If you work in production, should you have an agent or manager? Matt Birch, Senior VP/Co-Head of Physical Production, APA Agency, shares the difference between agents and managers. Listen to Matt and Tanya talk about the value agencies bring, as well as answer listener questions concerning the future of film production.
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Tanya Musgrave (00:00):
Welcome to There to Here, an educational podcast where industry professionals talk nuts and bolts and how they got from there to here. On today's show, Matt Birch takes us inside agencies, the advantages of hiring an agent over a lawyer or a manager, and answers listener questions regarding production after COVID.
Tanya Musgrave (00:15):
As this is a new podcast, we're really wanting feedback so go to media.colabinc.org, fill out the feedback survey, and you'll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Congratulations to Priscilla Medeiros for winning this week and from CoLab Inc. I'm Tanya Musgrave. And today, I have Matt Birch, a partner, and co-head of physical production at the Agency for the Performing Arts also known as APA. Welcome to the show.
Matt Birch (00:39):
Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Tanya Musgrave (00:42):
We've heard the typical move to L.A. and get an agent story but I'm actually curious about your story and how you became one. How did you get from there to here?
Matt Birch (00:52):
It's a long and toward story that I'll try to make it quick. If someone told me back in the day that I was going to be an agent or a talent agent, I would have laughed. It was something I never planned to do, expected to do. But I started in physical production after film school. I came out to L.A. and did the usual jobs you would do, PA jobs and assistant jobs.
Matt Birch (01:16):
And I was assisting a really wonderful, one of my mentors, producer Lauren Shuler Donner and she took me under her wing for a few years and I learned everything from story development to physical production. And really she took me through the process on many films. And I loved it, it was great.
Matt Birch (01:37):
After that, a few years there, I had an opportunity to work at Robert De Niro's company in New York at TriBeCa Productions and it was an amazing experience with someone I admired from a very young age and a lot of funny stories of the surreal nature of a young kid working with Robert De Niro. I'd grown up just watching all of his movies.
Tanya Musgrave (01:58):
Matt Birch (01:59):
It was a great education in a sense that it taught me I did not want to be in film development. I watched the very lengthy process that people go through to get their projects to the screen or the TV, and it took much more time than I ever expected. Sometimes decades for a lot of the filmmakers I was lucky enough to work with. I think I like the immediate satisfaction of physical production.
Matt Birch (02:23):
That being said, I was there for a few years, I had a great time, experienced a couple of films. Bob was directing one at the time as well when I was there. A lot of my job there was doing coverage. He brought me in his office and he told me what my responsibilities would be. And it was lovely and he said, "So, essentially, I never want to do a mafia film again." I said, "Oh, okay." And this was at the height of his work.
Tanya Musgrave (02:49):
Matt Birch (02:50):
I said, "Okay." And he said, "So, I had a lot of friends and they all have the most amazing mafia script for me to produce, act in, star in. They've all called me and your job is going to be to read them and interface with them and pass eventually on a project." And I said, "Really?" He said, "Yeah." And I thought it was a few here and there. I think it was... I mean, easily over a hundred over the few years I was there.
Matt Birch (03:19):
And the writers were... The receptionist will call and say, "Hey, Knuckles is on line three." Or, "Tommy Toots on four." And it was truly like the calls I was getting. And these are guys, these are guys who grew up with and some really interesting characters and they were great. It was a very colorful job.
Matt Birch (03:40):
I then return back to L.A., started in physical production as a production coordinator, and then as a production supervisor and a production manager. And I was working a lot of large studio films. I worked with a couple of the same producers throughout. That was great. And I loved it and I was traveling the United States and traveling the world.
Tanya Musgrave (04:00):
What more could you ask for?
Matt Birch (04:02):
Yeah. I mean, I would say that people were standing in these very amazing historical places sometimes and having access to places we wouldn't normally. I'm the kid thrown on the private jet, the last seat in there, but I got it. It was a really fun thing to do in my late 20s.
Matt Birch (04:24):
I did that for years. And then I was doing a lot of these large studio films and it ended up being... Honestly, I was just starting a family at the time and kids and I was traveling all over the world and I decided it's time to get something a little more based at home, in Los Angeles.
Matt Birch (04:44):
So a good friend of mine, an agent who run a smaller agency called me and he said, "Hey, if you're looking for a staff job, there's an independent film company that's looking for a head of production." So went in and met. I ended up knowing a couple of the principles there, got the job. And the first job they had was in Serbia. So I said, "Well, so much for staying at home and being in Los Angeles."
