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The 'Insecure' creator-star could make history at this year's Emmys, but her main priority is making way for diversity at her production companies and beyond: "My longevity will be opening the door for others."

Throughout the course of Issa Rae's career, she’s absorbed plenty of good advice. But none has been as impactful as the wisdom she received in 2015 while surrounded by Ava DuVernay, Debbie Allen, Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil at an Essence cover shoot. At the time, Rae was 30 — a relative newcomer to the tier of power and influence occupied by the women around her — and trying to find the best person to direct the pilot ofInsecure, the HBO dramedy series that she created, stars in, writes and produces. Rae listened as each woman emphasized pivotal career flashpoints, when they’d dropped being polite and stood their ground.

"I remember feeling, 'Oh, this is a life-changing moment for me,' " says Rae, 35, sitting outside her not yet-renovated Inglewood office space, which will house her growing empire of two production companies and a record label. "I ended up making the call that I needed to make the next day," she adds. That call involved saying no to a director she didn’t think was a good fit for the show. "Years later, he came up to me at a party and was like, 'Yeah, I would’ve fucked your shit up. You made the right choice.' I felt so validated." (When asked, Rae says, "I absolutely cannot say who, but if he wants to fess up after reading this, be my guest.")

Through the lens of a young Black woman, Insecure — a show comprising a predominantly Black cast and writers room — imparts savvy storylines that touch upon ex-boyfriend drama, gentrification, class, motherhood and code-switching (adjusting how one speaks, appears and behaves to make others feel comfortable). Through the series, Rae depicts what everyday life feels like for her and her friends in Los Angeles. Traditionally, Black characters have been "focused on specific struggle stories, or we’re just side characters, or we’re just supernatural, and there was never any real in between," she says. "That’s something Prentice [Penny, Insecure’s showrunner] and I talked about— that white people get to have scenes with them just washing their hands and thinking. We don’t get that shit." With healthy ratings (its fourth season had 4.5 million viewers per episode across all platforms), Insecure is arguably the most impactful show to normalize Black lives onscreen in the past decade.


Now four seasons strong, the Peabody Award-winning series is up for eight Emmys, including two for Rae: lead actress, following her 2018 nomination in the same category, and comedy series. If Rae wins for lead actress, she’ll make history as only the second Black woman to take home the Emmy in the category since Isabel Sanford for The Jeffersons in 1981. If Insecure wins for comedy series, Rae will be the first Black woman creator of a premium cable show to receive the award. And as exec producer of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, she is also in the running for variety sketch series. But Rae’s not here for the accolades. "Awards don’t validate you," she says. "They allow more people to know about the series, like, 'Oh, what is this?' That’s all you want."

In 2018, Rae’s production company, ColorCreative, struck a multipicture deal with Columbia Pictures to develop projects from diverse writers. In early August, it was announced that Rae would executive produce Seen & Heard, HBO’s docuseries on Black television, for her other production company, Issa Rae Productions. She’s also teaming with Jordan Peele for the sci-fi feature Sinkhole  while juggling her first feature, Perfect Strangers; Badmash, a Bollywood crime-comedy picture; and HBO Max series Rap Shit, about female lyricists. Says Kerry Washington, who directed an episode of Insecure in season four: "Issa’s vision extends beyond the limitations of Hollywood’s imagination."

In addition to penning features, Rae, who starts her day at 4 a.m., has also been starring in them. From 2019’s Littleto February’s The Photograph, to The Lovebirds, which switched from a theatrical to a Netflix release in May because of the pandemic, Rae is onboard for all of it: "Selfishly, I was like, 'Oh, I get to be a romantic comedy lead.' I was almost flattered to be thought of to do something like that."

While many actors relish jumping into the unfamiliar, for Rae, the key to her success has been mining what she knows. Born in Los Angeles to a Senegalese doctor and a teacher from Louisiana, Jo-Issa Rae Diop, who is one of five children, spent part of her childhood in Potomac, Maryland, before moving back to L.A. Two web shows — the first, Dorm Diaries, centered on Black students at Stanford University; the second was YouTube series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl  — led to Insecure. "Nobody’s you," she says. "How you exploit that as a creative means so much."

By 2013, a year after a half-hour comedy called I Hate L.A. Dudes  (sold to ABC by way of Rhimes’ Shondaland) fell through, Rae was in talks with HBO for Insecure, which premiered in 2016. Now in the (virtual) writers room for season five, Rae discusses getting back to production during COVID-19, pay parity and what it means to craft a legacy: "To be able to have the ability to bring other people in, who I think are massively more talented, it’s something that brings me so much excitement."

I felt like this season, more so than any other, was a love letter to our neighborhood, View Park.

I love it. I’ll walk in my neighborhood all the time because that’s the only exercise I’m willing to do. This lady came up to me and she was like, "Yo, I really love that you feature our neighborhood." I was like, "I regret it." It was a hidden gem, but I had to open my mouth.

Even after going to Stanford, you came back. 

[When] I was in New York, I was in the Black neighborhoods, like Washington Heights and Harlem. I was convinced that I wanted to make it out there — whatever that meant. I would come back and visit and a friend reminded me, "Girl, this is home and why don’t you just come back here? Everybody knows you here." I had to get a new appreciation of L.A., and then just loved it so much.

Then I lived in Inglewood while we were coming up with the idea for the show, and knowing just how Black it is and realizing that it hadn’t been portrayed in a way that I felt was accurate to how it is now … It just really excited me to set something there and make it a character. But no one really invests with the community in mind. That always bothered me. I remember being in Inglewood, like, "I want the benefits of gentrification without the gents."


Taking it back to Stanford, you studied African American studies, not film. 

Yes, but I studied theater and took drama classes and creative writing classes. I thought I wanted to be a director until I started to do it. It felt like too much control. I’m not necessarily [about] the visual aspects. Like meeting Melina [Matsoukas, who directed seven episodes of Insecure], I was like, "Wow. You pay attention to every single detail and you get bothered by everything that’s out of place." I just don’t care enough.

After Stanford, you pursued a New York theater fellowship. How were those days?

In college, I also thought that I wanted to pursue theater. Then when I got to New York, I was like, "Oh, this is real theater. I don’t like this." It was a little too abstract. And admittedly felt really, really white in a way. But the public theater was all about facilitating playwrights of color and creating this pipeline to Broadway. It sparked an idea for me to form a collective of Black filmmakers to make our own work and, I think, subconsciously laid the foundation for some of the work that I did later.

Eight Emmy nominations for Insecure this year, the most so far. What is this moment like, and for co-star Yvonne Orji to also be nominated?

Anybody can tell you when I heard Yvonne’s name, that’s when I got really excited. I had been nominated before, but I’m very much aware that I don’t do this by myself. I did feel guilty. It was just like, "Everybody else is killing it and they’re really helping to elevate me and they’re not getting the recognition."

But Yvonne was like, "They’re watching and they’re seeing the work we’re doing." To be a four-season show, to have it happen now, is not lost on me because there’s so many new and amazing shows. To have the culture support our show, it’s a FUBU [For Us, By Us] show in every way … I feel so blessed and we love every second.


Was there ever a moment back then when you had doubts?

[With] Insecure, it took so long and every draft was like, "No, this isn’t it. No, this isn’t it. No, this isn’t it." I was just like, "Oh, OK. Maybe this is the end of the road for me," especially when I’m investing in this big venture, which ended up being ColorCreative, and spent all my money and didn’t have anything. I remember being on the set of a pilot we were filming [Words with Girls] and getting the call that HBO was not feeling the latest draft and I was losing Larry [Wilmore, Insecure’s first showrunner]. I was like, "This isn’t going to happen for me, and I just did all of this for nothing."


Thankfully, Larry leaving for The Nightly Show, as much as I love him, was the best thing that could’ve happened because it forced me to be like, "OK. It’s not a workplace comedy," and having a conversation with HBO was really helpful just in terms of centering it. It was just like, "I’m going to put everything that I’m going through out on the table in this pilot. If they say no, at least I tried, and fuck it."

Hollywood definitely isn’t an industry that was made for us [Black people] to have longevity.

By no means.

How does it feel to be defying that and to say, "Fuck that. I’m here. I’m staying."

I do question that. I still [do]. For me, my longevity will be opening the door for others. I think frequently about the Tupac quote: "I’m going to be the light that sparks the inspiration, that sparks the change." I need to get that quote right. [Exact quote: "I’m not saying I’m going to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world."]

Why do you feel like this season really stood out for Emmy voters?

I’m going to be real. I think the pandemic, being quarantined during a period when our humanity was questioned, in a more front-facing way, definitely helped. We came on during a time when people were bored at home, and also there were racial uprisings, and our show served as a comfort. Thank God, because to release anything else during this time — even our show — I felt a huge guilt in coming out during the protests because there were just so many more important things happening, I didn’t want to take full focus away from that. But to hear people be like, "No, this is an escape. It brings us back to Black people being joyous and happy and ourselves" — our natural state really felt like we were meant to air during this time. I think that for sure helped people to see our show in a different light.


In processing the guilt that you felt, were there ever moments of "Should we alter a storyline?"

Not alter the storyline. Me and some of the actors were on a group chat. First we were talking about, "We should protest. How are we going to get together?" And it came down to the show, like, "Do we even do anything? We shouldn’t promote this shit, right?" And then we got on the phone with HBO just to get behind the messaging and what we wanted to say, to make sure that people didn’t think that we were being tone-deaf to what was happening. So they were also very helpful, and Natasha [Rothwell, series regular, writer and supervising producer] wrote a beautiful statement that we were able to piggyback off, just, "We’re aware of this time, and we’re also aware of the beauty of us, and we don’t want anything to negate that." That’s how we were all feeling in the episode that aired during that one specific Sunday [May 31]. It just so happened to align, in a very dark way, perfectly.

So many of us were just feeling the same feelings of dread. I was so worried, too, just thinking about, before I went out there, the people who were out there in the streets, and how historically, our voices had been suppressed, and we’ve been baited by various fear tactics, and I was just like, "They’re going to target people. They’re going to try to make it so that nothing changes once again." That was a devastating part: Is this just going to be for the moment? And then, are we going to forget about this? But from what I’ve seen behind the scenes and some of the people that I’m working with, there is a dedicated energy to making sure that this time is for real, and that we’re making real impact moving forward.

How do we keep that momentum going?

I think it is going. It’s a terrible expression now, but it’s keeping our foot on people’s faces in that way of, "Don’t forget this. You posted a little black square, but we’re still about this life, and if you’re serious, then do something about it." And I’ve seen a real commitment to people wanting to change.

Have there been times when someone, maybe perhaps with more power, wanted to override a certain vision?

All of that was early on. I remember the biggest thing back and forth we had was with the former president [Michael Lombardo], and the show title. He wasn’t super insistent about it, but he was passionate about the fact that he didn’t think that Insecure fit because he was like, "I see these strong, confident Black women, and they’re fierce." And all the terms that we use to describe ourselves, but I was like, "Ooh, that’s not … No, they’re not specifically." And [that’s] exactly what we want to showcase throughout the show … the title reflects that, and as soon as I explained that that’s what we’re trying to combat, he got it and backed off.

Beyond those early script stages, they’ve been really, really supportive, and they’ve never pulled us to the side, "Can you explain this first because the audience …" They don’t care about your broad appeal, which is why I also wanted to make a home with them, because the ratings on it were dry then, and they’re very aware of being a subscription-based model. We’re going to appeal to who we appeal to, and there’s no pressure there. They were also really good about not leaving us in the dark about whether we were going to get picked up. That first season, I was scared as hell, but since season two, they’ve been really great about letting us know that we have a home.


I wonder about the dynamic of the room being predominantly white execs. Do you think that anything would be different if those rooms reflected the way the world really is?

A hundred percent. There’s no question that some of the input that we would get would be different. I’m also really happy that there aren’t a lot of executives on our show. Part of the intimacy is that we have two people [Amy Gravitt, HBO’s comedy head, and Amy Hodge, vp original programming], where at a network, you have two people here, three people here, two people there, and it’s just so many voices. Can HBO improve in terms of their hiring practices? A thousand percent. They’ve got to do it.

Insecure deals with issues of sex and race and class, but you guys never seem to jump into the topical fray. You’re never like, "This is the Black Lives Matter episode."

Yeah, I feel like it’s corny. We’re not an after-school special. That’s not how we live life. I don’t wake up like, "Today’s about to be about Black Lives Matter." When you experience racism or sexism, your life doesn’t stop, but it may affect how you talk to your partner that night when you get home or prevent you from doing something else. Those are the moments that I’m more interested in.


How do you see the pandemic impacting plot, and how do you intend to shoot?

I don’t want to mention COVID or the pandemic in any way, shape or form. We are addressing the fact that the city is going to be different, and part of the way that we’re talking about it is putting people with masks in the background or subtle things like the business being impacted because we’re so location-specific. We’re supposed to shoot in September, so that’s not happening. It changes every single day. It’s definitely a painful reminder that you don’t control your plans.

What are some of the new pressures you’re facing?

The longevity of it. I really want to make sure that what I’m doing has impact and is long-lasting. I want to feel rooted …

What would make you feel rooted?

Girl, this is for my therapist that I don’t have. I don’t know. It always changes. It’s old age and still being here. Denzel-ness. Alfre Woodard-ness. I mean, Denzel is a good model because he belongs to Black people and has never denied who he is and his roots. The stuff that he’s done underground to help young Black actors, to create a pipeline for them. He’s also been a producer and a director and is just so revered and has a Blackass family. I got to go to his AFI tribute, and I was just reminded, "Man, this man has meant so much to me, my mom, my aunt, my grandmother, and that matters to me." There’s a legacy there.

You are now in a position to demand more money. What does that feel like?

We’ll find out. I mean, I’ve definitely demanded. Yvonne joked before the Emmy nominations came out, "Girl, I told all my agents, 'Don’t make no deals until after Tuesday or Monday,' whenever the announcements were, because our price is going up or down." So there is something to that, too, of just realizing your worth. Also, seeing how little these white people care about asking for more than they’re worth in many cases. You can’t be polite, or tiptoe, or be modest about those things. You’re seeing these nine-, 10-figure deals out there. I have a great team that also is not afraid to ask for beyond my worth. I have an amazing Black lawyer who is constantly being like, "No, I’m going to get you better." Or, "No, I’m going to make sure. I heard that so-and-so made this, you’re about to make this."

Criticism — how does it affect you?

I’m open to all criticism. I feel like you have to be, to be in this industry. There are Black critics that I value what they think because I read what they read, or I read what they write about everything. I love it. I can see this point of view, and that’s so interesting. It may be reflected in something else that I do down the line, or it may spark inspiration for conversations that we may have. We feed each other in that really interesting way.

But let’s be real. There are a couple where I’m like, "Oh, this person just comes for me," or "This person doesn’t like me." You’re putting your personal life into it. You’re a blogger, not a critic at this point. It’s an art form.

How is one of your first forays into feature writing going?

I’m excited. I’m doing a feature, an adaptation of an Italian film called Perfect Strangers. It’s set at a dinner party with friends where they decide to read all the messages that come in on their phones. That’s a game that I would 100 percent play. There’s something about the cultural specificity of it that I wanted to bring to a movie. It’s been remade in different countries, like in South Korea. I just felt I could bring my own spin.

Jordan Peele and Sinkhole: Please tell me how this went down.

Shoutout to one of our execs who found the short story. The premise is, basically, a couple moves into a house that has a sinkhole. When you drop things in it, the sinkhole makes everything perfect. The quest for female perfection is really intriguing to me and what that means now, especially in a culture that’s still resistant to feminism. There’s just something so eerie about that quest to me. Also, what Black female perfection looks like, and relationship politics — when you have a particular dynamic that’s working for you as a couple. We’re just in that brainstorming phase now.

Sara [Rastogi, who is the vp development at Issa Rae Productions] was like, "What do you think about bringing it to Jordan Peele or pairing with them?" So it was as easy as that. They were into it and then it was up to us to convince the writer, a young white female writer [Leyna Krow], that we were the best people for the job. She said in an interview what intrigued her the most was that the ideas that we had extended beyond her perspective. She was like, "I’m a writer and I think about white people when I write." The idea that we could bring something else to the table in a way that she hadn’t thought of really excited her.

To be in a competitive situation like that — we’re a very small, independent production company, [and] obviously Jordan Peele is just massive in terms of what he’s been able to do in such a short time, as a director, for the culture — the fact that he even wanted to partner with us was really amazing. We’ve hit each other on the DM and we’re really super excited.

So during this shutdown craziness, what have you learned about yourself?

I’ve learned that I obviously, like so many people, value touch. I value social interactions. I also realize I don’t work as hard as I need to, to preserve certain relationships in my life. I need to do better about that. That’s been a hard revelation for me. I feel like this has caused me to withdraw in a way that I’m not happy with. I’m trying to reconcile that.

I know some of your co-stars seemingly put you on blast about being engaged. When it comes to your personal life, why do you prefer to keep things private?

I guess because it’s private. Whose business is it? I realized I just don’t like to be the subject of conversations if it doesn’t have to do with my work. I’ve always been like that, where I’d be dating someone and my friends would find out six months later. Like, "Bitch, what the fuck? Why don’t we know this?" So it’s just always been that I want to vet situations for myself. I really value that part of my life a lot.


Who should Hollywood be paying attention to talentwise?

Oh, so many people. There’s a writer named Tori Sampson who’s out of this fucking world. She’s a playwright. Writer Syreeta Singleton. Child is another person, a director. Everything she makes is beautiful and she just did a video for Big Sean on a whim. Now she’s the go-to video person. TT the Artist is someone else who’s a multihyphenate, in a way where she started off making music and made a documentary [that] was supposed to be at South by Southwest. You know how we have crumping here? There’s a different form of dance in Baltimore where people are dancing their pain away, in spite of their circumstances. She made the most beautiful documentary [Dark City Beneath the Beat] I’ve seen. Have you watched I May Destroy You?

Girl, obsessed.

So fucking good, but I was like, "Hollywood is paying attention." It’s amazing. It’s really disturbing. The conversations that have [been] sparked around it are just so necessary. I almost wish it had come sooner. It’s going to be so impactful to a generation of people.

Do you know her?

