IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA - Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay attend the 9th annual Produced By Conference at Twentieth Century Fox on Saturday, June 10, 2017 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images)

Producers see films through from concept to the finish line.

Producers are creative visionaries, leaders. They help secure financing and talent, bring resources, manage the budget, provide support, and tend to wear a lot of hats. There are many types of producers and it’s the only production job without a formal union because it’s seen as a management position. However, there are many issues where producers need to join forces and influence positive change. Producers may not have a formal union, but we do have the Producers Guild of America (PGA).

I’ve been working in production for almost 20 years. For the most part, people want to be good to each other, be fair and be honest, but sometimes that’s not always what happens. Indie producers and filmmakers can also be victims. They do the hard work of finding financing, putting together a team, creating something they’re proud of, and then go on to make a horrible distribution deal because they didn’t know there are other options.

A lot of people see producers as the bigwigs on set with loads of money constantly smoking cigars and throwing lavish pool parties at giant mansions. I look forward to one day being one of those producers but as of now, I’m a producer and writer with no job security and no steady income—just a lot of passion to tell interesting stories with a vision. As a producer, I have to figure out whatever it’s going to take to bring a project to life.

On our first film, I learned a lot. We made our movie for a low budget and sold it to a distribution company but I couldn’t figure out why we never saw a profit. I received distribution reports that stated income that was at least double our production costs but underneath were vague distribution “expenses” that needed to be recouped before we got paid. We didn’t put a cap or approval clause on distribution expenses in the agreement. I didn’t know we could do that.

I’ve seen seasoned indie producer friends watch their films become a theatrical hit and never see another dime. How is this fair? It’s not. How do we fight this? We fight by joining forces and learning from other producers experiences. This is why I joined the PGA.

Jordan Peele and Norman Lear attend the 9th annual Produced By Conference at Twentieth Century Fox on Sunday, June 11, 2017 in Los Angeles. Photograph by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images

I asked Chris Green, Supervisor of Communications and Bryce Averitt, the Director of Membership for the Producers Guild of America why other producers join. “It depends a lot of the area of the industry that producer is coming from,” says Green. “A lot of established producers join the PGA because they believe in their profession and want to be a part of it. They see the value of the organization. Others join to get jobs and see membership as a chance to network and develop connections with colleagues as well as other producers in different industries. Associate producers and coordinators get to know TV, film, new media producers, and executive producers”.

Averitt adds, “I’ve also seen producers join to lend support to issues the PGA is advocating for. The Producers Mark was developed out of a large amount of people who joined forces to show who really did the hard work on a film. It’s about developing relationships”.

Recently on film credits, the Producers Mark with the letters “PGA” written next to a producer’s name appears. This doesn’t mean that the producer is a guild member, it is a certification that the credited producer(s) performed a majority of the producing responsibility from development through delivery. Any producer and any film can apply for this accreditation.

The Producers Guild created this distinction because so often, producer credits will be given in exchange for something valuable towards the film. But how can you tell who the main producer is? The one who has been with the project from idea through delivery?

“A common confusion is that the Producers Mark is connected to and represents a sign of membership”, says Averitt. “It’s a common mistake but the Producers Mark is not a sign of membership.  Applying for membership and the Producers Mark are two completely separate evolutions.  If you’re interested in securing the Producers Mark on your film, you don’t have to be a member to apply for it.  On the other side, having the Producers Mark on your produced by credit is not a prerequisite for membership”.

This is the Producers Guild looking out for all producers, not just members.

“The Producers Mark is a very specific designation of work done by specific producers. It’s given picture by picture. Someone on the film who didn’t get the mark still did very important work. If they have a producer credit, they still contributed in important ways to a project. We want all producers and financiers in the guild. Financiers have a role to play too,” says Green. “Executive producer credits qualify you for membership. In the executive producer realm are folks who sometimes find the material and finance and are essential parts of the process. Nobody is going to deny they have importance.”

As a producer, I want to network with financiers and other types of producers to collaborate with. In my experience, that’s how movies really come together. Now I’m starting to see the Producers Guild not only as a resource, but also as a support group.

According to the website, the PGA is an organization with over 7,800 members working together to “improve their careers, the industry and community by facilitating member health benefits, encouraging labor laws, the creation of fair and impartial standards for the awarding of producer credits, as well as other education and advocacy efforts.”

