Saturday, November 25, 2017
  • Thursday, Jun. 1, 2017
SHOOT Directors/Producers Forum Features Insights From DGA Award Winners Barbara Kopple, Derek Cianfrance
SHOOT's Robert Goldrich (l) interviews DGA Award-winning director Derek Cianfrance of RadicalMedia on stage at the DGA Theatre in NYC during the SHOOT Directors/Producers Forum "In The Director's Chair" session.
Execs share business models for diversification; McCann NY’s Nathy Aviram discusses agency’s evolving production dept.; FKKS presentation provides legal expertise for advertising, entertainment; complete session videos posted
  • NEW YORK
  • --

SHOOT’s afternoon Directors/Producers Forum and evening New Directors Showcase, both held at the DGA Theatre in NYC on Thursday, May 25, offered a wide range of insights and observations, as well as substantive exposure for up-and-coming filmmaking talent. 

Among the highlights was an “In the Director’s Chair” session with Derek Cianfrance of RadicalMedia, who recently won the DGA Award for Best Commercial Director of the Year. Cianfrance reflected on his career and process spanning spots and theatrical features, the latter including Blue Valentine for which Michelle Williams earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Also with credentials spanning the Oscars and DGA Awards is Barbara Kopple who was on hand at the Forum to discuss her YouTube Red documentary This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous, which debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and then on YouTube Red. Kopple is a two-time Best Feature Documentary Oscar winner--for Harlan County USA  in 1976 and American Dream in 1991. Kopple has won three DGA Awards over the years, two for documentaries--American Dream, and then for Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson. Her third DGA Award came for an episode of the primetime dramatic TV series Homicide: Life on the Street.

Here’s a rundown of Forum proceedings:

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Documentary Storytelling--YouTube Red’s This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous
Kicking off the Forum was a session moderated by SHOOT editor Robert Goldrich and featuring Kopple along with Ian Roth, development lead, unscripted content for YouTube and YouTube Red. Focus of the discussion was This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous, a documentary which tells the story of Gigi Lazzarato who began life as Gregory Lazzarato and posted beauty and fashion videos to YouTube before coming out before an audience of millions as a transgender female.

Kopple shared the biggest takeaways she enjoyed personally and professionally from her experience on This is Everything. On the former front, Kopple shared, “In this time when people bully each other, there’s a lot of hate, a lot of misunderstanding of who we are as people.” Gigi’s story helps to counteract that negativity. Kopple said she was inspired by Gigi’s courage, as well as the transformation of her father, a conservative businessman who “decided he would rather have Gigi be happy as Gigi rather than pulling for the old Greg. He was with her for every operation. He was tender. There’s one scene where he’s giving her a sponge bath.” Kopple noted, “Even if we don’t understand who we are...if we have love and support, that’s when the magic happens.”

Professionally speaking, the YouTube Red experience was gratifying. “Sometimes as documentary filmmakers you don’t have a whole organization that cares about what you’re doing and wants to see the film be its best and to get it out the best way,” said Kopple, noting that by contrast the level of support that she and This is Everything has received from YouTube Red has been extraordinary. YouTube Red backed the submission of the documentary to Sundance, has been promoting the film and helped to connect it with viewers worldwide. Furthermore, Gigi built a community on YouTube through which she was there for others and they were there for her. This community means a lot to people who feel otherwise alone and alienated, that nobody cares about them. This community, related Kopple, “probably saved a lot of people from doing bad things to themselves.” YouTube has nurtured, particularly in Gigi’s case, a sense of belonging for her and her followers.

Kopple went on to observe that it’s because of new outlets like YouTube Red that this has become an ideal era for documentary filmmakers, affording them the opportunity to gain meaningful exposure for worthwhile work. Moderator Goldrich asked her to juxtapose the multiple outlet opportunities of today with the barriers she confronted back in the day with Harlan County USA, when there was no guarantee of her getting theatrical distribution even though the subject matter was deserving of attention.”