Yeah. I knew her from when she was doing Chewing Gum. I knew this show was coming because we have the same exec at HBO. She told me about it, about how this was her story. I was like, "We’re an HBO comedy. So she’s going to make this a comedy, like this terrible experience where she got roofied and raped?" The fact that it still manages to be darkly comedic and also just flat-out funny is just phenomenal. We got to kick it in her Chewing Gum days and I’ve kept in touch. I get to watch this as a massive fan. It makes you want to create more.

This article was written by Jessica Herndon for The Hollywood Reporter

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In a wide-ranging conversation, the actor recalls bonding with friend Tom Hanks after both recovered from COVID-19 and reveals he was planning on appearing in M. Night Shyamalan's next movie before the industry shut down.

Bryan Cranston and Tom Hanks have been friends and collaborators since the late ‘90s, but their latest get-together meant a whole lot more given their March bouts with COVID-19. Knowing how fortunate they were to be in each other’s company again, the two actors swapped stories and compared notes, as Hanks even advised Cranston on where to donate his plasma, an effort that might help others fight off the disease. What’s alarming is that Cranston and his wife, Robin Dearden, had markedly different experiences than Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson.

“[My symptoms], like my wife’s, were very mild. So lucky. You’re just exhausted. It just drains you of all the energy, and then, we lost our sense of taste and smell for three months. It has since come back, but it’s not come back full,” Cranston tells The Hollywood Reporter. “[Tom] and Rita were far more affected by it physically than Robin and I were… So we had dinner a couple of times, and just talked about it, realizing what an extraordinary experience that this is.”

Cranston recently returned to the screen in Disney+’s The One and Only Ivan, which is an adaptation of the children’s novel by K.A. Applegate. Cranston plays Mack, a struggling ringmaster of a mall-based circus that features a gorilla named Ivan (Sam Rockwell) and an elephant named Stella (Angelina Jolie). For Cranston, the family film was a nice change of pace compared to his recent dramatic turn as Howard Beale in the stage adaptation of Network. But given that Ivan is a Disney film that includes a young viewership, Cranston wanted to avoid a very tired joke.

“In the original script, the young elephant, Ruby, swings its trunk into my crotch and I double over. That never really appealed to me; we’ve seen it,” Cranston explains. “So I suggested this idea that not only saved that character and its intentions, but also deepened my character. And so, it all seemed to track and fit within the milieu of Disney, and the young viewers that will be watching this. I didn’t want to subject them to a crotch hit. That’s a cheap joke; I didn’t like it.”

Cranston is still buzzing from his appearance in Vince Gilligan’s El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which concluded the story of Walter White’s protégé, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Cranston, as Walt, appeared in a Breaking Bad season two-era flashback that was shortly before the character reached the point of no return via an introduction to meth kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and a fateful encounter with Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter). While an appearance on the final season of the Breaking Bad prequel/sequel, Better Call Saul, is expected by most fans, Cranston is wholly content if El Camino is the end of his charmed run as Walter White.

“I was content with the end of Breaking Bad. I thought it was the perfect ending. I know I’m biased, but I don’t recall seeing the ending of a show that was so well-constructed, satisfying and legitimate. Everything just seemed to fall into place so extraordinarily well,” Cranston shares. “They say ‘less is more’ and in many ways, that’s so true. You want to leave an audience wanting more, as we know. That old adage is very true. Don’t give them more than they want. If they start looking at their watch, you’re done. You lost ‘em. We want them to go, ‘Holy shit, it’s over? That was an hour? It felt like 20 minutes!’ That’s what you want, and they crave more because it was so well-crafted.”

In a wide-ranging conversation with THR, Cranston also reflects on the past, present and future of Walter White, his friendship with M. Night Shyamalan and the baseball movie he hopes to develop.

First off, in light of what you announced recently, how are you feeling?

I’m feeling great. Yeah, my wife (Robin Dearden) and I got [COVID-19] very early on. About five days after we had to shut down my production in New Orleans, a limited series for Showtime [Your Honor], I had symptoms. But mine, like my wife’s, were very mild. So lucky. Just a slight chest cough — dry, not much. And about three days of pre-flu achiness. You know when you feel something coming on, but it’s not yet on? It was like three days of that, and then that left. Achiness is gone. And then, I was just left with a week of, “I could take a nap.” Every two hours, like, “Ah, I gotta take another nap.” You’re just exhausted. It just drains you of all the energy, and then, we lost our sense of taste and smell for three months. It has since come back, but it’s not come back full.


Yeah, I don’t know if it ever will. I always test it. You know how you can smell coffee brewing? I can’t now. I can smell coffee when I open up the bag and put my nose into the beans; I go, “Oh, yep, coffee.” So, that’s my litmus test. (Laughs.) And I guess, all in all, if that’s the lingering effect of this, then I’m still very lucky.

When Hanks announced his own diagnosis on March 11, that’s when the virus became real to most people in the States. Since the two of you are longtime pals, did you compare notes at all?

Yeah, we did. He and Rita were far more affected by it physically than Robin and I were, and she more so than him, I believe. But then, when they came back from Australia and we had both gone through it and it was over, we got together for dinner, and it was the first time that you were thinking, “Wow, in a month and a half, we’re now able to actually be in each other’s presence.” Because at that time — and I guess it’s come back to that again now — it would be extremely difficult to contract it again, once you have the antibodies. So, we had dinner a couple of times, and just talked about it, realizing what an extraordinary experience that this is. I don’t think that there could’ve been anyone better than Tom and Rita to come out and say, “We had this,” and you’re right, it did make it real. And I think by their announcement, it woke a lot of people up. The country could’ve been a lot worse had that not happened.


Well, this is quite the awkward segue, but I really enjoyed your new movie, The One and Only Ivan.

(Laughs.) Yeah, thank you. I did too.


When you first get a script such as Ivan, are you able to read it objectively? Or do you immediately put yourself in Mack’s shoes and begin voicing the character as you read?

[Objectivity] is always my goal, and my agenda is to read it as an audience member. That’s why I will always set aside the time to read a script in its entirety in one sitting because that’s the way an audience is going to watch it. So I just imagine myself as an audience. After I’m done, I think about it and sometimes, it’s subtle. In other words, the effects of which won’t hit me right away. It might be the next day. It might be two days later. That’s always a good sign. If I easily forget the story or the title or “what was that about?” — that’s not a good sign for me that I should be involved in it. Or I guess you could say that it is a good sign that I shouldn’t be involved in a project if it’s easily forgotten.

So I was doing a play in London at the time, and the director [Thea Sharrock], who’s British, said she would like to meet with me. So I said, “Well, let me read this.” And my wife was over with me and we read the script, and it was like, “This is pretty good.” And I will say that I do pay extra attention toward stories that are different from what I’ve recently been doing. So I was doing a very adult sociopolitical drama onstage and before that I was doing other dramas, and it’s like, “Okay, so either a comedy or maybe a family film should be next.” So I’m on the lookout for them; my agency is on the lookout for that, and it would get extra points to move up the ladder as far as my consideration. So we read that. Then, I read the book that came with it [The One and Only Ivan by K.A. Applegate]. I thought that [screenwriter] Mike White did a terrific job in adapting the book for theatrical purposes. And then, I had some ideas, and that’s always a good sign. Then, I put it aside. My wife read it too, we would talk about it and she put it aside. And we would kind of go back to it and say, “What about…?” And when it doesn’t leave me, I have to pay attention to that. I had certain ideas that I thought would enhance the character and bring certain attentions to the character. You know the part where my character is training the young elephants to do some tricks, and he’s getting frustrated by the young elephant? And when you see something happen — I don’t want to give it away to the readers; it’s kind of a surprise in the movie. Well, that was an idea that I had. In the original script, the young elephant, Ruby, swings its trunk into my crotch and I double over. That never really appealed to me; we’ve seen it. So I talked to Mike, and he said, “Yeah, that was kind of a placeholder. Can we come up with something better?” And I said, “I think the elephant should always remain innocent.” So I suggested this idea that not only saved that character and its intentions, but also deepened my character.

As I’m developing this guy, he’s a showman, and that’s why I said, “I’d like to do an accent when he is the Master of Ceremonies, and then he drops it when he’s backstage.” That was accepted, and then I said, “And furthermore, what if when I’m Mack backstage, I wear padding, so it makes me look heavier? Then, we’ll show a girdle in my office.” And it’s like, “Oh, so when he does his ringmaster, he wears a girdle, he puts makeup on, he has the accent — it’s all a show.” And same thing with the reveal, it’s all a show. He’s not accepting of who he is, and that carried on with how he wasn’t accepting of this scheme of having his beloved gorilla in a cage. It’s gone. He’s got to let that go. It wasn’t sustainable — robbing Peter to pay Paul. And it’s like, “Oh god, how does he keep his head above water?” So it all seemed to be kind of like a domino effect. Then, I pitched this idea: “What if the baby elephant is nervous and she just sneezes? And that elephant sneeze does something humiliating and embarrassing.” But then I said, “And then, at the very end, you see that he’s come to terms with who he is…” And so, it all seemed to track and fit within the milieu of Disney, and the young viewers that will be watching this. I didn’t want to subject them to a crotch hit. That’s a cheap joke; I didn’t like it. Anyway, that’s the long-winded answer. (Laughs.)


While not quite as sleazy, did Mack’s hustle remind you of Shannon from Drive at all?

(Laughs.) Ooh, you know, that’s funny. I hadn’t thought about that. But yeah, anyone who is a schemer — and that takes such a negative connotation — but schemes, the original connotation of it, is that it’s not necessarily a negative term; you’re planning. But we know schemers to be on a more dubious track. So, yeah, it’s anyone who is ambitious and has aspirational interests in achieving certain things. So Shannon was that kind of guy, and certainly, Mack is that kind of guy. Until you mentioned that, it hadn’t occurred to me, but I’m sure that digging down into the well of idiosyncrasies, I was able to pull out certain things that were similar.

One of the moments that effectively defines Mack’s frustration for me is when a show didn’t go as planned and he lost his temper over the stray dog that Danny DeVito voices. Then, he stormed out of the mall until a speeding car abruptly stopped him in the parking lot, and he flailed his head a bit out of aggravation. It’s a moment that we’ve all experienced at some point. Were you glad that Thea kept that “shoe leather” moment in the final cut?

Yeah, Thea Sharrock and I had a lovely working arrangement. Not everything that I pitched is something that she accepted, and that’s the way it should be. That’s really the collaborative art form in this genre and in film. You have to pitch ideas, but it has to be a singular vision to put it all together. She’s looking at the jigsaw puzzle as a whole, and I was looking at my own character. And so, at times, the pitches work, and at times, they don’t. That was her idea, and I said, “I could use that.” It’s just mounting frustration. So I had no idea that it would still be used, but it’s interesting that you noticed that little nuance.

Mack brought Ivan home when he was very young, and for a while, he was raised like an actual child. While I’m reading between the lines, did you also get the impression that Mack and his wife couldn’t conceive a child of their own, hence their childlike treatment of Ivan?

Yes, that was my backstory, and there was another scene or two where I think we were trying to convey that we were not able to conceive. But it ultimately didn’t feed the main thrust of those flashbacks and where the story was. So, in other words, it wasn’t necessary to say, “We love this little animal because we can’t have one of our own.” Yeah, that was our backstory in our conversations, but ultimately, we didn’t want the flashbacks to have all that dialogue and to have too much foundational elements to include in that. We thought it might muddy it up, but it was in the back of my mind and Thea’s.


Even though you shot the film a couple years ago, there are several current events that come to mind involving Mack and the animals. Are you always amazed at how quickly one’s perspective can change regarding a piece of work?

Well, it’s always been a very subjective experience, hasn’t it? In the movie theater, if you’re going and sitting next to people, you and I could watch a movie, and you could be shedding a tear and I could be shrugging my shoulders. And it’s not to say that you’re wrong or I’m wrong. We’re both right. That’s the way you feel, and that’s the respect that I certainly have. I have that credo in me that the audience is never wrong. This is what they’re feeling. Now, it’s hard to get 100 percent of everyone on the train to feel the same thing at the same time because people have different experiences. There’s age differences, educational differences, affluence... There’s foreign, cultural and religious differences. So you have this potpourri of humanity watching this program, and it’s foolish to think that, “Oh everyone is going to feel what the targeted emotion is.” You just have to hope that the masses do and then try to tell your story without being pedantic or didactic. You want to be able to walk that edge so that you tell enough of the story to keep them involved, interested and invested, and move the plot forward. You don’t want to dwell too long on any given time. And of course, even that is subjective. People say, “Oh, that was too long,” or “Too long? I could’ve watched longer!” Ultimately, if you’re the one in charge, as Thea was — although we all have bosses — you hope that they get the sense that your instincts are correct. And I think Thea did a really lovely job.

Shifting gears, I have a Breaking Bad question that you’ve never been asked over the past decade. In season three’s “Half Measures,” the episode begins with a montage devoted to Wendy (Julia Minesci), the Southwest’s favorite meth-addicted, root beer-loving prostitute. During the montage, she has a scuffle with another prostitute at the Crossroads Motel pool, and I am 99.99 percent certain that one Bryan Cranston is the other prostitute in disguise. So, Bryan, would you like to come clean once and for all regarding this mystery woman’s identity?

(Laughs.) Wow! Wow, I can’t believe you got that.

Did I get it!?

No, you’re wrong. (Laughs.)

You’ve got to be kidding me!

That must’ve been one ugly prostitute. If there’s one thing... I make one of the homeliest women. And when I have, on occasion, been in drag for shows, it just doesn’t work. In fact, I can show you a picture of me from many, many, many, many years ago... I was playing a bad character, in drag, and whatever. Nope, not me. I’ve got to go back now and see that.

I’m stunned. The jawline looks just like yours, and she even made the face you make when you grit your teeth.

Well, there is that one-one hundredth of a percent that you left open to be wrong and the long shot came through in this case.

Or this is a more elaborate ruse than I expected, and you’ll never admit to it.

(Laughs.) We’ll never admit to it, yeah


Some of my favorite moments on Breaking Bad involve Walt alone with his thoughts, especially when he’d reflect in front of his pool or that beautiful hotel pool in season 5A’s “Rabid Dog.” During filming, would you remain in Walt’s thoughts, or would you drift to your own life at times?

The artistic answer is I would remain in Walt’s head. That helps you, for the most part, but acting is an illusion. We are human, and we are susceptible to fatigue and lack of focus, for whatever reason. Our job is to exercise those muscles of focus and developmental abilities in characterization. So, for the most part, you can stay in that headspace, especially if it’s a real quandary for the character. So, yes, those were times when you were, most of the time, able to do that. If you had a director who insisted on 15, 20, 25 takes, your mind would be wandering. So, I could be sitting there contemplating, “I wonder how many more takes they’re going to do before they realize that it’s pretty much the same look; that look of contemplation.” (Laughs.) Or, “I wonder what I should have after work. Should I go out and eat? Or should I just pick something up and take it home? Let’s see, what time do I have to work tomorrow morning? That might determine if I have enough time.” You know? (Laughs.) Sometimes, it’s that, to be completely honest. Some might say, “You’re phoning it in.” Well, no. Phoning it in is if that’s your regular approach to the work. When those kinds of mind-wanderings happen in the past, I used to get tough on myself and go, “What are you doing? Come on. Come on. Shut up. Pay attention. Here we go.” And now, I just go, “Oh wow, I was thinking about all kinds of things there.” So you just let it go. You give yourself a pass, but recognize it. It’s certainly not somewhere where you want to live and use on a regular basis because, by and large, people can read through those things. If you’re not really thinking of something, if you’re not anguished by the character’s situation, I would pick it up. Those are those subtleties and nuances that we see from other actors that you just feel what they’re feeling and you’re right with them. And if the goal, as it is, is to take this audience on a journey with you, you’re the storyteller. You’re responsible for the audience’s emotional care and when they should relax, when they should get tense, when they should worry. All those things are on your shoulders. And “your,” meaning actor, writer, director — this is a collective, and I take it very seriously. You feel it every night doing a play.

A year ago, I was onstage in New York, and one of the easiest things that can happen to a human being is when you feel very confident that you know what you’re doing, you have a tendency to relax. Well, you don’t want to completely relax onstage. You want to be relaxed, but don’t relax. So I always would gather my cast and say, “Let’s lean into it.” I’d try to give them and myself a visual. I do it on a film set, too. You lean into the story and into what’s happening, as opposed to back onto your heels. And that kind of visual is usually something that people can take in. They get it. They feel it. If every cast member is leaning forward to tell that story that night, that’s going to be a better show. The odds are that’s going to be a much better show than if everyone just said, “Whatever, let’s go do the show. It’s two hours and then, we’ll go have a drink with a friend.” If that’s the idea, and you would just allow the words to take over, then you’re not working at full capacity. It’s kind of like going to the gym, doing a couple reps, resting and then chatting for fifteen minutes. And then, you leave and it’s like, “Yeah, I went to the gym.” And I go, “Wow, did you?” (Laughs.) “How’d that work out for you?” You know? (Laughs.) So you have to be a little self-disciplined in that regard.

Your family nicknamed you “Sneaky Pete” as a boy, and you created a great show called Sneaky Pete. Somehow, it’s also a phrase that Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) used in his first scene on Breaking Bad(season two’s “Better Call Saul”). Since it’s not the most common saying, did one influence the other?

God, I have no idea. Back when I was playing the prostitute at the pool in that— oh shoot! Sorry, sorry. (Laughs.)

(Laughs.) I’m never going to live this down.

(Laughs.) Yeah, I have no idea. I don’t even remember that line that Saul used. I have to see the series again. I’ve only seen the series once, and that was while we were making it.

Is it partly because you’re too close to it?

No, no, just, I’ve got other things to do. And quite frankly, I lived through it, so it didn’t feel like urgent appointment television. I would like to watch it again with someone or two or three people who have never seen it. If I come across any people like that who are my friends, and I go, “Let’s watch it together. I’ll watch it again, but let’s watch it together.” It would be fun to see their reaction because I will have forgotten a lot of things, and then when you start watching, you go, “Oh, I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to watch my friend get this reaction.” So I kind of get two shows out of one. (Laughs.)

I have to say that your bald cap in El Camino is the best bald cap I’ve ever seen. Normally, they look like Alien Nation, but KNB [EFX Group] really outdid themselves, along with VFX.

