ID Films To Premiere Documentary Feature ‘The Witmans’, An Exposé Of The Juvenile Criminal Justice System

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October 22, 2020 11:57am

Discovery

EXCLUSIVE: ID Films has acquired The Witmans, a documentary feature that tells the tragic story of a Pennsylvania couple whose teenage son was convicted to life without parole for the killing of his younger brother. The film will air on Investigation Discovery on Tuesday, December 1 at 9 PM, a week after its premiere at the 2020 Philadelphia Film Festival.

In 1998, 13-year-old Gregory Witman was found lying in a pool of blood, stabbed over 60 times in the laundry room of the family’s home. He was discovered by his 15-year-old brother Zachary, the only other person in the home at the time, who was subsequently tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole for his brother’s murder. Despite newly uncovered evidence that might have exonerated him, after 21 years of appeals, reversals, and professions of innocence, Zach Witman took a plea bargain in 2018 and was released from prison in May 2019.

The documentary, directed by Oscar-nominated David Petersen (Fine Food, Fine Pastries, Open 6 to 9), exposes the harsh realities of the juvenile criminal justice system through the eyes of two parents on a 20-year odyssey to free their last surviving child.

The film began shooting in 2014 and wrapped in 2019 when Zach Witman was released from prison.

The Witmans is produced for Investigation Discovery by Zero Point Zero Production with Lydia Tenaglia, Christopher Collins, and Craig H. Shepherd serving as executive producers. Shannon Sun-Higginson, Nikolas Diener, Gregory Timmons, and Leslie Drinkwater also executive produce.

NBCUniversal Selects Classes For Female Forward And Emerging Director Program

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October 22, 2020 11:56am

L-R top: Juan Avella, Pratibha Parmar; L-R middle: Kay Oyegun, Jean Lee, Kantú Lentz; L-R Bottom: Afia Nathaniel, Lara Everly, Maureen Bharoocha
Courtesy of NBCUniversal

NBCUniversal has selected the directed the 2020-2021 classes for the Female Forward and the Emerging Director Program. The scripted directing initiatives aim to increase representation of female and ethnically diverse male and non-binary directors, respectively, by creating a pipeline into scripted television. The announcement was made by Janine Jones-Clark as Executive Vice President, Inclusion – Talent & Content, NBCUniversal Film, Television and Streaming.

Both initiatives remain unique within the industry in that they are the only network programs to guarantee that participating directors will helm an episode of primetime television by the conclusion of the program. Program directors shadow on up to two episodes of their assigned NBC scripted series before receiving an in-season assignment to helm an episode of the same series.

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Female Forward and the Emerging Director Program will become building blocks for a cross-functional directors initiative under the Global Talent Development & Inclusion team that will service the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, the entertainment television networks, streaming platforms and Universal Studio Group. To be eligible for the programs, finalists are required to have directing experience in their respective fields of expertise, including feature films, music videos, commercials, digital content and theater. Candidates can have no more than one scripted television directing credit.

“Creating a unified brand for all of our directing initiatives is the first step in creating a clear and expansive approach to representation in the director’s chair across NBCUniversal’s film, television and streaming platforms,” said Jones-Clark. “By sharing resources across NBCUniversal’s vast portfolio, we have a great opportunity to build on the successes of our current film and television programs, expand their reach and exponentially increase impact in our company and across the industry”

The new class of Female Forward directors and the NBC series they are set to direct are Maureen Bharoocha (Superstore), Lara Everly (Good Girls), Jean Lee (New Amsterdam), Kantú Lentz (Chicago Fire), Afia Nathaniel (Chicago Med), Kay Oyegun (This Is Us) and Pratibha Parmar (Law & Order: SVU). Juan Avella will direct an episode of The Blacklist as part of the Emerging Director Program.

Due to current production constraints and safety protocols, it has yet to be determined whether all the directors will be able to shadow and direct on their respective shows this season. If they are not able to safely fulfill the program curriculum this season, they will shadow and direct an episode on an NBC scripted series in the 2021-22 season.

“While the format of our directing programs has shifted to accommodate these unique circumstances, our commitment to giving underrepresented voices their time in the director’s chair has not wavered,” said Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta, Co-Presidents, Scripted Programming, NBC Entertainment. “We are thrilled to usher in this latest cohort of directors and are excited to see them add to the rich legacies both programs have established.”

For the third consecutive year, an advisory council of celebrated television directors helped select the participating directors and will mentor them during the program. With critically acclaimed director Lesli Linka Glatter serving as chair, the advisory council includes Norberto Barba, Liz Friedlander, Pam Fryman, Nisha Ganatra, Peter Horton, Jaffar Mahmood, Gail Mancuso, Solvan “Slick” Naim, Ken Olin, Sharat Raju, Julie Anne Robinson, Millicent Shelton, Michael Spiller and Jason Winer.

The programs’ annual workshops kicked off with a series of virtual sessions in partnership with the Alliance of Women Directors. They are designed to enhance the directors’ experiences in the program, covering topics ranging from time management when on set to personal branding and working with actors.

This marks the third year of Female Forward while The Emerging Director Program is in its 11th year. Eight members of the inaugural class of Female Forward were invited back to direct additional episodes of NBC shows, including The Blacklist, Chicago Fire, Good Girls and Superstore. Their talents can also be seen on Netflix’s The Babysitter’s Club, Fox’s Prodigal Son and Peacock’s upcoming Saved By the Bell revivial. Kim Nguyen, from the second class, directed an episode of Fresh Off the Boat soon after completing the program while Livi Newman, an alumna of the inaugural class, will direct the forthcoming feature adaptation of the best-selling novel Where the Crawdads Sing.