Harlan County USA, was four years in the making, chronicling a miners’ strike in Kentucky. Kopple spent 13 months in the coal fields, filming the strike during which a miner was killed by a company foreman. She herself was in constant danger. But her dedication as a storyteller could have still gone unrewarded. “I didn’t know if anyone would show it anywhere,” she recalled of the documentary. Kopple sent it to the New York Film Festival where she met some initial resistance. Ultimately, though, she won over the decision-makers. During a preliminary screening, she was told that Richard Roud, head of the festival, only went to the bathroom once. So Harlan County USA, was screened at the festival where it garnered the attention of Donald Rugoff, head of Cinema 5. He wound up showing Harlan County USA at his theaters.

Underscoring how documentary filmmakers have more options today to connect with audiences, YouTube Red’s Roth said, “The marketplace is so competitive....People are turning down funding for these documentaries because they know there will be a bidding war on their films.” This represents “a big paradigm shift,” with filmmakers thinking they will finance a documentary because “they know they can sell it,” explained Roth. 

As a developer of unscripted content, Roth has the inherent YouTube advantage of “two-way dialogue,” knowing people’s feelings about content, getting their feedback as to what moved them, hearing testimonials about what excited them. Thus he can better gauge the appetite for telling a story such as Gigi’s in a premium documentary--as well as the stories of other YouTube creators. Part of his task is to bring those creators, like Gigi, together with filmmaking talent, like Kopple, to do full justice to those stories, creating content that can flourish on YouTube Red. Roth affirmed that Gigi had full trust in Kopple, giving the filmmaker the creative freedom needed to tell the story in the best way possible.

Roth said that while YouTube Red has made content acquisitions, its primary focus is creating original programming. Asked what budgets he was generally dealing with for original documentary fare, Roth said he wasn’t at liberty to disclose that publicly. He would only note that documentaries in the big picture are being made within a budget range from $10,000 to $10 million. He said that YouTube Red will play within that range based on what’s appropriate for a given story.

Roth further shared that YouTube Red plans to diversify into narrative scripted content and evidence of that should emerge in the second half of this year. He envisions movies and full-on series coming down the pipeline.

Kopple remains active in commercials and branded entertainment through production house Nonfiction Unlimited, her latest work being branded content for American Greetings. She has come to enjoy not only collaborating with agency creatives but also the instant gratification of ad work, shooting for a week or two, editing for two or three weeks and then wrapping the project. Kopple finds the work energizing, which, chimed in Roth, was also how the late, great documentary Albert Maysles felt about his commercialmaking/branded content endeavors. 

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Directors/Producers Perspectives: An Ever-Evolving Industry
Goldrich moderated this Perspectives panel discussion in which directors and producers provided insights into how their respective companies have adapted and diversified in the face of an evolving marketplace. By sharing some of these experiences and business models, the session looked to serve as a source of inspiration, strike an entrepreneurial chord and perhaps just serve as a catalyst for thoughts about new ways of bringing art and commerce together.

Panelists were: Nathy Aviram, chief production officer of McCann New York; director Peter Lang, owner of PICROW; Tim Perell, president of Process; Ryan Hunter Phillips, creative director of Madison + Vine; and Wendy Lambert, president/creative director/director at MediaVision.

Aviram joined McCann New York three and a half years ago. At that time the production department was primarily engaged in print and TV, having turned out 375 commercials the prior year. Fast forward to 2016 and McCann NY held steady at 375 spots but now the mix also includes AI, AR, VR, gaming, product development and, quipped Aviram, “bronzing,” a reference to the “Fearless Girl” statue that was positioned opposite Wall Street’s “Charging Bull” sculpture. Created by McCann NY in concert with artist Kristen Visbal for asset management firm client State Street Global Advisors, the “Fearless Girl” statue has generated controversy, including objections from “Bull sculptor” Arturo Di Modica, and praise from others who view the “Girl” as a symbol which celebrates the power of women in leadership and advances the cause of greater gender diversity on corporate boards.

When Aviram started at McCann, the production department was 32 strong. Now it has grown to 50--40 on staff at McCann NY, and 10 with m:united, the shop focused on the Microsoft account. Further reflecting the expanded nature of the production operation is the creation of an Innovation department run by Christine Lane. While, said Aviram, Lane would not have fit the agency producer profile of several years ago, now she is an essential member of the team bringing in varied expertise from technical to experiential and interactive.

