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How many producers does a movie need?

Ryan Kavanaugh is one of six producers listed for 'The Fighter,' but the film academy allows only three for its purposes. He was cut, he appealed, and he lost.

January 14, 2011|By Nicole Sperling, Los Angeles Times

"The feeling in general was, did all these people really produce this movie?" said Mark Gordon, president of the Producers Guild. "Plus, the jostling of who was going to talk first, who was going to talk at all — it was not a particularly attractive display of artists thanking the academy."

In response to that episode, the academy put a rule in place limiting the number of producers on any film to three. And the Producers Guild hired Van Petten, a business-affairs executive from Universal and a lawyer by training, to develop a comprehensive arbitration process to vet those seeking credit.

"It's a tragic thing when a person devotes his life to a career and is either not able to get the credit they have earned, or worse, people are given the same kind of credit and public exposure to their career and have done nothing similar," said Van Petten, the guild's executive director. "It's a basic identity issue of what your life is and how you define your career. It's not just a question of numbers, it's misattribution."

Van Petten and an in-house lawyer at the guild go through an exhaustive process on every film submitted for awards consideration, calling crew members to double-check who actually did what on a movie. Department heads submit confidential affidavits. Then a committee of three experienced producers is called in to consider the evidence (weighing the early development efforts more heavily than their work once the movie enters production), look at the comments and make a decision. Kavanaugh appealed his denial but was rejected. He then took his case to the academy, where he was again denied.

This awards season, "The Fighter" was one of three Oscar-contending flicks that had to fight for producer credit. Kavanaugh was the only one who lost.

Michael De Luca, who worked on "The Social Network," was left off the Producers Guild's original list, with the guild opting for Dana Brunetti, Scott Rudin and director David Fincher's long-term producing partner Ceán Chaffin. But after appeal letters were sent by studio Sony Pictures, Rudin, Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, the guild reversed its decision and allowed four producers to be formally credited.

"I fully understand why the rules are there," said Rudin. "But it's a mensch-y thing that they make exceptions to it. Sometimes a form doesn't tell the whole story."

Veteran producer Mike Medavoy and producer-financier Brian Oliver also won credit on "Black Swan" after appealing to the guild, which initially listed only Scott Franklin as the producer of record. Medavoy, 70, first developed the film 12 years ago and stuck with the project through its various incarnations, yet was left off the submitted list of producers.

"Brian Oliver was on the set all the time, and he put up the money to get the movie made, so he deserves the credit," says Medavoy. "But this movie wouldn't have existed had I not bought the script 12 years ago."

It's unclear why the guild reversed its decision on both "The Social Network" and "Black Swan" and didn't do so with "The Fighter." The guild declines to comment on any specific film, but Gordon, its president, said: "Our goal is not to exclude but to include. We err on the side of inclusion whenever we possibly can."

Kavanaugh, who usually is willing to talk to the press, declined comment for this story. But if history says anything about this process, he's got to be feeling pretty low. Albert Berger, who was in Kavanaugh's position in 2007 when he was denied credit for "Little Miss Sunshine," said: "Sometimes it takes more than three people to produce a movie, and when they should be the most celebrated, they are turned against each other. It's hard enough to get a movie made. It would be great if the time when a movie is being thought of for its highest achievement that the people who made it can actually be feeling good."

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