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Your Daily Edition June 11, 2018

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Jennifer Salke Details Amazon Plans: Fix Culture, Empower Women, ‘Lord of the Rings’ by 2021

Jennifer Salke outlines Amazon Studios' TV and film plans.

Jennifer Salke's plans to spend Amazon Studios' $4.5 billion war chest are coming into focus.

Four months after replacing embattled exec Roy Price, the former NBC Entertainment president turned head of the retailer/streamer has firmed up her executive ranks, started making overall deals and is working to change the culture of the studio that David E. Kelley famously called "a bit of a gong show."

Charged with delivering Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a Game of Thrones-style mega-hit, Salke started the job in February with three main goals. The first was to improve the corporate culture at Amazon after Price and his top two lieutenants were pushed out amid allegations of sexual harassment and conflict of interest. The second is to make Amazon Studios a destination for top filmmakers and showrunners amid a war for talent, as they look to compete with Netflix's nine-figure overall deals. And the third goal? To deliver hit shows — and fast.

To do so, Salke turned to longtime collaborator and former NBC head of current Vernon Sanders to lead creative as co-head of television, working alongside Albert Cheng (who oversees the business side). That followed Salke's decision to restructure her TV department, with Sharon Tal Yguado — who oversaw scripted during the search for Price's replacement — focused on genre. Marc Resteghini heads drama while Nick Hall moved to oversee alternative, YA (now among Salke's top priorities) and specialty series. With her executive ranks now in order, Salke plans to assess the skills of her team before making any additional staffing changes, as her film and TV teams get to work on delivering those broad hits.

On the deal side, Salke recently ordered dramas from Oscar winner Jordan Peele (The Hunt) and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn (Utopia) — and inked first-look TV pacts with both as she signaled Amazon's aggressive push for a curated roster of top writer-producers. Still to come is more female-driven fare, starting with the newly ordered half-hour romantic anthology Modern Love (based on the New York Times column of the same name). Those join an inherited slate that features awards darling The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Carlton Cuse's upcoming Jack Ryan series, both of which scored early renewals under Salke.

On the development front, Amazon's so-called "democratic pilot process" is a thing of the past, replaced with a more traditional pipeline that will also see larger commitments when the deals call for it as Salke also looks to build a global presence.

As for film, a space where Salke admittedly had little experience coming in, the exec has a similar strategy in mind as she hopes to partner with traditional studios for a slate of "wide audience" draws and arthouse fare a la Oscar winner Manchester by the Sea for a slate that includes originals, co-productions, acquisitions, direct-to-platform and theatrical releases.

The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Salke last week on Amazon's burgeoning Culver City campus to discuss her efforts to transform Amazon Studios and overhaul a corporate culture that was marred by allegations of sexual harassment.

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What conversations did you have with Jeff Bezos before you took the job?

I spent about an hour and a half with Jeff Bezos in Seattle. He talked about wanting to take a long view of what this service could provide to our customers. He wants what everyone wants: great, addictive television that people love and can't stop talking about that breaks through culturally and gets people addicted and enhances their prime membership.

Roy Price and two of his top lieutenants Joe Lewis and Conrad Riggs were pushed out last year. What kind of cultural changes are you implementing at Amazon to ensure a safer environment?

Having somebody like me, who celebrates women and diversity, come in is a huge first step. The fact that I'm also an accessible and transparent leader spoke volumes in the first days of being here. I had two or three weeks of executives and people across the company on my sofa, many of them women, talking about their experiences and how they were feeling and wanting to be someone who could listen and be an advocate for them. At the same time, I walked into this company at a time where they were already fully embracing change. Sometimes it takes negative things to get to those places and for Amazon, this was a real moment months ago to step up and make a big change. It has been a welcome change here and it does take intentional outreach, which we're doing a lot of.

In terms of staffing, you've brought in Vernon Sanders to co-run TV with Albert Cheng and have Jason Ropell and Ted Hope overseeing the film. How many big positions are you looking to fill?

I came in with no intention to replace everybody or make any big changes. My goal over the coming year is to spend as much time as possible with everyone, see what everyone's skill sets are and go from there. Jason is doing a great job in a challenged business that's evolving every day that we sit here. And the team in television, I de-structured them to spend more time with all of them — to be in rooms and have projects together where I'm seeing how they work and what their strengths are. I've been encouraged by what I've seen in everyone. I don't have any plans to make any big changes. I want Vernon and Albert to own some of that space and start spending time with those teams. Time will tell where we end up, but I feel optimistic that we have great people here.

With two heads of television in Sanders and Cheng, what is your day-to-day on the TV side now that you're seemingly out of the development trenches?

I am really involved in the development trenches. I have pitches all day long. I am in constant contact. I sent two articles to our drama team to go option, which they are already into. I can't get away from the creative thing. I love it.

There have been a lot of showrunner changes on Amazon programming. David E. Kelley famously called the team "a bit of a gong show." What is your message to the creative community about the culture at Amazon now?

With myself at the helm, there is a team in place now who will be able to have the relationships with talent that will be much more productive and, no disrespect for any one person or group of people on our team, but when you have a lot of people who don't have these deep relationships and experience with that level of talent, you're going to run into problems like that. You need to have the experience, maturity and confidence to be able to have hard conversations with people. It's a perfect storm when you have a frustrated, strong producer who isn't being communicated with clearly — and I'm not talking about David E. Kelley because I haven't analyzed all these situations.

