Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz

David Madden (Emmy-Winning Producer and Studio Executive) on Filmmaking, Major Industry Shifts, and his Pioneering New Role

August 02, 2023 Kevin Goetz / David Madden Season 2023 Episode 24
Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz
David Madden (Emmy-Winning Producer and Studio Executive) on Filmmaking, Major Industry Shifts, and his Pioneering New Role
Show Notes Transcript

Kevin is joined by David Madden, Emmy-winning producer and studio executive.

David Madden, Producer

Kevin Goetz is joined by acclaimed entertainment executive David Madden. David has had a fantastic career spanning over four decades in the film, television, and streaming industry. He's been on the front lines developing and overseeing some of the most acclaimed shows of our time. He has successfully produced movies like Runaway Bride, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, and Save the Last Dance. As president of Fox Broadcasting and AMC Studios, David helped shepherd iconic series, including The Shield, The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, and The Americans. Currently, David is head of global entertainment for Wattpad WEBTOON Studios, an innovative division of Wattpad WEBTOON built around discovering undiscovered writers and creators on its online storytelling platforms, then turning their work into movies, shows, and animated projects.

Early Career at Fox (06:55)
David talks about getting his start in the early 1980s as a script reader at Fox after months of unsuccessfully trying to get a job there. He learned the importance of giving constructive feedback on scripts rather than being snarky and dismissive.

Rising Through the Ranks (13:53)
orking his way up at Fox, David discusses collaborating with producer Robert Cort on films like Romancing the Stone. He gained insights into developing scripts and making movies more marketable. David shares his experience moving to Paramount as an executive in the mid-1980s, overseeing major box office hits like Fatal Attraction and The Untouchables.

The Sopranos and Embracing Prestige Television (18:04)
David explains having an "aha moment" watching The Sopranos, realizing television could offer the same depth and sophistication as feature films. This led him to pivot his career to focus on premium cable series.

Hits Across Cable Networks (19:50)
As an executive, David helped develop acclaimed and award-winning shows, including The Shield at FX, The Americans, The Walking Dead, and Better Call Saul.

Running Programming (21:57)
David discusses serving as President of Programming at both Fox Broadcasting and AMC Networks. At Fox, he oversaw the meteoric success of Empire.

Wattpad WEBTOON Studios (27:32)
David details his current role leading content for Wattpad WEBTOON Studios, which discovers creators on its online storytelling platforms and turns their IP into entertainment properties. David explains how Wattpad operates, with over 90 million users worldwide uploading hundreds of millions of stories.

Tune in to hear David take us on a fascinating journey from his beginnings as a script reader to overseeing some of the most acclaimed shows on television. Join Kevin and David for insightful perspectives on the major shifts happening in the business, from the disappearance of mid-budget films to the explosion of streaming. His current pioneering role at Wattpad WEBTOON Studios shows how data and technology can empower new voices and transform how content is created. David’s passion for storytelling and nurturing talent shine through in everything he does, and his career is a masterclass in adapting to industry change.

Podcast: Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz 
 Guest:  Emmy-Winning Producer and Studio Executive David Madden
 Interview Transcript:

Announcer (00:02):

There's a little-known part of Hollywood that most people are not aware of known as the audience test preview. The recently released book, Audienceology, reveals this for the first time. Our podcast series, Don't Kill the Messenger, brings this book to life, taking a peek behind the curtain. And now, join author and entertainment research expert, Kevin Goetz.

Kevin Goetz (00:23):

As many of you know, I consider myself an audience advocate. I think there's absolute wisdom in crowds, and my company Screen Engine brings moviegoers into the room where it happens, so to speak, which, borrowing from Hamilton, The Musical, we give audience members a seat at the table through their feedback at audience test screenings. The majority of studios and filmmakers actually make a lot of changes to their films based on the feedback they get so their movie's playability can be the very best it can be. My guest today, David Madden, is a veteran producer and industry executive who was hired last year by a really interesting entertainment company, which is also giving audiences a seat at the table in a different way, though. But nonetheless, they're opening the door and welcoming in both fans and creators. Wattpad WEBTOON Studios' vision is to transform entertainment by listening to fans through honest data and real-time insights and helping to make the big dreams of comic creators and web novelists come true by bringing their work to new audiences. David is head of Global Entertainment for this fan-driven company. Thank you so much for joining me today.

David Madden (01:39):

I'm very happy to be here, Kevin.

Kevin Goetz (01:40):

So, let's start at the beginning. Okay. Chicago, a young David Madden is dreaming of being in the entertainment business.

David Madden (01:48):

I only lived in Chicago till I was seven, and then I lived in Detroit till I was 12. We moved here. My father was a director in the business. He never cracked the elite level of directing, but we moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles because he really wanted to break into the feature film business. And he directed half a dozen features and a bunch of TV episodes. 

Kevin Goetz (02:06):

Had he done that back in the Midwest or?

David Madden (02:08):

In the Midwest he was working in industrial films. He was making a lot of films for car companies, and promotional films. So as I said, he came out here, we moved here in 67. He worked a fair bit for about a decade, and then actually in the last part of his career, went back to industrial films. He was kind of a big fish in that world. Never was more than a little fish in the Hollywood world. And so, ended his career back being a big fish.

Kevin Goetz (02:30):

But you absorbed a lot of that, what I'm sure you were on set with him, et cetera.

David Madden (02:35):

I was on the set with him. I moved chairs around, got people coffee as a kid. One of my first memories is he was doing a biker film after they did Hell's Angels movies. <laugh>. And I would bring coffee and whatever to the bikers, but I had a little bit of the bug. But when I was in school.

Kevin Goetz (02:50):

Harvard undergrad.

