Morgan Freeman speaks at the 8th Annual Produced By Conference presented by Producers Guild of America held at Sony Picture Studios on Saturday, June 4, 2016, in Culver City, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images)

Who Knew The PGA “Produced By Conference” Was So Cool, Like Morgan Freeman Cool

By Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

MorganHand16That’s not click-bait in the headline, and we will get to the Morgan Freeman Appreciation Society in a moment; but first Day One of the Produced By Conference held June 4-5 at Sony Studios by the Producers Guild of America (PGA).  It was nothing short of a rousing success yesterday. To a person, attendees gave it raves, whether from Arkansas or Iceland or Pasadena. The Infolist sponsor rep even claimed it was the only must-attend event on his calendar. You have Elizabeth Banks, the “285 Million Dollar Director,” in a Conversation With Max Handleman, her husband and producer on the PITCH PERFECT franchise. LizBanks16 Keith Arem, game designer, but also CEO of PCB Productions, known for “Call of Duty” and PHOENIX INCIDENT will give such a humorous and in-depth rundown on his viral marketing for UFO film PHOENIX that literally a group of fanboys and fangirls will swamp him outside at the break. Kathryn Schotthoefer, President of Heavenspot/M&C Saatchi, will tell a story about the perils of Twitter hell that is so funny, you’ve got to hear her say it. She’s talking about a famous actor from a famous TV series, name not included.  On Social Media, “hate is always going to be the loudest,” Schotthoeffer begins. “We had one incident when talent went off the rails. Someone had been drinking. Shit went bad! We were able to get to that person’s manager, who actually drove over to his house and took his phone away. Knowing when someone is volatile is key, because [Twitter] is people, right?”

Dalia Ganz, Director from Freeform (formerly known as ABC Family) also had a few gems. In talking “Pretty Little Liars,” she revealed, “Fandom wants to feel like they are responsible for the success of your series. We have squads. People like to be individuals, but they like to belong to squads… we are all part of one hashtag PLL squad.” Next you see Octavia Spencer fronting a panel, and this just gives you a taste of how well-organized and eclectic and brave the PGA seems for putting this together.

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA - Octavia Spencer speaks at the 8th Annual Produced By Conference presented by Producers Guild of America at Sony Pictures Studios on Saturday, June 4, 2016 in Culver City, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images)

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA – Octavia Spencer speaks at the 8th Annual Produced By Conference presented by Producers Guild of America at Sony Pictures Studios on Saturday, June 4, 2016 in Culver City, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images)

On a break outside at lunch, Pétur Sigurdsson from RVK Studios in Reykjavik has such a cool Game of Thrones shooting story from that frozen North that an entire lunch table is in rapt attention. He tells of blizzard conditions when one of the series directors , Alan Taylor, actually had to completely change locations on the fly, but managed to capture some genius moments for the Wall sequences on GOT. Then he adds how series creators David Benioff and D. B.Weiss liked to hang out and play cards. But then Sigurdsson drops the hammer for attendees, cuts to the chase, “we’re looking at a 25 percent tax credit now, it just went from 20 to 25 percent to shoot in Iceland.” Two guys hawking a “Vampire Western” tomorrow during the film pitch session, make a note of this. Aerial drones for cinematography seem all the rage at the swag tables, unfortunately no drones are in the gift bag.

