Director Nanette Burstein Revisits Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan 20 Years After the "Whack Heard Around the World" in ESPN Films' 'The Price of Gold'
Director Nanette Burstein earned a Directors Guild Award and an Oscar nomination for her first documentary, On the Ropes, a low-budget film shot using a Sony Handycam. The Manhattan bar owner followed up her impressive debut with the Robert Evans biography The Kid Stays in the Picture and American Teen, for which Burstein picked up a Sundance award for documentary directing.
After venturing into feature films and television, directing the romantic comedy Going the Distance and an episode of New Girl, Burstein was contacted by ESPN to develop a special project for its 30 for 30 documentary series. In January, ESPN Films premiered The Price of Gold, a look back at the events surrounding the Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan scandal of 1994, which marks its 20th anniversary later this year.
Burstein spoke with Get In Media about revisiting the biggest scandal in the history of ice skating and how the media and public perception skewed the real-life narrative.
Nanette Burstein: Well, I like to think that any good film, whether it be for a social cause or not, that there’s always a theme and a point of view that has something bigger to say. Like this story, obviously there’s what happened, which is highly fascinating and entertaining to watch, but I do think that there’s always a larger thematic issue, and I think in this film that there’s the issue of class and gender and how our media has evolved. It speaks to all of those things.
I think that in relationship to gender, ice skating is a sport that is very unusual in that it’s part beauty pageant, part athleticism. It’s sort of this non-feminist type of sport in that your score is also based on what you look like and how you act and whether or not you are ladylike. And yet, it still requires enormous athleticism. This story really illuminates that. Tonya Harding did not fit that mold, but athletically she was a phenom.
As far as class, even though Nancy [Kerrigan] was not by any means from a wealthy background, she still had this support network around her that could protect her. They could shelter her from the media and get her Vera Wang dresses, whereas Tonya came from the other side of the tracks, and she was dirt poor, and you really see how that background affects her. And then that other thing related to the media, which I find fascinating about the story, is that 1994 was the beginning of the pendulum of our media really changing. It was the same year as O.J. Simpson. It was the 24-hour news cycle where mainstream media covered tabloid stories as top of the hour. Total saturation of the news. And, obviously, that has only become exponential with Twitter and Facebook and the Internet and whatnot, but this was really the pendulum swinging.
NB: I do think that people nowadays, and even now you see it play out… Like Nancy was obviously the victim, first of all, so they’re not going to go after her. Although, in the end, they did go after her as well. So you do need to somewhat protect yourself and have someone shielding you because if the media just has constant access to you, you’re not going to be perfect 24/7. You’re going to let something slide where you look negative and it’s going to play over and over. You even see that happen to Nancy, the way she reacted to not winning the gold medal and she got pouty. They just took that and ran with it. And then, of course, if you don’t come clean it’s always worse when you lie and don’t apologize. That’s gotten so many politicians and athletes in trouble, and I think that’s true with Tonya as well. You saw it happen with Marion Jones, Michael Vick, Bill Clinton. It’s just so much worse to cover up than the actual details. I think the media and the public develop a certain empathy when you come clean and apologize.
NB: Well, every film struggles with that. As a filmmaker you always have a point of view. You try to have some objectivity, but no matter what a film is going to be somewhat subjective. What you choose to show, what interview bits, what footage… At the end of the day, I certainly steer the viewer to a degree like any filmmaker, but I couldn’t tell you 100 percent whether Tonya was innocent or guilty and I try to make that very clear in the film. There’s no 100 percent evidence. I let her speak for herself, I show contrary opinions and I let the viewer decide. I think because someone having never been convicted of something and having no 100 percent evidence, how can you crucify them to begin with? You can only illuminate what happened.
NB: Well, I had always intended for the film to be largely focused on Tonya’s part of the story. Obviously Nancy, being the victim of it, she is obviously tied to the story. But Nancy’s side of the story is a pretty heroic yet simple story of triumph over adversity. There’s not the complexity to it that there is with Tonya’s side. So, of course, I would have wanted her to contribute, but it didn’t derail the film because the film was always to largely focus on Tonya.
NB: To a degree, yeah. I did two interviews with her and the first one was very, very long, It was eight hours. I can be a persistent person. I had the opportunity for her to tell us. Now, she seemed quite comfortable talking about her childhood, even the darker parts of her childhood. You develop enormous empathy for her, so I can understand why she’s willing to talk about that. When it came to the events in 1994, that was very difficult for her to talk about. She would get angry and emotional. We’d have to take breaks and she wouldn’t want to talk about it. She’d scream at me sometimes. [Laughs] “Why are we still talking about this?!” So yeah, it was a challenge, but at the end of the day I think she was quite candid to the degree she was able to be candid, and even revealing at times. There are moments in the film where you see her jealousy of Nancy, which I don’t think she ever intended to reveal.