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What is your larger mandate?

My drive coming in was three main goals: One was, how do we become the most collaborative culture as a company? How do we become the very best home for talent? There is a huge space to have the best of what traditional partnerships with talent mean, like strategic and creative partners. [We want] more of those kinds of relationships and bringing people into the fold of the company. Then, how do we get some potentially hit shows in the pipeline as quickly as possible. Everything I do is to that end, whether it be how I'm managing, how I'm structuring [things or] the talent that I'm pursuing.

How much is ownership a priority?

I am aware of the race for talent and I do believe that that's real. Everybody is going to try to have as much ownership as possible and he who has the most toys, wins. I want us to be the best home for talent. How do we bring people into the fold and help them build their companies and their visions? I think there's room for the Ryan Murphys and the Jordan Peeles and the Greg Berlantis in that strategy. But there's also a lot of other really talented people here. It's about curating that group and being like-minded about the kinds of things that we want to do.

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Amazon, before your arrival, was in the running for Ryan Murphy. And you recently signed Jordan Peele to an overall deal. How much does the Peele deal signal your intent to get into the overall deal business in terms of going after these mega producers?

You can see it as a signal that I'm going to be aggressively pursuing deals. They don't have to be mega-producers but I'm going to be curating a group of people I believe in who I think are hit-makers, potentially, and building what I hope will be a great home for talent here, where they can have a real strategic and creative partner. I'm going to be hands-on with all of those people because I am personally the one going out and trying to get them. You're going to see me aggressively pursuing people. Jordan wasn't out taking meetings; I just wanted to spend time with him and talk to him about The Hunt and then asked him to come do this with me. You'll see more of that. I hope to have more announcements today soon.

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How big do you see that overall deal stable being?

We have unlimited resources to build the kind of writer's stable and creator's stable that will lead to success. I don't feel any limits on having to work within a budget. You're going to see an alternative to Netflix's volume. This should be a more manageable actual amount of deals that I can still feel like I'm involved in spending time with all of these people and that my team is being able to be hands on with them. I don't want to go for like a big volume play.

Are those deals for film and TV, comparable to what Rhimes and Murphy scored?

Some of them include feature components. There is no limit on what we can do. We are an ideal home for talent.

If you could poach one showrunner that you don't already have for Amazon, who would it be and why?

I would have loved to have been here as the Ryan Murphy thing was starting, which was a long time ago. Maybe that would have ended up differently

Amazon previously had a "democratic pilot process," which many in the industry said it was largely just for show. What does the Amazon development process look like in the Jen Salke era?

We're not going to do that [let viewers pick]. We'll actually make some pilots. Right now, one of the white spaces — besides this female space that I thought was lacking — is this sophisticated YA space. I have Phoebe Zimmer and Nick Hall diving into that. We picked up two things and perhaps a third one in that space by young female writers that feel very addictive and sophisticated that have a young adult audience that's an older audience as well. Where we can and we have the opportunity to develop scripts and more material before going straight to series, you're going to see that. And then you're going to see some bold, let's just pick up the series moves like I did with The Hunt, which was based on reading the material that they sent me. I met with them the next day and ordered it in the room. It's going to be a real mix. Rachel Brosnahan called with an idea to put together a room of under-represented writers who are inexperienced and who could be led by another writer and break this authentic kind of young ensemble. And we're doing that. You'll see a lot of different ways to do that. Not to mention overseeing the global original business, which is growing. I want to have a big presence as a global home and there are writers and creators who can break out from anywhere. And we're expanding in those efforts.

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The scripted narrative about Amazon has been that Jeff Bezos wanted his version of Game of Thrones. Have you spoken with him about that and how you can deliver on that goal?

All of us would love a big, addictive show that is executed at the top of its game. We're really excited about Lord of the Rings. Despite all the chatter about it, the deal just closed a month ago. We've been talking to writers. We have an estate that's very active. I've spent three hours with Simon Tolkien. There's a lot of moving parts with it. We'll have some game plan to move forward with very soon. Then there's great genre stuff and tons of stuff in the pipeline. And we just picked up The Expanse, which Jeff was so excited about. We are going to have lots of big shows. They're not all going to be genre sci-fi. We're also going to have some big addictive female shows. We're looking for our next big show that women also can't stop talking about.

One of the clauses in landing Lord of the Rings is that it must be in production within two years. Will it make that?

It'll be in production in two years; [on the air in] 2021 is the hope. But there are other people who wish it was 2020.

What is Peter Jackson's involvement?

We're in conversations with him that I think are very amicable about how much involvement he wants and what kind. We haven't figured out exactly what that is yet. He may say he is involved or he's not involved. We're still very much in conversation with him about what kind of involvement he would propose.

When and if he signs on, does the search for a showrunner then begin?

No. We are currently talking to writers. I have sat with three or four different groups of writers. Sharon Tal Yguado has met with many more than that. When we announced it, many agents called and with clients and British writers have come calling. There have been a lot of informational meetings about the material and about the scope of what we can do. My hope would be to put together a group of talented people, which will obviously have a leader who can embark on this big ambitious endeavor.

You revived The Expanse. Is Amazon in the "saving shows" business, or was that a one-off strategy because of Bezos' love of the property?