The Emerging Director Program was NBC’s first scripted directing program. It counts celebrated directors Kat Coiro, Hanelle Culpepper, Rashaad Ernesto Green and Nzingha Stewart among its alumni.

Read the bios of the selected directors for the programs below.

Juan Avella – The Blacklist
Juan Avella is an LA-based bilingual writer and director originally from Caracas, Venezuela who focuses on gritty thrillers and genre stories set in multicultural worlds. Avella’s two award-winning short films, Hijo Por Hijo (2017) and Her Body (2018), were exclusively distributed by HBO after successful festival runs; the latter is currently streaming on HBO Max.

He holds a Screenwriting MFA from the AFI Conservatory, where he won the William J, Fadiman Award for excellence
in screenwriting for his crime thriller Bolichicos. This project was also the recipient of the 2019 TFI Sloan Film Fund grant from the Tribeca Film Institute, and the script was included in The Black List’s 2019 inaugural Latinx List.

Avella is set to direct Bolichicos in 2021 with Axel Kuschevatzky and Diego Nájera producing. His work has been supported by the Time Warner Foundation, Film Independent, and NALIP.

He is represented by the Gersh Agency and Thruline Entertainment.

Maureen Bharoocha – Superstore

Maureen Bharoocha is a Los Angeles based writer/director. She recently directed her third feature film, the arm-wrestling comedy Golden Arm set to premiere on HBO in 2021. Bharoocha spent three seasons as a segment director on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and has directed over 50 short films and commercial spots.

Bharoocha started her career with her short film, Abajee (shot on the streets of Karachi) which premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2009. Bharoocha was then commissioned by Sprinkles Cupcakes to create a film series in which she wrote and directed ten shorts based on their cupcake flavors.

Bharoocha is half Irish Catholic and half Indian-Pakistani-Burmese Muslim. Because of her mixed background, she enjoys telling stories about complicated characters and mixing genres. She was selected as one of IndieWire’s Rising Female Directors of 2020, named on HBO’s 2018 Directors List, and nominated for the SXSW 2020 Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Visionary Directing Award.

She is represented by Grandview, CAA and Ginsburg Daniels Kallis.

Lara Everly – Good Girls

Lara Everly is a director, born and raised in Los Angeles, who celebrates female-driven comedy and dramedy. She loves bringing comedy to unexpected topics and exploring the charged space where comedy meets drama.

As a filmmaker, her narrative films and documentaries have played the film festival circuit, including Santa Barbara, Napa, Austin, Bentonville, Vail and the year-long Lunafest, winning awards and procuring distribution on Amazon and iTunes. Everly has written and directed for a range of platforms including Disney, Netflix Family, Oprah, Refinery29, Funny or Die, Scary Mommy, Awestruck and Babycenter. Her original pilot Embaby is a current finalist at the Slamdance Screenplay competition and was finalist in the 2020 Sundance Episodic Lab.

Some highlights include The Play Date,  a dark comedy about gun safety that she co-wrote and directed, which garnered two million views online. Her documentary short film, Free to Laugh, about the power of comedy after being released from prison, was acquired by Comedy Dynamics/ New Wave Entertainment; they are also attached to distribute a feature version. She directed Patriettes, an all-female musical pilot presentation about a mock government summer camp for teenagers as well as Milk Money, a 10-episode portrait-driven doc series that explores the rising cost of raising children. Her directing has been commissioned for broadcast commercials and high-profile brands including Walmart, Little Tikes, Swing Left, Bloomlife, Schwarzkopf, Geico, Diono and several fashion lines.

She is represented by Echo Lake Entertainment.

Jean Lee – New Amsterdam

Jean Lee is a Korean American writer/director from Allentown, Pennsylvania. A lover of global cinema and universal stories, Lee has directed in seven languages spanning nine countries and five continents.

Most recently, Lee’s feature directorial debut, Pecado Original, was picked up by HBO and is the first-ever Paraguayan and American co-production.

Her sci-fi action series proof-of-concept, Strong, is in post-production with support from the AFI DWW, Google, the Sundance Institute, the Knight Foundation, and Panavision. Lee is also in post on a VR docuseries, “The Heart Of Puerto Rico,” which won the 2020 AT&T Film Award and follows a group of Puerto Rican artists in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Her magical realism short, Cahaya, which was shot in Jakarta, Indonesia, premiered at Berlinale Film Festival.

Lee is also an alumnus of the 2014 Film Independent Directors Lab, 2015 AFI Directing Workshop for Women, the 2016 Blacklist/WIF TV Writers Lab, the 2017 Fox Filmmakers Lab, 2018 NALIP TV Writers Lab, and the Ryan Murphy HALF program, through which she had the privilege of shadowing Gwyneth Horder-Payton on “American Horror Story.” In 2019, she was named one of the “Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch” by Moviemaker Magazine and Austin Film Festival.

Lee graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and earned her MFA at NYU Tisch Asia as a Jacob Javitz Fellow. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying blueberry donuts and freshly steamed dumplings.

She is repped by Jennifer Au Management

Kantú Lentz – Chicago Fire

Kantú Lentz is a Peruvian filmmaker who creates films that take place in alternate realities with magical realism elements. She recently directed the award-winning short film Jack and Jo Don’t Want to Die commissioned by the Shatterbox Anthology Series starring Justin Kirk (Weeds, Angels In America) and Olivia Edward (Better Things) which premiered at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.