The production department played an integral role in helping McCann New York earn recognition as SHOOT’s Agency of the Year in 2016, among the signature pieces of work being Lockheed Martin’s “Field Trip To Mars,” the single most awarded campaign at Cannes 2016, earning 19 Lions across 11 categories including Cyber, Entertainment, PR, and Innovation. The centerpiece of an ambitious STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education program, “Field Trip” is an immersive groundbreaking group VR experience in which the windows of a seemingly ordinary school bus transform to take riders on a tour of Mars. McCann NY worked with Framestore, which invented cutting-edge technology specifically for this campaign, to enable a 1:1 relationship between Earth and Mars. When the bus turns, the landscape turns just as it would in any bus tour, allowing riders—in this case school children—to truly feel that they are traversing the Red Planet (and not the city streets that the bus was actually driving down). This was all done sans the need to don headsets or glasses. The bus itself became the headset, with a wondrous, awe-inspiring journey seen through its windows.

The project was a  year-and-a-half in the making with four McCann producers working on it at one point. 

Meanwhile also coming of age and experiencing substantial growth in recent years has been the agency’s in-house production department, McCann Craft Worldwide. The accelerated development of this operation, said Aviram, started with a need based on what clients were requesting. Once clients started doing more online content--which entail tighter budgets--this necessitated initially asking production companies for favors. “They got tired of doing favors for us. We got tired of asking for them,” related Aviram. This led to McCann doing this variety of production for itself.

All the while, Aviram said he remains “protective of our production company partners and directors” who are so important in the making of high-profile content. In fact, he sought out production house EPs for feedback on their feelings about an expanded in-house agency unit for online and social fare. “To a person they didn’t consider it competition at all. They understood the realities of the marketplace and that this was something we had to take on.” 

Meanwhile, Lang noted that PICROW too had something it had to take on--namely the opportunity to diversify beyond its core commercialmaking/branded content business to become the go-to production resource for Amazon spanning Jill Soloway’s lauded Transparent, her latest show I Love Dick, and such series as Mozart in the Jungle, Goliath and Patriot. PICROW was tailor-made to take on comprehensive production for Amazon. Lang had his operation set up for one-stop production and post, dating back years ago when he brought an Avid into the fold, building upon PICROW’s already extensive production resources. Lang said that the Amazon experience has informed PICROW’s work across the board. And though it hasn’t happened as of yet, Lang conjectured that further cross-fertilization could be in the offing with PICROW directors becoming involved in Amazon episodic pursuits. PICROW too is no stranger to features, providing production services for director Todd Hayne’s  Wonderstruck which recently debuted to acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival.

Just as Lang couldn’t have foreseen the Amazon connection several years ago, so too would Perell have been surprised to see the turn his indie filmmaking company Process has taken, broadening its base into branded content. Perell’s feature filmography includes producing John Cameron Mitchell’s Cannes Film Festival sensation Shortbus, as well as Last Chance Harvey starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Seemingly out of the blue, Perell got the chance to package and then bid on a short film for Audi starring Claire Danes. This put Process on the map as a source for agencies and clients to tap into for independent feature filmmakers. For Audi, Perell brought in a writer, Stu Zicherman, whom he worked with on the feature A.C.O.D., while securing director John Vogt-Roberts shortly after his The Kings of Summer had been nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. A script was developed for Audi in a month, an “exhilarating” process said Perell who had been accustomed to two years for a feature script to take shape. After producing the branded content piece, Perell delved further into the market, researching opportunities and then putting together a collective of indie feature directors whom he thought would be a fit for prospective projects. It wasn’t a production house roster per se but rather directors Perell had developed relationships with over the years. 

Process has gone onto produce varied branded content, including a series of films for adidas and ESPN (with such directors as Bob Pulcini, Shari Berman and Marah Strauch), a piece for The New Yorker Presents starring Paul Giamatti, and a series of short films for Sundance TV and Visit Seattle which earned a nomination last month for the Tribeca X Award honoring excellence in creative, original and authentic storytelling that is sponsored or underwritten by a brand. Sundance TV reached out to Perell with a brief that simply called for five shorts exploring Seattle, each through the lens of one of the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) as interpreted by five different directors preferably with a Sundance Festival pedigree. Among those filmmakers Perell curated for the assignment were Terence Nance who made his Sundance Fest debut in 2012 with his feature narrative An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, and Martha Stevens whose feature Land Ho! premiered at Sundance in 2014 and went on to win the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards in 2015.

Panelist Phillips started out as a director, moonlighting as a copywriter and art director. With changes to the media landscape in recent years, Phillips began to see the chance to do more as a director, particularly when he met James Shani, founder of Madison + Vine, which has a business model calling for the creation and cultivation of a community for young filmmakers. Phillips noted that there’s a massive talent pool of driven, qualified directors who don’t have a home where they can access work and constructively benefit from mentorship. Madison + Vine seeks to be that place. It has assembled and continues to build on a large community of curated filmmakers. “It’s not a small roster of selected directors,” said Phillips who is creative director of Madison + Vine. Instead the company has a large family of people who work together, procuring a mix of work that is primarily client-direct, along with a smattering of assignments which entail collaborating with ad agencies.

In terms of client-direct fare, Madison + Vine has successfully refreshed Taco Bell’s YouTube presence with a serialized scripted series. As for working with agencies, Madison + Vine has teamed with Edelman on 360 videos for Samsung, promoting its 360 camera. Madison + Vine has also built on TBWA\Chiat\Day’s “Win From Within” campaign for Gatorade, generating content outside that agency which has gone on to be Webby Award-nominated.

And panelist Lambert of MediaVision discussed how an ownership change has opened up new opportunities for a business that has a long track record in corporate and marketing communications, commercial and documentary filmmaking, having operated out of post facility Palace Production Center. Recently that business emerged as MediaVision, a wholly owned subsidiary of Connecticut Public Broadcasting, the parent under which resides public TV and radio stations. Public broadcasting was drawn to the production and post expertise of what is now MediaVision, as well as its history of steady earnings, providing a source of revenue beyond pledges and membership drives. Conversely, MediaVision gains the halo effect of PBS, providing an attractive, trustworthy pedigree of authentic, high caliber storytelling to corporations, clients and agencies, translating into a wider range of content creation possibilities.

As for possibilities emerging in virtual realty, Aviram noted that McCann’s creative department has sought out expertise as to how to best concept in VR and write for it. He noted that several of the projects shown at the recent Tribeca Film Festival were “amazing,” underscoring the storytelling prowess of VR. He cited such companies as Here Be Dragons, MediaMonks and Tool of North America as being high caliber VR resources. Aviram separately noted that some clients have been approached directly by VES shops with promises that they can do viable projects for $20,000. McCann is then asked to vett these firms, often finding “stitches that don’t make sense.” VR budgets aren’t fully understood as of yet but to do it well can prove expensive, he said. 

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Legal Aid
This Legal Aid session featured a pair of leading attorneys from Frankfurt Kurnit Klein + Selz (FKKS): Jeffrey A. Greenbaum, managing partner and regarded as one of the country’s leading advertising lawyers; and Victoria S. Cook, a partner at the firm whose focus is on motion pictures and television. Cook is a regular mentor at the Sundance Institute Creative Producing Conference and the Sundance Institute Catalyst Conference for film investors. She has moderated the State of the Union panel at the Sundance Summit for the last several years.

Greenbaum and Cook discussed director contracts with production companies, considerations for filmmakers who are--or would like to be--active in commercials as well as features and TV, and pitfalls that can impact helmers’ careers.

Greenbaum noted that while day rates, financial guarantees and other perks were common areas of discussion and negotiation in director contracts of 10 to 15 years ago, that’s not as much the case today. Back in the day, assorted production companies were willing to invest in directors, knowing that chances were good that money could be made. By contrast, the current marketplace--despite the emergence of different channels and platforms--is marked by what seems like less work for fewer directors, with a diminishing number of companies willing to make major financial commitments to directorial career building.

