Who Will The Next Participant Be In Hollywood, Davis Guggenheim Asks


Editors observe: Filmmaker and producer Davis Guggenheim directed 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth that includes Al Gore. The movie gained the Oscar and helped put Jeff Skoll‘s social-impact-driven production company then known as Participant Media on the map, and also sounded an alarm about climate change that has become more pronounced since the film was released. In addition to documentaries, Participant was also responsible for Oscar Best Picture winners Spotlight and Green Book, and Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, one other well timed matter. Guggenheim is a co-founder of Concordia Studio and most just lately directed and produced Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, which  gained 4 Emmys together with for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special.  He is the one particular person to direct and produce three distinct movies rating within the high 100 highest-grossing documentaries of all time (An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud, and Waiting for Superman). Here he penned a visitor column for Deadline after studying Participant was shuttering. 


Twenty years in the past I sat with 100 or so others within the auditorium at CAA. Next to me was Jeff Skoll, who had just lately based Participant Media, and collectively we watched Al Gore give a slideshow lecture about local weather change.

Gore had his charts and graphs and methodically he made his case. I had first seen the presentation a number of weeks earlier and I used to be shocked by it. I felt the load of his message and the urgency behind it. I needed to assist share it with the world however I used to be doubtful about how. I believe all of us had been. How the hell might you flip a slideshow right into a documentary — not to mention a chunk of leisure?

After the lecture a bunch of us went upstairs to a small convention room and all of us turned to Jeff. 

He didn’t blink. “We can’t waste any more time. Don’t wait for lawyers or contracts. Start tomorrow.”

The 5 of us — Laurie David and Lawrence Bender who each introduced us the venture, and Leslie Chilcott, Scott Burns and I — jumped into motion. Six months later the movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was at Sundance. The doubts endured. After seeing the the film, the pinnacle of a significant studio stated, “Don’t fool yourselves. No one’s gonna pay for a babysitter to go watch this in a movie theater.”

He expressed a typical knowledge. But he was mistaken. 

Jeff noticed one thing that even these of us who made An Inconvenient Truth couldn’t — that the dollars-and-cents of investing in a movie was solely a part of the calculus. That a movie might land. That the precise movie on the proper second might make an influence. 

(L-R) Jeff Skoll and Al Gore on the ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’ premiere at Sundance in 2017

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Participant Media and Paramount Pictures

So Jeff, like so most of the characters within the movies he cherished, made a daring alternative. With that alternative he helped carry Al Gore’s pressing message to thousands and thousands all around the world and it moved the needle not simply with consciousness however coverage. He modified the dialog round local weather change. He modified the sector of documentary. And he modified the film enterprise.

This week, since Participant introduced that it’s closing its doorways, I’ve obtained 100 texts from pals and colleagues mourning the top of the corporate’s run. There’s additionally been the inevitable postmortem commentary about whether or not Jeff Skoll’s 20-year enterprise was value it. Look on the ledger, the critics say. Participant by no means made a dime.

The implication is that Jeff was simply one other sucker, swindled by Hollywood charlatans. But anybody who labored with Jeff will let you know that he knew precisely what he was doing. Would the cynics have been happier if Jeff had parked his cash someplace to silently accumulate? 

Those who look solely at Participant’s backside line miss the larger image. Sometimes when you think about solely what you may measure, you miss what really issues. 

Jeff made this funding along with his eyes extensive open. And those that look solely at Participant’s backside line miss the larger image. Sometimes when you think about solely what you may measure, you miss what really issues.

To pretty assess the corporate’s legacy you need to bear in mind the marketplace for documentaries again within the days earlier than An Inconvenient Truth. At the time, I used to be an aspiring director and I used to be floundering. I’d pitched PBS solely months earlier than on one other venture and by no means even obtained a reply. It was the kiss of loss of life. There was PBS and there was HBO and that was about it for documentary work.

Look at documentaries now. 

Look in any respect the movies premiering yearly at Sundance, Telluride and Toronto. Look on the vary of documentaries out there on all of the streaming platforms. Even with the present constriction out there, it’s laborious to overstate the enlargement of nonfiction storytelling — not solely within the rising community of filmmakers making the work but in addition in an viewers that’s hungry for extra.

This is the business that Participant cultivated. This is the world Jeff helped create.

He didn’t do it alone, in fact. He had the great sense to rent and empower one of the best inventive executives, together with Diane Weyermann, who championed documentaries like Citizenfour and American Factory, and Jonathan King on the fiction facet, who commissioned Spotlight and Roma

Participant additionally grew to become a beacon for scores of filmmakers on the market who, like me, had been guided by Jeff’s easy thought — that storytelling can form how we see the world.

Participant made movies about girls’s rights, staff’ rights, public schooling, journalism and racial injustice. They gained each award you may title, not simply in docs however on the fiction facet, too. Some of the flicks didn’t work. Some had been nice however by no means discovered a house within the market. Jeff was okay with that. He accepted monetary loss in pursuit of one thing extra elusive however in my thoughts extra necessary. 

Hollywood’s in a funk in the mean time, with the hangover from the pandemic and the shadow of the strike. But I look previous that and I see the returns on Jeff’s 20-year funding in Participant paying off in lovely, immeasurable methods.

Still, Participant’s absence raises questions for all of us going ahead — who will step up as the following champion for the tales that don’t match within the present enterprise mannequin or the accepted frequent knowledge? Who will make the following Good Night, and Good Luck, the following RGB, the following Citizenfour or Roma? And what is going to Hollywood appear to be if nobody does?


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