Reasons To Really Like FX, Seriously…

Next FX bigwig John Landgraf with his “Fargo” producer Noah Hawley are introduced by Vance Van Petten (not of the TV family of actors, note the spelling difference), National Executive Director of the PGA. Van Petten’s questions are so good and so thoughtful that when you mention he could be a journalist and ask for a quote, he calmly says, “I don’t.” As in give quotes. But with a little prodding he says, “I’ll give you this. The best quote I heard was from John Landgraf.” VinceVP16He goes on to say, parsing here “you don’t imbue authority unless you delegate in every respect with responsibility. People will say they had the authority to sign off on this,” but taking responsibility for outcomes is a whole other aspect. Speaking of the well-respected and quotable John Landgraf, he almost stops the room with “I don’t like the winner-take-all model, The Google Model. They are a monopoly… They own everything and build a moat around it.” Although this sounds like a sucker punch for Silicon Valley, Landgraf is basically saying he is unconvinced there will be “an algorithm” for making the perfect filmed content. Also, his point is that  “studios have competition,” unlike Google, his parallel, so “there are many buyers for your new ideas.” Storytelling leads, you can define the vibrancy of your society by the quality of the storytelling.” Noah Hawley, sums up the creative flag-planting with “the fastest way to reinvent something is to tell it differently.” Think The Coen Brothers, that is. This is a perfect segue to Morgan Freeman, who will be introduced by his long-time friend/colleague producer Mark Gordon, who is full of zingers today. MorganLori16Lori McCready, Morgan’s CEO and co-founder of his production company Revelations, doesn’t just sit back on this panel, she jumps in the fray to correct a few Freeman anecdotes with “now can  I tell it?” Before you wonder about The Hand, Morgan Freeman’s gloved mystery, listen to him explain it after Mark Gordon gives this glowing over-the-top speech: “I have known Morgan and Lori for 20, 25 years, they are some of the two of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known and ever worked with. They are thoughtful ethical decent and funny and fun and charming and wonderful and really smart.” Freeman calmly peels off a wad and forks over a one dollar bill, yes $1 in American money to Mark, and says, “for all that shit you were talking.” You know right away, these two are going to have fun.  As far as the skin-colored glove Morgan wears, he admits “here’s the problem. I was in a car accident and the car did not have those bags that beat you up (airbags), but my left arm was beat up pretty badly. As a result I have, they said, stretched nerves. So as a result of the nerve damage I have (flared up) ulnar nerves. They call this pain fibromyalgic, it’s the same pain amputees get. It comes like a spasm, it just comes whenever it feels like it. But when they say ‘Action,’ I just go… f*ck.” And the pain apparently disappears during shooting, he insists. Some mention off-stage is made of medical marijuana. This is really a safe space and an intimate fun setting, despite the physical pain Morgan reveals that he lives with 24/7. He spends most of his time in Mississippi, while producing partner Lori McCreary, who is also President of the Producers Guild, lives in Los Angeles managing the business interests.

Enduring Magic of INVICTUS

In a touching aside, Lori reveals that “one of my proudest moments, in my 20-something years working with Morgan is INVICTUS, and showing it to Nelson Mandela. I will never forget it. My parents were there, we were watching him watching it.”(Mandela) turns to Morgan and says “perhaps people will remember me now.” There’s a little hush in the room, as Morgan Freeman, who has played everyone from God to Mandela to Batman’s inventor, shares that the Mandela experience was “one of my diamond encrusted moments in life, my favorite director directed the film — you know Clint Eastwood, right? I had the most fun playing Nelson Mandela that I ever had, and I really love what I do. When we shot the last frame, crew, actors, everybody looked at Clint and said ‘lets do it again.’ That was special.”

Mark Gordon, who rounds out the moment, adds “here’s another thing about Morgan and Lori, they make their films by hand. I know when Morgan and Lori are making a film or TV show (“Madam Secretary” is one of their TV series), they are 100-percent physically and emotionally committed to the film.” MarkGordonMF16Morgan Freeman, who is literally loved by everyone in the room and around the globe, adds that his approach will never change. “The minute you start changing the approach, you start changing the result, and that may not be for the better. I personally have this ‘fear’ of success. I mean when you’ve been doing this for a number of years and things start to escalate — you pushed a snowball and you pushed a snowball up a hill, you’re at the top of your game — and what if you can’t control it? You’re growing first, and the next thing you know you’ve outgrown yourself. You know what I mean?”