The decision a director makes to join a production company, continued Greenbaum, carries potential long-term consequences. He advised that rather than focus just on money when considering a new roost, directors should first and foremost assess which company they believe in--and which company really believes in them. Then the money and success will follow.

“Which company will take the time to develop you and your career?” said Greenbaum, suggesting that along those lines directors ask, “Who at the company is going to be shepherding your career?” Among other key questions to pose include: Are there sales reps at the company who believe in you? Is there a senior exec who is going to make sure you are going to be successful? What does your reel look like today and where do you want it to be down the road? How much money will a company invest in spec jobs? Will the production house take on lower budget projects and how will they manage those jobs so that they are successful and add to your reel?

Another key piece of advice was that directors “commit but don’t overcommit.” Companies are generally asking for directors to sign contracts covering longer periods of time. In the previous era, the norm was a two-year contract. Today, contracts are more along the lines of three or four years, sometimes more. Production companies justifiably want a longer window of exclusivity so that they have the time to realize a return on their investment in a director. It behooves a director to give a production company ample opportunity to deliver--but at the same time he or she should try to negotiate some wiggle room if certain goals aren’t realized in year one for example. That way if an arrangement isn’t working, a director can move on to explore other opportunities.

Cook noted that for those commercial directors with TV and feature aspirations, it’s important that they have an understanding with a spot production house that they have the freedom to block out time for long-form commitments. An indie film, she related, will take “at least 18 months of your life” from development through prep, production, post, festivals and promotion. 

Cook cautioned young directors not to be too enamored with a production company that has a couple of IMBD feature credits. While production companies courting a director may promise feature filmmaking opportunities, not all shops have the wherewithal to truly get a movie made. Very few companies are Anonymous Content, she said. And an IMBD credit or two doesn’t necessarily signal feature proficiency or the ability to provide or access the proper funding. 

Sometimes, observed Cook and Greenbaum, success in commercialmaking can cause directors to fall short of their feature goals. With a lucrative advertising career--in which they grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle, as well as working with the best DPs, production designers and like--certain directors can’t figure out a way to stay committed enough to bring that feature script they’ve been carrying around to fruition. Cook and Greenbaum affirmed that it’s imperative for directors to remember their roots and to “stay hungry” if they truly want to realize their feature filmmaking promise.

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In The Director’s Chair
Derek Cianfrance of RadicalMedia was “In The Director’s Chair” this year, bringing to that perch insights into commercialmaking and features. Earlier this year he won the DGA Award for Best Commercial Director of the Year on the basis of four entries: Nike Golf’s “Chase,” Powerade’s “Doubts” and “Expectations,” and Squarespace’s “Manifesto.” The Nike and Powerade commercials were conceived by Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, Ore., while the Squarespace piece was out of Anomaly New York.

On the feature filmmaking front, Cianfrance made an auspicious debut with Blue Valentine which earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Michelle Williams as well as a Golden Camera and Un Certain Regard Award nominations at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Cianfrance went on to direct The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Mahershala Ali, and then The Light Between Oceans (2016) starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. 

Interviewed on stage by SHOOT’s Goldrich, Cianfrance recalled that early on in his career he resisted directing commercials despite being urged by RadicalMedia chairman/CEO Jon Kamen to embrace the ad biz. Kamen saw Cianfrance’s promise as a commercialmaker long before the director did. “I wanted to stay pure as an artist,” explained Cianfrance who was focused on bringing Blue Valentine to fruition. Kamen characterized himself as “the derailer,” noted Cianfrance. Kamen told Cianfrance he was going to “derail” his career. “I got mad at him, I wanted to pour a glass of water on him. I thought no way I’m ever going to make commercials.”

But family responsibilities changed Cianfrance’s mind. “My wife gave birth to our first child. I was buying diapers with pocket change on the floor. I thought maybe I should do a commercial.” Cianfrance did just that, taking on a mortgage company spot. “Going on set, I was so bad at my job. I was a bride or groom that was saving themselves for their wedding night, got into the honeymoon suite but had no experience. I didn’t know what to do but I was pure.”

