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PGA Presidents Talk Business Changes, #MeToo and Producers Mark at Produced By NY

Newly appointed Producers Guild of America presidents Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher have a busy agenda for the guild that includes establishing a health care plan for members and bringing its hard-fought Producers Mark certification to television.

Berman, a prolific producer who heads the Jackal Group, and Fisher, a film biz veteran who heads Red Wagon Entertainment with her husband Doug Wick, took part in a wide-ranging Q&A that kicked off the PGA’s fifth annual Produced By NY conference on Saturday. The duo addressed the impact of the #MeToo movement and the guild’s role in advancing workplace safety measures as well as diversity, mentoring and gender parity initiatives.

The health care plan has been a long-term goal for the PGA. Fisher said she is hopeful it would come together “in the next few months.” Berman vowed: “That is a major, major initiative and we are going to bring it home.” 

Making health care available to PGA members is important at a time of dramatic changes in the industry and in the nature of how producers make money. Although the content marketplace couldn’t be more robust at present, there are big hurdles for producers that have made it harder to make a good living, even with the seemingly insatiable demand for high-end productions.

“It takes just the same amount of effort to get up to bat for an eight-episode order as it does for a 22-episode order,” Berman said. “Writers are finding it difficult to sustain themselves over the course of the year. Producers are finding it difficult. There’s so much out there — you’ve got to keep running in order to keep up with the pace.”

Fisher said the process of pitching movies is dramatically different these days than during her years as a senior production executive for Warner Bros. and Columbia TriStar’s film group. For starters, there are far fewer slots to land for studio pictures every year. Strong packaging and marketing hooks are a must. “You almost have to have your trailer before you have your movie pitch,” she observed.

“Production and marketing were always separate at studios — it was almost like church and state,” she continued. “Production was going to make what production wanted to make and marketing would have to figure out what to do with it. Now the marketing folks as as much power or more over what gets made.”

Berman and Fisher, who were elected to two-year terms in June, said they are in the process of setting up meetings to bring the Producers Mark certification to TV programs. The accreditation on screen credits is designed to identify the producers who did the heavy lifting on any given project, and combat the spread of the credit to managers, financiers and others who do not serve in the traditional role on a feature.

It took some 18 years of fighting to get studios to adopt the mark for features starting in 2012 with the Red Wagon-produced “Lawless.” Extended it to TV is likely to be an uphill climb complicated by the ongoing nature of TV series, which can make it harder to define who deserves the credit. Berman said the plan is to start with longform productions.

“We’ve put together a group now of some influential producers who have relationships at some of the premium networks in order to start there and work from there,” she said. “That is a goal that we think we can tackle.”

On the impact of #MeToo, Berman and Fisher noted that the PGA was the first of the industry guilds to publish comprehensive guidelines for producers to combat sexual harassment on film and TV sets and establishing a reporting process for victims. In the year since the industry was rocked by the revelations of sexual assault allegations against now-disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein, the cultural consciousness about the issue has irrevocably changed.

“There is a huge amount of awareness and awareness is the first step toward identifying that behavior,” Fisher said. “It will be very hard for women to go back in the closet about this issue and I’m very happy about that.”

(Pictured: Variety’s Cynthia Littleton, Lucy Fisher and Gail Berman)

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