There’s a big difference between making an excellent film, and getting an excellent film made.
The former involves vision, technical acumen, and creative leadership. The latter requires different skills: networking, pitching, responsiveness, and flexibility.
When NYU’s Production Lab was founded in 2014, it was precisely to help NYU student and alumni artists—regardless of school affiliation—with this second set of skills.
“We had amazing storytellers creating ground-breaking films, and they were graduating and thinking, ‘Now what?’,” said John Tintori, professor of Graduate Film at Tisch, who founded the NYU Production Lab together with University Vice Chancellor and Senior Vice Provost Linda Mills. “We realized the best way to serve our filmmakers—which, it turned out, included students and graduates from all of NYU's schools—would be to create a center where they could learn, in practical terms, how to get their creative work out into the world, such as opening doors at production companies, selling their projects, and signing deals that serve their individual interests.”
Since then, the NYU Production Lab has helped launch numerous careers, including those of Chloé Zhao and Cathy Yan, both of whom have signed on to direct upcoming large-studio superhero movies for release in 2020 (Birds of Prey with Margot Robbie and The Eternals with Richard Madden and Angelina Jolie, respectively).
And just last month, the Production Lab enabled five students to sign development deals through a new television-specific program with the rapidly-growing, Emmy-award winning OBB Pictures in Los Angeles, known for producing hits like Netflix’s “Historical Roasts,” Kevin Hart’s “Cold As Balls,” and ESPN’s “30 for 30.”
What makes the partnership with OBB special is that it capitalizes on NYU’s broad alumni base in Los Angeles, just as NYU has developed a new program based in LA’s La Brea district. OBB was founded by NYU Tisch grad film alumnus Michael D. Ratner and its head of production, finance, and strategy is Eric D. Cohen (Tisch ’15). OBB’s production executive in charge of emerging talent is Miranda Sherman, a Gallatin and Tisch Cinema Studies alumna who had co-founded the Production Lab with Tintori, Mills, and Brock Johnson, who is still the Lab’s Director of Finance and Operations.
“NYU has a great reputation and profile in Los Angeles, but what we’d been lacking was a way to come together as a community and really make the most of that network,” said Sherman. “My role at OBB is to access new creative voices, and so forming a partnership with the NYU Production Lab made so much sense. I also knew from my time there that these individuals would not only have tremendous talent, but they’d also be ready to handle themselves in meetings and negotiations.”
Independent TV and independent film are very different animals, according to Kate Stahl, who took over from Sherman as program manager of the Lab and was a key architect of the television development studio program with OBB. “The financing model is completely different, and you need to think in terms of an episodic narrative that could go on for years. It’s also an industry that is changing at an incredibly fast pace so bringing in industry mentors was critical.”
Though Tintori is rooted in the Tisch Graduate Film department and Stahl is a graduate of the Tisch/Stern MBA/MFA program, the Production Lab has emphasized an all-inclusive, program-agnostic atmosphere from the outset. Of the five new projects under the NYU x OBB venture, just one is helmed by a Grad Film alumnus (David Jaher, ’97). Others include two former Tisch drama students (Eugene Santiago, ’07, and Joey Merlo, ‘10), an Undergraduate Film alumnus (Mike Immerman, ‘08), and a Gallatin graduate (Erin Rose O’Brien, ’15).
“The Production Lab is one of the reasons you go to a school like NYU,” said Merlo. “It gave me the support I needed to develop a project that led to literary representation and a shopping agreement with a Hollywood production company. The Lab has also remained an artistic home—a place for me to further develop my work, find new collaborators and pitch new projects.”
The projects were selected among hundreds of applicants received through the OBB Pictures x NYU Production Lab Episodic Development Studio, launched by Ratner and Sherman with the Lab in April 2018 expressly to present a wide array of fresh perspectives from emerging talent at NYU. They include:
- “The Witch of Lime Street” by David Jaher
The true story of the rise to stardom of a young Boston society psychic who dazzled the media and world of science, only to find herself locked in a sensational rivalry with the legendary magician Houdini, hell-bent on exposing her as an ingenious fraud. Based on Jaher’s 2015 NPR Non-Fiction Book of the Year of the same name.
- “Everything’s Rosie” by Erin Rose O’Brien
Millennials are lazy, right? Not Rosie—she hustled to defy the stereotype. But when then illusion of economic security shatters, what does Rosie do next? Quit her job. Start vlogging.
- “Tierra Paz,” by Eugene Santiago
A modern-day western about a Southwest-Texas ranchero family that has been running an underground railroad across the Rio Grande for the last 400 years and now faces extinction from the cartels to the south of them, and the American government to their north.
- “No Name for Tennessee,” by Joey Merlo
Spanning the 15 year partnership between No Name for Tennessee, the series explores the passionate and often tumultuous relationship behind the success of one of the most important figures in American theatre history. Joey Merlo has based the series on love letters between Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, his great uncle.
- “#TheResistance” by Mike Immerman
A comedy that follows the interpersonal drama and follies of a forest-dwelling band of ill-equipped, yet idealistic, millennial freedom-fighters who must unite and overcome their lack of experience and practical skills to overthrow the greedy and corrupt authoritarian regime they know as The Parent Company, which is intent upon destroying the country they love.
“Though we’ve felt from quite early on that the Production Lab was succeeding in supporting our students and alumni, these deals with OBB are proof positive that we’re doing exactly what we set out to do,” said Senior Vice Provost Mills. “Together with our new site in La Brea, the Lab will help NYU significantly enhance its presence and reputation on the West Coast, which will mean more opportunities for students and alums in the industry.”