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LIANNE HALFON & RUSSELL SMITH

Posted By Chris Green, Tuesday, February 13, 2018

There’s that favorite pastime among the putative hipsters of the world—adjudicating the relative authenticity and credibility of our icons within what we’d loosely call the independent regions of the film, music and media sphere. Who’s legit? Who’s a sellout? It’s really a matter of your taste and your readiness to argue about it. There’s no definitive answer.

Except for when there is. PGA members and producing partners Lianne Halfon and Russell Smith are independent filmmakers, the genuine article, full stop. The pair are the founders, along with colleague John Malkovich, of Mr. Mudd, the small but spirited company that has made a habit of punching above its weight class with critical and commercial success stories like Ghost World, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Juno, which earned the partners their first Oscar nominations.

Given that track record (which extends beyond scripted features to the Emmy-winning doc Which Way Home and Zach Helm’s celebrated stage play El Buen Canario) and Mr. Mudd’s vigorous development slate (including projects bubbling at FX, Paramount and all over town), we could have spent our cover story recounting the highlights of a successful joint career in a brutally competitive business. That’s not the way the Mr. Mudd team—quite possibly the most vanity-free producers working today—likes to play it. Along with their fellow members of the PGA’s Independent Producers Committee, Halfon and Smith approached Produced By with a mission in mind: to spread the word about industry practices that today are battering the independent producing community.

Producers may find the accounts herein to be alternately ludicrous, chilling and—most depressing—familiar. Halfon and Smith are unsparing in their description of the obstacles the last 10 to 15 years have thrown at independent producers, from financier refusals to pay producing fees, to guilds’ insistence on bonds to cover foreign residuals, to even unscrupulous collaborators trying to game the system that determines eligibility for the PGA’s Producers Mark (p.g.a.).

Not every one of these stories will resonate with every PGA member. But even if your producing career isn’t routinely hamstrung by onerous requirements, the overall health of the U.S. independent filmmaking sector is something that should concern everyone who cares about the vitality of American entertainment. It may not be a pretty picture, but it’s one that we can’t in good conscience turn away from. Neither should you. Read on.

IT’S NEVER BEEN EASY TO PRODUCE AN INDEPENDENT MOVIE, BUT WHAT WERE THE OBSTACLES THEN AS OPPOSED TO THE OBSTACLES YOU’RE SEEING NOW? WHAT’S CHANGED OVER THE PAST 10-15 YEARS?

RUSS: I couldn’t even say how long ago this went away, but for independent producers, there was a period of time where if you had enough projects around town, you could limp by with enough development funding, you know, 25 [thousand dollars] for everything you set up, $12,500 up front, $12,500 when they kick it back to you. They stopped doing that. Now, they just say, “Hey, it’s all on you. Bring me everything and maybe even half the financing, and then we go.” Well in that period of putting together all that stuff, who’s paying for that? You’re paying out of pocket. That’s a pressure. So now it’s like you either have access to somebody else’s fortune, or you are just trying to figure it out.

LIANNE: And it means you need to have more projects. It means that while you’re producing something, you have to be actively developing five or six other projects. We start thinking about the movie as a finished product now, and then we kind of back into it. It used to be that we would sort of discover the movie as we made it and then try to find the best suitor for it. We can’t really afford to do that anymore, because there are just not that many places that will buy it. But there are some enormous positives, in that the buyers are as eclectic as our material. And it’s become easier to identify a compatible partner for production and distribution right from the start. It’s been a gradual process. The idea of the negative pickup and the combination of factors that surrounded the idea of the negative pickup … studios got comfortable with that idea: “You go and make the movie while we’re involved in a tangential way. You supervise it all the way through post and then bring it to us.” That was a great thing for independent producers, because it cultivated all those skills separate from the studios. For me, the difference was the slow emergence of streaming. As streaming came in, the business seemed to split, between the under five [-million dollar] movies and the movies that were 20, 30 and 40 [million]. The places that we used to go to slowly went out of business. Paramount Vantage closed up, and another half-dozen followed. Searchlight became more risk-averse. The ability to platform and to launch something slowly became prohibitively expensive. Because of social media, word-of-mouth was faster than platforming. The market started to separate—people were either on this side or on that side. And our films tended to be in the middle. They were from six to 15 [million]. And so this idea of picking something up that was execution-dependent, without enough time for an audience to discover something new, came to feel too risky. Execution-dependent—that was a good thing for us. Anything really good is execution-dependent.

photographed by Michael Neveux

RUSS: We could do that. Like, we knew we could do that.

LIANNE: I don’t know that it’s gotten harder to finance any individual film. It still takes a long time. But the possibility of taking a film from inception all the way through the process has gotten trickier because there are fewer places to go to and less infrastructure. So for us, the difference has been that for a certain kind of film, it used to be you could go to Sundance and compete with your peers. It was kind of like a beauty contest.

THE OPEN MARKETPLACE.

LIANNE: Yes, the marketplace. But now fewer and fewer films are picked up there. The market has sped up so much that even going into a festival, you need support, you need marketing, social media, you need everything at the start.

YOU NEED MARKETING EVEN JUST TO GET INTO THE MARKET.

LIANNE: Yeah. You have to be fully prepped. You have to be able to use the festival platform to your benefit. You can’t use it as we’d done before, where you build off of that and release six months, eight months later.

SO, LET’S DIG INTO IT. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PROJECTS WHERE THESE TRENDS HURT YOUR ABILITY TO DO THE JOB, OR EVEN CAME TO THREATEN YOUR LIVELIHOOD?

LIANNE: Young Adult was a perfect example of the predicament. Let me preface this by noting one thing we learned when we talked to other producers. On the Independent Producers Committee, it was amazing to us that everybody in that room had been in the same position as we had been in on Young Adult. We were intent on getting that made and we weren’t going to spend two years getting to that point and then walk away. So when somebody says to you, “This almost works … if you would cut 30% of your fee,” you’re not going to turn around and say, “No, no, no. It’s this or nothing.” That was something that we had in common with all those other producers. We all made those deals. It’s hard not to make that deal. If a serious financier can’t make the numbers work, most producers are going to say okay, we’ll do it. We’re the weak link in that chain as far as who’s going to bend to get the thing done, because we have to make films to stay in business. And to stay sane. But once you bend …

RUSS: They know. You’re on a list.

LIANNE: You’re on a list. [chuckles]

RUSS: Another thing that’s happened, though, is that the middle has completely fallen out.

LIANNE: Yep.

RUSS: I had somebody talking about a movie they were working on that they were being offered, and they named five really well-known names. I thought, wow … I’d go see that movie. It had a $4.5 million budget, and the financer said, “I’m giving you four and a half million dollars; not a penny more. Go make this.” Well, this is the decision that you have to make as a producer, which is: Okay, all those well-known names are going to take a big chunk of the $4.5 million. What is left to make the movie and can that movie compete? In this case, I was talking to an AD friend who said, “I got a first-time writer-director and the only way we can shoot this thing with all these people is maybe a 19-day shoot.” Well a 19-day shoot; that means you can’t have a single thing go wrong. And even then you have to have a script that matches those limitations. And by the time you go through all that, you’re asking if this is going to ever play in a marketplace where it can compete? We used to be able to say, “You give us 15 million; we’ll give you a movie that competes with the studio movies.” For the look, for the performances—across the board. I don’t know how interested they are in that anymore. Those movies may not ever see the light of day or make a profit, however they’re distributed. A lot of them aren’t even expected to have box office except for gross comedies and horror films. But everything else is shoved in that same budget category.

LIANNE: Then there are movies like The Libertine, where your margin as a producer is so narrow. When we were making that movie, we posted a SAG residual bond. It’s a number that you can’t anticipate because it’s wholly determined by SAG. For us, it’s a very unpredictable thing. It boils down to a kind of bill that you get. And once you get it, there’s no negotiation. We structured that deal on The Libertine with the idea that we would get that bond back, so it wasn’t part of our budget. We thought of it like a deposit we would get back. It didn’t come back. We had no control over when or how we got it back.
 

I KNOW THAT A HUGE ISSUE FOR INDEPENDENT PRODUCERS IS THE REQUIREMENT BY SAG-AFTRA AND SOME OF THE OTHER GUILDS FOR PRODUCERS TO GUARANTEE RESIDUAL PAYMENTS. COULD YOU UNPACK THAT ISSUE A LITTLE?

RUSS: Well they passed a rule. It was called Global Rule One. This was 15 years ago, maybe a little longer than that. But before that period of time, if you were a SAG actor, say you were John Malkovich, and you were doing a Working Title film shot in Germany—well SAG got whatever residuals SAG would get from when that movie came out in America. Of course, they figured, we’ve got all these people working around the world, and so we need SAG residuals on all those movies across the world that use SAG actors. Well most of those movies (or a good portion of those movies) are put together by a producer whose process is like, “Let’s see … I need product for German television. Get me a story where the artwork can have a guy with a gun, a girl in a bikini and a house on fire.” They just put those things out—and never pay anything to any guild or anybody anywhere.

LIANNE: It was the honor system, and it didn’t work.

RUSS: SAG got shit on all these years by all of these people pulling this. That drove this push to pay residuals. Well it’s one thing to say you’re going to pay residuals by putting it in a contract and leaving it to the various distributors in those countries to make that reporting. But producers are expected to guarantee a certain amount of that. SAG said, “We’re going to come up with an amount of money that we think this film can afford; give it to us.” And they did.

LIANNE: The problem gets worse with something like The Libertine. We had Johnny Depp in it, and so the guarantee was based on the comps from Johnny’s previous films, even though in this one, he’s playing the Earl of Rochester in an English drama.


SO THEY ASSUME JACK SPARROW FOREIGN RESIDUALS EVEN THOUGH HE’S PLAYING AN OBSCURE ENGLISH EARL?

LIANNE: Yeah. It was before Jack Sparrow, but yes, that’s the idea. Johnny was huge. And so they based it on that. There are all these companies that are set up to make sure that the residuals that are owed, get paid. They’re called CAMAs (Collection Account Management Agreements). So it’s in your contract that all funds will go through this CAMA and the CAMA will distribute those funds per the contract. It’s great. Honestly it was not as much at risk as it had been before, but it still leaves producers at risk, because independent producers are often asked to sign personal guarantees. You know, when we go into production, it’s Russ and I signing on behalf of Mr. Mudd. We’re the responsible party. So if somebody for some reason doesn’t pay their residuals, the guilds will come to collect. I got a letter from the Writers Guild on one of our films which was set up with Fox—I don’t remember if it was Demolition or Juno—but instead of going to Fox, the letter from the Writers Guild comes to me. I called them up and I said, obviously it’s not me who’s holding on to this money, but the truth is it’s my name on the contract. What they’re counting on is that rattling my cage is going to be heard much more noisily than rattling Fox’s cage. And I understand it, because we’ve gone after profits on a film, too. We understand that if somebody has your money and you go and say, “I would like it,” it’ll take you three or four years to get a response. So we understand the impulse. But the Writers Guild, even as they tell you on the phone, “We know it’s not you [who has the money],” are quick to remind you whose name is on the contract.

RUSS: And when you have a film like that one, which I think was Demolition, Fox Searchlight has a portion of the world, probably 70%, but somebody else has got 30%. However it’s distributed, the deal that they work out should have nothing to do with us. But say they sold it to Russia, Poland and the Ukraine, and guess what, the distributor there didn’t pay. So who are they calling?

THEY’RE CALLING YOU GUYS.

RUSS: That’s pretty weird, isn’t it?