We've talked about saving a bunch of shows. I just spoke to Norman Lear about his comedy [Guess Who Died] that I bought at NBC and he's sending me the director's cut. I certainly don't stick my nose up at saving someone else's show that they're passing on, but it depends on what the show is.

What does the success of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel mean for Amazon's genre strategy? Is there room for more shows like that?

Yes. Before I came in, I felt Amazon was missing shows like that or shows that could be built around a something like Maisel.

We're hearing that the decision to cut ties with Jeffrey Tambor came from you specifically. Walk us through the process.

It didn't come from me. I had just started and that was what was happening.

What's the future of Transparent? Jill Solloway said in THR's cover story that she sees season five as being the end. How do you move forward without Tambor? Will the role be recast?

I don't think the character will be recast. Jill has a great idea about how she wants to close it. We're talking about, is it a full series? Is it a limited special? Is it a movie? What is it? There's a conversation around what form best serves the creative, and she wanted to spend the summer thinking about the creative, and then we're going to get together in September and talk about that.

What's the show you most want to poach that's not already yours?

I tried to buy Little Fires Everywhere. I wasn't even working here but I was like stalking the Hello Sunshine offices and dancing at the best of my ability and it went to Hulu. And Between [stars/executive producers] Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon and the team, it would have been a great piece for us.

You're overseeing all video, which includes film. What role and involvement with you have on the film side?

I'm deeply immersed in the film group. I'm part of all the green light decisions and discussions about things being put up for green light. [Film head] Jason Ropell, [film production head] Ted Hope and I are working closely together and that part of the business is evolving, too. Just like all our businesses evolve, we'll be looking for a balance of ways to fill the movie slate, which will be originals, acquisitions, direct-to-platform, theatrical release and partnerships. I've already had meetings at Sony, Paramount and Legendary. We've been talking to everybody about how we can best serve our customers by trying some partnerships on films.

Will the features group be making the same kind of pivot that the TV group with a shift away from niche to more broad fare?

Yes. I learned that the word "broad" is the F-word back when I went to TCA and had that monkey on my shoulder. You can't go broad in a world where we're all competing for attention. You can't please everybody, so the point is to keep the bar high for creative excellence. You can have a show, like [NBC's] This Is Us that's excellent but also invites a lot of people in and is well executed. We want to make those kinds of movies. I've seen Beautiful Boy and Dan Fogelman's Life Itself and these are movies that are emotionally connective, they invite a lot of people in, and I think they will be movies that have a bit of a wider audience than maybe some of the movies of the past. But Manchester by the Sea and The Big Sick, these are all movies we're incredibly proud of. It's about a balance.

If you could undo one programming decision your predecessors made, what would it be?

I might have been more selective about some of the people I was in business with.

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Geoff Johns Exits DC Entertainment for Writing and Producing Deal (Exclusive)

DC Entertainment president Geoff Johns — who went from authoring comic books to having a major hand in the making of movies and television shows based on their famous heroes — is stepping down from his executive post and entering into an exclusive writer-producer deal with Warner Bros. and DC.

DC Entertainment president and chief creative officer Geoff Johns — who went from authoring comic books to having a major hand in the making of movies and television shows based on famous heroes — is stepping down from his executive post and entering into an exclusive writer-producer deal with Warner Bros. and DC, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. 

Johns is launching Mad Ghost Productions, a new banner that will see him work on content for films, television and comic books, and have his hand in current DC properties as well as new and reimagined creations.

At the same time, current DC Entertainment publisher Jim Lee will assume the chief creative officer position, taking on the duties while continuing to act as publisher with Dan DiDio. The two have jointly held the post since 2010.

The moves come in the wake of last week’s exit of Diane Nelson, DC Entertainment’s president, to whom Johns reported, and occurs the day before a judge’s decision will be announced in the high-profile antitrust trial between the U.S. Department of Justice and AT&T, which is seeking to merge with Time Warner, the parent company of both Warner Bros. and DC.

It also takes place as Warners’ movie division is in the midst of a transition as Walter Hamada, who was installed as president of DC-based films at the studio by Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich in January, begins to shape the superhero slate in the post-Justice League era.

Johns now goes from the executive ranks back to the creative world, a realm which he never truly left. Even as he was promoted to DC Entertainment president in 2016 and retained the title of chief creative officer, which he had held since 2010, he continued to pen some of DC’s biggest books. And, more impactfully, he was key in launching the TV empire based on DC’s heroes, co-developing The CW’s most successful superhero show, The Flash, and, with Peter Roth and WBTV, launching Supergirl and Black Lightning, among many others.

The move in essense unshackles Johns from the boardroom and positions him to be a major force and supplier of content just as Warners' need and audience demand for that sort of material rises like a mercury on steroids.

"I took on a role at DCE because I love the characters and this universe more than anything. But, I want to spend my days writing and on set," Johns said Monday in a statement. "I’m thrilled to get back to a more hands-on creative role. It’s a dream job on dream projects, reaching even deeper into DC’s vast pantheon of characters."

One of Johns' first projects will be Green Lantern Corps, based on DC’s intergalactic police heroes, which he is already very familiar with, having spent nine years writing Green Lantern comics and its spinoffs and publishing events. Johns will write the screenplay and act as one of the producers on the feature film. He is already writing and producing Wonder Woman 2 and will have a co-writing and executive producing credit on Aquaman, this year's only DC offering, which is set to open in December.

