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Produced By NY Conference: Diversity, Dealmaking and Digging In Dominate Discussion

Big challenges, big changes, happy accidents and getting there on diversity — these were among the topics tackled by top producers, showrunners, directors and execs on Saturday at the day-long Produced By NY conference at the Time Warner Center.

Among the highlights:

Effie Brown (“Dear White People”) noted that it can be tricky to ensure during the hiring process that casts and crew members are diverse on the LGBT front. “You can’t really ask someone, ‘How do you get down?’ … I can’t ask that question. I’ll get sued,” she said.

Michelle King (CBS’ “The Good Wife”) on big changes afoot in network TV: “You’re going to see shorter episode orders on network, absolutely. It is because of the actors. They say, ‘I see what my friends are doing on cable. If you want me, shrink the order.’”

Darren Star (TV Land’s “Younger”) reminded a panel of fellow showrunners that things could be even tougher in TV. “When I was doing ‘Melrose Place,’ we did 34 hours a year. I don’t even know how I did it. Now I like doing 12 episodes a year.”

Barbara Hall (CBS’ “Madam Secretary”) offered a contrarian opinion to the challenges of working in broadcast TV. “I like the big game of it. I like trying to work within the restrictions we have. I like being able to reach so many people.”

Joe Weisberg (FX’s “The Americans”) had a key bit of advice for those just starting out: Skip lunch and don’t spend too much time goofing off in the writers room. “If you squeeze an extra week out of a 12-week schedule it gives you an incredible opportunity to review your scripts.”

Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) gave an example of how to make lemons out of lemonade when he learned that half of the movie would have to be shot in Toronto. “My head hit the table. I can’t make a movie about Boston in Toronto.” But they worked it out to do all exteriors in Beantown and interiors in a newsroom set in Toronto.

Clyde Phillips (AMC’s “Broke”) on putting early adversity to good use. “I was not cursed by a happy childhood, which is why I can write damaged people so well.”

Robert King (“The Good Wife”) on the differences between writing problems and producing problems that crop up on a show.“Most of our problems are scheduling problems — actors’ schedules, which are a nightmare.”

Noah Sacco (A24) noted that “Room” marks the earliest that the young distribution company has been involved with a project, coming onboard about nine months before production began. He didn’t know the material but he knew he wanted to work with director Lenny Abrahamson.“Culturally illiterate studio executive that I am, I hadn’t heard of the book, even though it was massive,” he said.

Michael London (“Trumbo”) first met with “Trumbo” screenwriter John McNamara about possible TV projects but he learned that the veteran showrunner had a secret agenda to sell him on his passion project of a biopic about the famed Hollywood Blacklist victim. London was straight-up with McNamara from the start. “He wanted to direct it. I told him he would have to wait 10 years to get it made if he wanted to direct it.”

Michael Stuhlbarg (“Trumbo”) has developed a protocol for playing real people, as he did with Edward G. Robinson in “Trumbo.” It’s about steeping myself” in the lives of the character because producers and directors don’t usually have that kind of time for reseach. “I’ve got to jump in and say, ‘Look what I’ve learned. Use it or not.’”

Elizabeth Karlsen (“Carol”) agreed with other panelists who said the first rule of any movie is entertainment, not a message. “Carol” is first and foremost a love story rather than a lesbian story. “You don’t have to go see it with a banner waving.”

Pete Nowalk (ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder”) spoke about pushing the envelope and being willing to deliver unlikeable but intriguing characters. For Viola Davis’ Annalise Keating, he’s proud of writing the line: “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?”

(Pictured: Lakeshore Entertainment’s Gary Lucchesi, who is PGA president, producer Steven Haft and Anonymous Content’s Steve Golin talk with attendees of Produced By NY)

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