YEAH THAT’S WEIRD ENOUGH THAT IT ALMOST DARES YOU TO TRY AND FIGURE OUT THE SOLUTION.

LIANNE: Well that’s what we’re trying to do as members of the PGA. If the PGA was a union, our rep would be on their phone with their rep. But the PGA is a trade association, so there isn’t the same kind of bite there. Also, because the AMPTP are often called the producers during collective bargaining, people think that we are sitting on bags of money. Even the ones who recognize that confusion, where the distributors are called producers, all the unions are said to be negotiating against the producers.

AS THE PGA COMMUNICATIONS GUY, THAT MISSTATEMENT IS THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE. EVERY TIME THERE’S A LABOR NEGOTIATION, THE PRESS CAN’T HELP BUT CALL THE MANAGEMENT SIDE “THE PRODUCERS.” EVEN THOUGH THE ACTUAL PRODUCERS AREN’T AT THE BARGAINING TABLE.

RUSS: In other countries, that might be more accurate. In most countries outside the United States, producers own the copyright on their films.

LIANNE: Yeah.

RUSS: But not here. There are maybe seven that have negotiated themselves into positions to be able to do that. But there aren’t 40. In France, distributors have seven years where they can exploit the film, in its various forms, and then the rights come back to the producer. If we renegotiate for another seven years, they would always revert back. What a huge difference! Because in France, you could just walk your film into a bank and say here’s some collateral to secure the loan for my next film. We don’t have that here. The distributors own it in perpetuity, in outer space, in the next galaxy over that we haven’t discovered yet. That’s the language that you get now in contracts.

LIANNE: It’s one of the reasons that television is such an appealing world for independent producers, because there’s a tradition of writer-producers. This idea of a producer as a creative force is not a difficult one for them to absorb. There is no confusion there about who does what. But in the theatrical world, with the financiers listed as producers on films, can we be surprised that the crew doesn’t know which producers do what? Because there are 14 of them on the call sheet, usually listed alphabetically. We know from serving on arbitration panels that how you delineate that has become foggier and foggier. Now we’re nostalgic for the days when only three producers could qualify. Now it’s become an awarded title for directors. It’s kind of like being knighted. It’s kind of a perk of being at a certain point in your company’s existence or of your status as a director.

*

WELL, THAT’S THE POINT OF THE PRODUCERS MARK [p.g.a.]. WHEN YOU SEE A LIST OF PRODUCERS AND SOME HAVE THE MARK AND SOME DON’T, THAT TELLS YOU SOMETHING.

LIANNE: Yeah, it is an amazing thing, because it makes people pay attention. It’s powerful when you go into those arbitrations, where it breaks down what a producer is and does on the whiteboard. It’s a big deal, that p.g.a. mark. Without that, there would be no delineation whatsoever.

RUSS: But now there are a lot of people that have seen that board. Financiers are all of a sudden going, “I’ll be on the set.” What? Why? Well we know why. And a lot of times, you’re even paying for their hotel while they’re sitting out there for the requisite amount of time on the set, enough that the AD, the costume designer, whoever, is able to say, “Oh, yeah, I saw that guy on set.” Right? So now he’s ready to go for his mark.

Any time you have a system, you’re going to have people who try to game that system. Our job is to keep improving it, keep refining it.

LIANNE: That’s exactly it, and I think it will get refined. I think they’re doing that. I think that’s some of what the arbitrations are for. We’re figuring out in those arbitrations how to account for that.
 

I WANT TO GET BACK TO WATERFALLS, WHICH IS AN ISSUE I’VE HEARD OTHER PRODUCERS COMPLAIN ABOUT—THE DEGREE TO WHICH PRODUCERS ARE CONSIDERED INSIDE OR OUTSIDE THE WATERFALL, AND THE MISCONCEPTIONS THAT CREATES.

LIANNE: Once you sell a film, you’re never part of the mechanism by which the money flows. You can be a beneficiary of it the same way a writer or director or an actor would be a beneficiary of it, but we are never part of that mechanism. It’s entirely out of our hands. Once the film is sold for distribution, it goes to Fox or Lionsgate or wherever. When we see that a film has done well, and because we know exactly what the budget is, we can gauge when it might start to show a profit and what that profit might be. If there’s a question about whether we should be seeing some of that back end—usually we don’t—but if there’s a question about that, we’re always in a collective with the writer and the director and one or more of the actors. We have to be in a position to be able to pay for any kind of audit, because the amount of money that it costs you to investigate can be prohibitive. In the case of Ghost World, with a UK co-production, we simply can’t afford to get our money.

RUSS: Especially if you’re going to be doing it on an ongoing basis. Because you get in line, you get in a “flight pattern,” and then nothing happens. So you go okay, what happened there? “Oh, we got kicked out of line. Something else came in, and we’re back to number 24 in the flight pattern.” Because they just don’t want to pay! There are people that just flat out don’t. They’re on the wrong side of that naughty/nice list that everyone knows …which studios will pay, which don’t pay, which might pay when prodded, all that kind of stuff. You get in with one of those that doesn’t like to pay and it can last you six, seven years of putting out bait, fishing, chumming the water for something that doesn’t come.

LIANNE: We had to borrow some money recently to continue an ongoing audit that was double the amount that we thought the audit was going to be.

RUSS: An audit we did not initiate. But once the train starts rolling, you’ve got to get on.

LIANNE: It’s the equivalent of optioning a New York Times bestseller for a year. [laughs] You pay for the money you’re owed.

“YOU PAY FOR THE MONEY YOU’RE OWED.” THAT SUMS THINGS UP ALMOST TOO PERFECTLY.

LIANNE: I’m sorry. I feel like we’re making you just sit there and shake your head.

[LAUGHS] I NEVER GUESSED THERE WOULD BE QUITE SO MANY WAYS OF WASTING TIME AND MONEY. THIS STUFF IS JUST SO FAR AWAY FROM THE REASONS ANYONE I’VE EVER SPOKEN TO HAS GOTTEN INTO THE JOB OF PRODUCING.