Lentz is an AFI DWW, Sony Television Diverse Directors Program & Viacom Viewfinder Emerging Directors Program with AwesomenessTV alumni. Her film “Coche Bomba” was one of five projects selected by the Tribeca/Chanel ‘Through Her Lens’ fellowship in 2019.

For the past 3 years, Lentz directed over 50 political ads for One Vote at a Time, which creates in-kind campaign videos for democratic candidates who believe in gun safety legislation. In branded content and commercials, she has worked with brands & clients such as New Balance, TUMI, Ulta Beauty, LG, Refinery 29, Vice Media and YouTube Originals.

Her comedic video Rollercoaster Break-up starring Moses Storm (Sunnyside, Unfriended) went viral and currently has eight million views and counting.

Lentz is currently developing the feature-length version of Jack and Jo Don’t Want to Die with Level Forward and Refinery 29/VICE.

Afia Nathaniel – Chicago Med

Pakistani-American filmmaker Afia Nathaniel loves pushing the boundaries of narrative storytelling. Her debut feature film Dukhtar (Daughter) premiered at Toronto (2014) becoming Pakistan’s Official Submission for Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. The film played to critical acclaim in over 20 countries to rave reviews and became the Critics’ Pick (Village Voice) and the People Magazine’s Pick of the Week. The film has won several awards including the Adrienne Shelly award for Directors, Audience Award at Creteil, Best World Feature at Sonoma and Best Director + Best Feature Film at SAIFF.

Dukhtar was nominated for a Gotham award (2013) and the Women Film Critics Circle award (2015) for the “Best Foreign Film by or About Women”. Nathaniel’s screenplay for Dukhtar has been invited to be a part of the Permanent Core Collection of the Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Nathaniel graduated from Columbia University with an MFA in Film Directing (Dean’s Fellow). She is an alumnus of IFP, TFI, Film Independent and Berlin Talent Project Market.

Nathaniel teaches directing and screenwriting at Temple University and has also taught at Princeton University (Peter B. Lewis Fellow), Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division and NYU’s Tisch.

Nathaniel is in development with several projects. She is adapting the novel “Watched” by Marina Budhos into a TV show.

She is represented by Echo Lake Entertainment.

Kay Oyegun – This Is Us

Kay Oyegun is a co-executive producer and writer on NBC’s hit drama series This Is Us and has been with the show since its launch in 2016.

Previous TV writing credits include Queen Sugar on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network. On the film side, she’s adapting the novel Children of Blood and Bone for Lucasfilm, Fox and Disney and the novel On The Come Up, the follow-up novel from the The Hate U Give author for Paramount.

Oyegun also recently sold a feature to HBO Max titled The Ancestor and last year sold one to Paramount titled Assisted Living.

For her work on This Is Us, Oyegun is a NAACP Image Award winner as well as a Humanitas Prize and Writers Guild of America Award nominee.

She is represented by Underground Management.

Pratibha Parmar – Law & Order: SVU

Writer-director-producer Pratibha Parmar has directed numerous award-winning documentary films for BBC, Channel 4, PBS and European broadcasters.

Her credits include Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth,” a feature-length documentary on the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Color Purple” and includes interviews with Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover and Quincy Jones. The film garnered several awards including the Jury Award at the Napa Valley Film Festival.

Recognized as a pioneering filmmaker, Parmar directed the ground-breaking film Khush, one of the first films to give visibility to and highlight the experiences of LGBT people in India. Parmar made her debut as a narrative director with her award-winning film, Nina’s Heavenly Delights.

Parmar made her US debut as a director of scripted television in 2019 when she was invited by Ava DuVernay to direct episode 12 of Season 4 of Queen Sugar.

In 2017, Parmar was awarded the ICON award presented by Bagari London Indian Film Festival in Association with the British Film Institute for Outstanding Contribution to Indian and World Cinema. She is the proud recipient of the Frameline Film Festival Award, presented to an individual who has made a significant and outstanding contribution to lesbian and gay media.

Parmar is attached as a director of the feature film, My Name Is Andrea featuring Amandla Stenberg, Soko, Ashley Judd, and Andrea Riseborough.

She is a member of the Directors Guild of America, Film Fatales (SF) and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

She is represented by APA.

Robert DeMora Dies: Costume Designer For Bette Midler, ‘Risky Business’ Was 85

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October 22, 2020 11:49am

Bette Midler ‘Divine Madness’, Tom Cruise ‘Risky Business’
Everett

Robert DeMora, a costume designer with film credits that include Risky Business, The Wanderers and The Birdcage but who made his biggest splash creating dazzling, near-surreal costumes for Bette Midler like her famous sequined mermaid gowns, died Sept. 21 at his home in Upstate New York’s Jeffersonville. He was 85.

The New York Times reports heart failure as the cause of death. His death was first reported two weeks ago by local news in his native Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he got his start in the 1950s designing his high school plays.

Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Robin Williams, ‘The Birdcage’ 1996
Everett Collection

DeMora began his film career with 1976’s Marathon Man starring Dustin Hoffman, following up the next year with The Exorcist II: The Heretic, then American Hot Wax, A Different Story and Winter Kills starring Jeff Bridges. In 1979, he costumed the ’60s-era gangs of The Wanderers, and, a year later, William Friedkin’s controversial gay serial killer drama Cruising. He would go on to outfit Grease II, A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon and others.

