MOVIES : Such a Production : It can take 6, 8 or 9 producers to screw in a movie or TV show, and, no matter the number, they all want to be given a credit
Actress Cindy Williams was sitting in the offices of Sandollar Productions one day tossing out movie ideas with producers Howard Rosenman and Carol Baum.
“It was merely a bull session,” Rosenman recalled. Williams, the former co-star of TV’s “Laverne & Shirley,” had a sudden brainstorm. “How about ‘Father of the Bride’?” she asked. Rosenman looked at Baum. Baum looked at Rosenman. “That’s a good idea!” Baum said.
Nearly five years later, the remake of the classic 1950 film is about to be released by Touchstone Pictures. And there, listed among the nine producer credits, is Cindy Williams. She is one of five producers; the movie also had three executive producers and one associate producer.
But “Father of the Bride” is not unique in this regard. Throughout the film industry, producer credits are multiplying.
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” which Francis Ford Coppola is currently shooting, has seven producer credits that include two executive producers who are not involved in making the film.
“For the Boys” has three producers, an executive producer, a co-producer and two associate producers. The movie “29th Street” has seven producer credits. “Other People’s Money” has six. “To Sleep With Anger” has eight.
Television is no different. At the recent Emmys, the award-winning comedy series “Cheers” listed 13 producers while the drama “L.A. Law” listed nine.
“For one of them, they had the cast as well as the producers (on the stage) and the producers outnumbered the cast!” said Charles B. FitzSimons, executive director of the Producers Guild of America.
“The proliferation is a disgrace,” said Samuel Goldwyn Jr., chairman of the producer’s branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “When I started making films in the 1950s, there was just one producer (to a film).”
The era of the deal in Hollywood has spawned all manner of producers, executive producers, associate producers, co-producers, supervising producers, segment producers, coordinating producers and line producers.
From actors and managers to directors and screenwriters, if a person has clout or has somewhere along the line obtained rights to a book, he can bargain his way onto the screen credits as some type of producer--even if he never goes near the set.
“It’s the price of doing business,” observed one studio executive.
Tony Adams, who has produced many of Blake Edwards’ films, commented:
“A lot of people get producer credit and maybe visit the set once or twice, or at the wrap party wear a movie jacket. They will discuss a movie as if they produced it. They get credit as though they produced it. And they really have not in any way fulfilled the role of a producer, no matter how loosely you want to interpret those guidelines.”
The question ultimately comes down to this: what is a producer?
“To the public, a producer is a cigar-smoking guy with the money,” Adams said. “Sadly, because of the flagrant abuse and misuse of both the title and the role, you could go into a bookstore, buy a book and say, ‘I’m thinking of making a movie of this book,’ and you’re probably able to say you’re a producer.
“You don’t need anything to be a producer,” he continued. “To be a director, you might not be a very good one, but at least you have a sense of how to tell a story, where to place a camera. To be a producer, some of them, I wonder if they have the talent to read the script or the attention span to stay to the last page.”
The Producers Guild of America would like the industry to adopt a definition that a producer is someone who “initiates, coordinates, supervises and controls, either on his own authority or subject to the authority of an employer, all aspects of the motion picture-making process, creative, financial, technology and administrative, throughout all phases, from inception to completion.”
And what is an executive producer?
“The words executive producer to me means the person either did nothing or was put on the film to supervise the making of the movie--it all depends,” said James G. Robinson, chairman of Morgan Creek Productions, which made the summer’s hit film “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”
“He does work or no work,” Robinson explained.
And the associate producer?
“That’s a (expletive deleted) as far as I’m concerned,” Robinson continued.
“I would like to see the credits accurately reflect what they say,” Robinson said. “It’s really not fair because there are people who work so hard, who put so much emotion, effort and time into a film and they are thrown into the same kettle of fish as somebody who, for all I know, never even set foot on the set.”
David Permut, who has made such movies as “Dragnet” and “The Marrying Man,” said that he once worked with a producer who gave his chauffeur credit as an executive producer.
“He was a very loyal chauffeur and knew his way around town,” Permut said.
But now many of Hollywood’s most prominent filmmakers are fighting back.
Last August, the producer’s branch of the motion picture academy adopted strict guidelines on who can become a voting member. In the past, anyone who had produced two films could join with no questions asked. Now, candidates must explain what they have done to justify their producer credits.
Under the rules, they are required to fill out a form that asks to what extent they have been involved in finding a property, getting the movie financed, selecting the director and cast as well as any post-production work they have performed.