At that point, Cianfrance thought, “I should get out of this old nostalgic notion of what it means to be an artist. I should get to work.” He started directing commercials, breaking down the rust and “building up those Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours,” exercising his directorial muscles which put him in a better position to not only helm ad fare but also to become a feature filmmaker. “I’m thankful Kamen derailed me.”

That derailment has led to a commercialmaking and feature filmography marked by Cianfrance’s affinity for eliciting empathy for his characters. “I had a friend who was studying to be a nurse,” related Cianfrance. Part of her training as a nurse was to imagine her patients were in a hole--her choice of treatment was to be empathetic or sympathetic. In order to be empathetic, she’d have to jump in the hole with the patient so they’d both be stuck. To be sympathetic, she would have to throw down a rope and pull the patient up. 

Being empathetic, affirmed Cianfrance, “was the way I wanted to make films. I wanted to be stuck with people.”

He described sympathy as “kind of a sickness in Hollywood.” People who hold the purse strings put the brakes at one point on Blue Valentine because the characters weren’t likable and didn’t evoke sympathy. But holding out for empathy, being stuck with people for better or worse, is what has made Cianfrance true to his characters and his brand of storytelling. He saw a measure of arrogance in the point of view from certain filmmakers who seemingly know everything about people and keep an arm’s distance from their characters. For Cianfrance, he gravitated to the work of directors like Sam Peckinpah whose violence felt almost as if he were “suffering with people,” or John Cassavetes who delved directly in his characters, bringing his own family members at times on camera.

This empathy is evident in Cianfrance’s recent DGA Award-winning work, perhaps most notably the Powerade “Expectations” spot which features a female football player who excels despite a nay-saying coach. Cianfrance personally and professionally empathized with the woman, who is in real life an aspiring football player. The personal empathy related to his encountering as a youngster a nay-saying soccer coach who said he wouldn’t amount to anything as a player. Cianfrance turned out to have his best performance on the soccer field when going against that coach’s team. Professionally, the director felt empathy based on nearly 12 years of rejection before he got Blue Valentine off the ground. The perseverance of that female football player was akin to the tenacity he needed to realize Blue Valentine.

Blue Valentine was a roller coaster ride, at times looking like it would get made, more often looking like it would never see the light of day. There were assorted starts, stops and stumbling blocks. The casting alone was a seemingly never ending drama. Cianfrance starting writing the script in 1998. He met Michelle Williams in 2003 and wanted her for the movie. But at that time, she wasn’t big box office, having appeared in Dawson’s Creek. Cianfrance recalled that if he instead had Katie Holmes from Dawson’s Creek, he could have gotten the movie made back then. Fast forward three years and Williams became marketable, having earned an Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain. She was bankable enough to generate the necessary funding but had gotten quite busy and unavailable for Blue Valentine. Then years later, when everything seemed in place, and Williams had committed to the story, Heath Ledger passed away, prompting Williams to pull back from acting so she could devote more time to her daughter. Cianfrance waited for a year so that Williams could grieve and get her life in order. But Williams said she no longer wanted to do the movie, that she had to be a stay-at-home mom who wanted her daughter to wake up in her own bed every morning.

Just eight weeks away from beginning shooting on Blue Valentine, Cianfrance considered recasting but Williams was still his choice. He had originally planned on lensing the film in Northern California. To bring Williams back into the fold, Cianfrance pulled up Google Maps, typed in the actress’ address and eyed locations within an hour commute’s diameter from her home. The director discovered Scranton, Pennsylvania, an hour and 10 minute ride. “How about if I can get you home every hight and you wake up in your own bed?” That offer proved too good for Williams to pass up.

Meanwhile Gosling was on and off again--seemingly the latter being the bottom line when he was slated to appear in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. However, Gosling was concerned he wasn’t old enough to pull off the called upon role in that movie--the same drawback he perceived years ago when initially offered Blue Valentine. To help him on The Lovely Bones, Gosling asked if he could take some photos of Cianfrance’s receding hairline--thinking that this could somehow figure in his own transformation to an older persona. Cianfrance was cooperative, only to read in the trades later that week that Gosling was no longer in The Lovely Bones cast. Apparently Gosling had compromised his attractiveness, perhaps in part due to the iPhone photos of Cianfrance’s hairline he wanted to incorporate into his appearance.