Jerry Seinfeld and Ted Sarandos attend the 9th annual Produced By Conference at Twentieth Century Fox on Saturday, June 10, 2017 in Los Angeles. Photograph by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Producers Guild of America/AP Images

How to Join

“We rarely deny applicants for membership and try to be inclusive,” says Averitt. “When someone applies, they can safely assume they will get in as long as they fit the criteria listed on the website. We stay pretty faithful to the membership requirements.”

If you’re a TV or film producer, co-producer, exec producer, line producer or any title with the word “producer” somewhere in it and have done a few projects, you most likely have enough credits to qualify.

Joining the Guild is actually a very easy process. On the website, under the tab “Guild,” you can click “Become a Member.” This will break down which council your credits fall under. There are three councils: “Producers Council,” “AP Council” and “New Media Council.” Producers Council is for TV and film producers, executive producers, co-executive producers, co-producers, and line producers. AP Council is for TV and Film associate producers, coordinators, managers, supervisors, and other technical producer roles. New Media council is for all producer related positions in the fields of Broadband/Internet content, DVD, Video Games, Mobile, Animation, etc. New Media is for new distribution technology platforms.

After you see what council you would be part of, then you’ll see the initiation fee, application fee, and annual dues associated with each category. Producers Council is the most expensive at $1,170 to start. AP and New Media fee is $595 to start. Once you join, the annual fee for Producers Council is $395 and for AP/New Media it’s $195.

Then it will ask you to choose your council and continue with the application. You’ll create an account and then follow the steps of filling in your information, your credits and references. You’ll need to have at least three references for the Guild to contact to verify the credits. One of the references must be a current PGA member who acts as your sponsor. I applied for the Producers Council but I knew someone in the New Media Council and asked them to be my member sponsor. Then the other two references are industry colleagues who have knowledge of the applicants production experience. The PGA will reach out to references with an e-mail of questions for them to answer. One complaint I heard from new members at the orientation breakfast was that sometimes their references wouldn’t respond to emails, so the applicant had to hound them.

Then you pay the fee and wait for a response. If you are not accepted, your money will be refunded with the exception of the application fee.

Once you become a full member then you have access to the website which allows you to utilize the jobs board, network with other members, access the resource library for contracts and rate sheets, join committees, etc. It really is a great resource for producers.

Before I joined the PGA, I had a friend who was a member and would invite me as their plus 1 to events and screenings. I saw a screening of Martin Scorsese’s film Silence with the entire cast and crew discussing the production. I saw a screening of The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio and director Alejandro Inarritu speaking about the decisions they made on the film.

I gain so much hearing these stories because I can get into the heads of directors and actors to have a better idea of how to support them. Also, it helps to be reminded that every production is difficult in its own way. I look at producing as an art. If you can’t create an environment and set a tone that supports and encourages the other artists collaborating on the project, you could have a disjointed vision which could mean a crappy movie.

Another big reason I joined is the annual Produced By conference the PGA puts on. This conference is a two-day event with panels and speakers discussing so many topics that are important to producers and the production process. This year, speakers included Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Ted Sarandos, Jordan Peele, Damien Chazelle, Ava DuVernay and Shawn Levy, among others.

At the conference a couple years ago, I went to a panel on tax incentives. My partner and I were already playing around with a story for a film and that panel talked about a variety of tax incentive locations. We landed on Scotland because of the Scottish film fund, UK tax incentive, the EU tax fund (if that will still exist because of Brexit), and most importantly, the location fits the story perfectly. Since then we wrote the script, partnered with a UK based producer, and Creative Scotland paid for a trip to scout. We have investors attached, we’re talking to distributors, and we’re in the process of attaching talent hoping to be in production next spring.

I think as producers, we focus on how hard each individual project is to bring to life. We’re struggling to survive. It’s easy to forget about taking time to learn and bigger industry issues that need to be addressed. This is why a network of producers is essential.

“Producers are ambitious sorts and tend to not want to sit still and rest on their laurels. There are multiple agendas throughout the guild,” says Green.

Some of the issues the Guild is currently working on include set safety, green production, health benefits, piracy and content stealing. The Green Production Guide is an online database published by the guild that allows productions to find vendors and resources to help decrease environmental waste from productions. I plan to use that on our next film.

At the end of the day, the glamour on the red carpet during a premiere is only a very small part of the production process that mainly involves hard work, talent, strategy, negotiation, imagination and collaboration. Behind a lot of that are the producers.

The most valuable relationships I have in this industry are with producer friends. We give each other valuable advice about development, production, and sales based on our experiences. The industry is constantly changing with new technology and new distribution outlets and it’s hard to keep up on your own. I look forward to expanding my circle of producer friends through the Producers Guild. MM

Find more information on the PGA and how to join here.