"Geoff is a super-talented writer and truly embedded in the DC Universe and its characters," said Emmerich. "We’re thrilled that he’s returning to his passion and his roots as a writer and producer. And, it’s even better that he’s staying in our Warner Bros. family. We look forward to working with him on Green Lantern and other projects going forward."

On the television side, Johns co-developed and is executive producing (alongside Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter and Jeremy Carver) and writing on Titans, the first original series for the upcoming DC Universe digital service. Johns also wrote the Titans episode "Doom Patrol" that it is spinning out into its own 13-episode original series for the digital service.

On the publishing side, Johns will write and curate a DC pop-up label under the moniker The Killing Zone, focusing on new and lesser-known or dormant DC characters and titles. He will also write a new Shazam comic series, scheduled to bow this fall, as well as a comic titled Three Jokers, drawn by Jason Fabok. The latter was a project that was sidelined as Johns’ time was taken up by executive and screen commitments.

“Geoff is one of DC Comics’ most prolific writers, and we can’t wait to see what he does next now that he will be dedicating 100 percent of his time to telling the best DC stories possible across all media," said DiDio and Lee. 

Bridey Elliott’s ‘Clara’s Ghost’ Lands at Orion Classics for North America

Orion Classics has picked up North American and Latin American rights to Bridey Elliott’s Sundance drama 'Clara's Ghost.' Elliott's directorial debut will be released in theaters and on VOD later this year.

Orion Classics has picked up North American and Latin American rights to Bridey Elliott’s Sundance drama Clara's Ghost.

Orion, recently relaunched by MGM as a multiplatform distribution label, will release the comedic mystery — featuring members of the Chris Elliott clan, including Saturday Night Live alum and comedian daughter Abby and actor-filmmaker Bridey — this fall in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD.

Set over the course of a single evening in the Reynolds family home in suburban Connecticut, Clara's Ghost follows Clara Reynolds who, fed up with constant ribbing from her self-absorbed showbiz family, finds solace in and guidance from the supernatural force she believes is haunting her.

Clara's Ghost marks the directorial debut for Bridey Elliott, who also wrote and stars in the pic. “I grew up in a family who treasures the art of filmmaking, so being able to work with my dad, mom, sister and the rest of this incredible cast on my first feature is a dream come true," she said in a statement. "I am so glad that Orion Classics is helping to bring Clara’s Ghost to a wider audience after our world premiere at Sundance this year.”

The ensemble cast includes Chris Elliott, Isidora Goreshter, Haley Joel Osment and Paula Niedert Elliott as Clara. The film debuted at Sundance in January and will continue its festival play at BAMcinemaFest on June 21.

Clara's Ghost was produced by Smudge Films and Nighthorse Productions, with Rachel Nederveld and Sarah Winshall sharing producer credits and Christopher Burch, Chloe Gordon and Daniel Powell executive producig.

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Francis Lawrence to Direct Gawker v. Hulk Hogan Movie From ‘Big Short’ Writer

'Hunger Games' filmmaker Francis Lawrence is attached to direct the adaptation of Ryan Holiday's 'Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue.'

Francis Lawrence will tackle the big-screen version of one of the largest and weirdest media lawsuits in recent memory.

The Hunger Games filmmaker is attached to direct the adaptation of Ryan Holiday's Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue.

The Big Short scribe Charles Randolph is attached to write the movie, which will chronicle Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker Media over a sex tape that the online media company published featuring the former WWE star and the wife of Tampa-area shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge. A jury ruled in Hogan's favor, resulting in a $140 million judgment that eventually lead to Gawker's dissolution. 

Hogan, Gawker founder Nick Denton and the lawsuit's secret financier, Peter Thiel, will all be characters in the movie.

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David A. Neuman's Blackrock Productions is behind the feature, which he and Lawrence will produce. 

Conspiracy isn't the only Hollywood project being developed about the salacious legal battle. Modern Family director Jason Winer is attached to helm Gawker v. Thiel from producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan. Also, at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Netflix picked up the feature documentary Nobody Speak, which chronicled the trial.

“When I read Ryan’s extraordinary book I was totally taken with this story, such an exquisitely contemporary tale, and I immediately had a vision for it as a film," said Lawrence. "It’s an important and meaningful story, and one I’m excited to tell."

Added Randolph: “Ryan Holiday’s book and the story it tells are rare gifts for a screenwriter. These are such larger-than-life characters — strange, new volatile forces in society — and their conflict matters.”

Lawrence most recently directed the Jennifer Lawrence starrer Red Sparrow and is currently developing the reboot of Battlestar Galactica for Universal. He is repped by CAA, 3 Arts and Hansen Jacobson. 

Randolph, who is repped by CAA, is currently working on Annapurna's untitled Megyn Kelly project.

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Gal Gadot Joins Dwayne Johnson in ‘Red Notice’

Gal Gadot is teaming with Dwayne Johnson for Universal's action-thriller 'Red Notice.'

Gal Gadot is teaming with Dwayne Johnson for Universal and Legendary's action-thriller Red Notice, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

Rawson Marshall Thurber, who directed Johnson in Central Intelligence and the upcoming Skyscraper, is behind the movie that will see the actor star as an Interpol agent who is after the most wanted art thief in the world.

