The Produced By Conference offers an interesting perception for the up-and-coming producers in play to have close access to the producers who are getting the big films done. While different elements, especially the medium of TV, seemingly have a bigger impact on the progression, the rules of what works always change and yet story functionality stays the same which is further emphasized with both exec discussions and notions of narrative connection.
A Conversation With Michael Burns The Vice Chairman of Lionsgate has enjoyed a very interesting couple years with the smaller studio making leaps and bounds to interact with the big players in a series of interesting power moves beginning first with the acquisition of Artisan Entertainment a couple years ago and recently with Summit and the immense success of “The Hunger Games”. The ideas of what this studio truly wants to be comes into question which through an informal discussion with producer (and Produced By co-chair) Gary Lucchesi of Lakeshore Entertainment (whom Lionsgate made the recent “Lincoln Lawyer” with) allows certain details to more come to light.
Burns started off in the financial sector in NY in the 80s with places such as Lehmann and eventually Prudential which gave him access into the media/entertainment sector. From the very beginning, the film “The Exorcist” was very influential to Burns which definitely created an irony when Sherry Lansing and her husband William Friedkin (who directed that film) later became his neighbors. In an ode out of “Mad Men”, Burns’ dad (ironically named Pete like one of the central protagonists on the show) was “very much like the Don Draper character”. One of the lessons his father taught had him at the end of his primary schooling given a $5000 check that said “The End”.
Moving through business school on his own, the key for Burns was “vary to entry and first mover advantage” which he learned in the financial sector. This ideal applies, at times, to new platforms which he suggests not trying on the inset calling the action “a fool’s errand”. For him, the movie that turned Lionsgate around is not the one you would think: “Monster’s Ball”. That began to fuel his motto: know who is showing up opening weekend. Turning to the perception of franchises like “The Hunger Games” and the acquired “Twilight” series, he knew (specifically in relation to “Hunger Games”), that they could take up to 25 million dollars of risk. The Summit acquisition, he continues, he saw as a “risky deal” because he was worried people were possibly burned out on the “Twilight” franchise (they were not). Continuing on that course, in terms of looking forward, Lionsgate just finished shooting “Ender’s Game” which Burns believes could be a franchise as well. The biggest challenge he sees is the comparative size of P&A budgets and how to make the product “rise above” others which also keys into finding the right opening weekend. Overseas, of course, is very important. Sergei Yershov, one of his execs at Lionsgate, helped set up everything for distribution in Russia and that country has now become a Top 5 territory for them.
Moving into formats, Burns says that “3D is great for the right movie” but says that “I am not the right guy”. Television is now becoming though the go-to spot. He uses the example of all the material at Sundance but ultimately each year that festival only produces one film people will hear of widely. This creates the motivation for those kind of indie writer/directors to go to TV because that is where their voices can be heard. Burns explains that as he looks at their library, he thinks that “Red” or “The Expendables” can be television series but the question becomes: can it be serialized? And can you get the talent to agree to be in it?
Attacking notions of perception, Burns says that “we don’t want to be the new major” but “we want to be a studio with the biggest library”. In terms of accessing a new and increasingly diverse audience, the possibilities become more analytic. He examples that Netflix, despite its entry into the workspace, is an MSO whereas Showtime, as a comparison, is not in 22 million homes. This thereby creates the notion of content becoming ubiquitous. Through these kind of elements, Lionsgate is able to test certain aspects. Burns concedes this fact saying that they have equity in Roadside Attractions. This allows them, especially in the VOD space, to test releases (like with “Margin Call” last year) or give an early jump to a film like “Abduction”. This propels Burns’ thought from a studio perspective: “Don’t rush it. Wait”. It also plays into his idea on development. Lionsgate is more likely (in all points) to buy a finished script (or for that fact, a film) and not a pitch or outline. He uses the example of “Crash” which won best picture saying that “we were the only bidder). Some films do disappoint. He really liked “Warrior” but it couldn’t find its audience. Lionsgate put 30 in but it only made 13.
Franchise Building Finding the right angles in order to make something popular over and over again holds a lot of its power to the instinct of mass appeal and anticipating certain elements of all demographics. Lorenzo di Bonaventura, like fellow panelist Nina Jacobson, has seen the aspect from both a studio exec side (The Matrix, Harry Potter) as well as from the producer side (Transformers, GI Joe). Di Bonaventura starts off with a joke about when Warner made “The Perfect Storm” with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. he had a discussion with then-studio head Alan Horn that “maybe one guy should live”. In terms of finding that perfect “alchemy”, he textures that “tone is the divining rod”. That said, he says that you also have to have someone with the right vision at the inset. He mentions that he had lunch with Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) a week or so prior to the conference and they discussed that Chris Columbus (who directed the first two “Potter” films) “doesn’t get enough credit” for the work he did in establishing the world. In the past couple years though, from di Bonaventura’s perspective, the scrutiny on the industry has changed because there is “a different value system”. He chuckled remembering when he was on a whitewater rafting trip in Idaho that people were talking there about box office receipts which was never the case before. But, he quips, not everything is a sure bet. Di Bonaventura says that “Transformers” was passed on by his home studio 5 times. The key remains though in terms of these types of films is “don’t forget to kill somebody” because “you need to have stakes”. People discussed this when he was asked if Morgan Freeman was coming back for “Red 2”. His point is do not mess with the alchemy because the longer a franchise goes, the more it has to evolve and “if you are going to change, you have to be bold with what you are going to do”.
