Skydance Productions is an American film and television production company based at Paramount Pictures, with whom they co-produce and co-finance films such as Star Trek into Darkness & Star Trek Beyond.
I first heard of Skydance from a blurb in Variety Magazine’s issue on notable women in the male dominated entertainment business. Dana Goldberg was mentioned as being “Chief Creative Officer”, the title of a job created especially for her. Variety said, “Paramount relies on Skydance to deliver some of it’s biggest pics”. Such as Star Trek. That got my attention. So I explored.
Skydance was founded in 2010 by David Ellison, son of the billionaire CEO of Oracle Corp. He was joined by Dana who had begun her entertainment career as an assistant at Hollywood Pictures. She then spent three years as vice president of production at Baltimore/Spring Creek Pictures. From 1998 through 2010, she was a vice president and later president of production at Village Roadshow Pictures. She certainly has the experience to oversee my beloved Star Trek.
At Skydance, Ellison and Goldberg have been responsible for feature-length films including True Grit, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Terminator Genisys and Star Trek Beyond. In television, they have produced Manhattan (shot here in New Mexico!), Grace and Frankie (with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda), and the upcoming Condor (based on Three Days of the Condor). Not too shabby!
In a June 2015 interview connected with their Terminator Genisys premiere, Skydance founder David Ellison said, ” We’ve had an amazing relationship with J.J. Abrams, we’re making our 3rd and 4th movie together, and the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry’s franchise is something that we feel the tremendous pressure of living up to that legacy, and very much hope that the movie does that for audiences when they get to see it next year.”
As CCO, Goldberg oversees all aspects of creative development and production for film and television. While film projects and properties continue to be her primary focus, Goldberg now also works with the television department. Television, eh? One of the questions asked in the interview was if there was a future for a Star Trek TV series.
ELLISON: It’s something that we would love to be involved in. As I’m sure everybody knows, the rights situation given the CBS and Paramount divorce on the Star Trek rights is very, very complicated. The exact status of it is absolutely something being worked on. We would love to be involved, but all to be determined at this time.
GOLDBERG: You’re preaching to the converted. We would love it, both as fans and as people who would want to be involved in the making of them. We would love it. Everything you just said is right. It goes with what we were talking about before with television is you can just take more time to tell very specific stories and it would be fantastic. It’s not something we control, sadly.
Phooey. Doesn’t sound like it will happen soon.
UPDATE!!! 11/2/2015 Maybe Paramount & CBS did get it together! CBS announced a new Star Trek series on their premium channel. See more here.
So what is Skydance Productions – really? How did David Ellison, a man of substantial connections and wealth, come to create the company. He talked about how Steve Jobs was a mentor.
ELLISON: I had the incredible luxury that Steve happens to my dad’s best friend, so he was like an uncle growing up. …He was a very, very close friend and truly the Thomas Edison of his time, and I was fortunate enough in building this company to be able to talk to him about it throughout the entirety of it. And a story I’ll never forget, because in irony it was actually the day they were launching the second iPhone, we were getting close to closing our deal at Paramount with Skydance, and I told Steve I wanted to talk to him about it. He said ‘why don’t you get on a plane and fly out here tomorrow?’ And I said ‘you’re launching the iPhone tomorrow.’ He was like ‘I don’t care. Get up here.’ I sat down and pitched him the entire company, the way we had been pitching everybody else on our fundraising tour, and Steve looked at me in the way that only Steve Jobs can and he goes ‘this isn’t gonna work.’ [Laughs] And I was like ‘alright, why?’ And he said ‘you know the answer, you’re just not thinking about it.’ And I didn’t, I was kind of floored at the moment in time, and he was like ‘look, why does Pixar work?’ He said ‘the biggest mistake everybody makes about Pixar is that they think we were successful because we created 3-D animation, and nothing could be further from the truth. We simply went back to a world where we found out how to make movies better than anybody else.’
And he talked a lot about how free agency was created because the golden age of Hollywood was when the studios had a very firm handle on the talent, but because they did not treat them appropriately, didn’t compensate them appropriately, that created the free agency, and we live in the world we exist in now. Steve adjusted that by actually making the talent his partners, and by treating everybody well both creatively and economically, and really changing the model. …he talked about the brain trust, really going to that idea where we had a core group of both executives and filmmakers that we could work with over and over and over again, because any one person can make a bad movie. Some of the greatest filmmakers of all time have made bad films, but when you get a group of people together, five really talented people will usually not miss. It doesn’t mean that on their own that would necessarily go differently, but that was really the model.