Producers include Beau Flynn of  Flynn Picture Co.; Johnson, Dany Garcia and Hiram Garcia for their Seven Bucks Productions; and Thurber for his Bad Version, Inc. Wendy Jacobson is executive producer.

Gadot and Johnson starred together in the fifth through seventh installments of the Fast and the Furious franchise. Gadot, repped by WME, is currently filming the Wonder Woman sequel, which is due out in November 2019.

Red Notice is set for a June 12, 2020, release.

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Women in Animation Summit Talks Inclusion: “The World Is 50/50 — Why Isn’t This Industry?”

Women in Animation held a daylong summit on diversity and inclusion as the Annecy Animation Festival opens in France.

"Last fall was a real turning point and I think the biggest change is people are started to listen to women and believe them," Marge Dean, president of Women in Animation, said Monday as she opened the Women in Animation World Summit, which is being held in conjunction with the Annecy International Animation Festival in Annecy, France. 

Speakers urged work toward inclusion and diversity, citing iniatives such as women's mentoring programs and expanding hiring practices. "It comes down to a conscious decision," asserted Fox Animation co-president Andrea Miloro. Annecy organizers also said the fest would join others in the community in taking the pledge of 5050×2020.

Neither Dean, in her comments, nor any other speakers addressed the biggest development in the animation world — John Lasseter's exit from Disney and Pixar at the end of this year following admitted "missteps," which was announced Friday by Disney. (While Disney/Pixar was an event sponsor and Disney was represented in the program, there were no speakers from Pixar.)

The event kicked off with Julie Ann Crommett, vp multicultural audience engagement at Walt Disney Studios, who discussed unconscious bias.

Citing Black Panther as an example of what happens when bias is set aside, she said, "There had been a myth that films with black leads didn’t sell outside the U.S. — $1.3 billion later, they do. It’s shattered a myth because now there’s data."

Crommett added, however, that there’s much more that needs to be done. Citing 2016 research, she reported that just 34 percent of onscreen speaking roles in movies were women, and 31 percent of leads or co-leads were women. And only four percent of directors were women.

Numerous speakers noted that diversity makes good business sense. "If we keep making the same films, we will fail," asserted Paramount Animation president Mireille Soria.

Added Jenny Gilbertsson, commissioner at the Swedish Film Institute: "This isn't about justice, it's about quality. … If we keep reproducing the same stories, the film industry is dead."

She added: "Changing structures is always controversial because some lose power and some gain power."

Miloro pointed out that Fox's Blue Sky recently signed up its first female director, Karen Disher, who, with Steve Marino (The Peanuts Movie), will helm Blue Sky’s 2019-scheduled animated musical Foster.

Miloro reported that Disher has been with Blue Sky for roughly 15 years, and the company is expanding its internal mentoring as well as taking these efforts to schools to involve the next generation.

"We can get involved in change," asserted The Little Prince director Mark Osborne, who also chairs WIA’s new Male Allies committee. "The world is 50/50 — why isn’t this industry? We love this industry and we are stronger together.”

On a panel of “Male Allies,” which Osborne moderated, Aircraft Pictures co-president Anthony Leo pointed out that only two animated feature releases in 2017 were helmed by women — Nora Twomey, director of the Oscar-nominated drama The Breadwinner (which Leo produced), and Dorota Kobiela, who co-directed the Oscar-nominated biopic Loving Vincent.

Leo related that his company is now working on a Hulu production based on the Holly Hobbie property “and we did achieve 50/50.” But he explained that during that process, he reached out to one talent agent for directors and there were no women on the roster, so he moved on. “If people who are in position of hiring start setting that precedent, the agents will start looking more closely for that talent on their roster,” he asserted.

Roland Poindexter, vp television development at Fox Family, emphasized that when hiring, he considers everybody. "That gives me a wider opportunity to have a great talent base," he said. "Different elements of your production are gong to speak to different people in the audience.

"And while there needs to be a single voice at the top," he added, "hopefully that person is open to listening to their creative team."

HBO Renews ‘Succession’ for Season 2

The drama, only two episodes into its run, chronicles the Murdoch-esque family behind a media empire.

HBO is giving a quick thumbs up to Succession, renewing the freshman drama after just two episodes.

The series, which premiered June 3, follows the Murdoch-esque family behind one of the world's biggest media conglomerates. Succession has garnered a generally strong reaction from critics, averaging a 70 out of 100 on review aggregate Metacritic. The show was created by Jesse Armstrong and is executive produced by Armstrong, Adam McKay, Frank Rich, Kevin Messick, Will Ferrell, Jane Tranter and Mark Mylod.

HBO has yet to report gross viewership, with HBO Go and HBO Now plays factored in, but the early linear returns for Succession have been modest. With live-plus-3 tallies, the first episode averaged 785,000 viewers.

Chalking Succession up as a win this early is in stark contrast to 2018's other HBO drama launch. Here and Now quietly aired in the spring before getting canceled. Succession joins a returning drama slate that includes The Deuce, Big Little Lies, Westworld and the final season of Game of Thrones
 
Succession stars Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Hiam Abbass, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, Alan Ruck, Nicholas Braun, Matthew Macfadyen, Natalie Gold, Peter Friedman and Rob Yang.

‘Game of Thrones’ Creator: One of Five Successor Shows No Longer Active

George R.R. Martin gives an update on the state of the 'Thrones' franchise.

