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PGA Dodger Day 2017

Posted By Michael Q. Martin, Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, September 26, 2017

On Saturday, August 26th, 101 PGA Members attended our annual PGA Dodger Day, as the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Dodgers planned a “bullpen game” as starting pitcher Ross Stripling was filling in as the 5th starter, and has bounced between starter and bullpen all season.  Stripling pitched 3 scoreless innings before the bullpen took over.  In the 5th inning Dodger reliever Josh Raven gave up a two run home run to Orlando Arcia.  In the 8th, Dodger reliever Luis Avilon gave up a double to Neil Walker, which plated Herman Perez.  The Dodger bats could not unravel Brewers starter Zach Davies and ended up losing 3-0.  PGA members still had a good time in the Coca-Cola All You Can Eat Right Field Pavilion and feasted on unlimited Dodger Dogs, Nachos, Popcorn, Peanuts and Soda.  The first 40,000 fans also received a Great Dodger Moments Coin (#7) featuring Rick Monday Saving the American Flag from being burnt.  Hope to see you next year at Dodger Stadium.   

PGA 2017 Dodger Day by Michael Q. Martin On Saturday, August 26th, 101 PGA Members attended our annual PGA Dodger Day,...

Posted by The Producers Guild of America on Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tags:  dodger day 

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BOTH SIDES OF THE LINE - Mainstream Media and Transmedia Aren't Speaking The Same Language. Rhoades Rader Can Translate

Posted By Kevin Perry, Tuesday, September 5, 2017

At the intersection of big-screen crowdpleasers and second-screen obsession lurks a little something called the audience. We navigate from viral cat videos to Oscar-winning movies like a tech-savvy Tarzan, swinging from one digital vine to the next with curious abandon. So, who can tame our wild ways?

Enter Rhoades Rader.

My first impression of Rader was a gleeful blend of self-deprecation and irony. Before we met for the first time, he emailed me a helpful tidbit. “I’ll be with a white fluffy [dog emoji]. So I’ll be the one looking like a super villain, only less super and not as intelligent.” Moments later, he indeed strolled up with his trusty canine companion (Falkor) at his side. Rader sported a vintage grey T-shirt that read, “Another Sleazy Producer” in disco orange font. Falkor wore a fetching pink collar.

Sleazy producer, eh? We’ll see about that.

Rader embodies the link between mass media and the very digital revolution that challenges its hegemony, and he has welcomed this clash of contradictions for years. While at UC Santa Barbara, he switched from a double major in religious studies and economics to filmmaking, but never abandoned the lessons of his former concentrations. “My focus has really been on storytelling,” Rader explains. “That’s where my religious studies came from. It’s all about narrative structures and influencing people’s minds and trying to figure out what gets people excited and how they identify narratives in their own lives and apply them to the world. That sort of relationship about language back-and-forth is what’s always excited me.”

One of Rader’s first major credits was Executive Producer of the blockbusteriest of blockbusters, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, starring Ben Stiller. Rader worked at Stiller’s production company Red Hour Films for years, but he was always searching for the forgotten quadrant of the audience who may not have dipped, ducked, dove and dodged their way to the multiplex. “So that’s when I went into independent films.” He decided, “This will be a great place where you can tell stories that you couldn’t tell elsewhere. There’s an appetite for them, a hunger for them, and there’s an underserved market.”

After producing several indie features, Rader studied the migration of his audience and followed them to their ultimate destination: the Internet. But he didn’t abandon his comedy background when he began charting the digital frontier. “The best delivery system for any idea is comedy,” he states. “You can get a Republican and Democrat to laugh at the same joke. If that joke has a particular spin or angle or piece of information in it, you’ve just delivered an ideology to two very different people through one particular narrative structure.”

Rader applied this philosophy (not to mention his mastery of harnessing star power and online influencers) to one of the worst problems facing the world: the water crisis. No biggie, right? So how do you make light of such a serious topic? Answer: go straight to the toilet. The campaign enlisted Matt Damon to hold a (fictional) press conference in which he announced that he would no longer go to the bathroom until the crisis was solved. But one comedy clip wasn’t enough for Rader. “We got a bunch of [YouTube] influencers to come in and they all got 15 minutes to film with Matt Damon. They could do whatever they want and put it on their channels, and we did the cross-promotion.” Grinning, Rader admits, “All the influencers wanted to fuck around with Matt Damon.”

The campaign went viral, attracting celebs like Jason Bateman, Jessica Alba, and Bono. Its success made Rader deservedly proud, leveraging the digital space to make a difference in the real world. “If we can make people laugh, then they’re gonna share it. If we can have more people see it and share it and like it, then more people will donate,” he recounts. “And that’s what happened. It was a very successful campaign. The reason it caught fire was the influencers and the traditional [producers] came together and promoted each other.”

Rhoades Rader shares an unsettling moment with cast member
John Michael Higgins (as Cotton Mather) on the set of Crossroads of History.

In addition to the little matter of saving the world, Rader’s comedic chops also served him well at Maker Studios, where he contributed to the Emmy-nominated series Crossroads of History. The show’s creator and star, Elizabeth Shapiro, had nothing but glowing reviews for her studio executive. “Rhoades is one of the great people of the world,” she says earnestly. “He’s the kind of executive you dream of getting, someone who fights for your vision of the show.” To be graphically specific, Shapiro recounts a piece of feedback in which Rader’s only notes came in the form of an email with the subject line: This time with more anus and less talking.

Rader’s work at Maker reached fans by the tens of millions and put him in the room with Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm. Having worked in both traditional media and the new transmedia sandbox, Rader was the liaison between two worlds, a role in which he excelled while maintaining no illusions about its perils. “Both sides of the equation had a lot of disdain for one another,” he recalls. “Each thought that they knew better than the other side of the equation. Being someone who had worked on both sides of that line, that’s where the opportunity was.”

