PGA conference is all about the money

Art, commerce, branding also on Produced By agenda

The rapid evolution of film and television and how to monetize it were a common theme at the Producers Guild’s Produced By conference Saturday and Sunday on the Fox lot.

But the old chestnuts of art vs. commerce also got some play, as Ted Turner came out in favor of peace, entrepreneur Mark Cuban stuck up for amassing wealth, and panelists tussled over keeping integrity in an age of branded entertainment.

In a conversation with Variety Group editor Timothy M. Gray, Turner told the showbiz crowd “I miss you” but didn’t have much encouragement for those seeking tips on how to succeed in entertainment.

Turner’s alternative

When asked whether he’d get into the Internet if he was starting today, Turner said, “I’d go into clean alternative energy. When I started 30 years ago, TV was a business of scarcity. You want to be in a business that has limited entry so you’ll have limited competition as long as possible.”

Turner’s focus on the environment and world hunger was in contrast to Cuban’s view. He said he had no interest in using his position for social change, though he revealed that he uses his wealth for both individual and larger acts of charity. “The most patriotic thing you can do is get rich,” he told the aud, explaining how much he pays in taxes.

Using brand relationships to help finance projects became a sticky subject during the Brand New World branding panel, when producer-director Andrew Davis revealed an earlier Universal-Volkswagen arrangement in which a director was told the studio would put $1 million toward his movie if he put a VW in it.

Moderator Stephanie Sperber, prexy of U’s partnerships and licensing unit, seemed surprised by Davis’ statement and later said, “I’ve been offered millions” in the past, adding that some producers wouldn’t “sell out like Andy for $1 million.”

Shortly after, a visibly miffed Davis walked out of the crowded room but returned to the stage a few minutes later.

Despite alarm voiced by vets such as PGA co-prexy Hawk Koch, several speakers weren’t overly concerned by piracy. “You don’t stop it,” said Cuban, adding that he thinks it costs more than it’s worth and that young people often begin paying for content when they get older and busier.

Cuban’s vision

Using frequently colorful language and provocative pronouncements (“We’re all whores,” he proclaimed), Cuban slipped out of his shoes to discuss windows, mobile entertainment, the Internet and net neutrality.

Cuban, whose Magnolia Films has released some 40 titles on VOD on or before their theatrical run, is a huge proponent of the delivery method because of the ease of buying films from a cable box (what he calls the “hand in the pants” theory of the couch potato who doesn’t want to move to get to a computer or credit card). “It’s not for big-budget films,” he said, though he says studios will soon release films with drastically shortened windows — “But it will be the ones that suck,” he predicted.

If studios and theater owners can come to a revenue-sharing agreement, or if studios take more ownership in theater chains, he sees early VOD releases of studio films at a high, $49.95 event pricing model.

Panelists at both the Domestic Tax Incentives and the Where’s the Money independent finance panels talked up how U.S. tax breaks have helped the industry stay in the country.

“Louisiana and New Mexico are the two states that have made certainty a cornerstone of their incentive programs,” said Joe Chianese of Entertainment Partners, who said that where there’s certainty, you can build an industry and generate revenue and jobs.

A sure sign of success, he added, is building stages and production infrastructure that prompts crew members to move into the area, lured by predictable work.

Though filmmakers such as Mandalay, which is shooting “Salvation Boulevard” in Michigan, are making use of the state’s hefty 42% rebate, the state also was criticized by Mandate’s Jennie Yamake, who said the application process is overly complicated.

Meanwhile, finance panelists such as “Crash” producer Cathy Schulman and Endgame’s James D. Stern advised that the way to attract bigger names to independent productions was to cast against type, look for unusual roles, find ensemble material — and have an excellent foreign sales agent.