From that moment on, we went back and restructured the company and changed it, and re-pitched it to him, and he said ‘that’s gonna work better.’ I was very fortunate and truly blessed to have him as a friend and as a mentor and to be able to work with Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross and Don Granger who are these incredibly talented producers and storytellers at our company and to be able to work with filmmakers like J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird and Chris McQuarrie and Alan Taylor and writers like Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, our company is what it is because of the incredible people that we get to work with.
Sorry, they didn’t spill any details about Star Trek Beyond. There is an interesting link with Terminator Genisys. It features Brandon Stacy, who worked on the first two rebooted Star Trek films as stand-in and photo double for Spock actor Zachary Quinto. Yum!
The whole interview with Ellison & Goldberg is interesting. You can read it here.
This time last year (2014) I was riveted to “The Chair” on Starz – a semi-reality, semi-competition in which 2 very different first time directors were given similar budgets and a script and access to mentors. My interest was piqued since one of the mentors was Zachary Quinto, the new Spock and a superb actor. You can see my initial article about it here.
The effects of The Chair are still rippling out. Recently creators Chris Moore and Josh Shader talked about mistakes typical with first time film makers, drawing from their experience with The Chair and other projects. I have some observations of my own.
Each director had their strengths, which also turned out to be their weaknesses.
Shane Dawson is a YouTube star, with 10 millions subscribers, mostly teens who adore him and his vomit-gag style of humor. He is self-made and self directed. He cast himself as star and directed every aspect. The flip side is that he got very defensive about criticism. Initially he wanted to break into a wider audience, but he ended up with a longer version of a Shane Dawson vid.
Anna Martemucci describes herself as a New York style indie. She is schooled in screenwriting and has done a number of shorts and a feature film with her husband Victor, brother-in-law Phil, and friends. She’s more collaborative and more comfortable getting feedback, but the flip side is that she depends a lot on Victor and Phil. People associated with her movie said it felt like there were 2 or 3 people directing, not one.
I assumed from the beginning that Shane would “win” in spite of assurances that popularity wasn’t the only criteria. And he did. That he could deliver an audience of 10 million was probably a big factor in Starz signing on. Anna had personal connections – she and Victor are long time best friends of producer Zachary Quinto. In the film making world I hear that personal connections count but, as this “competition” showed, they don’t trump the dollar power of a big following. One surprise was that Anna didn’t realize this and is still feeling she was set up, a pity since it gave her an experience and exposure as a director she otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.
I was as interested in the mentoring aspect as I was in the differences in the directors. Shane’s initial mentor was Zachary Quinto, a total mismatch. Shane’s vocabulary is mostly expletives, whereas Zach, in public at least, is very conservative. At a presentation with him in Salt Lake, he wouldn’t even share his favorite cuss word because “there are young people in the room“. Zach’s attempts to get Shane to make a more sophisticated approach fell with a thud. Oil and water. Also Zach wasn’t physically present much since he was shooting Agent 47 in Berlin during The Chair.
To the rescue came Zach’s business partner, Corey Moosa. Corey’s style was to support Shane’s vision, rather than trying to improve it. He even lent his cute backside to a mooning scene. So Shane was more open to listening to Corey. Throughout, Corey was superb at gentle guidance. Some interesting lessons were here for those who hope to influence others.
I love Kickstarter projects! They’ve been a way that folks like me can participate in creating the magic – and here’s one I can’t pass up!
For the Love of Spock – a documentary film! By son Adam Nimoy. With Zachary Quinto narrating!
I’m on board – how about you? Spread the word on twitter with the hashtag #SpockDoc.
If you’re interested in Behind-the-Scenes movie making, tune into “The Chair” on Starz, starting Sept. 6. Two novice directors compete with each other in creating a movie. The directors are Shane Dawson, a prolific YouTube personality, and Anna Martemucci, writer/actress in “Breakup at a Wedding” and other vids by Periods Films. Both were given a starting script and a budget to go forth and create. Their process was captured – that’s what the Starz series shows – their actions and anxieties as well as the coaching they get from the more experienced producers. Their resulting films will be judged by the audience.
Both had available high-class coaching. Chris Moore (“Goodwill Hunting“, “Project Greenlight“, etc) brings his experience of a lot of hits under his belt. In contrast, the Before The Door coaches are newer to the scene, yet have already created two Oscar nominations – “Margin Call” and “All Is Lost”! Before The Door is the production company of Star Trek’s Spock, Zachary Quinto, and his business partners Neal Dodson, Corey Moosa, and Sean Akers. I’m as interested in their coaching as I am in the directors’ processes.