David Madden (02:51):

Harvard undergrad, UCLA grad school, I dropped out one course short of my master's. I never got it.

Kevin Goetz (02:56):

Why would you drop out after a month or a course before? Like, what is that about?

David Madden (03:01):

Because I originally thought I was going to be the great American novelist. I wrote a novel.

Kevin Goetz (03:04):

Fine, but get the degree you put all that time into.

David Madden (03:06):

Well, but I had a moment where I was sitting in a room with a bunch of other grad students and a ferocious argument broke out about the meaning of flower imagery and the novels of Henry James. And one was saying, oh, but the rose means such and such and this, no, the chrysanthemum means such and such, and that, and I had an out of body moment says, I can't do this. I cannot have a life where this is my…

Kevin Goetz (03:24):

So it was more of a declaration that I'm not going to go into this field.

David Madden (03:27):

I'm not going to be an academic. That is interesting. So, and I just had to get out, and I went and saw the registrar at UCLA who was very nice and she said, just what you said. It was one of those moments I knew I had to get out. Wow. And I was not going to spend another three months in that world. I dropped out and I, because I was living in LA, started to write scripts and I was trying to do that and, and sold a couple of things to teeny tiny companies that don't exist anymore, but wasn't really making much of a headway. And that was my next phase. 

Kevin Goetz (03:54):

And what was your first J O B?

David Madden (03:55):

So, I read an article in the LA Times that said that studios had people called readers, which I was very excited about because I knew how to read. I've been doing that for years and ran around back then in the old-fashioned way, there was no, obviously no internet then. So I would just go door to door and hand people resumes and would watch assistants crumple my resume and throw it in the trash in front of me. So, I did that for six months. And then there was a woman named Lucy Fisher, who you may remember. 

Kevin Goetz (04:18):

Who? Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher?

David Madden (04:19):

Yes. And Lucy hired me as a script reader for two weeks because somebody was filling in. And then she liked me, and she hired me as a permanent reader at Fox. 

Kevin Goetz (04:28):

She's mentored a lot of people, by the way. 

David Madden (04:29):

She was very gracious to me. 

Kevin Goetz (04:31):

I liked Lucy and Doug quite a bit.

David Madden (04:32):

She's kind and smart. And so, she hired me at Fox as a script reader. And this was when Laddie was still there. So I was doing that for him. And there was a interim person named Sandy Lieberson, who you may or may not remember. And then Sherry Lansing became head of Fox. And so I was a script reader for a year and a half. I got paid overtime, I got paid weekend. Like it was a union job. 

Kevin Goetz (04:54):

It was a real job.

David Madden (04:54):

Yeah. I was making money. But my whole thing was, I was doing that by day, but writing at night because I still thought of myself as a writer and I was writing my scripts, and I did that for a year and a half. And then Sherry Lansing became head of Fox and she liked my coverage, and after a couple of months, she offered me a junior executive job. This is 1980. Back then, there were not a lot of junior executive jobs. because every studio maybe had one. But being a sixties kid, my first instinct was, no, no, I'm not a suit, I'm not an executive. I want to write, I want to be an artist. And I thought about it really hard, and as a writer I was okay. And I read a lot of scripts that I thought, oh, those are terrible. But I read too many scripts that were better than what I was writing. And I also got fascinated by watching how movies got developed and why certain movies were chosen and how they got shepherded. So, as I talked myself through the offer Sherry made me, I took it, and I put my writing life on the back burner where it has stayed for the rest of my career and joined Fox as I was called a story editor back then.

Kevin Goetz (05:56):

You know what's so interesting to me is that I'm fascinated by this notion of the things that inform us in later in life, I often refer to finding your and, your A N D.

David Madden (06:09):

That's good.

Kevin Goetz (06:09):

And you were clearly building these blocks that were going to speak to the much more important jobs that you had later in your life and made you so successful as a producer and then as an executive.

David Madden (06:24):

You're kind to say that, Kevin. I, I guess I figure I was a classic person in my twenties trying to figure out what I was going to do.

Kevin Goetz (06:29):

There's nothing about you that's ordinary. I've always sensed a great intelligence and a real sense of taste. And now that I hear your background also, it makes total sense of why you're so good with, and why you have such a list of prestigious projects. Because you understand script, you understand the structure of script. And that's a very important element in, I find in successful executives.

David Madden (06:55):

Hey, thank you for saying that's very generous. But one thing I did learn early when I first started doing script coverage, and my first instinct was I would just write nasty comments, and I would amuse myself. I'd be flippant and be snarky, snarky. And my boss at the time called me on the carpet and said, that's not helpful. That's not really what the job is. The job is not to show off how witty you are with trashing things. Who said that to you? A woman named Lucy Spitz, who you wouldn’t know.

Kevin Goetz (07:20):

I kind of really respect that.

David Madden (07:21):

It was such an important note. And she said to me, pretend you're in the room with a writer and you're talking to that, and you're trying to make the script better. What can you say that's constructive? What can you say that's a building block? And that was very eye-opening. And it made me also think of scripts as things that were not fixed in stone, which were either to be accepted or rejected, but were things that were malleable. So, I could say, oh, I loved it up to here, but then I lost it there. Or when this character died, I went out of the script.

Kevin Goetz (07:47):

What a revelation. And I want to share something with you. It's the same with me in research.

David Madden (07:51):

Of course, of course it is.

Kevin Goetz (07:53):

So, I've had to, over the years, fight the instinct to want to editorialize the data. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but you can't do that. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, right. You have to find a very entertaining way of saying dull stuff. <laugh> often.

