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‘Blacklist’ Creator’s TV Agent to Speak at Northwestern

Kevin Crotty loves the television show “The Blacklist.” But why he loves it is different from why the network show’s millions of other fans love it.

“It’s going to pay for my children’s education.”

Crotty is a partner and board member at ICM Partners, one of the largest talent and literary agencies in the world. His company represents “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan, “House of Lies” creator Matthew Carnahan and “The Blacklist” creator Jon Bokenkamp. Crotty will be discussing his career in television at Northwestern on Wednesday, Nov. 5 as part of the Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprise’s speaker series.

On Thursday, I spoke with Crotty, who is also a Northwestern alum, on the phone about his experiences working in the entertainment industry, and how the world of television has changed since he first started.

“The television business as a whole has expanded,” Crotty said. “There are a lot more outlets to sell scripted television… it’s a very good marketplace right now for the creators.”

Referring to “new players” like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, companies that have recently begun creating original television programming, Crotty said that the advent of so many new outlets has made it easier for television show creators to get their material produced.

“For someone who is a very good writer, there almost is no excuse to not be able to sell it anymore,” Crotty said.

He was quick to point out that this doesn’t necessarily apply to new writers who have yet to be discovered. Though there is more opportunity for new shows, there are diminished learning opportunities for novice television show creators. What’s more, television networks have significantly less patience for a new show than they did in the past, which means cancellations occur much more quickly than they did before.

“They [networks] spend so much money on marketing these new shows now if it doesn’t break out of the clutter they have to move on to the next,” Crotty said. “It’s very hard to grow a show from low ratings to success.”

I asked Crotty if he believed in the hype around Netflix’s programming model. The company famously said it relied on algorithms about it user preferences in deciding to make its hit show, “House of Cards” with director David Fincher and actor Kevin Spacey.

Crotty gave a resounding no.

“I don’t believe the hype from Netflix,” he said. “I believe in the right time with the right script and the rest of it is, ‘Does the audience respond?’”

Crotty believes there will always be a place for talented programmers making gut decisions about what should and should not be made.

“The reality is Netflix is going to have stinkers and so is everybody.”

When asked about his favorite shows (besides “The Blacklist”), Crotty listed off “Breaking Bad,” “Kingdom” (a new show on DirectTV about Mixed Martial Arts), “Modern Family” and “Homeland.”

“I also love Shonda Rhimes,” Crotty said about the creator of the hit shows “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and, most recently, “How to Get Away With Murder.” Rhimes is also represented by Crotty’s company.

“She pays for everything here.”

Crotty will be speaking on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at 5 p.m. in Frances Searle Building, 3-417. The event is free, and a networking reception will immediately follow. Click here to RSVP.

Northwestern Faculty Directs ‘Frankenstein’

Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out a new production of ‘Frankenstein’ produced by the Greenman Theatre and going on at Asbury Hall at First United Methodist Church at 232 S. York in Elmhurst.

Directed by Northwestern Finance Faculty Cory Sandrock, the show debuts Friday and goes through Nov. 9. “When adapting the new script I tried to remain true to the novel, so this production focuses on the tragedy of Victor and his family instead of rehashing the typical horror-movie-stuff,” Sandrock said in an email. “The actors are doing a great job creating a fast-paced show that I know will provide an enjoyable evening of theatre.” Below is Sandrock’s Director’s Note:

Most of us have found ourselves carried away at one time or another. We worked late at the office because we “just had to send one more email,” we “accidentally” watched 3 more episodes on Netflix instead of going to bed, we spent all weekend working on a project that should have taken “only 20 minutes, tops…” A little bit of mad scientist lives inside each of us, and it only takes the pressure of a deadline or passion for an activity to narrow our focus and exclude any other needs. The quintessential example of this archetype, Nikolai Tesla, spent hours testing his theories and often chose scientific purity over lucrative opportunities. He once said “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success…such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” I gave this quote to Victor in my adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN because it highlights an often ignored aspect of the original novel: Victor is a college kid when he brings the Creature to life. He is not the greying scientist we see in movie versions of this tale, he is simply a student pursuing his new passion for discovery with the blind intensity of youth; with each accomplishment he pushes a little farther, pursues another idea, and attempts one more experiment.

