the entertainment industry's brightest minds how Hollywood could, and should, reinvent itself. And so we asked Janet Mock how she would write the story of Hollywood's future. Her first industry job was on the FX series Pose. She was hired by the series' co-creator, Ryan Murphy. The show explores New York City's underground ballroom scene in the 1980s and 90s. It features more transgender actors in regular roles than any scripted show in TV history. And Mock made history herself with Pose, becoming the first trans woman of color to write and direct a TV episode. It wasn't just a great professional
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accomplishment, Pose represented a radically different view of the world than what Mock saw growing up.
Janet Mock 02:15
I know, from my own experience as a Black, poor child growing up in America who happened to come into consciousness realizing I'm trans, I grew up with all kinds of images of trans people that were not positive. I grew up with images of Black people that were, actually in the 90s, quite positive. And those images emboldened me. They changed and shifted what I thought was possible for myself in my own life. They gave me great sense of hope and escape. They told me, probably in unconscious ways that I wasn't even aware of as a 12 year old, that my life mattered and that I was deserving of taking up space. And I know that having access to those images affected me and allowed me to go out into the world and say that I am deserving. I'm deserving of everything this world has to offer. And so, for me, also having my first job in Hollywood being on the FX series Pose, seeing how, when we cast five Black trans women to play five Black trans women on screen, that shifted the conversations about who should be seen, and who should be heard, and who's valued. And I know too, that that show has really--not converted, because that's a real weird word--but that show has opened people's eyes to the lives, and the struggles, and the sacrifices of specifically Black trans women and LGBTQ people of color. I have been stopped many times by mothers who say--and these are cisgender women, these are not transgender women. These are cisgender women, who have raised children, who have said that "Blanca is my hero." And Blanca, played by Mj Rodriguez, is a Black trans woman who takes in, basically, LGBTQ orphans who are kicked out of their own homes because of their parents' intolerance. And so, in that sense, I know that in a world where there's not that many trans people, most cisgender people do not have interaction with trans people. But they can sit for an hour and invite these characters and these people into their homes, and they can get an education. They can be inspired and enlightened, and also entertained, and want to spend time with people unlike them. And so in that sense, yes. I think our stories have great impact. And the stories that this industry chooses to tell have great impact on how people think, how they choose to interact and intervene when say, a Black trans woman is being taunted or harassed in a grocery store or on the subway, that maybe if they had exposure and fell in love with Blanca on Pose, that they would go in and say "that's not right."
John Horn 05:28
When I spoke with Janet Mock, it was one day after I'd done unconscious bias training at work. We thought and talked about how who we are--like our race, our gender--unfailingly affects how we see the world, how others see us, and shape our actions. And it was still on my mind how those reflexive assumptions can perpetuate some of Hollywood's worst practices. So I asked Mock for her take.
Janet Mock 05:55
On a very personal level, I think that people tend to hire people that they're comfortable with, not necessarily people who are unlike them. And so it's kind of rare for a white cisgender straight person in power to necessarily want to hire people who are not straight, who are not white, and who are not cisgender, right? And so I know for me from my own experience, the way in which I was able to get into Hollywood was through a white cisgender gay man who saw himself in me and my story as an outsider. Ryan Murphy is someone who I know has shared experiences of feeling as if, and being the only gay person in a room--one of the few out gay showrunners at the time, when he was starting out his career, from Popular and Nip/Tuck. He talks about the arguments that he had at that time. He talks about having to fight for the characters and storylines, and they told him "the characters just feel too gay," even though they were straight characters. And so the fact that his worldview was constantly berated,
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and sidelined, and he had to fight for that over, and over, and over again, I think there was a point of him that when he was starting to work on Pose, he realized that he necessarily wasn't the person--the central voice for this show, and that he needed to seek voices unlike him. And I think it takes a lot of work, not just to realize that maybe you're not the best person to tell that story--that kind of consciousness, in this industry, is still kind of not quite there. And I think that what feels different about this time is that, for the first time, it seems as if white people are taking it upon themselves to educate themselves to do this kind of training, and to look around themselves and to see who they're surrounded by at their workplace. And that alone should be like, "Oh, we need to shake this up." And so the second part of that is, is really cleaning house, to a certain extent, or expanding those roles to promote people within who have been there to see what kind of hostile environments you have created in your company that has pushed Black people out of the ranks, that has not lifted them up from assistant-level to managers or to agents.
John Horn 08:26
So the premise of our podcast, Hollywood, The Sequel, is that this might be a moment for Hollywood to reinvent itself. And initially, we were talking about the pandemic and the resulting shut down. But now there are protests about systemic racism. And I think in some ways, they're intertwined. So I wonder what you think of that idea that this might be a moment where the industry can pause, and think about, and maybe even create a new version of itself?
Janet Mock 08:56
Yeah, I feel like there seems to be a kind of a reckoning, a collective consciousness-raising that is going on. Of course, these movements have been around for decades--the movements for racial justice, and defunding the police, and holding institutions accountable to, specifically, Black lives. I think that we're finally at a place where creating task forces for diversity and inclusion have now been seen largely as lip service. And I think now, as a Black artist myself, that I am at the point where it's time for structural change and true action. And so, yeah, this time feels different, largely probably because of the COVID crisis, that folks have more time to dedicate, to pay attention to headlines, to really analyze what's going on, to read books, and so that space of pause that was forced upon us has now kind of confronted us to really figure out what's next and how we make those those changes in this industry specifically.
John Horn 10:17
Coming up Janet Mock on one tangible sign that change is happening: more phone calls.
Janet Mock 10:22
Lots of incoming calls about trans stories, but stories that are wider, like a rom com about a young black fashion designer. These studios are starting to realize, "Oh, wait, there is this talent out there. We just have never seen them as a default, to say that we should put them at the top of our list."
John Horn 10:56
I'm gonna ask you about your Netflix series Hollywood. You executive produced it, you also are wrote and directed on it. It's a look back at the golden era of Hollywood. And it's a little bit revisionist, I mean, people who aren't white, and who aren't straight, don't have it easy, but they do get some recognition. And they do have probably more opportunities than they did in real life. But I'm wondering, when you heard about this idea, how you connected to it, and what you thought was important, about looking backward so that we might look forward?
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Janet Mock 11:27
Yeah, when Ryan approached me to work on this series, I was really intrigued, obviously, by the Gilded Age of Hollywood--1940s Hollywood, where the studio system really reigned, where stars were created, and crafted, and made, and vaunted. And this idea that we were going to play around and explore real life people like Hattie McDaniel, and Rock Hudson, and Anna May Wong, and give them, as Ryan said, quote-unquote "happy endings." But my in, and my interest, really was, number one, being a fan of that of that era, loving the films of that era. And kind of having a bittersweet relationship to it because when I did see, specifically, a Black woman on screen she was either a domestic, like Hattie McDaniel was kind of forced and only given a choice to play at that time, to make a living and survive for herself, and to also just be an artist, and to want to do what she loves to do. I'm sure there was a great aching within her, a longing to do more, to show that she could do more, versus being "mammified" by an American audience and imagination--or, the second kind of role was a nightclub singer. A nightclub singer, like Lena Horne repeatedly played over, and over, and over for MGM, but at the same time, she never really got in-depth work. She was cut out of scenes, or cut out of movies, when they played in the South because folk down there, racists down there, white racists down there who were lynching people at that time, weren't ready to see a Black woman, a Black person, be vaunted and glamorized in that way. They wouldn't have shown up to the theaters. So I think for me what really was my entry point was wanting to write those wrongs, wanting to give those specific women the roles that they deserved. And so when I went into the room, and we were talking about what to do, specifically with a Camille Washington character, who was the only Black starlet on contract at ACE Studios, we discussed letting her fight for a screen test and wanting to play the ingenue, wanting to be the romantic lead. That created a lot of exciting things. It created a lot of tension. Number one, Camille had to fight for this screen time. And it was penned by an out Black writer.
Excerpt from "Hollywood" 14:04
Camille, I'm sure you're grand, but with you as the star and me as the writer, it becomes a
message picture. For colored folks, limited distribution. Now y'all know that I didn't come to Hollywood to make those kinds of pictures. Just like I didn't set out to play domestics.
Janet Mock 14:22
As a Black writer and director, working in today's Hollywood, I got to say and put things in characters' mouths that were very exciting for them to say. And that was fun, to do that. And it was a great, great, great challenge.
John Horn 14:38
So you're a storyteller, you're a screenwriter, but I'm gonna ask you to write a different kind of story. And that is the story of how the industry can change itself and what its future might look like. You get to come up with a blueprint about how things are going to be different. What does it look like?
Janet Mock 14:54
I think it looks like a commitment to true inclusion and institutional support. It's not just the faces on screen, which, of course, we would applaud. We'd love to have more, and more, and more of that. But I think it's really systemic. And so I think our agencies, which are the industry gatekeepers in the sense that they will recruit, retain, and support Black agents. I think it looks like me being on a set, not only as director, but as a Black trans woman director being surrounded by LGBTQ, and Black people, and people of color below the line, for crew, that I'll be surrounded with department heads that look like me,
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that come from my similar experiences, that I will no longer feel isolated and the only. I think it'll look like studios and production companies having many, many, many more senior level Black executives with greenlighting power. I think it'll look like me being able to not have to talk about this stuff as a huge part of my work. A big chunk of my work is talking about the radical notion of the way in which I tell these stories, and that I am the one telling these stories. And I hope that one day that is not so rare that someone from my experiences are trusted to call the shots, are given the pen to write their own stories, that centering these kind of characters are not big headlines, and that that actors on my show, specifically the trans women actors on Pose, are recognized for their talents in acting categories. And I guess, too, me being recognized in the writing and directing categories as well. So I hope that that's kind of what it looks like.
John Horn 16:56
If you were to sit back and think about how what has happened over the past four months has changed you as a person, and how those changes affect your priorities as a storyteller, as a writer, producer, and director, where would you say they line up? Where would you say your personal reaction to what's happened in the world is changing or reinforcing your ideas for what you want to do as a storyteller?
Janet Mock 17:21
For me, one of the first things that really happened was that I felt more emboldened. I think that this greater consciousness-raising made me, number one, not feel like I was crazy. [Laughter] That all of the things that I've experienced in my life, the way that people talked to me, the way that even certain of my representatives would try to--not so much dampen my dreams, but make me be more realistic, or I wouldn't be up for certain projects that I was completely qualified for. And now I feel more emboldened to not only check those people and get them off of my team, and to realize they were never on my side in the first place, but to the folks that are on my team, to tell them straight out what I expect of them, and what I expect moving forward. I've noticed just in this last shift, since the world as I know, has been kind of on fire--literally and also figuratively, in everyone's bodies, home to home, consciousness to consciousness. I've gotten more requests, if I am available to write and direct certain features; things that probably before this moment, I would not have been getting these incoming calls. Over and over again, I have had to pitch myself and to be passed over, even for projects that are with Black women at the center. Lots of incoming calls about trans stories because there's not that many trans filmmakers with experience and credits in Hollywood, but stories that are wider, like a rom com about a young Black fashion designer. These studios are starting to realize like, "Oh, wait, there is this talent out there, we just have never seen them as a default, to say that we should put them at the top of our list." And so I am--
John Horn 19:20
That's like Archie in Hollywood, that he's worried he's only gonna be pigeonholed that he writes about race, that there's only certain ways that people are seen if they've told one kind of story.
Janet Mock 19:30
Oh, my God, completely. And that is something that has always been frustrating to me in my own career, and that's what I meant when I was referring to certain people on my team often saying that I should be grateful that there's incoming calls for trans stories. But yes, I'm a trans woman. I am also a Black woman. I'm also a woman. And so though those experiences I can tell all kinds of stories; I should be able to tell more stories, right? Think about it. I'm Black, I'm trans, and I'm a woman, so I should be able to tell LGBTQ stories, female dramas and comedies, and, of course, Black features. And
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so, for me, I never saw that as limiting. I never saw that my perspective on the world and my scope of the world is limiting, and I think that the industry is catching up to that. And I think, referring to Archie, writing those things for him was from my own frustrations. And I'm glad that things are changing, but you asked me what changed in me. I think that I feel affirmed by this moment, as I'm also deeply traumatized by this moment. I am emboldened, I feel that my voice is sharper. And I also feel more hopeful in the sense that I can be even more brutally honest, and incisive, and I think that true change only happens if we can be brutally honest with one another
John Horn 21:00
And one last note: after we spoke with Janet Mock, this year's Emmy nominations were announced. While Pose actor Billy Porter was nominated, all of the trans actors on Pose, as well as Mock, were shut out for the second year in a row. In the weeks to come, we'll hear how streaming services continue to shake up Hollywood. Here's Netflix's Ted Sarandos.
Ted Sarandos 21:26
I do think the way we think about what movies you do or don't see, I think the bigger they are, the more spectacular they are, that's kind of needed to get you off the couch. And the bar for that is going to keep getting higher and higher, I think.
