Sheila Nevins has explored the human condition in the thousand or so documentaries she produced for HBO. From more than 30 years of telling us stories about ourselves, to her experience as a woman in the workplace, Sheila has plenty to say about communicating. And she never holds back. In this delightful episode, Alan Alda talks with Sheila about her life, how she feels about aging, the #MeToo movement, sex, divorce, documentaries, storytelling, and just about everything else! This episode is sponsored by Calm. Check out www.calm.com/alda for more details.
I always forget that Sheila is as old as she is. She does have a great sense of humor.
She makes an interesting point about humility that people with power (and especially within the entertainment industry) should be aware of and work to improve.
Most shocking was the story she tells about her me too moment and how she viewed it. Definitely a perspective I wouldn’t have expected.
Her perspective about looking at individuals as a way into human problems and making documentaries is similar to a philosophy I remember hearing from Masha Gessen in an interview that Jeffrey Goldberg did with her. The upshot is that, especially for righting wrongs and general atrocities, focusing a story on a particular individual has a lot more power than focusing on the nameless and faceless masses. Sheila’s example of the Holocaust survivor is a particular apt one. (As I think about it Masha would be a great interview for this podcast.)
There is drama behind the scenes of Fox’s upcoming “Beverly Hills 90210” revival that is worthy of — well, “Beverly Hills 90210.”
Showrunner Patrick Sean Smith and multiple senior-level writers have quit the six-episode series, which is titled “BH90210.” The exact reason for the exodus is unclear. One source said the dispute was over interference from two of the show’s lead actresses, while another noted that the writers were unhappy with one of the executives overseeing the project.
Paul Sciarrotta has been named the new showrunner along with series’ creators Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler. Sciarrotta, a member of the show’s writing staff, is currently under an overall deal with CBS Television Studios, which is producing the series.
I have been informed by friends of the family that William Goldman died last night. He was 87. Goldman, who twice won screenwriting Oscars for All The President’s Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, passed away last night in his Manhattan home, surrounded by family and friends. His health had been failing for some time, and over the summer his condition deteriorated.
Elvis Presley returned from his years in the army to record one of his biggest hits, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” But he could never quite get the lyrics right. Why? Revisionist History puts the King of Rock and Roll on the couch.
I expected Gladwell to circle back around to the opening song about beating the dog, but he left us hanging…
EXCLUSIVE: Fox is poised to win the hot lit property in the marketplace at the moment, a giant Happy Meal that everyone wanted. Ben Affleck is attached to direct and Matt Damon to star in a true-crime story written by Jeff Maysh and published in The Daily Beast several days ago about an ex-cop who rigged the McDonald’s Monopoly game, allegedly stealing over $24 million and sharing it with an unsavory group of co-conspirators who offered kickbacks to the mastermind. The Pearl Street partners will produce with David Klawans, latter of whom got rights to the article and was exec veep on the Affleck-directed Best Picture Oscar winner Argo. Deadpool scribes Paul Wernick & Rhett Reese will write the script. Deal was a $350,000 option against $1 million if the film gets made. Affleck, Damon and the screenwriters get paid a lot more than that.
Off the top of your head, could you sing the theme from Star Wars? How about James Bond? Or Harry Potter? But here’s the kicker: can you sing any theme from a Marvel film? Despite 13 films and 10 billion dollars at the box office, the Marvel Cinematic Universe lacks a distinctive musical identity or approach. So let’s try to answer the question: what is missing from Marvel music?
BREAKING 10:49 AM with updated details, noon: After working in the business for 20 years both as a producer and creative executive, Wyck Godfrey has been tapped to replace Marc Evans as Motion Picture Group President at Paramount Pictures. He will begin his job in January. Evans, as Deadline reported last night, is seguing into a producing deal. Godfrey comes to the job after a prolific run as producer and partner with Marty Bowen in Temple Hill. His producing credits include The Maze Runner and Twilight Saga franchises, the latter of which was dropped by Paramount. The move comes only six months after Jim Gianopulos stepped in as Chairman/CEO of Paramount Pictures. Godfrey will report to him and oversee creative/development, casting, phsyical production, post production and music, according to the studio.
Join students and alumni from the Film and Media Studies Program in Culver City
I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion as part of an Intersession course by the Johns Hopkins Film and Media Studies Program. I hope fellow alumni in the entertainment and media sectors will come out and join us in Culver City on Thursday.
Join the Hopkins in Hollywood Affinity Group (AEME LA) as they welcome Linda DeLibero, Director of the JHU Film and Media Studies Program, and current students of the program for a dynamic evening of networking which features an alumni panel of industry experts.