Rader turned proverbial lemons into digital lemonade, producing several viral series to support the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as well as the current talk show hit Marvel’s Off the Rack. But the disconnect between mass media and transmedia was still weighing heavily on him. “Right now,” Rader asserts, “transmedia is just marketing opportunities. It’s not true native storytelling based on its platform.”

Never one to complain idly, Rader took his know-how to Mitu, a social media channel that racks up an estimated (and whopping) 2 billion views per month across its various platforms. One recent viral sensation was a shot-for-shot remake of the dance scene from Beauty and the Beast recast with Hispanic actors, scored by a Mariachi band. “Here is mainstream iconic American storytelling,” explains Rader. “Simply by taking that and putting a Latino point of view on it, you’re immediately firing up Latinos who never got to see themselves in that role before.” A sense of authenticity is the essential ingredient of his most effective work. “Successful content has to speak authentically to a group of people,” he observes. “The more you’re trying to do broad-based content, the more it feels like an advertisement, the more it feels fabricated, the less real it feels. The whole nature of social publishing on these digital platforms is that you have a real relationship and investment with the content you’re consuming and engaging with, in a way that literally didn’t exist five years ago. In fact, the digital content space is built on that personal relationship.”

A casual visitor to the Mitu Snapchat Discover tile will soon learn a buzzword that rings loudly in the halls of social media: chisme. Its rough English translation is “gossip,” but it means far more to Rader. “Chisme is a glue that holds communities together, holds ideas together; really it’s a fuel of conversation. When people are talking about something, it becomes more real, more interactive, more participatory. You’re helping fuel it. This is how communities are developed.”

Rader shakes hands with president Barack Obama prior to the President's sit-down interview with
Gina Rodriguez (left) for digital content platform Mitu.

But sometimes chisme cuts both ways, as Rader and his Mitu cohorts learned when they were tapped to conduct an interview with then-president Barack Obama. The one-on-one was conducted by Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez, who didn’t pull any punches on the topic of immigration. Obama fielded the inquiry by urging all Latino citizens to let their vote speak for the millions of undocumented individuals who couldn’t participate in the election. It was an admirable sentiment ... until the piece got re-edited by the alt-right. The resulting hack job appeared on Fox News and Breitbart, the deceptively cut clip giving the impression that Obama was encouraging undocumented people to vote. “It was one of my first interactions with how reporting can be chopped up and fabricated to say something that’s not true,” he recounts.

For a guy with substantial and effortless comedic chops, Rader was surprisingly soulful during our epic chatfest. He spoke of the mindfulness he attains during meditation, espoused the inherent kindness of the human spirit and bemoaned every lost opportunity that languished on the cutting-room floor over the years. Still, he balanced any hint of regret with eternal optimism like a champion perfectionist/dreamer hybrid, boiling it all down to a perfect producer’s bottom line: “My failures are forgotten but my successes are cheap.”

Rader announced that he left Mitu just a week before our meeting. So what is he going to do with all of the expertise that he’s accumulated from across the spectrum of his varied media endeavors? “I’d like to take what I did at Mitu and expand it to broader conversations, larger audiences, a bigger platform. I feel like that’s really my calling. I really do. Filmmaking is so far in the rearview mirror now. If I could go work for Facebook and help run the way they do video, that would be awesome.”

Social media giant, meet socially conscious humanist.

Case in point: when the conversation turned to gun violence and its depiction onscreen, Rader grew emotional. “Content creators have a huge responsibility to stand behind the ramifications and the implications of the content that you create.” He took a breath and then continued, “I personally take that stuff very seriously and strive very hard to work with people who are also aware of that. I’m trying not to cry right now.”

That’s when I noticed tears welling up in Rader’s eyes. He sat back and adjusted his ironic “Sleazy Producer” T-shirt pensively before collecting himself. For Rhoades Rader, media isn’t just an abstract construct, and it certainly isn’t just a job; it’s a matter of life and death. “Another Sleazy Producer?” Far from it. 

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SECRET IDENTITY - From Procedurals To Comedies, Josh Berman Is Ready To Dig Beneath The Surface

Posted By Jeff Bond, Tuesday, August 29, 2017

When Josh Berman started shopping his idea for Drop Dead Diva, a comedy about a shallow spokesmodel who dies and comes back to life as a plus-sized attorney, he got some confused reactions. After all, Berman had spent a combined 10 years conjuring up bizarre ways for people to die on CBSCSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Fox’s Bones—even creating dark procedurals like Killer Instinct and Vanished in the process. Wait, youre our dark procedural guy.Why do you want to write a one-hour comedy right now?Berman recalls associates saying. But unlike, say, CSIs Gil Grissom, those people just werent paying attention to the clues.

A native of Encino, California, Berman actually got his start riffing off of and working on comedies, from a YouTube takeoff of Ally McBeal (called Allan McBeal and made while Berman was a young executive at NBC) that got him his first writing job offers, to a brief stint on the Lauren Graham sitcom M.Y.O.B. (the show Graham headlined right before Gilmore Girls). Like Graham, Berman jumped to a new show right after M.Y.O.B. floundered— in Bermans case, a weird little procedural that no one expected much out of: CSI.

I loved writing but I also had a strong bent for science,Berman shares. What drew me to CSI was it was the first show I ever heard of that made science sexy. I thought, What an opportunity here, to bring science to the masses in a very commercial way.’” Berman met with producer Carol Mendelsohn and was quickly hired as an executive story editor. The show had a very small budget because everyone thought CSI was going to very quickly fail and they didnt have the money to hire upper level writers, so I was lucky to be hired at a low level. There was no one between me as an executive story editor and the executive producers of the show, so I quickly had a lot more responsibility thrust on me than I normally would have.