John Horn 21:42
Our thanks to Janet Mock, and to you for listening. We hope you'll subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please give us a rating, leave us a comment, and share this podcast. This episode of Hollywood, The Sequel was produced by Shelley Lewis and Monica Bushman with help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot. Our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez. Our theme music is composed by Nicolas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of LAist Studios. i'm John Horn. We'll see you next time.
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Hollywood, The Sequel
“Realistic Optimist/Optimistic Realist” with Lesli Linka Glatter
Season 1, Episode 6
Tue, 9/1 5:18PM • 20:51
people, hollywood, hired, linka, business, production, directors, pandemic, women, stories, safe, metoo, work, concern, unions, assumptions, guilds, podcast, question, homeland
Lesli Linka Glatter, John Horn, David Rubin
Lesli Linka Glatter 00:03
Last year in television, it was an equal number of episodes directed by men and women. That is unheard of.
John Horn 00:12
Director and producer Lesli Linka Glatter.
Lesli Linka Glatter 00:15
And I hate to say that shame works, but in some way it does. You don't really want to be on the "worst of" list in diverse and women hiring. That's just not a place you want to be.
John Horn 00:32
I'm John Horn. With its literal health on the line, Hollywood is trying to write its own comeback story. But can the industry get back to work while COVID-19 remains undefeated? Producer and director Lesli Linka Glatter is working to develop new safety protocols for filming. But if Hollywood is to thrive again, how shows get made is only one part of the puzzle. Who makes them is just as important. This is Hollywood, The Sequel. Welcome to our podcast. It's where we ask some of the entertainment industry's sharpest minds how Hollywood could, and should, reinvent itself when it's safe for production to really get going again. The safety issue has been a real front-of-mind concern for director Lesli Linka Glatter. Probably best known for her work on the Showtime series Homeland, her credits also include Mad Men, Masters of Sex, and Twin Peaks. She's also part of a critical Directors Guild of America committee. Along with other Hollywood unions, the DGA is trying to come up with production safety guidelines.
Lesli Linka Glatter 01:51
It's scary out there because of how cases have exploded in the last three weeks. So productions that were geared to go back now are reexamining. Everyone is struggling to find a way to get back. Everyone wants to get back to work, all of us. But obviously we have to do that in a safe way.
John Horn 02:14
We've been talking on this podcast about how this might be a reset moment for Hollywood. That it can take a hard look at itself, and maybe bring about some real and lasting change, especially when it comes to equity and inclusion. But Glatter worries there's also a chance the town might go back to its old and worst practices.
Lesli Linka Glatter 02:35
Now, what's going to happen when we open up? I hope there's not a backslide. I hope that all kinds of stories and all kinds of directors are being hired to tell those stories.
John Horn 02:48
We talked to Glatter on two occasions: back in May, and then more recently. When we first talked, I asked Glatter where she was when the world shut down.
Lesli Linka Glatter 02:57
We had just finished Homeland, doing the post on Homeland, and I was ready to go off to do my next project, which is called The Banker's Wife.
John Horn 03:08
This is at Amazon, is that right?
Lesli Linka Glatter 03:09
Yes, it is. It's an eight-part miniseries for Amazon. And it looks at the banks that do business with dictators, and money launderers, and drug runners, and presidents, and the wealthy and entitled, and it has two great female leads. And I'm working with Meredith Stiehm, who was a writer and executive producer on Homeland. And I'm directing all eight and she is writing all eight. So I had my four suitcases and three boxes all packed, ready to go to Budapest. And the night before I was getting on the plane, we got the call.
John Horn 03:45
And you were cast, ready to start shooting?
Lesli Linka Glatter 03:49
No, we were just starting prep. Thank goodness we were not like, days away from the first day of shooting. That would be--I know people that were, so I am very compassionate about that.
John Horn 04:02
So, I suspect, is that mostly present-day, or is it period?
Lesli Linka Glatter 04:06
John Horn 04:07
So there are things that--three months ago, if you went to a bank, the way you handed over your money, or you got your deposit slip, you got your parking validated--that in a new world, people would say, well, that's not how it's done. So it's not just how you film the actual events, it's whether or not those events are still the way things are done. So--
Lesli Linka Glatter 04:28
John Horn 04:28
--you might have to be rewriting basic things about how people go into a bank or do electronic banking.
Lesli Linka Glatter 04:34
I think those are going to be creative choices that every filmmaker is going to need to grapple with. Now, and certainly, if it's a period piece, that makes it a whole lot easier. Because we can go back to old times and now, is everyone really going to be running around wearing masks in every dramatic or comedic storytelling situation? I don't know. These are big creative choices.
John Horn 05:01
Let's look at what might change, and we can kind of come up with our own wish list. But let's just say that there is a moment where the industry can reset and reconsider many of its assumptions. I'm gonna start by hiring. By the people who are hired to make content and appear in content. It is a white man's business, and that generally has been the rule for the last many, many decades. So is there a possibility that there is a chance for the business in some way to reset, and change who gets to make stories and who appears in those stories?
Lesli Linka Glatter 05:38
I always hope that, John, and I do think things have changed. I have been very involved with mentoring women directors for many, many years. And I do see, in the last couple of years, the doors opening more. Statistically, last year in television, it was an equal number of episodes directed by men and women. That is unheard of. For many years, it hovered around 15-20%. And maybe would go up a little bit, and then it would go back down again. And I think any director, female director that's been working for a long time, has heard, "we hired a woman once and it didn't work." Of course, that's an absurd statement; you would never say you hired a white man and that didn't work, so no more white man. You you can't categorize anyone in that way, men or women. And I have always believed that it shouldn't be harder for our daughters to direct than for our sons. It should be equally difficult for everyone. Directing is not an easy path. But it should be equal. And I think we're starting to see that. I think the #MeToo movement shined a strong light on that. I think there are more roles for diverse casts, but it isn't where it should be. Certainly not in feature films.
John Horn 07:00
When you think about the people that you work with--there was a report by an organization called Americans For The Arts, and they found that unemployment among artists was as high as restaurant workers. And that is visual artists, actors, dancers, choreographers that--you were once a choreographer.
Lesli Linka Glatter 07:20
John Horn 07:21
There are people in the business who go from job to job, and if those jobs don't come along, might be that close to not being able to make it. So what happens to the people who might be the next great costume designer, or the next great actor, who says to him- or herself, "I can't wait. I'm going to toss it and go do something else." Is there the possibility that a generation of future artists won't have the chance because they can't find work now and might not be able to find work if production is limited going forward?
Lesli Linka Glatter 07:52
This is a horrifying thought. But it's a very real one and very important question to ask. And I hate thinking that there will be a generation of young people whose voices we won't hear. But there is an economic reality we're all facing. But what you're talking about is a horrifying thought, and I think there's reality to it, absolutely. I hope that after, somehow, this passes, that people come back. If they have to go away, they come back.
John Horn 08:23
And there's the corporate equivalent to that. And that is, companies like a big movie theater chain, or a talent agency, or some affiliated business, that doesn't make it. There are pretty good chances that a brand we know--AMC Entertainment, William Morris Endeavor--is going to come back maybe as a shadow of itself, or maybe not at all.
Lesli Linka Glatter 08:46
And very much in a transformed way. And I think we will see attrition. What that looks like now with the theater business, the movie theater business? Listen, we all grew up going to the movies. It was one of the more exciting things you could do, sit in a room of people watching an incredible story. So the thought of that being more limited, yeah, that's that's a tough one. And we might lose, we might lose some folks in that.
John Horn 09:24
Coming up: Hollywood really wants to get back to work again, but some places are more dangerous now than when production shut down.
Lesli Linka Glatter 09:32
Nobody expected there to be spikes all over America. And this deals with something so much bigger than what our film unions and guilds can control. It is a much bigger problem.
John Horn 10:03
In June, a coalition of entertainment industry unions put together a report called "The Safe Way Forward." It's a long list of guidelines for how production might resume in the wake of the pandemic. Lesli Linka Glatter is on the safety taskforce for the Directors Guild of America, so I asked her how hard it was for all of the guilds to agree on the recommendations.
Lesli Linka Glatter 10:28
Each of the unions and guilds were working on their their own guidelines and we all came together. So SAG, DGA, IA, and IATSE are all working together, and we have a uniform view as to what is going to be safe practices. Now obviously, this is changing because the--what we know about the coronavirus, how it's spread, what you have to do to stay safe--this is constantly changing. And as tests, different kinds of tests, become better and better, that will change again. So it's a living, breathing document.
John Horn 11:06
Were there things that were really important to you that you got? And was there some negotiation, with like anything where you give up a little bit to get something else?
Lesli Linka Glatter 11:16
There are conversations still going on. What I can tell you is the things that are non-negotiable are people's safety. So testing: you have to be able to test people, you have to have a zone system as to how you protect people, and the amount of testing that goes on in each zone. There are things that are non-negotiable: masks, PPE. So we're still in process, so I can't go into the granular things about that, but I can tell you the concern of all of the guilds and unions are member safety and getting people back to work in the best possible way. Nobody expected there to be spikes all over America. And this deals with something so much bigger than what our film unions and guilds can control. It is a much bigger problem.
John Horn 12:11
So what does this mean for you and your project The Banker's Wife, how does that affect its future?
Lesli Linka Glatter 12:17
Well, that's an interesting question because we were--we are shooting in five different countries and moving all over Europe. Now Europe has dealt with this so much more effectively than America. They did not open up before it was safe. So Europe is now looking much more possible. I thought we would be one of the last groups back, the last productions back, and now we're discussing when we can go back. So things are still in process, but it's looking better than it was the last time I talked to you.
John Horn 12:55
One of the things that has definitely changed since we last spoke is what has happened in the country outside of the pandemic. There's been a huge reckoning about our nation's history, and about how we treat people who don't look like me, meaning white men. And it's really gone through all levels of society and business, and it's certainly been a conversation in Hollywood. So separate from the pandemic, as you have thought about the response that you want to make, that the industry needs to make, where would you say your priorities are? And how do you think, if the industry can, in fact, reset itself, it should? What are the changes that need to happen?
Lesli Linka Glatter 13:35
Well, the changes are systemic, and I think we all have to--I'm a middle-aged white woman, that's what I am. So we all have to look at this as objectively--I feel like I have a lot to learn. So I want to put myself in that position to learn so I'm not making assumptions because I am--I see myself as a liberal person; I think that can be a stumbling block. So I want to, I think we all have a lot to learn, so we can make substantive change. Can I tell you what that change is? There's so much conversation about it. But no, I can't. I feel like now this is the time to ask questions, and to learn, so we're not having this conversation again.
John Horn 14:22
But it does seem like, and I don't think this is unique to Hollywood, but the people in power are hesitant, generally, to question their own assumptions, or to doubt their own beliefs. And that it's not a business that really celebrates questioning. It's about "this is the way it's going to be, and I believe it, and I'm going to make it happen." There's so much of a force of personality and will that goes into running a movie studio or a TV network. Is it possible, given the mindset of most Hollywood executives, that they can step back and challenge their own thinking, and question their own assumptions, and make different decisions?
Lesli Linka Glatter 15:01
I think if individuals take the responsibility to question themselves, that something will move. I mean, there was, if you look at women directors, there has been a huge seismic shift in the hiring of women directors in the last five years. And it took a lot. It took the whole #MeToo movement, it took this being part of the bigger cultural Zeitgeist, to make substantive change. So I believe change is possible. Does it come easily? No, of course not. I think oftentimes, people have to be dragged forcibly into change. But maybe I'm a realistic optimist, or an optimistic realist, that I do believe change is possible. But it has to start with the individuals.
John Horn 15:59
Why has TV done a better job than film?
Lesli Linka Glatter 16:01
I think there's been a commitment to change. So, every year the DGA publishes a "best of" list and "worst of" list. And I hate to say that shame works, but in some way it does. You don't really want to be on the "worst of" list in diverse and women hiring. That's just not a place you want to be. So I think with all of the discussion, because it became part of the conversation, and part of the cultural Zeitgeist, change happened, and people decided this was important, and we have to do better. And studios and networks make commitments to that, not just in the programs--diversity programs--but also in the people that do the hiring.
John Horn 16:50
I think it's safe to say that the economic pressures that are on the business now are unlike anything we've ever seen, in terms of how people are seeing things, what it costs to be safe now, and I think, historically, when people are worried about costs and worried about risk, they mitigate that risk by doing the conservative thing. And the conservative thing is hire the person they've always hired before. So is it a concern that that will prevent people from doing what they might really need to do, which is hire differently instead of just bringing back the same old white guy they've had before?
Lesli Linka Glatter 17:31
I think that's a concern. And it's impossible to know right now, from where we're sitting, how that's going to play out. But I do think when there are financial concerns, people become more conservative. And I hope that's not the case. It's something we have been talking about, with these great gains that have been made. I don't want to slide back. But I think no one really knows how we're going to get started again, and there are areas where we have so much more work to do. With women directors in TV, we've seen really substantive change. And we don't want to slide back with that. But we have a lot of work to do with diverse directors, women and diverse directors, in feature films. There's so much more to do.