“There is something wonderful about documentaries where truth is stranger than fiction.”
NB: Yes, there is a lot of anger and bitterness. You know, some of it is warranted. She was enormously athletic. The first American woman to do a triple axel jump. The skating community didn’t really want her to be the ice princess. They didn’t want her representing American figure skating, and there is truth to that. And yet there is anger and bitterness there that you’re just like, “Really? What did you think was going to happen when the scandal came out and your husband was involved in the planning and there’s a good chance that you were, too! Why are you so bitter about how it was handled?” Some of the media coverage is really unfair and clichéd and they definitely painted her as the evil witch versus the ice princess. Obviously, no one did the gray. They only did the black and white. I can understand that. There is also a lack of self-awareness, too, which becomes very clear in the film.
NB: I think I have. I tend to be drawn to documentaries that have these unbelievable narrative arcs to them that are so engrossing and play out like a fictional film, but if someone wrote it, you wouldn’t believe it. There is something wonderful about documentaries where truth is stranger than fiction. If you were to write that story, no one would buy it. I think that’s been true of a lot of the films I’ve done. [Laughs] And that’s what’s so attractive about non-fiction! Real life… It’s just crazy! It’s amazing, sometimes, how much clichés are real. And how “real life” is not, sometimes. It’s so revealing about the human condition, too. So that’s what makes me very attracted to non-fiction.
NB: Yeah, quite a lot, as I researched it. First of all, I think one of the surprising things for people watching this film is how much empathy they have for Tonya for the first half of the film and her growing up, and how hard it was. There’s amazing footage that exists of it. She had a friend making a short film about her. You really see how awful her mother was to her, how abusive she was. Your heart goes out to her. And then the whole twist of events of how this story unfolded and how the perpetrators were caught. How ridiculous it all was. I didn’t know the extent of that. A lot of the twists and turns of the story I was not familiar with. I think for most people, there’s like this grey area and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I remember that story.” You think you know it, and no one had done a film about it. So you see how complex it was. You think you know it, but you don’t.
NB: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, it’s funny, a lot of people remember this incident, they actually think that Tonya was the one who literally struck Nancy on the knee. Because this is the way the media coverage was at the time, you’d think, “Oh, my God, she was the one who actually did it.” I think that has absolutely amplified. Now there are all these shows like Nancy Grace. The whole cause of these programs on TV is to go after someone who has been accused of a crime but has not been convicted and they basically convict them, night after night in the media. So regardless of whatever the outcome is, in the public’s eye, they are guilty. Even if they were never proven to be guilty.
Tonya was one of the first victims of that. Like I said, ‘94 was that big shift in the pendulum. The Menendez Brothers, the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Scandal, and then the O.J. case. An entire media industry was created as a result of that. Entire programs, like Court TV and Nancy Grace that were just about those kinds of stories. And then the mainstream media always covered them. So I think that yes, people are convicted in the public eye even if they never got convicted in a court case.
GIM: You’ve done documentary films, you’ve now moved into doing narrative feature films, and you’ve also done some TV. Do you find there to be great differences in how you approach projects of those different persuasions? Or do your core instincts still take center stage and then allow you to explore those different areas?
NB: Yeah, and I also direct a lot of commercials. The only things I haven’t done are music videos. My core instincts are always the same through any one of these mediums. Obviously, there are different approaches to each of them and how you direct fiction versus a commercial versus television versus non-fiction. They each have their own special talents that you need to apply. But storytelling is storytelling at the end of the day, and so much of it transfers across these different formats.
After one Golden Globe, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, a Grammy, six additional Grammy nominations, Emmy and Academy Award nominations, and a spot as a COVERGIRL model, hip-hop’s first lady is rebranding herself yet again. The Queen Latifah Show, an hour-long daytime talk series, premiered this past September to 1.8 million viewers, giving it higher debut ratings than daytime newcomers Bethenny and The Test. With a set nicknamed “Big Sexy” that was designed by Lenny Kravitz, and a virtual armada of celebrity guests, the series places Latifah back in the role of syndicated talk show host—a position she held from 1999 to 2001 during a short-lived series also called the Queen Latifah Show—as well as in the role of executive producer.
Latifah discussed her career shift and work behind the scenes in a recent press conference call. Get In Media was on the line to gather Latifah’s thoughts on her new role.
Queen Latifah: What I think he’s been able to bring is a mutual sense of style and peace. I think we’re both kind of … we love modern architecture and I think we have one of the most gorgeous sets on TV if I may say so myself. It’s not the typical colors that you might see on some other shows that have been done in the past or the same style of furniture. It’s really something much more modern and comfortable.
We wanted something that felt sort of like my home and my home is similar to the style that you would see on the show and that’s always been my sense of taste. I’ve been a fan of his for many years before. I guess a lot of people were aware that he was even designing to the degree that he is, so it was a real honor and a pleasure to have him come on in and do our set as the first design that he’s ever done for television with his firm. You know it’s been pretty exciting to kind of take that journey with him.
QL: I’m not hugely involved with the booking of the show, more involved with the approving of who gets booked on the show. But, I mean, I’ve definitely had a few of my friends on the show that I picked up the phone and called and said, “Hey, why don’t you come on the show?” And I have a couple other friends who are going to come on the show but that’s just because we’ve been talking and I’m like, “Why don’t you just come on, you know, come on the show” or they say, “Hey, I want to come on your show.” But that’s not something that that’s my job to do all day long, you know? We have people who are professionals at doing that and that’s a big gig, so that’s kind of where I stand with it.
QL: I’m really starting to get into a flow of it and getting into the rhythm of it. It was very, as you all know from what you’ve heard or experienced with anyone else who’s doing what I’m doing, it is very, very challenging. There’s a lot of work involved and that’s one of the main challenges is just be able to handle the workload of what you’re doing and really be present at the same time and forward thinking and all those kinds of things.
It was definitely a big load to carry, but it gets easier and easier and easier as the days go by and it gets more and more fun, which is the goal to really make it something that’s like old shoes eventually and I think I will get there. I think I’m already getting there, so I can see myself doing this for a very long time because it’s a place where I can allow a lot of my different gifts or talents to land in one place and be able to share a lot and bring a lot to the world that others may not be bringing, that sense of positivity that those great stories about everyday people who are doing amazing things everyday on the front lines, a message of positivity and hope that, you know, we don’t always get in the news. We get plenty of bad news, but it’s still great to bring some good news and cool people and fun stuff to people’s sight every day so that they know that there’s a lot of great things going on in the world as well. As long as that continues to feed my soul, then I’ll do it.
QL: You know what? I’m kind of one of those people that pretty much has to hang loose because anyone who deals with people with busy schedules knows that things happen and things change … As regular of a schedule as you might like to keep, you always have to be prepared that you may have to do extra things on different days.
I can become five different people on one day, you know? From the host to someone doing a comedy skit, to being … a partner in a business that is producing movies and television with [Latifah’s production company] Flavor Unit to being my own musical guest on my own show performing a song for that matter. Luckily, it’s something that I naturally gravitate towards, wearing many hats in a typical day, and that’s just been who I am since I was a young kid so it’s not a tough, I wouldn’t say tough, but it’s not a terrible day for me.
QL: Well, yes. I guess that’s the absolute truth. I think maybe part of it is the fact that I’m a black woman, but I grew up in a family that was very multi-cultural. I had a Filipino aunt. I had a white aunt. I mean I had a couple interracial couples in my family. I had gay people in my family. I had, you know, kind of people who were on the right side of the law, people who were on the wrong side of the law. I had sober people. I had drug addicted people…I’ve square people and cool people and everything in between in my own family that I was exposed to at a young age.
I grew up in the city of Newark, but I also grew up in Maryland and Virginia in the country so I’ve kind of had a sort of diverse background. And I’m the daughter of an art teacher and a cop, so I’ve kind of gotten to experience a lot of things through my parents’ lens first… All these different kinds of things that I was exposed to at young age helped me become who I am today, and more importantly, to look at people as people. I think the fact that I was not intimidated by different kinds of people allowed me to embrace different kinds of people at a young age…
QL: Well, I think the people who we actually interview, especially people in my business, tend to be exposed to a lot more different kinds of people than maybe an average person who is in one area, grows up there, their family is from there, they don’t really travel too much outside of that area.
I’ve found when you’re exposed to different things, you tend to open up your world a little bit and your lens gets wider because you see that there are different kind of people and at the end of the day people are people, you know? We all have to take a shower, brush our teeth, simple things in life, and when you break it down to the basics, then it doesn’t matter how much money you have in your pocket, you still got to brush your teeth or you’re going to have bad breath and that’s how it is.
I’ve been influenced by a lot of the people such as Dolly Parton, you know, being able to relate to someone who had big boobies like me. [laughs] … It’s been important for me to make sure that I’m places where people who look like me can see someone like me who has achieved an amount of success or that has been able to achieve in the ways that I have, because then they know they can follow their dreams and goals and go for what they want in their own way but know it’s achievable.
Yes, people break things down to the smallest iota. They do break things down upon racial lines, upon gender lines, upon preference lines, age, you know, everything is broken down, but for me I have to take that information then I chuck that information. I have to look at people as people and I don’t put people in the boxes that other people put them in. There’s people whose job it is to do that. My job, for me, is inclusion, not separation, not exclusion…
Head here to find out when The Queen Latifah Show airs in your area.