Tanya Musgrave (05:06):
Matt Birch (05:08):
My wife was thrilled at the time to hear that was our first job when I decided to be staying home. Again, wild adventure for years, I produced a handful of films through them really started to understand or had to understand how to make a film under 50, $60 million, which is that the ones I was doing on were in the hundreds. And it was fascinating.
Matt Birch (05:28):
I was going back to a five to $15 million span and learning how to produce films and work in countries I'd never heard of but working in Eastern Europe gave me a really great sense of how to do things for $1 or less. And a lot of the people I met throughout the process are very... My clients now are very close to me. I did that. And then this is really how I jumped into being an agent.
Matt Birch (05:53):
10 years ago, a very good friend of mine again, the head of this agency, asked me if I would consider since my film was done and my contract was done together. Would I consider coming in and helping him run his agency? To which I said, "Are you talking about being an agent?" And he said, "Well, I mean, you're an executive so under California law." And I said, "John, I fucking hate agents."
Matt Birch (06:21):
And he said, "That's why you'd be perfect." He's like, "You hate agents. Everyone knows you around town. People love you. They trust you. You know production." And I was like, "No." I said, "No way." I'm like, "That is a joke."
Tanya Musgrave (06:36):
Never say never. Look at you now.
Matt Birch (06:39):
Exactly. But then I embraced it like I tried to embrace most things I ended up doing and really love it. And it turned into... I mean, he sold me on it over a month of us going up and back and he said, "Look." He's like, "Why don't you start getting paid for all the work that you do normally?" Which is referring people for jobs and trying to connect people, which I've always done and it's so.
Matt Birch (07:05):
I said, "All right." We decided to do it for a year and as a test and it was funny because he was afraid he was going to drive me crazy with his micromanaging. Actually, that was my fear here. His fear was I wanted to go back to producing after being in his environment. And a very long story short, he ended up passing away tragically a few months later, and I ended up taking over the company as president and it was decimated, people were approaching the company.
Matt Birch (07:36):
It was really... I mean, he took his own life and it was very sad story but we're going to lift it up now. And it was very emotionally and obviously professionally challenging for everyone involved and actually hundreds of people that love this guy. So I took over and with the team that was there with me and we did some adjustments very quickly. Some things revealed themselves quickly and years later, as president of this company was negotiating to buy the company from the current owner who was the spouse, and obviously, the negotiations went poorly when things got a little tricky on one side.
Matt Birch (08:20):
I ended up taking all but two agents. We all left, walked out the door one night and started this division at APA with two of our colleagues that were our competitors originally but Jay Gilbert and Gil Harari, who were both over a Paradigm, they had come to APA to start this and asked if I wanted to come in with our team to do the same and we did. And it was really, really exciting and really fun to build something together and especially with a couple of people.
Tanya Musgrave (08:52):
Did they not have a physical production sector before?
Matt Birch (08:54):
They never had it. APA didn't have it and that's what was exciting. The CEO and president Jim Gosnell had showed a lot of faith in us and gave us a lot of rope to build a department that honestly, right now, I feel one of the strongest departments out there. And we work as a team. And that's a lot different than a lot of agencies who they have their own agents, or it's my client or my this.
Matt Birch (09:19):
And we don't operate that way. We're principles to a lot of our clients. I represent a lot of producers and different categories but we work collectively and collectively, you win, quite frankly. If you have a team together and you're able to pitch and sell a client and you're not the only one doing it, and your whole team is behind it and the entire team benefits from it, it's something that really has been successful for us. That's how I became an agent. But it was not... Let's just say it was not planned.
Tanya Musgrave (09:51):
Yeah. Speaking of pitching, I'm going to ask you to pitch me so like on a nuts and bolts level, we know agencies take care of the hassle of networking and putting writers, directors, producers together in this 360 packages if it calls for that. So there was a medium article that says prepare for the death and rebirth of Hollywood and had asked the question in the context of streaming, and how things are rapidly changing, especially with COVID. How much power to agencies really have anymore? Like on the level of securing and negotiating contracts, what's the advantage of an agent over a lawyer or a manager? Why should I hire an agent?
Matt Birch (10:30):
No, that's a great question. And we get asked that often and sometimes pitch that to clients who are considering having agents. I think the easiest way to look at it and this is how I felt even when I was on the other side was you essentially have a team of people who are looking for work while you're working. When I was working in film, I would be completely consumed at the time, and all of a sudden you're two weeks from wrap. You have no idea what's coming next.
