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The Kids Are Alright, But What About The Producers

by Jeff Steele

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With awards season in full swing, I eagerly await the annual Academy Award controversy over who the producers are, who is the film “Produced By”, and who is actually entitled to receive the coveted Best Picture Oscar.  Engaging as that is, it also brings to the fore the more important question of what (or who) a film producer is.

Attend any festival premiere and you’ll easily burn twenty minutes listening to directors graciously acknowledge their myriad producers.  These runaway producing credits have been the bane of the Producer Guild of America for almost two decades.  During a film’s initial financing phase, “Executive Producer” credits are handed out to like holiday cards to anybody who can point the way to somebody who can point the way to a few pennies here and a few sheckles there.  This creates a daisy chain of Executive Producers credits for everybody who comes in contact with the project.  The films “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Crash” are two well known examples.  According to IMDb.com Crash had fourteen producing credits, six production company credits, and two lawsuits.  I’m not going to bother doing a forensic analysis into each credit, but suffice it to say that Shulman v. Yari got ugly.  More recently, however, The Kids Are Alright has TWENTY producer credits and EIGHT production companies.  There are more producers than cast.  Could you imagine if each company got their own animated logo at the beginning?

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) officially recognizes the following credits as acceptable for membership into its organization:

  • Producers
  • Executive Producers
  • Co-Executive Producers (Television Only)
  • Co-Producers
  • Line-Producers
  • Supervising Producers
  • Production Supervisors
  • Production Managers
  • Production Coordinators
  • Associate Producers
  • Segment Producers
  • Field Producers
  • Senior Story Producers
  • Story Producers
  • Post-Production Producers
  • Post-Production Supervisors
  • Post-Production Managers
  • Post-Production Coordinators
  • Visual Effects Producers
  • Visual Effects Coordinators

In addition, the PGA has strict definitions as to what each position entails: i.e., an Executive Producer is somebody who secures no less than 25% of the financing.  Yet, every middle man and financier in the capital structure now demands an EP credit for themselves, their investors, and their colleagues. In addition, most want main title animated logos.

Having been on both sides of the table: as a producer, lender, and equity investor, I understand the contributions of each, as well as the practical and emotional motivations at play.  Practically speaking, corporate and personal branding are important considerations (being that film credits are the currency of Hollywood’s practitioners.)  Emotionally speaking, who doesn’t want to see their name in lights?  Truth be told, once the movie ends nobody really remembers whose credits were in the main titles and whose were in the end title “crawl”.  The Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com) does not differentiate between main vs. end titles, and nor does anybody’s resume or bio.

While it would be nice if everybody just went along with the Producers Guild’s credit guidelines and used the guild to arbitrate any disputes (e.g. when a person’s defined role vs. their actual contribution to a project diverge), I don’t see the quantity of credits diminishing, so I suggest a simple clarification of the credits: Creative Producers, Production Producers, and Financing Producers.  All standard variations can still apply: Financing Producer, Executive Financing Producer, C0-Financing Producer, Associate Financing Producer, and so on.  You could even bifurcate the production credits into Produced By and Financed By (for films with a single investor).  This wouldn’t be necessary if the Producers were always the creatives, the Co-Producers were always the Line Producers, the Executive Producers were always the financiers, and the Associate Producers were always the assistants.  That is not always the case.

There can even be guidelines as to who get’s the sub-producing credits: intermediaries can be Associate Financing Producers (end crawl), while Executive, C0-, and C0-Executive Financing Producers (in main or end titles) can each be negotiated according to percentage of contribution, degree of risk capital, and so on.  As long as The Producer is rational and consistent then the Equity, Gap, Mezz, Senior, Tax Credit, Bridge, and Completion financiers can each carve out their respective turf, as appropriate to the project at hand.  Every finance plan is different, so there need not be hard and fast rules, but consistency will go along way to avoiding precedential crediting (i.e. “I get an Executive Financing Producer credit because I always get one”, irrespective of the actual contribution.)  This is obviously a simplified framework, but it’s one within which the credits still sound cool, and they endeavor to move the industry toward professionalizing and democratizing the producing landscape.

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Stephen Fromkin permalink
    January 25, 2011

    This entry solidifies it–this is my new favorite blog. Whether the PGA, or others jumps on board this new structure is anyone’s guess. But the argument behind it is right on!

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  2. tres miah permalink
    January 25, 2011

    Hi Jeff,

    I agree with Stephen that this would simplify the process of credits especially, seeing that a whole new generation of young producers are on board that where raised on “Baby Einstein” and in classrooms “where everyone is special.”

    People are not humble and civil today so, this is the equivalent of mandated speed bumps in new residential areas because people are just thinking about themselves in their cars and not the danger of speeding.

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  3. January 25, 2011

    great post. as usual. thanks!

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  4. Andy Halmay permalink
    January 25, 2011

    Film and perhaps theater are the only two industries I can think of where such childishness is pervasive. It leads one to speculate that Hollywood was much better off in the days of the Moguls who acted like strict parents to potentially obstreperous children. Now that there are no parents in Hollywood, the children run amok and they really need frequent spankings. A very distasteful group.