Morgan Freeman speaks at the 8th Annual Produced By Conference presented by Producers Guild of America held at Sony Picture Studios on Saturday, June 4, 2016, in Culver City, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images)

Morgan Freeman speaks at the 8th Annual Produced By Conference presented by Producers Guild of America held at Sony Picture Studios on Saturday, June 4, 2016, in Culver City, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images)

Freeman is talking about remaining Human Scale in the face of tremendous success, a piece of advice today’s actors could really benefit from, if they absorbed the enormity of this personal revelation. So that’s what you learn from Produced By, the really exciting and surprising conference from the PGA. If you hurry, you can still catch today’s session. For information and tickets, see, follow them on Twitter with @Produced_By, #ProducedBy2016 and via — you’ll be glad you did.


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Pixel-Perfect BILAL Screened at Cannes 69th & Took a Few Years, 22 Countries to Create

SCREENMANCER ANIMATION ALERT: Recently Dubai’s first-ever CGI animation, BILAL, screened at the 69th Cannes International Film Festival, which featured an Animation Night on May 18. But the story behind BILAL, a 1400-year-old animated saga, is even more notable. The cast includes excellent actors Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (who played the yacht assassination target for Matt Damon in BOURNE IDENTITY), and Ian McShane from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” TV series, also PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEANBilalActor2BILAL had a sneak preview five months ago at the 3rd Ajyal Youth Festival, presented by the Doha Film Institute, in Doha, Qatar. This pixel-perfect, Disney-quality animation is said to have culled resources from 22 countries, tapping 327 creatives, in collaboration to complete on a budget of $30 M USD. Eponymous main character Bilal is actually based on a historic figure, a revered warrior, named Bilal bin Rabah. And who was he? “One of the most trusted companions of the Prophet Mohammed,” according to exhaustive research done by the film’s makers via Saudi-informed “forensic historians.”

What makes this film interesting is that you don’t necessarily have to know the backstory to appreciate the master-level craftsmanship on the CGI in BILAL. In fact, this project pays off the promise that ‘reality begins at 80 million polygons’ as coined by animation forefather Alvy Ray Smith, and really brings home the notion that this technology now has a life of its own as this fantastic tool available all over the world for people to tell make epic explorations.

When you watch this film, you see top drawer animation with a sincere message of “faith, hope and self-discovery inspired by the real life story,” as described by the filmmakers.

To quote them directly, “Director/producer Ayman Jamal said when casting the voice talent for the main characters they targeted the US because they wanted the actor playing Bilal ‘to be able to give an English and African accent and to convey the epic sense of the story inspired by real events that happened 1400 years ago.’” bilalarrow2American actor Jacob Latimore is teenage BILAL. According to Kidzworld, a portal for young actors, this Milwaukee native grew up with a love of Motown and singular gifts as a musician early on with a hit called “Superstar.” Which means he has the perfect voice control as a voice actor, not to mention his credits include roles in 2014’s RIDE ALONG (Kevin Hart, Ice Cube) and THE MAZE RUNNER, as well as a 2010 credit for VANISHING ON 7TH STREET. Over the course of this spirited and engaging film, Bilal’s character will age from 6 to 60 years old, and the intricate animation’s high-dollar production values make it a pleasure to sit through.

This is a multi-talent collaboration, as mentioned, with clever choices such as Atil Örvarsson, a composer from Iceland, to do the music. Örvarsson said he tried to “combine the archaelogical, historical nature of the story and make it accessible for an international audience. We used old instruments from the region and combined it with modern electronically synthesised music, we created themes for some of the characters and created a unique, other worldly sound for the witch doctor.”

Project point-person Jamal nailed the complexity of producing a movie of this scope in CGI, especially when the Dubai creative climate is more familiar with shorter projects. “The industry here is based on short movies and originally we wanted to work with an animation studio but we found there was no animation or CGI studio in the MENA region so we had to start the studio ourselves to make BILAL and that’s how we established Dubai-based Barajoun Studios.” BilalHugThe film itself was funded by individual investors from the Gulf Region, including Saudi Arabia with the Doha Film Institute. Expect BILAL to be on the radar this year, as Variety, Indiewire, Cartoon Brew, and Animation News have all tracked its progress thus far. Let’s hope this film has the harmonizing effect as intended, because the animation is truly pixel-perfect. Find out more about BILAL here, and watch for it to screen near you soon.

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