— Christina Couch
Taylor Emrey Glascock was chasing a career as a photojournalist while interning for the Columbus Dispatch, Dallas Morning News, and Peoria Journal Star. But before she found her perspective through the lens, Glascock had her sights set on print journalism.
“I went to the University of Missouri, and I started out as a journalism major, but my interest was in writing. I took a photo class for fun and I realized that I could tell the stories I wanted to tell easier with photographs than I could with words.”
After answering a tweet for a local production, she connected with director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, leading to her role as the set photographer on A Horrible Way to Die. Glascock continued her chronicles of horror, returning for the writer-director duo’s follow-up films V/H/S and You’re Next.
She recently spoke with Get In Media about finding her way to an unlikely career and her work as the camera behind the cameras.
Taylor Emrey Glascock: I minored in film [in college]. I’ve always had a real passion for cinema. For one of my photojournalism classes, we had to find a project to do a multimedia piece about. I was set on doing something with a film crew. I thought it would be great to just document some behind-the-scenes stuff because I was really interested in it. Our local independent theater tweeted something about a production needing actors, so I just contacted the director.
He actually wasn’t interested in having me around. So he was like, “Why don’t you talk to these guys?” And he sent me to Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard. They were in Columbia, Missouri filming A Horrible Way to Die. I contacted them and I was just going to spend one day on set shooting, but they liked my pictures so much that they asked me if I wanted to come back and be the set photographer for the rest of the production.
TEG: There was less direction with A Horrible Way to Die because it was a much smaller production. You’re Next was much larger. We had two set photographers because I was in school at the time, so I couldn’t be there all of the time. And the producers were a lot more involved in that. They had at least one photographer on set at all times, pretty much photographing every scene. They were very adamant about wanting to make sure that all the actors looked very good, to make sure our lead actress looked very strong and tough, but still feminine. On You’re Next, there was more feedback from the producers than from the director. It was about finding a balance.
TEG: Yeah, there’s definitely a different focus. You can see that the behind-the-scenes photos are very different from the promotional photos. With the promotional photos you’re kind of wanting something really slick and clean. The actors looks good. It needs to mimic what could be a scene from the actual film. So it needs to look true to the vision of the film. Whereas when you’re doing more journalistic work, you’re just documenting stuff behind the scenes. It’s more your own personal vision on how you see things happening.
TEG: You know, I think that it kind of comes down to quality. I think that in the end, quality is always going to win out over quantity. You kind of have to find a way to set yourself apart from other photographers now, since there are so many. I do a lot of writing so I have the SunTimes/DarkTimes blog, where I keep track of where the visual journalism has gone at the Sun Times. Then I have the blog S**t Photojournalists Like, is kind of big in the community. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at the industry. So a lot of people know me through those things and then they go on to look at my work and then it goes on from there.
But the industry as a whole, we’re in this really weird place where newspapers are still trying to figure out how to make a profit and how to create a quality product. Maybe I’m naive, but I just don’t think that photojournalism is ever going to really go away. I think that there’s always going to be a need for visuals that not only tell a story but are artful, and I think that’s always going to have a place, it’s just figuring out where that place is. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
TEG: I think unless you’re an already very established photographer who everybody knows, you’re going to have to embrace social media, to use Instagram, Twitter, and maybe even Facebook to promote your work. It really just gets your work out there to a wider audience. I know people who are hired just to Instagram just because they’re so good at Instagramming. They can reach so many more people than they could before. Me getting work on A Horrible Way to Die, that was because the local movie theater tweeted about a production needing actors, so I went from that tweet to meet those guys. I used to hate Twitter, by the way. I was really against it. And now I love Twitter. I’m on it all the time. So maybe I’m just a big, old hypocrite, but I really do think it helps!
As important as schooling is to a future career as a director in films and television, it doesn’t guarantee you a job, or even a place in the Directors Guild of America. Internships are helpful for building skills, but they don’t always pay the bills. The Assistant Directors Training Program helps bridge that gap between receiving your degree and actually becoming a working director.
The ADTP, which is supported by the DGA and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, operates two programs; the West Coast program based in California, and another in New York City.
The ADTP recruits candidates from throughout the U.S. who have the background and interest to become members of the DGA. Those in the program are provided with paid, on-the-job training that they would not otherwise have access to.
It’s not easy to get into the ADTP, but it’s certainly worth putting in the effort. The application process is quite lengthy. In order to apply to the training program you must show your interest in the television and/or motion picture industry either through schooling or experience. This translates into a degree, internship, volunteer work or other proven dedication to working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry.
While there are no guarantees that this program will lead you to the job of your dreams, opening that door can be a stepping stone into a major career. Graduates of the ADTP program include Michael Grillo, winner of the Directors Guild of America Award for The Deer Hunter and Academy Award nominee for The Accidental Tourist; and Paula Case, who has worked as an assistant director on films such as What Women Want and is currently the second AD on the film adaptation of Jersey Boys.
