A clutch of New York-based unscripted production companies have formed the Nonfiction Producers Assn. trade group designed to promote and foster the growth of the reality and documentary TV biz.
TV industry vet Rick Feldman (pictured), who previously headed the National Assn. of Television Program Executives, will lead the non-profit org as executive director. Eight prominent companies have signed on as members of the NPA, and the plan is to spend the next few months recruiting many more banners from around the country.
The launch of NPA comes on the heels of a dealmaking frenzy during the past two years that has seen a slew of sizable independent unscripted producers scooped up by larger congloms in the U.S. and overseas, from Time Warner and Discovery Communications to U.K.’s ITV and Tinopolis to France’s Banijay. That process has been part of the maturation of unscripted business to a point where industry leaders believe that a trade org focused on the unique needs of the reality-docu sector was necessary.
“These companies are all maturing at such a quick pace,” Feldman told Variety. “The unscripted arena has gone from the Wild West to a mature business. In talking to people in the business, there was a real desire among some companies to figure out a way in which they could speak with one voice.”
NPA’s founding companies include Atlas Media Corp., Big Fish Entertainment, Jane Street Entertainment, Leftfield Pictures, Loud TV, Magilla Entertainment, Original Media and True Entertainment. Feldman said his conversations with Atlas’ Bruce David Klein and others were the catalyst for launching the org.
The NPA aims to offer traditional trade-association functions such as advocating and lobbying for its members’ interests in statehouses and in Washington. It also hopes to serve as a forum for companies to share best practices and develop uniform guidelines on industry-wide issues.
Top of that list for reality producers is the persistent problem of wages and working conditions for production staffers in the trenches on what can be arduous shoots. Top companies have frequently faced legal action and threats of labor-code sanctions for what some workers have described as sweatshop conditions.
“Part of the motivation for doing this is to be a place where everybody can get together to find an intelligent, common-sense way to solve these problems,” Feldman said. “These companies have all had conversations with lawyers and parameters are being set for the industry. We’d like to get everyone in an association to give their thoughts on the best way to handle these issues.”
NPA will be governed by a board of directors and an exec committing comprising representations from the member companies. The NPA said its member orgs would commit to “providing a safe, supportive and professional working environment, fair and competitive wages, access to and contributions toward healthcare, controls on and recognition for hours worked, access to retirement options, and opportunities to foster training and communication.”
Feldman said he has yet to reach out to other industry orgs such as the Producers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America or Writers Guilds. His first priority is to build up the membership base, and confer with those members on what the NPA’s top priorities should be.
“It takes time for really independent people to feel comfortable with everyone else,” Feldman said.
Feldman has plenty of experience in wrangling big personalities from his nine-year stewardship of NATPE, which ended in 2012. Before that Feldman spent years in local broadcasting, working for Chris-Craft/United TV, Barry Diller’s USA Broadcasting and Metromedia.