Producer credits crackdown

Joseph Turner White: What’s an associate producer credit?

Bill Smith: It’s what you give to your secretary instead of a raise.

       —David Mamet‘s State and Main

These days, it seems that secretaries are receiving producer credits, and it’s making the Producers Guild of America hopping mad. The guild is hoping to use the recent writers’ talks-during which writers’ and directors’ credits on a film were a hot-button issue–as a springboard to finally clear up what it means to be a producer, and what it takes to get a producer’s credit.

Managers, financiers, partners and the occasional hairdresser all seem to find their way onto film credits these days as producers.

Memorial Day blockbuster Pearl Harbor has 13 producers credited with the birthing of the film. But that’s not as uncommon as it sounds.

3,000 Miles to Graceland, which opened earlier this year and starred Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner, lists 10 producers. Last year’s Scary Movie had a frightening number of producers: 11.

A pair of 1997 flicks, Face/Off starring Nicolas Cage, and G.I. Jane starring Demi Moore, each credited 10 producers. Sylvester Stallone‘s 1995 actioner Assassins set the modern-day record with 17 producers.

Quiz Show, an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, originally had 13 producers. Two were so embarrassed at the lengthy role call they took their names off the list, hoping to induce others to do the same.

Assassins was recently tied by the Samuel L. Jackson whodunit The Caveman’s Valentine, which has one director, one writer, one cinematographer, one costume designer, but apparently needed 17 producers.

It’s a well-known Hollywood secret that the managers of Sharon Stone, John Travolta and Keanu Reeves often take producer credits for films their clients work on.

“This is Hollywood, so you have to kiss people in. I make 15 movies a year, so I don’t fight it. I’ve got too many movies to make,” producer Elie Samaha (Angel Eyes, Driven, The Caveman’s Valentine) told the Los Angeles Times.

All of this has watered down the title of producer. Sure, there are such heavyweight producers as Barry Levinson or Jerry Bruckheimer who don’t have to share billing with anyone, but it’s definitely hurting the careers of many fine producers.

The Producers Guild of America is trying to fight back.

The PGA is taking a two-pronged attack to combat fraudulent producer credits. It will add an onscreen symbol, a Golden Laurel, for those producers who fulfill the guild’s producer requirements for a particular film. Eventually, it will introduce a credit arbitration service for producers similar to the one run by the Writers Guild of America for writers.

“The PGA has attempted to create a legitimate accreditation process for producers,” Vance Van Patten, the PGA’s executive director, said Wednesday. “The process involves a comprehensive review of the producing role, a conceptually sound mechanism for measuring an individual’s involvement in that role, and a legitimate system for the consistent application of that mechanism.”

To that end the PGA queried some of Hollywood’s top producers to identify and enumerate specific production functions. The PGA then whittled that list down to 42 duties; 17 pre-production, 13 during production, and 12 post-production. (The complete list can be seen here.)

A producer must prove that he fulfilled at least half of those duties to qualify for a Golden Laurel from the PGA. No more than three producers per film will be able to receive a Golden Laurel.

The studios and distributors, however, hold current control over the attribution of producer credits. The producer credit is the only one in the studios’ hands and unprotected by a governing body, and they are not going to accede that control easily or voluntarily. The WGA, by contrast, holds that power for writers, and not the studios.

The PGA is using its Golden Laurel Awards as a driving reason to convince producers to live up to the currently voluntary procedures. Only producers accredited by the PGA are eligible to win the awards, which are seen as equivalent to the Screen Actors Guild or Directors Guild Awards.

“The first step of the process has been the hardest, gaining approval and legitimacy in our own community of producers,” Van Patten told the New York Times. We’ve won that war. Oh, there are still a few skirmishes with certain producers who won’t want to be told what they can and cannot do with their credits, but they are seeing the light, too.”

In related union news, contract negotiations between the actors’ unions–Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists–and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers resumed Wednesday under an air of optimism that a strike can be avoided. Despite just 32 days remaining on the current contract, the actors aren’t taking a hard, militant line, Variety reports.

British actors also will start their own talks with British producers, which mirror those that are ongoing here in the United States. Equity, the UK actors’ union, has threatened that while a strike is a last measure, it is possible. Talks between Equity and the producers’ union PACT start on Friday, Reuters reports.