Trainees complete between 350 and 400 days of practical experience on active film and television sets, and are paid for their long hours and physically demanding work. In 2012, the rate ranged from $723-$888 per week. Once you graduate from the program, you are eligible for employment as an assistant director, where your salary can quadruple. The DGA requires a minimum salary for a second assistant director at nearly $3,000 per week.
Janet Dyer Gould, ADTP Administrator, sat down to answer a few questions about her program.
Janet Dyer Gould: We were established in 1965 in Los Angeles by the Directors Guild of America and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
JDG: We were created to provide access to those who would not otherwise have access to the motion picture industry and provide the industry with trained, professional Assistant Directors. Since 1965, over 600 men and women have graduated.
JDG: People interested in becoming a second AD with excellent interpersonal skills that are analytical. An ability to multitask and develop strong relationships is a must.
JDG: Many of our graduates have had success and moved on to become first Ads, unit production managers, and producers. A few have become directors. Michael Grillo, Walter Hill, Howard Kazanjiian, Duncan Henderson, Dan Attias, Leonard R. Garner, Jr., Paula Case, Christine Larson, Janet Knutsen and many more.
JDG: Warner Brothers Television, Warner Brothers Pictures, Sony Pictures Television, 20th Century Fox Television, ABC Television, Walt Disney Pictures, NBC Universal, Paramount. All of the major studios.
Entrants may begin applying for the 2014 Assistant Directors Training Program in September, 2013. The deadline is in November (the exact date will be announced). For additional details and application forms, visit the Directors Guild of America website here.
For decades, the “Produced by” credit has been one of the most anomolous and misunderstood within the film and television industry, even among those carrying the title. The Producers Guild of America has worked to standardize the varried producer roles to establish a clear criteria while recognizing the important contributions of these professionals in the production process. Recently, the PGA solidified an agreement with the six major studios to officially adopt the Producers Mark certification “p.g.a.” The full press release is below:
ALL MAJOR STUDIOS OFFICIALLY ADOPT THE PRODUCERS MARK CERTIFICATION
Announcement Makes ‘Six For Six’ As Paramount Pictures Corporation, The Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros. Pictures Join Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Universal Pictures To Implement The On-Screen ‘p.g.a.’ Credit and Certification
Los Angeles (July 11, 2013) – The Producers Guild of America (PGA) is pleased to announce that all six major studios have signed on to implement the Producers Mark certification “p.g.a.” Paramount Pictures Corporation, The Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Bros. Pictures signed on this week joining Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Columbia Pictures and Screen Gems, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, and Universal Pictures. With all six major studios now signed on, today’s announcement caps a long effort to develop and launch a certification process that clearly delineates who did the majority of the producing work on a film while also establishing an authentic seal of approval.
Establishing the “Produced by” credit certification is a significant industry achievement as it protects the integrity of one of the most challenging and enduring roles in feature film production. Once a producer’s work on a film is certified by the PGA, the “Produced by” credit and producer’s name will be followed by the distinctive mark: “p.g.a.”
There are already 50 films today carrying the “p.g.a.” certification from independent and animated films to major studio tentpoles.
“We are extremely gratified and proud that the Guild has come so far with this important initiative, and we applaud both our studio and industry colleagues for their support. We also thank our board and past PGA presidents Marshall Herskovitz and Kathleen Kennedy, and the incredible contributions of our National Executive Director, Vance Van Petten,” said PGA presidents Mark Gordon and Hawk Koch (on leave).
Hawk Koch will re-join Mark Gordon as Co-President of the Producers Guild of America on July 30th, 2013 when his term as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expires.
Gordon and Koch continued, “People often talk about ‘historic moments,’ but this is truly that: from this day forward producers, studios and audiences will know for certain that those who are credited with the ‘p.g.a.’ mark actually did the work of a producer.”
Vance Van Petten, National Executive Director of the PGA said, “The federally registered ‘p.g.a.’ mark is based on the industry-standard Producers Code of Credits, used frequently by studios and filmmakers, which guides the Guild’s awards process in vetting a film’s producers. It’s the ideal tool to ensure that producers receive onscreen verification of their work.”
The Producers Mark certifies authenticity, not membership. A producer need not be a member of the PGA to be eligible for certification. The Producers Mark consists of the acronym of the Producers Guild of America, in lowercase letters separated by periods: “p.g.a.” However, the Producers Mark is, specifically, a certification mark, and simply indicates that the credited producer performed a majority of the producing duties on the film.
The Producers Mark is given only to producers who request it and are certified through the PGA’s process, and may be used only with respect to the film for which the certification was given. At present, the Producers Mark certification program does not include television or new media productions. Studios can continue to recognize other individuals with the “Produced by” credit as they deem appropriate, even if such producers have not sought, or have been denied, permission to use the certification mark.