Kevin Goetz (08:05):

Or you have to find a way to, even more importantly, make it digestible, give the ability to have it heard. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Because if you don't do that, people will reject right up front. When we do focus groups, for example, we always start with the positives. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yes. I will absolutely say, what are your favorite scenes and parts to start. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I don't say, so what did you bump up against? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, what didn't, why didn't you rate this movie excellent? Why did you give it a very good or a good, but not an excellent? I start with the positive and it allows the filmmakers and the creators and the studio executives who are as if they are the creators, because they're so invested in, to hear the rest of the notes. Yeah. Because wow, they really like this stuff. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

David Madden (08:47):

It's very similar and I've been to many screenings with you in the past. And it is that same process of looking at something as like, it's not finished. It can be changed, it can be moved, it can be malleable. What would make it better? Obviously, it's infinitely easier to do that with script than it is with a shot film. But it is the same instinct. It's the most important skill that somebody, I think, in any version of my job, whether they call themselves a producer or executive or whatever they do, is to look at something, whether it's a script, whether it's a, whether you're hearing a verbal pitch, whether it's a film, and just to have a point of view about what could make it work in its best possible form.

Kevin Goetz (09:23):

Well, and what you said is it's sort of a living being in a way because it's never static. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there's evolution that happens in an artistic piece and whether it's a movie, a television project, a novel, whatever it may be. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it is what you're reading at that moment in time. Yeah. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so you are often asked to give your point of view or where to go from here. Yep. And when that happens, you can do it in a very candid but kind way. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but also know that as you said, it's not stuck in stone. Yeah. And I always try to be encouraging, even if it's a challenged movie, to lead people to the place of actionable insights, to improve satisfaction levels, what's landing better, what's less confusing, et cetera. It's such a good analogy. Wow. I'm really blown away by that kind of parallel in both of our fields. For sure. So what happens with your time at Fox as a junior executive? I know you went from there to Paramount as an executive before joining Robert Cort in Cort/Madden.

David Madden (10:32):


Kevin Goetz (10:33):

Now at Paramount you were a more senior executive.

David Madden (10:36):

I was. I worked for two people who are no longer with us, Ned Tanen and Dawn Steel. This was in the mid-eighties. Sure. And I worked on a bunch of those movies. The Untouchables, Children of a Lesser God, Fatal Attraction, The Accused, the first Naked Gun movie.

Kevin Goetz (10:49):

You were with me during all those Fatal Attraction.

David Madden (10:52):

I, oh, I was, I was.

Kevin Goetz (10:54):

I mean, so many people talk about that as one of the seminal research examples, I guess, of success using data. Yeah. And using research and audience reaction. Yep. We won't get into the story now as many have heard it. Yep. And it's in my book, Audienceology. Yeah. I remember that time was a real turning point in my own career. Of learning what the power of what we did could actually manifest, You mentioned we should call out Robert Cort, who I consider a mentor and somebody who is, I think, a legend and a giant in our business. He came from marketing, and then started a very successful run as a producer. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> Movie after movie he just got made. Yeah. One after the other. For sure. How did you meet him and how did you align with him?

David Madden (11:45):

So, this was back at Fox when I first became a junior executive. And I found myself, although I was very happy to be promoted, I found myself flailing a little bit because there were certain kinds of movies that I wanted to try to do that weren't really Sherry's taste. And I was very junior, so I had a hard time getting her to buy anything. When Robert came over, when Sherry came over in 1980, Sherry's running production, Robert was running marketing about a year into him running marketing he wanted to get into the production side and got Sherry's blessing and, and their boss's blessing, a guy named Alan Hirschfield to move over. So, Robert became, I believe, an executive vice president of production. I was still a junior story editor, but he came in at this very high level, not having really read scripts before, except the scripts of things that were actually getting made.

David Madden (12:31):

Not having sat with writers, not having been exposed to that side of the business, not really being a writer type of person, but he had a lot of influence with Sherry, and he could get her to buy things. So we got introduced, although he was far senior to me on the hierarchy of Fox, we actually had a very kind of mutually beneficial relationship. He taught me a lot about the business of the business, certainly about how to make movies marketable and how to have a big-picture perspective on movies. And I will presumptuously say I've taught him a little bit of how to work with writers and how you got to give writers notes. So we collaborated a lot of movies. He is the senior person, I, as the junior person. We did Romancing the Stone together. We did a variety of other movies we worked on together. Then when I went to Paramount, he stayed at Fox and then Ted Field recruited him to come to Interscope, so he was at Interscope for three years before I got there. And when I left Paramount, Robert very kindly asked me to join him at Interscope. He was right in the throes of finishing Three Men and a Baby when I got there. 

Kevin Goetz (13:29):

Oh yeah, that little movie.

David Madden (13:30):

That little movie.

Kevin Goetz (13:31):

That was a tremendous hit.

David Madden (13:32):

It was the biggest movie of 1987. And later, I got to work with him on the sequel to it, which was not as successful. We did a movie called Cocktail, which was heavily influenced by research. If you want to talk about that. <laugh>. 

Kevin Goetz (13:44):

Oh, I told that story in the book, it’s in the book.

David Madden (13:45):

Oh, that's right. Of course it is.

Kevin Goetz (13:45):

And I have to confess, it's one of my three favorite stories in the entire book.

David Madden (13:49):

It’s a great, it's a great story. 

Kevin Goetz (13:51):

It is a great story, and during a writer's strike.

David Madden (13:53):

I've mentioned it many times just in the course of going through that. So, I was with him at Interscope from 87 to 95, and towards the last part of that run, Interscope was bought by a company called Polygram. Doesn't quite exist anymore. Which was one of those acquisitions that at first seemed good and then seemed not so good. So, the company kind of split apart. And Robert and I left and formed a company together, which we wittily named the Cort/Madden Company, and made a deal with Sherry. Things circle around at Paramount. And so we had a producing deal together for the next four years or so and worked on Runaway Bride and some other movies during that period. And then, around 2000, we were making a movie called Save the Last Dance, and I spent about six months in Chicago making that movie. And during the course of it, the studio and their infinite wisdom decided that they were not interested in making a new deal with us.