Nina Jacobson, who is one of the main producers responsible for the hit”Hunger Games” says that “at the heart of any franchise are characters that people want to see again”. In terms of “Games” coming together, she says that director [Gary] “Ross understood tonal bandwidth”. Getting into the larger story definitely, she says, makes the syndrome more acute. When the idea of “Games” in 3D is brought up, her response about kids killing kids in 3D: “distasteful”.
Todd Phillips, one of the other panelists, slightly watching from the outside because his “Hangover” franchise is not based on some pre-ordained property, says that he is “interested by this whole conversation”. He recalls a meeting he had with di Bonaventura, when the previous was still an exec at Warner Brothers, regarding the aspects of a writer saying “with 120 pages of writing, you have your say” continuing that the execs tend to speak at writers and not to them at that point. In terms of why his current franchise works, he replies that “people have hangovers all over the world” though he specifies that “The Hangover 3” which they are starting work on currently “turns into an entirely different movie” because “it is not a forgotten night” but “still takes place in the real world”.
The elements of producing and making the ideas stick and flourish in real world big-budget situations is the cornerstone of what Produced By as a conference celebrates but it also allows those execs in power to pass on needed advice to those who might follow.
The greens glide over the meadows with a tender brush while the sereneness of its quandry makes one relax. Such is the essence of Lake Charles and its golf courses. Showing a surprising intensity of challenge that breaks down through three distinct play styles experienced in a variety of weather, the reality becomes one of style and smoothness.
The essential element of creating both a challenging and a visually pleasing course is always a distinctified divergence since different players like different challenges. Some relegate with water obstacles or long fairways. The key is making a balance of riches seem effortless.
At the inset, Gray Plantation Golf Course, which functions as a public course, intensifies immediately because of its difficulty. While wind, in distinct presence, creates other obstacles, the angle of the fairways themselves is what helps define the play here in addition to specifically placed water handicaps which leads to the incessant loss of accessories. Hole 2 begins with the inherent presence of an industrial backdrop against the bayou marked by an undulating green that prevents curve. Hole 6 is exceptional as a Par 3 banked on a rolling front that required a full water jump of nearly 200 yards. Hole 7 requires a long fairway shot but tricks with two water jumps that require short tandem shots to prevent landing in the brush. Hole 8 blinds in the best way as a Par 3 which basks in its irony with looming houses in the background, one of which has a stop sign right behind the drop point. Hole 11 allows for a bogie on the angle of a safe play instead of a long drive while Hole 16 incessant swallows shots with almost a complete lake along the side that requires replete strategy. Hole 18 brought the straight hit back home in the form of the club house which billowing through a stark vision of an oak tree gave an auspice of romantic vampire literature as the overhanging clouds gave a dim glow in the setting sun.
Where Gray Plantation’s Pars were more didactic and inherently strategic for the intermediate golfer ready for a bit of thinking, the National Golf Club, which is still fairly new, located in Westlake, offers more of a business approach to the ideal. While the clubhouse is hardly up to poise, the playability of the course allows for more conversational pursuits because many of its hole are so straightlace. The course itself has a streamlined beauty but is almost too angular in that the hits are predetermined in most cases. The driving range offers content warm up yet is removed from the street life. The front nine here offers a dexterity while still not overwhelming the player. Hole 5 is most unique with a Par 3 jump using almost church pew sand bunkers that either require clearance or chipping by experience to heaven while Hole 8 offers a split progression hit which can be deceiving in terms of the location of the hole. Hole 14 on the back nine offers a double back drive with water on either side of each hit culminating with a green titled at a heavy angle.
The Contraband Bayou Course, on the grounds of the L’aurberge Du Lac Resort, combines the necessities of both angles of business and playability into one specific vision. Having talked to the resident golf professional, who initially hailed from the Palm Beach Florida area, the adherence to a very specific guideline shows the building possibility of the area. The course, because of its flowing greens and perceptive visions of the resort area and grounds, make it extremely TV friendly offering the ability for it to become a tournament course which is only enhanced by the pro’s involvement with the PGA.
