Biz embraces code for producers

The Producers Guild of America is on the verge of cementing its authority as the final word on a key question that has long bedeviled the biz: Who qualifies for producer credit on film and TV productions?

Leaders of the PGA say they’re close to getting several studios onboard to sign the PGA’s Code of Credits, which spells out the qualifications for those eligible to receive the “produced by” credit for features and executive producer credit for TV.

“I think we’ll have several studios sign on soon,” said Marshall Herskovitz, who will step down this week after four years as PGAprexy. “The producer credit is often part of negotiations (with talent) so it’s in their interests to agree.”

The issue has been a central focus for the 4,200-member PGA. Unlike SAG, WGA and DGA, the PGA does not serve as a collective bargaining agent for its members. But it has become the official go-to org for determining the names listed as producers of best picture nominees for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., along with TV nominees for the Emmys.

Should a studio sign such an agreement, it would mean that the PGA would arbitrate disputes over producing credits.

“If I do the job as a producer, I should get the credit,” said Mark Gordon, who’s set to become PGA co-president next week with Hawk Koch. “We are having discussions with more than one studio about signing the Code of Credits. It’s been a long slog.”

The code is a lengthy set of job descriptions, guidelines and rules intended to help resolve credit disputes and protect the integrity of the “produced by” credit in features and exec producer credit in TV.

The code aims to ensure that the credit is given to those who are most responsible for the production of a project and to those who have significant decision-making authority over a majority of the producing functions, including development, pre-production, production, post-production and marketing.

The code says a person must have had substantial involvement adding up to a majority of those functions to qualify for the credit.

The PGA’s effort to become the official go-to org had its genesis a decade ago when veteran exec Vance Van Petten was tapped as its exec director.

The PGA’s elected leaders began to push for regulations spelling out the role of the producer, spurred partly by the 1998 Oscar ceremony, in which five producers were credited for “Shakespeare in Love.”

The PGA went so far in late 2004 as to proclaim optimism that at least one studio would sign on; the group also promised it would take studios and nets to court for violating the state’s false-advertising statutes if they persisted in handing out unwarranted producer credits.

That scenario never came to pass, but the guild’s leaders received a boost in 2005 when AMPAS announced that the PGA’s credit determination process would be the one it used on best picture nominations — though the orgs still differ on the number of names that can be listed for the honor. The PGA has no limit; AMPAS has a three-name limit that can be adjusted as warranted.

Furthering the PGA’s advocacy goals, Van Petten recently testified as an expert witness for Alan Ladd Jr. in his lawsuit against Warner Bros. Last week, a California appeals court upheld Ladd’s legal victory over Warner, ruling that the studio breached “good faith and fair dealing” in determining his share of the returns on a dozen movies he produced.

Meanwhile, the PGA is putting the final touches on its second annual Produced By conference, to be held on the 20th Century Fox lot Friday through Sunday.

Conference co-chair Gale Anne Hurd said the strong industry response to the event underlines the value of producers at a time when term deals at studios are evaporating and fewer films are being greenlit by the majors.

“It used to be that we were all alone in the wilderness,” Hurd said. “This conference helps solidify our identity. People are grateful to hear about the nuts and bolts of producing.”

Koch, who worked with Gordon to develop the Code of Credits, believes that the PGA has come a long way.

“No organization was looking out for producers when I joined in the 1990s, when it was more of a club of older producers,” he said.

Gordon has extensive credits in features, such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “2012.” He is also active in TV as an exec producer of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” CBS’ “Criminal Minds” and Lifetime’s “Army Wives” — all of which hail from his Mark Gordon Co. banner.

Gordon asserted that the fast-changing landscape represents an opportunity.

“This is not a job for the faint of heart,” he said. “There are more independents than ever, but the demand for content is overwhelming. It all starts with producers. And that demand is on all platforms so it’s a blessing to be doing what we are doing.”

The PGA co-presidency isn’t without precedent.

In 2001, after the PGA’s merger with the American Assn. of Producers, Kathleen Kennedy and Tim Gibbons served as co-prexies.

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