Producers Guild co-presidents Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher are headed to the org’s annual awards celebration Jan. 18 with a big accomplishment under their respective belts: its anti-harassment program kicked into high gear in 2019, providing free training to 350 people in six months. The Independent Production Safety Initiative (IPSI), established in late 2018, is a high priority for Berman and Fisher, along with gender parity and health care for members.
“We are really encouraging every one of our members to create an environment in which people feel really comfortable speaking up,” Fisher says. She was appointed to the guild co-presidency with Berman in June 2018, when the industry was still reeling from sexual-misconduct allegations against longtime producer Harvey Weinstein, among others. “Also, an environment where it’s OK to point out little things, because if you stop small behaviors then it hopefully won’t escalate.”
In the two-plus years since blockbuster reporting about allegations against Weinstein, the cultural consciousness about the issue has irrevocably changed. But Berman is cautious about progress made thus far. Despite people being more aware of workplace sexual harassment and gender parity, she says both issues aren’t going to go away quickly.
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“Things are moving in a positive and strong direction, but there is a lot to overcome,” Berman says. “There are many, many years of entrenched behavior and thought process. But it’s progress that now this is a subject that’s on people’s minds on a daily basis. A couple of years ago, frankly it was, ‘Oh yeah. Let’s do something about that.’ ”
The IPSI program was established to help provide more resources and training to productions that might not otherwise have access to it. It provides 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 disbursed $20 million that was originally earmarked for severance for its former CEO Leslie Moonves to 18 different organizations that work to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace.
On-set training includes one hour of anti-harassment interactive training that is specific to each set and helps foster a culture of respect. The PGA also assigns an expert attorney to each qualifying production. Upon completion of the on-set training session, each production receives up to two hours of free legal advice from an assigned attorney. Aside from the 350 people that have applied for and received training since July, there have been six IPSI training sessions for production companies, including Atlanta-based School of Humans and L.A.-based Blumhouse Prods.
“We have been adjusting our training based on feedback that we got from those who have used IPSI,” says Susan Sprung, national executive director of the PGA. “We started out doing what was very traditional training and have shifted it to being much more conversational because what we were finding is that in many cases over 90% of the [initiative’s attendees] have gone through traditional sexual harassment training. So they do obviously go through the legal points and if someone requests what is a traditional training session we provide that, but we really have limited it to make it much more conversational and much more participatory.”
The grant, which Sprung secured for the guild, is expected to fund the program for three years.
Fisher and Berman both acknowledge there is still much work to be done on gender parity.
“The more you identify the problem and spotlight it, hopefully there is more pressure to change,” Fisher says, regarding recognition for female directors. “And we all know the statistics. They’re horrible. It’s a long haul to change people’s entire mindset.”
Entrenched mindsets may have played a role in Gabrielle Union’s ouster from “America’s Got Talent” after she complained about racial insensitivity, Berman suggests.
“Sometimes shows that have been on for a long time, there’s less new thought going into them then perhaps a show that’s just starting,” says Berman, a former studio and network head who now heads SideCar Content Accelerator for Fox. “But I have to say that I see no reason why progress can’t be made on that show. Change is afoot. It just is.”
When appointed PGA co-presidents, Berman and Fisher had an agenda for the guild that included establishing a health care plan for members. But the plan has yet to come to fruition.
Sprung says it has been difficult to come up with a group plan. “We hired an outside consultant and we’ve been working with them since 2018,” she says. “They are trying to come up with something creative for our members. It is really indicative of a much larger issue with the health care in our country.”
Berman says getting PGA members a healthcare plan remains a priority.
“It’s been disappointing,” Berman admits. “And it has been eye-opening, that’s for sure. But it’s still something that I want to see accomplished during our tenure.”
The prognosis is better for a Producers Mark certification for television productions. 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 project. 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.”
“We are bringing it into streaming movies and into TV movies,” says Berman.
In June the duo’s two-year term will end, but Berman and Fisher say they are far from done fighting to make things the best they can be for the guild’s 8,200 members.
“Producers like to solve problems,” Fisher says. “That’s just what we do. So Gail and I came at this from a pretty practical bent. We want to acknowledge problems and establish something concrete [to help solve] them. Not just talk about it or complain about them. But obviously the more you look at, the more you want to accomplish.”
WHAT: PGA Awards
WHEN: Jan. 18
WHERE: Hollywood Palladium