Matt Birch (10:59):
The stress of that hit every single person, you could never take a vacation or plan a vacation because you were never sure when the next job was going to come. So what helps a lot having representation is that throughout the process of when you're working on a show, whatever kind it is, you have a team of people who are looking for the next job. And every client's different.
Matt Birch (11:23):
When we have conversations with a cinematographer who wants to take the summer off and be with their family, we have conversations with their directors and their producers and everyone has a different plan, of course, about their life and what's important. I need to get out of Los Angeles, I need to stay in Los Angeles. I mean, whatever it may be. I need to be near my family. I don't need to be near my family. It just depends on where everyone is in their life.
Matt Birch (11:47):
But the process of the pitching and I say, truly planting seeds for that client, you're doing it months in advance and then when they're coming up and ready to start interviewing for work or start reviewing materials, there are x number of people, outlets, studios and networks that have this client very fresh in their mind for either a specific project or projects in general.
Matt Birch (12:12):
That's kind of the backstop of, I think the strength of having an agent in general, which is you have people looking out for you, while you can just focus on your work and which is what you have to do when you're in there. It's really hard, especially if you're a sole breadwinner. He or she, you can't stop. You have to keep working. The second part of it is the negotiation which a lot of people do not like the process. They don't like negotiating with someone who might be their immediate supervisor or their boss or their producer.
Matt Birch (12:47):
Sometimes there is bad energy that is done throughout negotiations and our job is... Well, we try not to bring bad energy but we're allowed to be a little more heavy-handed when needed to get the point across of why our client should be receiving what we say they should be receiving. It's always a negotiation, I think people found the way we do business... I'll speak about my team, in particular, is we're firm but fair, and you want that.
Matt Birch (13:16):
And this is, especially with our international clients who didn't have agents per se. A lot of producers who didn't have them out in Europe before and now do. The amount of times they would get called from the head of this studio or that big producer and say, "Hey, can you do me a favor? Look, we don't have a lot of money on this one." It's really hard to say no to someone who you've worked with before and you have a relationship with say, it's really easy for me to say no, when it's my client and not myself.
Matt Birch (13:47):
So a big part of it is just having that taking the relief off of that, the pressure of negotiation. And then there's three, four, five, six, and seven, which encompass having business affairs in the house, having attorneys reviewing your contracts, dotting the I's, crossing the T's, all the ins and outs of making sure that the elements of the contract are satisfied that can be from as simple as, "Where are my premiere tickets that we negotiated?" To "Where are the DVDs or the blu rays that we negotiated?" Or "My title is not in the right place."
Matt Birch (14:22):
It really helps a lot when you have some... Let's just say legitimate legal backing, and you have attorneys and you have agents who can remind the studios and networks what needs to be fixed. That was a lot of things.
Tanya Musgrave (14:39):
Maybe this is a really, really basic question. Forgive me. But why not a manager then? Like a manager and a lawyer paired up? Like agent versus manager.
Matt Birch (14:49):
It is such an excellent question. I'm asked that so many times and I really piss off a lot of people when I say this but I'm going to say it anyway.
Tanya Musgrave (14:55):
Matt Birch (14:56):
Because I'm a good guy. People know I'm not trying to be mean.
Tanya Musgrave (14:59):
Matt Birch (15:04):
The way I operate and my team operates is we operate as agents and managers. We are agents by license. We are not managers, we cannot produce all these different things. Managers in general, from my opinion, and I'm not speaking about managers. I'm talking about for what we do and for our producers and some directors we represent and just all the other categories.
Matt Birch (15:28):
There's an element of many managers who want to be producers, who may not have been producers. There is an element of this is my buddy, who I've known for years who's going to guide me. The negotiations occur with agents and the managers are usually involved as a cc, they're involved on a more personal level. But the truth is the way that we agent is managerial and it's something we've always stressed. Meaning every phone call, is a new phone call.
Matt Birch (15:59):
There are elements of psychology and therapy and you're listening to a lot of problems and you're not negating at any client's feeling about maybe feeling that this director is being cruel or mean and we get it from every side. There's always something going on and to talk to your manager or agent about it should be a calming force. It shouldn't be a riling up point. I never suggest managers quite frankly, for the type of business that we do. I feel like we cover it all.
Matt Birch (16:30):
What managers can do is they can produce legally in the United States, which is something that's very interesting to them. There's a lot of managers that come from development backgrounds and have a lot of creative development work and outlets for clients who want to do that. But I find agents can do more. And from the negotiations to bringing projects to them. It's really who you choose.