LIANNE: Yeah. And to stay in business, you have to be doing that all the time. You’re trying to collect from the stuff that you made that succeeded. And all you’re going to do with that is fold it into more development, into an option or kickstarting a documentary. You’re just going to fold it into keeping your business. You’re going to reinvest it.

Producers Russ Smith and Lianne Halfon on the set of one of their early collaborations, Art School Confidential 

SO WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN TO CHANGE THIS? I THINK PART OF WHAT’S SO FRUSTRATING IS THAT SO MANY OF THESE THINGS ARE NOT JUST OUTSIDE PRODUCERS’ CONTROL, BUT ARE IN MANY WAYS OUTSIDE THE DOMESTIC ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY, WHETHER IT’S FOREIGN DISTRIBUTORS WITHHOLDING RESIDUALS, OR THE SHEER ACCOUNTING COMPLEXITY OF MULTI-PARTY FINANCING DEALS.

RUSS: One problem that is closer to home, for example—just in terms of the studio and the producer—SAG does not treat them equally. That’s something that could change very easily and take a huge burden off an independent producer, the requirement to pay a residual bond. Studios don’t have to pay that. How can it be that we do? How about if our ducks are in line and we provide the CAMA, then there’s no bond? How about you make a distinction between who knows how to do this and who doesn’t? If a guild isn’t sure how to make that call, the bond company can give you an idea of who can be a little iffy.

LIANNE: That’s why there is a bond company.

RUSS: Just do a little research! You know, “These guys have forfeited their bond a bunch of times and they’ve gone bankrupt twice. If I were you, I’d get a little money to put off to the side on these guys.” As opposed to “These guys have a stellar track record. Why are you fucking with them?” Decide who actually knows what they’re doing and who doesn’t, and if you have some fears about somebody that doesn’t, work them out.

LIANNE: None of the things that are difficult for us are irreparable or systemic to working in the business, because we do have a good relationship with the studios. The studios are necessary to us. They’re part of that chain that’s hugely supportive of what we’re doing. We need them. But in any other business, it would be clear that we are not part of that cash flow after the film is sold. When the person you sold a car to crashes into a bus, the bus company doesn’t come after you because you once were in that car. It just doesn’t happen, right? They know who’s driving. But when the WGA tells you that they know you’re not responsible, but still your name is on the envelope and they’re going to come after you … I mean, you understand the end, if not the means. They negotiate with those studios. There are sensitive relationships there. Just because it’s easier or more comfortable to come to us doesn’t make it the right thing to do. There has to be a better way. With the SAG residual bond, there’s no way for us to calculate it, there’s no way for us to negotiate, and there’s no way for us to demand it back. The Libertine was made 18 years ago. I negotiated it with a person who said, “I promise you you’ll get it back on X date,” and then she left SAG. What kind of negotiation do you do with any union where it’s based on a verbal assurance and is so unpredictable? That seems like something that could be easily remedied. Everything is based on the chain of title. So they completely understand who owns the underlying rights to that film—that even if we once had them, that we transfer it to the studio. They know that. None of this is mysterious. It’s just that as the business changed from the studio era to now, the group who was not represented is today at a disadvantage. The jaws with the least bite are the producers. Not the AMPTP “producers” [laughs] but the producers like the ones in the PGA. For independent producers especially, we’ve found strength in numbers. That’s a good thing, right? We love what we do. We just need to be able to stay afloat as we do it.


*photo by Peter Land

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Power Player: Funny and Fearless, Showrunner Courtney Kemp Knows Exactly Where the Buck Stops

Posted By Sarah Sanders, Monday, January 29, 2018

It is roughly two minutes into my interview with creator, showrunner and producer Courtney Kemp, and she has already discussed red lipstick, offered me lunch and plunged into an insightful critique of misogyny in Hollywood. 

“There were definitely certain issues, especially early on, with being the definitive voice and having to say the buck stops here, even if I am wearing lipstick and a skirt,” she says. “It’s still my show. I’m still the showrunner.”

That show, which Kemp created, is the critically acclaimed Starz drama Power, currently in production for its fifth season and considered to be the network’s most watched original series to date. (The latest season averaged around 8 million viewers per week—for reference, that’s a number topped in premium cable only by HBO’s Game of Thrones.) The series marks her debut as a creator and showrunner, though she has been producing and writing for years for shows including The Bernie Mac ShowInjustice, and The Good Wife.

People are often surprised to learn that Kemp—who is direct but warm, with a big smile and mischievous laugh—is at the helm of Power, a gritty New York drama full of drugs, guns and gangs. “Im a black woman showrunner,” she states. “Which means sometimes that goes along with, ‘What? Youre a showrunner?’’’

“I think being a woman actually has been harder than being of color,” she continues. “I think that both things do define who I am and my experience on the planet. But being taken seriously as a woman, given the content of my show—my race was always going to make me a more authentic voice for people and make people trust me with this subject matter, or in this world with these characters. But my gender often was a challenge.”

Among those challenges: the frustration with others asking her to speak “as a woman” about sexism and misogyny, most recently in terms of the ongoing exposure of a deep history of sexual assault in Hollywood.

“I think we are ignoring a lot when we talk about this as a womens issue,” she says. “Its a power issue.”

Courtney Kemp discusses a scene on the set of Power with cast
member Omari Hardwick. Center: EP Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson

While she’s glad that the voices of those who have been exploited currently are being heard, Kemp admits she’s not optimistic about recent events having a lasting effect. “This is going to be a brief window I think, where this is going to be taken seriously. I think that we will snap back. Because everything is cyclical,” she says, though she quickly adds that she hopes she’s wrong. She is adamant, however, that any lasting change will require work by everybody.