After his creation comes to life, the real tragedy of FRANKENSTEIN begins when Victor chooses to run away and abdicate his responsibility. Are we to blame the Creature for striving to find his way in the world without guidance? Should we blame Victor for trying to ignore the Creature and reclaim a normal life? Why do seemingly small decisions often lead to horrible and unforeseen consequences? We all think we know this story, but I encourage you to experience FRANKENSTEIN today with fresh senses: see each face transformed by pain as the tragedy races to its conclusion, hear each debate between Victor and the Creature, and feel each impact as the emotional bonds between characters are ripped apart. Only then can you answer the key question: who is the man and who is the monster?

For tickets and more information about the show, click here.

MSLCE Professor Interviewed About Media Audiences

By Jacob Nelson

Northwestern professor James Webster, who has a new book out that focuses on the effects of a proliferation of media choices in the digital age, talked about media audiences in an interview with the American Press Institute published last week. Webster, who is teaching a course this quarter about media audiences in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, talked about media audiences from both the perspective of people who consume media and the companies that create it.

“The media environment itself is way more active than people realize,” Webster said. “Pragmatically, if you’re a media maker, then you’ve got to think, ‘How can I harness some of these forces to my advantage?'”

The interview, which was done by API’s Millie Tran, is a fascinating look at what elements go into building an audience. This includes things that are outside of the control of the media producers. “All you have to do is create something that the right people will like and they’ll just come back again and again. I think while you’re doing that, you also have to be mindful of these structural forces that we’ve been talking about, though,” Webster said. “So it’s not, ‘if only I make my editorial content better,’ or ‘get just the right mix’ that’s all  you have to worry about. You also have to worry about things outside of the editorial content of the paper or the outlet or whatever medium you’re talking about.”

Webster also recently discussed media audiences and big data with Stacey Lynn Schulman, who is the Executive Vice President of Strategy, Analytics and Research at Katz Media Group. The discussion was part of MSLCE’s first speaker series. Read the full API interview here.

NU Professor Talks Big Data with Media Expert

By Jacob Nelson

The MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises kicked off its first Speaker Series event last week with a discussion about media audiences and big data. Northwestern professor James Webster, who has a new book out that focuses on the effects of a proliferation of media choices in the digital age and is also teaching a course this quarter about media audiences, spoke to a full room in Frances Searle, located on Northwestern’s Evanston campus, with Stacey Lynn Schulman, who is the Executive Vice President of Strategy, Analytics and Research at Katz Media Group.

One of the first questions the two attempted to answer was whether or not the advent of many more media options had empowered media users. “These changes have promoted rhetoric of user empowerment,” Webster said about the increase in media that has resulted from everything from the Internet to an increase in television channels and programming.

“There’s no doubt people have more choice… but with that wealth comes bounded rationality.” Webster explained that people don’t make choices with all of the information necessary to make the best selection. For instance, a person chooses to watch a movie because they believe they will probably like it, when they might actually hate it. As a result, people are increasingly relying on big data-powered metrics, like recommender systems, to motivate their decisions. “Ordinary media users are now just as dependent on metrics as media creators,” Webster said.

An issues that comes up because of this reliance is that these big data aren’t wholly objective. In choosing to highlight some bit of information over another, a media metrics system conveys a point of view that many don’t realize exists. “These metrics are never neutral, they can never be neutral,” Webster said. “Google not only measures popularity, it creates it.” Schulman agreed with Webster’s assessment, and added her industry-specific perspective. She said that media companies are currently struggling to understand how to best use big data to help them reach audiences.

“We are in this moment of crisis… Trying to reconcile what we know with what we don’t know,” Schulman said. Schulman voiced some frustration with the glowing reception that the advent of digital has received by many in her field. Though she was quick to point out the advantages a digital world has provided, she said that “there is an irrational exuberance about the power of digital” and not as much thought about “about how technology is reimagining our humanity.”

“We used to make up and break up in person, now we do so on our cell phones,” she said.

She added that the increase in the importance of popularity metrics has brought the need for affirmation to the forefront for both media producers and consumers.

“There’s this constant need for affirmation that the media needs as well,” she said. “That creates a crisis for how we measure content.”

Webster and Schulman agreed that, even as the list of available media options continues to grow, there will always be a small group of media outlets commanding a majority of attention.

“There’s no evidence that the handful of media that dominate are going away anytime soon,” Webster said.

Schulman agreed, adding that popular culture is a good thing, especially in the face of audience fragmentation.

“Mass media has to survive,” Schulman said. “We need that cultural currency… We have to have a way to connect.”