I attended a panel for “The Chair” at the San Diego Comic Con 2014, where we compared how the directors addressed the same scene. Zachary Quinto and an actress read the scene as originally written by Dan Schoffer. Then Chris Moore showed Dawson’s and Martemucci’s versions of the same scene. I was amazed at how different they were! For example, Dawson’s focused more on him – he played the character and most of the camera was on him. Martemucci’s focused more on the story, on getting across the situation and relationships. My guess is that Dawson will only be able to “do his own thing”, which is probably just fine to his many followers. Martemucci is my bet for a more versatile future as a director. She appears to have the discipline to be able to give form to someone else’s idea. We’ll see, eh?
Tune in – and let me know your impressions!
Listening to filmmakers talking about their work gives fascinating insider tidbits. Here are two such talks.
The Business of Filmmaking: Navigating Today’s Entertainment Industry
On Feb 3 2014, Chris Moore (“Good Will Hunting,” “American Pie” series and “Adjustment Bureau”) and Corey Moosa (“All is Lost,” “Breakup at a Wedding”,“Margin Call” and “The Banshee Chapter”) discussed the very practical side of making films.
Chris Moore is well established with a number of successes under his belt. In contrast Corey’s company, Before the Door, is a relative “new kid on the block” – and as such can relate to the issues in getting started.
Corey is one of the founders of Before The Door with Zachary Quinto (the young Spock) and Neal Dodson. He heads up their graphic novel side – Lucid and Mr. Murder is Dead so far, both of which got accolades. Corey also was the onsite producer for the horror movie “The Banshee Chapter”. Before the Door has been listed as one of Hollywood’s “new mavericks”, picking projects that push the boundaries of the art in some way. They also choose to work with new directors – such as JC Chandor who got an Oscar nod for his first effort, the brilliant “Margin Call”. Before the Door also likes working with their Carnegie-Mellon classmates and fellow Pittsburgh folk, so their collaboration with Park Point University on “The Chair” is a natural! For this talk Corey filled in for Zachary Quinto who was scheduled to talk but couldn’t be there (this time! – see below).
The Creative Side of Filmmaking: Building a Lasting Career
The talk on Feb 17, 2014 was the second part of the series. Zachary Quinto showed up unexpectedly with another Before The Door founder, Neal Dodson. Neal is producer for “All is Lost“, an amazing movie with only Robert Redford – and no dialogue! – and “A Most Violent Year“, both written and directed by JC Chandor. While this talk is titled “Creative Side”, I found they had quite a few business tips as well. Zachary is delightfully articulate about his art and viewpoint. I enjoy hearing him talk from his right-brain & collaborative view about aspects I know from a more left-brain, task view.
Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a fascinating look at the movie process: http://youtu.be/EQutDk1yecI
Not only is the shooting schedule out of the sequence of the character arc. You know those deep intense looks from Zach Quinto’s Spock? For example, when he attacks Kirk?
What we as the audience do not see is what is all around Quinto as he does this scene. Yet as a well trained actor, he seems to ignore it all and lets us only see the furious Spock.
–thanks to Katie Douthit, Make-up artist and teacher in New Mexico, for the following tips-
As a fledgling make up person, I get my experience from working freebies on small efforts. Even there you can see the magic coming together. The tone is often informal, with friends and neighbors roaming around and watching. When I took make-up classes with Katie Douthit, she emphasized that in order to be part of the magic of professional filming, you needed to know how to behave on set, to know what could kill your chances. Below are some of the tips from Katie.
The movie world is a very competitive world with lots of people lined up to get their foot in the door. Developing people in their jobs is not part of the culture. The least little thing can get you fired, without knowing what you did wrong. To get your foot in the door, when they say jump, you say “how high”. Never argue. Never get in a huff that something they want isn’t your job or they didn’t give you enough notice.
According to the union contract, you must be given 8 hours notice before a job, but the reality is that if you stick to that you won’t get the job. If anything happens to the person scheduled for work, there is a list of other people anxious to take their place. Whoever answers “yes!” first, gets the job. That’s why it’s important to have a cell phone at all times, preferably one with email- the way most prefer to be contacted. It’s also very important when you get a call, to acknowledge it ASAP. Never assume the caller will know you got the message.
(TO CONTINUE, click here)