Open to alumni, students, and friends of Hopkins, this event is sponsored by Donald Kurz (A&S ’77), Johns Hopkins University Emeritus Trustee and School of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board Member, and the Hopkins in Hollywood (AEME LA) Affinity Group.
Event Date: Thursday, January 12, 2017
Start Time: 6:30pm
End Time: 8:30pm
Donald Kurz, A&S ’77
Donald Kurz is Chairman and CEO of Omelet LLC, an innovative new media and marketing services firm based in Los Angeles. Previously, Mr. Kurz was co-founder and CEO of hedge fund Artemis Capital Partners. Between 1990 and 2005, Mr. Kurz was Chairman, President, and CEO of EMAK Worldwide, Inc, a global, NASDAQ-traded company providing Fortune 500 companies with strategic and marketing services internationally. Mr. Kurz’s 25 years’ experience in senior leadership includes management positions with Willis Towers Watson, PwC, and the J.C. Penney Company. Mr. Kurz is a Trustee Emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University, having served for 12 years on the Hopkins board. He received an MBA from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and a BA from Johns Hopkins University.
Jason Altman, A&S ’99
Jason Altman is an Executive Producer at Activision working on the Skylanders franchise and new development projects. Prior to Activision, he spent the past 5 years at Ubisoft Paris in different leadership roles, most recently as the Executive Producer of Just Dance, the #1 music video game franchise. He is a veteran game producer who loves the industry, and is a proud graduate of the media studies program at Johns Hopkins.
Paul Harris Boardman, A&S ’89
Paul Boardman wrote The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and Devil’s Knot (2014), both of which he also produced, and Deliver Us From Evil (2014), which he also executive produced. In 2008, Paul produced The Day the Earth Stood Still for Fox, and he did production rewrites on Poltergeist,Scream 4, The Messengers, and Dracula 2000, as well as writing and directing the second unit for Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) and writing Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000). Paul has written screenplays for various studios and production companies, including Trimark, TriStar, Phoenix Pictures, Miramax/Dimension, Disney, Bruckheimer Films, IEG, APG, Sony, Lakeshore, Screen Gems, Universal and MGM.
Devon Chivvis, A&S ’96
Devon Chivvis is a showrunner/director/producer of narrative and non-fiction television and film. Inspired by a life-long passion for visual storytelling combined with a love of adventure and the exploration of other cultures, Devon has made travel a priority through her work in film and television. Devon holds a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University in International Relations and French, with a minor in Italian.
Chris Aldrich, Engr ’96
Chris started his career at Hopkins while running several movie groups on campus and was responsible for over $200,000 of renovations in Shriver Hall including installing a new screen, sound system, and 35mm projection while also running the 29th Annual Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium “Framing Society: A Century of Cinema” on the 100th anniversary of the moving picture.
Following Hopkins he joined Creative Artists Agency where he worked in Motion Picture Talent and also did work in music-crossover. He later joined Davis Entertainment with a deal at 20th Century Fox where he worked on the productions of Heartbreakers, Dr. Dolittle 2, Behind Enemy Lines as well as acquisition and development of Alien v. Predator, Paycheck, Flight of the Phoenix, Garfield, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I, Robot and countless others.
Missing the faster pace of representation, he later joined Writers & Artists Agency for several years working in their talent, literary, and book departments. Since that time he’s had his own management company focusing on actors, writers, authors, and directors. Last year he started Boffo Socko Books, an independent publishing company and recently put out the book Amerikan Krazy.
Students will have the opportunity to spend one week in Los Angeles with Film and Media Studies Director Linda DeLibero. Students will meet and network with JHU alums in the entertainment industry, as well as heads of studios and talent agencies, screenwriters, directors, producers, and various other individuals in film and television. Associated fee with this intersession course is $1400 (financial support is available for those who qualify). Permission of Linda DeLibero is required. Film and Media Studies seniors and juniors will be given preference for the eight available slots, followed by senior minors.Students are expected to arrive in Los Angeles on January 8. The actual course runs January 9-13 with lodging check-in on January 8 and check-out on January 14.
It's a story about the vagaries of the writing process and not about the cycle of life, but then again writing is life...
E.B. White’s backstory
Elwyn Brooks “E. B.” White (July 11, 1899 – October 1, 1985) was an acclaimed American writer who contributed to The New Yorker magazine and co-authored the quintessential English language style guide The Elements of Style, which is commonly known as “Strunk & White” ostensibly making him the writer’s writer.
While re-reading Charlotte’s Web and then watching the movie version of Charlotte’s Web (Paramount, 2006) while thinking about the struggling writer in White (and all of us really), I’ve found a completely different theme in the piece as an adult that I certainly didn’t consider as a child when I viewed it simply as a maudlin, coming-of-age, commentary on the cycle of life.
