Producers Guild leaders won’t be hosting their annual awards show in person as hoped mid-pandemic. Instead, they promise a virtual event on March 24 that will give members a chance to celebrate their accomplishments following a year marked by production stoppages and a shattered theatrical marketplace.
“We’re hoping it will be an efficient awards show that has heart,” says Susan Sprung, national executive director of the guild.
The silver lining: “Every year we sell out, and thousands of members are upset that they can’t be in the room and can’t experience it,” she points out. “This year everyone can be there virtually.”
Guild organizers opted to forego annual honorary awards this year, believing those best celebrated in person, and plan to resume them next year. It opted to continue its annual Saturday programming with virtual sessions for PGA nominees; sessions for documentaries and non-fiction programming were added this year.
Film nominees vying for trophies include “Nomadland,” “Minari” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” while small-screen nominees include “Better Call Saul,” “Bridgerton,” “I May Destroy You” and “Ted Lasso.”
“It’s been a challenging year — that’s the bottom line,” says Gail Berman, co-president of the guild. “The good news is, right now, we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
An active producer, like her co-president Lucy Fisher, Berman had a movie and pilot shut down, along with her company.
“But the movie came back, and the pilot came back,” she says, adding that it’s the nature of producers to assess the landscape and figure out how to move forward.
While shuttered theaters created a lot of heartache for those intent on a big-screen release during the past year, Fisher points out that the guild had already moved away from rigid definitions that once defined Hollywood productions.
“The PGA never drew as big a line as other on venue as some other groups did,” she says, noting that many producers work cross platforms.
“People want the connectedness that any screen can provide,” Fisher says. “We think that is going be around forever.”
Early in the pandemic, the guild set up a relief fund for people affected by work stoppages, its leaders conferring by phone on an hourly basis. And to help them get back to work, the guild created a program to notify members of job opportunities when those arose.
Informally, guild leaders say, members shared a lot of information with each other about how to navigate the crisis.
On a more formal basis, the PGA established a guide for COVID-19 safety protocols, gearing it to independent productions under the reasoning that studios were setting up their own safeguards. These guidelines, created in collaboration with other Hollywood guilds, have been continually updated based on conversations with health professionals.
It’s investigating, for example, whether producers will be able to require a vaccine before someone can work on a production. But, Sprung says, it’s too soon in the vaccine process to establish many protocols for fully emerging from pandemic restrictions.
Sprung has been sharing her national executive director duties for the past two years with longtime guild mainstay Vance Van Petten, who recently announced that he would step down midyear after 21 years. With his departure she will assume all the duties of the post.
In the past year, the organization has reassessed its diversity programs, broadening its focus on increased inclusivity and mentoring potential producers from underrepresented groups.
“There’s always a lot more that we can do,” Fisher says. “After George Floyd’s death, almost the entire organization was galvanized to do something.”
And guild leaders are intent on doing more than talk about change the way it approaches diversity and inclusion. “We’re moving the ball forward,” Berman says.
Getting everyone back to work remains a top priority. On a personal level, guild leaders are looking forward to working from their office again; the PGA had just moved and gotten its computers working when they began working remotely due to the pandemic.
The key to moving forward, Berman says, is to ensure that COVID protocols are flexible. There will be some pandemic-era practices worth keeping — such as fewer people on set and no wasteful food buffets — and higher safety costs to overcome.
According to Fisher, production costs are 20% to 30% higher due to COVID safety protocols, “and producers are asked to bear that cost.” Sprung affirms that level of increase as well.
But the trio present an upbeat view of the year ahead.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Berman says. “It’s been quite a year.”