Of course CSI quickly became one of televisions biggest hits, running for 15 seasons and spawning so many spin-offs (including one appropriately named CSI: Immortality) that CBS was in danger of becoming the CSI network. Berman became one of the flagship seriesexecutive producers, sharing Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series in 2003 and 2004 and a Producers Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television Drama in 2005. He parlayed his six-year stint on CSI into a highly successful career as a show creator (Killer Instinct in 2005, Vanished in 2006, The Mob Doctor in 2012 and most recently ABCs Notorious) and producer (Bones, The Blacklist, Daytime Divas).

Josh Berman (front right) discusses a scene with director Michael Engler (left) and cast member
Piper Perabo (seated) on the set of the Notorious pilot.  -Photo by Eli Joshua Ade 

Berman credits Carol Mendelsohn not only with hiring him on CSI, but also giving the young writer access to the shows nuts and bolts, providing him with experience as a producer long before he might have otherwise had the oppritunity. He still cites Mendelsohn as his primary mentor in the field—one of a number of strong women who helped inspire him and set him along his career path. She taught me everything,says Berman. There was no part of production or writing that she didnt include me in. For the first season of CSI, I spent virtually every weekend at her house, and we would write and look at cuts together. At a low-level position, she taught me the job of being a producer, and then I stayed on CSI until becoming an executive producer on my last season. When the executive producers were away, it fell to me to run the writers room by default. Even as an executive story editor, I went to every mix, I went to playbacks, I went to casting sessions, I had a lot of set time, and I think I wrote six episodes the first season just because they didnt have the manpower, which was really lucky for me.

Berman’s mother, a former English teacher who later went into nursing, also inspired the producers appreciation of good writing, working with him to rewrite his grade school English essays word by word until they were as perfect as they could be. Its what inspired me to be a much better writer, when I saw how language and words could transform an average essay into something really great,he recalls.

Berman’s inspiration for his left turn into offbeat comedy on the cult hit Drop Dead Diva was another female family member, his maternal grandmother. The beautiful model who dies in the show is named Deb after my grandmother. My grandmother was a chubby, 5-foot-1-inch Holocaust survivor, who carried herself like a supermodel. I knew no one wanted to buy a show about my grandmother, so I took the spirit of what made her so unique and infused it into the lead character of Drop Dead Diva. So I really had a model to write from and a point of view.

The Lifetime comedy pivoted on something Berman says hes always drawn to: the theme of identity. What makes us who we are and the person we show the world versus the person we are inside? Even going back to CSI, I wrote an episode about a woman who suffered from the real-life werewolf disease, where inside she felt like a scared little girl, but outside she looked like a monster. And I think thats a great way to encapsulate what I look for when attacking material—how were perceived versus what we really are.

Berman has been able to successfully blend his insight as a writer and artist with a hard-nosed, MBA-oriented approach to production that emphasizes attention to detail. I scrutinize my budgets and Im very collaborative with my line producer. I think that gives me a competitive edge in this business. I meet with my line producer multiple times a day during production and figure out how we can get the biggest bang for the buck, and I push and I push and work with locations. If Ive set a scene at a bowling alley but they have access to a fantastic basketball court, Ill happily rewrite that scene, as long as I dont sacrifice content. I think you have to be fluid in TV and willing to rewrite a scene a day or two in advance if you can get a better location, or if it means moving things around so you can get an actor or another talent youve been chasing.

Josh Berman (left) consults with director Michael Grossman (center)
on the set of Drop Dead Diva. - photo by Bob Mahoney 

Despite the pressures of TV production and his oversight of every aspect of the shows he works on, Berman describes his approach as calm, measured and collaborative. “I’ll take ideas from anyone. I remember on CSI, I was writing an episode and trying to figure out visually how to explain how electricity worked, and it was a hard idea for me to grasp. I was talking to one of the grips on the set who told me about this experiment where you can electrocute a pickle and it demonstrates how electricity works in a very simplistic way, and that is the experiment that Grissom, played by Billy Petersen, did on the episode. I literally took that grips idea and put those words into Billy Petersens mouth. Now my kids know that scene, and thats how they talk about how electricity works, by lighting up a pickle.

After 17 years in television production, Berman has seen the standards for writing and the medium, skyrocket. I think people talk about peak televisionor the golden age of television because we have producers who are holding their TV shows to the same high standards that feature producers have held their features to for years. I fight for budgets,he declares. “I’ve written letters to musical artists hoping that they would drop their prices on songs to let me use them on my shows; that has been successful more often than not. I write when I want a specific actor to play a guest star, or I get on the phone with them—I do what I can, and you just cant leave any aspect of television production to chance anymore.

Balancing his duties as a writer and producer remains one of the most challenging aspects of the job, and Berman confirms that writing has to take a back seat to production once a seriesfilming is underway. When Im in production, production comes first,he states. Everything Im doing during the day is in advancement of the current episode were producing and the episode we have in prep.That means writing has to be done in the producers spare time. I will do it at night or I will bring my laptop to the set and write between takes. You try to fit in writing where you can, but when the show is up and running, its full speed ahead. I want to make sure the current episode is in perfect shape so thats where my attention lies.Berman says writing remains the number one priority when the show is in prep, eight to 10 weeks before filming. I feel like a good show will have six to eight scripts in the can before you start shooting, and that alone gives you the leg up that you dont have to be writing every second. Im still writing probably five to six hours a day, but if theres an issue on the set, I can never slow down production just because I need to write.