After ingratiating on the driving range, the first holes, despite a short onslaught of rain, offered a riveting play which in all weather offers both thinking and relaxation. With its position on the edge of the bayou, most of the water ponds, have been adopted each by a single alligator because of its close proximity to the wildlife refuge. While one was not seen, these reptiles are wonder to see and don’t mess with players unless they themselves are messed with. It simply adds another exotic element to the play. While the thought becomes right now to flip the nines because of a road barrier, either interfere with the exception that both the current 17th and 18th hole, offer great closure to the course.
Beginning on the current front, Hole 4 works well because of its water jump but slices undeniably to the right while Hole 9 offers a straight shot with a bending water obstacle looming on the left side heading towards the green. By comparison, Hole 17 on the back offers a satisfying alleeop shot off the tea direct on the green like a drive out of heaven allowing for a bogie curve despite a challenging green. Hole 18 is almost as good with a powerful drive to the front of the green using poised hits to land at double bogie.
One aspect that immensely enhances the possibilities of Contraband is its essential symbiosis with the L’Auberge Resort. Located on a wide swath of land right on Lake Charles, the abilities of the resort defy expectations in an exceptional way. Whereas many times, when one thinks of a riverboat resort, which is required for gambling in this area of Louisiana, there might be a stigma in terms of the level of service. The L’auberge in their prominence proves in their case that this is extremely false. The great aspect is that the casino’s presence does not overcome the rest of the experience as it does in most instances. The check in, shops and restaurants surround the casino but because of its closed construction in terms of the riverboat aspect, it creates a boundary which gives it a relaxed atmosphere without overcoming its guests.
From the guest room on the 14th Floor, which beyond offering a recessed reading area, a large and intriniscally decorated bathroom and uber comfortable beds, the landscape permeated below leads out from the fairways of the golf course to the flowing ebb of the lake to the distant industrial plants. From above, one can see the outline of the riverboat structure, perfectly symmetrical along the water floating effervescently along with the commerce surrounding it.
Before moving to the essence of food within the resort, the specific importance and effectiveness of the Spa Du Lac, located steps away from the guest elevators, is both easy to find and user friendly. Entering in, the Spa itself is not overly endowed with space but uses its possibility to wonderful conclusion. The Spa itself will be expanded next year in a new construction project billowing the resort by an additional 400 rooms. However in its current format, it is more than pliable. Functioning more as a health spa with an added elegance, the staff is very indicative. Arriving for a deep tissue massage, after 36 holes of golf where driving against the wind required more power than usual, the lower back and hamstrings on the back of the left leg screamed with tightness. The masseuse, understanding the problem areas, took a more sports medicine approach which allowed for relaxation of the muscle using both heat and segmented pressure. Afterwards the compacted space and easy accessibility of the jacuzzi in relation to the sauna offered a very precise progression. Sitting afterwards in the lounge area, watching the plasma, the lack of need to move showcased the effectiveness of said treatment in addition to the extended hours of the spa itself which is open until 9pm in an age where many similar places close nearly two hours before.
The diversity of food within the resort within easy walking distance of each other is undeniable. From the early morning viscosity of hot chocolate and a heavenly creme cheese pastry at Lattes to a late night expresso and creme brulee sorbet at Desserts, there is an angle for every kind of taste.
For high end fine dining, the Snake River Grill heightens by its selection of beef and wonderful appetizers. Starting off with the Peking Duck scallion enriched crepes, the paradox of the two possibilities melds in a very sound and hearty aftertaste. Reflecting in its barometric allowances, the richness of the bite size steak taco ensconced in avocado sauce binded with finger licking essences of small but succulent lamb chop lollipops prepares the progress for the Big Daddy. Rocking out at 22oz with very little fat, the Snake River Porterhouse, cooked medium well, fired with flavor on all cylinders vindicated in droves by the addition of a cognac and peppercorn sauce highlighted by a smatteriing of Louisiana crab meat and a loaded baked potato which settled the synpases into a virtual food coma. For those brave enough to venture on, the home made Eskimo Bars wrapping ice cream and a deep rich brownie into heavy chocolate for dipping in a caramel sauce need apply.
For the lighter in structure, two other establishments within the resort, again located in the circle realm around the riverboat frame, offer different libations for dinnertime.
At Asia, which is open late until 4am, the briskness of an early evening bowl of wonton soup looms large with a hearty bowl filled with a plethora of succulent dumplings in addition to pork and scallions, all of which can be made to order. Add a order of shrimp filled spring rolls with a light tangy peanut butter sauce and the time is right to saunter back to the tables for some early evening temptation.