Northwestern Faculty’s New Book Provides ‘An Exhaustive Look’ at Audience Formation

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

When you decide you want to watch a movie, how do you decide which one? Do you go to the recommendations on Netflix? The selection on Amazon Prime? Or do you ask your Facebook friends for suggestions? Perhaps a better question is: which method of choosing a movie is most likely to lead to the best choice? If you’re unsure, you’re not alone.

And it’s that uncertainty that Northwestern professor James Webster gets at in his new book, The Marketplace of Attention: How Audiences Take Shape in a Digital Age. Webster will be teaching a course this fall in the new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. His new book “takes an exhaustive look at the research about how such audiences form. Or rather, how audiences are formed,” according Ann Friedman, who reviewed the book for the Columbia Journalism Review.

She writes that what Webster “argues quite convincingly is that even if users do have some idea of what news and information they want (and it’s not entirely clear they do), they don’t know how or where to find it.” So what happens when users don’t know how to find what they want? They become easier to manipulate with the use of algorithms and the biases inherent in their social networks. “An audience,” Friedman writes, summarizing Webster’s argument, “is not something that exists on its own. It must be constructed.” Webster’s fall course will dive into the relationship media companies have with audiences, and how big data plays into that relationship.

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, James Webster will discuss his new book with Stacey Schulman, Executive VP of Strategy, Analytics, & Research at Katz Media Group in New York at 5 p.m. in Frances Searle room 3-417 with a reception to follow in the third floor atrium. For more information, click here.

Aspiring Graphic Designer Sets Sights for Disney

By Jacob Nelson

This is the fourth in a series of posts spotlighting new students in Northwestern’s   Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

Ting Luan knew she wanted to learn graphic design before she even arrived at college. The recent Michigan State graduate grew up drawing, and was excited to hone her skills as a graphic design and communications double major. “I think that’s kind of interesting, to express what you’re thinking about in a visual way,” Luan said.

She’s excited to continue pursuing those skills this fall, when she will begin Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. She’s hoping the program will equip her with the skills she needs to work and lead others in her pursuit of a career in advertising or filmmaking.

“This program is designed for someone who wants to work in the creative field,” she said, “That’s my dream career.” A fan of 21st Century Fox and Disney movies, Luan hopes to finish this program ready to find work that can make use of her communications knowledge and creative abilities. While in college, Luan just missed an internship opportunity at Disney, and she hopes to get a second chance to work there or at a place like it after she graduates. “All the graphic things they do is really awesome,” Luan said about Disney movies. 

“If I had a chance to do an internship in those kinds of industries, that would be a great honor.”

Dancer Looks to MS Program to ‘Jumpstart’ Her Life

By Jacob Nelson

This is the third in a series of posts spotlighting new students in Northwestern’s  Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

For Ty Reggans, dancing is a form of communication as much as it is a passion – which makes sense, considering she’s been dancing for longer than she’s been doing just about anything else. “I’ve been dancing since I’ve been able to walk,” she said.

This fall, Reggans will begin Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. “Dance is using my body to communicate,” Reggans said, “which draws me to this program… it’s just as important as verbal communication.”

Reggans began dancing by exploring ballet, and soon moved onto jazz and hip-hop. Though she’s learned different kinds of dance over the years, the act itself has remained a constant in her life. “I’ve just done it for so long I can’t really see my future without it,” she said. But dancing professionally isn’t easy. There’s a lot of instability and, like acting, it’s a competitive field. “You don’t make a lot of money, it’s a scary industry,” Reggans said.

“You can be dancing one day and bussing tables the next, you don’t really know.” Reggans wants performing to be a part of what she does, but that she’s excited to learn different skills during the master’s program that may lead to other dance-related professional opportunities. She says she’d like to open a talent agency to help discover other dancers.

“Whether it’s teaching it, dancing, representing others, I want to do something that involves helping get other people’s messages across,” she said. Reggans has been teaching dance in different venues since she was a teenager. She’s looking forward to learning other leadership skills at Northwestern, and then taking those with her to the internship portion of the program. “I’m excited to travel, to take those lessons and run with them,” she said. “Northwestern could really help me jumpstart my life.”

Northwestern Opera Singer Returns to Begin Career in Arts Activism

This is the second in a series of posts spotlighting new students in Northwestern’s Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

For the last few years, Kaitlin Very has taught music to an eager group of students: preschoolers.

“You won’t get a more excited group of students than four-year-olds,” Very said.

Since graduating from the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern, Very has been working as a music teacher in Pittsburgh. The experience has given the opera singer the motivation to finally pursue arts outreach professionally, something she’s wanted to do since she first graduated from Northwestern in 2011 with a degree in vocal performance and a minor in arts administration. “That is my main inspiration,” she said. “I really want to focus on outreach and opera in the future.”