John Horn 18:17
If you look at people who get hired for, say, baseball managers, it's always the same guys. It's like you're gonna have a losing record, but because you've done it, you get your job back. How does mentorship work against that? How do you make sure that the next generation of underrepresented filmmakers get to tell their stories, and how does that work in practical terms?
Lesli Linka Glatter 18:38
I feel it's essential to have diverse voices and hear diverse stories. I want that. It makes storytelling so much more interesting. So I feel like people in a position to mentor need to do whatever they can to open the door, and grab the hand of the next generation, and keep pushing, whether--I don't think there's one silver bullet that makes it work. It's the times I've been on a phone call with the network and studio, and they talk about hiring. And one is in a position to bring up many different diverse directors' names, and say "no, they're fantastic. I've seen their work, you need to look at the work." You have to just speak out. And if you're in a position to hire, make those choices.
John Horn 19:42
In the weeks to come, we're gonna hear from some of the people behind the scenes whose work is key to Hollywood success. Here's casting director, David Rubin:
David Rubin 19:51
Our job is to open the minds of our directors, and our producers, and our studio executives; to point out that this particular role doesn't need to be a white guy in his 40s. It could be a woman, it could be a person of color, it can be a little person, it can be a different age.
John Horn 20:13
Our thanks to Lesli Linka Glatter and to you for listening. We hope that you'll subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please give us a rating, leave us a comment, and share the podcast. This episode of Hollywood, The Sequel was produced by Shelley Lewis, Jonathan Shifflett, and Monica Bushman, with help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot. Our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez. Our theme music is composed by Nicholas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of LAist Studios. i'm John Horn. We'll see you next time.
Hollywood, The Sequel “If we have to resort to shame..." with Gloria Calderón Kellett Season 1, Episode 5
Mon, 8/17 12:17PM • 20:51
people, writers, hollywood, showrunner, gloria, conversations, Calderón, country, pandemic, room, laughter, episode, lived, reckoning, good, writing, person, shows, insecurity, hard
Gloria Calderón Kellett, Glenn Close, John Horn, "I Love Lucy" Excerpt
Gloria Calderón Kellett 00:03
We haven't told the story of the people of color being the best. There is this story that the people of color need to be represented, but they're not going to be as good, and it's a huge favor. That's the story that sort of out there.
John Horn 00:20
Writer, producer, and actor Gloria Calderón Kellett.
Gloria Calderón Kellett 00:24
The story needs to change, which is: this is going to make your show better. Having these people is gonna make your show better. They're the writers that, when we go down, they get hired first, because they're so good. Because they're so good. Not because they're Latino. But because they're so good, and they happen to be Latino, how cool, right? So I think that it's allowing the industry to say there's room for all of us, so make room in your room for all of us.
John Horn 00:56
I'm John Horn. Virtually all of Hollywood production is at a standstill, but the way Calderón Kellett sees it, that doesn't mean things aren't happening behind the scenes. In fact, she believes there's a reckoning underway. This is Hollywood, The Sequel. Welcome to our podcast from LAist Studios. It's where we ask some of the entertainment industry's sharpest minds to share their solutions for Hollywood's longest-standing problems. And we also explore some new challenges created by the pandemic, like how do you keep a TV show on the air? That's the dilemma that Gloria Calderón Kellett is currently facing with One Day at a Time. She'd actually been dealing with it even before the pandemic hit. The show, which is centered on a Cuban-American family in LA, was canceled after three seasons on Netflix, and then it was picked up by the cable channel PopTV. It premiered this March, right in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, and then everything shut down.
Gloria Calderón Kellett 02:15
We had just finished shooting our sixth episode. So we were in pre-production on episode seven when we had the shutdown, so we have half the season. So what we did is Mike and I--Mike, my wonderful co-showrunner--and I, continued doing the writers’ room via Zoom, and we finished tabling all of our scripts. So all 13 episodes are now written and ready for when this ends, and then I had the idea, what if we could animate one of the episodes? Thankfully, we were able to produce one animated episode, which was a ball. So we've now completed our work. We've done post on all of the episodes, everything has now been released, and we are just waiting to see what the fate of the show is because we don't know. I think, for a lot of shows, we also can't help but think--all of us creators--can't help but think, does COVID kill our show? Right? Does it end a lot of shows that are making their way, and trying to get by, and can't survive this time, or this much time off?
John Horn 03:19
Do you think that's a real possibility? Because nobody has really expressed that, that there's gonna be different kinds of shows, but that shows on the bubble may not make it at all.
Gloria Calderón Kellett 03:27
Absolutely. I mean, I've seen it already. I've seen great shows already get canceled that I think would have had a shot, had COVID not happened. For sure.
John Horn 03:34
The good thing for writers like herself, Calderón Kellett says, is that they're able to keep writing. But for her actors, and the show's 200-plus crew members, who are waiting to return to work, it's a much more difficult situation. But even with so much hardship, Calderón Kellett is hopeful this might be a moment of transformational change.
Gloria Calderón Kellett 03:56
I think that what's great about quarantine is, it is impossible to escape self. And I think that, as a result of that, people are digging deep and looking at the problems that have existed for a really long time. I mean, look, the founding fathers came up with something that was really ingenious in setting up this country, this very radical idea of starting a new country, and there was a lot of stuff they did right. And there's a lot of stuff that they did, that was informed by their own systemic racism that they had been living with, right? And we have to... I think it's great to be able to look at a system and say, "Hey, we did some things right. But we did a lot of things wrong, too. Let's see if we can improve it." And I think, as everyone is in quarantine, and everyone is embarking on some sort of reckoning with themselves, we are also going through this racial reckoning, and this reckoning as a country, about what works, what doesn't work, what has been working for some people, but what has been taking away from other people, and how that lineup exists in Hollywood big time. So, people always think Hollywood is so liberal, I haven't found it super liberal at all. At all. I have found it to be just as tricky as anywhere else. And I think conversations are being had now that I have been having forever. And it's exciting now that other people are having those conversations, because I think that's where actual change can happen. So I think it's an exciting time. And I think it's a very hopeful time.
John Horn 05:28
I would call it "lip service liberalism," and that means you host a benefit for the rainforest in your backyard and then you get on your private jet to fly off to your 8,000-square-foot house in Park City, Utah. So let's just say it's not going to be lip service liberalism, that there's going to be real change, and people are going to start to alter behavior. What are the kinds of things that you would hope for, that people will start doing differently, or stop doing altogether?
Gloria Calderón Kellett 05:54
Well, I think that we need to reflect the country as it is. I think that part of the reason--in my own opinion, this is just Gloria thinking this--part of the reason I think we are so on opposite sides right now is because we watch different stuff. I think that there was a time in our country that we could relate to each other more easily, because at least we were consuming the same pop culture. And that pop culture informed our conversations with one another. So all of us were watching Little House On The Prairie, and all of us were watching I Love Lucy, and all of us--right? It certainly informed my parents coming to this country with a wide open door. And "hey, we want to save you from communism, Cubans, come on in," and "oh, here, a path to citizenship, and you can send your kids to college, and you can buy homes, and you've--" I've lived it, right? I lived what this country did beautifully, which is, I thrived. In one generation, here I am. I have thrived, my parents have thrived. It works. It works if you allow people a way to have freedom, and then give them the opportunities to have that freedom and to live it. So I know what it looks like because I've lived it. So we don't do that now. And we also don't tell stories that are reflective of that now. I feel very much like had Ricky Ricardo not been on television, I wouldn't be sitting here right now.
"I Love Lucy" Excerpt 07:15
Once upon a time in the woods lived a peasant. He was a good man with a noble heart. He spent his time in the forest, cutting down "boojes" from the trees. [Laughter] Cutting wood--wait, wait, what is this "boojes"? [Laughter] "Boojes," right in there. That's "boughs." [Laughter]
John Horn 07:38
You think that that opened doors for people, to see people who sounded different, to be accepted?
Gloria Calderón Kellett 07:44
That's right. I think they were like, "oh, a bunch of Ricky Ricardos? Awesome, bring 'em in!" Whereas now, when Latinos are 3% of what's on television, and that 3% is largely rapists, and criminals, and gangbangers, and all the things that everyone's afraid of, then all of a sudden it's like, "Oh, we don't want those people here! Oh my god, they're gonna kill us! They're gonna... we have this beautiful way of life and we want to keep it safe!" They don't... the story is important. The story is important. And so for me, who has never... I don't know anybody in a gang. I've never been exposed... it's just not at all what my experience is in this country. So I want to offer other realities. I want to offer that having a diverse writers room is great for conversation. It is great. I love... my room, that was largely Latino--we have white people in the room, too, of course--but it's a largely Latino room. The conversation we had in there was beautiful. It was beautiful. A very queer room because we obviously have a lot of queer characters on the show. And there was constant like, you know, I'm a straight cis woman. So I'd be like, "okay, lesbians, I need to ask... can I, with respect, I may say things... I'm going to say this wrong, but I'm gonna... I really want to understand what this is. So can I make some mistakes here, maybe? And apologize in advance?" And they're like, "Yes." And we were allowed to make mistakes, finding our way towards each other. And that's the kind of bridge-building I'm looking to do when I make stuff. And that's what I think Hollywood can do, as well, as we try to right this wrong by literally writing more material that is inclusive of many different experiences and make representation matter in a way that we see it matters in the polls. We see it matters in terms of the census this year. People of color are largely underrepresented because of fear, and because of several reasons, that then determines how they can vote. It determines so much. The next 10 years of our lives is based on this census. So all of this trickles. The storytelling is fun and entertainment in Hollywood, but it trickles into the world. I've seen it and lived it. So that's my deep desire to make change, is I just know how it can work for good and I want that for other people.
John Horn 10:04
Coming up, Gloria Calderón Kellett challenges producers to take a chance on new voices, or else.
Gloria Calderón Kellett 10:12
If we need to resort to shame, we resort to shame.
John Horn 10:16
Gloria Calderón Kellett 10:16
If people are willing to do that work on their own, then I think it's okay for society to call it out and say, "Dude, come on. What are you doing?"
John Horn 10:48
So I'm gonna read you something that you tweeted out recently. Here's what you said. "Attention Hollywood: You don't have to wait to be "challenged" to do the work of reaching out to underserved voices. USE THIS PLATFORM for good! In a 30 minute window, I asked to meet Black trans writers & the internet provided. Zooms with them were a joy. IT IS NOT HARD. Do it!" But so few people will!
Gloria Calderón Kellett 11:15
I stand by my quote. [Laughter]
John Horn 11:18
But what does it take [for] people to expand their circle and not say, "Well, I'm gonna hire that person because they shot this movie?" Or, "this person could be my showrunner 'cause they had those three network series that were big hits?" That so much of the business is founded on familiarity and relationships, and that's how we keep getting the same cycle of shows and people running the same series of shows.
Gloria Calderón Kellett 11:41
That's how it becomes systemic. Look, if I'm being really generous, it is so hard to get a show on the air. It's so hard, and some people get to do it once, right? So if you get that opportunity as a showrunner, I'm a white male showrunner, and I finally have my shot. I want to do everything I can to crush it, right? And we haven't told the story of the people of color being the best. There is this story that the people of color need to be represented, but they're not going to be as good, and it's a huge favor. That's the story that's sort of out there. The story needs to change, which is, this is going to make your show better, having these people is gonna make your show better. And if it's going to be them, or some guy that... some college kid that just graduated at 22, I promise you, you're gonna want the person who's hustled, who's struggled, who's written at that... who's done their 10,000 hours of crappy scripts and drafts, and is ready to come and crush it for you. You want to do that. It's a benefit for you to do that. And I don't think that that's a frame of reference that most cis white male writers have had when they've been in the seat of showrunner because they haven't had to think about it. So I think that a lot of people are good, and are trying to do good things, but then they're in the chair and they just want to do everything they can to keep the power. And they don't understand that this is a good thing. This can challenge you to grow in ways that that you weren't even sure you would grow and change. And so it's been really rewarding in my own rooms to see that happen, to see our writers of color, and our queer writers, and are underserved writers be amazing. And offer incredible... And with, given the guidance, be the people that are now writing the best scripts for us. They're the writers that when we go down, they get hired first, because they're so good. Because they're so good, not because they're Latino. But because they're so good, and they happen to be Latino, how cool, right? So I think that it's allowing the industry to say there's room for all of us, so make room in your room for all of us.
John Horn 13:48
What you're talking about is a clear, results-oriented way of thinking and so much of the way the town thinks is about compliance, like, we're gonna have our minority writers who can check that box. We're going to get that out of the way, we're going to get that person in the room, but what you're saying is, look forward and then back at how you get there, rather than saying "I've checked the box, I have a minority writer in my writer's room."