Cianfrance then told Gosling he could “compromise his attractiveness” any time he wanted if he’s ready to make a real movie, meaning Blue Valentine.

In retrospect, Cianfrance said he’s now grateful he had to wait all those years to make Blue Valentine. He wasn’t ready to make it back when he was 25 years old--and Gosling and Williams weren’t necessarily ready as well back in the day. Cianfrance observed that there’s a constant balance a filmmaker has to maintain. There’s “the need to will things into life” along with the “need to embrace the chaos of life, to kind of accept and listen to the universe and what it’s telling you.” Cianfrance said he felt “cursed” for 12 years based on the steady stream of rejection he experienced on Blue Valentine--but now he feels “blessed” to have gotten through that to ultimately bring the feature to pass.

Cianfrance’s commercialmaking career also figured prominently in Blue Valentine’s fate. One evening he was informed that the film was $75,000 over budget and if he didn’t find a way to get that money by the next morning, the plug would be pulled on the project. The fact that he had a viable livelihood as a commercialmaker meant that he could afford to put his director’s fee for Blue Valentine, which happened to be $75,000, back into the movie. Cianfrance still had to pay taxes on that fee so in essence he paid to make Blue Valentine--but it was a worthwhile investment, launching an acclaimed feature filmmaking career.

Inexplicably, Cianfrance noted that he had a hard time getting hired to direct commercials after Blue Valentine. He then made The Place Beyond the Pines. Cianfrance subsequently landed a pivotal commercial, Dick’s Sporting Goods’ “Every Pitch” from Anomaly New York, which generated momentum for him in the ad space while also putting him on a more artistic, authentic storytelling path in his spotmaking endeavors. “Every Pitch” took us inside a baseball game. A batter swings through a pitch and then the camera sweeps around behind the catcher and begins to go from player to player in the field, all of whom are making game chatter, offering motivation and strategic cues (like who’s covering second base in case the runner tries to steal) to their teammates. It’s a great study of the intricacies and beauty of the game as played by young athletes, not brand spokesman superstars.

Cianfrance recalled telling agency creatives that he knew little about baseball but that he loved the concept and saw it as being cut from the same cloth as a Western. “Every Pitch” was shot (by Peter Demin who won an AICP Show Cinematography honor for the :60) in one take with zooms, capturing inner workings of the game that lurk underneath what we see on TV. Cianfrance credited Anomaly creatives Taylor Twist and Mike Warzin (now a director with Arts & Sciences) with taking a leap of faith, opting for a director who wasn’t a baseball aficionado but who could bring his filmmaking process to get to the heart of a story. Cianfrance saw that his feature filmmaking process could be applied to commercials, capturing the truth of a story, whatever it may be--in this case the inner game of baseball. He started to attract concepts that aspired to be more and his commercialmaking stock has continued to rise.

“Every Pitch” also clarified a dynamic Cianfrance loves about filmmaking--collaboration. A painter, he observed, only needs a canvas and an idea to create what he or she wants. However, a filmmaker has to collaborate, know his strengths and weaknesses. The Dick’s Sporting Goods spot had him call in collaborators who understood baseball--he enlisted the active support and expertise of not only Twist and Warzin but also an assistant director and casting director, among other crew members, who understood and appreciated baseball.  He even cast real kids who wanted to be professional baseball players but for whatever reason their dreams weren’t realized. Cianfrance added that he likes to insert real people into a cast--both for movies and commercials. The cops in The Place Beyond the Pines are real cops. The abortion doctor is an actual abortion doctor in Blue Valentine. Cianfrance said he likes to “take my actors and put them in an aquarium of real life.”

Cianfrance also has several basic rules he tries to follow when it comes to actors. He likes to give them the freedom to do whatever they want to do as long as they reciprocate, doing whatever he wants them to do. “Don’t question me if I want you to do something.” He is open to shooting a scene both ways and then determining in the edit room which works better. “Oftentimes I’m wrong. I get credit for it even if I’m wrong.” For example in Blue Valentine there was a scene calling for Gosling and Williams to sit side by side on a bus. Gosling wanted Williams to sit in his lap instead. “I didn’t like it. I didn’t like what it was doing to her.” But Cianfrance shot the scene his way and Gosling’s way. In the editing room, Gosling’s take won.