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Before the start of his film career, DeMora had met and befriended Midler during their early ’70s downtown Manhattan days. The two would soon embark on a collaboration that would last for decades and encompass stage and concert tours, TV specials, feature films and, in 1998, the stunning cover photo on the singer’s Bathhouse Betty album depicting Midler in a black-and-white, tight-fitting striped gown that blossoms at the bottom like a tornado touching ground.

Among the 1980s-’90s Midler film and TV projects featuring DeMora’s designs were Divine Madness, Jinxed!, Beaches, Bette Midler: No Frills and Diva Las Vegas. He worked on the costumes and sets of her concert tours into the 21st Century, not only outfitting the star but her back-up singers the Harlettes. One of his most beloved creations was the sparkly fish-tailed get-up worn by Midler’s onstage, wheelchair-using fiercely ambitious lounge singer Delores DeLago, the Toast of Chicago.

Introducing the character in the 1980 concert film Divine Madness, Midler warns the crowd, “Right now you just have to change your heads, because what you are about to see, you’re just gonna go, What the f*ck?“

DeMora was preceded in death by his partner Marc Paul Henri. He is survived by sister Michelle Dorsey.

‘Sneakerella’: Chosen Jacobs, Lexi Underwood & John Salley To Star In Disney+ Movie

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October 21, 2020 2:00pm

(L-R) Chosen Jacobs, Lexi Underwood and John Salley
Disney

Chosen Jacobs (It) and Lexi Underwood (Little Fires Everywhere) are set to star alongside four-time NBA champ John Salley in the upcoming Disney+ original movie Sneakerella. Production is underway for premiere next year.

Described as a pop/hip-hop musical that leaves a sneaker culture imprint on the Cinderella fairy tale, Sneakerella is set in the avant-garde street-sneaker subculture of New York City. It introduces El (Jacobs), an aspiring sneaker designer from Queens who works as a stock boy in the shoe store that once belonged to his late mother. El hides his artistic talent from his overburdened stepfather and two mean-spirited stepbrothers who constantly stomp on any opportunity that comes his way. When El meets Kira King (Underwood), the fiercely independent daughter of legendary basketball star and sneaker tycoon Darius King (Salley), sparks fly as the two bond over their mutual affinity for sneakers. With a little nudge from his best friend and a sprinkle of Fairy Godfather magic, El finds the courage to use his talent to pursue his dream of becoming a ‘legit’ sneaker designer in the industry.

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Written by Tamara Chestna (After), George Gore II (My Wife and Kids) and Mindy Stern (The Baxters), Sneakerella is executive produced by Jane Startz (Ella Enchanted) and Rachel Watanabe-Batton (I Pity the Fool). Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum (Ramona and Beezus) serves as co-executive producer and will direct the film.

Cast also includes Devyn Nekoda (Backstage) as El’s best friend Sami; Juan Chioran (Cheetah Girls) as El’s friendly neighbor Gustavo; Robyn Alomar (Utopia Falls) as Kira’s sister Liv; Bryan Terrell Clark (Hamilton on Broadway) as El’s stepfather Trey; Kolton Stewart (Locke & Key) and Hayward Leach (Dare and Truth) as El’s stepbrothers Zelly and Stacy, respectively.

“Sneakerella brings a vibrant, modern approach to a beloved story by suggesting that magic is the result of hard work and determination and exists within each of us,” said Lauren Kisilevsky, vice president, Original Movies, Disney Channel. “Liz Allen’s unique vision, Lexi and Chosen’s amazing chemistry, the incredible music and the gravity-defying choreography, will bring this movie to life and inspire audiences of all ages.”

Scott Speedman Joins Netflix’s ‘You’ For Season 3

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October 21, 2020 2:10pm

AP Images

EXCLUSIVE: Animal Kingdom alum Scott Speedman has been tapped for a major recurring role on the upcoming third season of the Netflix series You, headlined by Penn Badgley and Victoria Pedretti.

Speedman will play Matthew, a successful CEO, husband, and uncommunicative father. He’s reserved, at times mysterious, and has a tendency to be withdrawn, all of which masks a deep well of emotion underneath.  

The actor is the latest major addition to You for next season, joining recently cast new series regulars Travis Van Winkle and Shalita Grant.

Developed by Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti, You is based on Caroline Kepnes’ bestselling books You and Hidden Bodies. In the second season, Joe Goldberg (Badgley) moves from New York to Los Angeles to escape his past, and starts over with a new identity. Fresh out of an intense relationship that ended in murder, the last thing he expects is to meet an incredible new woman but he’s falling in love again — with a woman named Love (Pedretti).

Speedman recently wrapped production on Lina Roessler’s directorial debut Best Sellers, starring opposite Aubrey Plaza and Michael Caine. The film is based on Anthony Grieco’s original screenplay which won the 2015 Nicholl Fellowship. Earlier this year, Speedman starred opposite Ben Platt and Damian Lewis in the SXSW entry Run This Town, written and directed by Ricky Tollman.

On TV, Speedman last starred opposite Ellen Barkin on TNT’s Animal Kingdom. The actor, known for his role as Ben Covington on Felicity, is repped by CAA and Narrative.