Gloria Calderón Kellett 14:12
Right, and also you can't have a minority... So, I've been the minority writer, right? I've been that person. I'm sometimes the only woman, sometimes the youngest, sometimes the... you're the baby writer. You're called baby writer, which is already so... it's not what you want to hear, you're given your first professional writing job and you're "the baby writer." So there's already so many things in the terminology: "baby writer" and "diverse hire," all of these are these extra things you have to walk in with. And then nobody's guiding you, you're just thrown in and like, "Swim!" Literally it's like, "Swim." So it's harder to do that if nobody's guiding. And I was fortunate that at every job there would be people who would come and were kind to me, and you don't forget those people who took the extra time, and who tried to explain things, and who tried to be kind to you, but you have to... there is extra work involved. There is work involved in making sure... it's harder to... are you kidding? Do you know how hard it was for me to talk in some of these early rooms? And I'm not somebody who's quiet. But for me, I can't even imagine somebody who had a little bit less of... who had more insecurities than I did, or had even more weight walking into those rooms, how difficult it must have been for them. And you're just expected to sink or swim. So now that we're having these conversations, I think people are a little bit more open to understanding, "Oh, yeah, I guess that would be really hard coming into a space like that." Mike Royce, I remember one day, there was something that we did, a panel or something that we did, and he was like, "you walk into the same room to do the same job as me, but you have to do like five jobs." And him saying that out loud, I literally started crying because I felt so... I didn't know I needed somebody to see me in that way. And I was like, thank you for seeing me, my brother, you know? And he's like, "No, it's really opened my eyes," and it changed the way he show runs. It changes the way that he talks to writers now. And it's to the benefit of all of us. It's just been such a rewarding experience on on our show.
John Horn 16:13
So how do other people learn that lesson? Because it's a very hard lesson to learn because you have to see it and experience it. A white driver can't understand what it means to be driving while Black. We just can't. We can hear stories, maybe we can sit in the back of the car, but we never understand that. But there are people in the business who might understand what it means to not come from a very narrow group of people. How do they go about learning that?
Gloria Calderón Kellett 16:38
I think they have to accept the fact that it's going to be uncomfortable, and that's okay. Discomfort is okay. And you have to look at your own stuff in terms of your own discomfort. If there's something in somebody that's like, "Oh, I want to do that, but I'm resistant." I think you need to look at why you're resistant. What is that? Face whatever that is that's making you resistant. Are you resisting because you're worried they're not going to be as good? Then understand your own bias, right? Your own bias, and realize that you have to move through your own bias if you're going to actually be a part of positive change.
John Horn 17:14
This is a town that is fueled by insecurity, and the idea of people asking themselves those tough questions seems... I mean, I hope it would happen, but it seems like such a reach for people to challenge their own shortcomings, because that's not something that most people even admit to.
Gloria Calderón Kellett 17:29
It's true. No, I think you're right, and then if we need to resort to shame, we resort to shame. I mean, that's true! If people are willing to do that work on their own, then I think it's okay for society to call it out and say, "Dude, come on. What are you doing? What are you doing right now? You want to be on the right side of this or not?" This is the time. This is the time to say... for so long, I've just been quiet about so many things that I'm... my silence has allowed these behaviors to continue, and for the longest time, I think I needed to be quiet in order to keep myself safe in a system that I didn't... that I was so grateful to be a part of, and didn't want to be asked to leave the room. That was really where so much of it came from, and I think as I gain my own power, and as I see the 10,000 behind me that are that are working so hard to get through the door, I now have to be an advocate for them. And I now have to call out behavior that before I may have let go because I was scared myself.
John Horn 17:35
[Laughter] Do you think that kind of self-censorship is endemic to people who may not be straight white men? That you are always being extra cautious to make sure you're not upsetting the applecart?
Gloria Calderón Kellett 18:49
For sure. For sure. And I think that there are rooms that, had I spoken up, I would have been fired. So you don't, right? Because you're trying to stay in the system, and learn, and grow. So my hope is that we're able to have these conversations in a way that... I don't like the concept of "cancel culture." I don't believe in it. There's no growth to cancel culture. The growth is, let's have a real conversation about why this exists, how we can do better, why aren't people doing better, how can we help them to do better, and then as they're trying to do it, they're going to fail. And that's okay. And all of these are essential steps in growth, there's going to be growing pains. That's part of the growth. But those are the hard conversations, and let's have them, and let's try to work through them because, boy, the other side feels great. I think we're all gonna have a way better time on this planet, if we can get through.
John Horn 19:50
In the weeks to come, we'll hear from writers and performers who worry about what will be lost in the aftermath of the pandemic. Here's Glenn Close:
Glenn Close 20:00
For me, the process is everything. As an artist, the process of creation, with the whole collaborative team that we deal with on a daily basis, and what we do, that is what feeds my soul.
John Horn 20:18
Our thanks to Gloria Calderón Kellett, and to you, for listening. We hope you'll subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. This episode of Hollywood, The Sequel was produced by Shelley Lewis and Monica Bushman, with help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot. Our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez, and our theme music is composed by Nicholas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of LAist Studios. i'm John Horn. We'll see you next time.
Hollywood, The Sequel: “Hollywood’s Loss is Hollywood’s Gain” with Jason Reed
Season 1, Episode 4
How do we open theaters responsibly? How do we do it safely? And then how do we evaluate what those performance metrics are going forward?
Mulan producer Jason Reed.
So the optimist in me says that, you know, the uplifting cinematic nature of a film like Mulan will translate into movie goers turning out. But, the realist knows that we're not going to have the kind of grosses that we would have had we released it in March before all of this happened.
I'm John Horn. Movie theaters are padlocked and probably will stay that way for weeks, if not months. Production won't resume anytime soon. Thousands are out of work and losing benefits. Victims of Hollywood's gig economy and movies like Reed's live action Mulan can't figure out how to get released. But even if the entertainment business is at a standstill, that doesn't mean it can't move forward. When the industry eventually returns, it has a rare opportunity to take a hard look at itself, and perhaps get rid of its worst practices.
There is an implicit bias when you have a roomful of straight white men, there are biases that they are not aware of.
This is Hollywood, The Sequel.
Welcome to our podcast from LAist studios. [music begins] Every episode we are talking with one of the entertainment industry's sharpest minds about the unique moment we find ourselves in. We are challenging actors, producers, directors and writers to come up with solutions to some of Hollywood's longtime problems. Like, lack of inclusivity, a business model that badly needs updating, and new challenges, like how to make and show movies and television safely in a post-pandemic era. [music out] Those are all questions we discussed with producer and former Disney studio executive Jason Reed. He produced the live action version of Mulan, which was directed by Niki Caro.
[Clip from Mulan: Fa Zhou, Mulan’s father]
[music]: Do you know why the Phoenix sits on the right hand of the Emperor? She is his guardian, the protector. She's both beautiful and strong. Your job is to bring honor to the family.
The movie has been in the works for a decade and it was supposed to arrive in theaters in late March. Because of that pandemic, however, Mulan's release date was pushed to July 24. Then, it was postponed again to August 21. At the same time Warner Bros. moved it's big summer movie Christopher Nolan's Tenet from late July to August 12. And now even those August release dates seem questionable. As some of the handful of theaters that had reopen, were told to close again. I'd spoken with Jason Reed after Mulan's first postponement and I got back in touch with him after the second time.
There's a lot of conflicting emotions. On one hand, you've spent many years of intense effort trying to put this one project together and you know that there are literally hundreds of people who gave their blood sweat and tears to make this movie. And every time you push or every time you don't have complete information for them, it's disappointing that they're not gonna be able to share that with the audience or with their friends and their family. But at the same time, I think that we have a very special movie. I think that it's particularly designed for the theatrical experience, which I still think is an incredibly valuable experience for people to have. And we want to put it out when the biggest audience is going to get to see it in the way that it was designed to be watched. Now, obviously, going forward over time, more people will see it streaming where people will watch it on their computers and their TVs in their wristwatches than we'll ever see in a movie theater. But I think that there's in general, there's a real deep value for that first window. And I think for this movie, it would be a shame that if we put it out in a in a place where people didn't feel confident going to the movie theaters, or where those theaters weren't open. So obviously, every day is a new set of information and changing—changing metrics every day, and it's unsettling on every level. But we have great partners at The Walt Disney Company, they have a huge amount of intelligence coming into their operation because of the parks and because of the global footprint of the company. So if anybody knows what's going on, it's it's them and I feel confident that together we'll make the right decisions about how to get the movie out in the best possible way.
But that assumes, of course, that there will still be theaters that are open. I mean, AMC entertainment, the world's biggest chain has kind of been teetering on bankruptcy, they pushed back they're opening. Cineworld, which owns Regal push backed they're opening. Cinemark also rescheduled their reopening. So I think there's a legitimate question as to if and when Mulan is ready, if it's August, if it's September, if it's next spring—like the whole theatrical landscape may look radically different than it does right now.
Well, I think it's one of the reasons why it's important that the big studios have shown a commitment to providing material for that first window and defending it. Although all of the models are changing. I think at the core the theater chains are a viable operation, they're an important cultural touchdown. And even though there's going to be—is it six months worth of continued disruption in their cash flow situation, I'm confident that those companies will come back they'll rebound. And I think that there is a real commitment from the industry to give them the product that they need to survive. Ultimately, I think the fact that they are slowing down, and that they're being very thoughtful about their opening strategy, as opposed to rushing to open to try to get the balance sheets in a different place is a positive sign. It's not a short term positive sign, but I think in the long term they're building trust with their audience. I think that's really important that we don't want to rush out get theaters open too quickly, put too many people in there and then, have a backlash; maybe see the health of employees impacted, the health of moviegoers impacted. I think that, you know, okay, there's a short term gain and some revenue. But I think in the long term, we have as an industry, a relationship with the people that go to the movies, and we go to the movies, and our families, movies, and we all love to do it. I think that we have to make sure that we're doing it in a way that's safe for the employees and safe for the for the audience goers. And that will be the key to long term stability in that sector. With the very notable exception of Quibi, streaming services have become a lot more powerful during this time. Are you starting to think that creative decisions are going to start to be driven by the algorithms that streaming services have, that there are lessons being learned in real time right now, that could really affect creative decisions going forward that are largely tied to how streaming is working and what audiences are tuning into?
Yeah, I think that there's—I think that it's inevitable; that anytime you have a new data set and new performance metrics, financiers and filmmakers will want to adjust their approach to that model, so you approach network television differently, than your approach cable television, then you approach the storytelling in streaming or feature films. And I think that you know, all filmmakers that work across those mediums know that there are different ways that you engage with the audience, depending on the business model that you're using to tell your story. And that will be true as more and more people become familiar with streaming, and as more and more people, including the executives inside these companies learn how to read that data that's coming back. On one hand that terrifies me because I've seen testing data misused, or misunderstood and used in in a way that doesn't enhance the commercial value or the artistic, the artistic value of a show. But, I think that there there is some value to understanding how your audience is engaging. And I always thought the value of test screening was to be in the room with an audience, more so than the numbers that were generated. But sitting in a room and feeling if the joke worked, feeling if there was the tension. If you sat down in the middle of the room, particularly in a comedy, you just knew whether it was working or not. And you could tell: Okay, we're stepping on that joke, we're letting the tension out of this dramatic scene too quickly. And I loved all of that. You don't have that experience anymore, because you're doing it digitally. You can still do the test, but you're getting this huge volume of data, and I think there's there's going to be some things in there to learn the same way that you would learn it sitting in the middle of a room. Disruption is always uncomfortable, right? And it's, it's scary for, I think, particularly for people that were came up through the business in an old, fairly stable model. It's always disconcerting to have all of that disrupted. But, on the good days you look out and go like, well, there are a lot of different ways to tell stories now that you could never, you could never think about selling, you could never think about getting finance. And now not only are they getting financed, but they're getting global distribution with real support and very targeted promotion and publicity that you couldn't get without the data that comes in from streaming. It's amazing, and the way things are moving internationally now re-dubbing shows, and it's just it's fantastic, I think.
So let's talk about another disruption. And this is something that hadn't happened when we last spoke, and that is the global protests against police violence and systemic racism. How has the Black Lives Matter movement affected you? What your priorities are? How you think about the world? The kinds of stories you want to tell?
Well, I think that's it's a really complicated set of conversations that have to be had, and have to continue to be had. As a straight white male, I feel like that my primary role in that is to help others who have original stories or need help getting an original point of view out into a broader audience. I think that, you know, it's always been important on the projects that I've worked on, and there have been some that have not reached this bar, but to try to not fall into stereotypes, and to be inclusive both in front of and behind the camera. I worked many years in international productions, I was working in China, India and Russia, and the Middle East. So I tended to be working with crews that were 100%, not American; and also had very different perspectives on the world and on culture, and had different storytelling styles and approaches. And I found that not only educational, but sort of profoundly revealing about the nature of how the world works and how people work. How I translate that now to being a sort of primarily North American producer, is thinking about how do we engage the audience in the conversations that companies like Facebook in particular, thrive on making adversarial. I have no idea what the consequences of me saying this out loud will be. But companies like Facebook who are making billions of dollars by creating tension and dissonance in culture, that have monetize the grievances amongst us. That as as those mediums push us further apart, that I believe that television and film are mediums which can bring us back together. They can have conversations and show characters with points of view that you can't do on a medium like social media, and that you can't do in the context of people screaming each other on the street. I think that, as filmmakers, we have to be very conscious of that and we have to sort of take advantage of our position to tell those stories, and to be to be thoughtful about how we approach it.