Berman has seen the relatively static characterizations in procedural shows evolve into complex, multilayered individuals who reveal deeper aspects of their personalities, their flaws and obsessions over the course of a season or series. Differences in the way people take in TV series episodes on DVRs and streaming platforms also have changed the expectations of audiences. I feel like shows do need hooks, whether its character or story hooks at the end of an episode, so if the show is being streamed, you know that the audience is going to want to watch the next episode right then—you want to make that next episode undeniable.But with those added pressures come additional opportunities, particularly on cult shows like Drop Dead Diva. Drop Dead Diva aired on Lifetime,Berman recounts, but its since been bought by Netflix, and when I go on Twitter and read viewer comments, most of the people watching Drop Dead Diva believe its a Netflix original show. I find that fascinating. I think the fan base of Drop Dead Diva has probably grown tenfold since Lifetime because Netflix has such an expansive audience. I think thats a fundamental change in our business—the afterlife of a show is more powerful than the life of the show.

That might be particularly important for Bermans ABC series Notorious, which was based on the real-life careers of CNN reporter Wendy Walker and defense attorney Mark Geragos. Notorious had its run of first-season episodes cut short out of the gate by the network, after its debut last October and was cancelled in May. The show may have suffered from the same predicament as Netflixs House of Cards, which has been overshadowed by real-life events this season. I feel like Notorious may have come out six months before its time,” Berman admits. “Notorious dealt with themes of news as entertainment. We even had storylines about fake news before the notion of fake news became so pervasive in our society, and we talked about how peoplestweets became news on the show, but I didnt realize that we were ahead of our time.

Berman is still rolling with another diva-related show, serving as a producer on VH1s Daytime Divas, inspired by Star Jonesexperiences working on the morning talk show The View. He just signed a four-year deal with Sony with partner Chris King (producer on Penny Dreadful) to develop a series of new projects. “I’m tackling themes that I always wanted to, and thanks to Sonys support I have a couple of IPs that I think are going to be really terrific. I feel like what I really want to dig into this season is shows with genuine emotion, and I think if theres an aspect that unites my development this season, its really digging deep and unpacking complex, multilayered characters.Thats something that Berman has been doing successfully for the past 17 years—getting his narrative hooks in us. So whether theyre airing on networks or being binge-watched on Netflix, Bermans next moves are likely to be undeniable”—theyre already on our Watch List. 

Tags:  feature 

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HERE'S TO YOUR HEALTH - A Guide To PGA Health Care Options

Posted By Harvey Wilson, Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Years before health care became a central topic in the halls of Congress, it was a central issue for PGA members. To this day, its still the number one request from the membership—the Holy Grail of benefits.

In a perfect PGA world, the Guild would be able to offer guaranteed access to affordable health insurance to all of its members. And while we havent yet reached that goal, the Producers Guild has continuously expanded the health care options it does afford its members. Because so much has changed over the past few years, we wanted to offer a brief rundown of the health benefits that members can obtain through the Guild. Obviously the nature and scope of American health care is a moving target these days, and members should be on the lookout for new announcements in addition to relying on the information provided here.



Its true—a significant number of PGA members qualify for employer-paid health coverage. The parameters for eligibility are narrower than wed like, but we encourage all members who qualify for this benefit to take advantage of it.

First, some history. For a brief period, 1977-1983, the PGA was a bona fide labor union, enjoying collectively negotiated labor agreements at two studios, Paramount and Universal. When the PGA was decertified as a labor union by the National Labor Relations Board, those labor agreements became void. Despite that unfortunate outcome, all parties recognized the importance of maintaining health coverage for producers. The result was something called the Non-Affiliate Agreement, negotiated jointly by IATSE, the AMPTP and the Producers Guild.

The Non-Affiliate Agreement allows some producers to receive coverage through the Motion Picture Industry Plan, as administered by the IA—but only under certain conditions:

  • The individual must be credited as a Producer, Executive Producer or Associate Producer.
  • The individual must work for an AMPTP-signatory company.
  • The individual must be working on a theatrical motion picture, primetime network program, or primetime narrative first-run syndicated program.
  • The individual must work on a production utilizing a west coast IA crew, and
  • The individual must have worked 600 hours (The Non-Affiliate Agreement was negotiated to presume producers work a 60-hour workweek.) over the last six months.

If these conditions are met, that producer is likely eligible for employer-paid coverage under the Non-Affiliate Agreement.

Note that this coverage does not simply begin automatically; the producer must personally request that the production make payments on their behalf. And while productions are not compelled to make those contributions, most of them will. After all, a producer whos not constantly stressed out about being sick is a producer whos going to deliver more value to the production.

Producers request contributions by signing and submitting a participation form (Election to Participate in the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan) within 60 days of starting eligible employment. If the producer does not submit a signed participation form, they may be deemed to have waived their right to contributions with respect to the job. Participation forms should be provided by the employer upon request. If you have difficulty obtaining a form, or if the production seems unwilling to make contributions on your behalf, contact the Guilds National Executive Director/COO Vance Van Petten, and the PGA will seek to assist you in straightening the matter out.

A few notes to bear in mind: First, standard practice has dictated (though not required) that once a production has begun making contributions on behalf of one producer, it will make similar contributions for any eligible producer employed by the production, provided coverage is requested in a timely fashion. Second, employees of non-AMPTP signatory companies are eligible to provide coverage, if the company in question is a signatory to both the IATSE Basic Agreement and the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan. Coverage requests made to such companies can be more difficult to secure. A good way to know if your production has signed on to the IATSE Basic Agreement is to check if the camera, grips, or sound providers are members of the West Coast IA.



For those members who are ineligible for employer-paid coverage, the Guild has developed and tapped into some viable options.

First question: Do you have a company that is a C-corp, an S-corp or an LLC, which is more than a sole proprietorship? Do you pay others, and is your company seen as a separate entity from yourself for tax purposes? (That is, if you have an LLC, do you file a separate tax return for that entity?) Even if you dont run such a company, is it possible that you could form one? All it requires is two employees, one of whom could be yourself.