Kevin Goetz (14:46):

So, let's go back to Save the Last Dance. Okay. So, and this might inform why they didn't want to at the time mm-hmm. <affirmative> until it opened. Yep. And I'm sure they had a change of heart. It might've been too late by then. Yes. Save the Last Dance, if I recall, was a movie that was terrific, but no one wanted to see it on paper. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, meaning the recruit ratio. And I explained that in a previous show, a recruit ratio is how many invitations does it take to get one body in the theater? Yep. In the case of Save the Last Dance, it was a 26 to 1 ratio. Mm. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I mean people, you couldn't pay people to see the movie. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And if, if you remember, we did screening after screening, I remember on the Paramount lot primarily. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then, to make matters worse, there was another movie, I believe, at Sony called Center Stage.

Kevin Goetz (15:31):

Yep. Ballet movie, Center Stage was a ballet movie. Now I will tell you that I couldn't get enough. I loved that movie, but no one else did. Or very few did, and it did not work. Right. And everyone thought Save the Last Dance was doomed as another dance movie. Little did they know that you created an interracial romance, you had a diverse cast. There was a tremendous authenticity to the movie. And the movie took off and was a big hit. Mm-hmm. And now I'll let you finish the story of from that point, they didn't want to renew your deal. I imagine they didn't renew it before the movie came out.

David Madden (16:10):

No, you're exactly right. We were about halfway through shooting and we were shooting dead of winter in Chicago. If we've been there blasting wake off Lake Michigan, really cold. I was out doing night exterior shoots. And about halfway through shooting our executive called and said, you know, we're really not happy with the dailies. We're frustrated with the movie and we're not going to pick up your deal. Which was incredibly encouraging to hear when you're suffering night after night in this cold weather. So that was…

Kevin Goetz (16:34):

But a blessing in disguise.

David Madden (16:36):

A blessing in disguise. And the movie made a lot of money for us.

Kevin Goetz (16:39):

And farnered a sequel.

David Madden (16:40):

And garnered a sequel, and there was an effort, which Robert was involved in, I wasn't, a year or two ago to try to turn it into a television series.

Kevin Goetz (16:47):

Right, I remember Bob telling me about that.

David Madden (16:48):

Yeah. Which didn't happen then, but who knows, life is long. So, when I got back from Chicago, while we were finishing the movie, Robert and I were trying to figure out what to do. We tried to find a deal someplace else, we, we couldn't. And so we kind of had to go our separate ways because I needed to find something to do. And at that point, as you remember, you were a feature person, you were a TV person, very different planets.

Kevin Goetz (17:12):

Actors, development executives, et cetera. Absolutely. 

David Madden (17:15):

Yeah, so there was, there was no.

Kevin Goetz (17:17):

Let's face it, the hierarchy was film.

David Madden (17:19):

Of course, of course it was. But at least for me and for Robert in a different way, the kinds of movies we were making in the eighties and nineties were starting to disappear. The mid-range movie was starting to disappear. The kind of psychological thrillers, the character comedies, the romcoms, those studios were getting more and more focused on the big tent poles or the smaller kind of like poorer movies or things that were cheaper that you could get open quickly. But the mid-range, the sort of 40, 50, 60 million dollar movie that would still cost you $80 million to market worldwide was becoming a kind of movie that didn't pencil out anymore.

Kevin Goetz (17:55):

And let's jump forward 20 years, they're non-existent.

David Madden (17:59):

And they're non-existent now. But that was starting to become clear.

Kevin Goetz (18:03):

But yeah, it's just, it's impossible. Yeah.

David Madden (18:04):

Yeah, and so in my snobbery, I did not watch television through eighties and nineties until The Sopranos and The Sopranos was my gateway drug back into tv. Watching that show, I was kind of staggered by how deep character went and how complicated and how sophisticated and that how that storytelling was. Which was certainly as good as most, if not as good as any movie that you could watch. And that made me sort of curious about, oh, TV could do that, well then what else can TV do? The Sopranos was the, the gem of that moment. But there were other interesting things that were being done in that medium as well. And so, as I was trying to figure out what to do, and at first all I was looking at was features, but then I got offered a job at Fox going back to Fox through Peter Chernin, who was running Fox then to run the movie for television business that they were doing for a part of Fox that no longer exists.

David Madden (18:54):

But back then it was called Fox TV Studios, which was designed to make movies for what were then the three Fox Networks, FBC, FX, what was then the Fox Family Channel, which later became ABC family, which then is now Freeform. And each of those networks was going to make five or six movies a year. And I was supposed to supply those movies. And I was so ignorant and naive about television that I didn't realize that movies for television, nobody cared about them. But I thought it'd be a way to learn about tv. And so I took this job, and we were making movies for those networks until very quickly, Fox Family Channel got sold. FBC said, well this is a dumb business doing TV movies, we should just do series. And FX was making a trickle of movies, maybe a movie or two a year. So, then we started trying to make movies for the other networks for CBS and NBC and ABC, which we did for a bit until basically all the networks we're getting out of the TV movie business, which used to be a gigantic staple of network schedules but is no longer. And I should have been fired.

Kevin Goetz (19:48):

What year are we in right now?