But what about the position itself? Because Ava DuVernay said to us, as long as white men are running the business, the business cannot be equitable. You have to tear it down and put people in charge who represent the country, not the country club. In her words "band-aids don't work." So what do you think about her take that people who look like me and look like you got to go?
Well, I don't think that it means we got to go. I think that it means that the tents got to get bigger, right? I will say, I have always in my career—I've always had sort of a bigger pool of people that I was working wit, I think then then most. And I've always found it difficult because there is an inertia in the system. So what I think she's very rightly pointing out is that there is an implicit bias; when you have a room full of straight white men there are their biases that they are not aware of. There is a culture that is being—that is in place that is sometimes thought of as like conventional wisdom or groupthink or any of those things that every corporation can fall prey to. And, it is very very difficult to break through that and having one voice in the room is not sufficient. Having two voices in the room is not sufficient. It's about having a quorum. It's having enough voices so that the dominant paradigm in that room shifts. And I think that's really important. I've had the pleasure of working with a lot of very smart women. Most of my boss's women over the years. And in seeing that diversity starting to grow inside of these companies—Netflix is a great example. Some of their most senior creative shot-callers are diverse. And I think that's changing the types of movies that are getting made. And I think it's changing how these companies respond to situations in times like we find ourselves in. [music begins]
Coming up. For years, Hollywood has relied on what's called the “gig economy”, using thousands of part-time workers. And now the industry shutdown has made life for those freelancers a lot more difficult.
I think this pandemic could have over the long term a beneficial effect in the sense that, we can't just treat humans as widgets, and hopefully we embrace that.
More with Mulan producer Jason Reed. [music shift]
It's not exactly a sport. But one of the biggest games in Hollywood is box-office scorekeeping. So, when a movie like Mulan does finally come out of the multiplex, how do you measure its box-office success? Because the post-pandemic rules won't even allow for sold out theaters, so the numbers might not look very good. It's a point that the film's producer Jason Reed is certainly aware of. [music off]
If you're doing staggered seating and social distancing at a movie theater, your capacity to actually make money is halved, maybe-cut by 30%. So, when you're now looking at that, how do you evaluate the performance of the movie? It can't be the headline of movie X opens to X hundreds of millions of dollars when the carrying capacity can't sustain that kind of open. So when you're looking at theatrical movies that will have to have longer legs in order to get to the ultimate grosses that you would expect from before. How do you know if you're on track for that? How do you know if your movies working? How do you know if it's time to put more money into the marketing campaign because you're you're betting on a winner? Or is it time to pull money out because the movies falling apart? I think, you know, Tenet and us, are all going to be part of this initial test group to see how how things work.
That's Chris Nolan's film.
Yeah. A year from now we'll have a much better idea, and hopefully a year from now the nature of the pandemic will have shifted. But it's going to be—I think there's always going to be an asterisk next to movies that are released in the next six to 18 months. It's like baseball players who are on steroids. This is the opposite standard. It's like pandemic grosses. Yeah exactly, when the baseball players actually led waste tied around around their ankles. [John laughs] Yeah.
Then there the complicated questions surrounding production and getting that started again. So I asked Jason Reed, what he thought the biggest challenges will be?
I think there's going to be—when production starts, there's going to be a big problem with scheduling conflicts, and figuring out who gets priority, and what order; if your movie got pushed from—was supposed to start in March and it's going to push to September, but you have conflicting crew and stage and location and AFTRA agreements: How's that all going to get sorted out? I think that's going to be pretty messy, going forward. And then there's the other big big problem is going to be figuring out insurance and indemnity. You know, if you make every reasonable attempt to prevent the spread of the disease, then you can get your insurance. I think the devil is in what the definition of reasonable is. And when it comes to the, you know, the practical physical production questions that we have to figure out. And like anything, you know, I think the movie industry is very adept at, when it comes to production, thinking on their feet. So whether it's figuring out how to shoot at the top of a mountain or the bottom of the sea, or simulating—you know, Elon Musk is going to make a movie in space with Tom Cruise, [John laughs] Like, there's a way to figure anything out, I think that it's going to be a process and we'll be figuring out best practices moving forward. I think the challenges of that: smaller crews, separating departments, temperature checks, things like that, those are all doable. I think that what we have to really think about, and this is something that we needed to have a conversation about before anyways, is the financial pressure to do less with more in terms of days, running a crew 12 to 14 hours, six days a week wasn't a sustainable model before and it's definitely not a sustainable model now. So how do we look at building schedules that are—have safety built into it, and will allow us to implement some of these safety, anti-pandemic programs without damaging the creative and financial responsibility of the movie?
There's enormous pressure from companies to start generating money, get movies out there, but if you do it too early, you've really blown it. So how do you think that math is gonna play out about the eagerness to get business restarted, and the danger if you go too quick?
Well, I think that, you know, looking back at 1918 as a reference point (which I think is the only modern reference point we have) there were a lot of false starts. There was a lot of stuff we're seeing now, and it extended the length of the pandemic. That said, the world have just come out of a devastating war, it was hit with a devastating pandemic, 10 years later, the stock market was higher than it had ever been, and there was more wealth generated in that 10 years than at any point in the history of the United States. So we mismanaged that obviously, in the Great Depression. But, there is a resilience to the system, and there was a resilience to the economy that I think we will see when we come out of this version, even if there are a number of false starts. I think one of the things that we have to be really conscious is—and I think this pandemic exposed a deeper problem of the fragility of the gig economy. And I think in the film industry, that's particularly true. There weren't effective strategies to get money to people that rely on working job to job. The PA's that can't file for unemployment because they didn't have a job until the next job started. You know, we built a system—a labor protection system in this country that was based on the idea that you work for one company, and one company supplied your insurance and supplied all of these things, disability insurance, etc, etc, workers compensation. Those were built for a different era, those were built for systems that no longer exists. So how do we going forward rebuild structures in our economy that protect our workforce and make sure that when we need people to do stuff, that they're available and trained and healthy to do it? Because without the people that make things, and without the people that make the money to then fuel the economy, there's nothing there. So I think this pandemic could have over the long term a beneficial effect in the sense that we can't just treat humans as as widgets, and hopefully we embrace them. [music starts]
In the coming weeks, we're gonna get insights on how the demands for equity are actually being received in Hollywood. We're going to hear from Janet Mock, she's a writer, director, producer and activist for transgender rights.
I am emboldened. I feel that my voice is sharper. And I also feel more hopeful in the sense that, I can be even more brutally honest, and incisive. And I think that you know, true change only happens if we can be brutally honest with one another.
Our thanks to Jason Reed and to you for listening. We hope you'll subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Hollywood, The Sequel is produced by Shelley Lewis, Monica Bushman and Jonathan Shifflett. With help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot, our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez. Our music is composed by Nicholas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of Laist studios. I'm John Horn. See you next time. [music out]
Hollywood, The Sequel
“First Responder Filmmaking” with Kenya Barris
Season 1, Episode 3
Mon, 8/31 6:34PM • 24:17
people, feel, movie, kenya, entertainment, world, juneteenth, notion, marta, lethal weapon, hollywood, stories, talking, theaters, important, episode, film, friends, barris, year
Lesli Linka Glatter, John Horn, Kenya Barris
Kenya Barris 00:03
I'm a person who grew up loving--movies changed my life. They were my respite, my getaway, my quiet place, my happy place. The notion of not having that terrifies me.
John Horn 00:15
Writer and producer, Kenya Barris.
Kenya Barris 00:18
It also scares me that the power that, subsequently, the streaming platforms suddenly have. Their power has just overnight exponentially increased.
John Horn 00:40
I'm John Horn. Hollywood is fundamentally changing in real time and, for a lot of people, that can be terrifying. There are big questions about the future of film and TV, and there are the very real struggles of tens of thousands who've been out of work for months. But could the shutdown also be an opportunity for a much-needed industry reset? A time to fix what's been broken for far too long. And will the protests against systemic racism also reach, and change, Hollywood? Kenya Barris says he has hope. This is Hollywood, The Sequel. Welcome to our new podcast from LAist Studios. In every episode, we are asking some of the sharpest minds in the entertainment business to look at the impact this terrible year has had on their work and predict how, and if, it will lead to permanent change when production resumes again. Kenya Barris is perfectly positioned to look at the shifting landscape of Hollywood. He's the creator of the semi-autobiographical ABC sitcom black•ish and its two spin offs, grown•ish and mixed•ish. And after major success in network TV, he made the leap to streaming content, signing a reported hundred million dollar deal at Netflix. His latest series is called #blackAF, and it was just renewed for a second season. And then everything stopped.
Kenya Barris 02:26
We had dates, but those dates keep getting pushed. And everyone's kind of just hopeful. We're just hopeful that one of these dates is going to stick and we're going to actually start back up for production because there's a lot of people who work on stage and set know that feeds their families, so we're hoping that it actually gets going soon.
John Horn 02:45
I reached Kenya Barris at his home and he was about to get back into his #blackAF writers room--virtually, of course--and I asked him about writing comedy at a time like this.
Kenya Barris 02:57
A lot of the stuff that I really enjoy writing is actually kind of social commentary and things that are saying things. And right now, in particular, most of the stuff that I do, it's really hard because if you look up, you just say I don't know how to tell this story in an honest and sincere way and not include COVID, or not include Trump, or not include police brutality, or not include sort of just the changing landscape and just the world is turning upside-down in front of us every other day, and how do you not include that? But at the same time, do you--it's still escapism entertainment, and so you want to give people something to sort of leave the world. It's a very difficult balancing act right now. And I kind of feel like we are, we're in uncharted territory, so we're doing the best we can to figure it out and hopefully--I think there's gonna be a lot of late nights. Honestly, John. I think there's gonna be a lot of late nights and a lot of, "okay, it was a good table read, but let's take it back to the lab and let's now--how do we figure this out?" I think that that's the only way that we can really do the shows, and anything that we're working on, justice.
John Horn 04:07
If, like me, you've been working at home, you start to notice a lot of noises around the neighborhood, especially from your neighbors. And that happened when I was talking to Kenya Barris. By the way, is that your dog I'm hearing?
Kenya Barris 04:21
Yes. It's not actually--it's my next door neighbor. [Laughter] Every time I try and enjoy my life, there's like, a gardener or a helicopter. Okay. That should do it.
John Horn 04:34
So we had to move locations. Then we got down to the premise of Hollywood, the Sequel, that this current moment, as frustrating and frightening as it is, could also be an opportunity to identify what needs to change and what can change in the industry.
Kenya Barris 04:49
I feel like the biggest thing--not the biggest thing--I think the first thing if it were me, I would say, is that we need to make sure that in front of, behind, in executive levels, at corporate level, that we are creating places of business and work models that actually reflect what the world looks like. I think that's--it starts there, you know what I'm saying? I kind of feel like let's make these be versions of the world outside of us. And I think oftentimes we look at these situations, and we're like, this isn't the world that I know. You know what I'm saying? And I really applaud Marta Kauffman. She recently talked about, and she almost was tearful saying it, the idea of Friends, that she never--the lack of diversity on Friends. And I know Marta, she's a sweet lady, and she's a genius, But there's no version of whatever part of New York that might be, I don't know--I'm saying like, "where was this, California? There's not even a Puerto Rican there." But yes, I feel like the notion of remembering that the world needs to reflect what the world actually looks like. I think that would be my first thing. I think that looking at the the place that we're making people work, the idea that we're making people work inside a situation where they need to feel comfortable, it's work. It's not that--it's not the club, it's not someone's backyard, it's a place that they're going to support themselves, and so I think if someone's LGBTQ, or if you're a woman, or if they're Black, or Latinx, or Asian, or whatever the case may be, I feel like people should not have to go to work and have moments that they feel uncomfortable, and they're just trying to support their family. So I think we need to make sure that we're--especially in entertainment because it has such a lax model to it. Sometimes we forget that this--ultimately people are trying to feed their family and keep roofs over their family's heads, so we need to make sure people feel comfortable in their work environment. I also feel like--I think that it's time for different stories to be told. And we--and I think that that is really, really, really important. I'm doing a movie on the guy who invented the television show COPS, and the notion of how that show perverted and deranged the idea of what the black community looks like, and the perception of policing the black community, for generations. I feel like when we continued to allow it to be played, that was something that was just unchecked. And the unchecked balance of power has to now become checked. So that that's my long-winded answer. But I think we have to start shifting the world back to a little bit more of being aware of people outside of the mainstream.
John Horn 07:50
But your mention of COPS is really important because I think it gets at two things. One is the way that narratives can shape our view of the world, and specifically the way that narratives about a certain group of people can color our view of that situation--I wouldn't say just COPS. I would say the Lethal Weapon movies, Dirty Harry, these ideas that these rogue police officers, who work kind of extrajudicially, those are the heroes of those stories, not the people that they're taking advantage of. But that's the way that we start to see the world, and it gets to the bigger point that I think you're talking about, is that these stories matter because they're not just entertainment, because they really affect the way that we see things. And they start to soak into our subconscious, or even our consciousness, in ways that we don't really understand until it's almost too late.