If the answer to one or more of those questions is yes, then we recommend the OpenHealth Entertainment Trust MEWA (Multiple Employer Welfare Association). OpenHealth is a relatively new player in the health care sphere, a group whose plans are derived from the health care offerings of the Cast & Crew payroll service. MEWAs are set up so that small companies can benefit from the price breaks afforded to large organizations, and large organizations can benefit from the more stable pricing that comes with an even larger pool of policies. OpenHealth has two different MEWA offerings: one for staff members and the other for projects. The company is an independent operation, which does not require you to payroll through Cast & Crew. If you run your own company, we strongly urge you to check the MEWA options available at

If youre simply an individual or single family looking for coverage, we urge you to do your own research and find the best option for you and your family. One way to see those options is to consult with the Actors Fund ( Dont be put off by the name; its not just for actors. With offices in New York, LA and Chicago, it is the official organization representing the Affordable Care Act to the entertainment industry. If you are looking for medical care, the Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts has recently opened in their headquarters in New York City. If you have ACA marketplace questions, contact the Actors Fund to make an appointment for them to walk you through the marketplace or join their weekly seminars offered in New York, CA and Burbank on finding the best health care options.

At the Producers Guild, we are hopefully on the doorstep of securing a plan for our individual members (and their families), which will be competitive with the open market as well as state and federal marketplaces. What we are seeking is a guaranteed accessplan that any member would be eligible for as long as they are in good standing (current on dues) with the Guild. The more members we get to sign up for a plan, the more stable the premiums will remain. Our goal is to cover at least 1,000 people including members and their families. With a national membership now exceeding 8,000, this should be within reach.

Whatever you do, do something. Everyone should have some form of health care; nobody is invincible. 95% of Americans spend less than $1,000 per year on health services but one bad day can change all of that. A car accident or even a simple bug bite can send you to an emergency room and amass thousands of dollars in expenses that would eclipse years of paying into the health care system. Dont be that person. As producers, we need to be prepared for any eventuality on set—make sure you bring that level of preparedness to your home and family life as well. 

click for full image


The PGA is not a union, but a professional association. That distinction is critical in understanding our limitations with regard to heath care.

A union represents its constituents in collective bargaining agreements and receives pension, health and welfare payments from the employers of the members, as well as a percentage of its members’ salaries. Those funds are pooled to provide benefits for all of the working members of that union.

As an association, the PGA collects a relatively small amount of dues that are voluntarily paid by the membership once a year, but the Guild neither receives money from employers nor takes a percentage of member salaries. As producers are considered a “management” position as defined by the National Labor Relations Board, the PGA is ineligible to become a union. Thus, the Guild cannot engage in collective bargaining that would provide su icient leverage to collect the funds for a Guild-wide guaranteed health plan.

The insurance industry has labeled associations such as the PGA with the ominous designation of having “adverse selection.” In a union or company, all employees are covered regardless of age or health. But among association members, those who are young and healthy are more likely to purchase a low-cost, high-risk plan on the open market. Those who will voluntarily buy a more comprehensive plan through the association are those who are most likely to use it often (i.e., older or sicker mem- bers)—thus costing its underwriters more. That in turn causes the rates to rise among that group, which in turn drives healthier members to look for more cost-e ective options, causing the rates to rise even more, continuing in an upward “death spiral.” (Those who have followed the ongoing health care negotiations in Congress have seen politicians debate the viability of “high-risk pools,” a broader variation on this same dynamic.)

So how do we overcome “adverse selection?” In a word: VOLUME. There must be enough people—healthy and sick, alike—buying into the group plan to overcome market fluctuations and balance out the fraction of members who will become heavier users of the policies. Fortunately, the PGA has continued to grow at a rapid pace. Coupled with the unfortunate collapse of more reasonably-priced options in the individual insurance marketplace, the PGA’s growing membership is gradually making the Guild a desirable market for underwriters. 



- additional text provided by Chris Green

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EMMA THOMAS - Meet Christopher Nolan's producer - for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in Gotham or in Dunkirk

Posted By Chris Green, Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Her situation is, admittedly, a little different than most of her producing peers. The “resting state” of many producers is to have a multitude of projects in various states of development or production, following the heat wherever and whenever it appears. As opposed to Emma Thomas, who at any given moment is working on one project, and that project alone. Most producers are constantly seeking and cultivating new connections and industry allies. Thomas’ career to date is the product of a single relationship that spans her personal and professional life—she’s the producer, wife and essential creative partner of visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan. A chance meeting during their first days at University College London blossomed into a decades-spanning collaboration, yielding not only contemporary classics like InceptionThe Prestige and The Dark Knight trilogy, but four children as well.

If Thomas’ role as a development producer is by its nature narrower than that of her peers, the challenges she faces in prep and production are almost certainly more expansive—service as Chris Nolan’s producer means that it’s on her to bring to life such elements as interstellar travel, dreams within dreams within dreams and a teetering-on-the-brink Gotham City. One of the few filmmaking teams who appear determined to push the envelope with every new outing, Thomas and Nolan most recently have raised the bar with their thrilling war film, Dunkirk. A compact epic, its elegant cross-cutting narrative, historical authenticity and exhilarating camera work have earned the duo some of the best reviews of their storied careers.

We were fortunate to catch up with Emma Thomas at the Dunkirk press junket at Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar. For someone whose work has taken audiences to the outer and inner edges of the known universe, Thomas is reassuringly grounded and accessible. Nearly 30 years into her film career, she sounds as surprised as anyone to have wound up an essential contributor to some of the most successful and admired films of the current generation. Even amid the buzz of the junket, shes relaxed and friendly. She admits that it helps that everyone seems to really like the film, and anyway, with regard to the press, the stakes for her are lower: Nobody is that interested in producers,” she deadpans.

