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The Kids Are All Right, But What About The Producers?

I suggest we avoid this whole "produced by" quagmire with a simple clarification of the credits: creative producers, production producers and financing producers.

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 20 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 14 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 20 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 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 percent 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, co-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, co-, and co-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.

Jeff Steele is a noted film finance expert and owns the website FilmClosings.com.  Most recently, Jeff was CFO of Magnet Media Group, an equity finance, production, and distribution fund for $10 million - $50 million feature films.  Before that, Jeff was the director of film finance for Screen Capital International and a producer for Sony Classics' "Who Killed the Electric Car?"