“We have to not look at it as a binary and look at it as everyone’s responsibility,” she counsels. “I always get the question: ‘What can you do, as a woman?’ And it’s like, well, ask everybody.”

In fact, Kemp hates being asked her stance on anything “as a woman,” something she has spoken about at length. “I just hate gender essentialism, racial essentialism, essentialism in terms of sexuality or gender status … I hate all of that.” She instead values individual experience and emotional truth, both of which lie at the core of her beliefs about storytelling.

“You can’t say that because someone is a straight white man that they don’t understand. Because you don’t know what they understand. You can’t say because someone is a black woman that she can’t write, you know, the Lance Armstrong story,” she says firmly. “Thats the thing that I think is sort of my rallying cry, that writers can write anything.”

While the factual backgrounds of stories may require research, Kemp is insistent that what matters most when writing characters is accessing their emotional truth, which everybody experiences. She describes the wide range of characters she writes as all fundamentally coming from different parts of herself.

“Because when you’re writing at 2 in the morning, you only have yourself to draw on,” she explains. “You can’t really call anyone else and wake them out of a sound sleep and be like, ‘Well what would you do?’ So you really have to go for emotional truth.” And that, she insists, “knows no race, no gender, no color, no sexual orientation. Hurt, heartbreak, pain, struggle, triumph: they don’t know any thing to do with the person or the race, gender, et cetera of the character … The outside of the character isn’t what people are connecting to anyway.”

As with challenging sexism offscreen, Kemp believes a storyteller’s power to tell any story means the responsibility for crafting the still-scarce “strong female character” is on everybody. “When people ask me, ‘Tell me about how you create such strong female characters,’ Im like, ‘Ask the guys that. Why they dont. Why they choose not to.’”

Kemp herself is about to send another powerful woman to screens across the country, having recently announced her next project: the series Get Christie Lovewhich secured a pilot production commitment with ABC in a competitive bidding war this autumn. The show is inspired by the 1974 TV movie and subsequent series Get Christie Love, which starred Teresa Graves as an undercover CIA agent and was the first drama on network television to star a black woman. Kemp has been striving to remake the historically important project for years and has vivid memories of first seeing the original. “I was like: This woman is a badass. And she’s black, and she’s powerful, and she doesn’t care. She’s not hung up. She has freedom.”

Kemp first began working on a remake several years ago, right after her father passed away, partly in order to work through attendant feelings of helplessness. Working on the strong character of Christie was in part an attempt to answer the question, “How do I get my power back?” However Kemp temporarily shelved Christie when Power took of on Starz.

Kemp is cautiously hopeful about Get Christie Love’s prospects, explaining, “I think it is a good time for a black woman to be on TV—y’know, speaking multiple languages, kicking ass, being vulnerable, having a complicated love life.” She also believes that “There’s a space and a time in the culture for a black woman showrunner to have multiple shows on the air,” as has been proven by Kemp’s soon-to-be-colleague at ABC, Shonda Rhimes.

She’s very pragmatic about the reasons for that time and space, however. “People actually want this content right now because they think they can make money. Because the only color that matters in Hollywood is green. So when people are like, ‘Oh, is it more open now?’” Kemp laughs and continues, “No! People know how to make money!”

Kemp created her production company, End of Episode, in part to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to have multiple shows on the air. “The idea is to really make more TV that is more inclusive of everybody and get everybody’s stories on,” she maintains. These days, though, it seems one of the hardest parts of telling those stories is finding time to write them.

“It’s almost impossible to get time to write,” she says. “I have to steal it.” She walks over to a bookcase in her office and pulls out a stack of signs, which she says she sometimes puts on her door. One is a flowchart guiding would-be interrupters through the process of deciding if they should knock (they shouldn’t). One says, “You made a wise choice.” Several provide directions to her assistant’s office, and one, which makes her laugh, that says simply, “NO.” “If Im going to write,” she explains, “this is the one that has to be up.”

Courtney Kemp on the set of Power with
cast member Omari Hardwick.

The writing needs to be as insulated as possible from the avalanche of other showrunning responsibilities. Though the writers’ room is her preferred home base, she flies back and forth between her set in New York and her writers’ room and editing suites in LA “pretty much constantly,” she says. “The writers’ room has to live without me. It has to make decisions without me, it has to breathe without me. And then I have to come in and go, ‘Okay, that doesnwork because I have a global idea of what the series is.’” She is, again, where the buck stops, creatively as well as logistically.

“Writing is what if, and producing is what is,” she explains. Her life as showrunner is a constant, often-contradictory balancing act between the creative impulses of making a television show.

“There’s so many different elements that you need to control, or at least try to control, because so many things will be out of your control,” she observes. “I mean, theres a hurricane—what are you supposed to do about that, right? Trucks get flooded, things get stolen, actors get sick. There’s so much you can’t control that you can only write for what you can, and that’s producing.”

Kemp credits mentors like Michelle and Robert King, Jef Melvoin and Greg Berlanti with giving her the information she needed to become a first-rate producer. “I still do things to this day that I learned from Greg,” she notes. He gave her tips on everything from season plotting (have a singular vision and keep coming back to “What is the show?”) to staff hours (10-6; give your staff the weekends of) to working dinners (“Once the foodarrived and everyones eaten, its 9p.m. What the hell? Just go home! Start in the morning”).

He [Berlanti] would take us to the editing room. We would learn how to edit,” she recalls. “It was very much a ‘teaching hospital.’ The best shows are.”

Kemp consults with direct J.J. Bassett (middle) and DP Mauricio -
Rubinstein(left) on location in NYC for the
Power season 2 finale.

Now that she has shows of her own, Kemp’s latest challenge is navigating the ways in which being a showrunner also means being a public figure. “Being recognized is weird,” she admits, adding that her experiences of being recognized come in pockets, “because of the ways that the shows audience has broken down.” She laughs as she tells a story about being recognized by a salesperson while checking out in Sephora. “I had one girl go, like, ‘You’re a legend!’ And I was like, ‘Uh, no. I need eyeliner! But I’m not a legend.’”

