Entertainment is Female: A Conversation with Hollywood Executives: From the production companies that brought you Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Walking Dead, Lumberjanes, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, women executives discuss the development process and how they approach adapting IP during a pandemic. Moderator Tiffany Smith (actress, Masters of the Universe: Revelation) along with panelists Jeannette Francis (Bad Robot), Sam Crawley (Skybound Entertainment), Aubrey Lee (Lord Miller), Grey Cusack (formerly of Hasbro Studios), Nikki Baida (Lord Miller), and Mette Norkjaer (BOOM! Studios) will partake in a Q&A.
What makes a great film or TV idea? This panel gathered six women from a variety of production houses who greenlight, develop, and produce films and TV that they think audiences will love. The panel has been meeting at SDCC regularly for the past three years, and for 2021’s SDCC@Home, the speakers had much to share about the impact the pandemic has had on the way they work.
One of the aspects of the panel that stood out was how open everyone has become to new and unique ideas. We’re at a point in time in entertainment where everything from Reddit threads, tweets (ala Zola), and TikTok Stories can be adapted into major film or TV productions. During the panel, Aubrey Lee mentioned how the TV department of Lord Miller is adapting a story shared on r/NoSleep, set to star Blake Lively.
Aside from new media, animated properties have been successful and increased during the pandemic. Most animated shows and films can be done remotely, unlike live action, which needs people to be on-set. In response to the discussion on animation, Nikki Baida shared an exciting update — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2 has been developed during the pandemic, because it’s an animated property, so we should be getting updates for it soon-ish.
Considering the impact of the pandemic, moderator Tiffany Smith asked the panelists what kind of IP is being adapted as life slowly goes back to normal. According to Grey Cusack, films about big emotions are going to be what people are looking for going forward, such as films like The Quiet Place 2. Other kinds of genres that studios are chasing now are horror films, prestige films, musicals, and comedies.
Baida also spoke about studios’ openness to new concepts. Lord Miller is currently developing a film about a bear on cocaine, so it’s not just new but quirky concepts that are being greenlit. Mette Norkjaer seconded this, talking about how BOOM! is reverse-engineering development. Norkjaer mentioned the Keanu Reeves story, Berserker, that he presented to BOOM! and they then developed it into a comic series, thus attracting a whole new audience. Jeannette Francis said that Bad Robot doesn’t have any mandate, at all. They’ve been given carte blanche to choose IPs that they’re excited about, especially if it’s a story that they feel needs to exist in the world. It doesn’t have to be a massive IP; even smaller stories can be just as enticing in the Bad Robot development department.
Sam Crawley mentioned something interesting about genres. Skybound Entertainment has generally done more horror IPs but the pandemic has moved them towards levity, so they’re blending genres like horror-comedy, and pivoting towards YA. This is also something that speaks to the buyers because everyone wants to feel good again after the year we’ve had. Crawley did say that mysteries were getting attention because it gives people a reason to talk to each other.
Cusack added to this by saying that properties need to be ‘easily-digestible and marketable’ because the market is saturated with very similar stories. Interestingly, she said that the concept at the centre of a story is often more important than the quality of the writing through the show. Especially with horror, if the creator can speak from a personal perspective, the story has more of an impact, because people have had so many fears over the past year. The industry works on developing concepts that bring in both the ‘initiated and uninitiated’.
Lee agreed with that last statement, saying that passion is more inspiring to producers because then they know that the creator is in it for the long haul. This is something that she’s seen as Lord Miller works on the live-action shows based in the Spider-Man universe. Lee did not share details about which Spidey characters were being developed but that’s interesting news for Marvel Comics fans.
There was a lot of discussion about remote working, which I found very amusing because it seemed like such a normal topic to discuss. Entertainment industries, they’re just like us! Working from home has definitely changed the way production companies actually develop and produce film and television, but it’s also opened up new opportunities by connecting people who are located around the world.
Norkjaer talked about the pivot to pitching on Zoom. Though it isn’t the same as pitching in-person because one can’t see the body language of the person, the industry has found ways around this. Pre-recording a pitch and limiting it to 20 minutes has worked well. Francis spoke of other benefits to remote working, which felt very close to home. In particular, Francis spoke of meetings that used to take a long time to put together because people needed to be in the same place. This is obviously not a problem any more thanks to video conferencing. But Francis feels like people have had to make connections consciously — you’re not walking over to somebody’s desk casually for a chat any more. I definitely felt that way when I got a different role recently, so it’s strange to hear that people in the entertainment industry have the same experience.
Speaking of the more negative aspects of remote working, Crawley mentioned that daily check-ins have become necessary to keep her connected to her team. She also spoke of feeling like she had her colleagues in her home at all times. But she doesn’t want to go into the office five days a week, and honestly, who does? Crawley did talk about people becoming too work-oriented because there wasn’t much else to do during the pandemic. Grey noted how some companies took advantage of that line between work and home becoming muddier. According to Crawley, that needs to be balanced out moving forward. I could not agree more.
There were some audio issues when multiple panelists spoke at the same time, but this was an engrossing session that could have continued for much longer. I had enjoyed this session last year (my very first SDCC) and it was fascinating to get these insights about the entertainment industry during the pandemic. I’m surprised at how similar the working environment is to my very normal office!
My main takeaway from this panel was that we can expect more genre stories and feel-good stories in the near future, plus some quirky and personal tales. We’ve already seen quite a few animated properties released during the pandemic, but more are on their way, which can be fun. I certainly found myself enjoying animated film and TV during the pandemic so that’s something we can look forward to.