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Production Incentives Hurdles And Slashed TV Show Budgets

M. Galas

The sophomore slump did not apply to the PGA’s 2nd Annual Produced By Conference.  Over 1,100 film and television professionals gathered on the 20th Century Fox lot to partake in a weekend of educational seminars ranging from exploring online and mobile distribution for exhibiting content to the best ways to utilize the latest technologies including stereoscopic movies and digital workflows.  Many attendees flocked to the sessions that focused on how to make the most of shrinking budgets.

The conference kicked off with an opportunity to discuss incentives with regional film commissioners on hand for a breakfast meet and great.  A panel entitled “Produced in the USA: An Update on Domestic Tax Incentives” followed.  The panel, moderated by Entertainment Partner’s Joe Chianese (who is also the moderator for 411 Publishing’s production incentives webinar series), was comprised of Thomas Ademek, Stonehenge Capital Company, LLC, Andrew Matthews, RKO Pictures, Bryan Yaconelli, Overture Films and Jennie Yamaki, Mandate Pictures.

Speaking to a very well attended room, the panel began by discussing the Federal 181 grant.  The consensus was that the limited cap made this credit problematic.  Ademek summed it up well: “There’s too much complexity for what a producer ultimately receives.”

Producers also feel more hamstrung on the state level.  In addition to clauses requiring a percentage of in-state crew hires, modified production spending caps, and the removal of animation and non-traditional programming from some packages, the tedium and challenges of maneuvering through the application process for some of the more prominent states has become a deterrent.

“Michigan use to have a very simple process,” said Yamaki.  “Now, we need a staff of six to eight people just to help go through the paperwork and complete the applications.  Producers need to know that they will have to provide a proof of validity document. It may take four to eight weeks for their application to be reviewed after they submit it.”

John Ziffren, whose producer credits include hit television shows “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Greek,” moderated “Better, Faster, Cheaper: The Secrets of Producing Television in 2010.”    Producers Nan Bernstein (Friday Night Lights), Tim Gibbons (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Jeffrey Morton (Modern Family), Jon Pare (Southland) and unit production manager Nick Stamos (Party Down) discussed ways they’ve effectively reduced their budgets while maintaining critical success.

Each show represented on this panel has minimized lighting set-ups, employed “salt and pepper” set dressing (enhancing a pre-dressed location with a couple of select items, like paintings or a table cloth), assigning multiple cast members to a trailer, and minimized sophisticated equipment set ups.  Listening to department heads and refining the cast and crews time on set have helped both save money and refined shooting schedules.

“We’ve removed the theatrics on the set,” said Pare.  “There are minimal water stations, less chairs on set, makeup is limited to 10 to 15 minutes.  We’ve completely removed the ‘spa element’ and everyone comes to the set read to rock and roll and make the most of their scenes.”

Shooting on location has also become a way to save time and money.  Every producer on the panel has increased their location teams to assist with finding sights that match the needs of the script and acquiring permits for these locations.  Once on location, the crew will set up a few lights, make a few adjustments to the set, and be ready to shoot in a fraction of the time.

“We shuttle our cast and crew to a location, cutting back the need for police and crew parking,” said Morton.  “When we shot in Maui we used our resource and connections to get permission to shoot at the Four Seasons.  It was good for their business, and it helped us come in under budget.”

During the Technotainment: Producing and Delivering Digital Content panel sponsored by AT&T, panelists Jeffrey Frost (Sony Pictures Television), Tanner Kling (Retrofit Films), Aaron Meyerson (Coincident TV) and Chris Williams (The Walt Disney Company) discussed the rapidly changing landscape of online and mobile content.

“In 2004, digital content and new media was considered the wild west,” said moderator Chris Thomas (Disney Interactive Media Group).  “Since that time, a lot of parties have joined the table, and with them has come a lot of money.”

The panel agreed that knowing one’s audience was the key to making the most of spreading content across multiple platforms.  With content added constantly on sites like Youtube, one must invest time in developing material that your target audience will want to see, such as behind-the-scenes footage of favorite stars and programs.

Kling stressed that interactivity is also key to obtaining an online audience.

“Until recently we were providing more standard content,” said Kling.  “However, we’re starting to create more interactivity in what we put out.  Unlike sitting at home in front of a television, viewers don’t want to feel like they’re alone when they are online.”

Other sessions held throughout the weekend included “Conversation: Mark Gorgon and Marshall Herskovitz – Where Do Producers Go From Here?,” The Golden Age of Scripted Television,” “Conversation: Ted Turner – The Global Vision,” and “The Digital Pipeline: Post-Production, Workflow and New Technologies.”  Every session of the PGA Produced By Conference was recorded and will be archived for future use and research.

To learn more about the PGA and the Produced By Conference, please visit: