ONCE AGAIN this year, some of the excitement of the Academy Awards race has been dampened by an unfortunate flap over an issue that most moviegoers couldn't care less about — producers' credits and who deserves to get them. And once again, I find myself unwillingly in the middle.
This year, the to-do swirled around a very deserving best picture nominee, "Little Miss Sunshine." The problem was that the movie had five producers but rules set by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences permit no more than three producers to share a best picture nomination. So even though the Producers Guild of America has certified that all five are entitled to be credited as such, the academy told two of them, Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger, that they would have to stay in their seats if their film was lucky enough to win. There could be no magical moment in the spotlight — and no golden statuettes — for them.
FOR THE RECORD:
The producers: In an earlier version of Harvey Weinstein's op-ed piece "The producers" a movie was identified as "Besieged" when it should have said "The Siege." —
The academy instituted its three-producer rule in 1999 — which is where I come in. That year, the best picture Oscar went to "Shakespeare in Love," produced by Donna Gigliotti, Marc Norman, David Parfitt, Edward Zwick and me. Five producers. Our victory prompted a certain amount of disapproval. For one thing, the sight of all of us milling about on stage struck some people as indecorous. And there were more than a few raised eyebrows over the fact that I also happened to be the head of the studio that had made the movie; the implication was that I had stuck my name on as a producer undeservedly.
It was no coincidence, then, that the academy established its three-producer limit soon afterward. About the same time, the Producers Guild adopted a series of guidelines specifying the kinds of things a producer was expected to do. If you performed those functions, you were entitled to call yourself a producer. If you didn't, you weren't.
It was — and is — an eminently sensible approach to the issue, which is why Miramax, which I headed at the time with my brother, was one of the first studios to support it. As Vance Van Petten, the executive director of the Producers Guild, will tell you, we've been extremely cooperative with the organization's process for determining credits. I don't take the producer title lightly. I've lost count of how many films I've been closely involved with, from preproduction to post, on which I declined a producer credit because there were others who deserved it more than me. As an example, during the making of "Chicago," Marty Richards and I started as the only producers on the film. Before it even became an issue, I made the personal decision to take my name off because I felt that I wasn't on set enough and felt it was the right thing to do.
Indeed, in all my years running a studio, I've taken the producer credit only three times. In the cases of "Gangs of New York," "Malena" and "Shakespeare in Love," I took what amounted to a leave of absence from my job running the studio to work on them.
In the case of "Shakespeare in Love," I was intimately involved with every aspect of the film. My head of production, Meryl Poster, took over my day-to-day responsibilities at Miramax. I hired the director, John Madden, worked closely with Tom Stoppard developing the shooting script, and I was deeply involved in casting. I spent time on the set and was very active in the editing and marketing. I flew back and forth to London the way some people take the subway to work.
The film was a special case in terms of producer credits. Ed Zwick was involved with the original concept of the film, but when we were finally ready to begin shooting, Ed was tied up directing "The Siege" and wasn't available to be on set or to do the post-production work. Marc Norman wrote the original draft but was not on set or involved in post production. When we took over the project from Universal, I became the default producer because there wasn't a producer attached to the project. I first hired David Parfitt to be the line producer and then brought in Donna Gigliotti to be the executive producer.
The five of us agreed in advance of the Academy Awards that if we won best picture, Donna and David would speak first, I would go third, and Ed and Marc would follow. What happened, of course, is that unfortunately the academy cut us off just as Ed was about to speak. Nonetheless, some people wrongly viewed this as a case of unseemly credit grabbing and microphone hogging, and it is cited as the catalyst that drove the academy and the Producers Guild to impose new regulations.
What really bothers me is that in trying to fix a problem that needs fixing, we haven't paid enough attention to how much the role of producer has changed over the years. In the independent film world, making movies has become so complicated that it sometimes takes a village to get it done.
Given the certification by the Producers Guild of Yerxa and Berger as producers of "Little Miss Sunshine," I have no doubt that they are more than deserving of a credit — and shouldn't be left out. In my opinion, Brad Grey deserves a producer credit on "The Departed," a remake of "Infernal Affairs," which my brother Bob and I had distributed. Brad beat us in the bidding war for the remake rights, and I can tell you that the movie would not have been made without him. I feel the same about Bob Yari, who last year was unfairly denied a producer credit on "Crash."
I couldn't agree more with the position of the Producers Guild that simply having the clout or leverage to demand a particular title does not make you a producer. By the same token, however, there shouldn't be some arbitrary limit to the number of producers a film can have. At the awards podium, there should be room for everyone who did the job.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times