Well, they did some remarkable work on that, and the CGI guys in post did even more. Here’s the issue: When I was doing Breaking Bad, that was my head. I just shaved my head. It wasn’t a bald cap. So, every other day, I would shave my head, but this was shot in January of ‘19 and I was doing my play. So, naturally, I’m not going to shave my head. I can’t. So I finished my Broadway show on Sunday at 5 o’clock, during the first full week in January, and zipped out to Teterboro, on a private jet. It flew me out to Albuquerque, I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac and two steps later, our transportation captain, Dennis Milliken, was waiting for me. I went with my wife and our assistant, and we took off, went to an Airbnb and Dennis showed us around. It had all the food, and then he said, “You know you can’t leave?” And I went, “No, I know.” It was like we were in a witness protection program.

The next morning, he picks us up, takes us to the set, and we did all the cafe scenes. And the bald cap. So they plastered my hair down with this goop, and they got it as flat as possible, and then they squeezed on that bald cap as flat as possible. And then, tight makeup, makeup, makeup. But it was different, and Vince noticed it. My head was a little bit like Mr. Big Brain. (Laughs.) A cartoon. And I noticed it too, but it didn’t quite really bother me as much. Of course, I wasn’t looking at me, obviously, as much as I was looking at other people. But Vince was and he said, “It’s just a little… seems a little…” And there was just no way around it. There’s a lot of hair under there and a bald cap on top of it. So, even though it’s thin, it was just a little bigger. So, they went through, and in the scene that we were doing there, any time it was on me, they had to go in, computer graphic, cut away the overall size of my head and reduce it somewhat. KNB, they’re always fantastic; Greg [Nicotero] and Howard [Berger] over there. Also, the postproduction guys in CGI — they’re masters.

You shot El Camino during your limited time off from Network on Broadway. Did the whirlwind of El Camino catch up to you during your first show back, or did adrenaline prevail?

Adrenaline. I was so happy to do [El Camino]. I was thrilled that Aaron was able to be number one on the call sheet. He so deserved it and to finish telling his story. I was there to support him and support Vince Gilligan. Aaron and I both say, if he starts to ask a question, we just say, “Look, the answer is yes, whatever you’re going to ask. We’ll do whatever.” He changed our lives. So we’re eternally grateful to him and happy to do it. The fact that it was so good, on top of that, is one thing I knew. I just know that Vince Gilligan agonizes over every aspect of storytelling. He does have a level of anxiety that does help him in some way, and in other ways, I worry about him, you know, because he cares so much. He knows he’s got one chance. He always says, “I’ve got one chance to do this.” But I know that he wouldn’t let anything go forward unless it passed his seal of approval, and that seal is very discerning. And I just thought it was so fantastic. In fact, when I was reading the script, I completely forgot that Walter White was in it. I’m just following along, “Oh, what happens next? And he goes there. Oh my god, he’s escaped. Oh, there’s a flashback. Oh, that’s me! That’s right. That’s why I’m reading this. Because I’m in it.” (Laughs.) If you can do that to me — and he did that to us throughout the series… We know the characters better than anyone. We know the show better than anyone. And yet, he was able to surprise us. Day in and day out, it was like, “Wow, I did not see that coming. How did that happen?” Masterful, he is and a great guy on top of it. Since I stopped working for him, we’ve developed a relationship that’s beyond Breaking Bad and our wives are good friends. He’s a very dear friend of mine now.

There’s nobody better at cough acting than you. Did it come back rather quickly on El Camino?

Yeah, I can do a fake cough, a fake sneeze... I can do double-takes, triple takes. I can even do a quadruple take and spit takes. It’s all the stuff that you learn in Harvey Lembeck’s Comedy Workshop. For years, I took the “Master of Improvisation” here in Hollywood, and it was just a lot of fun being able to draw back into things, the goofiness that you practice on and being able to use it. But it’s taxing. It puts stress on your vocal chords and things like that, but it was so much fun. And then, we flew back to New York on Tuesday night after the two days of work on El Camino, under the shroud of darkness, and back into New York City. I slipped back in, and nobody knew anything. I even did The Tonight Show on Wednesday between shows, and they didn’t know it. Fallon asked me, and I lied. It was like, “Well, this is kind of that sworn to secrecy thing.”

Most people say “Ozymandias” is their favorite episode from Breaking Bad’s final season, if not the whole series, but I actually prefer “Granite State” with the great Robert Forster. I’m always impacted by the moment where Walt offers Ed (Forster) $10 grand to “stay a little longer,” as it perfectly illustrates Walt’s “fall from grace” and his desperate, unrelenting need to deliver his blood money to his family. What comes to mind from shooting that scene or episode with Forster?

Well, those characters were just so well drawn, and Bob’s character was so inscrutable. You didn’t know how he felt at any time. He wasn’t mean; he wasn’t nice. He was just matter of fact. And he was willing to be a companion, but for a price. It was just so interesting because human beings can’t peg him. They can’t place him in a certain thing. Who is that kind of man? And that was such a great, great character. It was nice to see Bob be able to be healthy enough to do El Camino before he passed. I wrote about him in my book [A Life in Parts], and the moment where I met him. I was an assistant to a couple of people, and I was a production assistant on a movie that he did called Alligator back in the day. And I bumped into him in a van. He came in, and we were all going to the set. He sat next to me, and I was like, “Oh my god, this is Robert Forster.” And he kind of looked at me and said, “Hey, how are you?” And I go, “I’m fine.” (Laughs.) I didn’t want to engage because I was like, “Oh, actors, they don’t want to necessarily engage.” And he goes, “My name’s Bob,” and I said, “Bryan.” Then I shook his hand, and he asked, “What do you do, Bryan?” And I thought, “Wow, he cares!” I said, “Well, I’m the assistant to the assistant’s assistant,” and he laughed. (Laughs.) I said, “Yeah, I’m just a production assistant, but I’m an actor.” And he said, “Hey, how’s that going for you? Keep at it. It’s a long haul.” So we rode to the set and he went, “Nice to meet you, Bryan.” And I said, “You too, Robert.” “Call me Bob,” he said. So I said, “Okay, Bob.” And it was like… wow. That kind of behavior, that comportment really registered with me, and you collect several of those about how to behave.

Tom Hanks, I learn a lot from him. Helen Mirren. How to present yourself. And I thought, “Yeah, that’s what you do when you are able to be the number one on a call sheet and take a cast under your wing, and how you want to behave because that sets a tone for everyone else to follow.” If the top person is that, then no one can change that dynamic. There might be a couple incidents here and there, but by and large, you can control the temperament of that working condition. And it was like, “Yeah, that seems right. That seems like the thing to do.” So, that day on set, we sat down, and it was so interesting because we just grabbed the cards. “What do you want to play?” “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Play the cards.” I think we were supposed to be playing [seven-card stud], but I think he was dealing Blackjack. You could see it. He flipped over my card, and it was a king. He flipped over his card, also a king. And he said something like, “Huh, just two kings.” And I just looked at him, and that was the end of the scene. It was unscripted because we didn’t know what cards were going to come up, but it was remarkable how two kings happen to show up at the same time totally by accident. It was just kind of daunting to have that happen, and relevant to Walt; he was the king. Walt was the king at one point in his little fiefdom. And now, is he really a king? Who’s the king? The guy who’s controlling the situation is really the king, and that would be Robert’s character at that moment. You could also relate it to the animal world where two animals are going to fight for supremacy in a harem or something. The old guy and the young guy. Who’s going to take over the kingdom? So it had so many different meanings, and I think Peter Gould was directing that episode and was like, “Oh wow! Look at that.” (Laughs.) I said, “That was great. That’s got to stay.” And he goes, “Yeah, I think so.” So fun.


There’s a moment where Walt is waiting at the gate for Forster’s character to return, and I got the impression that you played it like a dog waiting at a window for their owner to get home. The way you moved your arms was like a dog wagging its tail. Is that the case, or am I projecting again?

Well, back when I was playing the prostitute by the pool, I thought of that scene. (Laughs.)

(Laughs.) I’m never going to hear the end of this.

No, that was it. That was it. Walt was so starving for human companionship that it was that, and yet, when he got there, I didn’t want him to see that I was incredibly anticipatory of his arrival. But yeah, that was definitely that moment when the dog is looking and cocking its head, “Is that him? Is that him?” and then getting excited. So I just played that where my movement increased. Once I saw the truck coming, my movement increased to convey excitement as I opened up the gate. You know, that was fun stuff. And what was great is that we shot that right in Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountains, which is 5,000 feet higher than the floor of Albuquerque. And right there, that was our New Hampshire.

While I have my reasons for why I think you’ll be in season six of Better Call Saul, your scene in El Camino is a perfect capper in its own right. If that’s the last time you play Walt, are you thoroughly content?

Of course. I was content with the end of Breaking Bad. I thought it was the perfect ending. I know I’m biased, but I don’t recall seeing the ending of a show that was so well-constructed, satisfying and legitimate. Everything just seemed to fall into place so extraordinarily well. And with that, from the beginning of meeting Vince (Gilligan) again before I got the role to the development of the character and the story and the prep and getting out there and shooting the pilot, then waiting and then six years of shooting, I mean, it’s seven-and-a-half years. I experienced a very satisfying beginning, middle and end. It’s as if you came to the end of a good children’s book where the kids were saved and they lived happily ever after. And then, you turn the page and it goes, “The next day… ” It’s like, “Wait, what!?” And we’ve seen movies like that. We’ve seen them, movies especially, where it’s like, “Oh, it should’ve ended. And now, we’re going on. It’s like this movie has two endings or they weren’t quite sure where to go with it.” And I even equate it to someone saying, “Don’t you want to come back and do it again? If they rebooted Breaking Bad, wouldn’t you want to come back?” And I go, “No, I really wouldn’t.” And they’re like, “Why? Why wouldn’t you want to do that?” And it’s like, “Well, if you’ve had a perfect meal... a cocktail, a nice little appetizer, a salad, a perfect main course, a nice light little palette cleanser and maybe a little piece of chocolate. Maybe even an after-dinner drink or a little espresso or something. Just perfect. And then, someone brings out more dessert, and it’s like, "oh no!" I don’t want to indulge that because you would be overstuffed, and it’s too much. They say "less is more" and in many ways, that’s so true. You want to leave an audience wanting more, as we know. That old adage is very true. Don’t give them more than they want. If they start looking at their watch, you’re done. You lost ‘em. We want them to go, “Holy shit, it’s over? That was an hour? It felt like 20 minutes!” That’s what you want, and they crave more because it was so well-crafted. So that’s the goal.

There are many sides of Walter White. As rewarding as the entire role was for you, did you happen to have a favorite dimension to play among the family man, teacher, Heisenberg or the Mr. Lambert persona of the last two episodes?

(Laughs.) It’s all me. If I were doing a scene where it was menacing, Heisenberg-y, awful and some innocents died or something, like the kid (Drew Sharp) on the motorcycle, there were times where it’s like, “Oh god.” If we’re playing in that realm for a while and then you see a flashback to when Skyler (Anna Gunn) is first pregnant and everything’s happy, then it's like, “Oh, I’m looking forward to that.” (Laughs.) It was almost like a cleanser. As it was, we feel things deeply, and no one is immune to that. So I had a process. At the end of every day, I would take a big hot towel and put it over my head like a turban. I’d take a moist hot towel, put it over my face and cover my face completely, like I’m going to get a professional shave. And I would just sit in the makeup-hair chair for ten minutes, just letting the heat and moisture draw out all the grime, both real and imaginary, and just wipe my whole head and face. You come out of that like you come out of a sauna. You’re lightheaded slightly, you drink some water and then change out of Walter’s clothes, and put my own on. Then, I’d get in the car, call my wife and have a conversation that had nothing to do with Breaking Bad. And by the time I got home, it was wiped away; the whole day was gone. I’d get home, have something to eat, start pouring into the next day’s work and memorize what I had to memorize. I would read the scripts about four or five days before we were shooting because I didn’t need to know too far in advance what was happening on the twists and turns of this guy’s life. I’d just let it come as it’s coming, and it gave me enough time to ask questions, challenge something if I thought something might be weird or I didn’t understand it. And then, also, if it’s like, “Oh, this one, I have a couple of big speeches,” I’ll bone up on those on the weekend. You parse it out so that you don’t let anything catch you by surprise, like, “Oh my god, tomorrow, I forgot! I have a two-page speech to give.” You don’t want to be in that position, so you kind of look ahead a little bit in that way.

I’ve always said that you’d be a phenomenal Oscar host. If you were asked to host someday, would you strongly consider it?

Only because of the novelty of it, I would consider it, but I don’t know if that’s the gig for me. I mean, Billy Crystal was a great host because he was so entertaining on so many levels. Obviously, comedy, but he can deliver a line, he can sing and he can command an audience. So it takes that kind of all-around performer to be able to hold their own in that setting, and I’m not so sure. The thing that would really make the deciding factor for me on something like that is, would this detract from audiences seeing me as a chameleon, as an actor? That’s much, muchmore important to me than getting some airtime or something. It’s just so rewarding to me when I hear people go, “When my brother told me that Walter White was the dad on Malcolm in the Middle, I made a bet with him, and I couldn’t believe it. Oh my god.” I love that, because that means that I’ve transformed into a different person. That, to me, is not only my favorite kind of comment from an audience, but also my favorite kind of approach to the work. I want to get lost in a character. I try, even though it’s extremely difficult. The more you do, the more you see different things that, oh, you know, like you pointed out, that could’ve been part of Shannon as the part of Mack. And it’s like, well, you are the same person, but maybe time helps erode some of those different characteristics that you used for one that you would not use for another.

Given your history with the property, what did you think of the Spahn Ranch scene in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?

I really love that movie, and when I saw the Spahn Ranch, it kind of sent a jolt through my body. I whispered to my wife, I said, “God, that is it! That is what I remember from when I used to go there to ride horses when I was a kid.” So Quentin’s production designer must’ve scoured through a ton of photos to reenact that. That was the Western town motif with the facades, the old truck sitting out there and the horses. But the size of it was really remarkable. And the fact that I had the same experience that they showed in the movie — that there was a need for the group to get on horses and ride away — it was like, “Oh my god, that’s exactly what happened to me!” It was unbelievable. And then, they rode back in and it was like, “Wow!” To the maybe 50 people who are still alive and still remember the Spahn Ranch, who had it indelible in their mind or, in my case, ever crossed paths with Charlie Manson, that was a remarkable moment. I assume you’ve heard my story on that; it was such a thing. “Charlie’s on the hill!” And it’s like, “Whoa.” And then, here he is, and it’s like, “Wow, that must be Charlie.” We made such a thing of it, and it’s almost like passing an accident. You’re looking at him and staring at him out of the corner of your eyes. I remember seeing that face, and I think it was about two years later when he was arrested. I was like, “Oh my god. That’s the guy!” Crazy.

In 2017, when you were shooting The Upside, you and M. Night Shyamalan went to a Philadelphia 76ers-San Antonio Spurs NBA game, and since it was a national broadcast, it caught a lot of people’s attention on Twitter. Out of curiosity, did the two of you discuss working together?

We did. Just a really great guy, a great filmmaker. It was fun when I was down in Philadelphia for that time, to be able to hang with him a little bit. Yeah, actually, we tried a couple of times, and in fact, just a couple of weeks ago, there was a project that he was thinking of doing in the COVID world that was really his milieu — a mystery thriller and scary. But I’m in first position to this limited series called Your Honor down in New Orleans where I have to finish that. I’ve got seven weeks to finish that, and we just don’t know when we’re going back. So I had to tell Night, “I can’t commit to it because I don’t know when we’re going to be called.” I mean, that’s just the truth of it. So I said, “Buddy, thanks for thinking of me, but until I’m totally free, I just can’t. I’d hate to say yes, then we plan it and all of a sudden, I have to call you and go, ‘Oops, I can’t do it.’ Then, you’re really stuck, and you have to quickly get out and try to find someone.” But great guy, fun, loves to laugh, terrific filmmaker, and I hope someday we’ll be able to work together.

Since you’re an avid baseball fan, does your agent ever look for good baseball movie scripts? Or even something like Field of Dreams that uses baseball as a springboard for another story?

I’d love to have that happen. I’m interested in writing a story that actually might be of its time. It won’t star me. I won’t direct it. In fact, I probably shouldn’t even write it, but it’s something that struck me. Once when I was in Kansas City, I went to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and I was just amazed by what I was seeing. And that stuck with me, because I was realizing that there were less and less African Americans playing baseball. And I went, “Man, I wonder why that happened and where they went. Certainly, they’ve navigated to basketball and football, but what happened to baseball and why not?” So I was just thinking about that after visiting the museum. So I sketched out a story that involves that social element, and god, it might be very relevant now. We’ll just have to see how it plays out. If it comes together in my head, I might write a treatment to it and then hand it off. Right now, we’re living in an environment where old white men such as myself, we’re not to be on the vanguard of a movement right now. We are here to listen, be quiet and support. We have an opportunity to see fundamental change to our lives and really establish a level playing field of equality no matter what your race, religion, sexual orientation or gender is. One of mutual respect. And I’m tying in the #MeToo movement that started a few years after Black Lives Matter now. I think it all came to light because of the COVID-19 situation. So there’s a purpose for all of this, and I feel very optimistic that significant, meaningful changes can happen to our society. This is the time to have that happen — right here, right now. We’re looking at a lot of different headlines of unfortunate events, and looting and rioting that goes along with protests. And the thing to remember is that revolution — which this is; it’s a social revolution — is never easy. It’s muddy, painful, uncomfortable and inconvenient, all the way back to the Revolutionary War when we were trying to form this country. Protests and revolution was how this country was formed, so it is extremely andliterally American. It’s an American quality and how this country was started. So that needs to be understood from a history standpoint and embraced from a society standpoint.

Article written by Brian Davids for The Hollywood Reporter.

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Because I’m in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has handled coronavirus extraordinarily well, I decided to go to an 11:30 a.m. showing of “Tenet” on Thursday. 

Typing that sentence sounds like, Oh, I casually decided to go to see a film — no! I deliberated and deliberated, and Rebecca, my wife, bought me a face shield to wear in addition to my N95 mask — and even as I walked up to the Scotiabank Theatre in downtown Vancouver, I considered not going in. I was alone, so there was no one with whom to agonize. Since it was the first showing of the day — I told myself — and Vancouver is a mask-wearing city with mask-wearing citizens (without the hellish discourse surrounding it — people just do it), it seemed relatively safe. 