Tennis Icon Billie Jean King To Narrate Docu Series On Female Athletes’ Struggle For Fair Pay & Equity; Glamour, Conde Nast Ent, Little Monsters Mounting

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October 21, 2020 1:22pm

FILE – In this April 7, 2012, file photo, members of the original nine women, from left to right, Billie Jean King, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Tegart Dalton, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid, Nancy Richey and Rosie Casals, who helped start the women’s professional tennis tour are honored at the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament in Charleston, S.C. The nine signed a dollar contract 50 years ago, and it turned into millions for female tennis players. They were tired of being squeezed out of events by promoters and paid 10 times less than men. (AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)

EXCLUSIVE: Tennis great Billie Jean King has signed to narrate a docuseries that will tell stories of pay inequities, motherhood, LGBTQ+ rights, and intersectionality and diversity in women’s sports. Glamour and Condé Nast Entertainment, along with King and Little Monster Films, are producing a series to show the trailblazers who tried to bridge the appalling disparity of pay and standing that female athletes past and present have endured.

The jumping off point was a Glamour cover that focused on how a fed-up King and a group of top female tennis players called the Original 9 tried to bridge the pay gap between the scraps they were getting, and the big paydays limited to their male counterparts. The 27-year old King was top player in her sport where the entire women’s prize pool was $5000. King led a group that included her doubles partner Rosie Casals, Nancy Richey, Julie Heldman, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Judy Tegart Dalton, Kerry Melville Reid, Peaches Bartkowicz, and Kristy Pigeon. They announced their own tour—it became the forerunner of the Women’s Tennis Association– and found enough sponsors and financial support to launch a 23 match tour with an unprecedented $100,000 in prize money. The series will focus on that and other struggles that led to coure corrections, and areas that need to improve. Anyone who watched the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team win the World Cup again in 2019 likely knows of their struggle to be paid comparable to their male counterparts.

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The multi-part series will be produced by Oscar winners Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin.

“We’ve made progress in pay equality in and out of sports, but there’s still so much more to do for future generations,” said King. “People have to invest in women—and I don’t mean just women investing in women, I mean everyone. I’m excited to partner with Glamour to bring these vital issues to a wider audience.”

Glamour editor Samantha Barry said that after the magazine exhibited “long history of championing our female sporting heroes and demanding their equal remuneration, we are committing to our first ever long-form docuseries chronicling this historic fight. These are sportswomen, but they are also all women—and this incredible piece of storytelling has the power to reshape all our futures.”

“Jimmy and I have a long history of telling athletes’ stories, digging in to both their sport and a larger narrative of ambition, motivation, and risk,” says Little Monster Films’ Chai Vasarhelyi. “We are passionate about spotlighting new and unheard voices among women athletes, and this series with Glamour and the legendary Billie Jean will capture those character-driven stories. On the court, we’re seeing more and more teams standing united in their activism. Now is the time for this project, as the relationship between our sports and our wider political conversations is at an all-time high.”

The project will be shopped by WME.

 

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’: ‘Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones Set As Lead In Film Adaptation From 3000 Pictures, Hello Sunshine & Sony

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October 21, 2020 2:00pm

Joseph Sinclair

Daisy Edgar-Jones landed the starring role of Kya in the 3000 Pictures and Hello Sunshine film adaptation of Delia Owens’ New York Times bestselling novel, Where the Crawdads Sing. Set up at Sony, the film is being directed by Olivia Newman from a screenplay written by Oscar-nominated scribe Lucy Alibar.

The story takes place in the mid-20th century South and centers on Kya, a young woman who is abandoned by her family and has to raise herself all alone in the marshes outside of her small town. However, when her former boyfriend is found dead, Kya is thrust into the spotlight, instantly branded by the local townspeople and law enforcement as the prime suspect for his murder.

Reese Witherspoon and Lauren Neustadter are producing for Hello Sunshine with Elizabeth Gabler, Erin Siminoff and Aislinn Dunster are overseeing the project for 3000 Pictures.

Edgar-Jones is one of the stars of the Hulu Emmy nominated series Normal People and also toplines the upcoming Legendary thriller Fresh. Repped by UTA and Hamilton Hodell, her other credits include the War of the Worlds TV series and coming-of-age indie Pond Life.

 

‘Borat’ Scene Hits Just As Rudy Giuliani Returned To Donald Trump Campaign Spotlight

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October 21, 2020 1:26pm

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Minutes after the embargo lifted on the Borat sequel reviews, revealing the details of an embarrassing scene featuring President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, a White House spokesman was asked to weigh in.

“I have not seen it, so we’ll have to get back to you on that,” said spokesman Brett Morgenstern, while calling Giuliani a “patriot” and “zealous representative” of the president. Giuliani in the past week has been trying to advance claims about Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

The scene features Giuliani in an interview with Borat’s young daughter, Tutar, who is posing as a reporter. After they chat for a bit, she invites him for a drink in her hotel bedroom. As he sits down on the bed, he says, “You can give me your phone number and your address,” while patting her on the back. She then tries removing his microphone, before he leans back flat on the bed and appears to be putting his hand down his pants.

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It’s then that Borat, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, bursts into the room, dressed in lingerie, shouts at the former New York mayor, “She’s 15. She’s too old for you.”

“Why are you dressed like this?” Giuliani says.

Neither Giuliani nor a spokeswoman responded to requests for comment.

At the time that the scene was shot in July, Giuliani told the New York Post that he called the police over the prank. “This person comes in yelling and screaming, and I thought this must be a scam or shakedown, so I reported it to the police. He then ran away.” His spokesperson wrote on Twitter that he “foiled Sacha Cohen’s attempted scam interview, ultimately ending in a stupefied Cohen.” No mention at the time was made of the scene in the hotel bedroom.