An Alternate Theme
One can think of the characters Charlotte, the heroine spider, and Templeton, the despicable rat, as the two polar opposite personalities of almost any (good) writer. Charlotte represents the fastidious, creative, thinking, and erudite writer that writers aspire to be–which White espouses in The Elements of Style.
Templeton is a grubbing, greedy, and not-so-discerning writer who takes almost any word to get the story written so he can feast on his next meal of left-over slop.
Wilbur, the runt Spring pig desperately wanting to live to see the first snow, represents the nascent story. It too starts out stunted and scrawny, and it’s not really quite clear that it will live long enough to get published.
And so the struggle begins between the “Templeton” in the writer, and the “Charlotte” that the writer wants to become.
Charlotte represents care, devotion, creation, and even life (she not only desperately tries to creatively save Wilbur’s life, but dies to give birth to hundreds), while Templeton is a scavenger, doing the least he can to get by and generally taking advantage of others. Charlotte is crafting art while Templeton represents the writer churning out dreck in hopes of making a buck.
Alas, once the written work emerges to finally see its first “Spring”, one finds that Charlotte has died the death we knew was coming, while Templeton remains–as selfish and dreadful as before–ready to gorge himself once more.
There’s also the bleak and looming fact that Charlotte is now gone and only the vague hope that one of her few progeny will survive to live up to even a fraction of her good name. (Will my next book be as good as the first??)
The Writer takes on the Editor
The other two voices a writer often hears in her head are those represented by the characters of Fern, the doe-eyed youngster, and John Arable, the pragmatic farmer whose sir name is literally defined as “suitable for farming”, but not too coincidentally similar to parable, but without the ‘p.’ The sensible farmer (editor) says kill the runt pig (read: story) before you fall in love with it, while Fern (the creative writer) advocates to let it live a while longer–naively perhaps–wanting to know what results.
Who will you be?
So as you work on your own writing process, who will you be? Templeton, Charlotte, Fern, or John Arable? Whichever you choose for the moment, remember that all of them are ultimately necessary for the best story seeing the proverbial Spring.
Though your story may not win the “blue ribbon at the fair”, the fact that it has a life that extends the winter is a special prize all on its own to the team that created it.
On Why E.B. White Actually Wrote Charlotte’s Web
Now that I’ve sketched out the argument, I suspect that most writers will now know, as I do, why E.B. White wrote Charlotte’s Web.
Advances in computing power, natural language processing, and digitization of text now make it possible to study our a culture's evolution through its texts using a "big data" lens. Our ability to communicate relies in part upon a shared emotional experience, with stories often following distinct emotional trajectories, forming patterns that are meaningful to us. Here, by classifying the emotional arcs for a filtered subset of 1,737 stories from Project Gutenberg's fiction collection, we find a set of six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives. We strengthen our findings by separately applying optimization, linear decomposition, supervised learning, and unsupervised learning. For each of these six core emotional arcs, we examine the closest characteristic stories in publication today and find that particular emotional arcs enjoy greater success, as measured by downloads.
A series of articles by producer Gavin Polone can serve as an excellent introduction to the business of Hollywood.
Dearth of (Great) Textbooks on The Entertainment Business
In having previously taught several classes on the business of the entertainment industry, I was never quite able to pick out even a mediocre textbook for such a class. There are a handful that will give one an overview of the nuts and bolts and one or two that will provide some generally useful numbers (see the syllabi from those classes), but none comes close to providing the philosophy of how the business works in a short period of time.
A Short Term Solution
To remedy this problem, I was always a fan of producer and ex-agent Gavin Polone, who had a series of articles in New York Magazine/Vulture. I’ve recently gone through and linked to all of the forty-four articles, in chronological order, he produced in that series from 9/21/11 to 5/7/14.
I’ve aggregated the series via Readlists.com, so one can click on each of the articles individually. Better yet, for students and teachers alike, one can click on the “export” link and very easily download them all in most ebook formats (including Kindle, iPad, etc.) for your reading/studying convenience.
My hope is that for others, they may create an excellent starter textbook on how the entertainment business works and, more importantly: how successful people in the business think. For those who need more, Gavin is also an occasional contributor to the Hollywood Reporter. (And, as a note for those not trained in the classics and prone to modern-day stereotypes, I’ll make the caveat that I use the title “Machiavelli” above with the utmost reverence and honor.)
I’m still slowly, but surely making progress on my own all-encompassing textbook, but, until then, I hope others find this series of articles as interesting and useful as I have.
Gavin Polone is an agent turned manager turned producer. His production company, Pariah, has brought you such movies and TV shows as Panic Room, Zombieland, Gilmore Girls, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Follow him on Twitter @gavinpolone.