The Game of Thrones franchise has taken its next major steps forward beyond 2019's eighth and final season, with HBO ordering a pilot from Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass) set during the Age of Heroes, thousands of years before the days of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his contemporaries. 

But Goldman's untitled Game of Thrones project isn't the only successor show in the works at HBO. In a blog post, Thrones mastermind George R.R. Martin (who authored the Song of Ice and Fire novel series on which the show is based) gave an update on where things stand with the extended universe. The short version: Various winters are in varying stages of coming to HBO, with one exception.

"As for the other successor shows," Martin wrote, "if you have been following along, you know that we started with four, and eventually went to five. One of those has been shelved, I am given to understand, and of course Jane's pilot is now moving to film. But that does not mean the others are dead." 

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Martin did not identify the shelved successor show. Reached for comment, HBO reiterated that "no decisions have been made" regarding the developing concept and declined to specifically address Martin's claim. Beyond Goldman's greenlighted pilot, other writers in the successor show mix include Thrones' very own Bryan Cogman; Westworld scribe Carly Wray, who co-wrote the riveting "Kiksuya" hour of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy's A.I. drama; Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential writer Brian Helgeland; and Max Borenstein of Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island fame. According to Martin, three of those four prequels, "set in different periods and featuring different characters and storylines, remain in active development."

"Everything I am told indicates that we could film at least one more pilot, and maybe more than one, in the years to come," said Martin. "We do have an entire world and tens of thousands of years of history to play with, after all. But this is television, so nothing is certain."

Much more certain: Goldman's Game of Thrones prequel, which has an official pilot order, if not an official title. Martin weighed in on that front with some thoughts: "My vote would be The Long Night, which says it all, but I'd be surprised if that's where we end up. More likely HBO will want to work the phrase 'game of thrones' in there somewhere." 

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Martin's title suggestion confirms what many fans were already thinking based on HBO's official logline: The prequel set in the Age of Heroes will deal with the first fabled war against the White Walkers. For his part, Martin downplayed his involvement in the pilot, stating "the accolades here should go to Jane," and reiterating that his current creative focus remains The Winds of Winter, the long-developing sixth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

"It is ridiculous to think otherwise," he wrote. "If I wasn't busy with Winds, don't you think I'd be scripting one or more of these pilots myself? It's not as if I've never written for TV…"

Sound off with your thoughts on the current state of the Game of Thrones franchise in the comments below, and keep checking THR.com/GameOfThrones for more coverage.

Tonys: How ‘The Band’s Visit’ Awards Sweep Stands to Extend Its Commercial Reach

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with lead producer Orin Wolf the day after the ceremony to discuss how taking home 10 Tonys changes the show's outlook.

When it was first announced that The Band's Visit would transfer to Broadway following its acclaimed downtown premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company in December 2016, many industry pundits seemed skeptical. Despite its ecstatic reviews and tidy haul of awards off-Broadway, how would the subtlety and nuance of this achingly delicate musical drama play in a New York theatrical primetime dominated by spectacle and star power?

The answer has been somewhat apparent since the production reopened to a second round of rave reviews last November at Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre, playing to steady business ever since and rarely slipping below 90 percent capacity. Grosses to date stand at $33.3 million, a robust total for a venue seating just over 1,000.

But the definitive response came Sunday night at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards, when The Band's Visit walked away with the honors in 10 of its 11 nominated categories. That included best musical, original score (David Yazbek), book (Itamar Moses), director (David Cromer), lead actor (Tony Shalhoub), lead actress (Katrina Lenk) and featured actor (Ari'el Stachel). The gamble could hardly have paid off more handsomely.

"Even our most optimistic projections going into the awards show last night, I think we've blown them away," lead producer Orin Wolf tells The Hollywood Reporter. "People are just floored by the amount of interest and how that's translating into ticket sales — even starting before the broadcast last night, just going into the week. It's been overwhelming."

Unlike its rivals for top musical honors — Tina Fey's Mean Girls, Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants and Disney's Frozen, all of which are based on established film or TV properties with massive brand recognition — The Band's Visit was adapted from a relatively obscure Israeli arthouse hit of the same name.

Released in 2008 in the U.S., the movie was a niche success, grossing $3 million, but it nonetheless was seen by a tiny fraction of the audiences that know and love the source material for the season's other new musicals. The story unfolds over the course of a single night in a backwater town in the Israeli desert, where the lost musicians of an Egyptian police band get stranded on their way to the opening of an Arab cultural center.

While on the surface it seems unlikely fodder for Broadway musical treatment, the show's themes of human connection transcending racial, cultural and political barriers make it actually a perfect fit. What is theater if not a celebration of the power of the arts to bridge divides and bring people together?

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"What's been so amazing about this community is how clearly there's been a wave of down-the-line support for us," says Wolf. "But still, we never expected this, last night was astonishing."

Many theater insiders are pointing to the Tonys success of The Band's Visit, along with that of surprise musical revival winner Once on This Island, as a direct message to producers who are steering away from the risks of unproven properties and sticking with adaptations of mainstream movie hits, jukebox bio-musicals assembled out of the chart-topping back catalogs of popular music artists, or classic musicals with decades of pop-cultural penetration. Many feel that Broadway needs less recycling, more imagination.