While fans of Power are passionate – “I’m so grateful to our fans and I love them, and I’m so really, really thankful for their watching,” she adds—Kemp goes back and forth between experiences like that and competing instances of frequently not being recognized by others in her own industry.

“I’ll literally be at like a showrunner’s event or something, and someone will be like, ‘Oh, hey, can I get some more water?’ They think I’m like a waiter,” she says. “Because there’s no way I’m a showrunner, right? I don’t ‘look like a showrunner.’”

Kemp is calm as she continues, though it’s clear that the feelings run deep. Sometimes when that happens, she explains who she is and what she does; sometimes she just walks away.

“You don’t have to educate people every time,” she refects. “You don’t always have to make it about well you should’ve known, or you should have recognized, or at this point you should be educated enough to realize, ‘Look, anybody could be anything.’ Because maybe you’re the education.”

She smiles a little. “My existence is enough. Like, I got in the room the same way you did. Came up with a good story. That’s it.”

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Taking on Water: J. Miles Dale Is Swimming In The Deep End

Posted By Kevin Perry, Tuesday, January 23, 2018

PRO TIP: If you ever have the good fortune to meet J. Miles Dale, listen up! He’s that proverbial dinner party guest toward whom everyone swivels their chairs; the jovial bar patron regaling his cohorts well into the grey hours of last call; the quintessential on-set storyteller trading anecdotal advice and quotable wisdom from productions of yesteryear. Dale is an exuberant oral historian of Hollywood lore, eager to share his trove of Tinseltown treasures. Many of his quips begin with the same mantra: “There’s this saying …”

INTEREST PIQUED. PLEASE GO ON.

“There’s this saying: It’s Gandhi in the morning and Dukes of Hazzard after lunch.” By which he means, every production starts out as high art but then becomes a race to get something—anything—in the can. Dale delights in the idiosyncrasies of set life, and he has crystallized his experiences into a leather-bound volume of philosophies that sound a little something like this: “It takes a long time to develop a great reputation and a short time to lose it … The job can be half cheerleading, half babysitting … On a great day, I don’t have to do anything … Sometimes you just need to let the magic happen… Knowing when not to say anything is as critical as knowing when to say something.”

It’s no small task, maneuvering Dale’s avalanche of wit and wisdom into a coherent channel—like, say, a magazine feature. Your best bet is simply to find the shape of the conversation and let it fow.

 Producer J. Miles Dale on the set of Carrie with cast
member Chloe Grace Moretz

“My dad had two passions in life: one of them was music and the other was vintage cars,” explains Dale. “I ended up in the entertainment business and my brother ended up being a professional racecar driver. The symmetry of the whole thing is crazy and wonderful.” In the late 1960s, his father, Jimmy Dale, was the musical director for such variety show hits as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Andy Williams Show, and The Sony & Cher Comedy Hour. “The other musicians called us the chimps, my brother and I, because we would be seen hanging on my dad’s back while he was conducting a 60-piece orchestra.” That’s when entertainment began to seep into young Dale’s bloodstream, and the pulse never slowed.

Ever favoring street smarts over book learning, Dale stormed into TV producing, racking up credits on series like Top CopsFriday the 13th and RoboCop. He quickly transitioned into feature films, directing The Skulls III for no paycheck, ravenous for production experience on every level. “I directed really to make myself a better producer,” he recounts. “You know the director’s language, you know the toolkit, and you’re not dealing with it in a dilettantish way.”

Film sets were Dale’s empirical kingdom; they posed a constant source of fascination and experimentation. He began to tinker with the production formula, comparing it to life in a petri dish. “Every six months,” he tells me, “it’s like a whole new science project because the people, who are all generally talented smart people, are thrown in as a whole new organism. Much as the director has to be the leader of that, you’re a little bit the chemist.”

Having successfully synthesized his own brand of interpersonal chemistry, it was suddenly time to tear it to shreds. As an Executive Producer on the epic gothic horror series The Strain, Dale explored the chaos of a society in decay, plagued by vampires, corruption and a nuclear Armageddon accelerated by humanity in peril. “What that series showed was the thin veil of civility that really hangs over everything,” Dale remarks. “It falls apart very quickly.”

Fortunately the situation behind the camera was far more harmonious. The Strain teamed Dale with A-list writer/producer Carlton Cuse, who had nothing but glowing praise for his fellow EP. “He takes the time to get inside your head. I really appreciate how thoughtfully he focused on trying to understand my intentions as a showrunner. That’s the starting point.”

And it was a road that would soon diverge into innovative new filmmaking frontiers. When Dale was tapped to produce Guillermo del Toro’s buzzworthy new release, The Shape of Water, he had the daunting task of delivering a sci-f period masterpiece on a relatively tight budget. But just as he collected Hollywood anecdotes and inspiration throughout the early years of his career, Dale was also amassing an impressive arsenal of production resources. Like a magpie scrapping together the shiniest bits of movie magic, between seasons he utilized the sets and crew from The Strain to realize del Toro’s latest vision. The resulting alchemy elevated The Shape of Water from a mid-budget indie into blockbuster territory, and Cuse took note. “The real quality that separates the average producer from a great producer is imagination. Miles was incredibly creative about how he was going to deliver the most resources for Guillermo.”

Dale (right) reviews a take of The Shape of Water with writer/director
Guillermo Del Toro and cast member Sally Hawkins.

Dale compares the tactic to how Alfred Hitchcock created his magnum opus between seasons of a hit TV production, calling The Shape of Water “Guillermo’s Psycho.” But that’s where the similarities end. “[del Toro] came to me and said, ‘I’ve got an idea for a movie about a mute cleaning lady who works at a secret government facility and falls in love with a man-fish and tries to save him,’” recounts Dale. “So right there, I’m in. There’s nothing like it.” Asked how del Toro concocted such a wonderfully warped love story, Dale explains, “He was inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon and wanted the creature to get the girl, be together, run of, have an underwater condo, and he was actually disappointed that they didn’t get together. That was when he was 6. He had all that time to think about it and ask, ‘How would that work?’”

