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How Many Producers Is Too Many?

June 29, 1997|Judy Brennan | Judy Brennan is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Hollywood is finally feeling the fallout.

Over the past few years, the town's biggest producers have been grumbling about interloper producers infiltrating their ranks: actors, agents, writers and directors being given producer credits to sweeten their salaries and strengthen their leverage with studios.

But now, Hollywood is starting to see the effects of handing out those credits so liberally. In the past few months, the fates of three films have been radically altered because of their producers:

* Bruce Willis, star of "Broadway Brawler," a modestly budgeted "Jerry Maguire"-like boxing drama, reportedly became disgruntled on the set because of conflicts with the director, Lee Grant, and disagreements over close-ups. Because he also had a producer credit, he was able to in effect shut down filming, leaving Disney to cover the $17 million Cinergi had already invested.

* Joe Eszterhas, screenwriter of the Hollywood spoof "An Alan Smithee Film" for Disney, reportedly disagreed with the direction of Arthur Hiller, and because of his producer credit, was able to take away final cut from Hiller and finish the film himself. Hiller has said he will remove his name from the film.

* James Cameron, director of "Titanic," was unable to complete the special effects for the $180-million film in time for its announced July 2 release date. Because he is also a producer of the film, he was in a position to decide, with Paramount's and 20th Century Fox's agreement, to delay its release by more than five months. The delay is expected to cost many more millions of dollars.

Needless to say, veteran producers are finding all of this a little hard to take. Yet many in Hollywood see these actions as simply the inevitable result of the growing trend of rewarding high-priced talent with producing credit as another perk of employment.

"These people are the new carpetbaggers in our world," said one top producer. "Some of them are legit . . . but most, hardly."

A producer was once considered the most powerful player in the movie business. He or she was responsible for making the film happen: hustling the script, talent, money, studio backing and worldwide distributors, then overseeing the production daily to make sure it comes in on time and budget. Since the producer is the one who made the picture happen, it has always been the producer who took home the most coveted prize--for best picture--on Oscar night.

But with the credit being given to stars, directors and writers, one Universal executive says, "[A producing] credit has become 'the big joke.' In Hollywood now, the definition of a producer has become anyone with a desk. . . . All of this really insults those people who are the real thing."

Producers have been trying to find a way to arbitrate their credit with studios and halt the relentless string of producer-related credits. They note that the latest instances show what they've been complaining about all along. In fact, Arnold Kopelson, who won an Oscar for "Platoon" and is one of the town's most prolific producers, has been one of the most vocal about the diluted credit. He has drafted a set of proposals that would give producers their power back at the arbitration table with studios.

Producers are still smarting over the recent change effected by the Writers Guild, resulting in a film's writer getting a more prominent credit, listed just before the director's--a spot that producers used to contractually receive. The writers' proposal was approved by studios in 1995 without representation by the Producers Guild, Kopelson said.

"That is why we want a board set up that will arbitrate producer credits," he said. "The Producers Guild has not had the bargaining status as have the other unions and it needs it. It is the next step in having the studios honor the determination of who is actually producing a movie, which is very hard work. A director or writer may think they are entitled to a producer credit, but when did you ever see a director or writer want to share credit with a producer?"

Kopelson was quick to note, "This is not addressed to those individuals who may be actors or writers or directors who otherwise have an ongoing production company" with projects on which they are actively involved as producers. Those include Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Jodie Foster, Michael Douglas and Kevin Costner, to name a few. "My opposition is to those people who attempt to have shared credit as a means to extract additional compensation, or to otherwise give them more of a say in the production when they are not entitled to the same." Kopelson declined to single out any examples.

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