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PGA Predicts Quick Studio Approval of New 'p.g.a.' Mark

The designation, intended to highlight substantive Produced By credits, is protected by trademark and received a Justice Department signoff.

In the wake of a Justice Department letter greenlighting the Producers Guild’s new “p.g.a.” credit designation, guild executive director Vance Van Petten tells The Hollywood Reporter that he’s confident the designation will be adopted shortly by a majority of studios.

“With this letter, we will be able to close (agreements with) four studios imminently,” Van Petten said in an interview.

The designation is intended to indicate that a motion picture producer has performed the functions of a producer on a project, as opposed to having received a vanity credit. Eligibility requires a “Produced by” credit and the credited producer having “performed a majority of the producing duties on the film,” according to a PGA statement to THR explaining the designation.

The designation would follow a producer’s name in the movie’s credits, if he or she qualified, and desired the designation. In addition, said the guild, studios and distributors remain free to assign the credit to whomever they wish.

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PGA presidents Hawk Koch and Mark Gordon said “We’re extremely pleased that the U.S. Department of Justice has fully endorsed the Producers Guild’s certification mark.” The added, “The DOJ’s critical decision clearly and definitively paves the way for swift adoption of the Producers' Mark, as there should be no further resistance from the motion picture studios to participate in the 'p.g.a.' certification program.”

The PGA has sought to protect the “p.g.a.” designation by filing for federal registration as a certification mark – a type of trademark indicating that the services were performed by a person meeting specified criteria.

Certification marks also – and more commonly – can be applied to goods. For instance, “Bluetooth” certifies that cell phones, headsets and other products comply with the necessary technical standards.

The guild received a Notice of Allowance from the Trademark Office, meaning that registration is all but automatic once the mark is in use.

A certification mark for use in motion picture credits is unusual, and perhaps unique. According to Van Petten, this approach was developed “because we had brilliant legal counsel,” David Quinto of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP.

Catherine Fisk, a law professor at UC Irvine and an expert on credit and attribution in entertainment, remarked “Screen credit is important in Hollywood’s labor market and to consumers of Hollywood films. The success of the PGA’s certification mark will ultimately depend on whether the PGA can develop an impartial and rigorous method for determining the contributions of producers.”

Although the Producers Guild is not a union – unlike the similarly named Writers, Directors and Screen Actors Guilds – it’s managed to adopt for producers one of the WGA’s key functions for writers: namely, determining credits, at least for the purpose of qualifying for best picture nominations for the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards.

The guild explained that “the process for implementing the (p.g.a.) Producers’ Mark follows the template laid down by the Guild’s successful awards arbitration process, though with an accelerated timeline:  eligibility determinations (are held) during a film’s post-production process in order to determine the recipients of the Mark prior to the striking of the film’s credits.”

Following the receipt of a Notice of Credits from the relevant studio or distributor, Guild staff will invite credited producers to submit an eligibility form to receive the Mark, said the PGA. The form is similar to the eligibility forms submitted by producers for consideration for awards.

The process is similar in some respects to the WGA credit procedure.

Studios haven’t yet agreed to the plan, and negotiations with one of the majors, Paramount, hung up over the studio’s concerns that the designation might lead to antitrust liability – despite the fact that the designation is optional, isn’t restricted to PGA members, and will only be granted to members if they meet the same criteria as any other producer.

In addition, Van Petten pointed out to THR that designations such as A.S.C. have been used in credits for many years after the names of members of the American Society of Cinematographers – a more restrictive designation, since only ASC members are eligible – yet without apparent antitrust concerns.

Another frequent designation is A.C.E., for members of the American Cinema Editors. Both organizations are professional societies open to personnel of a certain level of experience and distinction. They’re not unions.

The Paramount objections led to another innovative move: the PGA sought a “business review letter” from the Department of Justice – essentially, an assurance that the DOJ sees no antitrust problem in the proposed approach.

Those letters are seldom granted – they’ve been issued at the rate of only about five per year in the past few years – and the use of such a letter in combination with a certification mark seems even rarer.

Rare or not, the PGA obtained one on Friday.

The letter, which was the first one issued this year, stated “the (Department of Justice) has no present intention to challenge the proposed use of the Guild's certification mark.” Receipt of the letter led Van Petten to express his confidence that negotiations would now be successful with Paramount and three additional studios, which he didn’t name.

Koch and Gorden said “We (believe) that the entire industry benefits from recognizing producers for their work.”

The guild also noted in its statement to THR that it “believes that audiences deserve to know which producers, among an often-extensive list of credited individuals and teams, actually did the work.”

At present, the p.g.a. mark is only applicable to theatrical motion pictures, although television use is under consideration.

The official description of the mark, as reflected in the guild’s trademark filing, is “The certification mark, as intended to be used by authorized persons, is intended to certify that an individual identified as a producer on the credits of a motion picture, television or cable show has satisfied the certifier's standards to qualify for a production credit and is thus is recognized as a producer eligible to be nominated for and to receive an award in connection with the individual's work on such motion picture, television or cable show.”

Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel