Industry leaders gathered Thursday morning at the Loews Hotel in Hollywood for the 2017 edition of the annual State of the Entertainment Industry Conference, presented by Variety and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
The morning opened with remarks from Vin Di Bona, CEO of Vin Di Bona Productions and chairman of FishBowl Worldwide Media. Di Bona, who has hosted the conference six times, took the stage to praise women who have bolstered the entertainment business.
“‘Wonder Woman’ taught us that — no surprise — a woman can carry a superhero movie and a woman can direct a superhero movie,” Di Bona said. “A lot has happened for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce over the past year,” he continued, pointing to late singer Selena’s addition to the Hollywood Walk of Fame as one major highlight. He said that the ceremony had the largest turnout of all time for the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with over 4,500 people in attendance to celebrate.
President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate Kevin de León also delivered a speech that endorsed continual support for the state’s production tax credit program and asserted his drive to keep California’s status as “the entertainment capital of the world.”
There was also a presentation of the Commitment to California Award to “Modern Family” co-creator and EP Steve Levitan. The conference wrapped with an inspiring conversation between Levitan and Variety executive editor, TV Debra Birnbaum. “The more you mind what you’re going through and the more personal it is, the more it will resonate,” Levitan said of drawing ideas from his own family life. He also mentioned that much of the filming for “Modern Family” takes place on the street outside his own house in Los Angeles.
During a talk with Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission, Whitaker Entertainment chairman Jim Whitaker shared his excitement for the massive Disney film he produced, Ava DuVernay’s upcoming “A Wrinkle in Time,” which stars Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Zach Galifianakis, and Storm Reid — and was filmed in California. Whitaker stressed the need to strike a balance between creativity and financial sensibility when producing films as well as the importance of maintaining an emotional well-being of cast and crew. “I know the feeling that goes into filming translates to the screen,” he said, “so a supported cast and crew leads to a stronger product.”
Variety co-editor in chief Andrew Wallenstein delved into “The State of the Stream.” Netflix CFO David Wells, Rachel Webber, National Geographic’s EVP, digital product, Erin McPherson, Verizon’s head of content strategy, acquisition, and programming, and Eric Berger, chief digital officer of Sony Pictures Television Networks and GM of Crackle, discussed how they tackle the complicated and crowded economy of streaming media. If a brand truly “stands for something,” Webber said, its risks will pay off. “There are no borders,” McPherson added, emphasizing the global impact of streaming content.
Other segments during the event included a conversation with attorney Howard E. King about legal territory in the rapidly evolving music industry and a presentation of the inaugural FilmL.A. Soundstage Production Report from Philip Sokoloski, FilmL.A.’s VP, Integrated Communications.