Despite global woes, American films flourish

The Producers Guild of America has remained an island of relative tranquility amid the uncertainty pervading Hollywood.

The low-key organization, now with 4,000 members, has focused on its core missions – advancing and protecting the status of the producer as a key arbiter on producer credits, pushing to protect producers from unfair workplace conditions, serving to train producers with two dozen seminars annually, and finding methods for producers to take advantage of opportunities in the exploding new-media sector.

PGA president Marshall Herskovitz believes the lack of controversy will enable the org to focus on bigger-picture issues, particularly amid the ongoing globalization of the biz.

“Producers have to think of the whole process, especially at a time when we have the very cautionary tale of the auto industry,” he notes. “Our business is sought out all over the world. It has become totally international. So it’s really notable that at this point, a film from Mumbai has seized everyone’s imagination.”

The PGA is best known for providing the final word on the question of who is a producer on Hollywood’s most important films. Controversies such as those over the credits on “Crash,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Departed” have been absent this season.

“We’ve seen a lot fewer arbitrations on features, and the number’s down every year,” exec director VanceVan Petten notes.

The PGA is also the go-to org for determining the names listed as producers of the top five nominees when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences makes its announcements. The Academy tweaked its selection process in 2007 to be more in line with the PGA, which has no limit on the number of producers that can be credited. The Academy retains the rule of no more than three producer names per film, but also allows there could be exceptions.

Van Petten believes that working conditions for producers have gotten worse with longer hours, fewer breaks and more demands in new-media formats and derivations. To address those problems, the PGA recently launched a group health-insurance plan and is prepping a two-day “Produced By” convention at Culver Studios to detail the fast-changing tasks involved in producing.

Herskovitz stresses that putting on the conference became essential to deal with the emerging technologies in a tough economic environment.

“The impact of all these new formats is so significant because they have to be conceptualized at the start, so it’s not something that you can just pick up as you go,” he adds. “Our role continues to be misunderstood. The loss of producer deals at studios is very shortsighted.”

The guild also is aiming to alter its image at the PGA Awards gala Saturday at the remodeled Hollywood Palladium with a shorter show, produced by David Friendly and Laurence Mark.

Friendly is especially pleased with the event’s locale. “Being in Hollywood gives it a vintagey quality,” he notes. “I just wish that producing movies were this easy.”

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