The answer: align yourself with a die- hard producer like J. Miles Dale. “I take what I call a blood oath with the director,” Dale vows. “I’m gonna do everything I can to get you everything you want for your movie, BUT when I say we really can’t do this thing, you gotta listen to me. It can’t be a one-way blood oath.”

“That’s beautiful,” replies Guillermo del Toro, after I share Dale’s account. “But at the end of the day, we all break the blood oath.” The director laughs good-naturedly before getting sincere about Dale, his longtime collaborator and friend. “What we do have for each other is enormous respect. You know? Neither of us has an agenda other than the movie. He’s not power playing; he’s not positioning himself. He’s certainly as honest as I’ve ever met as a producer. He’s been a great partner now for six years. I admire him and love him.”

The pledge between Dale and del Toro would be pushed to its breaking point as the grueling endeavor of Water took shape. The director recounts, “This one was a movie in which I was risking a lot. Not only in terms of the scope we wanted, but in terms of the ambitions artistically. This is a triple summersault with no net. I knew that every element needed to be perfect or the fable would not survive.” That’s why del Toro leaned so faithfully on his producer friend. “We had a very tense shoot. It was artistically very harmonious, but in terms of delivering the movie for the price, it was incredibly taxing. I think Miles made miracles.” Summoning his best biblical allegory, del Toro concludes, “He walked on water for this movie.”

Sandstorms halted production several times, and yet Dale shrugged them off as the price of del Toro’s passion. “He’s like the Rain Man of visualists.” His crew dug deeper to tackle the unique challenge of creating its Fishman romantic lead. His assessment: “If we don’t get the creature perfectly right, the whole movie fails.” But the greatest obstacle was looming right there in the film’s title. “The water in its various forms on that show was absolutely a challenge,” Dale admits. Summoning yet another Hollywood adage of what to avoid when planning a production, he quips, “They talk about [never working with] kids and dogs. I would add water to that list.”

In the face of overwhelming logistical adversity, J. Miles Dale focused on the pros rather than the staggering cons. “This is obviously going to be a thrilling challenge, not only production wise, but also selling the story,” he surmised. “It was either going to be something special or it would be ridiculed. You work hard to make sure it’s something special.” And the result? “An unabashed love story that’s not sentimental, but it’s really honest.” The producer/philosopher then concludes with a signature truism: “It’s easy to be smart when you’re ironic, but it’s harder when you’re earnest.”

Can this aw-shucks realism translate into awards season gold? “I’m Canadian, so I’m a little more modest,” Dale defects. “Recognition is nice; it’s not important. Adulation is probably unhealthy.” But Dale’s friend and The Strain showrunner, Cuse, was less apprehensive about the films Oscar odds. “Miles is really in the top ranks of producers and I would love to see him get recognized as such for Shape of Water. I really hope that happens.”

Regardless of the film’s awards fate, the life-changing production opportunity enlightened and evolved Dale’s already complex philosophies. “Like love, water finds its way. It will go wherever it can and it will find the shape of the space that it’s in. That’s what I do as a producer. You shape yourself to what the project needs and what the director needs.” Extrapolating further, Dale applies the film’s themes to life writ large. “You get up every day and you can choose to love or to fear. Love or hate. There’s no case to be made for anything other than love.”

Epiphanies fiicker across Dale’s expression like 16mm daydreams spooling back on themselves; lessons from the past echoing into the present and shaping his view of the future. As much as it’s been a breakthrough year for the stalwart producer, it’s also been rife with heartbreak. “My father just died in May.” He accepts my condolences, but embraces his dad’s eternal optimism. “He had a good, long, amazing life and did whatever he wanted. He had no regrets, so I won’t either.” One shining, cardinal rule that Miles learned from the elder Dale: “Do the thing that you love because even if you never really succeed, at least you’ll be chasing your passion.”

The light in his eyes shines proudly as the movie in his mind reaches a crescendo. “He taught me all that.” Roll credits.

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Winners: 2018 Producers Guild Awards presented by Cadillac

Posted By Administration, Sunday, January 21, 2018

- To see all nominees for Theatrical Motion Pictures and Television, click here.
- To see all of the 2018 honorees, click here.

And the winners are...

 

The Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures:

 

“The Shape Of Water

Producers: Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale
Producing Team: Dennis Chapman, Marie Claude-Hornois, Doug Wilkinson, Dennis Berardi

 

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures:

 

“Coco”

Producer: Darla K. Anderson
Producing Team: Mary Alice Drumm, David Park

 

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Motion Pictures:

 

“Jane”
Producers: Brett Morgen, Bryan Burk, Tony Gerber, James Smith
Producing Team: Tim Pastore, Jeff Hasler, Debra Eisenstadt, Gayle Lynn Fields

 

 

The Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Drama:

 

“The Handmaid's Tale” (Season 1)
Producers: Bruce Miller, Warren Littlefield, Daniel Wilson, Fran Sears, Ilene Chaiken, Sheila Hockin, Eric Tuchman, Frank Siracusa, John Weber, Joseph Boccia, Elisabeth Moss, Kira Snyder, Leila Gerstein
Producing Team: Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Fortenberry, Wendy Straker Hauser, Joseph Boccia, Melissa Girotti, Eleanor Mendes, Corrie Gudgeon, Kathryn Blythe

 

The Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Comedy:

 

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Season 1)
Producers: Daniel Palladino, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Sheila Lawrence, Dhana Rivera Gilbert
Producing Team: Matthew Shapiro, Sal Carino, Francesca M. Mannix, Frank Covino, Rachel Jablin, Parker Chehak, Molly Pabain

 

The David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television:

The Long-Form Television category encompasses both movies of the week and  limited series.