The Tony for best musical traditionally is considered the only award to have a significant impact at the box office. That's even truer with an intimate miniaturist musical like The Band's Visit, which has nothing like the sui generis blockbuster factor of a Hamilton or the social media-friendly adolescent emo angle of a Dear Evan Hansen, to name two recent best musical winners that continue to sell out every performance.

"What I've already experienced is that the Tonys has become this loudspeaker that allows me now to reach so much further than we ever have," Wolf explains. "Recently, when we got our nominations, we did a Today Show segment; that was the first national TV we'd ever had, and yesterday on the Tonys was our second national television moment. So already what it's done is it's completely extended my ability to reach an audience that's not just the low-hanging fruit."

"Because in addition to not having a brand, which makes it harder to advertise, we also have a very limited ad budget," he says. "We're in a small theater and I try to operate this thing almost like a play financially, I mean I really have to be careful."

While the initial capitalization for The Band's Visit has been reported at $8.75 million, Wolf declines to confirm that figure, stating only that the show in on par with other recent modestly scaled productions under $10 million, like Once and Fun Home. Both those shows also won Tonys for best musical, which arguably extended their life on Broadway by a year or more. Wolf agrees that it's fair to use the yardstick of those musicals as a commercial comparison.

Both those productions were profitable, if on a modest scale in the case of Fun Home, which ran for a year and a half, grossing $41.5 million. However, Once, based on the Fox Searchlight release with music by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, played for just under three years on Broadway, going on to gross a very respectable $110 million.

"I was involved with Once from the sidelines as a co-producer, and I would be thrilled if The Band's Visit had that kind of reach," says Wolf. "But even though it wasn't a big-brand show, Once did have the film and an Academy Award-winning song, so even that had a way of accessing a little bit wider circle. If we can come close to the success of Once I'd be overjoyed."

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Beyond the Broadway impact, the Tonys bounty stands to reap considerable rewards on the road, enhancing prospects for the show's national tour, which has been announced to kick off in June next year in Providence, Rhode Island.

"I think the impact on the tour will be fantastic," Wolf says. "Some of the tour presenters, who are my partners and have been my supporters for years, were there last night. They were all totally engaged before the Tonys, but when a show like this wins those awards, what it allows presenters to then do in their markets with advertising is incredible."

"When you go to Des Moines, or you go to Cleveland or you go to Buffalo, in some ways you have to start all over," he continues. "This gives us that immediate calling card to say, 'Here are 10 reasons why you should come see the show.' We're not a title that people see and recognize so the Tonys allows us an immediate, very distilled message that connects to ticket buyers and doesn't need much explanation. That's one of the advantages — the Tonys give us a sound bite."

While Shalhoub — who seemed more surprised than anyone to win his first Tony for a musical, after three previous nominations for plays — has now left the role of Egyptian bandleader Tewfiq to complete filming on season two of Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the actor has hinted in interviews that he hopes to circle back into the stage musical at some point. "We'd love for that to happen, but when I don't know," says Wolf.

In the meantime, the production on Monday announced the unusual casting step of bringing in veteran Israeli stage and screen actor Sasson Gabay, who originated the role of Tewfiq in the movie, to reprise the part in this new incarnation. He steps into the production starting June 26, making his Broadway debut.

"Sasson is in rehearsal now and is going into the show at the end of this month," says Wolf. "Right now, that to me is the most exciting part of our future. As confident as I was about doing this adaptation from the beginning, I'm as confident about what Sasson is going to bring to the show. I think it's going to be extraordinary."

As for international plans, Wolf admits it's early days but that discussions definitely are taking place.

"We've had some conversations about Israel, of course, and I'm very interested in looking at some of the Middle Eastern markets," he says. "We've also had some initial thoughts about London. But this is all new to me, so I'm trying not to get ahead of myself."

"It's such a delicate show," adds Wolf. "I've described it like a piece of Kleenex that gets wet, so one pebble too many and it breaks. I just have to figure out the most delicate way to go into those other markets and if there's a compelling reason to do it. If there is, I'll be eager to roll up my sleeves and make it happen."

‘Incredibles 2’: Film Review

Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter and Samuel L. Jackson are back in 'Incredibles 2,' the sequel to Pixar's 2004 hit about a family of superheroes forced to hide their powers.

Along with the Toy Story trilogy, The Incredibles is one of the jewels in the crown that made Pixar the ne plus ultra of animation companies. But whereas the saga of Woody, Jessie and Buzz Lightyear played out in three films spread across a decade and a half, it's taken 14 years for Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and their kids to find their way back to the big screen. Boosted by central characters that remain vastly engaging and a deep supply of wit, Incredibles 2 certainly proves worth the wait, even if it hits the target but not the bull's-eye in quite the way the first one did. It remains to be seen whether everyone who loved the original when they were 6 years old and is now 20 will rush out to catch this follow-up, but there's plenty of crackling entertainment value here for viewers from 5 to 95.

Still front and center are the key elements that made Brad Bird's original creation so captivating: The tested but resilient bonds within the Middle American family with secret superhero lives, the fabulous late-'50s/early '60s space-age-obsessed design scheme, the deep-dish reservoir of wit, a keenly expressed sense of what it takes to maintain a balanced marriage and great command of a narrative curveball employed to register frequent surprise.

On top of all this is the pronounced female slant (something obviously planned many years ago but utterly in step with modern currents): The story shines the spotlight on Elastigirl, with adolescent daughter Violet beginning to spread her wings. For good measure, infant tyke Jack-Jack hilariously begins displaying his potential with incipient displays of Incredible behavior.

