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On Saturday, Stephanie Allain and Donald De Line shepherded their first-ever Producers Guild of America Awards as presidents of the trade organization. The starry event, honoring Top Gun: Maverick’s Tom Cruise and Never Have I Ever’s Mindy Kaling among others, celebrated some of the field’s greatest successes in 2022, with the wide-ranging plaudits reflecting that “there is room for all scale and scope of films to coexist,” argues De Line.
Still, in their new posts, the pair of former executives (De Line was head of production at Paramount Pictures, Allain svp of production at Columbia Pictures) and current full-time producers face an increasingly challenged business environment for their line of work. Major items on their agenda to tackle during their two-year term, which began in September, include waning profit participation and studio overall deals, a lack of inclusive, go-to healthcare option and slashed fees for producers. Citing a career path that was no longer “sustainable,” a separate group of feature producers launched a unionizing effort in 2021; Two years earlier The Hollywood Reporter reported on producers’ disappearing middle class. As a trade organization, the PGA does not engage in collective bargaining but is still working on improving conditions and prospects for their over 8,500 members.
Following the PGA Awards, THR spoke to Allain and De Line about the challenges, as well as the opportunities, they foresee in their advocacy work ahead — and how they feel about rumors of a potential strike this year.
On Saturday you both experienced your first PGA Awards as presidents. What does the work that the PGA awarded on Saturday say about the state of producing, in your view?
Stephanie Allain: It’s a global marketplace. It’s very exciting to see things like Everything Everywhere All at Once and Wakanda Forever, The Whale, The White Lotus, which was all in Italy, and just the intimacy of some of the [titles]. It feels like there’s a lot of great movies and television out right now and I think that was really reflected in the awards.
Donald De Line: Speaking for the movie part of it, when you can see something as disparate as a tiny intimate movie like The Whale or The Fabelmans sharing the stage with a Top Gun and Avatar, it is heartening to us. A good movie is a good movie is a good movie, and people recognize and love and want to see good movies. And there is room for all scale and scope of films to coexist. Some of these big blockbuster movies really got people back into theaters. So we need that as a baseline to keep the business healthy, and then that helps also support a lot of smaller films and more intimate things getting done also.
Allain: And the spillover from those movies. I mean, The Whale made $30 million at the box office.
You’re still only a few months into your jobs as presidents of the PGA at a tough moment for the industry. What are your top priorities for your two-year term and why?
De Line: Stephanie and I have a couple headlines: One is healthcare for producers, which is something that we know is not a new issue. We know it’s been worked on for years by all the great people at the guild, management and guild presidents who have come before us. But it’s something we’re not going to give up on trying to solve. We’re also very concerned about producers’ profit participation, both in television and feature films. And that’s something that we want to really try to do something about and educate people about.
Allain: I think that the education is something that we can do at the guild. When you say to a non-producer, “Do you know the producer is the only line on a budget that is not supported by health insurance?” people can’t believe it. They’re like, “What are you talking about?” And I think part of it is just the culture of understanding what producers do, how we support productions from beginning to end, and the lack of value attributed to that. And so that’s what we really want to do, is to educate folks to let them know that we’re here, we’re not going anywhere. We want to make sure that the next group of young producers coming up really want to be producers, really can be producers just in terms of being able to afford [it], afford having to work in a profession where you’re struggling for healthcare and you’re still working 12, 13, 14 hours a day.
De Line: It’s an incredibly tough time in the business for producers. There used to be a lot of overall deals for producers at studios, and sometimes producers could plug into a studio’s system where they would get healthcare and things like that for both themselves and their employees. Those have really, really dwindled a lot in the last five years. So it’s sustaining your overhead, your healthcare, and then, when you finally can get a project made, producers’ fees in a line item are the first things that are usually attacked by a studio when they’re trying to trim the budget down. Those people may have spent 10 to 15 years on that project without earning one cent, and when you look at it relatively speaking to a movie star salary or a director’s salary, it’s a much more modest number. It’s something that just isn’t fair in terms of the time, effort, focus and hard work that producers put into getting movies made. Most movies wouldn’t happen without a producer. We’re talking about the hard work of getting up every day and pushing a rock up a hill.
