The Producer's Predicament: Gender and Diversity Issues and Bloated Budgets

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Producers Guild co-chief Lori McCreary, who works on 'Madam Secretary,' talks to THR about the industry's biggest challenges on the eve of the annual Produced By conference, set for May 30-31 at Paramount.

This story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

In the past half-dozen years, the Producers Guild of America has swelled to 7,097 members, been recognized for the "PGA" mark after producers' film credits and won the right to arbitrate for awards movies. But PGA co-president Lori McCreary (elected with Gary Lucchesi in June 2014) acknowledges, "It's not an easy business."

There's been a lot of talk recently about the dearth of women and minorities in the business. Is there enough diversity at the studios and networks?

Well, I work at CBS [on Madam Secretary], where Nina Tassler is in charge, and I work with a lot of great females there.

But how many minority execs have you pitched to this year?

Not many. I also work in tech, and minorities are much more represented in the tech industry. We have our company, Digital Revelations, in that world, and from my perspective [they're making more progress]. I don't know why, but in technology, maybe even from college, the playing field is a little more diverse, and if we see women and people of diverse backgrounds in situations that we can imagine, we can aim to be in those situations, too.

The ACLU has criticized the lack of opportunities for female directors. Do female producers fare better?

We can always do better, but in our guild, we're 45 percent women. Of the 38 members of our board and officers, 18 are women. And because there are now so many distribution platforms and places to watch content, we're seeing more diverse programming. Television is making strides, and perhaps something like Empire, a phenomenon, will [further improve that].

How has Empire impacted what people are developing?

Like any hit show, it tends to open the doors for those types of shows. I remember when Unforgiven came out, Morgan Freeman [McCreary's production partner] and I had two or three Westerns on our plate that people weren't interested in, and after that, all of a sudden, everyone was looking for Westerns.

What's the toughest problem you've faced personally as a producer?

I had a project that was four weeks from getting ready to shoot, and the studio told us it had greenlighted something else and we were getting un-greenlighted. It was Colors Straight Up, a great inner-city movie about gangs.

Did you go home and weep?

Well, I had other producers, so we wept together. Basically, you just pick yourself up, right? Start again. My mantra in this business is: If you have a film, you have to be willing to be working on it for seven years, even if it doesn't get made.

Steven Spielberg has warned about the danger of too many big-budget films, and there are lots. Is that wise?

I personally don't have a tendency to make those films, but looking at the trajectory of our business, the bigger-budget movies will continue to be made as the thing people want to see en masse. I think that the middle-range, the "middle class" of films, also is [something] we all would like to experience with other people. I'm hoping that the different places where people can now see entertainment will just expand the market, instead of shrink it.

Do you feel pressure to get into that game?

I don't. I suspect my tastes are different. And it's exciting now that there are many more opportu­nities than just the $200 million blockbusters. We're getting more and more great shortform series and cable series. I can't keep up.

How does the high quality of TV bode for the future of filmgoing?

I consider myself a filmmaker, first and foremost, and I love that experience of sitting in a dark theater and the lights going down and just waiting for the story to begin. I don't think that com­munity experience will ever go away. It will change, but it won't go away.

What's your own taste in film and TV?

I have a guilty pleasure in Scandal. I love House of Cards.

What's the last great film you saw in a theater?

I loved The Imitation Game, partially because that's my world, technology. But that was a while ago. I just finished my first season producing Madam Secretary, so I get a pass! I had no idea how hard TV producers work. Oh, boy. Every eight days, you're making a mini-movie. My friend described it as an endless wave coming at you. I love it creatively, but I'm looking forward to my next film, because it will feel like I have a bit more time.

McCreary and Clint Eastwood were nominated for a PGA award for 2009's Invictus.

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MUST-SEE PANELS INCLUDE:

Conversation With: Reese Witherspoon & Bruna Papandrea
When: 11:15 a.m., May 30

The actress-producer (Wild, Gone Girl) and her producing partner talk about their careers with moderator Will Packer.

360 Profile: Empire
When: 3:45 p.m., May 31

Producers Ilene Chaiken, Danny Strong, Lee Daniels, Francie Calfo and Brian Grazer will be present to discuss their hit Fox show.

The Art and Craft of Pitching for Television and The Art and Craft of Pitching for Film
When: 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., May 31

Producers Kenya Barris (Black-ish), Howard Gordon (Homeland) and Sarah Timberman (Masters of Sex) talk about TV, while Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai), Stephanie Allain (Hustle & Flow) and Graham King (The Departed) discuss film in two separate panels, each moderated by former PGA president Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan).

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