Not if we have anything to say about it.

I have to imagine that being in this position, as a blockbuster movie producer, was not your career target, growing up.

It never occurred to me that it was even a possibility.

So, what left turn brought you into producing?

I completely fell into it. My dad was a diplomat, a civil servant. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. I assumed I was going to go into the Foreign Service like my dad.

And my first day at university, I met a guy called Chris Nolan. He had always wanted to be a director. I was really fascinated by that, because I didnt know anything about that world. It was right at the beginning of the school term time when everyone is joining lots of different clubs and societies. And he said, “I’m going to go make films in the Film Society.I thought, Well, thats kind of interesting.I mean, how do you even do that? I had no idea.

So it really started as a social thing. That was just the group of friends that I connected with. I had no idea what a producer did, but I started helping Chris make his films, and that was kind of the beginning of it.

So by the end of university, I decided I didnt want to go into the foreign office. Chris had some ideas for films, and I figured Id try and get a job in the film industry. But of course we were in England; there werent a huge number of film companies around. But there was one called Working Title. They ran an internship, where you could be a runner for two weeks for free. I did that, and afterwards got my first job with them as a receptionist. I remember my dad came down to meet me. He took me out to lunch and he had a pile of brochures from the civil service in England. I think he was pretty horrified that I had gone to university, the first one in my family to do so, and then I was taking a job as a receptionist.

But that was the beginning of it. I learned an enormous amount from watching Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner but also Jane Frazer, who was my immediate boss. I ended up working as an in-house physical production coordinator. In the meantime, on weekends, we were making our own films.

So talking about Tim and Eric and Jane, what sort of information and experience did they impart to you?

Tim and Eric, they were head and shoulders above everyone else in England at the time, making films in what I want to call an Americanway. They had very commercial sensibilities but at the same time really cared about script and the artistic integrity of their films. Jane taught me everything about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking and what it takes to make a film, from how a production report works to insurance and budgeting. What was most amazing about her was that she was incredibly generous with her time and her expertise and never made me feel like I didnt have a right to ask questions. She was incredibly encouraging and Im enormously grateful to the three of them.

When the time came, Chris had finished making this film called Following, which we shot on weekends with no money whatsoever. We were looking at the way independent films were discovered in the U.S., and it seemed very much as though we needed to do the film festival thing. I was talking to Jane about what I wanted to do next and she said, Well, you could go and work on one of our productions, if you want. Or maybe you could go and work in our LA office.And of course I went straight for the LA office. That was where I needed to be if we were going to figure out how to put this film that we had made out there.

Producer Emma Thomas chats between takes with cast member Harry Styles
on the set of Warner Bros.' action thriller Dunkirk. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon

Landing In LA for the first time, was there a major culture shock?

The system here is very different, with the agencies and the studios and so on.  Just learning who everyone was and how it all worked was an incredible eye-opener for me.  In the meantime, we were submitting Following to festivals. I look back now and I think, Gosh, you were so naïve.Because we really believed that if we just sent these tapes out cold, they would get discovered.  We were incredibly lucky that anyone ever watched the film or managed to pick it up from the pile.  We did manage to get Following into a couple festivals, including the San Francisco Film Festival. We had shot the film on 16mm but cut it on tape, and we had to have a print to show, which was going to cost us $6,000.  We had to raise the money. It was the most intense and insane experience of our lives because we got the print made in the UK, and our lead actor flew the print up to San Francisco. I mean, it had just been finished. He flew it out with hours to spare before our first screening at the festival.  The first time we saw this print was when it ran in the theater. I look back on it now and I think we were mad to do that.

After we had a successful screening in San Francisco we hooked up with an amazing guy named Peter Broderick who ran a company called Next Wave Films.  Peter gave us finishing funds so that we could blow the film up to 35 mm, and helped us get distribution.  We played a bunch of other festivals, while in the meantime, Chris had been writing Memento.  On the back of the small-scale success that Following had, we managed to get Memento going.

One of the great things about your and Chriscareers is that the earlier films each demonstrate a clear growth in terms of scale and production complexity.

Exactly. I would say that the leap from Following to Memento is by far the biggest leap we’ve made. When you look at Chris’ body of work on paper, you would probably think that Insomnia to Batman Begins would be the biggest leap.

I admit, that was my thought, at first.

To me, the biggest jump was actually Following to Memento, because although Memento was a miniscule budget by comparison with the films that we subsequently made, it was the first time that we were making a film with somebody else’s money. You’re no longer pleasing yourself. On Following, we could do whatever we wanted. We controlled every aspect of it. We didn’t have anyone giving us notes. I mean, it was incredible, looking back. On Memento, there were a lot of people with a great deal of money invested, and if they didn’t have money invested, they had their reputations invested. So you find yourself having to do a lot more explanation of what you’re doing.

Especially with a story like Memento.

Especially with Memento. Memento was a script that when I first read it, I remember very clearly a lot of going back and forth among the pages. It was definitely a challenging script, pushing boundaries in a very unique way, just a very different experience. All credit to Newmarket and [producers] Aaron Ryder and Jen and Suzanne Todd for taking a chance on it. It was an incredible act of faith in Chris and in the script and just ballsy beyond belief. I mean, it changed everything for us. I’m eternally grateful for that.

Producer Emma Thomas (right of center) on the set of Batman Begins, alongside director and writer
Christopher Nolan (center). Photo by David James

What about the leap from Memento to Insomnia, your first film in the studio system?