Let’s talk more about healthcare, because when THR interviewed your predecessors as co-presidents, Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher, last year, they also focused on that as a remaining challenge. What are the prospects for that looking like at the moment?
Allain: We have a lot of smart minds working on it, a lot of industry heavyweights and lawyers and producers and agents and people who understand the value of producing all putting their minds toward solving it. Since the Guild is not a collective bargaining organization, it makes it very challenging. There are a lot of avenues that we are still exploring.
De Line: Here’s an anecdote. Stephanie and I, when we started on this endeavor together, we were talking about this insurance issue. And she mentioned something to me about MPI insurance [Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plans], and I said, gosh, I don’t even know what that is. And that’s been Stephanie’s health insurance for years and it’s phenomenal. But what we come to find out is a lot of people don’t qualify for it and or a lot of studios or production entities don’t cooperate with it.
Allain: Or producers don’t ask for it because they’re not aware. So the campaign is awareness.
De Line: But that’s one prong: If you can’t get MPI insurance because it isn’t everybody as a producer who can qualify for it, we’re examining things like a line item in a budget where productions or studios can fund an account for producers’ healthcare. So there are lots of different ideas we’re working on simultaneously. Our goal is to be able to get it so there’s something the producer can access somehow so they have some kind of coverage.
Now on the issue of profit participation, what’s your strategy on attempting to get more of that for producers?
De Line: We want to examine how and why these deals have eroded so much. And part of what we’re doing now with the task force is doing studies of that. And again, awareness and education of our guild members: Here’s what you used to see in backend deals, here’s what’s gone away, here’s what we might want to talk to our representatives about when our deals are being negotiated so we can work toward trying to gain back some of that lost ground. For instance, a streamer who used to pay you up front — they would buy out your backend, let’s call it — now they’re getting a lot of advertising revenue [from] dual-tier subscriptions where [viewers] can get a paid advertising version of that streamer. Producers used to share in that. But it’s gone now. We didn’t get that back. So things like that.
We’ve talked about some of the major challenges producers are facing right now. What are the biggest opportunities?
Allain: The biggest opportunities, especially over the last few years, are just [there are] so many different outlets to sell movies and film to. Donald and I have been in this for a long time, [since] there were just seven studios and that was it. So it’s allowed us to diversify our business, for those of us who were in film forever to cross over into television, to let the content or the IP guide us in terms of whether it’s a movie or a limited or an ongoing [series]. So I think the opportunities have been fantastic, we just need to make sure we’re part of the success when these things work.
How concerned should producers be, in your view, about the upcoming negotiations for three major guilds — the Writers Guild, SAG-AFTRA and the Directors Guild of America — and the potential for a work stoppage there?
Allain: Any kind of work stop is going to affect all of it, so everybody’s concerned. Everybody feels that fairness should prevail in terms of what is fair for everybody to participate in with the new world of streamers and downselling product after it goes on the first streamer. So we’re all concerned, nobody wants a work stoppage, but I think we’ll just have to sit it out and wait and see where the chips fall.
Are you advising your members on anything at this point or just in a wait-and-see mode?
De Line: A wait-and-see mode.
What can the industry expect from the PGA this year?
Allain: We just landed with an amazing ceremony that people are still talking about, you know Mike Farah and Joe Farrell from Funny or Die produced a show and it was elegant, it was funny, it was for producers. I felt like the people we honored, from Mindy [Kaling] to Till, to Pam [Abdy] and Mike [De Luca] to Tom [Cruise] were really spot on in terms of folks really making a difference in the marketplace. Our tenure hopefully will be marked by excitement, by a growing guild, by moving the needle forward on on healthcare and elevating the value of producers.
De Line: I think that’s almost one of our most important missions, elevating the value of producers, and for people to really understand what producers do. Stephanie and I have done both sides of the fence: We were studio executives for years, we’ve been producers for years. We have perspective on both sides. Until you’ve produced something, actually been on the floor and done it, you don’t really quite understand what it is. So we’re going to try to help people really understand what it really means.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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