I also miss going to movies, and haven’t seen one in a theater since I saw the (surprisingly delightful) “Sonic the Hedgehog” in late February with my family. And I really wanted to see “Tenet,” having bought into the hype surrounding it. (More on that later.)

I parked in the nearly empty garage attached to the theater, and put on my N95 mask. I also grabbed my hand sanitizer, and put my face shield and water bottle into my backpack. I felt armed. (It turns out that you’re supposed to download an app in order to pay for parking, but I didn’t see that until hours later when I was literally pulling out of the garage, so… I stole that parking spot for three hours, yikes, sorry!)

I was contributing to a video Variety is doing about people in different countries seeing “Tenet,” so I filmed myself outside of the theater talking about it, and felt very silly. Then I thought of the Tom Cruise propaganda video of him in that Bane mask seeing “Tenet” in London, and felt like this is just what we’re doing right now, calm down.

Scotiabank (a Cineplex theater) has minimized contact, so I showed the theater worker my ticket on my phone, and he didn’t even scan it. (Canada!) He waved me up the escalator, where I wandered around taking more videos of all the COVID-19-related signs: about the theater’s sanitizing policies, mask-wearing and social distancing.

Speaking of social distancing, when I entered the theater 10 minutes before showtime, it was entirely empty. I found my seat, deliberately on an aisle, and soon realized that the face shield was going to be a problem during a movie: It kept fogging up. I decided I’d put it on and take it off throughout. People trickled in, but the theater — a good-sized auditorium — never had more than 25 people in it, at the most. The closest person to me was quite far. When I had checked the website that morning, it said it was sold out: Did people change their minds? Is this extreme social distancing? Tom Cruise had looked surrounded. Not that I wanted to be surrounded, God knows. 

The lights went down; I was excited. There was first a message from a doctor asking people to be safe in the theater, respect social distancing when the movie is over, and to bus your own trash when you leave — that was not going to be an issue for me, because I had bought no concessions. Doesn’t that undermine all the mask-wearing and hand sanitizing? I looked around, and judged the few people I saw eating popcorn. I was also on high alert for anyone coughing, but no one did for the whole two-and-a-half-hour experience — except for me once, which I tried to muffle as much as possible, and ended up feeling like I was strangling myself.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed seeing trailers, even one for a Jared Leto movie (“Morbius”). There were three more: “Let Him Go,” with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, which looks like VOD excellence to me; “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the Daniel Kaluuya-as-Fred Hampton movie, which has been pushed to next year; and “Wonder Woman 1984,” which might be the next time I take my life into my hands to see a movie, assuming it sticks with its Oct. 2 release date. (I imagine that decision very much depends on the performance of “Tenet.”) 

As for “Tenet” itself … I understood not a word of it. I’m already too dumb for most time-travel movies, but Christopher Nolan + time travel = WHAT IS HAPPENING. I will say just a few things about it, though: Robert Pattinson was having a lot of fun in this movie — Elizabeth Debicki, however, was not. All the stuff you’re starting to read about not being able to hear the dialogue is true. But personally, I had a hard time separating my inability to hear from my inability to comprehend. It’s an objectively confusing movie, guys. You know the way after “Inception” people started using that word all the time? “I incepted this, I incepted that.” That will not be happening here with “inversion,” or the even more mystifying “temporal pincer movements.” Also, I look forward to seeing John David Washington’s next movie in which, presumably, he will not be saying “I am the protagonist!”  

Not until I got I home, and — after a “Silkwood” shower — read some reviews did I realize that his character is actually called “The Protagonist.”

Yes, it was fun seeing a movie in a theater again. Was it worth it? I’ll tell you in 14 days.

Article written by Kate Arthur for Variety

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Ramón Rodríguez hasn’t exactly been taking it easy during quarantine. In addition to directing “Unity,” a short featuring two dancers in Los Angeles during the pandemic, the actor is putting the finishing touches on his script for a Latinx superhero movie and developing “Man Child,” a film he co-wrote with Rosie Perez. Whenever it’s safe to go back to set, Rodríguez will likely return to Atlanta to resume production on the upcoming untitled Fox drama series about three students who are intent on creating a shot-by-shot remake of “The Goonies.” Until then, he can be seen in Disney’s new “The One and Only Ivan,” which made its debut on Disney Plus. Rodríguez plays George, an animal keeper at a circus that sees ticket sales soar when it’s discovered that Ivan, a silverback gorilla (voiced by Sam Rockwell), knows how to sketch. 

With “The One and Only Ivan,” was most of your work done against a green screen with the animals added in post? I’ve done the green-screen thing where you’re talking to a pole with a tennis ball. It’s very strange. But we were really lucky because we actually had people playing the animals. For the baby elephant, Ruby, there was this guy who would climb into this green baby elephant suit. He would start walking and moving around like an elephant. It was mind-blowing. You’d be like, “That really looks like a baby elephant,” but then you’d see him stand up on his two legs and walk away.

What’s the message of the film? I think there are several messages. The one that probably really resonated for me was the message of self-discovery. I loved that this gorilla who is living in a circus discovers he has this incredible ability of drawing and that that becomes this form of communicating. He also discovers his roots and where he’s from. I think it’s even moving the needle in regard to the treatment of animals. You can see Disney sort of changing its ways and becoming aware of what it’s done in the past and what it wants to do now moving forward. And that’s evolution; we’re hopefully evolving.

You don’t know when you’ll return to the “Goonies” project, but do you know if any of the stars from the original film, like Josh Brolin and Corey Feldman, will be making cameos? I’ve heard talk, and I think that would be fantastic. I know there’s already music that’s going to be included that are nods to the original.

Ariana Greenblatt, who plays your daughter, is also of Puerto Rican descent. What are your thoughts on Latinx representation in Hollywood today? We still have a ways to go, but it was really great to have us be a part of this and know that we’re representing. There are still misconceptions and stereotypes being perpetuated, and … it was exciting to be a part of something that we know was positive.

What is the story behind “Man Child,” which Ed Norton has already signed on to produce? I wrote a script that’s loosely based on the relationship between my dad, who lives in Puerto Rico. [It’s] a very complicated sort of relationship, and it’s come a long way. This script has actually helped me get past a lot of it — a lot of the trauma.

You’ve been working a lot during quarantine. Have you found time to do some TV bingeing? I watched “I Know This Much Is True.” Mark Ruffalo and I have the same agent, so I wrote him a note because I was so moved by his performance. It’s heartbreaking and gut-wrenching and so well executed, and deals with trauma in such a way that it feels so authentic. But that’s really heavy. So after I watched that, I watched “The Great.” It’s so much fun. I love the reimagining of history. I love the whole relationship between Catherine and Peter. 

Article written by Marc Malkin for Variety

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The scribe of the upcoming 'Bill & Ted Face the Music' (and its predecessors) has scripted megahits like 'Men in Black' and 'Charlie's Angels' and frequently collaborates with Steven Soderbergh, but he's not one to rest on his laurels: "Every new script I start, it's as if I’m learning how to write for the first time."

On an oppressively hot August afternoon, Ed Solomon has found a cool, quiet spot in the basement laundry room of his girlfriend’s Manhattan brownstone. Although COVID-19 has prompted many with means to flee the city, New York has been home for the wildly successful but relatively anonymous screenwriter for the past four years, and he’s content to ride out the pandemic here, where he has a network of film and TV friends, including frequent collaborator Steven Soderbergh.

Solomon is slightly self-deprecating when pressed to discuss his work. "I’m not a super confident writer, but I have faith," he says. "Every new script I start, it’s as if I’m learning how to write for the first time. Confidence makes you stop questioning. And I think once you stop questioning, that begins your end." This coming from a guy who can command up to $3 million for a screenplay and $250,000 a week on rewrite jobs, say sources (Solomon refused to discuss the salary figures).

His latest project, the third installment of the Bill & Ted franchise, brings him back to his first. He and UCLA classmate Chris Matheson created the most excellent duo back in 1983 as part of an improv group. Fast-forward 37 years, and the "whoa" bros, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, are back with Dean Parisot’s Bill & Ted Face the Music, which Orion Pictures will release on demand and in theaters Aug. 28.

If Bill & Ted’s four-decade trajectory is improbable, so too is that of Solomon, a Hollywood Zelig who has intersected with everyone from Shane Black to Garry Shandling to Tommy Lee Jones to Bryan Singer. In a testament to his endurance, the divorced father of two has notched a sequel-spawning hit in each of the past four decades: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure ('80s), Men in Black ('90s), Charlie’s Angels ('00s) and Now You See Me ('10s). Despite working in an industry where youth often is valued over experience, Solomon is still going strong at the age of 59, with projects in the works with Soderbergh, J.J. Abrams and David O. Russell.

"What distinguishes him is just a kind of baseline compassion for other people. He’s aware of the fact that you can make people laugh without being mean or cynical," says Soderbergh, who has three upcoming projects with Solomon. "His level of craft with plots and characters is very rigorous. Then I can come in and do this sort of Jackson Pollock, throwing things around, but he gives me a lot of room because the foundation is so solid."


As a child growing up in suburban Boston, Solomon envisioned the idea of being a writer. At age 8, he wrote a letter to NBC’s Laugh-In with some sketch ideas. He also suggested the show air an hour earlier so as not to interfere with his bedtime. He received a reply asking for parental permission to share the ideas with the show’s writing staff, but his parents balked. "I don’t know what they were planning to do with my suggestions. Maybe make fun of them? My parents saying no and X-Men are my two biggest professional regrets," he says with a laugh, the latter a reference to his famously removing his name from the 2000 film.

A few years later, Solomon’s family moved to California, where he remained for the next 47 years. On his first day as an undeclared undergraduate at UCLA, he performed a stand-up routine at the Comedy Store in Westwood during open-mic night. "I had a great set, and I thought, 'I’m quitting school. I’m going to be a comedian,' " he recalls. "The next week, the whole set bombed. I retreated so far away from writing or comedy, I became an econ major."

A year later, he ventured back to the Comedy Store and overheard someone say that Good Times star Jimmie Walker, who was performing that night, was looking for writers. He approached Walker, who "tapped me on the head, very patronizingly, and goes, 'We’re always looking for writers, son,' " Solomon says. "That night I typed up 22 jokes with a cover letter. I mailed it, and two weeks later I got a check for $100 for two jokes."

He started writing jokes regularly for Walker and joined the UCLA Comedy Club, where he met future legend Black and became his roommate ("Shane remains one of the most purely gifted people I have ever known in terms of raw talent, the ability to craft a story, to come up with ideas," he says). During Solomon’s second stand-up show, the headliner was Shandling. "After my set, Garry came up to me and said, 'You have two very good jokes in there. The rest you can get rid of. Do you think you’d be interested in writing with me?' " he recalls. "And I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Watch me work. Let’s talk after.' "

Thanks to Shandling, Solomon landed a staff gig on Laverne & Shirley as a senior. Racing between UCLA and the Paramount lot every day was overwhelming. "I was OK but not great," he notes. "I didn’t get hired back, and I didn’t get another TV job. In a way it was the best thing that probably could’ve ever happened to me because had I gone straight into that ’80s sitcom world, it would have fried me. I probably would’ve gotten wrapped up in all the drugs those people were doing."

Instead, he moved in with future Epix president Michael Wright and joined an improv group, where he and his friend Matheson came up with Bill and Ted during a 15-minute skit.

"When we came up with it, we were not stoned, though everyone thinks we were," he says. "I was not a stoner then. I had a bad experience in college and I had a fucking meltdown because I was such a wimp. I’m much better about it now that it’s all more controllable," he adds with a laugh.

After a year of the duo’s fleshing out the characters, Matheson’s father, sci-fi novelist Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) suggested they write a Bill & Ted screenplay, and they did so on spec. After many nos, they set up Excellent Adventure at Interscope Pictures for $5,000, which they split. (They received an additional $15,000 to rewrite it, $10,000 to polish it and $105,000 when it was made.)

Interscope exec Scott Kroopf, who produced all three Bill & Ted outings, remembers the script crossing his desk. "It had a lot of infectious dialogue where you just kind of found yourself quoting it," says Kroopf. "And Ed’s the kind of writer the director really wants on set because he’s quick, and he’s great at getting information out of other artists and synthesizing it."

The pair became the "flavor of the month," Solomon recalls, and were immediately hired to write the sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. That led to a call from Solomon’s agent saying that director Roland Joffé, coming off The Killing Fields and The Mission, wanted to meet. "I was like, 'Oh my God, my dream. I’ll be working with a serious filmmaker.' So I go in for this meeting, and he says, 'We have the rights to this video game, Super Mario Bros.' "

Though his draft helped the film secure a Disney deal, he was disillusioned and reunited with Shandling to write for It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. In 1993, producer Walter Parkes gave him a copy of the Men in Black comic book. Solomon thought it was too dark and serious, but he liked the concept. His take attracted Tommy Lee Jones, hot off his Oscar win for The Fugitive.

"My very first meeting with him, he let me know in no uncertain terms that I didn’t know what I was doing and I had to make a choice: 'It’s either a comedy or science fiction. Make up your mind,' " Solomon recalls. "I believe he added 'asshole' after that."

But the end product, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, melded the two genres seamlessly and became an unexpected megahit for Sony in 1997, earning $589 million worldwide and propelling Will Smith into the star stratosphere thanks to a combination of rave reviews and box office. That led to Fox hiring Solomon to write Bryan Singer’s X-Men. But Solomon’s name never appeared on the final cut thanks to behind-the-scenes drama. Though he and Christopher McQuarrie wrote the majority of what wound up onscreen, McQuarrie — angry at the studio over its treatment of him — removed his name and urged Solomon to do the same. Singer’s assistant David Hayter, who contributed to the script, wound up with sole credit.

"It was a dumb move," says Solomon. "But I’m proud of being the first person to write a superhero movie with real people." As for the residuals and backend compensation he gave up? "It was probably $2 million," he says. "Just saying that stings."

His name did wind up on Sony’s unlikely hit Charlie’s Angels in 2000, which echoed his tumultuous X-Men ordeal. "X-Men and Charlie’s Angels were both big clusterfucks with a lot of people coming in." The film went on to earn $264 million worldwide.

Based on his string of successes, Solomon had two choices: keep doing big projects or use his savings to make something creatively satisfying. "I’ve never done something because of money or said no to something because of money — ever," he says. So he opted to try his hand at directing his own script, the 2003 indie Levity, about a convicted murderer who returns to his hometown seeking redemption. Even with a cast of Billy Bob Thornton, Morgan Freeman, Holly Hunter and Kirsten Dunst, the Sundance film polarized audiences. "Critics really hated it, and it was incredibly painful," he says.

Still, the studios continued to call. He became one of Hollywood’s go-to guys when a script needed to be knocked into shape. He was hired to do a production rewrite on 2013’s Now You See Me and wound up with full screenplay credit. (In addition to writing the 2016 sequel, he is now producing the TV adaptation for Turner.) He also has worked anonymously on "some giant franchises that I’m bound to secrecy on, one as recently as last year," he says.

Some of Solomon’s less appreciated work has led to his biggest breaks. The box office and critical failure of Ed Zwick’s Leaving Normal, which Solomon wrote early in his career, led to a long friendship with Casey Silver, Universal’s president at the time. In 2013, not long after his divorce from Cynthia Cleese, daughter of John Cleese, Solomon was looking for something new in his career as well. That’s when Silver told him Soderbergh was seeking a writer on an experimental project. The result was Mosaic, a 2018 HBO murder mystery released as a traditional show and an app in which viewers could choose the POV from which to view the plot. He says, "It turned out to be one of the greatest openings in my life."

Now he and Soderbergh collaborate frequently. They have HBO Max’s Kill Switch, about a group of criminals brought together under mysterious circumstances, going into production in September, with Jon Hamm, Benicio Del Toro and Don Cheadle. They also are making a hush-hush series for the platform tentatively titled Full Circle, based on a 550-page spec Solomon wrote over two years ("Both a linear, straight story as well as a branching narrative, so two entirely different ways of telling the same story," is all Solomon will say). And he brought in Soderbergh to executive produce the long-gestating Bill & Ted Face the Music, a movie that provides its own full-circle moment for Solomon’s career. In fact, Solomon was so committed to the project that he took a significantly reduced salary and put his earnings back into the budget to keep the film from falling apart.

He sees Soderbergh as a mentor the way Shandling was until his death in 2016. Solomon gets emotional relaying the last time he saw the comedian, at a health food store in Santa Monica, weeks before he died. "Garry was the first person who said, 'If you really want to write, you know you could do it. It’s a long path, but if you maintain the focus and objectivity, you can do it.' "

Demand for Solomon’s work shows no signs of slowing. He just turned in the script Beta, written for Abrams' Bad Robot and Paramount, which he dubs “a science fiction sort of a romantic thriller." He’s penning romantic comedy The Ex for Netflix. And he is working on a secret film with Russell, who calls Solomon "hilarious yet a very serious thinker." Meanwhile, the pandemic has him reaching into the past — he reconnected with Black via Zoom for the first time in years.

"We were like a frat for movie lovers," he says of his UCLA crew. "Those voices have stayed with me in a very big way. I look back, and I feel like I’m at the beginning of what I’d like to call the middle of my career, though I know I’m old enough to not be in the middle. But I’m pretending it’s the middle for a while longer."

Article written by Tatiana Siegel for The Hollywood Reporter

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Mark Lanza, president of the Motion Picture Sound Editors, has been working from home since the coronavirus shut everything down. That’s the new norm for Lanza and many other sound editors as they learn to adapt to the pandemic. 

As president of the organization, which presents the Golden Reel Awards each year, Lanza’s concerns include the delays the crisis has caused to the industry’s workflow. Even if production does resume, it will be a while before material gets to post-production and to sound editors. “We were one of the last people to wrap up when they stopped filming,” Lanza says. “And now, we’re going to be one of the last people to start up again.” 

Lanza’s next gig, on a project he declines to reveal, isn’t due to start until December. “A lot of good people are out of work,” he says.

The MPSE chief says that one of the organization’s key functions has been changed drastically. “Networking is everything in this industry,” he says. “That’s how you get new jobs — you interact.” But that isn’t happening while staff isn’t going to the studio, where they could bump into actors, directors, producers and other sound editors over lunch or on the lot.