Tanya Musgrave (16:55):
What about non-union in smaller cities? Would a manager fit better for them? Because I've also heard that there aren't a lot of agencies like below line agencies that exist in smaller cities.
Matt Birch (17:07):
Correct. From what I've seen, you're right. They're usually based in larger cities. I mean, we have six offices around the world, five in the United States, one in London. So six total. And we have presence for physical production and a handful of those. Obviously, New York, L.A. London.
Matt Birch (17:25):
No, to answer your question. It's who you know and it's who they trust and a majority of the people I deal with, whether they're, again, heads of studios or networks, we were all PAs together, we grew up together in this crazy business, we have hysterical stories. But I'm able to call them and ask the real deal. I was on with the head of TV and I was asking them some realities about rumors we're hearing about when things are starting and this and that and the other thing.
Matt Birch (17:57):
And they will say the company line and then they'll kick their assistant off the line and my assistant if we had them on, and will tell me the truth and say, "This isn't going to happen." Or "It's not going to do it." That's a lot of it. It's about having the reach. So when you ask about a manager in a smaller city, I mean, I don't think you would ever want a manager who wasn't in a major hub.
Matt Birch (18:19):
They can be in the hub, even if you're living in Utah. They can be in a hub if you're living in Florida. But unless they're getting information, and we gather so much information, I mean, 10s of thousands of projects we're tracking-
Tanya Musgrave (18:34):
In Atlanta, in Chattanooga, in Nashville.
Matt Birch (18:38):
Right. Yeah. We're tracking projects that go there. But there's no one base there that is doing it. Because quite frankly, I think you need to be in a major metropolitan city to be able to interface with the people who are making those decisions. I would say no, on that front.
Tanya Musgrave (18:52):
Yeah. We do have some listener questions, talking about those conversations that you've been having with other people as well. I put up out on a film group that I'd be talking to you. We have questions.
Matt Birch (19:03):
Tanya Musgrave (19:03):
The first one is production office bullpen, do you see it coming back?
Matt Birch (19:07):
Do I think initially people are going to be on top of each other like they were? Absolutely not. But our office, for instance, APA in Los Angeles, we set it up as a production office, which is the internal area is a bullpen with all of our assistants. It's not really set up in the office assistant, old school way that some other buildings are. And we have to reevaluate all that right now.
Matt Birch (19:32):
Because the truth is, it is a concern. No one wants to come back into that environment if it's not corrected or changed until we have a real cure for this. So do I think it will exist again? I do. I do believe it is. I think it's going to be very hard to truly do film production as it was or close to how it was. It's changed, of course. I think will continue to change. But I think in the next two years, we're going to see really some things work and we're going to see some things not work.
Matt Birch (20:02):
Right now we have to be, of course, ultra cautious how we set these things up. There's no reason we can't have a lot of mobile work done these days. People working at home.
Tanya Musgrave (20:13):
Yeah. So continuing on with this next question, it kind of piggybacks on that. How long before productions could reasonably expect to be insured? So they could get up and running again?
Matt Birch (20:24):
Yeah, so there's an app that was just introduced to Congress for insurance, for production. And really, that's the big debate right now, where I mean, this is so fresh right now since it started. But you have liability obviously, on crew members, you have liability to your cast, you have liability to everyone, and it's about who will insure that liability.
Matt Birch (20:49):
Productions will be insured. It is about the insuring against COVID that is the issue. Yeah. I mean, that's the debate and that's what people been... There's a lot of discussions going on now between bond companies, insurance companies, major corporations. I mean, think about these huge corporations that own a lot of different production or entertainment entities.
Tanya Musgrave (21:12):
Matt Birch (21:14):
I mean, it touches everything. So the truth is, it hasn't been figured out. You're able to get insurance in other countries easier for sickness but COVID's going to be carved out like forced Missouri's thrown into every contract. It's going to be carved out for now because no one can take that liability. You can't.
Tanya Musgrave (21:37):
And insurance companies aren't really going to want to touch this either.
Matt Birch (21:41):
I don't think they are. I don't think they are without exorbitant premiums. The truth is, I think this is all going to come down to... I'm not the first one to say this. But it's going to come down to sag and after and what the actors, representatives, and guilds are dictating. Look, you read some things were many actors are saying, "Look, I'm taking the next year off." Right now.
Matt Birch (22:03):
You have other places, higher end production companies who are saying, "Look, we're going to shoot that action unit. And we're just going to do face replacement with our actor." Because they'll go and do a stunt shoot or like they did but maybe do a little extra work with that actor or with the stand in or with the stunt double and replace the face, which makes sense right now.