David Madden (19:50):

Probably 2002 or three, something like that. Okay. So I should have been fired. And I kinda went to Peter Chernin and said, you probably should fire me because I'm not able to do the job you hired me to do. But by total luck, accident, fluke, we had gotten a show on FX, the first FX drama called The Shield. And we won the Emmy year one for best actor, Michael Chiklis. And the show took what was then sort of a joke of a network, FX, and suddenly gave it credibility. So, Peter said in the wake of that, well, why don't just focus on cable series? You know, that seems like it's a thing that's coming. Do that and forget about TV movies. And that sort of led to…

Kevin Goetz (20:28):

To how that evolved.

David Madden (20:28):

To the next chapter of my career was for the next, basically about 10 years working in the cable series business. And

Kevin Goetz (20:35):

And you were sort of, at least in the outside perception, kind of a golden boy because you were shepherding a lot of really good projects. Well

David Madden (20:43):

Well, we certainly had our share of failure. There were certainly shows that didn’t work.

Kevin Goetz (20:46):

Who wants to talk about <laugh> failures?

David Madden (20:48):

<laugh>? No, that's true. No, we, it was an interesting time. I mean, we did a show called The Killing, which was one of the big prestige shows for AMC. We did a bunch of shows for the USA Network, Burn Notice, White Collar, Graceland, Queen of the South, which were not as prestigious, but incredibly commercial, incredibly successful. Very successful. Yeah. We did a show called The Americans that ran six years, terrific show. Won the Emmy for best drama its final year. And we were on this good run. Then in 2014, I was working for Dana Walden, who was then at Fox and she and Gary Newman, and they went to oversee the broadcast network, Fox Broadcasting, and asked me to come and become president of programming, overseeing scripted and unscripted everything. So, I wasn't really a big broadcast TV watcher, but that was the kind of job you don't turn down.

Kevin Goetz (21:32):

And that was when you stopped returning my calls <laugh>. Totally joking. Totally joking.

David Madden (21:35):

I never, never, never. So, I was there three years, which was fascinating because we had 15 hours of original programming every week, because you couldn't repeat anything. So, we're doing scripted, unscripted, everything. And it was just this kind of assembly line of move, move, move, buy things, make things, order things, give notes, move on to the next thing. 

Kevin Goetz (21:55):

What a learning experience though. I mean, wow.

David Madden (21:57):

And it was when I got there and we were about to launch a show called Empire, which became the big broadcast show of that moment.

Kevin Goetz (22:06):

I watched every episode.

David Madden (22:06):

Oh thank you. Which was like a phenomenon and then kind of fell apart. But while it was hot, it was, it was…

Kevin Goetz (22:12):

It was so wildly, wildly successful, huge. And with an all African American, or principally African American cast.

David Madden (22:18):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Kevin Goetz (22:18):

And yet it attracted a lot of cross-racial, cultural, ethnic boundaries. It was just a phenomenon.

David Madden (22:27):

It was an amazing thing to watch. And one of those shows…

Kevin Goetz (22:29):

Brian Grazer was a producer on it. And of course, Lee Daniels was creator.

David Madden (22:33):

Yep. With Danny Strong and a bunch of other shows. And you mentioned Brooklyn Nine-Nine was on, and we did a version of Grease Live with Tommy Kail, who directed Hamilton, which you mentioned earlier. And we won five Emmys for that show.

Kevin Goetz (22:43):

And that was probably, to me, the best of…

David Madden (22:45):

Live musicals.

Kevin Goetz (22:46):

Musicals. And it was meant for your medium.

David Madden (22:50):

Yes, absolutely.

Kevin Goetz (22:51):

Right. Not necessarily some of the other shows, yes. That were Broadway hits but didn't necessarily work on television.

David Madden (22:59):

Look, truly Tommy Kail, who's, like I said, director of Hamilton, we both work in a business where we overuse the word genius. Tommy Kail is a genius. He's just one of those people who sees the world a different way and sees how to stage things. And just, he worked on it for about a year before we actually put it on for the one night. We telecast it different stages of prepping it, but just, he had a mind that saw things that I would never see. But, so I was there three years, and then what I ultimately came to realize was I missed what you were kind enough to call sort of more prestigious shows. I missed the speed of it, the factory of it was so hard to get anything that was genuinely great. I wanted to go back to doing cable shows.

David Madden (23:36):

I wanted to do shows that would now be thought of as streaming shows. And I got an offer to go to AMC and run programming for their four networks, AMC, BBC America, IFC, and Sundance, to run programming for those four networks. A guy named Charlie Collier, who I worked with on The Killing offered me that job. And so I went over there. So then I took over The Walking Dead franchise and Fear the Walking Dead and Better Call Saul, and we launched Killing Eve while I was there. So that was fun. And two things happened. One, the economic model for basic cable was starting to fall apart, and it was becoming clear that it was not going to work in the long run. I mean, AMC is still around, but they're not clearly where they used to be back in the heyday of Mad Men and Breaking Bad and the early stages of The Walking Dead. And then Charlie, my boss, left and replaced by somebody who, suffice to say, it was time for me to move on. We’ll leave it at that, I'll leave it at that. And then, then I left to go run the television side of Greg Berlanti’s company for a while, which was just before Covid hit, actually.

Kevin Goetz (24:38):

And then we will pick this up when we come back after this message. I love saying that when we come back after these messages.

Announcer (24:50):

Get a glimpse into a secret part of Hollywood that few are aware of and that filmmakers rarely talk about in the new book Audienceology by Kevin Goetz. Each chapter is filled with never before revealed inside stories and interviews from famous studio chiefs, directors, producers, and movie stars, bringing the art and science of audienceology into focus. Audienceology, How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love, from Tiller Press at Simon and Schuster. Available now.