The embargo on the Borat sequel reviews lifted at noon ET on Wednesday. On Tuesday night, Giuliani appeared on Newsmax TV to say that he met with Delaware State Police about Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive and its contents, but authorities are said to be investigating the veracity of the claims. The timing of Giuliani’s claims, just two weeks before the election, has triggered suspicion among mainstream media outlets, many of which have played down the Hunter Biden stories since they surfaced last week in the Post. They have questions of the origin of the laptop, which Giuliani claims was dropped off at a Delaware repair shop.

Andrew Bates, rapid response director for the Biden campaign, reacted to the Borat scene on Twitter. He wrote, “Voltaire: ‘Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’”

The Borat sequel will debut on Amazon Prime on Friday. The official title is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

‘Terminator 3’ Director Jonathan Mostow To Helm Biopic About Migrant Offshore Aid Station Founder

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October 21, 2020 1:07pm

Jonathan Mostow, Chris Catrambone
Mega; MOAS

Jonathan Mostow is on board to write and direct a biopic about American businessman and humanitarian Chris Catrambone, founder of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). Established in 2013, MOAS has provided humanitarian aid and services to the most vulnerable people around the world, reaching hundreds of thousands to date. Catrambone’s self-financed efforts have resulted in the rescue of 40,000 refugees at sea.

“Chris Catrambone is living proof of how one person’s passion can save lives,” said Mostow. “When he saw the world standing idle as scores of refugees drowned in the Mediterranean, he took it upon himself to do something. I’m honored to be able to tell his story.”

The project marks Mostow’s return to film since 2017’s The Hunter’s Prayer, starring Sam Worthington. He’s also no stranger to filming on water, having directed the WW2 submarine thriller U-571 with Matthew McConaughey and the pilot for TNT’s The Last Ship.

Pearl Harbor and 13 Hours EP Scott Gardenhour is producing the pic, which will begin production late next year. Said Gardenhour, “As soon as I read about this story, I knew it was a film that I needed to make. Jonathan’s take on the story brings to life the emotional journey of a regular guy who risked everything to do what he thought was right.”

Mostow’s directorial credits include Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Breakdown, starring Kurt Russell, and the Bruce Willis-led sci-fi thriller Surrogates.

 

Jared Leto Reprising Joker Role in Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ Cut For HBO Max

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October 21, 2020 1:07pm

Clay Enos/WB/Everett

Jared Leto doesn’t look to be done with his Joker role just yet as Deadline can confirm the Oscar winner is set to reprise the role in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which is premiering on HBO Max in 2021.

Officially titled Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the directors cut is being overseen by HBO Max, which is financing the new round of shooting and the completion of the many unfinished scenes, and will air as a four-episode event series next year.

Shooting is currently underway with Ben Affleck, Ray Fisher, and Amber Heard along with Leto. At this time it is unknown how big of role will be in the film.

Leto’s return is a bit surprising as things did sour when the studio tapped Joaquin Phoenix for another Joker, which did not sit well with Leto. Both sides were able to smooth things over and allow for Leto’s return for this film.

Quibi To Shut Down, Ending $2B Streaming Experiment

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October 21, 2020 12:57pm

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Quibi

Quibi, the mobile streaming service launched amid great fanfare and nearly $2 billion in start-up capital by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, is officially shutting down.

Deadline has learned that Katzenberg and CEO Whitman are about to have a call with investors this afternoon to explain their decision to wind down the short-form video service after little more than six months. They are exploring options including selling content or the entire service in the hopes that a buyer emerges.

The process of bringing Quibi to a close is expected to take several months, we hear, with subscribers receiving notifications in the near future. A staff meeting with Katzenberg and Whitman is also scheduled for later today.

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The service launched in April, funded with investments from a range of major media companies and blue-chip investors, just as COVID-19 was starting to upend the world. Its meltdown has set tongues wagging in the ultra-competitive Hollywood and tech trenches, as Quibi ranks among the priciest misfires of any entertainment-related startup.

Its failure will put about 200 employees out of work, punctuating an already grueling time for the entertainment sector. Questions will swirl around the fate of its roster of “quick bite” programming from A-list creators like Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro and Antoine Fuqua and also which investors will take the steepest losses. While a host of household names got involved in shows like Dummy with Anna Kendrick or a remake of The Fugitive with Kiefer Sutherland, plus custom teamings with ESPN and 60 Minutes, no show truly entered the zeitgeist. A creative high point may have been last month’s Creative Arts Emmys, where #FreeRayshawn won two prizes.

Quibi’s launch was surely complicated by the coronavirus, which all but invalidated its on-the-go concept, but it also arrived at a hectic moment for the overall streaming marketplace. Four other billion-dollar subscription services from Apple, Disney, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal have hit the market since last November, all trying to close the gap with Netflix, the longtime market leader.

The startup spent lavishly on promotion, buying multiple TV ad slots on the Super Bowl and the Oscars last February on the heels of a splashy presentation in Las Vegas at CES. After a pullback in the spring, the company revved up the marketing engines again over the summer, buying more TV and digital spots, with more of a focus on individual shows than on introducing customers to the platform. According to ad tracking firm iSpot, the company spent $63.7 million on TV in 2020.

The return on that investment never fully materialized, however. In its first 90 days, during a free trial period, the streaming app was downloaded 5.6 million times, the company said last month. Only a small percentage of those downloads converted to subscribers paying $5 a month or $8 for an ad-free version. (One third-party estimate put the conversion rate at just 8%, but Quibi vigorously disputed that number.)

