Last month, I had the good fortune to attend a brunch at Brunchwork in LA with two incredible executives leading the way in television and film: Nicole Clemons, President of Paramount Television and Todd Garner, head of Broken Road productions/former co-head of production at Walt Disney Studios.
Nicole leads Paramount studio’s content development and distribution across all media platforms worldwide. The studio’s robust slate includes Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” (Amazon), “13 Reasons Why” (Netflix), “The Haunting of Hill House” (Netflix), and many other shows. She joined the production studio from Anonymous Content, where she served as manager and a producer, setting up projects at Apple, Netflix, Showtime, Hulu, YouTube, and more.
Todd, a veteran producer, executive produced numerous films which include XXX, Anger Management and 13 Going On 30. After producing the runaway hit Paul Blart: Mall Cop and it’s sequel, which grossed over $290 million combined in worldwide box office, Broken Road produced Zookeeper which grossed $170 million. Broken Road just released two movies on Netflix: Naked starring Marlon Wayans & Regina Hall and True Memoirs Of An International Assassin starring Kevin James.
Nicole, how did you get started?
Nicole: I worked at Spelling TV, was promoted, recruited to be an agent at ICM, founded life rights department, then worked in feature lit. I moved on to 5 years at FX, then Anonymous for 18 months, and now I’m at Paramount for the past 10 months.
What exactly do you do as an executive?
Nicole: I oversee all aspects of development and production. I work with the business affairs execs, mapping 6 months out, anticipating needs, and cultivate higher level relationships for the studio. Now we’re maintaining the quality of our shows and working on scaling.
Who do you bring on?
Nicole: I hire people who want to acquire talent. I look for people with strong point of view, taste, and drive. You can’t teach story sense.
What are your best tips for people wanting to work in this business and do what you do?
Nicole: You need a lot of empathy and need to be able to articulate where you want to go. Enthusiasm-it’s infectious! The job is giant problems all day long. Each one has its own solution. I’ve learned when to run into the fire and when to sit back and run the ship.
No matter how tiny or how big, I’ve learned to trust my gut. There are no mistakes. Life is an experiment in trial and error. Lose the fear of being perfect or making a mistake, it frees you up. I won’t have this job forever. I’ve never been unwilling to ask for help. I will source and I will make my own decisions.
Todd: You then ask: does it make the show better? (Jack Ryan) Yes, for that show, more is more. How important is it for that show specifically? It’s more about relationships. They (Paramount) also made A Quiet Place. Is there a 2? You have to weigh all that…there’s so many moving pieces. That’s the decision-making process. It takes so long to make one decision for that reason.
Todd, how did you get started?
Todd: I was an editor throughout college, worked at Wells Fargo and thought about business school…then I went over to Paramount and ended up as Arsenio Hall’s accountant. It got me on the lot where I discovered the job of the creative executive. I took a story development class at UCLA extension and then became an assistant and took at 50% pay cut.
What kind of person are you looking for in a hire?
Todd: Well, for a line producer, I look for someone who says yes first, then tries to figure out the problem later. Yes and…here’s how we’re going to do that. Directors tend to bring their own team. You’re really building a family because you’re together for so long (on movie sets).
On my last movie, we spent 40 days in Vancouver and it snowed the whole time. You have to make gut calls. When you’re in the dark not going outside, you have to keep people motivated with a safe, fun, protected work environment. Good food and great material is a must. You can’t be a producer unless you’re on set every day. There’s something to solve everyday. You’re not getting the full story if you’re in the office. I’ve produced over 150 movies. I’ve seen it all. So, I thought. Three weeks into shooting this last movie, the actor just left the country. Never had that happen before!
What did you do?
Todd: We recast and reshot! So we had to tell the crew. Keegan Michael Key’s assistant had the answer! He found a match. The actor was on a helicopter that night. We fostered a culture where he felt comfortable approaching me to solve the problem, so then we could call the studio with the answer, instead of the problem, and they could exhale.
Todd, you and Nicole have know each other for awhile. Talk more about that.
Todd: When Nicole and I met, Nicole was a covering agent at ICM, she was 6, clearly. Nicole used to sell to me, now I’m selling to her. It’s all fluid.
Nicole: Todd never wained, never changed. His love of movies, he’s an idea machine- always more, more, more. I can’t think of any producers who genuinely do the job, Todd really makes it happen and pulls things together. He gets the job done. Todd is like a unicorn. They don’t really exist. He’s very rare. He generates the ideas.
Todd, any advice?
Todd: If you’re a jerk, no one is going to want to work with you. This biz is so fast and you think, I don’t need to be nice to this person. Then they create Get Out. Jordan (Peele) had that a lot. Nicole is great at that. She’s really empathetic.
If you wait long enough, things bubble to the surface. With Harvey Weinstein, I didn’t know the extent of what was going on, but you can’t just bully people around. Eventually, someone’s gonna put you in a hole and put a bullet in your head. If something doesn’t make sense to you in your gut and you get that uh-oh feeling, listen to it. When you look at people and ask, how are they still in biz….just wait. You’ll see them fall eventually.
This is a marathon. Jennifer Salke and I were assistants together, now she runs Amazon. Get to know your class. The answers are there. Get to know them. Oh and watch our shows and don’t pirate.
What is your advice for writers? Producers?
Todd: For writers, just do this, even though it seems insane, write the movie for Adam Sandler and Jack Nicolson (re: Anger Management). If you’re specific and authentic, things will happen. It only takes one to break everything wide open.
What do you do when you can’t get that actor?
Todd: I had a harder time asking people to be on my podcast, than to be in my movies. My podcast is more personal. My advice for producers (around actors) if they pass, they pass. Move on.
Tell us about your podcast!
Todd: I feel like I’m combating negative press with my podcast. I want people to be encouraged and come out here. That’s exciting to me. Spread the word. I want people to have hope. The Producer’s Guide Podcast.
It’s such a great time to be in the business for those who want to create content. Be optimistic. The sky’s the limit. I was at Netflix yesterday and it was like Grand Central Station in the best way. Everyone was there. No one gives a shit about ratings and backends anymore. What’s risen to the top is that artists wanna create. Studios have no leverage anymore. Netflix lets you make what you want, they won’t get in the way, and they pay you a good wage. Every once in the while you get a Crazy Rich Asians or Handmaid’s Tale. It’s not how it was. It’s all new, it’s not the way we used to do it, but it’s exciting.
Big thanks to Nicole and Todd for their incredible advice and candor and to Brunchwork for hosting the event.
Brunchwork hosts dynamic brunches & dinners with the top business & tech leaders in NY, SF, and LA every week. Past speakers have included: Warner Bros. Records CEO, 2020 Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang, Spotify’s Head of Growth, HBO’s President, Rent the Runway’s Cofounder, Y Combinator’s Founder, SoulCycle’s SVP Strategy, and so many more.