Kevin Goetz (25:22):

We're back with David Madden. Wow, I'm so struck by the fact that as the industry has evolved, you have evolved with the business. When you mentioned before about the seminal show being The Sopranos, for you. My moment of sort of reckoning when I realized that movie theater going was changed forever, was something I've talked about in the past where I was in the Hamptons once. And to get to where we were in Amagansett to East Hampton is quite a schlep to get to the theater because of the traffic. I had a couple of scotches, we were in the pool, my husband's like, we gotta go to see this movie. And it was an independent movie. And now that summer I had already seen, I think it was Dunkirk and I think Spider-Man or something. It was two very big theatrical worthy pictures, but this one wasn't.

Kevin Goetz (26:11):

And we had a girlfriend staying with us and she said, I want to watch Handmaid's Tale. Hmm. And so I said, as I was about to go into the shower to get ready, Neil, can we not go to <laugh> the theater tonight? I want to stay home and I'm feeling nice and let's just, so we watched Handmaid's Tale, and it changed my perspective forever. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that was my seminal moment. Interesting. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because I realized the depth, the look, the production values, the artistic nature of it, blew me away. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And that changed my understanding of why people can stay at their home and get a very satisfying experience. Mm-hmm. And I ended up watching, at that time, I believe, three and a half or two and a half episodes. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and then couldn't wait for the next. Mm-hmm. And I said, aha. It was the aha moment. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So you had an aha moment somewhat recently with your latest gig. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which is called Wattpad WEBTOON, which I guess is a really innovative approach to democratizing, I guess IP, giving people, the audience, once again, the opportunity to show their creative stuff to the world. Can you tell us about the company and a little bit about why you made that transition to yet another evolution in our business?

David Madden (27:32):

Sure. So after I left Berlanti, I actually thought I was just going to set up my own production company, a pod, if you will. And was negotiating with a studio to do that. But I was very skittish about it because it has become almost impossible in either television or film, as you know, to sell an original idea. I mean, maybe if you walk in with Aaron Sorkin on the right day, you can, but it's very difficult to do. And all anybody talks is IP, and is there a preexisting audience, is there a preexisting fan base for whatever you're trying to sell? And as I'm thinking about myself trying to do this as an independent producer, I'm thinking, how am I ever going to get any IP? Who's going to give me anything? You know, Marvel is not going to call me up and say, here, go run around town with Spider-Man. So I'm feeling kind of paralyzed as I'm trying to negotiate this deal. And I got a call from a headhunter saying, are you interested in joining Wattpad WEBTOON Studios? And to be honest, I didn't know what that was, but I had a number of meetings with, with a number of people. And every meeting made me more excited and more fascinated by the company.

Kevin Goetz (28:28):

And here's what I heard about it before you continue, I heard that the movie After was on this thing called Wattpad. Yep. And I'm like, this is a phenomenon. I'm hearing about it through all these different channels. And then I got a call to test the movie and it was one of the easiest recruits that we had done, which meant, as I said, so many people wanted to see this. It was in the zeitgeist.

David Madden (28:54):

A hundred percent.

Kevin Goetz (28:55):

And that's all I knew about it.

David Madden (28:56):

After is the most successful title on Wattpad.

Kevin Goetz (28:59):

And has spawned how many, six iterations?

David Madden (29:02):

Six movies have come out so far. They're working on After 7

Kevin Goetz (29:05):

Well, if that is not an advertisement for the company and what you particularly do with it, I don't know what is.

David Madden (29:12):

Well, you're right. So basically, just describe the company a bit. There are two platforms, separate platforms, Wattpad and WEBTOON. Wattpad originated about 15 years ago. It has become the leading platform for web digital novels in the world. 90 million subscribers, 55 languages are represented on Wattpad. People upload a chapter at a time. Authors do. So sort of like your experience with Handmaid's Tale that you're describing a minute ago, people will put a chapter up, two chapters up a week.

Kevin Goetz (29:38):

It's up to the people to do it, not you.

David Madden (29:40):

The authors put it up.

Kevin Goetz (29:40):

Authors also create the cadence.

David Madden (29:43):

Authors create the cadence. It's recommended they put up a chapter a week or a couple chapters a week. But this is all user-generated content. The authors are putting their material up there. We do not curate it.

Kevin Goetz (29:52):

Is it ad supported?

David Madden (29:53):

It is ad supported. So that's how we make some money. There are other ways we do, but that's a prime way. So, anybody can put their story on Wattpad, unless something is obscene or offensive.

Kevin Goetz (30:03):

Who curates it?

David Madden (30:04):

Nobody curates it.

Kevin Goetz (30:05):

Well, how do they know if it's obscene or offensive?

David Madden (30:07):

Well, we monitor that. I see. And there's a lot of technology towards making sure something does not, because we are very careful. A lot of our audience is young. We want to make sure that they're protected. That's a very, very important thing. But we actually don't know how many stories are on the platform, because people are uploading every day somewhere in the hundreds of millions. But there is no exact count.

Kevin Goetz (30:24):

Hundreds of millions of stories?

David Madden (30:25):

This is around the world. There's 90 million subscribers. 

Kevin Goetz (30:29):

So how do you cut through the noise?

David Madden (30:30):

Exactly the right question to ask. So, like for example, Netflix, like things that have a lot of data. People, when they read a story, they will like it, they'll recommend it, or they won't. Every story on there is heavily tagged, and authors encouraged to tag their stories in the most detailed possible way. So, if you go on the platform tomorrow and you say, oh, I want to read a horror story, I want to read a romance, I want to read an action-adventure, I want to read something with pirates, you go on there and type that in. And the platform will say to you, the top 10 things that are about pirates are these 10 things.

Kevin Goetz (31:00):

So, the 90 million then gets down to 825,000 people who love those type of similar...