Matt Birch (22:25):
I don't see how long you can do that for where you're not going to want the close up of two actors together, and it's not. But it's tough. It's tough thinking about the testing. And they were talking about what it takes to quarantine a crew, or they were actually talking about I read, how are you going to quarantine a baseball team? If they're going to start playing baseball.
Matt Birch (22:44):
And they were saying that in order to quarantine the right amount of people for two baseball teams to play in let's say Dodger Stadium, one from out of town, of course, that the amount of quarantining would be I think was close to 10,000 people. Between the workers and their families and players, and everyone in the stadium, and the parking lot attendant, and everything together was... It was crazy.
Matt Birch (23:12):
So I don't know how you do that. I really don't. I don't know how you do it with fans. I don't know how you do it. The testing... The problem is, look, I've had many friends do the antibody test as well as the COVID test. And what has been more common than not is false positives, false negatives, they've gone back. One is in testing group. They went back three times in two weeks and had two different answers. Two or three times. The first one and the last one.
Matt Birch (23:45):
It's going to be necessary, obviously, to have it. I think it will give peace of mind if people had the antibodies. If we find out that that actually protects them but I don't see how to be positive about it because I wanted production back so badly just for everyone in their livelihood and entertainment, but at the end of the day, you've got to be safe going to work, you've got to feel like you're going to work and you're going to be okay.
Matt Birch (24:11):
We have had that luxury, we're very lucky to have had that luxury for a very long time in this country. And the idea of tentatively going back and trying it out, it's very scary. So people are doing things like Red Blumhouse is doing a project in Universal Studios, and they're putting up all the crew and they're going to... It's a smaller crew, they're going to put everyone up in the cast, and shoot it all and keep everyone contained there.
Matt Birch (24:35):
Well, you can do that maybe with a 15, 20-day schedule but it's really hard to do with a larger series or schedule.
Tanya Musgrave (24:42):
Okay. Next question. What positions will be most valuable post COVID? And what positions do you see that have the most growth potential moving forward?
Matt Birch (24:53):
That's interesting. There's an obvious one people are talking about health monitors and medics who I think will take on different roles through this process in terms of the identifying and the beginning of the day and end of day how that's going to be done. Look, producers will always be busy. We may have a few more producers per project, or production managers to enable all of these COVID rules that will be in place in this short and maybe long-term.
Matt Birch (25:22):
Very much like years ago, people were talking about intimacy coordinators, scoffing at it and now it's very prolific industry. We represent a couple ourselves and the same thing will happen with [inaudible 00:25:35]
Tanya Musgrave (25:34):
Especially, since Me too.
Matt Birch (25:36):
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Tanya Musgrave (25:39):
I listened to your podcast on the other 50%. It was like in the midst of the Me too Movement and I really appreciated your thoughts on women in the industry and how you and a committee of other men came together to address the issue head on.
Matt Birch (25:50):
Tanya Musgrave (25:51):
A committee of other men had come together to address the issue head on. I just have to say that I appreciated that. But anyway.
Matt Birch (25:56):
No, thank you. Look, I felt really, really lucky to be asked. It was actually the original Me Too group. Each of them brought someone in. Each of the women brought in a man to start this other group. And I was really happy to be considered for that. Because that stuff we could go on change in that.
Tanya Musgrave (26:15):
Okay, of course. Yes. [crosstalk 00:26:16]
Matt Birch (26:16):
Yeah, no. That stuff makes me sick. Anyway.
Tanya Musgrave (26:17):
The interview is out there. People can look it up.
Matt Birch (26:20):
Yes, exactly. Thank you for that. Those roles of the medics. I have a phone call with the epidemiologist that someone's referred to us next week, and she's someone who's been on several panels and also has been involved in a lot of the research for production. That's someone I'm looking at to represent.
Matt Birch (26:41):
I'm not looking at this as a money grab. I'm looking at we've always tried to look ahead and be a productional resource and not just an agency and try to figure out where the places that we can help, where are the things that are no longer necessary or are fading away. But I think we will be ridiculous to ignore what's going on and not address, look into doctors, look into strong medics.
Matt Birch (27:07):
And when we used to pay when we had insurance for rain, we would have a rain monitor, we would pay who would sit there and count the rain to make sure you had point one inch of rain and he could shut down.
