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At the annual Produced By conference in Los Angeles on Saturday morning, Viola Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, talked about their work under their JuVee Productions banner and a need for greater work-life balance in the industry.
The wide-ranging conversation, sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter, was moderated by Yvette Nicole Brown and took place at the Commissary on the Fox lot in Century City.
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Davis and Tennon started their JuVee shingle in 2011 with the mandate of producing prestige projects, across film, television and beyond, from underrepresented voices.
“The talent is there but the material is not, and after a while, you need to be the change you wanted to see,” said Davis of the decision to launch JuVee. She added: “I did not want to see another narrative where I am crying over my dead son’s body after dying from a drive-by shooting.”
“In these last five years things have started to bubble to the top,” said Tennon, who rattled off their slate that includes films, television, nonfiction and digital titles. JuVee has a first-look deal with Amazon Studios for both film and television with a slate of upcoming projects that includes The Woman King. The historical epic from TriStar Pictures, which Davis called her “magnum opus,” sees the Oscar-winner starring as a general for the Kingdom of Dahomey, one of the most powerful states of Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries.
As for the state of production, Tennon talked about a need for greater kindness, compassion and understanding in the entertainment industry, including on sets and in the workplace. “It’s time for us to think more about those things,” said Tennon. “We need to find a way to make those hours less to make productivity go up.”
When asked about creating a personal work-life balance, Davis offered: “I haven’t figured it out yet,” adding, “we live in a culture where our ideology is work-based. We meet each other exhausted.”
Davis applied the thinking to Hollywood, noting that work does not need to include a “135-hour week” and that the industry needs to foster a space where talent, both above and below the line, can express wants and needs from the workplace.
She said: “It’s my biggest complaint about the business as an artist: There is no sacred space to share. We do not create a sacred space.”
The Produced By conference runs from June 11 to June 12, with speakers that include Eva Longoria, Chris Miller and Dan Lin.
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