David Madden (31:08):

Yes, the platform guides you towards the things, genres, and so forth towards the genres you like. I love that. So, it genuinely is a meritocracy where the best story wins. And I'm sure there…

Kevin Goetz (31:17):

Well, first it's not first; it's just simply helping curate what you would be interested in. Yes. The next part is the meritocracy. Correct? 

David Madden (31:24):

Yes, that's right. And I'm sure there are many, many, many titles on the platform who only somebody's grandmother has read. But there also are many that sort of get word of mouth, and they rise to the top of the platform metaphorically. So, we measure by things called reads. Reads does not mean somebody has read something from start to finish. Reads means somebody has gone on a chapter and read a chapter.

Kevin Goetz (31:45):

A full chapter.

David Madden (31:46):

Or they could have gone on for a portion of time and dropped off. We do know how many people have finished, so we have a lot of data. But the key thing is how many reads something has. So, there are things that have millions of reads, tens of millions of reads, hundreds of millions of reads. And when something reads, has a certain threshold number of reads, which tends to be about a hundred thousand. So, it clearly has some fan base, some audience. It will then go to what's called a content group, which exists in Toronto, which is the home base of Wattpad. And they'll read that stuff, all that stuff. It's like whole melange of book scouts. And then anything they think could be remotely a movie, a show, something animated, they send to us in Los Angeles and our group reads it, and I have a film group with TV group and animation group. And then we cherry pick. And you run that group? And I run that group and then we pick the things that we actually want to try to make.

Kevin Goetz (32:32):

Now when you say make them, option them to sell them to others, make them yourself?

David Madden (32:38):

So, mostly the first, mostly option them to sell them to others. Anything that's on Wattpad, WEBTOON, is a little different. I'll get to WEBTOON in a second. Everything that's on Wattpad, we haven't paid for it, we don't own it, the writer owns it. So when something reaches our awareness and we say, oh, that could be a thing, we reach out to the author, we make a deal with the author.

Kevin Goetz (32:55):

This must be a hope and a dream of most of the people.

David Madden (32:58):

Most our authors are very happy to get this phone call.

Kevin Goetz (33:00):

I was just going to say, that's gotta be a great phone call.

David Madden (33:02):

So, and it usually goes well. And then we usually, we'll try to find a partner, some producing partner, some way of packaging something, because as you well know, it takes a village to sell anything. 

Kevin Goetz (33:13):

And let's go back to the buying though. I can imagine this. It's gotta be a bit of a nightmare because when you have neophytes who have never sold IP, a lot of them have heard the stories. And the reason they're stories is because they're, uh, Sylvester Stallone held out with Rocky and he's not going to, and you know, I want full control, and I want to direct it. And do you find that you get more of that than you did in your other parts of your career? Do you know what I mean? Yes. A lot more than you'll ever give them.

David Madden (33:40):

Look, there are certainly deals that don't work. There are certain people who are maybe more ambitious.

Kevin Goetz (33:45):

Delusions of grandeur. <laugh>

David Madden (33:47):

A little bit, but I think honestly, not a higher percentage. I would say that you would find if you're dealing with a book that was published by Random House of Simon Schuster. Oh, okay. And you know, anybody who is at first perhaps overly ambitious, we'll reach out to directly, we'll try to have a one-on-one conversation. We'll try to explain to them what the marketplace is. And frankly, we're basically saying to the author, if we can get you, you know, half a million dollars for your book, we'll pass it through to you. So, then we'll try to find a way to package it. Certainly try to find a writer who has a point of view about it, how they want to adapt it. Maybe a director, maybe another fellow producer. And then we'll go take it to partners. Now we actually did finance our first film end of last year called Bootcamp, which Screen Engine was kind enough to do a research screening for us, which was a small movie, a $5 million movie, but charming based on a Wattpad story with 28 million reads called Bootcamp, which was basically a young romantic comedy, a young girl.

Kevin Goetz (34:43):

Why did you decide to finance that one as opposed to selling it? Could you not sell it?

David Madden (34:49):

Experiment, just see if it would work.

Kevin Goetz (34:50):

That's what I want to know.

David Madden (34:51):

Yeah, look, Wattpad is, and you'll respect this, an incredibly powerful marketing engine when there's a title that means something. We had a movie that we did. We didn't really produce it, but our names were on it. We were loosely involved called Perfect Addiction based on a Wattpad story. Nobody in it that you would recognize again a sort of a young romantic drama in that case, in the vein of After, very much in that vein. We sold it to Amazon for every place but the US. When they released the movie in March, nobody in It. I'm sure you've never heard of the title. When it went out, it was number one in 37 countries and no less than number three anywhere in the world. Why? Because of Wattpad. Because we were able to get to our audience and say, if you like the book, if you've heard of the book, this movie's coming for you. And unlike Barnes and Noble, where if you buy a book at Barnes and Noble, Barnes and Noble is not calling you two months later and saying, hey, they're making a movie out of that book you bought. But our audience is on our platforms weekly, daily.

Kevin Goetz (35:51):

Do they have to sign an agreement giving you like first right of refusal? No. No. Why don't you do that <laugh>?

David Madden (35:57):

Because the goal is to…

Kevin Goetz (35:59):

No, because you said these book agents and so forth are scouring it also. Well, so they could beat you to the punch.

David Madden (36:04):

They could. But we know our data because part of the experience of a Wattpad book, and this I think will interest you because I don't know if you've noticed this, when you read a Wattpad book, you can read it like a normal book, but you can also go read the book and anytime something happens that interests you, you can write in the digital margins and say, that was awesome, that was horrible, I love that, I hated that. The authors can see how people respond. Wow. The readers can say, oh, most people agree with me, or most people totally just disagreed with me. So it's a combination of traditional reading and social media kind of smooshed into one experience.

