Annenberg Media sat down with Neal H. Moritz, Todd Black and Ryan Bartlett, producers and executives behind some of Hollywood’s top films and celebrities.

Interview with Neal H. Moritz

The producer of the “Sonic the Hedgehog”, Fast & the Furious franchise, and the Goosebumps films.

Studio executive & producer Neal H. Moritz (Photo courtesy of: Neal H. Moritz)
Studio executive & producer Neal H. Moritz (Photo courtesy of: Neal H. Moritz)

Annenberg Media: How has the coronavirus impacted you and your family?

Moritz: It has impacted us all significantly, my business is shut down. Production, editing, marketing, releasing and development (for the most part) is at a standstill. I have been doing this work for over 30 years ever since I left USC, and thought I’ve seen everything. I never thought I would encounter this kind of situation. As for my family, we are spending a lot more time together, which has been really great. We’ve been watching a lot of classic movies such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Back to School” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” My kids are also doing remote learning through their school, so it’s nice that they still have some structure, and can still keep in touch with their classmates. I feel bad for my son most though because he is in his senior year of high school and he doesn’t get to finish his last year under normal circumstances. No prom, no graduation but in the scheme of things it’s not the end of the world.

Annenberg Media: How has it impacted your work in the entertainment industry and what do you foresee next?

Moritz: There will be a lot of changes, but I’m not sure exactly what they are yet. Everyone is going to be on high alert because there’s still a hesitation to gather in large groups. At the same time the studios are also all going to rush to try and make a years worth of content in six months.

The good thing is that we have so many outlets to watch something, and I think people are getting used to watching their content from streamers. Once we’ve gotten the pandemic under control, I think the demand for new content is going to be extremely high because so much is being consumed right now. And I think the content people want to watch will also shift. Who would want to watch a disaster movie after this? People will want to see more things with happy endings.

As for my personal experience, there will be wins and losses. My movie “Sonic the Hedgehog” was released early enough to not be impacted by all the theaters closing, and my film “Spenser Confidential,” which was released on Netflix, did extremely well before and after everything started closing, and it’s now become one of their biggest films. But the, my film “Bloodshot” was impacted the most, as it was released the same weekend the theaters started shutting down. It’s such a great film and it lost out big in theaters, which is disappointing. However, it is getting watched by a lot of people now after we made it available to buy or rent. So overall, the financial impact will be significant, but it’s too hard to predict right now.

Annenberg Media: Did you have anything else you wanted to share?

Moritz: Every business, in and out of our industry, has been affected by this pandemic, and hopefully when this is all over, we will all come out of this mostly unscathed. And there’s going to be a huge demand for new content once things start lifting, and we’ll have to find a way to keep up with the demand. But for now, we should keep doing our part by staying home and following social distancing guidelines.

Interview with Todd Black

The producer of “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “The Equalizer” and “Fences.”

Producer Todd Black (Photo courtesy of: Todd Black)
Producer Todd Black (Photo courtesy of: Todd Black)

Annenberg Media: How has the coronavirus impacted you and your family?

Black: The coronavirus is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter what race or religion that you are. We all know people that are elderly that do not want to get sick. My mother lives in an apartment here [LA] and my son lives in apartment in NYC so that weighs on my mind. We all must isolate and figure out a way to live in order to keep our stomachs full and our brains complete and our emotions in check. My heart goes out to people that have lost their jobs as well. I am fortunate that the business I am in is still working. I am very grateful for my position in life. We must be acutely aware of our surroundings and how to give back to others during this period. I have been patronizing local businesses and restaurants as much as possible. Hopefully, this pandemic makes you want to reach out to people and help them. I have found more GoFundMe pages to donate to than ever before. I have also been donating to restaurants and health organizations as well.

It has affected my family, it has made us more compassionate and slowed us down. We have been having more group texts, group chats, and more of a sense of humor. My sons are reading and listening to the news now more than ever. The pandemic has also set off much political debate on the national level. It has had some positive effects for sure and obviously it has caused a lot of sadness, again it is the great equalizer.

Annenberg Media: How has it impacted your work in the entertainment industry?

Black: The show “Servant,” with M. Night Shyamalan, which is on its second season with Apple TV had to shut down in the middle of filming. We also had a show on Peacock TV, their first streaming show, that we were getting ready to start titled “Dr. Death”. It stars Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater and Jamie Dornan, it was shut down a week before shooting. Then we were starting our Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson movie at Sony Pictures, it was shut down two weeks before it was ready to go. I was in post-production on a movie at Netflix, when the post rooms were shut down. Our development is not affected, we are still working with writers and reading scripts at times using Zoom conferences. We are gearing up the next slew of things to go out when the state of the country is better. We are leaning into comedy, we are looking at short stories, newspapers, and magazine articles and being resourceful during this time.

Annenberg Media: What changes do you foresee for the industry post the pandemic?