Executive turnover also dogged the company. Marketing chief Megan Imbres, a Netflix veteran, left two weeks after the April launch. Some skeptics of the company’s strategy questioned the decision not to provide a smart-TV app, leaving mobile as the only way to view Quibi, as opposed to YouTube, which has experienced strong growth in the home. It accelerated plans to develop a living room app in the spring, and just this week confirmed distribution deals with Apple TV and Google.

Among other unresolved issues, Quibi is still partially embroiled in crossfire legal action with Eko, the Elliot Management-backed interactive video company, over potential patent infringement over its Turnstyle interface. Kicked off by initial filings by Quibi in late March, the case is understood not to have played a role in the company’s decision to pull the plug.

While Quibi pushed back repeatedly on reports of turmoil and layoffs, the company never disputed the reality that its performance out of the gate fell below expectations. At an online keynote appearance in June at SeriesFest, Katzenberg conceded things had not gone according to plan. Still, he characterized the soft initial numbers as “almost a beta” launch phase, allowing the startup to regroup. “I’m quite optimistic that this use case is going to work,” the founder said. “People are loving this.”

The effects of COVID-19 will always be debated when it comes to sizing up Quibi’s short run. But viewing at home on mobile devices did not diminish during shelter-in-place, according to researcher Bruce Leichtman, as has been borne out in recent numbers from TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube.

“Quibi was based on a sound premise,” Leichtman said. But its “challenge in building an active subscriber base goes well beyond the fact that it was designed specifically for mobile phone viewing at a time when people were spending much more time at home. It is also a reminder that regardless of experienced leadership and strong financial backing, no streaming video business model is a gimme, particularly one that includes consumers paying to subscribe where there is a plethora of free alternatives.”

Ed Laczynski, CEO of Zype, a digital video infrastructure company that works with content producers and aggregators, predicts “there will be a lot of business school studies of this.” He said an experimental, curious, learning-based approach is key. “Experimenting more, early on, with technology, getting more feedback from the market.” He added, “Just because Netflix makes it looks easy doesn’t mean it is easy.”

While apps for the living room finally came into the picture in recent days, the pivot was too late. It’s possible that connected TV could have offered a meaningful extension of Quibi as it found its footing. Platforms like Apple TV and Roku “have an appetite for premium content that is searchable and real,” Kaczynski said. They could also have approached free, ad-supported streaming outlets like Xumo, Pluto, or even NBCU’s Peacock. “These platforms can leverage large audiences relatively cheaply. It could have been teased early to see how things performed.”

Another executive in the space said the simple problem was a lack of hits. “No one seemed to find a show they fell in love with,” the person told Deadline. “They needed at least two big hits to generate at least enough of an audience. They needed anchor tenants. And I wish for their sake they would have gotten them.”

Theme Parks Hint At Legal Action Over California’s Restrictive Coronavirus Reopening Rules: “All Options Are Open”

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October 21, 2020 12:48pm

Disneyland
Kirby Lee/AP

Theme park executives from Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Legoland and the company that operates Knott’s Berry Farm came together on Wednesday to decry what they see as an edict handed down by the State of California and Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday. Officials say the state guidelines make it nearly impossible for them to reopen. Some hinted at legal action.

When asked about legal recourse Erin Guerrero, Executive Director of the California Attractions and Parks Association said, “I think that all options are open at this point. Our number one goal is to reopen responsibly.”

Raffi Kaprelyan, Regional Vice President of Cedar Fair, which operates Knott’s Berry Farm expressed dismay that recent visits from state health officers appeared to have been “just a show.”

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Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock said the teams of state officials who visited parks in Orange County and Florida seemed “incredibly through.” Each of the visits was “multi-hour” to provide insight into not just how guests were acting, but to see how employees reacted to, say, a guest whose mask was not over their nose.

“They took detailed notes. They even had a meting with us afterward,” said Potrock.

“We come away going, ‘This is great, they came and I think learned some things.’” Potrock noted state officials also “had a couple suggestions.”

“Post those visits,” recalled Karen Irwin, President & COO of Universal Studios Hollywood, “we were told there would be reports in a week or so that would provide us practical steps toward reopening.”

But, say execs, that’s not what happened.

A number of days later, according to Potrock, “it was: ‘We’re announcing this [very restrictive] Tier 4 enforcement.’”

California’s director of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said on Tuesday that smaller theme parks can resume operations in the state’s Orange Tier. Capacity will be limited to 25% or 500 visitors, whichever is fewer. Only outdoor attractions may reopen and only to guests who are residents of the same county.

All theme parks — including Disneyland in Anaheim and Universal Studios Hollywood — may resume operations in Tier 4, Yellow, which is much further down the road. At that point, the guest limit is 25% across the board and indoor dining establishments can only operate at 25% capacity.

Orange County, where Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm are, is currently in the Red Tier. Los Angeles, home to Universal Studios, is in the most restrictive tier, Purple.

NEW: California is launching a Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

It’s simple.

Your county will be assigned a color based on:
– Case rate
– Positivity rate

Your color determines how businesses can operate in your county.

Find your color & what’s open ➡️ https://t.co/xtXFwVeWc2 pic.twitter.com/fFXR7rbtU1

— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) August 28, 2020

Park officials were blindsided by the announcement, as evidenced by their strongly-worded reactions to the state announcement.

“We’re not getting a solution-oriented discussion,” Potrock continued on Wednesday. “We’re getting: Here’s the rules and you have to live with it.”

“It’s disingenuous for the government to say this is collaboration,” alleged Irwin. She says the promised state reports were never released.

California Director of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said on Tuesday that state officials looked at things like “how lines were managed” when they visited the parks. But, he said, “the level of mixing even without masks” that state observers saw was of concern.