If they share a producing credit with someone else, they will not get full credit. In other words, if a producer shares credits with three other producers, he will receive only one-fourth credit.
The new rules will not shrink the number of credits on a film, but will screen out “producers” who show up only at premieres. Only those listed simply as producers--not executive producers or other credits--are eligible to pick up an Oscar.
“I’ve seen people who I know have not even gone to the set who have stepped up and got the Academy Award,” said Richard D. Zanuck, who won Oscars for “The Sting” and “Driving Miss Daisy.”
“The studios let them get away with this,” Zanuck said. “They just want to get the deal done.”
Fred Fuchs, president of American Zoetrope, said “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is a good example of why producer credits today are out of control.
“This was a script developed for television . . . ,” Fuchs said, “when it was delivered, it was such a great script everyone realized it was too good for television. We read it and loved it and we pitched it to Columbia and Columbia bought it.”
As part of the deal, Michael Apted and Robert O’Connor--who were going to do the TV version--were made executive producers, even though they had nothing to do with the movie, Fuchs explained. In addition, screenwriter James V. Hart was made a co-producer.
“These are inherited credits,” Fuchs said. "(Hart) is not actively involved as co-producer.”
Coppola, however, is a producer on “Dracula” as well as its director. “Francis is a producer not unlike Barry Levinson and Warren Beatty are producers,” Fuchs said. “To call them just the director would be inaccurate.”
No one would dispute that Coppola is on the set every day of shooting. But some producers are not. Dale Launer, who wrote the 1987 movie “Blind Date,” said there were producers on that project that “I have not met to this day.”
The title “executive producer” or “associate producer” is often given to people who do not physically take part in producing a film. In “Ruthless People,” the credits list Walter Yetnikoff as an executive producer.
“He never stepped on the set,” recalled Launer, who also wrote that screenplay. “I never met him. He was the head of CBS Records. Disney wanted this to be a music movie so they gave him an enormous fee to put together an album, and he got executive producer credit.”
It is not uncommon to find the actors’ managers listed as producers of their clients’ films. Eddie Murphy’s former manager, Robert D. Wachs, was a producer on such Murphy films as “Another 48 HRS.,” “Harlem Nights,” “Coming to America” and “The Golden Child.”
Wachs, who said he performed many of the functions of a producer on Murphy’s films, said: “I think there is a role for a manager to get producer credit when he works on a movie, helps with the casting, performs a responsibility in marketing and in post-production.”
He added that some stars expect their managers to be producers on their films.
“I think sometimes if you manage a star and that star trusts you and the star is not familiar with who would be producing a film, he wants (his) guy on the set,” Wachs said.
The guild’s FitzSimons said that in motion pictures, deal-making has debased the status of the producer credit.
“You’ve got the ridiculous situation in theatrical motion pictures where John Doe buys a book and he sells the book to Mary Smith, but on condition that he gets a producer credit if the movie is made,” FitzSimons said.
“Mary Smith develops it and she now sells it to Tom Jones, but she puts in the clause that if Tom Jones goes ahead, she gets a credit as a producer or executive producer. Tom Jones now sells it to a studio, and the studio now insists on putting on its own producer. I mean, it’s insane!
“Bankers should be bankers,” he said. “Promoters, promoters. Writers, writers. Husbands, husbands. Girlfriends, girlfriends. . . . But don’t call them producers.”
In television, FitzSimons said, today’s writers have come to scorn the credit writer and now covet the credit producer .
It all began, he said, when the networks encouraged production companies to scrap the practice of using independent writers who developed scripts at home and to hire their own in-house writing staffs instead.
“Now you get an echelon among the staff,” FitzSimons said. “So one guy wants to be called a producer. Then somebody else wants to be called a producer. Then the agents argue for a producer credit. Then you have nine producers who are, in fact, writers.”
TV series now go on hiatus after seven or eight weeks, he added, because the in-house staff runs out of ideas.
“When producers were running it 30 years ago, you never ran out of material because you had 15 writers working all over town in their own homes at a typewriter,” FitzSimons said. “Now they have them all in an office and they’re all producers and they’re all going down for coffee and they’re all ogling the casting session, so by the time you come to Episode 7, they are telling the producer, ‘We won’t have a script ready for you.’ ”
If FitzSimons sounds frustrated, it is because the Producers Guild has been historically the weakest of all the major guilds in Hollywood.
In 1968, the guild signed a collective-bargaining agreement with all the major motion picture and television production companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The appellate courts threw out the agreement when it was challenged by a group in the Writers Guild of America.
