Producers By kicks off in L.A.

First-time PGA confab draws 1,000 attendees

Produced By, a first time confab of the PGA, drew more than 1,000 attendees to more than 50 panels, roundtables and parties on the Sony lot Saturday and Sunday.

One of the event’s goals was “to get to the bottom of who the hell does what,” said PGA prexy Marshall Herskovitz at the outset of the Role of the Creative Producer, a sesh moderated by Peter Bart, Variety VP-editorial director.

Bart provoked his panelists by asking whether the producer is the most hated person on the set.

The word hated may be too strong, said longtime producer Kathleen Kennedy, but the producer’s role as mediator among factions with disparate interests inherently puts him or her in tense situations “that can create conflict.”

“Every movie is a power struggle,” added Lucy Fisher, co-head of Red Wagon Entertainment. “When there are great clashes you try to be a little Obama-ish” and turn it into something constructive and creative.

Fisher also agreed with Bart’s premise that a happy set sometimes yields a mediocre picture, especially if the helmer prefers to avoid tension. “The best directors want someone to challenge them,” she said. “They don’t want yes-men.”

Dealing with helmers who have final cut can be a producer’s most delicate task, and it helps to remember that with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake “the director is sometimes scared to death,” said Fisher. This gives the producer some leverage.

Panelists agreed that producers are feeling the sting of today’s round of studio cost-cutting measures. Doug Wick, Red Wagon’s other co-topper, said producers are finding new ways to save money, such as shooting in locations offering big tax breaks.

But that doesn’t mean the studios have abandoned tentpoles, and sometimes it’s easier for the producer when a studio has invested a huge amount of money “because then they’re really your partner,” Wick added.

“Easy is relative,” countered Kennedy, because once you’re in the $100 million to $200 million category, you’ve got every department head in the studio weighing in.

And in a panel on indie filmmaking, members of an older generation agreed that distribution will move onto TV or computer screens. Indie vet Roger Corman said his experiments have convinced him that “the Internet is the great future.” TV pioneer Norman Lear said people of similar interests will be able to find and view films via online communities.

PGA exec director Vance Van Petten said the guild plans to make Produced By an annual outing.

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