For those with a latter appetite resting within the 10pm hour, the branded Jack Daniels Bar & Grill offers chill, roadhouse style hanging. Beginning with a couple draft Shock Tops (thanks to Michelob) which has the effervescent and encompassing taste of a citrus brewed Hiefeweisen, and blended in tandem with a JD Roadhouse burger lathered in swiss cheese and bacon along with a side of steak fries, contentment becomes a state of being. While finishing up the pint as a mosaic of beads creating the American Flag hangs above the bar, a rockabilly band, half Everclear/half Nirvana bust out everything from Pearl Jam to Sublime to Lynryd Skynyrd.
In keeping with the all night purveyance, Le Cafe is great for the early morning breakfasts, especially if one is in a hurry to hit a tee time. With an exceptionally efficient staff, even a hearty meal like country fried steak topped with gravy and sided with cheese scrambled eggs and butter topped grits comes out in a heartbeat, replete with flavor and a glass of milk.
Now dining is, of course, not only available within the resort, but as a “one stop shop”, L’auberge has the ground pretty well covered but the same progression can be experienced in the outside world with nary a little driving involved.
In terms of fine dining, Mazen’s offers a elegant, refined hoist of Southern hospitality while lingering with flavor and creativity in the aquatic culinary space. Beginning with a looking glass of Oysters, both Rockefeller and Bienville, glistening with shrimp, cheese and spinach, baked on the half shell with a spicy afterbite, the inset of “Kibbies”, a pasty type concoction filled with ground beef, pine nuts and onions, despite its wantonness, is quite delicious like a Southern calzone of sorts. The main course of Fish Aladdin, toasted for perfection, brings out numerous flavors in its lemon and butter sauces through the sheer preciseness of its preparation while still engulfed in rich crabmeat. After dinner, despite an absence of expresso, a Grand Mariner chocolate souffle hit the spot with dexterity, verve and a bit of sweetness.
A variety of other tastes populate the town in droves. Directly across from the Lake Charles Visitors Bureau across Interstate 10, the legendary Steamboat Bill’s waits to heaps its treasure of crawdads upon the willing. Armed with only napkins, sweet tea and wanton fingers, a tray replete with five pounds of critters along with potatoes and corn offer the dexterious a welcome challenges. Highlighted by their steaming broth that place the fires of Hell into the crustaceans with a mix of Creole seasoning and cayenne pepper, the aftermath is not for the faint of heart.
Chastain’s Seafood Shack jump starts the cables with the appropriate “Louisiana poppers” mixing shrimp and cream cheese before satisfying with a simmering bowl of savory chicken and sausage gumbo and a hilarious staff that leaves you with a family feeling and more than a joke or two. Darrell’s, for lunch as well, excels in the simple but nevertheless brilliant sandwich known as the “Surf N’ Turf” which seamlessly blends Louisiana roast beef and shrimp on a crispy hero roll with a rich tangy mayonaisse sauce peppered in jalapenos. The place was packed with good reason as revelers come from as far as 4 hours away to get their sandwiches.
On the lighter side of the dining outlay, Luna’s in downtown has a great bohemian feeling while being just cool enough to be unaware of it through its undeniably laid back staff and interesting culinary paradoxes. While the Abita Special Brew Pecan Harvest combined with a before dinner appetizer of spinach and artichoke dips with especially tasty and luscious crisps offered the semblance of recognizable bar food, the main course of Luna Tuna steak was a puzzling and ultimately gratifying outlay. Consisting of an encrusted slab of tuna, seared in one large swath, the taste remains consistent despite the distinct numbers of sauces and spices running through its electric center.
Not to be forgotten, breakfast is a meeting place of importance in this town with regular meetings among a variety of groups which keeps the conversations vivacious even in the morning hours. Southern Spice, like Le Cafe but with a little more grease, does it right with a rib eye seasoned to perfection surrounded by salty hash browns, cheese filled eggs and the requisite and always reliable butter honed grits.
Lake Charles is a bountiful area of work and play. If simply approaching for a golf getaway, within a small radius, the city offers undeniable access and value. In addition to the three courses played, there are an exceptional number of public courses with different range levels that have possibility. Mallard Cove, situated on the edge of the old Naval Base, has a great old school feel to it while arranging over a vast amount of land. Pine Shadows, aided by the steady hand of PGA Professional Todd Boudreaux, is great for beginners getting their first shot at golf or those intermediate enough who want a level of steady play. Last but not least,Frasch Park continually changes their perceptions of play with numerous grand obstacles to challenge the player masterminded with skill by Golf Pro George McInnis. Surrounding this course is a massive sports complex replete with aquatic center, softball fields and numerous other activities that make the intent of the area very family and sports friendly, highlighted by the fact that junior golf and training are very important to this area which gives the implement to the young in a sport that in cyclical fashion is now becoming cooler by the day.
With its food and sport is direct corrolation buoyed by an exceptional central resort complex in the form of L’Aurberge, Lake Charles is one of those secret golf hideaways that your friends want to hear about but didn’t know where to look.