Black: I do think streaming services are winning right now. If you look at Netflix and listen to Scott Stuber and Ted Sarandos, they are winning. Amazon Prime is doing great. I have a film on Prime named “Troop Zero” that is doing great. It is almost three months after its posting to Prime and the film is still doing very well. Netflix and Amazon have a huge advantage right now. Studios are going to kick back in, people are going to desire the theatrical experience again. Streaming services are benefiting over everybody right now. Studios and streaming services will work more closely together. A lot of these movies that had just come out had to go on video on demand quickly. Theater owners weren’t happy, but it was the only way to save their investments. I mean look at “Bloodshot” it was in theaters, pulled out, and it had to go on demand rapidly. Tom Rothman [chairman of Sony Pictures] is very smart in how he handled it. I think everything is changing in front of our eyes. Some stuff we know and some stuff we will figure out once it is over. It is really evolving. I think studios moving release dates is very wise right now, Sony has moved almost an entire release slate to next year. Everyone is trying to figure it out and people are handling it wisely and cautiously. People are trying to keep crews employed and keep people paid. It is just good and impressive how everything is being handled in waters that we have never been through before. Content providers will prevail when this is all done because people are consuming so much product right now. People that have good TV shows and movies will flourish. I am grateful to be a content provider and a good one at that.

Annenberg Media: Does this event have long term effects on the kinds of content that people will want to consume?

Black: I think it does, lighter and comedic fare will be what people want to see. Laughter is very good medicine. I read an article that said one of the most important things for mankind to do is to keep a sense of humor. Whether physical or emotional, comedy is going to be important as well. People need to feel good and will do so through comedy. Consumers will still want to see horror and drama but not many will want to see any end-of-the-world movies. If anyone has any of those pandemic movies they should be put them on ice. People need to laugh right now and thankfully we have so many talented comedians. A good way to feel better is simply laughter. People have been emailing me about “The Upside,” which is a movie I did that was released a couple of years ago; they have been watching it now online and loving it. Strangers have been sending me emails about how it is the perfect movie for right now.

Annenberg Media: What are the top things you are streaming right now?

Black: “Tiger King!" I do not even know what to say about it, I am speechless right now. Netflix is over the moon about it. I just downloaded this PBS app, it is amazing. We are watching a bunch of their programming like “Master Class.” I have been watching a lot of “Shark Tank” always love those reruns. I am going to go back and watch “The Wire” as well. I am also doing a lot of reading right now of autobiographies and am reading the Walter Isaacson book on Leonardo Da Vinci. I just read “Where the Crawdad Sings” and “Educated.” Just trying to read things that there hasn’t been time to read. I have limited my news watching and only read the paper in the morning. I have also been listening to a lot of music such as Alicia Keys and lots of jazz such as Miles Davis. I have listened to Miles’ album “Kind of Blue” and have been finding jazz to be very comforting during this period.

Interview with Ryan Bartlett

The founder of Hyperion Talent Agency and he was an agent at UTA and Paradigm. He reps talent such as: Shailene Woodley, “The Divergent Series” and “Big Little Lies,” Ashton Sanders, “Moonlight” and “Equalizer 2” and Justin Prentice “13 Reasons Why.”

Ryan Bartlett, founder of Hyperion Talent Agency (Photo courtesy of: Ryan Bartlett)
Ryan Bartlett, founder of Hyperion Talent Agency (Photo courtesy of: Ryan Bartlett)

Annenberg Media: How has the coronavirus impacted you and your family?

Bartlett: We have been impacted like everyone else. We are trying to do our best during these times to find that new rhythm, which forces us to be a little creative. We are trying to figuring out some sort of meaningful school curriculum with our 5-year-old, and working out of the home office with family members around, etc. We are just seeking that new schedule that works for us.

Annenberg Media: How has it impacted your work in the entertainment industry?

Bartlett: The impact on the business is across the board with all productions halted. Major revenue streams have dried up so getting clients paid has been a challenge. We are still packaging and putting projects together. We have a little more time now to work on development for clients. We are pursuing certain intellectual property and trying to pair it with the right talent. There are plenty of great articles, podcasts, books and screenplays to push behind with renewed energy pairing them with the right stars.

Annenberg Media: What changes do you foresee for the industry post the pandemic?

Bartlett: I think we will be able to foresee the answer to that question depending on how much help exhibitors [studios, streaming platforms and agencies] get from the stimulus package. Theatrically, global box office is already tough to navigate outside of [big] event titles. The virus is going to move us more exclusively towards these titles with the mid-level budget films struggling to find a home. I think theaters’ loss during the pandemic will continue to be the streamers’ gain. I believe it’s not necessarily a bad time to be launching a streaming platform, so we’ll see how HBO Max and Peacock TV fare. What do the legacy studios do? It likely will mean a pivot towards streaming faster with mergers and further acquisitions of libraries. There is a feeling that the business is contracting and more competitive than ever with more content being produced. The more content we have seems to equate to more uncertainty. It will be interesting to see how Quibi continues to grow and how viewing habits on cell phones may or may not change. Obviously, the one constant is technology. I think we’re all looking forward to improved bandwidth technology. I also imagine we have not seen the last of this. What if the pandemic happens again in three or four years? How are artists being protected now and in the future is definitely a thought. It is just such an interesting time for the industry.