Another rule of thumb for Cianfrance is take pressure off the first take. “I call it the first pancake,” said Cianfrance. “The first pancake is usually bad. The first one goes into the garbage...The pan is too hot, the mix too watery but you never know until you make one.”

In the big picture, Cianfrance affirmed, “My whole mission is to explore the human condition, to explore relationships...My favorite part of being a filmmaker is to meet people, work with people, collaborate with people.”

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Welcome to the 15th Annual New Directors Showcase & Meet the New Directors Panel
Shortly after the Forum wrapped, the evening proceedings began with a welcome from the DGA and SHOOT followed by the screening of the 2017 SHOOT New Directors Showcase reel. After the screening, SHOOT publisher & editorial director, Roberta Griefer, asked the NDS directors in the audience to stand while mentioning their work and then moderated the Meet the New Directors panel discussion. Panelists included five Showcase directors Josh Franer of CoMPANY Films; Jendra Jarnigan who's unaffiliated; Kiran, an ad agency art director who too is unaffiliated with a production company; Jenn Shaw, another unaffiliated helmer; and Sophie Walker, half of the sibling duo The Coles whose production house roost is Hey Wonderful. Rounding out the panel were a pair of industry professionals who offered advice to aspiring directors--Madison Wharton, chief production officer of DDB New York, and James Shani, founder and CEO, Madison + Vine. 

Most of the Showcase directors were in attendance at the DGA Theatre. Beyond the five panelists, the other 2017 SHOOT New Directors Showcase filmmakers are: Sergio Abuja of Carbo Films; Monica Brady who is unaffiliated; Brandon Bray of Contagious LA; Colleen Davie Janes who's unaffiliated; Dan DiFelice of Biscuit Filmworks; Joel Dunn who's unaffiliated; David B. Godin of Autopilot: Off; Diego Hallivis who is unaffiliated; Danielle Katvan who's unaffiliated; Kat Keene Hogue of goodstory films; Yulin Kuang of Adolescent Content; Marcus Kuhne of Big Block; Thomas Leisten Schneider of Kiss & Kill; the team of Brandon Maxwell and Jessy Price of theCollectiveShift; Mccoy | Meyer (Eric Mccoy and Justus Meyer) of Rodeo Show; Matthew Michaud of Backyard; Charlie Mysak of tinygiant; Andrew Norton of Untitled Films, Toronto; Kelly Nygaard who's unaffiliated; Anthony Pellino of LightHouse Films; A.V. Rockwell of Little Minx; Roberto Serrini of Derby Content; Carrie Stett who's unaffiliated; Isaiah Taylor of Tilted Panda Productions; Michael Wald who's unaffiliated; Duncan Winecoff of Epoch Films; and Christine Yuan of Knucklehead.

See separate story for comprehensive coverage of SHOOT’s 2017 New Directors Showcase reel screening, and panel discussion moderated by SHOOT’s publisher and editorial director Roberta Griefer and featuring five of the Showcase directors along with feedback from Madison Wharton, chief production officer of DDB New York, and James Shani, founder and CEO, Madison + Vine.  

  • Click here for article on The SHOOT 2017 New Directors Showcase reel screening and "Meet the New Directors" panel.
  • Click here to view the SHOOT 2017 New Directors Showcase reel 
  • Click here For profiles/contact info on all of the Directors in the SHOOT 2017 New Directors Showcase​
  • Click here for photos from the Meet the New Directors Panel and after party. 

Sponsor support
Lead sponsors of the 2017 SHOOT Directors/Producers Forum and New Directors Showcase were Company 3, Madison + Vine, and the DGA. Silver sponsor was advertising and entertainment law firm FKKS. Bronze sponsors were brother, CoMPANY Films, YouTubeRed Originals, the Montana Film Office and MediaVision.

On the morning just prior to the Thursday afternoon Forum and evening New Directors Showcase, Company 3 hosted a breakfast and color correction workshop for the Showcase directors.

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