Kenya Barris 08:39
Right. I think that's completely right. I'm not--I want to be clear, I ***ing love Lethal Weapon. [Laughter] But I feel like I'm looking for the lane to be widened. We were working on two-lane highways, and I feel like the notion of diversity and the notion of--is you just need to have more than one example, or more than one way of looking at those types of stories. If there's more--if there's five of those, if there's five different versions of Lethal Weapon, then we have five different ways to start to see, and we're not saying, "this is just the only way that this works, or this plays." I think that it's important to let new voices, different voices, be heard and let people choose, and let people see that there's not just one way and one thing when we're looking at things because we can see entertainment, it's oftentimes art with the small "a," but it also can be art with a big "a." When Ellen got on and said, "I'm gay," that was a huge motion forward. When Sammy Davis kissed Archie Bunker, there was a moment. I just think that in some aspects things--entertainment can really help push the conversation forward--comedy in particular. So I think that I'm not trying to get rid of any ideas and say like, "this idea can't be served," because I think that's also harmful in a way, but I think expanding the notion and expanding the form of ideas is really important.
John Horn 10:05
I'm going to read you a quote: "I did something good. I made Juneteenth very famous. It's actually an important event and an important time, but nobody had ever heard of it."
Kenya Barris 10:15
John Horn 10:15
That's not you talking about what you did on black•ish, that's Donald Trump talking about Juneteenth. But it does bring up a point, how something like Juneteenth can become something that people talk about because they hear about it on black•ish, or on Donald Glover's show Atlanta, or now I think you're working on a musical with Pharrell Williams about it, that part of what entertainment can do is not just shape the way that we see the world, but teach us something that we need to be taught.
Kenya Barris 10:45
Absolutely. We did another episode on #blackAF about Juneteenth. It was one of my favorite episodes and I got a lot of sh--, you know, stuff for it because people were like, he already did that on black•ish. And I was telling my publicist and my friends, "I'll do it again. And I'll tell that show again and I'll tell that episode again, and again, and again." And I think the reason that I pushed back on that particular thing is, one, I feel like the concept of blackness is not one series long. It is not--our understanding of what it's like to be African-American in this country, or understanding the idea of first-generational success or understanding the things--I think it's not one episode, or one series, or one season long. It's something that I do feel like repetition is really important. So I think that some of the things being talked about in different ways, said in a different way, are really firm, because I do think they help to teach and pull back the curtain for people who honestly didn't know, and feel like they are learning, and realizing the things that they were kind of ashamed to admit, they actually saw on television. They're like, "This gave me the permission to say I didn't know." I think that's a really big part of it, just giving people the permission to say "I didn't know this before that," I think it really helps. So, that is one of the great things about entertainment. I didn't--I went to go see Hamilton. And for the most part, I was like, people were talking about the mixed casting of it, right? And then I was like--it made me dig in and I went and I saw that Alexander Hamilton was of mixed race. And I went and learned so much just from going to see a great play, but I think that's when entertainment's at its best.
John Horn 12:31
Coming up: if the balance of power is shifting from the multiplex to the living room, how badly are we going to miss actually going to the movies?
Kenya Barris 12:41
I'm directing--writing and directing--my first movie. Now, it really is the first one I took on, it's a really special thing. If I can't see that movie in theaters, I would be really, really, really, really really bummed out.
John Horn 12:55
To stream, or not to stream? That is the question, or at least one of the questions. While he is probably best-known for his TV series, like black•ish, Kenya Barris also works in film. He co-wrote the popular comedy Girls Trip and he also has a couple of upcoming features. But who knows when, or even how, they're going to come out. One of the things that is important about what you do is that you work across a lot of different platforms and you've worked in network TV, streaming, you wrote or have writing credits on a couple of upcoming movies, Coming To America, number two, and The Witches, and those are movies that have planned theatrical releases. Right now, as we're talking, Warner Bros. has postponed the release of Tenet, Mulan's gonna move as well. So, what do you think about platforms? I mean, you're a parent, would you take your kids into a movie theater? How do you think that business is going to change?
Kenya Barris 14:19
I'm terrified. I don't know. I feel like I--if you ask me today, would I go to a movie theater? No, not today. If you told me in eight weeks, and they've come up with a viable protective feature that I can go see a movie, and I feel that it makes sense, and it's there, maybe. If you're to ask me in six months and there's a vaccine? I might move closer to it. I mean, I don't know. I am a person who grew up loving--movies changed my life. They were my respite, my getaway, my quiet place, my happy place. Me and my second oldest daughter, that is our thing to do, and it became my thing with my youngest daughter, and the notion of not having that terrifies me. It also scares me that the power that, subsequently, streaming platforms suddenly have. Their power has, overnight, exponentially increased. And I think that Ted, and Cindy, and Reed, and those guys are people I trust, and I believe in, and I think that we have good leadership, but like, what if they leave? What if they're--I don't know the other streamers as well, the amount of--you talked about, just said this--the amount of visual education that they will be in charge of is staggering. You know, it's staggering.
John Horn 15:52
I should say that's Ted Sarandos, Cindy Holland, and Reed Hastings, three of the most senior executives at Netflix. The other thing that's amazing about Netflix; I talked, probably a year ago, to an independent filmmaker who made a dozen films and then she made her first movie for Netflix, and they said more people watched this movie on Netflix than saw all of your movies combined in theaters over their complete and total runs.
Kenya Barris 16:16
I mean, it's staggering, some of those numbers. You see things where 75 million households in four-day period of time watch it, that's Super Bowl numbers. The monetary equivalent to that in a movie theater is, "was it each year or something?" It is unbelievable. So I feel like it is, and it's gotten now when you have a captive audience, and there's no other options, and we're seeing--are we seeing the last gasp of network television? I hope not, but we might be. What does that--where does that leave us? So everything is brand new, and we are looking at a time, we're staring it in the face, where it's never--it's on microwave speed, how quickly the world is changing in front of us.
John Horn 17:06
So let's say we're a year out from this and, let's just say, people aren't dying and things have resumed to some sort of normalcy. If you look back at what comes out of all of this, what would give you maybe the most satisfaction and what would you be most pissed off about if it wasn't actually fixed?
Kenya Barris 17:24
I'm directing, writing and directing, the first movie I've been offered. Now, it really is the first one I took on, it's a really special thing. If I can't see that movie in theaters, I would be really, really, really, really, really bummed out. If that movie could not be, because it's a movie that I want to be viewed in theaters, and I think deserves to be seen in theaters, and if it can't be out a year from now, I'm looking, and I'll be happy to get it shown anywhere, but I would--I feel like you want, certain movies, you want that moviegoing experience. You want people to sit down, sit in a seat with popcorn in a dark room with other people, get group laugh, get group emotion, pay for a ticket, feel like they're at an event. You want that experience and to not have that I think would be amazing bummer. And to not go see Tenet, which trailer looks like Nolan has done it again, and not seeing some of my favorite filmmakers' movies, to not see a Wes Anderson movie in the movie theater. I want to go. On one of my alone days I'll go and see the new Wes Anderson movie. I want to go sit down, and veg out for a while, and into it. So, if a year from now that's where we're at, I would be most really, really bummed out.
John Horn 18:31
And what about other people getting a chance to tell their own stories? Do you see that happening changing? I mean, it's such a fractional number of people who are not white men who get to call the shots.
Kenya Barris 18:42
I think that we're definitely gonna see that change. I definitely--right now I'm even, just in things I'm working on and the things that are being bought, I'm seeing that's happening. The thing that scares me when we start this talking is that there is no date of production. So if they tell you "Kenya and John's movie is slated to come out next summer," we know that in order to shoot our movie next summer--to have our movie in the theaters by next summer, we have to start shooting by August 1st. We don't know if we can shoot August 1st. We don't know if we can shoot September 1st. We don't know if we can shoot October 1st. We're seeing the highest spikes in COVID since COVID started. How do insurance companies indemnify studios to go and do this? What is the end? Are we going to shoot everything socially-distanced, or long lenses, and people--I mean, it's a very, very, very interesting time. So I don't--it's one of the times I don't have the answers. I don't even have a pitch. I don't have a pitch. I think Tyler Perry's notion of how he did, how he was going to do it, was the best in terms of--
John Horn 19:50
Sequestering everybody, basically.
Kenya Barris 19:52
I think that's the best pitch I've heard. I don't know how real it is, but that's the best pitch I've heard.
John Horn 19:58
Here's my last question. You talked about Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman, and she said, "I didn't do enough" when it came to diversity. So she's being open and being reflective, and there is some personal accountability and honesty there. But it's one thing to have people questioning their decisions; it's another thing to actually hold them to some sort of test or standard. So maybe people might start waking up and realize that they can't continue as they've done in the past, but how do you actually--enforce seems like the wrong word, but--
Kenya Barris 20:30
I don't want to enforce. I don't want to--
John Horn 20:31
I know, but how do you make sure that they're not just gonna say, 10 years down the line, "I should have done better," and actually do better now?
Kenya Barris 20:38
Here's the thing, I think that's why Marta is Marta, because she would actually say that. I don't think it was her job. If that's not the--and this is my true, true belief--I don't think that's her job. If that's not the Friends that she wanted to show, I don't believe it's her job to make that Friends. There's two things that should--could happen. People could call her on it, and stop watching, or say something during it that makes her feel like "if I want this show to continue to be successful, I need to change it." Or the way that I would say: let's not just have Friends, let's have other shows that do have--show different reflective images to America. That way, then Marta can tell the show she wants to do, but someone else can go do the show that they want to do. It's the whole thing, going back into our earlier conversation, of opening up the lanes. If you open up the lanes it starts to make, with people's creative integrity, is become, you know, not feel as threatened and they can do what they want to do, but there's other things that answer the calling of that. I took a lot of **** on my show, because my kids were based upon my real kids, which who were--their mom is biracial. And I'm not super dark, dark and so they were like, well, I'm a colorist and I was like, I just did this based upon my family, and if there were more shows about black families, I wouldn't have gotten that flack that I got because people want to see themselves reflected. And when they don't, they feel like, "Well, you're one of our storytellers. Why don't you reflect on this?" And I completely understand where they're coming from, but that's not necessarily fair to me. As a storyteller, when I'm trying to tell a story about my family, there's also a responsibility that I have to try and make sure that I have other shows that do reflect this and makes it, but I feel like if we give more opportunities and have different versions of people's creations put to film and television, I think we don't have to answer Marta fielding their call of "I should have done more." But that's the way you keep their art at its purest form.
John Horn 22:43
Kenya. Thanks so much for sharing your time with us.
Kenya Barris 22:47
John Horn 22:57
In the coming weeks, we'll explore the practical questions that will have to be solved before the cameras can roll again. Here's Homeland producer Lesli Linka Glatter:
Lesli Linka Glatter 23:06
We're like being in--we're a petri dish on a film set. We're very close, and something like Homeland, which is a location-based show, even more so, because oftentimes you're in very crowded locations. My little two-monitor video village is stuck in the toilet, like literally in the toilet. If you're shooting in a small apartment in Morocco, you go wherever you can go.
John Horn 23:34
The producer's struggle to figure out how, and where, and even what kind of stories are going to be told. Our thanks to Kenya Barris and to you for listening. We hope you'll subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. This episode of Hollywood, The Sequel was produced by Shelley Lewis and Monica Bushman with help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot. Our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez. Our theme music is composed by Nicholas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of LAist Studios. I'm John Horn. We'll see you next time.
Hollywood, The Sequel: “Big Checks and Bandaids Won’t Do It” with Ava DuVernay"
Season 1, Episode 2
I get asked every single time I'm on an interview talking about anything, about the state of Hollywood as it relates to equity for Black people, people of color women and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. people all—
—filmmaker Ava DuVernay.
What's possible? It's not a question I can answer because I have no power in the situations. You know, these are questions that the architects and the keepers of the flame have to answer, not the people trying to be warmed by the flame, or not getting any heat. What we're talking about here is systemic and deeply rooted in an industry that is over 100 years old. And that is built to be just like this, it's built to be this way.
I'm John Horn. The pandemic has forced Hollywood to rethink pretty much everything it does to keep actors and crews safe; sets and sound stages are going to operate totally differently. And who knows when or even if movie theaters will reopen again and if people will go back into them. But if the industry can also use the shutdown to look forward, maybe the changes will be lasting and meaningful, and not just some sort of temporary workaround, and that includes change that finally results in equity. But what would it take to uproot a system that has been in place as Ava DuVernay points out: for more than a century?
This is Hollywood, The Sequel. [music] Welcome to our new podcast from LAist studios. Each week we're asking some of the sharpest minds in the entertainment business, how they might use the shutdown to confront, and try to fix what's broken in Hollywood? For its entire existence, the entertainment industry has failed to represent all voices. Now as Hollywood reconsiders its future, it has a chance to welcome those who have been excluded. And against the additional backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement. We wanted to explore how and if this moment might be the one that finally results in real systemic change. And that's where we'll begin with director, writer and producer Ava DuVernay. Her work includes: Selma, When They See Us and 13th; and I reached her as she was on her way from one meeting to the next, because even though traditional production has been halted, Ava is still really busy.