To do that, she’s returning to Chicago to begin the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, a one year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. Very was drawn to the program by its emphasis on connecting students with industry people to open doors for future career paths. She’s also looking forward to learning the basics of marketing and finance so that she pursue jobs in outreach and education that require those skills. “In the long run, I would love own or work for an opera company that does a lot of arts activism and outreach and education type stuff,” Very said.

“That’s what I’m most passionate about.” Very’s fascination with arts activism began while she was an undergraduate at Northwestern. She saw theatre director Peter Sellars attempt a contemporary staging of an opera that was written in 1744 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. “Hercules” explores war and homecoming, and Sellars made these themes current by interviewing Chicago veterans while shaping the opera, and then inviting them to attend the performance and participate in a discussion with other audience members. The result, according to Very, was “way more impacting.” “It took it to a whole new level,” she said.

“It exposed [the audience] to a community in Chicago they wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.” Very is also interested in working to get younger people interested in opera. As she’s learned during her years teaching, opera is “not a common part of music curriculum” for school children. “Audiences are aging out in opera specifically because it’s most commonly appreciated by older audiences,” Very said.

“It’s not necessarily why I’m passionate about arts activism, but it would be a great perk if it got new people interested.” And while the focus of her aspirations will be administrative, Very hopes she will be able to continue singing while she’s back in Chicago and after. “If there’s a community group that puts on a musical I can audition for I totally would perform,” she said. “I still love performing as well.”

NU Student Worked in Radio; Now He Wants to Save It

This is the first in a series of posts spotlighting new students in Northwestern’s Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

As an undergraduate, Zach Silva loved programming for WNUR, Northwestern’s student-run radio station. He enjoyed the opportunity his roles as programming director and news director gave him to learn the ins and outs of working in radio.

But that doesn’t mean he had any misconceptions of the station’s popularity.

“We’re the connection between the Associated Press and five Chicagoland residents,” Silva joked about WNUR, “because nobody really listens to the radio anymore.”

Silva’s planning to challenge that trend. He recently graduated from Northwestern’s communication studies program, with a minor in legal studies. This fall, he will begin Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises, a one year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment. He’s hoping that the program will give him the skills he needs to pursue a career in either radio marketing or artist development. Part of that pursuit means trying to get listeners to tune into radio in a media climate that is rapidly shifting toward digital audio services like Spotify and Last.fm.

“[Radio stations] are trying to find a way to give [listeners] something Pandora can’t, but it’s really difficult,” Silva said. “Media is becoming more transient.”

Silva first grew interested in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises after an undergraduate trip to London organized by EPICS, an office within the School of Communication. The trip included meetings with executives from NBC Universal, the consulting firm Deloitte and the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, and gave Silva a glimpse into the networking possibilities and practical skills he could take advantage of if he applied to the master’s program.

“That kind of professional trip is now being embodied in this year-long program, which I think is great,” Silva said. “It fills that missing link that I think really would help communication studies students in pursuing positions in the media industries.”

Silva is looking forward to learning the basics of finance, legal and marketing matters as they relate to creative industries during the next year. As the world of media increases, Silva thinks creative industries like radio will need to figure out ways to stand out among consumers. He hopes that’s where his interest in marketing will prove to be an asset.

“You don’t sit down and throw on a record anymore, you have your Spotify playlist playing in the background,” Silva said. “That’s what the creative industries are working toward.”

Northwestern’s Block Museum To Unveil New Exhibit

This is the first in a series of posts about opportunities for Leadership for Creative Enterprises students to learn about Evanston’s arts scene.

By Jacob Nelson

The start of a new school year means the debut of a new exhibit at Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art. This year, Block Museum celebrates Kenyan born artist Wangechi Mutu with a comprehensive exhibit of works by the artist, featuring more than 50 pieces.

Highlights of the exhibition include an animated video that Mutu collaborated on with the musician Santigold. There will also be a monumental wall drawing. Mutu’s work is large-scale and often comes in the form of collage, focusing on female figures “in lush, otherworldly landscapes.”

In addition to its art installations, the museum also includes a small movie theater. Block Cinema screens classics and contemporary films, depending on the series. This fall’s series will focus on Henri Langlois, the co-founder, director and curator of the Cinémathèque Française, “one of the world’s most important film archives.” Click here for details about the series and dates for each screening.

The Block Museum is located along the lake on Northwestern’s south campus in Evanston.