Oblivious to the passage of real time, the tale picks up exactly where the first one left off, with a massive drill guided by the aptly named Underminer (John Ratzenberger) breaking up through the pavement to wreak havoc on Municiberg. There to thwart him are Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), the latter displaying an astounding flexibility that goes beyond what she displayed the first time around in an elaborate opening sequence designed to announce that the Incredibles are back.

But the civil authorities don't appreciate the destruction caused by their intervention and ban superheroes for good. What this means for the Parrs — Bob and Helen along with 14-year-old Violet (Sarah Vowell), 10-year-old Dash (Huckleberry Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) — is two weeks at the gorgeously retro Safari Court motel before they're cast out and forced to decide what to do with the rest of their lives.

For anyone other than resolute animation haters and congenital sourpusses, these first minutes provide an exhilarating rush of retroactive pleasure, partly as a reminder of how distinctively different The Incredibles was from anything that had come before — or has come since. Bird's authorial attitude is both sly and sincere, with a view of the nuclear family as the locus of human virtue and strength. It's a perspective that is both tested and reaffirmed multiple times throughout the film, first and foremost with Mr. Incredible resigning himself to taking a backseat in order to tend to child-rearing while his wife ventures out to right the world's latest wrongs.

Society's chief nemesis is not another masked man or cackling deformity but an elusive presence cleverly called Screenslaver, which hypnotizes and thus establishes control over anyone who happens to glance at its image when it appears on a screen. This insidious mind-control entity can lay claim to anyone at any time but can't be caught or retaliated against directly; it's an advanced, high-tech version of Orwell's telescreens that works instantaneously.

Given the official opposition to superheroes, it falls to entrepreneurs to make use of their talents (the original Incredibles expressed the same aversion to government in favor of private enterprise), and it's Helen who gets the call from telecommunications tycoon Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk). The latter is arguably the least well-conceived and -written character in the film — he's given to upbeat platitudes and cliched attitudes — but the slack is at least somewhat taken up by his tech-wiz sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), a provocative beauty who may have more going on than meets the eye.

So while Helen suits up to pursue the elusive Screenslaver, her family must learn to get along without her for a while. This leads to some of the funniest, and most deeply human, passages in the picture. Grumpy and disgruntled, the professionally sidelined Bob must assume familial duties that involve various challenges: Violet is going through teen angst and a boy problem; Dash can't wait to join in the adventuring; and Jack-Jack hilariously begins exhibiting superhero attributes at unexpected moments (they're like the pubescent explosions of an adolescent, except that these are the uncontrollable emanations of a superbaby).

As in the prior Incredibles, periods of enforced nonsuperheroing get Bob down; he's daunted by helping his son with new math, and he lazily grows stubble just being stuck in the house every day. But he ultimately makes a breakthrough, realizing he's got to up his game for the sake of his children, which he finally does to endearing results. It's the sort of midlife male attitude transition — something akin to Jimmy Stewart's recognition of the transcendent importance of family at the end of It's a Wonderful Life — that's terribly rare in contemporary films, and who would expect it in an animated superhero adventure?

In the meantime, Elastigirl gets to flex her limbs as never before, and it's a kick to see her exult in them; she's a woman newly unbound. Taking on human opponents would be far too easy for her, given her dexterous, shape-shifting skills that enable her arms and legs to instantly stretch to unimaginable lengths. Therefore, most of her energies are expended contending with large and powerful modes of transportation. As visually spectacular and speedy as these rescue scenes may be, they're also a bit much, becoming somewhat rote, even repetitive — (wo)man versus machine, high-speed thrills that continually have to keep topping each other while the heroine discovers the seemingly unlimited extent of her powers. As “exciting” as they are, these scenes feel pushed into overdrive for their generic excitement value in a way that was never the case in the original Incredibles.

Still, this sex reversal where physical achievement and societal role acceptance are concerned is the central dramatic conceit and sociological preoccupation of Incredibles 2, which will make it as popular with women of all ages as it will be for kids. Naturally, the other members of the family ultimately get to join in the fun, too, but Elastigirl is decidedly first among equals this time around.

Two fondly remembered characters from the original, Edna Mode and Frozone, are back, but rather briefly. Of the new characters, the best is the wily Evelyn, distinctively voiced by Keener. Returning veterans Nelson, Hunter, Vowell and Samuel L. Jackson (Frozone) slip back into their roles as if not a day has passed. Director Bird once again deliciously essays Edna.

As before, one of the key creative contributions here is the super jazzy score by Michael Giacchino. Essentially unknown at the time, the composer put himself on the map with his work on the first entry and he's been one of the busiest soundtrack tunesmiths in Hollywood ever since. At 118 minutes, the new film is just three minutes longer than the original.

Production company: Pixar
Distributor: Disney
Voice cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huckleberry Milner, Catherine Keener, Eli Fucile, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Bird, Sophie Bush, Brad Bird, Phil Lamarr, Isabella Rossellini
Director-screenwriter: Brad Bird
Producers: John Walker, Nicole Paradis Grindle
Executive producer: John Lasseter
Story supervisor: Ted Mathot
Production designer: Ralph Eggleston
Editor: Stephen Schaffer
Music: Michael Giacchino
Casting: Kevin Reher, Natalie Lyon

Rated PG, 118 minutes