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  5. January 25, 2011

    I have been reading Jeff Steele for awhile now and the comments very much relate to the real world . My firm finances film tax credits but only in Canada but I think a lot of his comments on ‘ who is involved ‘ and what they are called are dead on and probably apply everywhere geographically.

    Stan

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  6. January 26, 2011

    Jeff, excellent post, as usual.

    1) What are your thoughts regarding the upcoming onslaught of ‘producer’ credits, supposedly to be published by IMDB, of those CROWDFUNDING micro-budget films that will give every donor a producer credit?

    2) Do you anticipate push-back if a filmmaker uses boiler-plate default reference to the PGA guidelines as the determining factor for the film’s credits determination?

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    • Jeff Steele permalink
      January 28, 2011

      Michael,
      1) I presume that theatrical distributors won’t want any part of crowd-credits beyond a reasonable amount of crawl time. Independently produced and distributed web videos/movies will have the prerogative to do as they please, understanding that the font will have to be very small and the crawl very fast — which isn’t very sexy.
      2) There will always be push-back against something new, but I think referencing default PGA guidelines in the boiler-plate of your producing deals creates a defensible, consistent way to start to clean up the EP credit mess. Probably easier to implement if the producer is a member of the PGA — then you can let them be the heavy.

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  7. Bruce Holsten permalink
    January 26, 2011

    Your observations are extremely relevant not so much because of the over-reaching of individual film production credits, but for two other very distinct reasons:

    First, Hollywood (and Wall Street) operates on the “What Have You Done Lately” model and the very existence of an organization like IMDb that tracks “credits” tells you how important they are in determining access to funding, as well as a your next paying gig. You have to have the credits to play in the bigger sand box.

    Second, and more importantly, it tells you how difficult it is and to what lengths independent and even Studio-based film developers will go to raise capital, and the EP credit is one of the easier and more tangible benefits one can offer to a private capital source or even a hedge fund looking to break its way into the Film Finance Industry.

    I say “the more the merrier”…

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  8. January 29, 2011

    Amen!

    Can I get an amen?!

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  9. Frankie j permalink
    January 29, 2011

    Truly as difficult it is to get a film produced , those who effectively and successfully assist in the process, whether pointing the direction to the promised land or blood on the table need recognition. As we are all well aware, film financing is not found in Hollywood. Everybody and their mother thinks they have a golden ticket of a script, and feel every loose dollar in this world should be thrown into their vision. I applaud all of us who have the passion for their product and tenacious tunnel vision to get it on the big screen. That’s what makes this industry so great, everyone has a story that they would like to share to the world. In Contrast to that statement, only a few stories are told whether they should of been made or not. The reality of it all is there is only so much capital and those willing to take a shot as investor to Knock one out of the park. We not to be dynamic and adapt to the daily changing landscape of the film industry sphere and dive deep into our sphere of influence and relationships to excel. Those who have a broad reach in other industries to capture the golden egg of an investor wins. Most investors outside the film industry have no comprehension or for a lack of a better word are marginally educated on the process. We need to treat them accordingly not to shield them from reaching producer credits, but as Jeff articulated so well, create a system that makes sense when listing and naming producers. Let’s all face it and be honest with ourselves, without these mavericks to take the risk most of us wouldn’t have a job let alone a job. I’m a hybrid of both producer and financier who as a very diverse business reach. So let’s give credit where credit is do, and develop a system that values all parties who are/were a part of the team and process. Jeff I applaud you for your forward thinking and the strength of your thought in your blog. Keep up the good work we need more soldiers like yourself!

    Cheers,
    Frankie j

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  10. Ambika Leigh permalink
    March 17, 2011

    Excellent insight fused with practical suggestions = brilliant. Have you or anyone else officially proposed this to the PGA? And if not, why not?? I’m not a member, and not sure how open they are to change, but it’s an issue that effects the structuring of deals and the future of careers every day. Let’s get on it!

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  11. maria permalink
    July 26, 2012

    Hi Jeff,

    Love your blog. You’re the smartest man in the business :)

    I just completed a screenplay and am currently negotiating a potential deal with a producer from LA. But I’m a little confused about his road map. The producer proposed to break down the ‘development’ process into three phases. During the first phase, I will be paying him on a ‘producer-for-hire’ basis in which I hold on to the rights. By the end of this phase, he would ideally have attached a key ATL element and secured funding for the subsequent phases of development. At that point he expects to transition from a ‘for hire’ status to a 50/50 rights split or wishes to control 100% of the rights (through an option deal I think). Is this normal?

    Thanks,
    Maria

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    • Jeff Steele permalink
      August 18, 2012

      Paying a producer to shop your project is not normal. I think it’s predatory. Unless your script is garbage or utterly non-commercial, then it may be your only hope — assuming you have money to burn.

      Either way, you better keep him on a short leash, with detailed weekly reporting. For which you’ll pay him on a weekly basis.

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