Kevin Goetz (36:33):

I just think it's the greatest IP engine. 

David Madden (36:37):

I want to also make sure I'm covering WEBTOON as well. So, the other half of our company, WEBTOON, started in Korea. Seoul WEBTOON is a subset actually of a much larger company called Naver. N A V E R, which is the kind of Amazon slash Google of Korea. Also started 15 years ago. It's become the world's largest portal for graphic digital, graphic novels, and comics in the world. 85 million subscribers to that platform. So, between the two, about 180 million people that we're reaching on a regular basis, almost everything in English, a little bit in Korean, but almost everything in English. All sorts of different titles, genres, et cetera. So, for example, there is a show on Netflix called Heart Stopper, which is kind of a brilliant queer love story set in a British boarding school that started on WEBTOON. There's a whole bunch of animated titles on Netflix from Sweet Home, All of Us Were Dead, Hellbound, that started as WEBTOONs. Parenthetically, Netflix had made a movie called The Kissing Booth, which spawned two sequels, which was also based on a Wattpad story. So both companies, Wattpad and WEBTOON had seen people come, whether it was after Heart Stopper, et cetera, take titles off the platform and get them made. They decided when the two companies merged, which was about two years ago, WEBTOON had deeper pockets, so essentially they acquired Wattpad. Why don't we hire people and actually try to make things ourselves and become more of an entrepreneurial engine. So they started hiring people. I started last July. So, we now have a film group, a TV group, an animation group. As I said, we're making as we speak shows in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines. I think about 10 shows across those four countries.

Kevin Goetz (38:09):

Who’s paying for those shows?

David Madden (38:10):

We sell 'em to partners, they're local.

Kevin Goetz (38:11):

None of the others are like the first experiment. Those are all…

David Madden (38:15):

And in television, we're not going to finance television. That's a whole, no television platform wants your money, needs your money. So that's a very different game than the feature film game. We made a movie in Spain last year called Through My Window for Netflix. When it came out for Netflix, it was their number four non-English language movie of all time. There's a sequel to that movie coming out June 23rd. I don't know if we're before or after that. When people are listening to this podcast.

Kevin Goetz (38:39):

That will have happened already.

David Madden (38:40):

<laugh> And a following sequel, a threequel, I guess whatever you'd call that will be out in the fall. So we are developing things in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Brazil. So I have a person in Jakarta. I have a person in Manila, I have a person in Madrid, I have a person in Paris. So we have this whole international business based on the power of WEBTOON and Wattpad to reach those audiences everywhere in the world.

Kevin Goetz (39:00):

Are you not inundated with the studios and the streamers calling you constantly for material? I mean you are the premier resource. I can only imagine. 

David Madden (39:09):

Inundated is a big word, but there's a lot of interest.

Kevin Goetz (39:11):

You have hundreds of millions of stories. I bet your biggest challenge is having to curate and find the needle in the haystack because there's a lot of bad stuff out there. There's a lot, there's a lot. Let's do a shout-out to our writers who are on strike right now to say you can appreciate the professional writer because you see how many people struggle and how many sort of, everyone has an idea, and 99% of them are probably not very good.

David Madden (39:34):

That is true. Yeah. You're exactly right. But the successful ones get the attention. So, for example, there's a title on WEBTOON called Tower of God, which has won all sorts of Eisner Awards, which are the big comic book awards, and been on the New York Times lists for genre stuff and graphic novels. It has 6.4 billion reads, billion, and we are in the middle of trying to package that particular property in a really interesting way.

Kevin Goetz (39:57):

Once you have 6.4 billion views, do you have a marketing department that then sort of leverages that so that you even increase or certainly keep them activated?

David Madden (40:08):

Well, one thing we do with our most successful titles is we actually do publish them in bookstores. So also, beyond what's on the online platforms, we have an actual publishing business. So, you can go to Barnes and Noble, you can go to all those places and find the most successful books. So for authors whose desires and sales warrant a physical hardcover, softcover, whatever, we give them that experience. 

Kevin Goetz (40:33):

Who started this?

David Madden (40:33):

Who started the company? Yeah. Well, again, two separate companies. Wattpad was started by a guy named Allen Lau, who is no longer involved in the company. WEBTOON sort of evolved in a complicated way. The chairman of our company who's been with it since the beginning, is a guy named JunKoo Kim. It is again, a company that is based in Seoul, but it's a big giant company. We have a big chunk of people in LA, people all over the world. So it's a very ambitious company. And you know the real goal is to make these Wattpad and WEBTOON meaningful brands.

Kevin Goetz (41:06):

It is an extraordinary model, and they are lucky to have David Madden. Lemme tell you. I'm not. It's absolutely the truth. This has been a fascinating interview, and I'm very grateful that you came in and spoke to me today.

David Madden (41:22):

Well, Kevin, you're always fun to talk to. We've known each other a long time, you're a friend, and I appreciate the invitation.

Kevin Goetz (41:27):

To our listeners, I hope you enjoyed our interview. I encourage you to check out the Wattpad and WEBTOON websites, as well as David's other films and shows we discussed today. For other stories like this one, please check out my book, Audienceology, at Amazon, or through my website at You can also follow me on my social media at KevinGoetz360. Next time on Don't Kill the Messenger, I'll welcome legendary studio executive, film producer, and entertainment journalist Peter Bart. Until then, I'm Kevin Goetz, and to you, our listeners, I appreciate you being part of the movie-making process. Your opinions matter.
Host: Kevin Goetz
Guests: David Madden
Producer:  Kari Campano
Writers: Kevin Goetz, Darlene Hayman, Kari Campano
Audio Engineer & Editor: Gary Forbes
Produced at DG Entertainment, Los Angeles