Recently, I attended the Producers Guild of America’s (PGA) Produced By Conference (PBC) held on the historic Paramount Pictures studio lot in Hollywood. The annual event is created by producers for producers to provide the opportunity to network with and learn from the most established and successful filmmakers, writers, and show runners in Hollywood.
At $1,099 for non-members and $375 for PGA members, the conference is a bit pricey. However, the wealth of knowledge gained and access to the movers and shakers of the industry is well worth the price of admission. I must divulge that I did not pay to get in. That made my pocketbook happy. I attended as a guest of my boss Tracey Edmonds who’s a PGA board member and PBC co-chair.
This was my third time attending the conference. I truly enjoy it because being around thousands of like-minded people in one area does wonders for getting the creative juices flowing. I love the energy of the up-and-coming producers who bustle from panel to panel eager for that morsel of insight that will catapult them into superstar producer status.
Upon check-in, attendees received a goodie bag filled with promotional items such as notepads, pens, and snacks from sponsors. The lunch spread was magnificent and there was plenty of food to go around. The price of admission included lunch with a choice of sandwiches and salads, chips, cookies, and a piece of fruit. It didn’t stop there though. Vendors were peppered throughout the lot offering up free all-you-can-eat goodies such as mouth-watering Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Don Francisco’s coffee, tea, and Kind snack bars. I had the privilege of having lunch in the Speakers Lounge, a VIP room where only panelists and special guests are given access. We were served special treats like Sprinkles cupcakes and cookies, fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, and an array of fresh squeezed juices.
- Can We Talk?
The highlight of the conference was the “Conversations With…” series featuring in-depth conversations with producers such as Tyler Perry, Reese Witherspoon, Bruna Papandrea, Eva Longoria, and Kevin Smith. Attendees received loads of useful advice from the producers. In Conversation With: Reese Witherspoon & Bruna Papandrea, moderated by Will Packer (Ride Along, Think Like a Man; Founder, Will Packer Productions), Reese encouraged young girls to intern and volunteer on film and TV sets in order to get their foot in the door and represent as a female in a male dominated industry.
In Conversation With: Tyler Perry, moderated by Ava DuVernay (Selma, Founder, AFFRM), Tyler talked about his introduction to Hollywood and experiences as a newbie. He was very candid about not having a clue about how the system worked, which led him to do things his way and was all the better for it. “If it feels right. I follow it,” Perry explained. I admire his work ethic.
- Panel Discussions
The PBC also includes various panel discussions dealing with topics such as production, distribution, and branding. In the panel, All Things Producing: Ask the Pros, moderated by Vance Van Petten (Nat’l Exec Dir, PGA), working producers such as Tracey Edmonds (Jumping The Broom, Deion’s Family Playbook) and Lori McCreary (Invictus, Madam Secretary; President, PGA) spoke about the hard work required to take a project from script to screen in the midst of an industry that is quick to say “no.” All of the producers agreed that it requires a deep passion for the project to keep you motivated during the long journey it takes to get a project seen by audiences. Other panelist included Ian Bruce (World War Z, Transformers franchise), John Heinsen (CEO/Exec Producer, Bunnygraph Entertainment), Stu Levy (Priest, Pray for Japan), and Gary Lucchesi (The Lincoln Lawyer; President, PGA).
- Up Close and Personal
For an additional $100 attendees could secure a spot at the Mentoring Roundtables. This session gave attendees a close intimate chat with a producer of their choice. Approximately eight mentees “sit at the feet” of their mentor for 60 minutes and learn first hand what it takes to be a successful producer. They have the opportunity to ask as many questions as they want as long as they don’t try to pitch their own project. The PBC highly frowns upon pitching because they want to provide a relaxed environment where the established producers can share information without being propositioned. Producer Tracey Edmonds took her mentees through the start to finish process of bringing the film Jumping the Broom to theatres which involved everything from casting the lead actors to picking out the wardrobe for the female characters. She also revealed how she primarily picks projects that relate to her personally. For instance, she identifies strongly with the character Terri in Soul Food who’s the one the family relies upon financially.
- Guilty Pleasures
For those with an idea for a reality show, the Unscripted and Uncensored: Meet the Buyers of Non-Scripted TV panel, moderated by Hayma “Screech” Washington (Amazing Race), provided behind-the-scenes information on what producers look for in reality shows. Susanne Daniels, (President of Programming, MTV) looks for break through content that will resonate with the audience while providing a fresh take on an existing genre. Lauren Gellert (WEtv) looks for authentic relationships between characters, whereas Bruce Robertson (Rich Kids of Beverly Hills) looks for a clean and clear show format.
- The Anatomy of a Hit TV Show
One of the panels that closed out the conference was 360 Profile: Empire, moderated by Pete Hammond (Chief Film Critic & Awards Columnist, Deadline Hollywood). Show creator Lee Daniels and his team of writers and producers discussed their surprise hit show, Empire (Fox), a story about a former rapper turned record company mogul (Terrence Howard) who has to choose one of his three sons to run the business after he succumbs to a secret fatal illness. Lee and his team explored the series from every angle, including building storylines, casting, dealing with network notes, branding and marketing, and connecting with the show’s audience via social media.
The only thing I didn’t enjoy about the conference was the Creating Meaningful Brand Partnerships to Enhance Your Content panel. No shade toward the panelists, but I didn’t find the information useful. The panelist discussed how producers can connect with brands to support and enhance their projects in areas such as advertising and social media outreach. I was expecting the panelist to cover the topic as it relates to new media and how to generate money in the fledgling platform. The energy of the panel was low, so I ducked out early.
- The Icing on the Cake
But, wait there’s more! Even though I attended some amazing panels, networked with great people, and ate some delicious free food, none of that topped meeting Matthew Del Negro who plays Cyrus Beene’s love interest on Scandal! When I spotted him, I couldn’t put my finger on how I knew him. All I knew was that he looked very familiar. Then it dawned on me. Duh. Scandal. He’s quite handsome and very tall. Ladies, he’s 6’4”! He walked past me on his way out of the Speakers Lounge. No way was I letting him escape without saying hello. After all, I hadn’t met anybody from my favorite show of all time in person yet. “Hi! You’re from Scandal, huh,” I gushed. I know I had the biggest cheesiest smile on my face. Matthew stopped and assured me that I was right. I told him what a great job he’s been doing on the show. He thanked me, asked my name, and shook my hand. How cool is that? Handsome AND nice. I would have asked for a picture, but he was on his way out and I didn’t want to hold him up. It must have been in the cards to get that picture I desired because I ran into him again later. As you can see, he was more than happy to take the picture!
Needless to say, I enjoyed the PBC. It was a weekend packed full of knowledge and networking. I look forward to attending next year.