The normally low-key Producers Guild of America took a very public turn in Oct. 6 when it launched a full-bore Truth in Credits campaign to eliminate undeserved producer credits.

PGA prexy Kathleen Kennedy believes that the PGA initiative will solve a lot of problems for execs who give away producing credits to individuals who didn’t do any actual producing work on a motion picture or television program.

“For too long, these organizations have been locked in a classic race to the bottom,” she says. “They’re looking to the PGA to rescue them from that bind.”

It’s an uphill climb for the 2,000-member PGA, but its leaders are brimming with confidence after having promulgated a Code of Credits, limiting the number of “produced by” credits to three and subjecting the determination of those credits to arbitration. They believe they’re on the right track on what’s turned out to be a five-year quest.

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“We’ve had very, very positive response from the studios and I expect one or two to announce shortly (signing the code),” notes veteran producer and PGA VP Marshall Herskovitz. “We’re in a very good position right now even though it’s always difficult to bring about change in a complex situation like this. It’s a cultural shift of longtime practices, somewhat like getting people to quit smoking in public places.”

The PGA’s definitions of producers cover 42 different functions but generally weight the contributions:

  • 30% for development;

  • 20% for pre-production;

  • 20% for production; and

  • 30% for post-production and marketing.

PGA exec director Vance Van Petten — who’s placed the credit issue front and center for the past half-decade — says the weighting is designed reflect the realities of what it takes to get a movie made.

Adoption of these measures will mean that Hollywood can step away from awarding “produced by” credits for making one contribution in the process.

“For example, if you get a project set up, that’s not enough because you’re not hiring the crew or the director,” Van Petten says. “Hiring the director is the biggest thing on a film since it’s the director’s vision that’s going to be executed.”

What will happen to those “produced by” credits given to such disparate groups as stars, the managers who secure stars and financers who provide the final funds to complete a film?

Kennedy concedes that a prliferation of executive producers is a potential unintended consequence.

“The process has to start somewhere, and our research and discussions with executives have convinced us that a targeted attempt to control a limited number of credits is far more viable than an across-the-board campaign that encompasses every producing credit,” Kennedy says. “But frankly, I’m less worried about this problem in the long run. The goal of the PGA’s Truth in Credits campaign is to create a cultural change within the industry, to foster a professional culture in which giving away unearned producing credits becomes sufficiently stigmatized that the practice becomes untenable.”

Van Petten and Hersovitz insist the studios are strongly supportive of the initiative but are hesitating to sign on the dotted line due to the need to fine-tune details such as exact steps of the arbitration process.

Herskovitz, whose credits include “Legends of the Fall,” “The Last Samurai” and the TV series “Thirtysomething,” notes the PGA’s initiative on credits is similar to the ongoing campaign by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The Acad decided in 1999 to limit eligible producers for its picture Oscar to three per film.

“When the Academy made its decision, it was adopted without protest,” he recalls. “Now the producers sort it out among themselves — they just needed a nudge.”

The PGA — which has no collective bargaining agreements — has asked each studio and network to agree to its Code of Conduct for determining the “produced by” credit for features and the executive producer credit in TV. That means including language in each producer contract giving final authority to the PGA’s arbitration process if there’s a dispute.

The org is also threatening to seek an injunction barring use of the disputed credits, based on violating California’s false advertising statutes, though November’s passage of Proposition 64 (which limits “frivolous lawsuits” where no harm is apparent) brought by means that such a legal action would probably have to be initiated by a government agency.

Kennedy promised that the PGA will be centrally involved in any suit brought by an aggrieved producer, or by the California Attorney General’s office and noted that California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer has endorsed the PGA’s position.

The producer — who’s working on “War of the Worlds” with Paula Wagner — is hopeful that the threat of stigmatizing a film as possibly carrying questionable credits will be enough to make producers and studios think twice about giving out such credits. “Shame means a lot in the business,” Kennedy declared at the news conference in October.

The PGA is also asking nets to sign on to its rules for exec producers on TV series but admits that it’s focusing most of its resources on feature credits. Van Petten notes there are far fewer cases of abuse with exec producer credits, adding, “With TV, it’s pretty well understood that the executive producer is the one providing continuity and deciding which writers and stories to use.”

Van Petten says the PGA’s stance on credits has helped boost the guild’s membership, particularly among producers based on the New York area. He’s also pleased with the success of the org’s Web site listings of qualified producers, its job forums — aimed at finding work for line producers in film, series TV and reality TV — and its Celebration of Diversity on Oct. 2.

“Our goal is to establish the PGA as a real resource for working producers,” he notes.