Studios stall on adopting PGA code of credits

Org got a boost as AMPAS follows guild's accreditation system

A year ago, leaders of the Producers Guild of America announced their org had finally found a way to halt the proliferation of undeserved producer credits.

“Our industry needs to defend the definition of a producer and restore the legitimacy of the job,” declared PGA president Kathleen Kennedy. “The PGA has now provided the mechanism for that to happen.”

After five years of work, the PGA had unveiled a Code of Credits process for determining the “produced by” credit for features and the executive producing credit in TV. The code attaches specific weight to the producer functions:

  • 30% for development

  • 20% for pre-production

  • 20% for production

  • 30% for post-production and marketin

The org’s officers proclaimed they were optimistic at least one or two studios would sign on soon and also promised it would take studios and nets to court as being in violation of the state’s false-advertising statutes if they persisted in handing out bogus credits.

A year later, the results are mixed.

No studio has signed on to the Code, and the PGA hasn’t been to court yet, partly because the passage of Prop. 64 restricted who can file unfair competition suits. Yet it provided backing to an aggrieved film producer who threatened to file suit against an undisclosed studio this summer.

“It’s very tricky,” muses a former studio exec turned producer. “The PGA is a noble organization and the fight is worth it, but the real politics of the situation are this — studios will always do whatever they have to do if they want the project badly enough. If that means giving a credit that’s not totally appropriate, they’re going to be practical about it.”

PGA exec director Vance Van Petten admits he’s frustrated by the lack of a formal endorsement and notes that studios are generally slow to give up anything they don’t have to.

PGA VP Marshall Herskovitz, whose credits include “The Last Samurai” and “Legends of the Fall,” believes that the slow pace is due to studios, like any corporation, being conservative when it comes to change. 

“They have used the ability to award undeserving producing credits as a bargaining chip in their negotiating arsenal, and they are reluctant to give it up until, a), they are forced to, or, b) they can be certain that the positives, in the form of saving money on extra producers and the protection of the integrity of the producing process, outweigh the negatives, which for them would be the possibility of alienating very powerful actors, managers, producers, etc., or the loss of flexibility in putting together very difficult deals.

But the PGA has taken heart from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ policy to limit the number of eligible producers for its best picture Oscar to three per film. And the PGA’s Code, which covers 40 different producer functions, received a boost last June when AMPAS announced it would follow the PGA’s system in determining accreditation.

As a result, when nominations are announced on Jan. 31, all the Best Picture producer nominees will be disclosed rather than forcing Hollywood to wait for a determination, as it did last year on “The Aviator,” “Ray” and “Million Dollar Baby.” Herskovitz asserts that the AMPAS endorsement has generated massive reverberations.

“For the first time, studios and producers understand there is real meaning to the Guild’s criteria for producing credits,” he declares.

The six-year-old AMPAS policy — installed in the wake of five producers (David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Ed Zwick and Marc Norman) winning for “Shakespeare in Love” — has been forcing studios to knuckle down in limiting the “produced by” credit to three.

“Is it taking a long time? Yes,” Van Petten notes. “But the number of arbitrations we’re performing is way down this year. And I would say that so are the number of producers on major films for the awards season, where films like ‘Jarhead’ and ‘Walk the Line’ have only two people with the ‘produced by’ credit.”

Van Petten — a former studio exec who’s made credit proliferation the key issue during his tenure as PGA chief — is loathe to point the finger at any specific studio for not toeing the line.

“Generally, with the big studios, the problem is directors, writers and managers getting assigned producer credits that they don’t deserve,” he notes. “With the non-majors, the recurring problem tends to be their own executives getting assigned the ‘produced by’ credits, but it’s less of a problem than it was before.”

Herskovitz admits it’s still awkward for studio execs to tell stars “no.”

“Studios still live in absolute fear of big actors and their representatives, and they do not want to have difficult conversations with them,” he notes. “They literally fear having to get on the phone to Actor So-And-So and say, ‘Sorry, we can’t give you that credit unless you actually do the work to earn it.’ Of course, if they signed the Code of Credits they wouldn’t have to have that conversation – they could simply say, ‘That nasty Producers Guild won’t let us give you the credit’ but apparently they are unable to take comfort in that.”

Producers generally agree with that assessment, but stress that the tightened standards are most likely to be applied if the film is an awards season contender. And they note that there’s been a significant migration to use of executive producer and co-producer credits, too. The latter’s generally accorded to newer producers.

Still, no one’s naive enough to think that the problem’s going away — particularly on films that have a lengthy development history — and that studios won’t continue to resort to using producer credits to close deals.

“What happens is that a lot of stars withhold pay to their managers in the expectation that the manager will get a producing credit,” one agent points out. “Or they get used in order to throw a bone to people who may have cobbled together the financing. If you provide $2 million of the $6 million to make a movie, who’s to say you don’t deserve the credit?”

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