Midway through their first year as co-presidents of the Producers Guild, Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher are pleased with their guild’s progress tackling some of the industry’s thorniest issues — sexual harassment and inequality among them — but fully aware how much more work needs to be done.
And they are frustrated more isn’t being done industry-wide to combat these problems.
“It’s just baffling,” says Fisher, “that so little progress has been made with so many good intentions, seemingly.” She goes on to say that the lack of progress “feels more like inertia than deliberate.”
“I think inertia’s a good word,” Berman says. “What we’re trying to do at the guild and what I think our initiatives have pointed to is how concerned we really are about tackling these issues. Obviously we were first out of the gate with our anti-sexual harassment guidelines when the issue first came up.
“That’s a year ago, which is frightening for us to think, that it was a year ago.
When allegations about producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced in October 2017, Berman and Fisher joined the guild’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Task Force, helping to formulate guidelines to combat such harassment in time for last year’s PGA Awards. Last June, they were elected co-presidents, taking over the role from Lori McCreary and Gary Lucchesi.
The producers are the first female pairing in the role — and fully aware of that significance. They bring a wealth of leadership experience to the presidency: Fisher, a former vice chair at Sony, runs Red Wagon Entertainment with her husband, Doug Wick, while Berman, former head of Fox Broadcasting Co. and Paramount Pictures, is co-owner of the Jackal Group production company.
“I think I can speak for both of us that we felt we were in a moment in time where we could actually make a difference, so that was very appealing to us,” Fisher says.
She and Berman are heading to the Jan. 19 PGA Awards with a new initiative intended to further cut down on sexual harassment. Called the Independent Production Safety Initiative, it will provide free training and advice to smaller productions that have more than 20 workers but no HR or legal department conversant in the issues. Funding comes from a $2 million grant from CBS, which last month disbursed $20 million earmarked for former chair Les Moonves’ severance to a series of organizations working to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.
The leaders consider the program a PGA milestone.
“It really speaks to the fact that we want to make sure that all of our members have access to the right training and legal consultation so they can do the right thing on their productions,” Berman says. “We do know that our members that are involved in larger productions that are involved with studios or television studios, they have access to this, but a lot of our independent members do not.”
The program, expected to be up and running in a couple months, is an outgrowth of talk with members: “We began to discover that if you were a small, low-budget independent production company you wouldn’t be able to have the training and you wouldn’t have the legal department,” Fisher says. “They wanted to know what they should do but they didn’t.
“Another thing we learned was most people didn’t realize was actually how good the state of California state laws of employment are on sexual harassment. They’re very protective,” she says, whereas the state of Georgia follows federal rules that are weaker.
Under this IPSI program, someone working on a qualifying independent production might receive free legal counsel to make a claim through Time’s Up or “to talk to the person directly, which of course is what we’re hoping to do, is to use all this to prevent this situation from ever happening in the first place,” Fisher says. “We’re taking a double-pronged look at it.”
“It’s highly practical and it will be used by our members,” says Berman, crediting PGA chief operating officer Susan Sprung for coming up with the idea for the CBS grant. The PGA is the only Hollywood guild that received one of these grants, via its foundation.
Beyond sexual harassment, the two leaders hope to work more on diversity and gender parity during their shared presidency.
“Every time we hear statistics, they are beyond dispiriting,” Fisher says of diversity and parity reports. “The needle hasn’t been moving.”
But, she says, the PGA is doing better than the industry overall by a long shot, noting that 43% of its membership is female. (By comparison, 24% of DGA members are female.) Parity is “a gigantic priority for our members and a lot of our programs and initiatives deal with diversity and gender equality issues.”
Beyond those hot-button issues, “we are exploring the health insurance issue for our members, and that is an important initiative for our members this year,” Berman says. “It is one that is challenging, but one that we have promised for our members, and we are on that. It feels like we are doing so many things.”
The guild is also exploring how to extend its Producers’ Mark program to television, targeting to TV movies first.
“We will be looking at results of that in beginning of the new year,” Berman says. “We actually think we will make some real progress on that as well.”
This year the guild split its long-form television award into two: One for limited TV series and another for streamed or televised movies. The guild’s film awards are a closely watched precursor to the Academy Awards; the latter nominees will be unveiled a few days after the PGA ceremony.
“Another initiative that we haven’t begun to broach yet because we have been so consumed with the ones we’re in the middle of is trying to hire more diversity on set,” Fisher says. “People tend to hire who they know, and have already worked with, and that doesn’t increase the pool.”
The plan: to first address that in committees. “Producers can really affect the outcome of the climate there,” Fisher says.
There are more than 8,000 PGA members, she points out, and many potential leaders in its ranks. “Producers by nature step up and fix problems,” she says. “That’s what they do.”
The co-presidents only wish others in Hollywood showed as much drive to shut down sexual harassment and improve diversity and gender equality as their guild. Pointing out that the PGA’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Task Force worked on guidelines over the holiday period following the allegations against Weinstein, Berman says that it’s “very important to us that we got out in front of it, thanks to the help of Gary and Lori and their leadership.”
The two co-presidents credit each other for sharing the daunting task of leading the guild through this challenging period.
“It’s nice to have a partner,” Fisher says. “It would be much too much for either of us to do on our own, especially since we’re both working.”
What: PGA Awards
When: Jan. 19
Where: Beverly Hilton