Tanya Musgrave (27:18):
Matt Birch (27:18):
And they're very creative sometimes. But in this case, the same thing. We need an authority on set to shut it down. I think the idea of going from a) someone has spiked a high fever today. We had them leave. For that to travel up a corporate chain, for someone to shut down the show that day or look, if I was a producer and many producers they go, "Cut it, We're out. We're out right now until we figure out what's going on."
Matt Birch (27:48):
Not every production has that luxury. I think having those roles are really important and that could be someone with EMT training, or it can be someone with, quite frankly, up to the epidemiologist level. I think it might be a category though, that quite frankly, is showing that we have to look at our crews' health a lot more. We've had again, the luxury for so long.
Matt Birch (28:13):
Years ago, I was production managing a film that was shooting a unit in China. And it was right after SARS hit. And everyone's freaked out about going to China, of course, which makes sense. Making sure everyone gets their shots and gets this. When we got there, it was a lot less prevalent than maybe the news would show in the United States here. Everything went fine.
Matt Birch (28:34):
But this isn't one you can really screw around with. The death toll wasn't piling up with that like it is with this. I feel like this is such a hotbed political issue. But it comes with finding a cure or a immunization process that we can use for the crew.
Tanya Musgrave (28:51):
It's the time for epidemiologists to break into Hollywood then?
Matt Birch (28:55):
Right, exactly. Who knew? It's true.
Tanya Musgrave (28:58):
Matt Birch (29:00):
It's true. All right.
Tanya Musgrave (29:01):
What positions do you see being involved with the new technology coming up like stagecraft? Especially, with people being at a distance, not having to travel would be awesome. What about stagecraft? What kind of positions do you see coming around for that?
Matt Birch (29:17):
Yeah. I mean, if we were drilling down detail, again, in no particular order, I think catering is going to have a lot more bodies on set. And they, some of them depending on your position of teamsters, as well. They're driver chefs, they're great positions, they pay very well but you're not going to have the setups you had anymore.
Matt Birch (29:36):
You're going to have a lot of boxed lunches, you're going to have a lot of containment in terms of the areas of setting up where people eat, the timing of how many people are eating there. It's not going to be the old buffet line, nor should it be right now. There's going to be many more visual effects.
Tanya Musgrave (29:54):
With the ILM and the stagecraft.
Matt Birch (29:57):
Yeah. I mean, just in terms of the supervisors and producers for visual effects now, you're going to be duplicating crowds a lot differently than you used to, you're not going to pull in 500 extras tomorrow. You're going to bring in very few faces, and you're going to do a lot of visual effects work. And that requires more bodies on the day, on the set.
Matt Birch (30:16):
I think it's going to trickle into every department in a different way. I was talking to a costume designer yesterday, who she's listening to costume designer and guild group. Every union and guild has a group right now and they're trying to figure it out. And we're trying to find one cohesive document to put together but instead of the four people running up to the lead actor, and makeups going in, and hairs going and all this, you're going to have to have a very clean system or one person per actor.
Matt Birch (30:43):
And I think that you're going to find that in wardrobe. You're going to find it in all especially crafts. That's all I can think of now but I guess when people really start shooting we'll be like, "Oh, that too."
Tanya Musgrave (30:53):
I hope it's not like airplane meals. How they just kind of diminished after a while and then you go on set for a 12-hour day, and you have to like a bag of peanuts.
Matt Birch (31:01):
Well, I think what's interesting is they're going to... Yeah, exactly. When I was shooting in Eastern Europe, they had never done film catering. The producer there, it was amazing, she found a great restaurant in town and they essentially were creating box lunches and they've never done the process. It's hit or miss. You find out we don't cook all the chicken at six in the morning and then serve it at lunch. You figure out things when you're learning things on the way.
Matt Birch (31:28):
But I think what's going to be interesting is really running lunches. I mean, it's going to be the French hour concept is going to come back in full force. You're not going to be breaking for an hour for lunch, you're going to have shorter shoot days, which I think will lead to a lot of help with safety as well. Whether it's on location or in town, where you're just working less hours, you're not burned out and wiped out and get behind a car to drive home.
Matt Birch (31:53):
And hopefully, that'll reduce a lot of the accidents people are having. But with that, you're going to have French meals. It's going to be walking lunch, they're going to be coming around with boxes for people. Usually, the one department that gets screwed the most is the camera department because they're constantly moving or setting up or on the go. But it's a way to figure out how to stagger and give them extra time so they can eat too. But the days of sitting down and having a leisurely one hour break. I don't see that happening at all. I think people are going to want to get through the day.