Park operators have their own concerns, one of which is that the region would not be able to reach the Yellow Tier anytime in the near future.

“Frankly I just don’t see a path forward to getting to tier 4. Getting to the levels that are set for tier 4 seems impossible,” said Irwin on Wednesday.

Orange County’s top health official agreed.

“I think for a large county like us, especially a county with institutions of higher education where folks [are] coming in from outside the county and outside the state, I think it’s going to be very hard to achieve the yellow tier,” said Orange County’s Health Officer, Dr. Clayton Chau on Tuesday.

“It depends on when the vaccine will come as well as how many doses [are] available for our populations as well as how many of our residents will readily accept the vaccine – those are the three factors that will determine how soon we can get to the yellow tier,” speculated Chau. “Personally, I think that we can look forward to a yellow tier by next summer, hopefully. Hopefully.”

Kurt Stocks, President, Legoland California Resort said he felt the “guidance from the governor is grossly inconsistent.” Noted Stocks, “zoos, museums and aquariums and family entertainment centers have all been allowed to reopen without any distinction as to their size.”

“The bottom line of what we’re looking for is equal treatment,” said Kaprelyan. “And that’s not what we’re getting.”

In terms of remediation, Kaprelyan agreed that legal action was now a consideration for theme parks. “All options are open for us,” he said.

In July, major movie theaters in New Jersey filed a federal lawsuit against the state for its decision to hold back on reopening multiplexes due to lingering concerns about COVID-19. The National Association of Theatre Owners withdrew that lawsuit last month after Governor Phil Murphy allowed the venues to reopen with limited capacity.

Related Deadline Video:

YouTube’s ‘Gourmet Makes’ Host Claire Saffitz Signs With CAA

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October 21, 2020 12:47pm

CAA

Claire Saffitz, pastry chef and cookbook author who starred on Bon Appétit’s popular YouTube series Gourmet Makes, has signed with CAA. The agency will represent Saffitz in all areas except books.

Formerly a Senior Food Editor at Condé Nast’s Bon Appétit, Saffitz served as host Gourmet Makes, one of the most popular food series on YouTube, with more than 300 million views. The series showcased Saffitz reverse engineering iconic snack foods and was described by Forbes as having “changed the way Condé Nast approaches online video.”

Her first cookbook, Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence, published by Clarkson Potter, was released on October 20.

Saffitz has more than 900,000 followers on Instagram and appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon earlier this year.

A Harvard graduate with a degree in American History and Literature, Saffitz also has a master’s degree from McGill University in French Culinary History.

Saffitz also is repped by David Black at David Black Literary Agency and attorney Richard Beyman at Franklin, Weinrib, Rudell, & Vassallo.

‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ Release Date Shifts To Summer 2021; ‘Don’t Breathe’ Sequel Set

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October 21, 2020 12:30pm

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures said Wednesday that it has moved the release date of Ghostbusters: Afterlife from March to June 11, 2021, which will be the same weekend as the first Ghostbusters film was released in 1984. It becomes the latest tentpole shift in the theatrical calendar given the ongoing restrictions of movie theaters amid the pandemic.

Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson and Paul Rudd star in the new installment of the franchise, directed by Jason Reitman and produced by Ivan Reitman. Gil Kenan and Reitman penned the script, which centers on a single mom and her two kids who arrive in a small town and begin to discover their connection to the original ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind.

The Columbia Pictures pic originally had a July 10, 2020 release date before it was moved this past March, when the coronavirus shut down everything in its path.

Also today, Sony dated Screen Gems’ sequel to its horror hit Don’t Breathe for August 13, 2021. Rodo Sayagues co-wrote the script alongside the original film’s director Fede Álvarez and is making his directorial debut. Stephen Lang will return as The Blind Man.

The first pic, released the same month in 2016, was a surprise hit and grossed $157.8 million at the global box office.

‘Raised By Wolves’ Star Travis Fimmel Joins Indie Drama ‘Delia’s Gone’

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October 21, 2020 11:55am

Independent PR

EXCLUSIVE: Travis Fimmel will join Marisa Tomei, Paul Walter Hauser and Stephan James in Robert Budreau’s upcoming drama Delia’s Gone.

Written and directed by Budreau and based on Michael Hamblin’s short story Caged Bird Sing, the film follows a convicted man (James) on the spectrum who escapes his care home and embarks on a journey of violence and redemption to learn the truth about his sister, Delia (Tomei). Fimmel, who currently stars in HBO’s just-renewed Raised by Wolves, will play Delia’s brother.

The pic is produced by JoBro Productions and Lumanity Productions in association with Productivity Media, eOne and Vigilante Productions, with Moryto Pictures and Ontario Creates. Executive producers are James, Daniel Bauer, Patrick Roy, Anne-Claire Villeneuve, William Santor, Andrew Chang-Sang, John Hills, Alastair Burlingham, Gary Raskin, Adam Moryto, Mark Gingras, John Laing, Andrew Bronfman and Jason Jallet. DeForrest Taylor is co-executive producer.

Delia’s Gone is being sold by Radiant Films globally, with eOne overseeing distribution in Canada.

Fimmel currently stars in HBO’s sci-fi drama Raised by Wolves, which the premium network has renewed for a second season. He also played Ragnar on History’s Vikings, and his film credits include Maggie’s Plan and Lean on Pete. Upcoming pics include Die in a Gunfight, Charlie Day’s El Tonto and Dreamland.

He is repped by Paradigm, Management 360 and Sloan, Offer.