Instead, the MPSE has been holding virtual social hours where members can discuss the latest tech and experience some human contact. “You find new ways,” Lanza says. A recent Sound Advice event hosted by the MPSE included an example of a remote ADR session with Todd-AO, as well as discussion of a new app called Actors Mobile ADR, in which studios send an iPad to a voice actor, who records his or her dialogue. Data is encrypted for security purposes, and the voice clips are then sent to the sound editor for syncing.

Another workaround has emerged in spotting sessions, in which the director or executive producer and picture editor run through a movie or TV show scene by scene to find areas where dialogue needs to be replaced or enhanced through ADR. Such sessions, which were normally held in studios, are being conducted remotely, with edit markers dropped where needed and imported via VPN to off-site workstations.

Lanza says that members are also finding inventive ways to take their craft on the road, complete with safety protocols. “I have a friend who has an ADR trailer set up” as a mobile workspace — two studios with a divider built in that can be driven to a performer’s home, he says. “The actor goes in one door to record their vocals, the engineer goes in the other door, and they never cross paths.”  

Lanza, who lives in Tarzana, has also been venturing out around his neighborhood and has noticed a distinct change in the sonic environment in terms of air and car traffic and nature. “It’s a great time to go out and get some new background sounds,” he says.

Lanza won a Golden Reel Award himself last year for an episode of Amazon Prime sci-fi series “Electric Dreams.” He predicts the annual event will be held remotely this year, but acknowledges it won’t be the same without a degree of live human element. “Before the show, people would come into the lobby and network,” he says. “Or they’d come by after the awards and schmooze in the lobby. We’re trying to figure out how to incorporate that.” 

Article written by Jazz Tangcay for Variety

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Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are back for another excellent adventure in “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” hitting theaters and digital platforms on Aug. 28. This time, the time-traveling, middle-aged best friends journey out in search of one song that will unite the world.

Whether creating present day or futuristic looks for Reeves and Winter, costume designer Jennifer Starzyk, who recently worked on David Fincher’s “Mindhunter,” knew no one would understand the character looks better than the film’s stars. After all, they had been with these characters for decades, since 1989’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

Starzyk spoke with Variety to break down some key looks from the film:

Bill and Ted’s return

“Director Dean Parisot first said, ‘No one is going to know these characters better than Keanu and Alex,’ so I deferred to them. Everyone has an emotional attachment to these characters, and I had mine. I started by putting together a vision board of surfers and skaters, and I had put some musicians too and how they had grown over 30 years.

Keanu had some fun ideas. He initially wanted to wear a kilt, but that soon dissipated. He came up with the suit idea and he wanted to look quirky.  At the beginning of the movie, the characters meet with a therapist, so maybe that’s where the inspiration came from — this gesture of being an adult, and someone who was also artistic.

Keanu had mentioned singer Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips for one. We went with that, and it went through iterations of colors and how to play a suit into Bill and Ted.

Alex was sent vision boards too. All of our fittings were done in pairs. I never did a fitting without Bill and Ted being together and that was extremely amazing and helpful because they could play off one another.

I was talking to Keanu, and he’s very methodical, asking questions, and Alex would come in, already dressed. He’d say, ‘I’m dressed. I’m done,’ and I’d improve on it.

I had just been hired and I had one week to do my very first fitting with them, and then Keanu was off doing press for “John Wick 3,” so, I needed this arsenal for all their other looks.”


Bill and Ted travel to 2025 as rock stars

“That look had several iterations and we settled on a generic rock star look. When you think of a rock star, you think Aerosmith. And they love Van Halen. So, I asked myself what would the version of Bill and Ted in 1989 and what they imagined they should look like.

Alex said, ‘I can’t have too many animal prints on at the same time.’ Keanu said, ‘I need to wear outrageous leggings,’ and so, we took it from there. We added in a top hat as a nod to Slash from Guns N’ Roses. That entire look is over-embellished and ridiculously Rockstar if they were famous, more so in the ‘90s than in the future.”


Bill and Ted in jail

“This was [special makeup effects artist] Kevin Yagher’s moment. He had also worked on “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.” He was on this project in 2012 and had a lot of time to think about it. I know Alex wanted to be the biggest person he could be. He said, ‘I just want to look like I’ve worked out in a gym the entire time.’ We also had ideas about putting Keanu in cornrows, but it was really about showing off their build and their tattoos.”

Holland Taylor as the Great Leader

“She is so amazing. The Great Leader’s atmosphere was going to be very structural and in cool tones inspired by Calatrava. But since that came out in ‘Westworld’ and other shows started using Calatrava, and anything Calatrava inspired is expensive, so we moved on.

Early on, I was thinking of translucent and floating fabrics. But when we did the camera test, I realized I couldn’t use anything sheer or translucent because it didn’t work with the green screen.

I went back to the drawing board and went for a strong structure with impactful fabrics, and I let the silhouette dictate everything. She got more classic villainous, and it started to come together. I added a half-crown and gloves. And the pin she wears was a custom-molded guitar-neck shaped brooch that was inspired by Rufus (the late George Carlin) from the earlier movies.

Holland loved it and it was such a process to get in and out of that costumes, but she was game because she’s such a professional.”

Article written by Jazz Tangcay for Variety.

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Charlie Kaufman knows he has a reputation for being, well, a bit out there. Maybe it comes from having such a wildly original, meta style, cooking up movies where people step into the mind of John Malkovich or figure out a way to erase a failed romance from their memory. Perhaps it’s because he wrote himself into the 2002 film “Adaptation.” Nicolas Cage’s neurotic, perspiring performance as Charlie (and his more confident twin brother, Donald) are so seared into our minds that it can be difficult to distinguish between Kaufman’s on-screen alter ego and the real McCoy. 

Despite riding high off scripting 1999’s “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” and winning the Academy Award for original screenplay for 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” in his first years as a screenwriter Kaufman was an enigma. “I think there’s this mythology around me because I was, and am, kind of camera-shy,” he admits during an hourlong phone interview from New York, where he had finished post-production on his latest film, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” based on the 2016 novel by Iain Reid that’s out on Netflix Sept. 4. “There were all these articles about me saying I wouldn’t give interviews. I kind of got mad at a guy once because he asked me, ‘Why don’t you do interviews?’ I was literally doing an interview with him at the time!” 

Over the years, Kaufman, now 61, says he has grown more comfortable with others and with himself. During his talk with Variety, he seems very different from the caricature of him. He’s self-effacing and easygoing, happy to speak at length about pretty much everything. When asked about Susan Orlean’s recent charmingly inebriated tweetstorm — the novelist’s “The Orchid Thief” was the jumping-off point for “Adaptation” — he laughs, “I’m not on social media, but I did hear about it.” 

Kaufman is also willing to talk about the term “mindf—,” a phrase that seems to come up again and again when discussing his work. It’s usually meant as a compliment, a way of referring to something that defies easy categorization, but Kaufman isn’t totally sure it captures his style. “I have heard that description of things I’ve done, but I don’t set out to do that,” he says. “But I think the way to approach one’s work is to put it out in the world and let it do what it does. So if people want to call it a mindf— or say I’m weird, that’s their prerogative. But it’s not my intent.” 

In fact, Kaufman says he tries to do the opposite. “I’m more interested in having some sort of emotional resonance and giving people something to respond to,” he says. His frequent producer Anthony Bregman puts it best. “He’s trying to really push you emotionally to feel things and release you from the need to explain what’s going on intellectually and just understand by how it makes you feel,” Bregman says. “It’s more a heartf— than a mind—.” 


Still, Kaufman is prepared for the “MF” word to rear its head upon the release of “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.” The twisty thriller centers on a young woman (Jessie Buckley) who takes a road trip with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (David Thewlis and Toni Collette) at a remote farmhouse during a snowstorm. There are long scenes set entirely in the car where the two characters are simply conversing that lend an unsettling mood to the proceedings, and a plot that veers from offbeat to downright strange. The film plays with time and memory and takes bold risks, incorporating everything from animated characters to a dream ballet lifted straight out of “Oklahoma!” As with most of Kaufman’s movies, trying to sum it all up is nearly impossible. 

“It’s terrifying to talk about this film!” laughs Buckley, who stepped into the role that Brie Larson was originally set to play. “I would read it two or three times a week and send Charlie an email saying, ‘Do not worry. I understand exactly what this is about.’ I would tell him everything I was thinking, and he would respond, ‘Amazing. That makes total sense!’ Then I’d reread the script and go back and say, ‘I’m sorry ­— that was completely ridiculous. This is what it’s really about!’ And he’d say, ‘Oh, that’s great!’” 

The film was unlike anything Buckley had done before, but she adored the experience of working with Kaufman. “He is the most humane inhuman,” she raves. “He’s smart and he challenges you, but he’s also hilarious and encourages such vulnerability.” 

Collette also appreciates Kaufman’s willingness to experiment. “My favorite thing he said on set is something I concur with and often mumble myself: ‘There are no rules in life,’” she says. “I think that’s why his work is so exciting. It’s free of conditioning and normal expectations.” 

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” marks Kaufman’s first major solo directorial effort since his 2008 debut, “Synecdoche, New York,” an artful film but a box office misfire. Since then, he has co-directed with Duke Johnson the animated 2015 film “Anomalisa,” based on his play, and helmed a 2014 pilot for FX called “Here and Why” that ultimately wasn’t picked up. “It was brilliant, but it wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t for everyone, and that’s the tricky thing,” says Bregman, who was an executive producer on the show. Asked if he thinks Kaufman has ever made something for everyone, Bregman responds: “No, I don’t. And who’s interested in that? Maybe some people, but I’m certainly not interested in something that’s for everyone.” Still, when it comes to the bottomline-oriented entertainment business, Bregman acknowledges, “There’s this tricky thing that needs to get matched — the price of something versus what the potential audience is for it.” 

When Kaufman came across Reid’s book, he thought it fit Bregman’s criteria. It looked like it could be made for a reasonable budget, and the thriller genre was considered an easier sell. Kaufman says he was, frankly, “desperate to do something.” Neither of his previous films had done well financially. “Anomalisa” had been a particularly challenging experience; at one point funds were so low, a delivery person showed up to repossess the bottled water. (A fast-thinking producer hid the bottles in another room.) He had also spent years trying to get a musical made about the relationship between a director and an internet troll, titled “Frank or Francis.” But despite a cast including Steve Carell and Cate Blanchett, the project stalled. Kaufman says some of the themes worked their way into his novel “Antkind” (published last month by Penguin Random House). 

“[‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’] took place in a car and a farmhouse, and I thought, ‘That sounds easy and inexpensive!’” Kaufman says. As it turned out, it was a very difficult production. The 30-day shoot was whittled down to 24. Kaufman had hoped to build a car and a farmhouse he could disassemble to get creative shots, but budget restrictions prohibited that. And for a movie that plays with time and memory and incorporates magical elements in its storytelling, the most challenging part of filming turned out to be something practical: the weather. Says Bregman, “As with all of Charlie’s movies, this takes place in the physical world but also inside the head, inside the mental stage, so the snow itself is a major character in the movie and has to be treated very precisely. You can’t cut around it.” 

“The snow was the worst,” Kaufman groans. “We had no control over it, and it delayed the process and made the days long.” There were three night shoots in a row filming the exterior of a Dairy Queen-esque ice cream shop called Tulsey Town, when a torrential downpour hit. “The practical snow turned into slush and then nothing, and we were all exhausted. And we had to shoot that scene that day because there was no time.” 

The cast members say they enjoyed the process. “It was intense, a small budget, and we rarely got more than three takes in a scene,” says Buckley. “But from my side, there was so much goodwill toward Charlie from every single department. Everyone was so committed to every bit of the story. They showed up because they were emotionally engaged and thrilled to be genuinely challenged.” 

Collette calls Kaufman “the best kind of artist” because he has specific ideas but is also open to collaboration. Asked about challenges, she says, “Maybe trying to create a believable throughline for my character in a piece where the ground is constantly moving. But that was also the best thing about it. Here, anything is believable, or rather, acceptable. So the choices were kind of limitless. That can be daunting, but also freeing.”

Kaufman has deep respect for his actors, perhaps because he started out as one before giving it up after his freshman year of college at Boston University before transferring to NYU. While he toyed with going back over the years, and tried stand-up comedy for a time, he says he just lost the drive somewhere along the way. “I remember auditioning for summer stock and just feeling embarrassed and humiliated by it,” he admits. “And actors have to go through that for their entire lives.” Kaufman has both empathy for performers and a genuine awe for what they do. “It’s a difficult and vulnerable position to put yourself in, and I respect that,” he says. 

When it comes to casting, he has one key criterion. He only wants to work with actors who are nice. “I can’t handle it,” he says simply. “My job is difficult enough trying to figure out how to do this thing and construct it. I’m not terribly experienced so I don’t want that drama; I would want to walk off set, which I can’t do. So I try to surround myself with people who aren’t going to force me into that feeling.” 

Kaufman went into “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” thinking it might be his last directing job. “I’m getting up there” in age, he says. “I haven’t made a movie in 10 years, so I said I’m going to make something I want and not worry if this will lead to another job. If I get to do it again, it’s gravy for me.” 

Despite those fears, he’s maintaining a busy schedule. He’s writing “Memory Police,” a script about dreams, for Ryan Gosling’s company and developing a limited series for HBO based on Arthur Herzog’s book “IQ83,” about a virus that causes stupidity. 

And as he releases his next film into the world, Kaufman, as well as his producer, are happy to address some of the central mystery that clings to him. “Charlie doesn’t have that manic disposition Nicolas Cage portrays in ‘Adaptation,’” Bregman says with a laugh. Kaufman, though, admits that people have told him they absolutely see him in the performance, and allows that it “represents an aspect of me, I guess.” 

While he may have created a monster in some ways by having Cage portray him on-screen, Kaufman says one aspect of the character has played to his advantage — one that has echoes in his willingness to address his demons at this stage of his career. “I did have a very serious issue with sweating during meetings,” he reveals. “I would always feel it trickling down my forehead, and it’s so embarrassing, and you know they can see it. So I wrote that into the movie.” 

After the film came out, Kaufman found the sweating ceased. “Once I stopped worrying about it,” he says, “it didn’t happen anymore.” 

Article written by Jenelle Riley for Variety

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Sean Connery helped redefine movie stardom thanks to his role as James Bond, an impossibly suave super-spy with a taste for martinis that were shaken, not stirred. In films like “Dr. No,” “Goldfinger,” and “You Only Live Twice,” the Scottish actor created a template for a fresh and exciting action hero, one whose womanizing, hard-drinking ways and penchant to solve any dispute with the barrel of a Walther PPK presaged a new and more permissive era of on-screen sex and violence.

The man who would be 007 turns 90 on Tuesday and has been off the silver screen since opting to retire in 2003 after appearing in the execrable “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” (Why do the great ones go out with a whimper? Here’s looking at you Gene Hackman/”Welcome to Mooseport”). However, his legacy continues to reverberate — it can be felt in everything from Tom Cruise’s globe-trotting “Mission: Impossible” alter-ego Ethan Hunt to Harrison Ford’s quip-ready adventurer in the Indiana Jones films. Daniel Craig’s darker take on Bond also owes a clear debt to Connery’s interpretation of the Ian Fleming character.


A look at Variety’s archives makes it clear that Connery’s casting and elevation to Hollywood’s A-list was hardly a foregone conclusion. He was essentially an unknown when he got the call, having appeared most notably in a supporting role in Walt Disney’s “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” a bit of cinematic blarney that called on Connery to sing (off-key) and interact with leprechauns. And yet, something about the actor, call it a panther-like sleekness, led to him being cast as the refined, yet deadly member of her majesty’s secret service. In fact, Fleming initially hoped that David Niven would play Bond.

The brush with celebrity took Connery by surprise. In a March 14, 1963, column for Variety, published as “Dr. No” was taking cinemas by storm, Army Archerd noted that Connery, who was feted at a Directors Guild screening of the film and a ‘feed’ at the legendary eatery Chasen’s…”was only a coupla years ago hitching rides on Hollywood Blvd. That’s show biz.”


“Dr. No” was a godsend for United Artists, the studio behind the series, which was suffering from a series of box office disappointments such as “Pressure Point” with Sidney Poitier and Bobby Darin, and the Yul Brenner adventure film “Taras Bulba.” In a June 26, 1963 article, Variety in a bit of imaginative word play noted that the public’s reaction to “Dr. No” was “yes, yes.” It went on to report that UA was looking to create a franchise and that Connery was expected to reprise the role in 10 features, which would shoot every year. Ultimately, the actor would play the role six more times, one of which was in “Never Say Never Again,” a remake of “Thunderball” that was not backed by UA or the Broccolis, the producing powerhouses behind the series.

To hype the film in the U.S. following its dominance of U.K. screens, the studio embarked on a promotional campaign that hasn’t aged well in the post-feminist era. During a two-week tour of the country, Connery was flanked by models or, as Variety put it in a March 6, 1963 article, “three comely cuties.” The article went on to note that the actor, who later developed a reputation for being prickly, “insists he dislikes this kind of pub junketing.” He would go on to feud with the team behind Bond over contracts, licensing rights, profit-sharing, and other money matters. However, he remained the gold standard for the role. There’s a reason, after all, why aspiring Bond actors must audition by performing a scene first nailed by Connery in “From Russia With Love.”


For Connery, Bond proved to be both an opportunity and an albatross. It propelled him to riches and made him a star on par with the Beatles for much of the ’60s, but it also led to issues when he wanted to stretch his acting muscles. Early attempts to prove that he could have a career apart from Bond’s toupee, such as 1964’s “Marnie” and 1965’s “The Hill” were bigger hits with critics than audiences. And yet Connery persisted. In the 1970s, he scored with “The Man Who Would Be King,” “The Wind and the Lion,” and “Robin and Marian,” films that showed the aching, aging, vulnerable side of his hyper-masculine on-screen persona, and movies that stand the test of time. Over the ensuing decades, Connery would earn an Oscar playing an Irish beat cop in “The Untouchables,” and would win generations of new fans with roles in blockbusters such as “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “The Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October,” in the latter as a Russian submarine captain with an incongruous Scottish brogue. There’d be controversies too. Particularly, comments in which Connery suggested that it was alright to hit a woman — he would later, unconvincingly claim he was misquoted (see the Barbara Walters interview to form your own conclusion). It should also be noted that Connery’s first wife, Diane Cilento, accused Connery of physical abuse — allegations he denied.

