Credits row heating up

Producers feel left out

Though “Crash” made the shortlist as a finalist for the PGA’s Daryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award, losing to “Brokeback Mountain” on Sunday, four of the pic’s six producers had already been relegated to the sidelines as the Guild continues to rein in the proliferation of credits.

The blow will be felt doubly, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will for the first time follow the PGA’s determination on producer credits for the Academy Awards. And both the “Crash” quartet and other veteran producers are increasingly balking at the PGA’s auditing process on credits.

“I was devastated not to be included,” said Mark Harris, the “Gods and Monster” producer who with Bobby Moresco, Don Cheadle and Bob Yari didn’t make the PGA cut. Before Sunday’s ceremony, he said: “I will be at the PGA awards, rooting for our wonderful film, and knowing full well that I was a producer.”

The PGA’s been pushing for the past six years to get studios to give producer credits to those who most deserve them, rather than those who were given credits as a bargaining chip to close a deal. Its Code of Credits process attaches specific weight to various producer functions, looking to tally active and creative contributions throughout the entire production.

The fallout is already playing out on “Crash,” with Yari charging in a lawsuit against former partner and “Crash” producer Cathy Schulman that she’d poisoned the well for him in the PGA auditing process. He’s also threatened to sue the PGA.

The PGA estimates that 15% to 20% of Oscar-caliber films it scrutinized this year had disqualifications, following a process where producers are quizzed on their roles in 46 tasks during development, pre-production, production and post-production/marketing.

PGA staff verifies contributions through interviews with and affidavits by third-party participants, and then several vet producers arbitrate.

The job isn’t easy. The producer’s role has changed dramatically since the days when Hal Wallis produced films for studios like Paramount or Warner Brothers. Back then, Wallis would hire a director to shoot a film like “True Grit” but then work on the pic’s final cut himself.

Today, producers are often hyphenates who also write, direct, manage or finance.

PGA exec director Vance Van Petten said the PGA’s ready for a court fight if Yari wants to wage one. He challenged many of the assertions Yari made in Daily Variety, including that the PGA exercises bias against financiers, and gave him a day to appeal.

“We are prepared for a lawsuit, we’ve been threatened with one several times by Yari’s lawyer,” Van Petten said. “There is credible evidence contradicting those comments and assertions made by Mr. Yari. His claim about the appeals process was categorically untrue. I delayed the initial arbitration and then delayed the appeal to make sure he and his attorneys had time.”

Van Petten was particularly incensed when Yari called the PGA a club of producers-for-hire that is biased against financiers.

“That club line is so offensive,” he said.

The auditing process continues to rankle proven filmmakers left on the outside.

“Crash” director and co-writer Paul Haggis was validated as producer along with Schulman. But he quit the guild last year after being excluded on “Million Dollar Baby.” Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ankled after the PGA didn’t include them in the producer roster of “Chicago.”

A statement issued by Zadan and Meron indicated they won’t reup soon: “We are saddened when a guild is unable to create and utilize an authentic system that appropriately credits its deserving members who are prolific, hard-working and talented in their field. One day, such a system may exist. Today is not that day.”

Said “Crash” co-writer and excluded producer Moresco: “It’s a flawed process with which they made these decisions, it was wrong on every level, but I choose not to go public beyond that.”

Van Petten said he understands the hard feelings, but that the PGA process wasn’t designed to hurt feelings or diminish someone’s hard work.

“We really go to great pains to tell these people, we know for a fact that you’ve made very important contributions to this film,” he said.

Harris said that like it or not, the PGA’s snub creates a stigma.

“Perception is important,” said Harris, who after working 28 years with Haggis as agent, manager and producer, said he was the one who convinced the filmmaker to do “Crash” as a film and not a TV project. He then set it up with Yari, and remained involved after throughout.

“I’m proud of my contribution and I’d take a lie detector test,” he said. “I was a producer of ‘Gods and Monsters’ and I did the same exact things on that film. No one can tell me I didn’t deserve producing credit here. I think the way they do this is a travesty.

The PGA system isn’t foolproof.

Some say that because the auditing process is only activated when there are three producers, a hyphenate, company exec, or a request from a distributor, it’s possible for a no-show producer to get credit if there are only two whose contracts called for such credit.

Harris fears that the PGA process might encourage producers to over-involve themselves to qualify for credit, which could be to a film’s detriment.

“I am not a producer who has ever stuck his nose into every part of the process to make myself look active,” he said. “Without question, I would absolutely be more insistent in being involved in every step, to not get into this embarrassing situation again. When the Academy Awards come up, and they leave me out, that will be a travesty.”

PGA vice president Marshall Herskovitz said the guild has anticipated such an eventuality.

“This is obviously an issue we’re going to face, and to me it’s a good sign,” he said. “Change is never easy, it creates discomfort and something greatly feared in the film business: the adult conversation.

“People will be told, ‘Sorry, you can’t come to this meeting.’ When the director says, ‘I don’t want four producers behind me or in the production meeting,’ an embarrassing and painful conversation will result.

“That’s what happens with change, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it.”

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