The process for acquiring a “p.g.a.” certification is comparable to the arbitration process implemented by the PGA during awards season, only with a quicker turnaround time. Studios will provide a Notice of Producing Credits to the PGA upon the commencement of post-production. The certification is modeled on the guidelines established by the Producers Code of Credits (PCOC) that was initiated in 2004 and is accepted industry-wide.
The Producers Mark does NOT:
- Control the “Produced by” credit. Studios and distributors remain free to assign the credit to whomever they wish.
- Rely solely on the input of the Guild and its members. Non-Guild members are eligible both to receive the Producers Mark and to serve on panels to determine the certification of a given film’s credits.
- Confer any compensation on producers who receive it.
- Exclude directors, writers, actors or others who may have performed additional duties on a film beyond serving in a producing capacity.
About the Producers Guild of America
The Producers Guild of America is the non-profit trade group that represents, protects and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team in film, television and new media. The Producers Guild has more than 5,700 members who work together to protect and improve their careers, the industry and community by providing members with employment opportunities, seeking to expand health benefits, promoting fair and impartial standards for the awarding of producing credits, as well as other education and advocacy efforts such as encouraging sustainable production practices.
Forget about the once-a-day phone home requirement and restrictions on used games for the Xbox One. Here is the official statement released today on Xbox Wire:
For us, the future comes in the form of Xbox One, a system designed to be the best place to play games this year and for many years to come. As is our heritage with Xbox, we designed a system that could take full advantage of advances in technology in order to deliver a breakthrough in game play and entertainment. We imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing, and new ways to try and buy games. We believe in the benefits of a connected, digital future.
Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.
You told us how much you loved the flexibility you have today with games delivered on disc. The ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world.
So, today I am announcing the following changes to Xbox One and how you can play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360. Here is what that means:
- An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.
- Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.
In addition to buying a disc from a retailer, you can also download games from Xbox Live on day of release. If you choose to download your games, you will be able to play them offline just like you do today. Xbox One games will be playable on any Xbox One console — there will be no regional restrictions.
These changes will impact some of the scenarios we previously announced for Xbox One. The sharing of games will work as it does today, you will simply share the disc. Downloaded titles cannot be shared or resold. Also, similar to today, playing disc based games will require that the disc be in the tray.
We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.
Thank you again for your candid feedback. Our team remains committed to listening, taking feedback and delivering a great product for you later this year.
The last day of the ATX Television Festival began bright and early with the finalists of the festival’s pitch competition. Pitching the gamut from crime-based series to Saturday morning cartoons, the finalists had three minutes to provide a brief overview for their show idea to a panel of judges that included producers, show creators, and executives from CBS and Disney.
“Pitching is the worst. It’s not what we do as writers,” said Ben Blacker, the panel moderator, producer of the Nerdist Writer’s Panel podcast, and a television writer who’s developed pilots for FOX, USA, Spike, Paramount, and Nickelodeon.
In three minutes, finalists provided a synopsis of the show’s concept, an introduction to the lead characters, a brief overview of major themes the show would tackle, and some information on how the creator would produce it stylistically. Pitches included “CrackDuck,” an Adult Swim-type of cartoon literally about a cartoon duck on crack, a supernatural historical fiction show called “Perennial” about a Wild West town where residents never age, and “Assisted Living,” a heartfelt comedy about a dysfunctional nursing home staff and their patients. The pitcher described it as “It’s people who can’t take care of themselves, taking care of the elderly.”
Having an interesting plot was important, but an arguably more important component was strong character development. Dina Hillier, a former vice-president of comedy development for Sony, explained that it was the human element that gets shows like Community on the air.
“Everyone’s pitched a show about community college. [Community creator] Dan [Harmon] pitched us characters we had never heard of before,” she said.
It was a combination of interesting characters and bizarre plot that ultimately won over judges. I Made America, a comedy series about the hijinks that ensue when six founding fathers time travel to the modern day. Pitched in full period costume, the potential show would follow John Adams while he works at Starbucks, Alexander Hamilton as he battles a gambling addiction, and James Madison who suffered an unfortunate time travel accident and can no longer function.
The fact that the show is currently a web series and a series of historically-minded Twitter feeds may be part of the reason why show creators seemed to have a concrete knowledge of the show’s trajectory, character motivations, and style.
“There’s a big social commentary component,” said Liz Tigelaar, a panel judge and former executive producer on shows like Life Unexpected and Once Upon a Time. “[I Made America] definitely had a point of view.”
The show’s originality went a long way as well. All network executives on the panel stated that they were tired of hearing the same concepts rehashed time and time again. When asked what the worst pitch he’s ever heard was, Disney Channel director of development Corey Marsh said, “The two pitches you never want to hear at the Disney Channel are ‘alien crash lands in the backyard and is passed off as a foreign exchange student’ and ‘kid mayor.’” The worst pitch he ever saw combined both clichés.