Tanya Musgrave (32:23):
I heard an estimate that it might tack on 10% onto the budget.
Matt Birch (32:28):
Yeah. No, I mean, I think everyone safely is doing that now. Some of our clients are producers are being contracted for now is... There used to be, "Okay. We need to do a Borden budget for this script, or for this series." And from that the clients are being asked to provide a Borden budget for that, to provide another budget which we call a COVID budget, which as you said the general rule of thumb that's going around right now because it's so new is 10%.
Matt Birch (33:02):
And they're essentially taking what we used to put in as a contingency and addressing it to COVID which you either put another 10% for contingency or you just address it to COVID thinking that will cover the who knows where you are, the temperature taking every entrance and exit to every stage, the testing every day, the monitoring, the bathroom monitoring. Right. I mean, there's a little police state kind of starting up on all this.
Matt Birch (33:34):
And then the third budget that people are being asked to do, which is really disturbing but very, very smart. Is the COVID shutdown budget. So you're doing a regular budget, "We're going to do this film." And then you do the COVID budget and this includes all the help we're going to need. And then you do the one where, "Oh, shit. Three crew members just came down with it or their temperature spike. We got to shut this whole thing down."
Matt Birch (34:00):
But that's where it all comes in with insurance and all these things we're talking about where you don't know what's going to happen. And a lot of our clients, we have clients in Iceland and production service companies around the world, and some of them are shooting, and some of them are successfully shooting but they're in regions that they really controlled the virus but that's rare to find a place like that.
Tanya Musgrave (34:24):
Is there a month or a date that you're hearing tossed around that like October or November?
Matt Birch (34:30):
I've heard every month in our calendar. I mean, I have. Yeah. July we're going to do... Wait, I'm going to say this a little more optimistically. "In July, we're going to be prepping from home for this series. We will start shooting in September or October. And we'll take a long winter break and then we'll pick up again in the beginning of the year." Then I hear from other people, "There's no way we're shooting." And these are large entities.
Matt Birch (35:02):
There's absolutely no way we're shooting this year period. By the time we get our shit together and start soft prepping, we'll be into the cold and flu season and who knows what that's going to hold? More realistic I've heard is you were talking about August, September prep and a spring shoot, that seems to be the most realistic I'm hearing. Maybe that means March. Again, it depends where the location is.
Matt Birch (35:27):
But there's a lot of work to be done from your original question about what's a production office going to look like? What's a stage going to look like? What protocols? Are we setting up one way walkways for everyone? The multitude of... I mean, the amount of white papers I've read is unbelievable. They all have different ideas.
Tanya Musgrave (35:46):
I can only imagine.
Matt Birch (35:47):
To answer your question, no. Sorry. I mean, I want to say it because the people who work in this business I feel like we're built that we can't sit idle and let a virus dictate what's going to happen to us. Which, of course, we have to. Instead, we're making all these great plans, things we just don't know. I think what's going to be busy right now and what has been busy is, there are writers being booked, there are actors being booked, there a lot of active development projects. That's what should be happening now.
Matt Birch (36:17):
That's a safe thing we can do where we can get great content teed up, and then start shooting it when we need to shoot it. But we've almost sucked the well dry of the amount of content out there in this period. It's amazing. I mean, I've seen some amazing things I may not have gotten to in the past of late. Right now, I feel like that's what's going on. It's that and if we're smart, we'll take a deep breath, and we'll take a look and it's going to be financially painful for everyone. Every single person. We've had it really good for a long time, and it's going to be a hit.
Tanya Musgrave (36:52):
What question should I have asked you?
Matt Birch (36:55):
That's good. You didn't tell me that ahead of time. You're going to do that. Dammit. Wait. Actually, I already made a list of 30.
Tanya Musgrave (37:04):
Okay. All right, fantastic. Well, buckle down then.
Matt Birch (37:08):
Well, look, I think the best thing to do is... I think the smartest... I mentor a lot of students from university and really want to help a lot of young people that start out.
Tanya Musgrave (37:18):
Matt Birch (37:19):
Because I didn't have any except my first mentor.
Tanya Musgrave (37:21):
Matt Birch (37:22):
A good example is my nephew. He just graduated high school, and he's going to film school and he's amazing cinematographer and just really, really smart young man. That being said, I said to him, and I think it's the same advice I'd say here and everyone should be thinking about not the old order. You should be thinking about the new order of what can be done with a phone? What can be done with a small group? What can be done virtually? What could be a creative structure or breakdown of a production that you could do remotely? That doesn't look jaggy and weird, that people would respond to.
