Producers Guild expands role in Hollywood

The Producers Guild of America wants to provide clarity in the face of the uncertainty pervading Hollywood.

Amidst the difficulties of the business, I still see bright signs,” says PGA prexy Marshall Hersko-vitz. “The business isn’t in decline, but there are serious challenges, and over the last two years the role of the producer has become more and more confused. Lots of people don’t understand it, so our job is to make that clear.”

Herskovitz is among the dozens of major producers without a studio deal over the past year. He says the role of the PGA is particularly crucial at a time of real cultural shift.

The key thing has become the ability of a producer to get other people to spend money over a long term of five to seven to 10 years,” he adds. “And that’s very complicated, which makes our role all the more important.”

Vance Van Petten, now entering his second decade as PGA’s exec director, is blunter: “We want to be the repository for all things related to producing.”

In a business that thrives on promotion, the 4,200-member PGA tends to be among the more low-key orgs. Its key initiatives include advancing and protecting the status of the producer, serving as arbiter on producer credits, helping protect producers from unfair workplace conditions and finding ways for producers to take advantage of opportunities in the new-media sector.

It also launched its Produced By weekend conference last June on the Sony lot, drawing more than 1,000. Some of the three dozen sessions featured name players like James Cameron and Clint Eastwood. PGA is already working on a second conference — this time on the Fox lot — skedded for the first weekend in June.

I think the conference has altered us monstrously because we’ve always been told that organizing producers is like herding rabbits,” Van Petten says. “I think it was a real Disneyland for producers and transferred the PGA into a role as mentor.”

But perhaps PGA is best known for providing the final word on the question of who is a producer on Hollywood’s most important films. In the past, controversies has erupted over producer credits on films such as “Crash,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Departed.”

Although such disputes were absent last season, the issue of who qualifies as a producer remains alive — especially as the number of films under consideration for best picture has doubled from five to 10, both at the PGA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

This has been our most challenging year on credits because (there are) 10 films, of which a lot are four-producer films,” Van Petten notes. “That’s meant a lot of arbitrations and hard work.”

The PGA has become the go-to org during the past decade for determining the names listed as producers when AMPAS 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 for exceptions.

Limiting the number of producers to three by AMPAS has had a painful ripple effect,” Herskovitz notes. “What it means is that the studio has to figure out who does what. We get calls every week.”

The PGA is also planning major changes to its Web operations, adding extensive details on the budgeting process and information on how to produce in an environmentally friendly manner via the PGA Green site.

I’m really proud of PGA Green,” says Herskovitz. “Every studio has joined us in supporting it. … We are able to talk about the health of the entire industry — and that’s something that studios and unions can’t really do because of their self-interest.”

The spring will also see a shift in the PGA’s leadership as Herskovitz reaches his limit of two terms.

He is departing with affection. “It’s a very adult organization because producers do not have the luxury of tolerating childish behavior,” he says. “Our meetings are very short and to the point and never go more than two hours. I love it and I’m going to miss it.”

Tip Sheet:
What: Producers Guild of America Awards
When: Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Hollywood Palladium
Web: producersguild.org

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