Then the Producers Guild lost again when the National Labor Relations Board sided with management that producers and associate producers were supervisors. Richard Zanuck said producers now have no bargaining strength.
“The directors would never let studios give away their credits because they have the muscle of union standing and they can strike,” Zanuck said. “Producers can’t strike. We are not unionized.”
“Your other guilds do not have a proliferation problem (with credits) because they have minimum basic agreements achieved through collective bargaining with the various studios,” he said.
FitzSimons said that the guild has been in discussions with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to develop a rule book that would spell out what credits mean. No decision, however, has been made.
In the meantime, the Producers Guild is encouraging legitimate producers to consider filing suit against anyone who takes a phony credit on a film or TV show, using a federal law called the Lanham Act, which, in effect, prevents anyone from passing one product off for another. The guild’s executive director believes the law, if tested in the courts, could apply to producers.
“When the public looks at a cola, they are entitled to know, is that Coca-Cola or is that schlock cola?” FitzSimons said. The commercial proprietor--or the producer, in this case--is also entitled to have his work credited to him, and not others, he added.
If the courts uphold the producers under the Lanham Act, he said, “writers will be very, very scared because when they go in to negotiate their phony credits, the studio is going to warn them, ‘If we give it to you, are you prepared to be sued?’ ”
Some studio executives say they are helpless, given the current way films are developed.
“I think the whole role of a producer has changed in the last 15 years,” said one top studio executive, who asked not to be identified.
“Where there used to be one person who did everything, now you could have a producer who owns a project in Europe coming here to align himself with a production entity in the United States,” he said. “Maybe two people in that company both produce that movie and get producing credit, and then they hire a physical line producer who actually performs physical line services. You have five or six producers right there.”
Robert B. Radnitz, who produced such films as “Sounder” and “Cross Creek,” said the proliferation of credits began when stars not only demanded enormous salaries but also asked for an extra credit.
“The other credit allowed them to do two things,” Radnitz observed. “First, it allowed them to have their name on (the film) again and second, it allowed their agents to demand another salary.”
Studio executives did not curtail the practice, he said, because they like to feel they are the ones who are really responsible for making hit films.
“But that kind of ego ends up costing more,” Radnitz said. “They have all these names on the screen and they have to pay them.”
In the recently released film “For the Boys,” Bette Midler not only stars but is also one of seven people who receive producer credits. The script originated with Midler’s All Girl Productions and was then developed for the screen by director Mark Rydell, who was also executive producer.
"(Midler) did not function as producer in the conventional sense--someone who devises the budget, allocates the money, who hires the cast,” Rydell explained. “That was my role.”
Rydell said he felt that the credits on the film were appropriate.
"(Midler’s) All Girl Productions did originate the project, though they did not function as sole producers,” he said. “They gave their skills in how to market the film. . . . In the actual making of the film, they were allies. They were friends of the production. They were deeply supportive of the film and helpful throughout.”
As for “Father of the Bride” with its nine producer credits, producer Howard Rosenman explained that it all evolved this way:
After Cindy Williams suggested during the bull session at Sandollar Productions that they do a remake of the 1950 film, 18 months were spent trying to acquire the rights from Ted Turner.
“We then were able to set this movie up at TriStar and spent another 18 months trying to set up a deal. TriStar had to buy back the rights from Turner. Through a fluke, what happened was the option ran out and we put out our own money to buy out the property totally.
“Then Jeff Katzenberg (president of Walt Disney Studios) got involved and they further negotiated with Turner for control of the rights.”
At that point, Rosenman said, screenwriters James Orr and James Cruickshank, who had a big success with “Three Men and a Baby,” wanted to do the film.
“They are hot writers,” Rosenman said. “They got to write the second draft. Their agents were able to get them executive producer credits . . . to protect the writing.”
Orr, meanwhile, also had been scheduled to do the directing, but had to bow out.
“We were then able to get it to (Charles) Shyer and Nancy Meyer,” Rosenman said. “As part of a deal, she wanted to produce.”
And, Rosenman said, he and Baum “usually produce together while Sandy Gallin gets an executive producer credit” on the films they make.
The title of associate producer went to Bruce A. Block who, Rosenman said, “is kind of a line producer with Nancy Meyer. He’s Meyer’s guy.”
As for Cindy Williams, Rosenman said the decision to make her a producer came from a feeling that she deserved credit for coming up with the idea in the first place.
“We were honorable,” he said. ". . . It was her idea.”