Despite those upsetting character deficiencies, Connery’s star power was undeniable throughout his 50-plus year career. He exuded an intoxicating mixture of intelligence and brawn, sophistication and menace, making him equally adept with a gun and a double entendre. To borrow a line from the theme song of a Bond film that did not feature Connery as 007 — nobody did it better.

Article written by Brent Lang for Variety

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Radha Blank overcomes failure as a playwright by reinventing herself as a rapper in Netflix’s first trailer for “The 40-Year-Old Version.”

The footage starts with Blank teaching a playwriting class in New York City as one of “30 under 30 Playwrights to Watch.”

“Remember, if you put in nothing, it will be nothing,” she tells her students. In true New Yorker fashion, one of them snarkily asks, “Like your career?”

Blank, who won the U.S. dramatic competition directing award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, helmed from her own script about a down-on-her-luck New York playwright who decides to salvage her artistic voice the only way she knows how — by becoming a rapper at age 40.

“What about me doing hip-hop?” she asks her friend, portrayed by Peter Kim. “Doing what to it?” he responds.

“The 40-Year-Old Version” also stars rapper Oswin Benjamin, who makes his feature film acting debut, along with Imani Lewis, Haskiri Velazquez, Antonio Ortiz, TJ Atoms, Jacob Ming Trent, Stacey Sargeant, William Oliver Watkins, Meghan O’Neill, André Ward, Welker White and Reed Birney.

The film was shot almost entirely on 35mm black and white film by cinematographer Eric Branco, who shot “Clemency.”

Variety’s Peter Debruge gave the film a strong review at Sundance: “As a performer, her timing is impeccable, earning extra laughs through body language and facial expressions that show she could have quite the acting career ahead of her.”

The film was produced by Lena Waithe, Blank, Jordan Fudge, Inuka Bacote-Capiga, Jennifer Semler and Rishi Rajani. Netflix is releasing “The 40-Year-Old Version” on Oct. 9.

Article written by Dave McNary for Variety

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By consistently aiming his movies at the PG-13/12A certificate, the director has made himself cinema’s pre-eminent big-budget auteur.


ou can count the directors who’ve been able to command budgets over $200m (£152m) for original blockbusters on one hand, and still have fingers left over. There’s James Cameron, now apparently intent on spending the rest of his career making sequels to his $237m (£181m) Avatar. There’s Christopher Nolan, whose next movie, Tenet, has soared well over that $200m mark. And, well, that’s it. Every other film coming in north of $200m is an adaptation, sequel, spin-off, reimagining or tie-in. Nolan is now out there on his own as that rarest of things: a mega-budget auteur – the one film-maker permitted to take such huge financial punts with wholly new ideas.

Nolan carved this enviable niche in several ways. Firstly, he reliably makes very good films. His lowest-rated on Rotten Tomatoes is Interstellar with 72%, while Memento, Insomnia, The Dark Knight and Dunkirk are all above 90%. If your worst film is Interstellar, you’re doing something right. Secondly, each of his movies arrives riding a tsunami of anticipation. Ever since he turned the superhero movie on its head in 2005 with Batman Begins, audiences can’t wait to see where Nolan’s going next. Arguably, only Quentin Tarantino and, possibly, Jordan Peele are able to whip up comparable pre-release frenzy for a release that isn’t part of a franchise owned by Disney.

Thirdly, Nolan is a very canny businessman. In order to recoup the vast investments pumped into his films, as many bums as possible have to be on seats. This means gaining that all-important PG-13/12A certificate. And he’s done this with every film he’s released post 2002’s Insomnia. It’s an astute strategy that Nolan goes to great lengths to achieve, removing just enough blood or menace to sneak each film past the US’s PG-13 arbiters. So, even with the Joker’s “pencil trick”, Dunkirk’s bowel-churning tension and Inception’s balletic ballistics, you can take your kids along. You possibly shouldn’t, but you can.

Tenet, though, may prove to be a rare failure in Nolan’s filmography. It’s estimated the film will need to make $800m to break even. The pandemic has all-but made that an impossibility. For the first time, Nolan’s financiers are looking at a loss, though surely the best way to recoup is by writing him a blank cheque for his next project, whatever it is – as long as it’s a 12A.

Article written by Luke Holland for The Guardian.

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Universal Filmed Entertainment Group has its head in the cloud — and now it’s going to push its production teams there.

The company has embarked on a major multiyear strategy to move its studios’ film and TV production from in-house servers to the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform. The goal is to let creatives collaborate more easily and efficiently across geographic regions and with outside vendors, said Michael Wise, CTO of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group.

“It will unlock a new way to make movies in a way we haven’t been able to do before,” Wise said.

Universal is working with a team from Microsoft Azure to extend DreamWorks Animation’s proprietary production platform for animation to include live-action content, which ultimately will be housed in the cloud. With those workflows running on Microsoft Azure, according to Wise, Universal’s ecosystem of partners will be able to connect to them in open, standards-based ways.

The COVID-19 crisis has been an “impetus” for Universal’s cloud migration, even as the company has been in the planning stages for the move since late 2019, Wise said. He pointed out that it’s a near-term solution to accelerate a return to industry production during the global pandemic by letting production teams work with a broad array of industry partners remotely.

“COVID is certainly an accelerant… but we knew this was the way we had to go long-term,” Wise said.

The first order of business is to take DWA’s existing production platform and extend it into Azure, which will take about a year. Wise noted that animation projects currently in production will not be shifted to the cloud: “Our production cycles last a couple years, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to move in midstream.”

In tandem, Universal and Microsoft will be layering in live-action production capabilities into the cloud starting with visual effects. Wise sees a big win with VFX, which on a major film can involved dozens of third-party partners. “This will save extraordinary amounts of time,” he predicted.

NBCUniversal’s Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, headed by chairman Donna Langley, includes Universal Pictures, Focus Features, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, and DreamWorks Animation.

A key reason Universal Filmed Entertainment picked Microsoft Azure is the roster of industry partners it has lined up. In the three years since the Azure group began focusing on the media and entertainment sector, those have included Avid Technology, Adobe Systems, Technicolor, Bebop Technology, StratusCore and Teradici.

By moving production processes to Microsoft Azure, Wise said, Universal can take advantage of the cloud platform’s global “hyper-scale” storage and compute platform, which will let studio teams tap into additional storage and processing power on an as-needed basis.

“You use compute power — and pay for it — only when you need it,” said Hanno Basse, Microsoft Azure’s CTO. Basse was formerly chief technology officer of 20th Century Fox Film (prior to its Disney acquisition) and joined Microsoft this past March.

According to Wise, Universal, in conjunction with Microsoft, will be developing and pushing standards for cloud-based production in two main areas: application programming interfaces (APIs) for third-party tools to access asset databases in a common way; and an industry-standard ontology for asset management systems.

“We’re gonna use this as a focal point to rally the industry behind standards and interoperability,” Wise said.

The promise of cloud computing is that it will increase operational efficiencies, and by extension free up creative professionals to be even more innovative in their craft, Basse said. “Together with customers like Universal and DreamWorks, we are prioritizing cloud and edge technologies to help transform workflows, increase production output and reduce friction for creatives,” he said.

Article written by Todd Spangler for Variety

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Twenty years after “Bring It On” debuted, “Brr it’s cold in here” and “This is not a democracy, it’s a cheerocracy” have shown no signs of being shunted aside from the cultural lexicon.

But in the late ’90s when screenwriter Jessica Bendinger shopped her lengthy 120-page script around Hollywood, every major studio passed on making a teen movie about cheerleaders. She was about to give up hope that the Rancho Carne Toros and the East Compton Clovers would get their due on the big screen when producers at Beacon Pictures fell in love with the screenplay and agreed to make the movie.

Despite the initial reluctance of many executives, “Bring It On” became a hit when it was released in theaters on Aug. 25, 2000 — eventually grossing $90 million at the box office. The legacy of “Bring It On” extended far beyond that original movie, later spawning five direct-to-DVD sequels and a Broadway musical that boasted songs from “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The film, now considered a cult classic, also solidified Kirsten Dunst as a box office draw — she’d had a big year in 1999 with “The Virgin Suicides,” “Drop Dead Gorgeous” and “Dick.” In “Bring It On,” she played Toros captain Torrence Shipman alongside up-and-comers Eliza Dushku as the edgy cheerleader Missy Pantone and Gabrielle Union as Clovers’ fearless leader, Isis.

“Bring It On” follows two rival high school cheer squads as they prepared to compete for the national title. But the coming-of-age story is more than just impressive stunts and spirit fingers. The film’s central conflict — Torrence and the Toros find out their team’s five-time winning routines were stolen from Black cheerleaders — weaves in a timely and timeless social message about cultural appropriation and white privilege.

In honor of its 20th anniversary, Bendinger and director Peyton Reed reunited to reminisce about making the movie and tease plans for a sequel with the original cast.

This movie was shopped around a lot before it was given the greenlight. Why do you think it was finally made?

Jessica Bendinger: It’s one of those crazy Hollywood stories. Universal passed in the room. It was a male studio executive, who I remember was throwing a basketball up in the air while he was talking to us. He was like, “Let me stop you. It’s going to be a pass.” He was trying to be a good guy and not have us waste our time and energy. Then I went to Beacon [Pictures] and I was like, “You guys aren’t going to want this. Nobody wants this, so I’ll say it for you.” I was really at the end of my rope, and sure enough [executives] John Ketcham, Caitlin Scanlon and Max Wong really rallied to buy it. Miracles happen.

Peyton Reed: It’s amazing because even before I came in on the movie, Jessica — you and Caitlin and Max were such a unified front about, “We are getting this movie made.” There was just this energy behind the movie that was not to be ignored.

It’s a fun teen rom-com, but it also takes on serious themes about cultural appropriation and white privilege. Did that get any pushback?

Bendinger: I think the medicine was in the candy. The only pushback I remember somebody saying was, “[The Toros] are not going to win in the end. Do you think that’s a problem?” And I was like, “Rocky didn’t win. No, I don’t think it’s a problem.”

Reed: It’s only been 20 years, but it seems like another time — a time when major studios were making $10 million or $11 million movies. But even then, you know, they had much bigger fish to fry. We shot down in San Diego and we were really on our own in a great way. For me, as a first-time feature director at that time, it was really liberating. We just had all this youthful enthusiasm on the movie, and we just dove in and kept going and never looked back.

You bring up a good point. Studios aren’t making low-budget movies. Do you think a movie like this would be made at a major studio now?

Reed: It’s increasingly hard, which is a shame. It was the perfect budget for that movie. If it came along now, it would probably be a streaming movie. To be doing a competitive cheerleading comedy for major studio, all this time later, that really feels like a coup to me. It feels like another era.

Bendinger: It was very gratifying to see the success of “Cheer” on Netflix. The audience is still there, they’re still hungry. We really tapped into something that hasn’t diminished in the culture. To have people who feel “othered” or marginalized getting to win and have their moment centerstage is very powerful.

The movie is insanely quotable. Do you have any favorite lines?

Bendinger: One of my favorite scenes is actually non-dialogue, which is the brushing teeth scene. We were saying, I think it would be great if Kirsten and Jesse [Bradford] had a moment. It’s such a beautiful scene. The actors are so cute, they’re just so darn cute. It’s really irresistible. There are lots of memorable lines, but that performance, there’s something about it that I really love. But if you put a gun to my head, my favorite lines are “Missy’s the poo” or the opening scene cheer.

Gabrielle Union has talked about the perception of her character, and noted that some people interpreted her as playing the villain or an “out-of-control, young Black woman.” How did you perceive that?

Bendinger: Wow, that was never — I mean, there were earlier versions of the script where they were more oppositional with each other, but I thought one of the beautiful things about the movie is there’s no real villain. The villain is your own behavior. The villain is your own ethical moral compass. Like, how are you going to behave in a situation? Are you going to choose well or chose poorly? I think Gabrielle’s character is so poised.

Reed: Jessica is right. There’s no villain in the movie. The real thing is about Kirsten’s character and having someone realize that they’ve been boasting about being the five-time national champions and they stole those routines, right? It’s really about cultural theft. Kirsten’s character realizes the Toros are direct beneficiaries of this cultural theft. That’s the stuff that is really relevant about it. Gabrielle’s character, Isis, is a determined leader who is going to get to Nationals and prove to everybody that they’re the rightful ones. They have been fighting in obscurity to be the best, and they are the best, and now they’re going to prove it to the world. In no way is she a villain or even an antagonist. That’s a very weird read on the movie.

Right, I think it’s very evident in the movie how much Kirsten’s character respects Gabrielle’s.

Reed: I think there are always gonna be people in the audience, as there are in our country, who aren’t comfortable that the white girls didn’t win. That’s the sad truth of our country, and I think that was a fun thing to confront in the movie because absolutely, the Clovers deserve to win. They won by being the best and working hard. What I like about that ending, as Jessica mentioned, it’s almost like a Rocky ending where the protagonist comes in second, but it feels like first. She learned something, she finally realized how complicit she is in this weird institutionalized racism that’s going on. That’s two victories in my book.

Why did you want to approach the topic of cultural appropriation through the lens of a teen cheerleading movie?

Bendinger: Taking an arena as iconic as cheerleading and all it represent — All-American, idealistic, enthusiastic — was the perfect framework for a bit of subversion. I’m always hoping to execute that unexpected twist — using universal emotional real estate to fuel wonderful misdirection. If something is already subversive, it’s no fun subverting that, right? You want there to be some tension and distance so the character can grow.

In this context, Torrance and cheerleading was the perfect proxy. Pairing coming-of-age with coming-of-awareness is a natural fit. Especially for a teenager in the pre-smart phone/ pre-social media/ pre-WiFi 90’s-aughts who has never had to question her reality and suddenly has to question everything.

Cheerleading was the learning curve that is relatable. She is well-intended and gets a chance to learn and course-correct her mistakes and to grow. It is subverting the classic sports structure in many ways because it is not about us vs. them or winning vs. losing. It’s about both.

After the success of “Bring It On,” there were so many direct-to-DVD sequels that neither of you were part of. Why weren’t you involved with them?

Reed: I can speak for me, but not long after that, I found the script for “Down With Love,” which is my second movie. The way that I’ve traditionally worked is I will gravitate to something new and then get really myopic about it and get sucked into it. And by that time, I think DVD sales were at their height. Our movie did well in theaters, but it really took off with DVD sales.

Bendinger: It did really well on DVD. Like, it was insane.

Reed: I think at some point there was a business model at Universal, they did it with “Bring It On” and “American Pie,” where they were going to do these straight-to-DVD things. In hindsight, I certainly think there would have been a market for theatrical versions of the sequels. But I don’t ever remember specific talks about getting the cast back together for one.

Bendinger: Peyton and I, over the years, have had fun chats. We’re really excited at the idea of possibly pursuing this. We don’t have anything explicitly to announce, but we have talked about this intermittently for years.

Reed: We have some very, very fun and specific ideas that we’re working on. So we like the idea that “Bring It On” could potentially be this generational thing because the appetite for cheerleading and that whole world has only grown since we made that movie 20 years ago.

Can you tease what that would look like or where you envision the characters now? Are they like Monica, the coach from “Cheer”?

Bendinger: I don’t know. We’re excited to think about it.

Reed: Someone told me last year in the context of a Marvel conversation about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, someone said, “You guys should really make a ‘Bring It On’ Cinematic Universe.” We started talking about it and were like, “Wait a second,” and started devising certain things that got us really really excited. And I think that’s all we can say about it right now.

Bendinger: I will say, we really love the Sparky Polastri character.

Twenty years later, what do you hope that people still take away from watching “Bring It On”?

Bendinger: The power of respect. Torrence says, “I am only cheerleading.” But her whole career was built on stealing somebody else’s work. It’s a nice benign lens to think about the bigger problem we’re facing in America. It’s a nice starter pack for people who want to talk about it or think about it.

Reed: I agree, I think it is this mutual respect. In a utopian world, Kirsten’s character Torrence realizes the reality of what’s been going on and how they become the five-time national champions, and she wants to try and make it right. She makes some missteps along the way, but the intention is good. That was the story we were going for at the time, and I do think that resonates even now.

Article written by Rebecca Rubin for Variety

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Whether it was the dystopian society of “The Handmaid’s Tale” or the alternate history of “Watchmen,” the Emmy nominated costume designers in the fantasy/sci-fi category sought to ground their looks in reality. This meant relying on historical research, such as art and photo references of specific time periods, to help transport audiences into different worlds, and to convey emotion through their designs.

Carnival Row
Post-industrial Victorian England served as an influence on the clothes of Amazon’s neo-noir fairy drama. But because many characters are mythological creatures, historical styles had to mix with more mystical and magical silhouettes. “You have to present a reality in order to have to have the flip side which is the fantasy,” says costume designer and self-proclaimed history nerd Joanna Eatwell. The first step for her and her team (assistant costume designer Clare Vyse and costume supervisor Jennifer Lander) was understanding the rules, structures and boundaries before they could break them. “It’s very important to understand the period in order to portray it realistically, correctly and with confidence,” says Eatwell.

The Handmaid’s Tale
Characters visited the even more oppressive new version of Washington, D.C. in the third season. The handmaids’ uniforms there included lower face masks pulled tight and secured in the back. Veils were also a part of the look of the region, and for those, costume designer Natalie Bronfman says “the original inspiration came from a painting from the 1800s, ‘La Monaca di Monza’ by Giuseppe Molteni.” Additional imagery from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and ancient Rome provided reference points for her, as well as assistant costume designer Christina Cattle and costume supervisor Helena Davis Perry. “Women have always been covered up as we have seen in the past,” says Bronfman. Similarly, when creating the uniforms for the men in D.C, the team combined uniform style elements from “First World War French [soldiers], Prussians and fascists.”

The Mandalorian
(Disney Plus)
Set three years after “Return of the Jedi,” the streaming drama had to tap into the iconography of the “Star Wars” universe, but still provide something new. Costume designer Joseph Porro worked with assistant costume designers Gigi Melton and Lauren Silvestri, as well as costume supervisor Julie Robar, on everything from the titular masked bounty hunter to mysterious villain Moff Gideon, known for his black boots and cape, to the Driver, whose fur-lined jacket evoked Boba Fett. (Disney Plus failed to make any member of the nominated team available for interviews.)