Yes, that was the first film that we worked on with Warner Bros, with Broderick Johnson and Andrew Kosove of Alcon financing and producing it along with Ed McDonnell and Paul Witt. I went into the project with no credit or position guaranteed, but after seeing the way I worked with Chris, Andrew and Broderick generously gave me the credit in addition to allowing us to develop our own relationship with the studio.  It was really interesting to cut our teeth on a studio film, which is a very different kettle of fish then an independent film. It was really interesting to cut our teeth on a studio film, which is a very different kettle of fish than an independent film. I mean, Memento, for example, we didn’t have distribution when we were making that film. That was a process that came later. So when we shot Memento, it was a very pure sort of production process. Whereas on Insomnia, we were already in the studio system …

You have a slot and maybe a release date

You have a slot. And in casting of the film, there are names that you have to attach. Its just a massive education.

Many producers say thats their favorite part of the gig, the way the job is a constant learning process.

Exactly. Somebody asked me a question earlier, to the effect of, How do you keep excited about your job?And I felt like, its so obvious to me! Because every two years, its like were living in a different universe. Every film has a new set of challenges and a new set of people and personalities and I think thats massively exciting.

What about the education in blockbusting franchise filmmaking, with Batman Begins?

That was definitely a kind of baptism by fire. It was a whole different level. For a long time on Batman Begins, right up until we started shooting, it was just Chris and I. There was no other producer on it. In fact, Chris wasnt a producer on Batman Begins.

Chuck Roven produced it, right?

Yes, Chuck came on to produce it with me, and we formed a great working partnership which lasted for four films, including Man of Steel, where he took the lead. But we approached it very much as we approach all of our films, which is that we keep it to as small a group as we possibly can. Particularly on set, I think that our films, whatever the size, all feel fairly similar, as stripped back as possible and really focused on the work at hand. In many ways there are a lot of benefits to making a film like a Batman film within a studio system because it’s so important to the studio that you’re never going to fall between the cracks when it comes to marketing or whatever. As long as you’re all on the same page about the film that you’re making and there’s a level of trust between you and the studio, it’s a pretty fantastic way to make a film.

I think its much harder to make a non-branded film. I mean, they dont even make films like Insomnia these days. But if you were in the $50 million cop thriller category, fighting for their attention against these huge branded properties I think would be really, really tough. So Batman Begins was eye-opening all around, but I definitely feel like we benefited from the high-profile nature of the character. Of course, that makes the pressure harder in some ways, but we felt very confident about the film we were making. As long as the core of the project is solid, then you can deal with that stuff.

I really cant reiterate it enough: Chris does produce on all of his films I think Batman Begins was the last one that he didn’t. But as a director, he is a producer’s dream. I remember Chuck saying that once—and it’s because he’s incredibly responsible and articulate in terms of what he wants. People, I think, have the notion that everything is very secret and closed-in with Chris. He does ask that we keep the circle small. But he never holds the studio at arm’s length. He brings them in, because ultimately he understands that it’s a partnership and if you fight them, they’re going to come down on you harder. It’s so much better to have an open dialogue, show them what you’re doing and bring them into the process, so that they can be invested in what it is you’re trying to achieve as much as you are.

Emma Thomas on location for Dunkirk with a multitude of colleagues,
including cast member James D'Arcy (left). Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon

At this point I imagine Chris has built the trust that a studio is going to let him do what he wants to do. But earlier in your guyscareer, before you built that trust, how did you work with the studio to convince them to take the risks you felt you needed to take?

I think you just have to work harder. Were very lucky in that Chris has achieved that level of trust with the studio that has enabled him to make a film like Dunkirk, that I think another filmmaker, who wasnt in his position, might not be able to make. For that film, the process of explaining to Warner Bros. what it was about the story that we felt was the reason we should make it was a fairly easy process, because they know that when Chris says hes going to deliver something, he will deliver it.

Obviously that wasnt always the case. At the beginning of Batman Begins, for example, where we were taking the studio’s crown jewel and doing something different with it, I would say the biggest difference was in the pitching process, whether it be pitching what the story was or illustrating for them what the design was going to look like, on the car, for instance. We had to devote a bit more attention to that. To me, it speaks to Chris’ openness, which I generally don’t think people realize is a characteristic of his because they tend to think it’s all secrecy. But on that film when he was developing the script with David Goyer, we had Nathan Crowley simultaneously working in our garage in a sort of early form prep, designing an early version of the Batmobile. So when the studio read the script they also were able to look at the very early designs for the car, which was a very good illustration of how different the world was going to be.

It makes a big difference to be able to give them something concrete like that.


So, in terms of your personal and professional relationship with Chris, how does the partnership work at the various stages of production? that collaboration must operate at different levels at different stages of the project.

Definitely. I would say Im usually the first person that gets to see the script. From the moment he has an idea, hell tell me, generally speaking, what the idea is. And then hell go away, and hell write something or hell think about it. Then hell come back and tell me about it. And then Ill read the script. Ill tell him what I think. But I very much view my role as being a facilitator, someone whos there to help him achieve his vision.

Thats the producers job, after all.

That is ultimately what were here for. Being married to each other, he can be very confident that I only have one agenda, which is to make the best film that we possibly can make. I dont work with other directors. I dont work on other projects. I dont have anything else going on other than making the best film that we possibly can, and I have utter faith that the best film that we can make is going to be the one that he wants to make.

Okay. well, lets just take Dunkirk for example. From the moment he says, I think Dunkirk is where my heart is taking me,where are you? Is there a moment where you start thinking, Oh no. That means were going to have to shoot a movie on the water…?”


At what point do you start having independent ideas that you may or may not share? At what point do your producer wheelsstart turning?