For me I'm I'm an alpha type personality. So, sitting around and thinking about it gets me in trouble. I do much better when I'm actually taking action in some way.
In April her media company, which is called ARRAY, launched a $250,000 arts fund. It's given out $10,000 grants for creators and organizations telling stories of underrepresented communities, especially those impacted by the global Coronavirus pandemic. And then, in early June she started the law enforcement accountability project also known as LEAP.
It was a life saving measure surely for me, because I was really kinda losing it with the, you know, deep grief and rage. You know, that in some ways really came to a head for me personally in watching George Floyd's murder on tape.
LEAP is an initiative that empowers artists that could be filmmakers, they could be playwrights, might be poets to tell stories about police violence.
I'm very used to watching violent racist images for my work. Watched thousands of hours of it for 13th, for Selma, for When They See Us; but that piece really brought me to my knees in a way that I didn't recognize within myself. And interrogating why this one was different, what I came up with was the muscularity of the image. You know, that image of the cop cavalierly murdering a man who was begging for his life with his hand in his pocket, and his sunglasses on his head that never moved. That evil, as I saw, that complete and total disregard for human dignity; and was something I felt like I hadn't seen framed quite that way, as it relates to contemporary images. And this was just so perfectly framed that it It made me realize: wow, we don't ever see these officers. And wow, further than that I don't even know their names and goodness they kind of disappear! And while I can tell you the names of 30 Black people who have been murdered by the hands of police on tape, I can't tell you who murdered them. And so the Law Enforcement Accountability Project really came out of all of that thinking and that pain. And it came from a place of saying these people who murder black folks who are unarmed. In instances where we are fortunate enough to have a tape to bear witness. Those people should not go unknown and unnamed. And that what the police unions and police departments and the courts won't do, that the people can do, and artists can do. Artists holding officers accountable by making work that makes sure that they can't disappear.
What can narrative storytelling do, that history or journalism can't?
It's the emotional connection. We have actors pretending to be people in these situations, and it allows you to enter in and feel the blood pumping and the heart beating and the tears that fall down the face and, and what that experience is like, which is different from what history books and journalism, good journalism, can do on its surface. And, you know, both of those are great inspirations and take us far. But I think the narrative storytelling; to have human beings embodying the feelings, and emotions, and experiences, and memories, and grief, and rage, and anger, and hope of other human beings, is a unique practice. And this is why storytelling is so important, and why I think it's vital that we apply that aesthetic to issues of justice.
The thing I've been thinking about a lot is how what we've seen in the past has normalized ways of thinking about institutions. And I was thinking about the whole idea of rogue police officers, and how they've been glorified and movies like Lethal Weapon, or Dirty Harry or Training Day. I wonder if the business itself has told a story specifically about police and the heroic police officer who goes rogue, that has been around for too long, that has really kind of engrained itself in the way we think about the police.
I mean, certainly the images from Hollywood have contributed and you know—a major way to the way that people think about police. But really, it go it's a real world context that contributes to the way that people think about the police because I grew up watching movies, watching those rogue cops and, heroic cops; but I also grew up in Compton and experienced what real cops were like in my neighborhood and there is no film, or no television experience that can capture real lived reality. And so, I think there's a bit of an overestimation about— think the conversation is preferential when we talk about the impact of film, and police. It centers a point of view of folks who feel in their real life that they're safe with police. It doesn't speak to people whose real lived experience is one of fear of police and that they feel in danger by the police. So growing up, when I would say those Lethal Weapon and those images, it felt cartoonish and like fantasy to me, and not rooted in any kind of reality. So I would just say, when they have all this conversation about the effect that these images of police have on the culture, that is speaking to a very privileged part of the culture that feel safe around police. To that end, you know, certainly there's been a lack of any genuine efforts to understand, to decipher, to deal with images of the police in a way that they really are in the world; that there's been no real understanding by Hollywood to, you know, truly and consistently portray the reality of pilgrims or pioneers—what they call pioneers—or settlers or Cowboys, not often portrayed with the nuance that they have in the lived world, people of color.
Coming up, what would the entertainment industry look like if you took the arguments for dismantling the police and applied them to Hollywood? [music]
Well, it’s my favorite place in the world. It’s, I built the place that I couldn't find, you know, a place here in LA that really has people of color and women in its DNA as a part of its building, not as an inclusion program as a diversity initiative. But in every thing that we do here every project, people who are usually uncentered are the epicenter of our work here.
So that is part of a conversation I had with Ava DuVernay last year. She was showing me the brand new 50 seat theater on the campus of her production company, it’s called ARRAY, it’s just outside downtown LA. Now the mission for this podcast is how Hollywood could reinvent itself, well to DuVernay was way ahead of us. For years she has been a champion for new voices and expanding who gets included in Hollywood. But she says “For the industry to truly change, it's going to take a lot more than the efforts of those who are marginalized. And half measures by those in power won't cut it.”
There should be no handout and there should be no lending a hand. That is not the way we as an industry should be thinking about what's going on here. Because all that is, is reform. And reform never works. Right? Reform is a bandaid on a disease, and band aids on diseases don't work. What we're talking about here is systemic and deeply rooted in an industry that is over 100 years old. And that is built to be just like this, built to be this way. So giving a hand is not going to change a centuries old system of inequity, bias and oppression of images, and stories, and characterizations that is oppression of the images, but an actual active—propagating active promotion of the opposite of what we know to be true as human beings; that a certain group of people are criminals, and that this other group of people are heroes, that these people are savages, and that these people are champions, right? Rescuers, saviors that is all so skewed and diseased that there's no lending a hand that is going to fix that. If I've got a disease that's running through my whole body, and you come over and put a bandaid on it and give me a cup of soup, it’s gonna make you feel better. It may make some folks feel better in the moment, but I know when you leave from your visit, I'm still sick. And so that is what is going on in our industry in Hollywood. That’s what's going on with conversations about police reform. That's what's going on in our education system and our health care system, the inequities are being treated with cups of soup. And that kind of thinking is not going to get us anywhere. We got to look at the system.
I totally get your point, I totally get the parallels between Hollywood and the police. And we can figure out what the policing models might be if we're going to defund and reconstruct, and figure out community policing, and what the police should and should not be doing. There's a whole conversation we can have about what the best version of law enforcement looks like. What is the best version of Hollywood look like? Because we can dream now and say, we're starting from scratch, we’re making it up, like we're gonna make up the police departments. What does it look like?
Well, I tell you what it doesn't look like it doesn't look like every major studio and network in this town being headed by a white man or white woman, it doesn’t look like that. I think that's the place to start. It doesn't look like the boards of these companies. So I think a great place to start is what it looks like now; and we know that there's a problem with the picture. And I don’t have—hey, if I had the answers and know how to do it, I'd be the winner. Hey, I'd solve it! But, I know what we can start from. And I know that it has to be a industry wide recognition, that where we are—that the picture of all of the executives with with significant power at every studio and network in the sounds, as well as agencies. It's a challenging picture to look at and then to hear, well, we wrote a check to these people, so that's going to be fine. It's wrong. I think there are good people in those positions. Those people have to say this is wrong. And until that happens, the rest of it is just reform, band aids and cups of soup, and it doesn't really hold much water with me.
You just got elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board. What can organizations like the academy do?
I don't know? I mean, change the picture? And so in order for that to happen, there needs to be other people at the table. It's the first step. It’s the first step, you have to have different kinds and cultures of people thinking about the way forward. And if that's not happening at any company, any guild, any union, any agency, any organization and our town. If you look around the table, and there's one person of color, or zero people of color or two people of color, but you’re at a table with 20 people, that ain't it. You're not doing it. You're doing enough to make yourself feel better, but you're not actually moving this thing forward.
So what does it take to actually move that goal forward? DuVernay and her movie Selma were a prominent example of a movie starring Black actors that was almost completely snubbed by the Oscars in 2015. It won one award for Best Song, and that year, all 20 of the acting nominees were white. And that's how we ended up with the Oscars So White movement and hashtag. Now, five years later, DuVernay is not only on the board of the Academy, but she also sees other reasons to be optimistic, even if she knows that progress could be really slow.
It's not gonna be done overnight. It's not gonna be done overnight. But I commend companies who are actively putting protocols in place to do it ,and processes, like if he can't just say it because those are words, I need to say the plan. And while all of my challenges with the academy out of Oscar So White movements of a few years ago, they put a plan in place—for whatever you think of the plan, they said, okay, we're going to make a plan. And we're going to work, and we're going to stick to it. And we're going to try with processes and protocol and policies. And I don't see that hardly enough elsewhere, especially at the studios and networks. A check is not enough, a statement is not enough. One Black executive is not enough to it's not enough. Your company must look like the real world. And if it doesn't, then you are holding power, on purpose. You're defending something that upholds a privilege for yourself and oppression and bias for others; and that's just the long and short of it. I mean, I don’t think I am talking out of school, I'm just saying it's math. You're looking around the table and you have the power to change that table and you don't do it, you're basically saying that Is this line. That's fine for you? Cool. My job and my life isn’t about changing your mind. But you can’t also feel good about writing a check, because now you're hypocrite. And so those are some of the tough questions that I think some really smart, powerful people understand are asking themselves now, maybe for the first time. And I appreciate that that's happening. I think there's some good work being done. And it needs to be sustained. It needs to be ongoing, so that we can get to the place that I think many, many, many, many, many people, including those in positions of power want to be.
Ava, thanks so much for your time. Stay safe, stay healthy. [music]
Thanks, John. Thanks for having me.
In the coming weeks, we're going to delve into how the business structure of the entertainment industry will have to change What will be the bottom line for the bottom line? Here is Mulan producer Jason Reed.
Clip from Jason Reed interview, Hollywood, The Sequel
We’re not going to have the kind of grosses that we would have, had we released it in March before all of this happened, and that there's going to be that asterisk next to every movie for the foreseeable future.
Our thanks to Ava DuVernay and to you for listening. We hope you'll subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Hollywood, The Sequel is produced by Shelley Lewis, Monica Bushman and Jonathan Shifflett. With help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot, our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez. Our music is composed by Nicholas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of Laist studios. I'm John Horn. See you next time.
Hollywood, The Sequel: “The Personal is Political” with Kerry Washington
Season 1, Episode 1
The power of art, the power of narrative is that it has the ability to allow us a window into a world that may not be obvious to us. And those windows can help us build pathways to more compassion and understanding for each other's journeys.
Actor and producer, Kerry Washington.
When we say that we're committed to diversity, it's diverse from what? We're still centering whiteness as the most important thing, and allowing—or inviting diversity around that. I'm really proud to work in a medium that can help to transform people's ideologies and hearts, and consciousness. But, I'm also proud to be doing work to help shift institutional practices, because it's going to take both approaches for us to live in a world where equality is not just a dream.
I'm John Horn. As the entertainment industry begins the slow process of returning to work. Will there be as Kerry Washington says: a real shift in institutional practices? Can there be a different, and more diverse Hollywood? We know because of the Coronavirus there will be changes in how people do their work. But what about the work itself? How far will the industry reset actually go?
This is Hollywood, The Sequel. [music]
Welcome to our new podcast from LAist studios. [music]
Each week we're sitting down with some of the sharpest minds in the entertainment business to talk about where Hollywood might be headed as it returns to work. We'll get into the external changes for production, marketing, distribution, and with a movie theater business in tatters, what even defines ahead? But, we'll also explore the biggest question of all: will there be systemic change that finally corrects the inequalities that may have been acknowledged, but hardly repaired? And that's where we begin. This first episode with actor and producer Kerry Washington; you know her from the TV series Scandal. We spoke initially in mid May, and we'll share that conversation in a bit. But after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and the protests against police brutality and systemic racism that followed, we wanted to get Kerry's thoughts on how this moment might affect the entertainment industry and America itself.
One of the things that is challenging to metabolize is that not that much has changed for black people in the last couple of weeks. But, there's a different response to it. And so, I think, the sentiments of the moment that feel revelatory, I don't feel like those feelings belong to me. This is not a moment of revelation. But I'm watching the revelation unfold around me for people. And I'm grateful that as a—not even as a country, but that the world is showing up for Black lives in a different way. But this is what has been the reality; this level of danger, and anger, and fear and, maybe trauma, lack of safety; these have been the realities for Black Americans, since there were Black Americans.
There are fundamental differences between: a moment and a turning point. And I'm wondering—optimistically even, is there a way that real change not only in the country, but also in the business that you work in, can come out of this?
I think so. I mean—I think—I can hope so. [laughs] I mean, none of us have a crystal ball. It'll be the historians that tell us years from now, whether this was a flashpoint or a turning point. But it feels—it certainly feels, for me, like something is different. And, like we have to be willing to look at ourselves, regardless of what industry we're in.
What do you hope comes out of it? What do you hope changes? I mean, what would you say, would mark progress or change?
