Backlot: Will the Real Producers Please Stand Up?

3 BKLOT Kathryn Bigelow, Taylor Hackford, Christoph Waltz
Jordan Strauss/WireImage

“The Hurt Locker” producer-director Kathryn Bigelow celebrated her win at last year’s PGA Awards with Taylor Hackford (left) and Christoph Waltz.


On the eve of its annual awards, the PGA is fighting for a new designation that distinguishes working producers from those in name only.

The Producers Guild of America is determined to leave its mark on the movies its members produce. As the organization, which represents more than 4,500 producers nationwide, readies for its 22nd annual Producers Guild Awards — set for Jan. 22 at the Beverly Hilton — its leadership has been meeting behind the scenes with studios to promote a new credit designation that would spotlight producers’ contributions.

Working producers have long bridled at the fact that when it comes to screen credits, they often share hard-earned titles with others who leverage clout — sometimes it’s a movie’s star or the star’s manager or a passive investor who provides cash.

Among this year’s PGA nominees, for example, the guild recogonized Scott Rudin’s work on both The Social Network and True Grit but not that of financial powerhouses like Ryan Kavanaugh, one of the producers of The Fighter, or David Ellison, an exec producer on Grit.

“Until 2000 or 2001, nobody had ever really thought about the rights of producers, so I think we’ve come a long way,” says Hawk Koch, the PGA’s co-president with Mark Gordon. “We are part of the fabric of the industry now, where that wasn’t always the case. But we still have to fight for respect. If you go to see a movie starring Natalie Portman, you don’t expect to see someone else playing Natalie Portman. But everyone wants a producing credit whether or not they’ve done the job.”

The PGA has proposed a solution, which it calls the Producers’ Mark. Studios would still be free to grant whichever producing credits they contractually agree to. But once a movie begins postproduction, the PGA would review the various producers’ contributions, then certify which were significant by adding the initials p.g.a. after their names.

The guild has already been using the process to decide which producers get credit when it comes to films nominated for its PGA Awards, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in its attempt to prevent armies of producers from taking to the stage to accept a best picture Oscar, has adopted the PGA’s recommendations about which producers deserve ultimate credit.

In October, 144 producers signed a letter urging studios to adopt the proposed mark, which would be determined according to guidelines the PGA laid out in its Producers Code of Credits, set down in 2004 and revised regularly since. The code breaks down producing into 30 functions; to be certified, a producer must submit evidence he or she has been involved in at least half of them.

Signatories to the letter included some of the producing ranks’ biggest names: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro, last year’s PGA winners for The Hurt Locker; veteran producers Robert Evans and Richard Zanuck; director-producers Clint Eastwood and Warren Beatty; and current contenders Rudin, David Hoberman and Mike Medavoy.

Currently, the PGA reviews credits on about 30 movies a year during awards season. PGA executive director Vance Van Petten estimates that adopting the mark would require his staff to collect information on more than 200 movies a year. But he insists, with the hiring of additional staff, that the job is manageable. “It works because we functionalized the job,” he says. “The standard is whether a producer performs the majority of the functions in a personal decision-making capacity.”

Inevitably, there have been disputes. Five years ago, the PGA didn’t include financier Bob Yari on its approved list of Crash producers, a decision he appealed unsuccessfully. This year, Relativity’s Kavanaugh, a credited producer on The Fighter, was denied PGA certification.

Kavanaugh, through a representative, declined comment. Koch, saying he can’t address  specific cases, says: “We have nothing against financiers. We appreciate every single one of them because without them a movie wouldn’t get made.” Securing financing is one of the stipulated 30 functions. But the PGA insists that if a financier — or for that matter, a writer, director or star — wants to earn the mark, they must offer evidence they’ve gone beyond their primary role and taken on a majority of the producing functions.

No studio has signed on to the designation, though several appear to be giving it serious consideration. PGA officials are hopeful the new mark will begin showing up on screens this year.

Says Koch, “Right now, I would say that at most of the studios, we are inside the 10-yard line.”           

22nd Annual PGA Awards
Saturday, Jan. 22
Beverly Hilton
Arrivals, 5 p.m.
Ceremony, 7:30 p.m.