Kagan ’09 discusses changing film, television trends
Dan Kagan ’09 is a creative executive at Break Media and has worked at major studios including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Paramount Pictures Corporation and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures . He has contributed to popular feature films, such as “Noah” (2014) and “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013), through work in executive development.
How were you involved in the arts at Dartmouth?
DK: I was a film major. At the time — and I’m pretty sure it still is — it was just kind of a very small group of people. There were, I think, about 15 to 20 of us in my grade, so we all kind of knew each other. I think that going that production route at Dartmouth meant that you were already part of the scene. That was basically the film side, and then I also deejayed while I was at school. That could be an art of its own.
Was film production something you were interested in at Dartmouth or was it a new path that you followed?
DK: I knew I wanted to go into film when I first started at school and sort of went that route. When I first got to school, I always thought that I would be a director, and my junior year I took off my spring and summer. I decided I was going to go out to California and see what Los Angeles had to offer because I knew eventually if I wanted to work in the film industry I’d have to end up there. Luckily I sort of fell into this internship at Sony, which is also Columbia Pictures [Entertainment], through a friend of mine who was a ’09 with me at Dartmouth. Essentially, I was an intern in the executive development department at Sony, and there was a side of things that I hadn’t really seen before or experienced. Upon seeing the back end of things, it just seemed a lot more interesting to me because they’re really the ones who are making all of the decisions on every film, and they’re the ones that are putting stuff together. The combination of both the artistic and the creative along with the packaging and the business side really spoke to me, and I thought it was fascinating, so I kind of got into it.
You’ve worked on both the business side and creative side of TV and film production. How do they compare?
DK: I at this point prefer development work. For me, it’s fascinating to approach a story not as a formula, per se, but trying to find the best version of a story within a concept and making it marketable and exciting and ultimately getting people to come see it. That’s sort of what appeals to me, and I think that’s what has really spoken to me. In terms of production, unfortunately or fortunately, in a lot of the film industry, the people that provide the money are the ones who are going to be making those calls on a case-by-case basis. Having worked for the studios, I sort of saw that shift away from the indie filmmaking that I was really enamored by when I first started school and toward a place where you’re still working in a collaborative environment and you still want the best product possible, but the people who are signing the checks still have that final authority over it. That’s what I wanted to be involved in. Now it’s kind of shifted away from that, interestingly enough, but I’m still fascinated by the packaging aspect of it and developing a story.
What are the differences between working with TV and film?
DK: It’s really hard to say right now. I don’t know how affected the common viewer is, but there is this shift going from film to TV and from TV to digital simply because the studio has a number of slots that it can distribute each year. It’s just a number of films they can do physically and from a cost perspective, so a lot of the projects that weren’t making it in film because the studios are shrinking moved over to TV. Projects like “Breaking Bad” and “House of Cards” that wouldn’t have taken that format potentially before were now getting the funding to do that. In my opinion, as those slots start to fill, the content is going to shift over to the digital side of things because people are starting to expect it, and people can get that experience now on their computers, which is fascinating.
In terms of the differences between the two, it’s just a matter of creative liberty and the ability to work within the confines of the system. I think the feature film world has become more restrictive because the risks are so high, but the TV world is moving at a different pace.
Where do you think the future of the entertainment production is going?
DK: You’re coming to a point in entertainment where it’s becoming hyper-specific to each person watching. You look at YouTube channels as an example. Each YouTube channel is marketed toward a very direct and specific audience. It’s women 18-24 or boys 8-12 or whatever it may be, but they’re creating content specifically for that audience. In my opinion, I think you are going to have two forms of content: one that is incredibly specific to the viewer that’s going to be primarily subsidized by advertising and branding, and then you’re going to have the other side, which is just the massive blockbusters that film companies are going to continue putting out.
This interview has been edited and condensed.