I think, a more radical acceptance of anti-racist society policies and culture. Because I think what people are realizing is that it's not enough to just not be racist. That because our institutions were built in the fabric of racism, because our country was born, you know, with Black Americans being designated a fraction of a human being; like, it's not enough to just not be racist. We have to be actively anti-racist; and for that desire to come from a deep understanding that we all deserve full rights of humanity. Yes, all lives matter but accepting that to be in an anti-racist society, we have to affirm that Black lives matter. I think that's where we're at. I think people are finally kind of understanding that. And our institutions need to understand that, not just interpersonal relationships; t's important that we're having those conversations at our dinner tables, and in our classrooms, but also at the highest levels in our systems of government, and our systems that are supposedly built for public safety. We have to ask ourselves, who do we deem the public and who do we deem the enemy? So, I'm hoping that this—all of this new regulatory reflection lends itself to transformation, not just of hearts and minds, but also institutional practices.
And those institutions can include, you know, arts organizations, like the theatre industry, because there's this letter, #WeSeeYou, which calls out racism in the theater. It's signed by people like Sterling K. Brown, Issa Rae, Lin-Manuel Miranda—I think you shared it on Twitter. What comes out of that in the best possible outcome?
To me it seems really obvious. We look at ourselves to get better and do better. Like that's the practice of self reflection, is to ask ourselves how we can do better? I mean, you know, even the language of inclusivity and diversity, right? It's like, when we say that we're committed to diversity, it's diverse from what? We're still centering whiteness as the most important thing, and allowing—or inviting diversity around that. Or when we talk about inclusivity there's still an in and out. So we're still centering certain kinds of people and, maybe in tiny fractions allowing, or admitting other people to the table. So there's just so much of it, that needs to be re-examined and looked at. The simple answer is, what I hope comes out of it, is a lot of good. [laughs] That we can see each other better and have courage to make room for each other.
Coming up: during the pandemic streaming services became a lifeline for film lovers, and a huge challenge for the movie theater owners and the studios. But, those digital platforms also turned into an unexpected gift for some filmmakers, including Kerry Washington. What happens when Hollywood returns to whatever the new normal is going to be? [music]
So one thing we know about the storyline of Hollywood, The Sequel is that where we see movies and when, will be full a plot twist. The planned release dates for almost all the bigger summer films have come and gone. While a few movies like Christopher Nolan's Tenet, have tried to stay on the calendar. But even if theaters are starting to open, will moviegoers really return? Would you? Meantime, the streaming services are adding millions of subscribers and there are plenty of filmmakers like Kerry Washington, who see the advantages of an online showcase, over a theatrical premiere. Netflix was a huge boost for her film, American Son. It's about a couple trying to find out what the police have done with their teenage child. Washington plays the mother in the film.
[Sound Clip: American Son. The role of Kendra is played by Kerry Washington and Paul Larkin is played by Jeremy Jordan. ]
Kendra: My son is missing. Now you're telling me he's in custody?
Paul Larkin: No.
Kendra: He might be—
Paul Larkin: —no, we don't know that yet.
Kendra: Well, we don't really know anything yet.
Paul Larkin: I really don't know much—
Kendra: —Is my son in custody or not?
Paul Larkin: Look, I told you you're gonna have to be patient and wait for the am liaison officer to get here—
Kendra: —almost half an hour before I even got to speak to you.
Paul Larkin: I completely understand your concerns.
Kendra: Respectfully officer, I don't think you do.
Paul Larkin: Ma'am. I have kids too okay.
Kendra: Do you?
Paul Larkin: I do.
Kendra: How old are they?
Paul Larkin: Well—
Kendra: —any of them Black?
You know, a movie like American Son, that would have been a tiny movie as an arthouse release in only major cities, and, fewer eyeballs would have seen it. By putting that film on Netflix, it overshot expectations from everybody, and my expectations, Netflix expectations. The number of eyeballs on it were tremendous; and in places that normally don't have arthouse theaters, all across the south, and it over-performed in Europe, and it over performed in Africa. And so, this is a movie called American Sons, we didn't necessarily have a lot of international expectation for it. But I think part of that is sort of the international brand of Scandal, and kind of people wondering what would be my next project after that. But also the power of these streaming services. And the fact that this it's in people's homes and so being able to share a story like that, with that many people. It's really exciting. And it allows for a film like that to break through; to have an audience in Zimbabwe be watching a film transformation of a Broadway play about a Black family in America. It really is, breathtaking.
So the last time we talked, it was in Park City, Utah at the Sundance Film Festival and you had a documentary there that you produced called The Fight. That was a movie that was obviously a long time in the making and it premieres in January at the Sundance festival. But I got a suspect it's going to be received differently today because this is a movie about five ACLU lawyers who are challenging the Trump administration. And it's really about individual liberties, and protecting them, and protecting the people who are the most vulnerable; and it just feels to me, like, how relevant that story has become, has quadrupled in the last couple of months. But I'm wondering if you think it might be received differently, or that its message has evolved in some way since we've all been locked up, and since so much has happened in the world?
You know, I think it's one of the things I'm so proud of in the film is that, we definitely deal with the right now, you know everything that the ACLU is going through right now while we were filming. But we also this is the ACLU 100th year anniversary, and in the film, we really covered some of the complicated history of the ACLU and how they have really been on the front lines of protecting civil liberties for decades and decades—for 10 decades, and in some really complicated issues and complicated times. I think we are going to continue to need them and to rely on their expertise and their courage, and kind of getting to know them better. At this time it is really exciting, and I think as we do press for the film to have people be able to interact with these lawyers, and learn more about these lawyers, and learn what they're doing in these times. For example, I mean, as you can imagine, Dale, Ho, who's in the movie, who was dealing with issues of voting rights, as it pertains to the census. Now his hands are full with all kinds of new issues around voting rights, and voting by mail, and making sure that we protect our access to voting in this really upside down time.
Before, we were living in this upside down time, if there was a movie like this coming out, or maybe you had a series or a feature film, you did publicity and you got attention for it. Maybe you would do a junket. You might go on a talk show. You might do a lot of things that, really you can't do anymore. So when you think about how challenging It is to get the word out on anything right now. What are the workarounds? I mean, we're talking but obviously not in person, or connecting over a computer. How do you reach people when you don't have the normal tools that you had in the past, when you really are trying to get people to think about, and share your story?
Yeah, it's gonna be really interesting. I mean, I remember in the—you know, our premiere for Little Fires Everywhere was canceled. And maybe two or three days later, the Stay-at-Home orders happened. And I just remember that first week, we were really in the throes of what was supposed to be a big publicity launch. And as producers, we were all talking every night, like, what are we going to do? And at the same time, the late night talk shows we were trying to figure out like, what are we going to do? We had tons of appearances canceled. I was supposed to be in New York and doing Fallon—or actually Colbert. And so it's been a really interesting time as everybody figures out how to just stay engaged remotely. We're kind of riding that wave on on various Zoom calls and Instagram Live's and, like, just trying to use technology to connect.
So one of the things that I think is true about what we're going through, is people might be doing things that they might not ordinarily do. It could be: maybe reading books, reaching out to other people, it could be learning something new. And I was reminded of something that happened on Instagram where people were asking you how your Scandal character, Olivia Pope, would have handled the crisis. And you told a story about Fanny Jackson Coppin. So who is she and why is she important to you?
Oh, so yeah, you know, whenever there are these moments of big crisis in culture, it happened after the election in 2016, happen for COVID; people tend to think that I actually can fix things. [laughter]
Can not. But I wanted to use—I wanted to use that kind of interest and expectation from people to highlight some real life people who have quote, "handled it" like Olivia Pope. So it's gonna—I'm going to post a few different people the history, but the first person that I talked about was Fanny Jackson Coppin who, she was born into slavery. She's an amazing educator, and missionary actually, and she advocated for a higher education for Black people and women of color. And she's just—she was really self taught, and courageous, and brilliant, and she was the first Black principal—Black woman to be a principal.
So, what does that mean in terms of how people might discover something new? Do you feel like you have a chance now to be a little bit of a history teacher? [laughs]
I guess so, I mean, I just think it's fun. You know, I think we can get into trouble when we rely on imaginary characters to save us. I think we can wind up in a lot of trouble. I joked at times that part of how we got into the situation we're in now, is that we had a reality television character swoop into an election, and people thought that he could save the day. So I really think that anytime we can remind ourselves, and each other that real people can make a real difference. It's a service, right. And that's part of what I love about The Fight also is that these lawyers in some ways, they're like the Avengers like they are out there really making the world a better place every single day. But in other ways, as you see in the film, like they have unruly kids that they can't get to stay quiet when they're on their conference calls, like all of us now at this time; and they lose their cell phone chargers, and they Ride Amtrak; and they're just regular people making real change in the world.
Do you think it's possible that when we come out of this, in whatever form it takes that people might reconsider what it means to be a hero? That it's maybe not necessarily Iron Man or some Marvel character, but it could be a nurse who is treating a COVID patient, it could be some sort of first responder, it could be a teacher, it could be somebody who's delivering your groceries, because it's not safe to go to the store? That there might be some sort of rethinking of what heroism is, and maybe that could get us out of that kind of fantasy world back into the real world.
I hope so. I hope so. I mean, I think escapism and you know, narrative, drama is so important. Like I think in some ways superheroes are important because they remind us of what—they remind us of how important it is to do good in the world. But remembering that that good can happen by real people. In real life is so, so important. And it's times like these where we get to, we get to kind of dig for the best of ourselves and witness the best in each other.
So you're an actor and a producer. And when you think about what it might look like to go back to work, you're probably talking with other people about what their concerns are. But, what do you think that world is going to look like? What are you going to need personally to feel safe? And outside of a timeline, how is that world gonna look different?
I'm glad that you said outside of a timeline, because I think there are people continue to want to have the conversation of when and I think the focus really does need to be on how right. Like, how do we get the right testing in place? How do we stay safe while we pray for a vaccine? How do we best protect each other? I'm definitely not the right person to answer that question. But, I know I haven't seen it yet. I know that no ones handed me a plan at this point where I feel like as a producer, or director, or actor, I feel safe and ready to jump onto a set and start a process. I'm very happy that we are in pre-production on projects where we're starting to put together the pieces so that when we can go, we can go, but I don't want to rush. You know, I think—I heard someone say recently, somebody on my team said, you know, opening up too early is like stopping taking your antibiotics because you're feeling better. [laughs] It's like, it doesn't work. You got to take the antibiotics all the way to the end. Otherwise, the sick is not done. You know?
So much of the business is about momentum. It's obviously about connections, and ideas, and network, and all that stuff—but, it's also about momentum, and when a project has momentum, it's invaluable and to lose that momentum is really painful. So how do you make sure the things that are important keep moving forward on whatever timetable they're gonna move on? How do you stay focused on making sure that you're not letting everything that is moving come to a halt?
Yeah, you know, there are so many different stages of production and the development and production process is vital to the making of a project. So I think we're being gifted with an opportunity to kind of get as many projects as we can ready for the start line. And I don't know when they're gonna fire that starting gun where the race can begin. But we're just going to focus on getting projects there. And I think it's allowing for, for our company at least—a deeper level of refining our projects and really doing the work to dig deep and make sure that we're not rushing ahead; and that the story is that we're getting ready to tell are exactly the stories we want to be telling and exactly the way we want to be telling them. So we're doing a lot of work with writers and and work with directors and just, you know, making sure that that on the development and research and pre-production side that we have lost zero momentum.
So there's the physical challenge of what it means to go back on a set, how many people are on the set? How are things like hair and makeup going to be done? And then there's this idea of what is going to be important as storytellers and I know, it's impossible to predict how a lot of people are going to respond. But do you see your own priorities changing in terms of, maybe what you want to tell now, but maybe also the kinds of stories that don't feel relevant anymore?
It's really hard to tell. I mean, we're sort of in the middle of all of this still. So I think In some ways, it is hard to tell exactly. But I think people are really wanting to feel hopeful, and wanting to feel —wanting to kind of witness and partake in stories that that are about the best of us. And that getting to the best of us is challenging and can often require seemingly insurmountable challenges. But, that reach for the best in ourselves and others is I think something we're all really drawn toward right now. Because again, we're aware that we are the heroes we've been waiting for. So, stories that kind of capture that idea; that's that's what I'm feeling pulled toward. [music]
In the weeks to come we'll look at the future of the entertainment industry from every angle, in the words of Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro:
[Sound Clip, Guillermo del Toro]
I almost think of the tagline of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: "Who will survive and what will be left them them?"
Our thanks to Kerry Washington for giving us her time twice. Her documentary The Fight will be released on July 31st online and according to the plan, in theaters too. And thanks to you for listening, we hope you'll subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Hollywood, The Sequel is produced by Shelley Lewis, Monica Bushman and Jonathan Shifflett. With help from Darby Maloney and Jessica Pilot, our engineer and sound designer is Eduardo Perez. Our music is composed by Nicholas Britell. Hollywood, The Sequel is a production of Laist studios. I'm John Horn. See you next time.
Monica Bushman is a Producer on KPCC's The Frame program.
Prior to that, she worked on KPCC's Take Two program and the local broadcast of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Monica began her career in radio as a producer for PRI's "America Abroad" in Washington, DC. Before coming to KPCC, she worked on various NPR shows including "Talk of the Nation" and "Morning Edition."
Monica is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a native of Anaheim, California.
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