Guild aims to establish authority over producer credits

The Producers Guild of America, in a move to establish its authority over producer credits, has asked for help from the federal government in the latest twist in a decade-long push by the PGA to police the dissemination of producer credits.

Responding to concerns from Paramount Pictures, the PGA has requested a “business review letter” from the Dept. of Justice to indicate that there’s a “de minimus” potential antitrust liability if Paramount agrees to the guild’s certification process and the creation of a new “Producers mark” — a designation signifying that the listed producers have been OK’d by the PGA as having actually performed producing duties.

“Because so many persons are credited as producers for many reasons, some having little to do with the critical functions of a producer, even well-informed consumers can watch a sequence of producing credits without discerning which persons actually performed the majority of the work,” said David Quinto, attorney for the PGA. “The use of the PGA’s certification mark would bring much-needed clarity to this area.”

The letter also noted that since the PGA isn’t a union, it has no collective bargaining power over studios and distributors who assign producing credits and asserted that such credits are frequently bartered for considerations such as involvement of a major star or financing. It cited the 11 people who received some form of producer credit on “The King’s Speech.”

“Some had no creative involvement whatever in the film,” the letter asserted. “To be sure, casting and financing are important aspects of a producer’s job duties but a producer’s job duties vastly exceed those realms.”

Quinto’s letter, written March 25, hasn’t yet received a response from the feds. In it, he said that Paramount won’t permit use of the certification mark without a “business review letter.”

“The use of the mark will not raise prices, reduce output, limit choice, create, maintain or enhance market power or otherwise unreasononably restrain trade or harm competition,” Quinto said. “To the contrary, the use of the mark will have procompetitive benefits. It will provide added information and clarity to movie watchers and other consumers that are much needed but not currently available.”

Longtime PGA exec director Vance Van Petten told Variety that he’s hopeful the Justice Dept. will issue the “business review letter,” which he said was very much akin to asking a personal injury attorney for a written promise not to sue someone in the future. “That’s why so few of these ‘business review letters’ are approved by the DOJ’s office,” he added.

Van Petten also said that if the Justice Dept. doesn’t issue such a letter, it would not necessarily preclude Paramount’s future participation in the certification program.

The PGA promised last October that the new “producers mark” — a lower case p.g.a. — would start appearing next year. At that point, it had assembled the backing of 140 producers including J.J. Abrams, George Clooney, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Clint Eastwood, David Heyman, Ron Howard, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Graham King, Frank Marshall, Neil Moritz, Scott Rudin, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and Steven Spielberg.

It’s unclear how soon the DOJ might respond, Van Petten said. Along with Paramount, Van Petten said, Sony and Universal have been “supportive” of the notion of agreeing to the cetification process and creation of the “producers mark.”

Reps for Paramount, Sony and Universal did not respond to requests for comment.

“From the beginning, we have been legally advised that our p.g.a. certification process poses ‘de minimus’ antitrust liability,” Van Petten said. “Despite having the benefit of such legal advice supporting our proposal — and the years of precedent established by A.S.C., A.C.E. and C.S.A., we are continuing to work with the studios, individually, to try to satisfy all of their concerns.”

The PGA has made proliferation of undeserved producer credits its signature issue since the 1998 Oscar ceremony, in which five producers were credited for “Shakespeare in Love.” The org held its first credit arbitrations in 2001, promulgated a Code of Credits in 2004 and gained traction in 2005 when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced that the PGA’s credit determination process would be the one it uses on best picture nominations.

Quinto’s letter notes that the PGA has also become the go-to org for credit determination for the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., along with the British Academy of Film and Television Awards. He also notes that anyone contractually awarded a “produced by” or “producer” credt can apply for the PGA certification, which triggers a process of two or three arbitrators (with at least two “produced by” credits) determining the specific weight to the producer functions.

The PGA, which has 4,500 members, has been pressing studios for the past seven years for official recognition of its 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. The code attaches specific weight to the producer functions: 35% for development, 20% for pre-production, 20% for production and 25% for post-production and marketing.

The PGA code also includes 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. It requires that a person must have had substantial involvement in a majority of those functions to qualify.

Quinto also asserted that the PGA accreditations on a film don’t carry over to other projects, offering Paul Haggis as an example. He pointed out that Haggis was one of two recognizing producers on “Crash” in 2005, a year after he was determined not to be entitled to recognition as a producer of “Million Dollar Baby.”

The PGA is launching its third annual Produced By Conference today at Disney Studios in Burbank. in conjunctions with the Assn. of Film Commissioners Intl. Locations Show. Speaker lineup includes Sean Bailey, Marc Cherry, Mark Gordon, Marshall Herskovitz, Gale Anne Hurd, Mark Johnson, Damon Lindelof, Simon Lythgoe, Lauren Shuler Donner and Harvey Weinstein.

Van Petten said he’s expecting attendance at this year’s confab to top 1,800.

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