Effective pitches immediately jump into the show’s hook and come with a memorable tagline viewers will understand. Bryan Seabury, an executive for CBS, said that one reason his network was immediately attracted to the Breaking Bad pitch was because show creator Vince Gilligan said he wanted a lead character that started out as a much loved Mr. Chips-like personality and slowly transformed into a character like Scarface.
I Made America billed itself as “like 1776 meets Workaholics.” Who wouldn’t be interested in that?
Day Three of the ATX Television Festival was all about those who work behind the scenes in some of America’s favorite TV shows. The day kicked off with the Movies Versus TV panel that focused mainly on the differences between writing for each. According to Christopher Keyser, co-creator of Party of Five and current president of the Writer’s Guild of America, West, over the last few years, 25 to 30 percent of all feature film screenwriting jobs have dissolved and among those that remain, many are focused on developing films for already established franchises and sequels.
The good news is that television and new media are booming, but to land those gigs, “everyone needs to be a jack of all trades … writers increasingly need to be capable of doing many things at once and being flexible,” he said. Breaking into the field is still tough, but the best way to do it, the entire panel agreed, is with a spec script that contains memorable line after memorable line and sets you apart from everyone else.
“[With a spec script] you’re not demonstrating that you can do what’s been done. You’re demonstrating that you can do what nobody else can,” said Kyle Killen, creator of the television series Lone Star and Awake and a writer behind the Mel Gibson film The Beaver.
At the Directing in a Writer’s World panel, focus shifted to syncing the visual aspects of a script with what’s on the page.
“The reality is there’s an inherent conflict between a writer and a director,” said David Semel, a director who’s worked on shows like American Horror Story, Homeland, and CSI.
To merge the vision the writer has when they create the script and the one the director has when they visually execute it, directors like Tom Verica (Scandal, Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy) make it a point to build a strong relationship with writers early on, while David Semel does extensive script analysis work before stepping behind the camera so he has a firm handle of the writers’ intentions when directing.
That’s good because writers oftentimes get very attached to the material they create. At the Parenthood panel, writer/producer Sarah Watson unabashedly admitted, “So many of the [Parenthood] stories are personal to us. We cry in the writer’s room. We had to nickname Tuesdays ‘cry a lot’ Tuesdays because someone will cry.”
Passion and emotional attachment to projects have been major themes of the ATX Television Festival as has discussions on fear of failure. Party Down and Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas admitted in a panel on the upcoming Veronica Mars movie that when he originally launched the Kickstarter campaign that would eventually raise about $5.7 million for the film, he was scared it wouldn’t bring in significant funds and would wind up looking embarrassing for those attached to the project. Thomas’ advice for creatives who do raise money through crowd funding like Kickstarter is to be ready to invest time in maintaining the campaign. Within 24 hours of launching, Thomas received more than 30,000 e-mails from contributors about the campaign. He also encountered problems with setting the rewards donors receive at certain levels.
“I had this whole plan of ‘Hey, you could get your own IMDB associate producer credit for a certain dollar amount,’” Thomas said. “We would have prescreening in Los Angeles, invite our associate producer credits out. I would meet with them, get feedback on the initial cuts of the movie. I was excited about that idea. Apparently the Producers Guild [of America] was not.”
Thomas did reveal a few tidbits about the film—it will take place seven years after the original series ended and since the lead character took on her last case. In addition to leads Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring, actors including Chris Lowell (who played Mark “Piz” Piznarski) and Percy Daggs III (Wallace Fennel) are signed on but major cast announcements will be made in nine to ten days.
One more day to go for the ATX Television Festival. Stick with us for the latest updates and info.
First stop for us during day two of the ATX Television Festival was the Creating the Sound of a Show panel, which featured musicians, composers, producers, and music supervisors from series including One Tree Hill, Hawthorne, Roseanne, Revenge, The Wonder Years, and The West Wing weighing in on the challenges of their job and how the industry is changing.
For starters, as musicians rely less and less on traditional radio stations to gain audience exposure, securing a sweet spot on a television soundtrack that targets their demographic is increasingly important, but, unsurprisingly, not the easiest feat to accomplish. Lindsay Wolfington, a music supervisor who’s worked on shows such as Smallville, The Client List, and Ghost Whisperer, said that supervisors oftentimes rely on third-party pitching companies to provide musical options for shows so it’s worth a budding musician’s while to align with a reliable firm fast.
Though music budgets can be relatively small—Wolfington admitted that One Tree Hill paid about $750 to $1,000 to use music from an unsigned artist and about half that rate if the musician appeared in the episode—the exposure can pay off, particularly if the show has a young demographic.