From the beginning, from the moment I read the script, Im thinking about those logistical aspects. Oh my God. How on earth are we going to do this?Particularly as it related to this film. Were at the point now where I have such a good sense of how Chris is going to want to make a film that when I read the script for Dunkirk, I knew he was never going to be satisfied making this on a green screen stage in LA. I knew immediately that this was going to be the location versionwith real planes and real boats and real everything to the degree that we could get them.

Including—significantly, I have to believe—a real ocean.

Thats something we hadnt really done before. The first thing that enabled us to pull it off was finding a really fantastic marine coordinator, Neil Andrea. Because the logistical issues with shooting on water are just bananas, even assuming that the weather is goodand thats a big assumption to make when youre also shooting in Northern Europe. We were shooting on a small boat that fit maybe three actors on there at any given time and a bare minimum crew: Chris, [DP] Hoyte [Van Hoyteme], first AD, sound. I would be on there if I could be.

As well as one of the biggest cameras in existence.

Oh yeah, plus an IMAX camera! It was just so fascinating. I mean, I have this amazing visual in my head: Theres the Moonstone [a small family boat that plays a significant role in the story] and then behind it you have the safety boat, the camera boat, hair and makeup boat, stunts. I mean, just a trail of boats, one after the other. It was absolutely incredible.

It sounds like you needed your own little Dunkirk flotilla for every shot.

Exactly. And then of course the shot is all fine, but then as soon as it turns in the other direction, then all of those people and boats have to get out of the way. And then theres the question of where everyone goes to the bathroom. How does everyone eat? It took us at least 45 minutes to get out to where we were shooting every day. So we would go out there, shoot, then we had a PA just bringing lunch boxes out to everybody. Wed eat on the boat and then come in at the end of the day.

It was insane on every level. Things like boat-to-boat transfers are incredibly dangerous. So you have to be really careful about making sure that when you go out in the morning, as far as possible everyone is on the boat that theyre going to stay on. Obviously people do have to go from one boat to another. But youve got to be really careful about it. The making of the film is very important, but the most important thing is safety. Because its going to be a great film, but ultimately we want everyone to get home in one piece.

Nothing wrecks a shoot like somebody getting hurt, or worse.

Exactly. As I said, hes a producer on the film, and hes a very responsible director. Safety is paramount. Likewise, hes not a director who has any interest in making a film that doesnt have the chance to succeed. Yes, Dunkirk wouldve been a lot easier to make if wed have doubled the budget. I think there is a world in which we couldve fought to try and get more money than we ultimately asked for. But Chris never wants to make a film that is asking to fail. If we had made this film for too much money, then it wouldve made it that much harder to make a film that would be financially profitable for the studio.

Ultimately, we want to keep making films. So we were in lock step from the beginning about how much we felt was the correct amount to ask for to tell this story. We knew it was going to be extremely challenging,shoehor because we have significantly less than we had on the last few [films], given the fact that we knew we were going to be casting unknowns in a lot of key roles. And its a very English story. It doesnt feature anyone in tights and a cape.

Are you sure you couldnt have shoehorned someone in there? “Dunkirk Man” couldve really put you over the top.

Oh, I know! [laughs] But we agreed on what the budget was going to be. Then we started talking. Okay. Well, within that number, how exactly are we going to do it?Thats when we begin to get slightly more into the territory of him saying, Well, this is the way I wanted it.And I dont say, No, you cant do it that way,but what I say is, Are we really sure that thats where we want to devote our resources? Is it really going to be worth it? Are we going to, at the end of the day, feel like, Damn, we should never have spent that money there because we couldve put it somewhere else?’”

Can you recall a conversation like that that you guys had on this movie?

Theres a shot in the film where all of the little ships are approaching. Theyre on their way to Dunkirk and the Moonstone goes past a big destroyer. And theres this seemingly endless row of soldiers on the deck, all lined up on the side. That destroyer was a real French ship called the Maillé-Brézé. It cost us a lot to bring that. It was in a berth in Nice or somewhere near there, and it didnt have an engine. We had to tow it up. It was a very big deal to get it, but it was the only destroyer that we were able to get. We were getting fairly close to the shoot, but we hadnt quite pulled the trigger on it coming yet. I was asking, Are you sure? Couldnt we just do this with visual effects?We had all these other ships that kind of looked enough like destroyers that we could have made it work.

Shooting the bow from
this one, the stern from that one

Exactly. I was thinking, “Can’t we just do something like that?I really made quite a half-racket to get rid of the Maillé-Brézé. And Chris said, No, I think that this is going to be an important shot. I think its going to be a defining moment in the film. I really want to be able to see the little boats next to the destroyer.

So I gave in. Okay, fine.And when I watch the film now, for me it is a defining moment. I don’t think there’s any way that we could’ve replicated it with a visual effects solution. So I think that a big part of a producer’s job is knowing when to trust your creative partner, and I am extremely lucky in that my creative partner is somebody who is very clear about what he needs and what he doesn’t need. The fact that he is very responsible about getting rid of stuff and making compromises in other areas means that I totally trust him when he says, “No, this is something I really need.”

Another massively important part of our job as producers is working with the marketing department of the studio. At every step of the process of making our films, were bringing the studio in to see the early concept work or to see designs or just to talk about what it is that we see as being the reason for making this film. One of our jobs as producers is explaining to people whats special about this film, why they should bother to come out to the cinema and spend two hours in a darkened room looking at lights dancing off a screen. And over the course of making the film, we gradually develop that from those earlier conversations about design and concepts.

The people at the studiotheyre your first audience, basically.

Theyre our first audience. Exactly. I think that completely crystallizes what it is that Im saying. We want the studio to be as invested in this, in our film, as we are. The thing about producing, which I always think is so fantastic and fun, is that there are so many different elements to it. Other than the director, theres really no one else whos on the film from conception to beyond release. And I love that. 




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