The series premiere of Damon Lindelof’s adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel of the same name begins with a re-creation of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, which costume designer Sharen Davis wanted to “reenact perfection.” Davis looked through as much historical footage and photos as she could, with the goal of making people feel that truth emotionally through the costume design. To achieve that, she used a lot of sepia tones — matching the images of the photos she had seen and the visual way in which Lindelof wanted to bring viewers into the world. Elsewhere, the graphic novel served as her team’s (including costume supervisor Valerie Zielonka) bible, that meant leaning into red and yellow garments and the DIY feel of the masked vigilante’s alter-ego looks.

Former theme park host Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) took the real world by storm in the third season, and that meant she could finally ditch the Western garb. But still, “there’s a good old-fashioned film noir element to Dolores,” says costume designer Shay Cunliffe. Working with assistant costume supervisor Amanda Riley, associate costume designer Jo Kissack Folsom and costume supervisor Dan Bronson, Cunliffe took a minimalist approach for the season and says she was inspired by designers of the 1940s, as well as the 1980s. “The past inspired me more because it has a far more exciting future design than we have right now,” Cunliffe says. Namely, the ‘80s “had Jean-Paul Gaultier, Geoffrey Beane and Halston,” which were influential in establishing Aaron Paul’s Caleb, especially the expensive suits he tries on to blend into the world.

Article Written by Jazz Tangcay for Variety.

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The second season of “Succession” opens on Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) emerging from the warm waters of an Icelandic spa.

Kendall has just begun a much-needed stint in rehab, away from his poisonous family, when he is called back by his father and plunged once again into the media dynasty rat race.
HBO’s “Succession” is one of several of this year’s drama series nominees whose characters’ pasts and obsessions lead them to potentially dangerous or perhaps healthy levels of isolation — depending on whether it’s time away from your partner in crime in Netflix’s “Ozark,” the person who tried to murder you in BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” or your traumatic past in Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian.”

Rather than giving Kendall some space, “Succession” showrunner Jesse Armstrong says the move was more of a forced exile — Logan punishing his naughty son for betraying him and trying to take over the company behind his back.

“There’s a history in powerful families of trying to get rid of black sheep or people who don’t fit in, or have mental ailments,” Armstrong says. “It feels like the isolation of a problematic element in the family life. Maybe he needs it, but I’d actually say what he needs more is true connection with his family and a bit of honesty.”

“Succession” deals with vast wealth, power and the competition that naturally arises between siblings when they are raised with the idea that their father’s “business empire is hereditary,” Armstrong says, with the idea that only one of them will inherit it all. This central idea forces the family members apart, while their wealth forces the family itself further away from normality, as well.

“Very rich people isolate themselves because they don’t want contact with other people, and then guess what, they find themselves rather isolated and out of touch,” Armstrong says. “That wonderful, rather extravagant-looking yacht that they find themselves on at the end of Season 2 is a living hell. I’m not crying for them, but it is nevertheless a great irony that they’re cut off from the stuff of happiness in life as a whole.”

Whereas viewers will never know if several months in rehab would have put Kendall on the straight and narrow, one central character who benefits from an intense period of isolation is Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) in Season 3 of “Ozark.”

In one episode, Marty is kidnapped by the leader of a Mexican drug cartel and forced to endure sleep-deprivation in a cell. While locked up, he has an important reckoning over his and his family’s future.

“Marty’s whole arc in that episode was internal and coming to a realization about himself that he didn’t get into this thing by accident. In a lot of ways, he actually wants to win, it’s not like he just wants to get out,” Mundy says. “That was a step toward Marty understanding himself better because he had to, it was just him alone in a cell for so long.”

Much like Logan Roy’s offspring, the Byrde children suffer because of their parents’ work and cut more distant figures as a result. However, in Season 3 of “Ozark,” it’s Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) who insists that Marty and Wendy (Laura Linney) see a therapist together as part of a deal that will see her return home.

“Family is family and I think she realized that the world is a little scary out there on your own,” Mundy says. “Even as messed up as the Byrde family is, they are still the only people that can truly understand the situation they’re in. There’s so much they can’t say, and the secret they share keeps them in some way dependent on each other, both for good and for bad.”

The central characters of “Killing Eve” and “The Mandalorian,” on the other hand, isolate themselves in large part because of past trauma.

“With these two women, it’s really about the fact that they’re seen by the other in a way that no one else has ever seen them before. I think that for both of them that’s such a unique and powerful experience that no matter how hard they try, they’re unable to find anything else that quite matches that,” says “Killing Eve” executive producer Suzanne Heathcote.

Their delicious, yet poisonous obsession with each other also leads to collateral damage on both sides, leaving Eve (Sandra Oh) in particular feeling like she’s a “danger to others.”

“Even though [Eve] is trying to regain some sort of normality, her version of that normality at the beginning of the season is a version where she completely removed herself from her life in a very isolated way of living because that feels safe, both for her and for those around her,” Heathcote says. “She feels like a dangerous person, and the fear is she has no idea how far she can go because she’s already gone so far.”

The season ends on a somewhat cryptic note, with each character looking back at the other across a bridge, after Eve acknowledges that she cannot live her life without Villanelle (Jodie Comer).

“Villanelle could walk away from Eve and all the danger that she represents in her life as well. Yet neither of them is able to continue that journey away from each other, without looking back,” Heathcote says.

The attraction that the titular Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) feels towards his newly adopted protégé the Child (aka Baby Yoda) also hauls Mando out of his isolated ways, says executive producer Dave Filoni.

Mando begins as a lonely gunslinger, broken by the death of his parents as a child and “that armor he wears is representative of how he’s protecting himself inside — how he’s protecting that fragile, young part of him that obviously went through trauma early on,” Filoni says.

But taking the Child under his wing puts Mando on a different course, moving away from his solitude and defining his life by his profession.

“Having [the] Child with him has put him in touch with people and in situations that he’s had to make more selfless choices,” Filoni says. “The Child represents the nature of the force; he’s the conscience through this whole thing, guiding these characters that are on the margins to better [choices] than they would have made without him.”

Article written by Will Thorne for Variety.

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Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman have been in each other’s orbit for the better part of three decades, and have also worked together on films including “The Break-Up,” “The Switch” and “Horrible Bosses” franchise.

Both started in the business very young yet proved to have the ability not only to maintain longevity as performers and to deftly flip between comedic and dramatic roles, but they also both took greater control of their careers by slipping behind the camera as producers and directors.

Now, the duo finds themselves Emmy-nominated at the same time: She with her first dramatic Television Academy nod for her work on Apple TV Plus’ “The Morning Show” and he with his third consecutive lead drama actor nom for Netflix’s “Ozark,” in addition to a guest performance nomination for HBO’s “The Outsider.”

Here, Variety reunites Aniston and Bateman to talk about how the adrenaline-infused settings affect their performances, what to do with comedic instincts when working on a drama and what currently drives them in the various aspects of their careers.

After working together a few times, what have you learned from each other that you’ve carried with you?

Jason Bateman: The way that she carries herself and everything that she takes on and has put upon her. It’s a very complicated full life that she manages, and she does it with grace and kindness and warmth to her closest friends and to a person she might meet that day on the set. I have learned, and it has been reaffirmed to me, that no matter how successful you become, that is still the most important thing for your own peace of mind, but also for the work environment because a lot of people take their cues from what No. 1 on the call sheet is doing and how they’re handling things — how they’re holding themselves, how they’re behaving. And she just sets such a great example.

Jennifer Aniston: OK you win.

Bateman: Just say ditto.

Aniston: Ditto! No, I’m not kidding, I have to say there is no one more professional and lovely to be around — and calm. There’s no histrionics with him: He is prepared, he is solid, he is kind, he is funny. I love my days when I get to be with Jason on a set or my house on a Sunday. He’s one of the greatest people to be around, whether I get to work with him, which I don’t get to do enough of and it’s been too long. But we’re going to write that, aren’t we, Jason?

There are more seasons of “Ozark” and “The Morning Show” coming.

Bateman: That’s true. I would love to see Jen doing some drive through the Ozarks.

Aniston: Yeah, what if there was a television and you were watching the news and it was [my “Morning Show” character] Alex Levy reporting it?

Bateman: I’m going to pitch it right now.

Aniston: It would be a kind of cool, weird crossover.

How do the high-adrenaline of the worlds of your characters now, from morning news to money-laundering, affect the way you carry them?

Aniston: The truth is that world is such a high-octane environment, and I have to say it was quite amazing to witness when I went to “GMA” to shadow. To see the intense, as you say, adrenaline running through this, that revs up — it starts like a slow hum and then the wheels go faster and faster and faster and faster and all of the anchors are walking in and out, getting all of these little sound bites and they have to also in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 be on camera — completely compartmentalizing all of this adrenaline — and deliver the news with calm and grace to America as if it’s just having a conversation. And they do this every day, some people for 25 years. Somehow they’re built that way — I don’t know where that insane adrenaline stores itself inside their body until they just spontaneously combust, which ended up happening at the end of our season.

Bateman: My character is not too dissimilar from Jen’s in that we’re always toggling between offense and then also defeat, so there is this, physically speaking, upright posture when we’re being proactive with stuff, and then there are times when it all become a bit too overwhelming for these characters. And I think that’s good because there’s not that much to be interested about with a character that is bulletproof. And I think Jen is certainly great at showing vulnerability and humanity and certainly really being present with whatever, and I try to do the same. It’s a lane that characters that are the leads are usually put into so that we can be these proxies — these portals — for the audience, so the audience can vicariously experience these situations, these storylines through. So it’s nice to be able at one point to drive the story and at other points to react to the story.

Aniston: There are those moments where Alex would just snap and there are those moments where she’s with her team and she just knows how to swing that pendulum from one version of herself to the other.

Bateman: I would say [we’re] probably the same in really being conscious of how much physicality we play in the parts because it just kind of comes naturally: When you’re defeated, you slump a little bit; when you’re in charge, you’re chest-forward.

There are so many moments where all of these feelings and Alex and Marty’s struggles just have to be written on their faces, too, though. What does it take for you to get into the right headspace for that?

Bateman: All the hard work is really done at the script level, and then you really just have to not screw that up with some expression or body language that is completely contrary. They basically create this beautiful box for us to fit in — and then working with the directors and other actors who are allergic to false moments is really helpful because you’re only as good as the taste you’re surrounded with.

Aniston: Mimi [Leder, executive producer and director] loves to have the camera sit there, and push in and push in and push in, and you have to just ignore the camera and play the beat — you just relive it. It’s hard to explain any kind of prep for it except it’s just there; you’re living in the moment of the scene. I try to be, as much as I can be, not aware that there is a camera there at all.

How do you know when you’ve nailed it?

Aniston: For me it’s instinctive. I trust about two or three people 100% [where] if I get a look I will do it again or I know we’re good. And then I’ll have no problems walking away if everybody’s happy.

Bateman: There’s an internal smell check. It just stinks when it’s not right; you can sense it. And Jen, I’ve seen you do this when we’ve worked together — you just self cut. If you’re doing something that just sucks, the last thing you want to do is give the editor or director a complete take of what sucks, so you just stop. And if you’re brave enough to watch yourself, it’s a great learning tool. There are times when I’ll think I’m doing well but it’s just terrible, so whatever that feeling was I’ve given myself a false positive and I have to reassess what that feeling is.

Do you actively look for or ask the writers for moments where you can infuse comedy, given your backgrounds, or simply just to let your characters breathe?

Aniston: No. That’s the gift: Our writers just know. I don’t have to say much to them. I’m lucky, in that I can just show up and read the material and go on this roller coaster of emotions that they created.

Bateman: I usually have a global conversation with Chris [Mundy, showrunner] before we start the season about what the whole seasonal arc is going to be, and I’m just basically listening for things that we should potentially not do because it is something that is broken or a problem or a mistake or wrong. In the first season there was something that he wanted my character to do that I thought might cede some moral and ethical ground that I thought was important for [Marty] to hold onto since there was some infidelity in the first episode. But I think that’s the only time I’ve ever said, “I don’t think we should do that.” Otherwise I’m just listening as a fan to what his plans are. I don’t pretend to know anything when it comes to writing; my job is always after once the script is done.

As executive producers on these shows, in addition to starring in them, arguably you could ask for more specific things for your characters. By separating the two parts of your jobs, what do you feel acting gives you that producing doesn’t and vice versa?

Aniston: Acting is where I lose control and then producing is where I get to pay attention to the details. But I’m also a multitasker, whether it’s looking at the day — the shoot order — and knowing, “This is going to take this amount of time” or “If we swap this scene we’re going to get that faster.” We have a great group of producers so I can slip into the character and lose control and I know it’s all covered.

Bateman: Yeah really the same things as what Jen said. The acting is a solitary thing — yes, you are working with other actors and you’re kind of in a dance with members of the crew, but you can be selfish with your efforts. There’s a lot of internal stuff going on with that and there’s a lot of joy in that. A weird analogy would be, the joy you would get painting something — there’s really only something you’re communicating with yourself as you’re painting and then eventually you show it to somebody and they see the final product. With producing there’s a real-time contribution and alchemy and teamwork going on, almost by definition of what that job is. Producing is almost impossible in a silo; it’s a much more outward effort, as opposed to acting being inward.

What piece of scene work were you most proud of this season?

Bateman: The thing that pops to my mind is the long six or seven page scene that Laura Linney and I had where we’re in couples therapy. It’s this long argument we have, just the two of us — and you see scenes like that in plays when people have long conversations, just hitting the ball back and forth, back and forth. And to make another terrible analogy, like tennis, there needs to be some synergy between the two people playing to present an enjoyable match to watch. And Laura is so skilled in what she does that it doesn’t take a whole lot of rehearsal or conversation before, during or after to find the chemistry, to find the rhythm that is going to create something satisfying for the audience; she just has this great metronome inside her knowing when to ramp up the speed and when to come down and let that little bit process and then come on the attack again. I’m just really proud of our ability as a cast and this one situation in particular with Laura where there’s a lot that can be done that’s unsaid. Oftentimes that’s a bit casting hurdle to jump over — to make sure you get a bunch of people that share the same sensibility and creative goals.

Aniston: Well played.

Bateman: Can I say something about you? That scene you have with Reese [Witherspoon] in the first episode where you’re doing the interview, as an audience you’re waiting for the two co-leads of the show to finally meet up and I could feel the pressure as a viewer what you two actors must have been feeling about, “Well everyone’s going to be watching this scene, what kind of chemistry we’ll have, the dynamic between the two characters, who’s going to alpha, who’s going to beta?” And then of course to honor what all the dialogue is. And you guys just played so nice together and took turns from alpha and beta and being strong yet vulnerable. I could see the two human beings being as high quality as they both are but also the acting being high quality as well.

Aniston: Thank you. I do say that was such a fun scene to play because there was so much underneath — everything you’re saying. Everything above the water and everything below was so much fun and quite a dance, and complicated! And it’s funny how with those scenes, when I know they’re coming, I’m just like, “Oh god!” The anxiety.

Bateman: Yeah. If you can remember the days of auditioning when you prepare and try and you’ve got it all worked out and you think, “If I could just be in control of my nerves enough to do what I rehearsed, I don’t care whether I get the job or not. I just want to make sure that I can execute and not get distracted by the weight of the situation.” Any scenes like that, there are so many things that can knock you off your center of your basic job of not being full of s—, and it’s hard to compartmentalize all of that stuff. You can’t just turn off and not be human. You’re feeling pressure and insecurity, and at the same time you might be playing a scene where your character’s supposed to be confident as hell.

Aniston: Exactly, that’s so true. There was also one other scene that I loved — it was a scene with my [on-screen] daughter at her dorm. Earlier in the episode we’d broken the news that [my husband and I] were going to get divorced and she feels very betrayed by us. [Alex] goes to visit her and tries to win her over with pizza, and we just see her lose it on her kid — which I thought was just a brilliantly written scene by Kerry [Ehrin, showrunner]. And also, it was just a shout out to every single mother in the world. I felt like I was speaking for all the mamas out there. It was like I just found my mom — just channeled Nancy [Dow] for a second there.

The pieces you are pointing to focus on shifting power dynamics at a micro, between characters levels, but the shows also explore a broader view of the complications and corruption that characters experience with such shifts. What is most interesting to you about those themes?

Aniston: I just think there is no better time in the world than to be telling these stories. All of this power — abuse of power — and human ills are being exposed: racism, sexism, agism, all of the isms. It’s also really interesting to play a woman who is in a powerful position and show the power struggles between men and women, and women and women. It’s happening and it’s a perfect time to be exploring that because the jig is up, we’re taking that down.

Bateman: On “Ozark” there’s some good evergreen thematics, being domestic strife and the pursuit of the American Dream and cutting corners and temptation and all of that. But there is a more topical one that we don’t try to get too didactic about — we try to sheaf it with some killings every once in awhile or a bag of money here and there — but it’s this awakening that the city folk have had to have with the way in which they perceive the, in quotes, country folk. They aren’t the people that you fly over — they are this country as well and one needs to reckon with that because they have a very valid voice and a very valid set of issues that may be somewhat dissimilar at times but we’re all in this together. So when Marty Byrde and his family came down from Chicago, to the lake of the Ozarks and they swaggered in there thinking they were going to handle everything, they [got] a real rude awakening.

Jason you won the directing Emmy last year for “Ozark” and Jen, you’ve directed but not “The Morning Show” yet. How are you both feeling about helming episodes next season?

Aniston: That is in my future, for sure. I’m excited about it, but I don’t think it will be happening in Season 2. If there is a Season 3, that’s when it will definitely be.

Bateman: I decided not to direct this year because of all of the complications that we may have to deal with as far as the COVID stuff and guidelines. I just felt like it would be most responsible to leave the directing to someone whose entire job is directing, in the event we have to pivot for certain things. And plus, it might leave me more exposed to get COVID, and if one of the actors gets it we have to go home for weeks. So I very reluctantly let everybody know for the first time I’m not going to do.

Aniston: That’s so disappointing!

Bateman: I’m kind of bummed, but I put on my producer hat and there was no way I could let me do it.

Aniston: And you can always backseat direct, you know that!

Article written by Danielle Turchiano for Variety. 