“If you had a song on One Tree Hill, people bought it,” she said. “If you had a song on Ghost Whisperer, people didn’t buy it,” even though Ghost Whisperer had an audience approximately four times as large as One Tree Hill.
When it comes to creating what composer W.G. Snuffy Walden called the “sonic signature” of a series, the rules for musicians are the same as those for writers—create what you think is right.
“When I speak to producers, I tell them you’ve got to let me fail miserably…so we can find the sound of your show,” said Walden, who’s created music for The Wonder Years, The West Wing, and Friday Night Lights.
The next stop was the Structure of a Sitcom/Rise of the Anti-Sitcom panel featuring a dream team of comedy writers and producers. The overall message? Effective comedy is character-driven, it’s tempered with heartfelt, oftentimes unfunny moments, and it tackles controversial situations. Unfortunately, that’s not what network executives always want.
“Again and again, I will frame stories that have serious content in them and my corporate overlords are very unhappy with that,” said Tim Doyle, executive producer on Last Man Standing and a former producer for The Big Bang Theory. “They would rather I make with the yuck-yuck.”
The battles between creatives and suits is as tense as ever as shows are pushed to make partnerships with brands (click here for a stunning example from Hawaii Five-0 on how not to do that). Paul Scheer, an actor and executive producer of NTSF:SD:SUV on Adult Swim, discussed a partnership his former show Human Giant failed to make with Doritos because of a conflict of interest MTV held with competitor Frito-Lay.
“The only people who have ever been cool were Quiznos,” Scheer said, referring to this sketch. “They said ‘Here’s some money. Do whatever you want.’ We said, ‘Can we kill people with Quiznos sandwiches?’”
Community creator Dan Harmon encouraged new writers pitching their first show to forget that network executives exist at all.
“When you’re trying to come up with an idea for a show, picture yourself sitting in front of a television. Start with the image of your face going ‘Holy s***. Oh my god, this is the most amazing show I’ve ever seen. I’m going to watch every episode.’…now flip the camera, and what’s on TV?,” said Harmon. “Always just please yourself. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you ‘This joke is a head-scratcher. It’s a three-percenter [that only appeals to three percent of viewers]. Let’s make it a ten-percenter.’”
The sentiment was echoed in the next panel, a Q&A with Michael Jacobs, executive producer of Charles in Charge, Dinosaurs, and Boy Meets World. In Jacobs’ mind, there was only one ending for Dinosaurs and it wasn’t what the network or comedy-seeking viewers necessarily wanted. Jacobs said that despite the fallback, ending the series with a mass extinction was creatively the right thing to do.
“[The network said] ‘You’re not going to kill off that baby dinosaur’ and I said ‘Ok then we won’t.’ And of course we do,” he said, “because the job of the good writer is the hang up the phone and do it.”
Stay tuned to Get In Media for continuing coverage of the ATX Television Festival.
With a red carpet kickoff, a screening of a few new episodes of Arrested Development, and a Q&A with show stars Alia Shawkat and Mae Whitman, the ATX Television Festival is now officially underway. Huzzah! Last night, TV nerds escaped the Texas heat by watching casts of seminal shows like Friday Night Lights and Boy Meets World reunite along with appearances from celebs ranging from New Girl’s Lemorne Morris to Party of Five’s Lacey Chabert (also known as Gretchen Wieners from Mean Girls).
Celebs aside, most were there to geek out over one thing—the return of Arrested Development (thank you Netflix!) and to get some answers about what rebooting the plot-heavy series entailed. To keep the surprise at a maximum, show creator Mitchell Hurwitz shot all 15 episodes of the new series simultaneously and would wait until the last minute to send actors their scripts.
“We would get the sides like the night before and I would be like stressed out reading them, trying to memorize,” said Mae Whitman who plays Ann Veal on Arrested Development and Amber Holt on Parenthood. “I was terrified that I was going to mess up lines, but it was fun because it kept it really fresh.”
Alia Shawkat who plays Maeby Funke on the series also revealed that producers might have a plan for the show beyond new Netflix episodes.
“We just did a lot of press and I overheard from Jason [Bateman] that I guess it’s supposed to be this three-act saga or something,” she said. “The first is [the current series reboot]. The second act is like a movie and the third act; we just die on camera or something. [laughs] I don’t know. I think that’s the goal. There’s nothing definite or in the works.”
The ATX Television Festival continues on Friday with goodies like FOX comedy screenings, an in-depth interview with Oscar-nominated producer Michael Jacobs, and panels that focus on everything from the structure of a sitcom to uncovering what makes a great show soundtrack. Stay tuned to our ATX TV Fest blog and our Twitter updates for what’s going down in Austin. For all the photos from last night’s red carpet and more throughout the festival, head over to our photo albums on Facebook.