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Film Producers Renew Effort to End Unearned Screen Credits

October 03, 2000|CLAUDIA ELLER

Hollywood producers are at it again--fighting the uphill fight to distinguish themselves from wannabes who get credit for producing movies even when they don't do much.

Vance Van Petten, the new executive director of the Producers Guild of America, and some of his influential board members are reviving efforts to halt the proliferation of producer credits for movies. The lingering problem is so out of control that some films list 10 or more people as producers. The summer hit "Scary Movie" boasted 11.

"It's a joke . . . and we can't ignore it,' says Van Petten, who was hired by the guild in January to replace veteran Charles FitzSimons after a long career as a studio business and legal affairs executive.

Van Petten is the latest industry figure to lead what has so far been a noble, albeit futile, crusade to separate legitimate producers from those who get screen credit--and a paycheck--for having little, if any, impact on a film.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 4, 2000 Home Edition Business Part C Page 3 Financial Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
'Scary Movie'--Lisa Suzanne Blum was a co-producer of the film "Scary Movie." She was incorrectly listed as an associate producer in a chart Tuesday.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 6, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Wayans credits--The first name of filmmaker Keenen Ivory Wayans was misspelled in a Tuesday Business section story about movie producer credits and in Wednesday's Column One on children's access to sexual and violent material in popular entertainment.

For years, producers have griped that their profession is being cheapened and undermined by the absurd number of unearned screen credits indiscriminately doled out by the studios to anyone with enough leverage to demand it. Unlike writers and directors, producers don't control their own credits.

The credit epidemic is illustrative of the power the studios give today's mega-stars and top directors and how the huge media conglomerates that own studios increasingly call the shots on how things get produced. It also underscores the diminishing clout of most Hollywood producers, who are getting fewer studio deals as companies slash overhead.

One of the problems for producers is that, unlike a director, it's hard to define exactly what a producer does. In theory, a producer is like the chief executive of a film, overseeing major decisions such as budgets and hiring. But if a big-name actor demands that his or her manager, best friend or massage therapist get a producer credit, a studio would readily indulge the star.

And that is not about to change any time soon--if ever.

"Stars often dictate that their managers get producer credit," says Producers Guild board member Neal Moritz, whose credits include "Cruel Intentions" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer." "It comes down to leverage. If six studios want that star's movie, then the manager will get the credit."

Managers who get producer credits argue that there are plenty of instances in which they do perform both jobs, and that producers are whining about a cause that is largely ego-driven.

Nonetheless, it's become commonplace for a star's manager to be listed as producer on a movie. And, from a star's point of view, why not have the studio give the credit and pay the manager a producer fee? It beats the star's having to fork over a commission.

"Our only enemy is the manager who does not actually produce but gets the credit," Van Petten explains.

Van Petten's long-term goal is for the Producers Guild to control the producer credit. But as a professional organization, it lacks the clout and labor-union status of the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America, both of which have strict guidelines governing the awarding of credits.

So the Producers Guild would have to strike a voluntary agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates contracts for the studios and TV networks. But even the alliance couldn't force studios and networks to comply.

AMPTP chief J. Nicholas Counter says there is only one way he can envision the situation easing. "It would have to be done on a one-on-one basis, where [the Producers Guild] gets the companies to be more sensitive to the issue."

One industry source suggested that it may take the clout of high-powered producers such as Jerry Bruckheimer or Scott Rudin to negotiate the credit upfront in their personal contracts with studios or networks.

The members of the Producers Guild who alongside Van Petten are active on the credits issue stress that the studios themselves would benefit greatly from a resolution.

"I don't think the studios like having 12 producers on a movie," says Laura Ziskin, who recently returned to the ranks of producing after heading 20th Century Fox's movie unit Fox 2000. "We're saying we will self-police this and provide the mechanism to give the credit."

Producer Mark Gordon says that if the guild were able to control the credit, it would relieve the studios of being in a position of having to say yes or no to someone's unreasonable demands.

"I believe the studios would be thrilled to have this taken off their plate," says Gordon, a producer of "The Patriot" and "Saving Private Ryan," among other films. "It costs them money, not just credits."

For years, powerful Hollywood producers have struggled to get studios to limit the number of screen credits they dish out, especially ones to individuals who may never have been on the set of the film they supposedly produced.

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