Matt Birch (38:00):
Quibi is an interesting place that launched recently. And it's been a tough launch only because I think people are scattered. But that's short content and it's content you can shoot, I think more safely if you do it right. Those are the things that the future holds right now at least for the immediate future. In terms of questions that you should have asked because it's hard to think because you did everything so perfectly.
Tanya Musgrave (38:28):
Matt Birch (38:28):
Is really I think people have to question what do I really want to do? There are a lot of actors out there and I have really super honest conversations with them, which is, "Look, it's harder." I admire every actor, every musician that gets in front of a camera, on stage, I am blown away. I'm so impressed. I dream of having a music career and doing something.
Matt Birch (38:52):
Those are my fantasies and playing guitar and everyone's chanting your name. I could never do that. I would freak out and be drenched in sweat before I even took the stage. But those people can do it. But I think people like that who are more talent side and people who want to act and perform and sing that this is a great time to really just go for it and experiment.
Matt Birch (39:17):
Maybe the question is, what can people be doing right now while there's a standstill going on in this industry? Well, make content. And I mean, content rules. If you own content, or create content or bring it to the table, that's your control in this business is if you can bring material to anywhere, that's how you will succeed very quickly. And quickly, meaning in 10 years instead of 15 years.
Matt Birch (39:44):
It's not like overnight but content is what people buy. And when I've seen some of the content lately, some shows I saw, Unorthodox, I loved The Boys on Amazon. Really different programming, really cool. Those ideas are thought of by a lot of people like your listeners and your audience that you're speaking with, which is just make content if you can. And I think another smart thing is be realistic about a timeline.
Matt Birch (40:14):
If you're going to say, "Okay, I'm going to New York." Or "I'm going to L.A." Or "Atlanta" Or [inaudible 00:40:21] or Wilmington, North Carolina. There's a handful places around here, if you're going to those places, give it the college try, don't go out there thinking you're going to get it done in a month, there's going to be a absolute need for crew below the line crew, especially because there's going to be so much content that's going to race forward and start being made.
Matt Birch (40:40):
But until then you need to kind of settle on a base and create your network in that city. And that means literally one of your guests was my roommate when I moved out here and he was the first guy I met in Hollywood. The same guy we met in the same office, he runs entertainmentcareers.net, which is a great website for people looking for jobs in the industry.
Matt Birch (41:00):
We're all just like, weird little PA's, who just shot rubber bands at each other and we're excited because we're working on a film lot and driving fancy cars that weren't ours. But it was great. But I think for the people who are starting out or within a 10-year because I'm now my three time 10-year mark. If you're in that space, then think about what's really going on.
Matt Birch (41:27):
Don't think about the old Hollywood. I think it'd be really helpful for people to be looking ahead and saying, "What can I do in this space? Should I do a COVID project? Should I do a project that talks about it? Should I do a short format? But really just those are the people I have found throughout the years I've been doing this that have succeeded have been people who have been honest.
Matt Birch (41:48):
And I always say this but I'll say again, they actually can say the words, "I don't know. Let me find out. I don't know what that is." And there are people that think ahead and are smart about, "Okay, wait. There's COVID, this isn't going away in three months. Let's think about this for a year or two, at least. And I think that's going to help a lot of the people who are starting out is just think of new ideas.
Matt Birch (42:11):
But really if you can, and it's within you, make content, write content, create it. Because someone's going to ask you at some turn, "Do you have something I can read?" And it's nice to have it and not scramble that night and put something together. I didn't answer your question by the way intentionally.
Tanya Musgrave (42:28):
No, you did. And you piled on a ton of awesome advice for the takings. Thank you so much. We really appreciate your time that you've taken for us.
Matt Birch (42:39):
No, it's great. This is fun. And it's nice to see another human being.
Tanya Musgrave (42:41):
Matt Birch (42:41):
Tanya Musgrave (42:41):
Another human being.
Matt Birch (42:45):
Now, my dog and I have been having a staring contest all day and he wins every day. So it's really nice to see another human being and nice to meet you finally.
Tanya Musgrave (42:54):
Thank you for joining us. If you enjoyed this interview, follow us right here and check out more episodes at media.colabinc.org. If you have comments or know someone who would be a great guest on our show, send in your suggestions to email@example.com. Again, we're really wanting feedback so go to media.colabinc.org, fill out that feedback survey, and you'll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Matt, thanks so much again for your time, be well and God bless. We'll see you next time on There to Here.