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When Mike Makowsky decided to tackle the mid-2000s Roslyn Union Free School District embezzlement scandal for the screen, he wasn’t entirely sure how to navigate the story.

Makowsky, who went to school in the district and met one of the key figures, Frank Tassone, as a child, visited his former high school and spoke to a few teachers there. Then he re-read and optioned Robert Kolker’s New York magazine piece on the case, which morphed into HBO’s Emmy-nominated “Bad Education.”

And Makowsky is hardly alone: All five of this year’s television movie nominees are adapted, to some extent — Netflix’s “American Son” from the Broadway play of the same name; Netflix’s “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: These Old Bones” from Parton’s 2002 song “These Old Bones”; and the same streamer’s “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend,” both one-off continuations in new formats from prior series. Moving known stories to a new medium came with unique challenges for each set of writers and producers.

After working on 62 episodes of “Breaking Bad,” “El Camino” scribe Vince Gilligan found himself outside the comfort of a traditional writers’ room and having to craft the script solo.

“It’d been so long since I’ve written anything by myself, that I wanted [the] challenge to see if I could do it,” he says.

Gilligan did eventually show it to the writing staff of the “Breaking Bad” prequel, “Better Call Saul,” which led to changing the title, as well as adding a scene with Krysten Ritter’s Jane.

There was also the pivot away from writing in act breaks, to which Gilligan was accustomed when “Breaking Bad” was on cabler AMC. Initially, he intended to embrace the three-act structure, but moved from it after breaking the story.

For the “Kimmy Schmidt” writers, the shift was even more dramatic, as they moved from a 30-minute comedy to sprawling “choose your own adventure”-like storytelling, where the viewer got to control the narrative.

In doing that, “it was actually like we were writing five or six [films] at once, and they all somehow had to line up and actually make sense,” says writer and executive producer Sam Means.

Playing with the format also allowed the writers to find new ways to tell jokes. “One thing we would never have in the series is silence,” Means says. “But in the movie, we needed to leave 10 to 20 seconds at every choice point for the viewer to enter their decision, and we quickly discovered that having the characters make a bunch of rapid-fire jokes while that was going on was just distracting. So that forced us to find ways to make those moments funny without getting in the way of the interactivity, like Titus doing vocal warmups, or [Prince] Frederick giving Kimmy come-hither looks.”

It also allowed the scribes to have their characters behave outside the established norms.

“Kimmy’s a good, moral person who would never kill anyone — but we let her kill the Reverend three different ways,” writer and executive producer Meredith Scardino says. “As a viewer, you inherently know that killing the Reverend is the wrong choice for Kimmy, and not something that is in her character’s DNA, but it’s cathartic to watch her [do that]. Then, of course, the viewer has to deal with the consequences of making those choices for Kimmy.”

With a different kind of history to lean on for “Bad Education,” Makowsky dug into his hometown’s archives, reading Tassone’s op-eds (written prior to his conviction), and consulting those who knew him. But he was keenly aware how much Kolker’s article helped with the adaptation.

“What Kolker did was find a really interesting, very literary approach — almost Dickensian — to the unfolding of the events and structured in such a way that you really felt the pathos, drama and the mounting tension,” he says.

Plus, being able to tell the story removed from the real events has its own benefits. “It gives you a little more freedom to really see the full portrait of what happened in a more nuanced and objective way,” Makowsky adds.

Article witten by Marissa Roffman for Variety.

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Entertainment mogul Sumner Redstone, who died August 11 after clinging to life for 97 years, also hung onto the old model of the legacy Hollywood studio. He embraced network TV, two-hour Paramount movies playing in theaters, and cable channels like MTV and Nickelodeon. Those days are gone. In February, newly combined ViacomCBS, now run by Redstone’s daughter Shari, finally announced that it, too, would launch a streaming channel. But Paramount, like many studios today, is a sliver of its former self, partly because Redstone squeezed out every ounce of value from the past rather than looking forward to what would be valued in the future.

As COVID wreaks havoc on the world, studios are exploiting library content for short-term cash, laying off and furloughing staff, and sending theatrical films to VOD. Cash-strapped, Hollywood is forced to change in real time. Last week, I called around town to get a snapshot of where things are heading.

What’s a studio, anyway?

For decades, movie studios led the industry even as their television, home video, and cable divisions churned out profits. That’s no longer the case. Look at the new consolidated WarnerMedia executive chart; Warner Bros. motion picture chairman Toby Emmerich is on par with Casey Bloys (head of HBO, HBO Max, and cable networks); Peter Roth (head of TV studios) and Pam Lifford (head of global brands). Theatrical release is no longer the dominant mode of distribution, and movie content is no longer king.

“The old way is not sustainable, like spending a lot of money on a Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen caper movie that lasted in theaters for three days and might have been an event on HBO Max,” said one studio attorney. “It’s the mystique of Hollywood to spend foolishly. A new relationship is being created between audiences and entertainment providers.”

Hollywood has had moments of foresight. In the late ’90s, Disney motion picture chief Joe Roth became a leader in the tentpole model that drives the movie business today. In the early 2000s, Sony Pictures Entertainment executive Michael Lynton told me that studios would eventually embrace a vertically integrated model.

Even as executives knew that content would move online, they were in no rush to do it. Long-term empire building is expensive and uncertain, and no one likes change. Another uncomfortable fact: The internet builds tech fortunes, but legacy businesses often find themselves replacing paper dollars with digital dimes as profits decline to meet the reduced costs of distribution. Wall Street pressured entertainment companies to keep collecting short-term licensing revenues from HBO, Starz, ABC, or Netflix for as long as they could. The major studios’ sharpest minds did not recognize the Netflix threat — until it was too late.

Netflix is calling the shots

Launched by Reed Hastings in 1998, the Silicon Valley startup initially rented DVDs, then mailed the red envelopes to subscribers, went public in 2002, and in 2007 transitioned to a streaming model. Blockbuster Video, which reached its peak in 2004 with 9,094 stores worldwide, tried to buy Netflix, but filed for bankruptcy in 2010. (Fox, Universal, and Disney launched subscription service Hulu in 2007 with future WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, but never truly supported it.)

In 2013, anticipating that studios would withdraw the library content that fueled Netflix’s growth, the streamer started spending heavily to create original series like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black,” and eventually surpassed the studios not only in the volume produced, but in Emmy and Oscar nominations for popular series like “Ozark” and “The Crown” (where per-episode costs average $6 million) and movies like “Roma” and “Marriage Story.”

In 2018, when Rupert Murdoch figured out that Netflix already claimed the streaming future, he sold the Fox studio to Disney. CEO Robert Iger needed that content to feed Hulu (with 35 million subscribers), which it now controlled, and new streaming platform Disney+, which Disney launched in November 2019.

Thanks to the pandemic, Disney+ got off to a stronger-than-expected start with more than 60 million global subscribers. It doubled down on its streaming future with the long-delayed $200 million live-action “Mulan”: Expected to gross at least $700 million at the global box office, it will finally debut September 24 in North America on Disney+ for $29.99 — for those who also have a $6.99 monthly Disney+ subscription. Whatever “Mulan” makes, Disney keeps. No cumbersome collection of the studio share of the grosses.


Hollywood is betting that Disney+ is Netflix’s biggest competitor, not AT&T. In the wake of the confusing and underwhelming HBO Max launch, AT&T CEO John Stankey hired Hulu co-founder Kilar to run Warner Media and gave him the mandate to trim a cluttered executive suite. It was not lost on AT&T that Disney+ subscriptions soared on Jon Favreau’s brilliant “Star Wars” spinoff “The Mandalorian,” complete with Baby Yoda. HBO Max, despite its wealth of Warner Bros. and HBO titles, offered nothing so instantly iconic.

“We wake up this morning to more structural changes in terms of the organization of what we used to call Warner Bros., that is now AT&T,” CAA partner Bryan Lourd said on a UCLA virtual panel with attorney Ken Ziffren August 12, two days after WarnerMedia announced the restructuring that forced out legacy television content creators Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly. “It is the media division of AT&T, but it is AT&T.”

It took new-media executive Kilar to recast a hidebound studio into something leaner and meaner. All entertainment production for HBO, TBS and HBO Max are now under Warner Bros. chief Ann Sarnoff, the BBC Studios veteran who is credited with launching BritBox while head of BBC Studios Global Production Network. It remains to be seen if AT&T’s media play will deliver better returns than Hollywood outsiders General Electric, Matsushita, Coca Cola, AOL, and Sony.

As Netflix snaps up costly talent like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy to exclusive deals, the studios struggle to compete. This is especially true on the movie side, which is hampered by the limitations and costs of the theatrical-release model. Paramount couldn’t afford to produce, market, and release Martin Scorsese’s $159-million period gangster flick “The Irishman,” but Netflix could.

Now deep-pocketed Apple TV+ is the new kid on the block, willing to overspend for “The Morning Show” stars Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell, as well as Scorsese’s $200-million 1920s western “Killers of the Flower Moon,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. But Hollywood insiders lack respect for Apple’s content team, which has yet to outline a coherent strategy. Lately, it’s been acquiring high-profile projects like Sony’s Tom Hanks vehicle “Greyhound.”

“Apple won’t ever get there,” said one agency partner. “It’s run by people who don’t understand it at all. Moments of pure emotion and humor and wonder, that’s our business. That’s what people crave and want. They want magic, to get away from the humdrum lives they lead, whether it’s starting a fire or doing a cave painting or crazy religious rituals.”

At Amazon Studios, richest-man-in-the-world Jeff Bezos can afford whatever it takes to compete in the streaming wars. It cost $250 million to acquire “The Lord of the Rings,” and will likely cost that much again to produce the first two episodes that will serve as the series’ pilot. It’s starting production in New Zealand under showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay (“Star Trek Beyond”) and director J.A. Bayona (“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”) and while Bezos made the deal, Studios chief Jennifer Salke has to deliver the goods.

Now challenging Netflix and rival Amazon Prime is NBCUniversal’s free, ad-supported Peacock. Rookie streamers have a mountain to climb: by the start of 2020, Netflix boasted 167 million subscribers (67 percent overseas) in 190 countries. In the first two quarters of 2020, boosted by the pandemic, Netflix gained 26 million new subscribers, promoted content chief Ted Sarandos to co-CEO with Hastings, and budgeted $19 billion for content production and acquisition.

In the 2019 “Roma” vs. “Green Book” Oscar race, many in Hollywood vilified disruptor Netflix as looking to kill the theatrical business. Today, the streamer now emerges from the pandemic as the industry’s bedrock employer. People see Sarandos as an eminence grise; he was the studio chief invited to participate in California Gov. Gavin Newsom’srestarting Hollywood Zoom panel. And Netflix has nailed down production facilities and key crew around the world as it begins resuming production while in robust financial shape.

The new normal

If studios emerge from the pandemic weaker than streamers, coming in far behind are the brick-and-mortar theaters. Their business models have not changed, although five years ago they came close to a PVOD-revenue-sharing, shorter-window deal — similar to the one Universal just forged with AMC. Other exhibitors have yet to sign their own studio deals.

Meanwhile, theaters are in ragged financial shape. The world’s largest exhibitor, AMC, enjoyed a theater-buying spree when Chinese owner Wanda was still spending money. Now, the debt-challenged chain was forced to capitulate with Universal and will likely shed theaters, along with overstretched UK-based Cineworld (which owns Regal). Cinepolis and Cinemark are better positioned to survive the pandemic.

“We don’t need 40,000 domestic theaters,” said one studio distributor. “If we lost 25 percent that would be huge, but 30,000 is still a big footprint. If the contraction of screens and theaters is in conjunction with reduced content, that creates a void in the marketplace. But once a vacuum is created, it gets filled.”

When the major theater chains insisted on hanging onto the 90-day window paradigm as they tried to shore up stock prices, they lost the chance to share data and marketing strategies with the studios and figure out the sweet spot for playing movies in theaters before moving onto VOD. For theaters to survive and thrive, innovating and playing ball with distributors is key. They cannot afford to hang on to their old antagonism.

“Studios and theater owners must figure out creative ways to help each other out,” said producer Todd Garner. “There’s nothing wrong with big, huge movies in theaters and smaller movies going to streamers, which don’t have the marketing spend. At Disney+, HBO Max or Netflix, you can purely advertise on your own platform.”

Next year, we will see fewer theaters worldwide as the chains consolidate. As the studios shrink, and pare back expectations for their film divisions, the Marvel, DC, and franchise tentpoles will still go to theaters (although perhaps with smaller budgets); so will the highest-quality, Oscar-worthy festival titles with theatrical legs. The rest will get quickie three-week breaks, maybe single theaters in 50 cities, before hitting VOD.

We’ll see how studios and chains navigate more flexible windows, but here’s what we might expect: Some chains will need to accept movies that are going to VOD. Some movies will hang on for a while. Others won’t. Fewer movies may be released. Filmmakers will aim for the best theatrical option — but sometimes, that option won’t exist.

“‘Sleepless in Seattle’ is a streaming movie now,” said its producer, Lynda Obst. “Original movies that are not tentpoles are streaming. Pixar family movies are event movies. Families want to get out of the house.”

Studios will make more content to feed multiple platforms, which means mostly television series and made-for-TV movies like Seth Rogen’s HBO Max entry “An American Pickle.” Even with modest budgets, studio leaders could make some exciting choices from their stacks of lockdown spec scripts and dealmakers fashion more flexible contracts.

No matter what, content creators are in a strong position. How consumers will watch their work is out of the filmmakers’ hands.

Article written by Anne Thompson for Indie Wire via Yahoo! Entertainment.

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"Higher-than-usual demand" for Imax screenings of library content amid cinema reopenings in such markets as China "is a potentially solid early indicator of movie-going behavior coming out of the COVID-19 industry shutdown," says B. Riley FBR's Eric Wold.

Imax Corp.'s strong box office share with library titles, such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which won the weekend in China, led one analyst on Monday to laud the company's "impressive" performance.

Reiterating his "buy" rating and $18 price target on Imax's stock, B. Riley FBR analyst Eric Wold wrote in a report: "Although the reopening of movie theaters within China initially has been driven by re-released library films, we believe the higher-than-usual demand for Imax screens with even this library content is a potentially solid early indicator of movie-going behavior coming out of the COVID-19 industry shutdown — and one that plays into our positive thesis around Imax Corp. as a beneficiary of both that behavior and a blockbuster-heavy film calendar over the next 12-18 months."

The Sorcerer's Stone  this weekend dominated the Chinese box office with a $13.4 million take as Hollywood re-releases continue to look to entice people to return to recently reopened cinemas. That performance pushed the total weekend box office in the country to $21.9 million, the best performance since China's cinemas reopened four weeks ago with limits on the number of screens and strict social distancing measures due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Wold highlighted in his report: "Over this past weekend, the re-release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in China generated $2.1 million from 594 Imax screens, or 15 percent-plus of the film's overall box office total in the country."

In addition, the re-release of Inception globally generated $640,000 from 181 Imax screens, "or around 40 percent of the film's overall box office total of $1.6 million from 2,850 screens," the analyst noted. "While these percentages would be impressive for opening weekend box office revenues for major blockbuster films, we believe the fact they are being generated from films that are 19 and 10 years old, respectively, and available on numerous other formats is even more impressive."

Concluded Wold: "As consumers begin returning to theaters globally in the coming weeks (with U.S. theaters for the major circuits scheduled to open the majority of their locations this month), we have speculated that consumers would increasingly gravitate toward premium and higher-quality movie-going experiences, such as Imax."

Article written by Georg Szalai for The Hollywood Reporter.

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Not many companies can say they won an Academy Award with their first film. But Lion Forge Animation’s Carl Reed and David Steward II, who formed the U.S.’s only Black-owned animation studio last year to address a lack of representation in the genre, took home the hardware in February for the studio’s involvement in animated short “Hair Love.” 

Reed, a former animator, is president of the company and chief creative officer of St. Louis-based parent media firm Polarity. Steward, whose background is in marketing and finance, is CEO of Polarity, the owner› of Lion Forge Comics, which the two men founded in 2011. 

The Oscar was only the start for Lion Forge Animation. HBO Max just picked up the 12-part TV series “Young Love,” a spinoff of “Hair Love,” from director Matthew Cherry, which Reed and Steward will executive produce alongside Cherry and animation vet Carl Jones. The company has also signed a joint venture with China’s Starlight Media and a first-look deal with Imagine Kids+Family for a trio of projects.

When they hooked back up in 2011, Steward was working in private equity and consumer products and wanted to return to media. Reed, who had gotten his start with “The Animated Adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie,” was looking for something meatier. Both he and Reed, who first met nearly a decade earlier, bemoaned the lack of inclusion in the comic book industry. Lion Forge Comics helped fill the void.

“When you look at comics, there’s not a lot of diversity, especially at the executive level,” Steward says. “We were the only Black publisher, and we wanted to produce books that were representative of everyone. Our motto was Comics for Everyone. To do that, we needed wide and diverse voices.”   

Among the Lion Forge titles: “Lighter Than My Shadow,” about a young woman battling eating disorders, and “Mooncakes,” a Chinese American queer love story.

In 2019, with the success of live-action film “Black Panther” — a movie based on a Black comic book character — still fresh, the pair saw a chance to bring that kind of inclusiveness to the animation industry, which was still behind the curve, particularly concerning those working behind the camera. 

“Companies are coming around to diversity, but there isn’t one way of doing it,” Steward says. “Having a main character that’s of color when none of the production team is of color might not be the best way to do it. We want to shake things up with Black animators and designers.” 

Besides “Young Love,” projects in the Lion Forge Animation pipeline include “Journey to the West,” a feature film based on the classic Chinese novel, part of the joint venture with Starlight Media, in which all animation will be done stateside; and Hurricane Maria-themed anthology series “Puerto Rico Strong,” as part of the Image Kids+Family pact. Reed points to collaborations Lion Forge has in other parts of the world as well that focus on a wide range of perspectives. “We have a really strong connection with teams in South Korea, India and in Latin America,” he says. “We’re building content that’s coming from a different place.”

Steward says the mandate for the new company is to create first-rate fare by reaching out to overlooked talent. “We are focused on building a world-class production environment,” he says. “Our pipeline is very unique, and we’re constantly evolving it. We want this to feel like no other production team in animation.” 

Article written by Jazz Tangcay for Variety

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