Women in the industry share ‘How I Get It Done’
Actor Zazie Beetz chooses roles in projects that she wants to watch.
“(That) has led to difficult decisions and conversations of how do I get myself out there and do I do a big movie so more people can see me,” Beetz, who appears in “Nine Days” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, said. “So I really have been trying to come back into my heart and try to honor who I am in that moment.”
Beetz gave that answer at the “How I Get It Done” panel that was presented Friday by The Cut, Friday at O.P. Rockwell.
The panel, which was moderated by The Cut senior editor Kerena Cadenas, also included Sarah Aubrey, head of original content at HBO Max, Amy Entelis, CNN Worldwide executive vice president of talent and content development, and filmmaker Dee Rees. It looked at how these women balance their lives with their careers and ambitions.
“I’m really trying to engage in different genres and characters,” Beetz said. “I want to try to comedy, drama and try to stretch myself. I’m always trying to push and refine what I’m putting out there. And that comes with choosing wider berth of projects and stories with indies, studios and television.”
Beetz, who has appeared in “Deadpool 2” and “Joker,” said she wants to try new things because she doesn’t want to get typecast.
“I’m wary of getting typecast too young,” she said. “I want to have a career. I want to be acting when I’m 80, and I don’t just want to be ‘action chick’ and not get a job when I’m 50.”
Sundance Film Festival veteran Rees chooses projects the same way as Beetz did.
“I make movies that I want to see,” she said. “It’s about choosing a subject matter that has momentum.”
Rees said her first film, “Pariah,” about a lesbian coming of age in Brooklyn’s Fort Green neighborhood and which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, was made by transferring her experience as an adult to a teenager.
“That, for me, was about identity,” she said.
Dees’ 2017 feature film, “Mudbound,” is based on a book by Hillary Jordan. The story follows two World War II veterans, one black and one white, who return to rural Mississippi and deal with post traumatic stress disorder and racism.
The script was brought to Rees’ attention by producer Cassian Elwes.
“It’s not a book that I would have read or chosen, but I looked at it and decided to do my thing with it,” Rees said.
The decision to make the film was the right one for the filmmaker, who became the first African-American woman nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay, and the first openly gay African-American woman to be nominated for any Oscar category.
Aubrey has a different process in deciding what projects get produced and programmed for her outlet.
“For me, when you’re doing so much, someone has to feel very passionate about a show,” Aubrey said.
HBO Max currently is developing a new talk show with Elmo the Muppet as a host, she said.
“It’s one of the most heartwarming things you will see, and I think we need more of that,” Aubrey said.
In addition, the streaming service recently made a deal with filmmaker Steven Soderbergh to stream his new film, “Let Them Talk,” starring Meryl Streep, Diane Weist and Candace Bergen, which he shot on the crossing of the Queen Mary in nine days, according to Aubrey.
HBO Max is also bringing back a reboot of “Gossip Girl,” she said.
“We’re not just filing times and demographics, if someone is willing to carry the torch for (something),” Aubrey said.
In CNN’s case, finding new programming was critical for the news outlet’s survival, Entelis said.
Eight years ago, the news station found itself in a slump.
“We recognized viewers abandoned CNN when the news wasn’t that compelling,” she said. “So we wanted a new way to bring people to CNN (and) started two brands — CNN Films and CNN Original Series — which were supposed to be premium, long-form content in multi-part series and feature length documentaries.”
The catch was creating programs that would fit what CNN was, but not be repetitive of what the station was already doing, Entelis said.
“So the first (person) we commissioned was Anthony Bourdain to do a travel food show, and we learned over the years that it was really more than just about food,” she said.
“Parts Unknown” complemented the CNN lineup, according to Entelis.
“Anderson Cooper would go to Libya and cover the revolution, but Tony would go back two years later and ask how people lived through it, and what they ate and what happened to their families,” she said. “(These programs) were two sides of the coin, which filled out the picture.”
CNN built on the success of “Parts Unknown” and began producing “This Is Life with Lisa Ling.”
“She would travel around the country and talk about how different races and ethnicities make up the United States as they are,” Entelis said.
Along the way CNN dipped into history programming, and created mini series focused on different decades like “The Sixties,” which were produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman.
“The series was nostalgic, but very enlightening,” Entelis said. “It also showed how the past tied into the current events CNN talks about.”
On the feature film side of things, CNN took a while to find its footing, but took a huge step with Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s documentary “RBG,” which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
“We did “RBG,” because we talk about the Supreme Court all the time, but we never talk about who’s on it in the sense of how they got there, what are their lives like and how do they contribute to our society,” Entelis said. “What was amazing about the film was people didn’t know how much she did for equal rights or how supportive her husband was so she could do all of the things she needed to do to get to the Supreme Court.”
In addition to asking about the panelists’ careers, Cadenas asked about their daily routines and what their favorite films or TV programs are.
Most of the daily routines were similar in answering emails and taking meetings, while the things they watched were diverse.
Beetz enjoyed Robert Eggers’ psychological thriller “The Lighthouse,” while Entelis was “blown away” by Waad al-Kateab’s self-filmed documentary “For Soma.”
“To think that someone, a nonprofessional, shot that film in Syria as Aleppo was falling,” Entelis said. “She was pregnant (and) had a baby during the fall. I would have to say that (the film) was just a brilliant and brave achievement.”
Dees enjoyed Adam Sandler’s crime drama “Uncut Gems.”
“It is the most underrated film of the year and should have won everything,” said Dees, who also enjoyed Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s “Birds of Passage,” a Columbian feature film about the origins of the Columbian drug trade. “I like things about human behavior.”
Aubrey also said she was on the “Uncut Gems” bandwagon.
“I was so mesmerized by it, because it was also to different and original,” she said. “And it had Adam Sandler.”
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