 

“Black Mirror” (Season 4)
Producers: Annabel Jones, Charlie Brooker
Producing Team: Nick Pitt, Louise Sutton, Sanne Wohlenberg, Ian Hogan, Joanne Crowther, Chris Lahr, Andy Chapman, Benjamin Greenacre, Andrea Raffaghello, Joel Stokes, Oliver Cockerham, Arni Pall Hansson, Moira Brophy, Russell McLean, Amber Ducker, Christopher Gray, Jakub Chilczuk

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television:

 

“Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” (Season 1, Season 2)
Producers: Leah Remini, Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Myles Reiff, Adam Saltzberg, Erin Gamble, Lisa Rosen, Grainne Byrne, Taylor Levin, Alex Weresow, Rachelle Mendez
Producing Team: Elaine Frontain Bryant, Amy Savitsky, Devon Graham Hammonds, Sabrina Mar, Jeana Dill, Emily Webster, Mike Rinder, Angela Root, Michael Tubman, Gabrielle Della Pesca, Marissa Ramirez, Natalie Doerr, Jennifer Parris, Deanne Vernengo, Dunbar Dicks, Bobby Aguilar, Matthew S. Harper, Zachary Bidman, Michelle Vonwald, Gabriel Rivera, Jane Lemberg, Tim Romine

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television:

 

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (Season 4)
Producers: John Oliver, Tim Carvell, Liz Stanton
Producing Team: Jon Thoday, James Taylor, Jeremy Tchaban, Baz Hatfield, Nicole Franza, Catherine Owens, Amanda Bayard, Claire Gordon, Kate Mullaney, Matt Passet, Alex Smelson, Christopher Werner, Melissa Weiss, Steven Tucker

 

The Award for Outstanding Producer of Competition Television:

 

“The Voice” (Season 12, Season 13)
Producers: John de Mol, Mark Burnett, Audrey Morrissey, Lee Metzger, Chad Hines, Amanda Zucker, Kyra Thompson, Jay Bienstock, Stijn Bakkers, Mike Yurchuk, Teddy Valenti, Carson Daly
Producing Team: Amanda Silva Borden, Dan Paschen, Tod Schellinger, Jared Wyso, Suzanne Lee, Anthea Bhargava, Keith Dinielli, May Johnson, Clyde Lieberman, Kyley Tucker, Amanda Horning Cuddy, Melissa Wong, Anna Gunne, Thomas A. Douglass, Stephanie Rojas, Ryan Corchard-Keller, Brianna Stegemann, Meredith Ambrose, William Davalos, Alexis Heller, Amanda Keller, Alyson Lippert, Mariela Rodriguez, Jacob Kieval

 

 

NOTE: The PGA does not vet individual producers of short-form programs, sports programs, or children’s programs. The winning programs in these categories are:

 

The Award for Outstanding Short-Form Program:

 

“Carpool Karaoke” (Season 1)

Producing Team: Ben Winston, James Corden, Eric Pankowski, Sheila Rogers 

The Award for Outstanding Sports Program:

 

“Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” (Season 23)
Producing Team: Rick Bernstein, Joe Perskie, Kirby Bradley, Lisa Bennett, Maggie Burbank, Chapman Downes, Josh Fine, Jordan Kronick, Stuart Ash, Max Gershberg, Nisreen Habbal, Naimah Jabali-Nash, Katie Melone, Beret Remak, Jake Resenwasser

 

The Award for Outstanding Children’s Program:

 

“Sesame Street” (Season 47)
Producing Team: Brown Johnson, Carol-Lynn Parente, Benjamin Lehmann, Stephanie Longardo, Karyn Leibovich,Theresa Anderson, Andrew Moriarty, Aimee Blackton, Maxwell Nicoll, Elena Sporillo, Yuewen Jiang

 

ABOUT THE PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA (PGA)

The Producers Guild of America is the non-profit trade group that represents, protects and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team in film, television and new media. The Producers Guild has more than 8,200 members who work together to protect and improve their careers, the industry and community by providing members with employment opportunities, seeking to expand health benefits, promoting fair and impartial standards for the awarding of producing credits, as well as other education and advocacy efforts such as encouraging sustainable production practices.  For more information and the latest updates, please visit Producers Guild of America websites and follow on social media:

 

Websites: www.producersguild.orgwww.pgagreen.orgwww.pgadiversity.org

Twitter: @ProducersGuild

Facebook: www.facebook.com/pga

YouTube: www.youtube.com/producersguild

Instagram: www.instagram.com/producersguild

Hashtag: #PGAwards

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Producers Guild of America Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines

Posted By Administration, Friday, January 19, 2018
Updated: Friday, January 19, 2018

For the past three months, the PGA’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Task Force has been working diligently on a set of concrete and pragmatic recommendations for producers and team members to recognize and combat sexual harassment both on and off the set.  We’re proud to announce that the Task Force has finished the first stage of its work, resulting in the PGA Anti-Sexual Harassment Guidelines accompanying this email.  The Guidelines will be released publicly following the distribution of this e-blast; by the time you read this, you may have already heard about it in the press.

We feel that the Guidelines speak for themselves and there is no need to summarize them here.  Instead, we’d like to offer an incredible debt of thanks to the members of the Task Force, many of whom worked through the holidays on this document.  It’s a testament to the importance of this issue—and the seriousness with which the PGA is addressing it—that so many dedicated individuals devoted so much time and effort to bringing this endeavor to fruition. 

The Task Force’s work is not finished; the Guidelines are likely to change as our industry explores new approaches to this problem and as new resources become available.  The PGA will continue to work with TIME’S UP and the industry commission chaired by Anita Hill.  But for the multitude of producers urgently seeking guidance on how to proceed with their work while holding a firm line against harassment, we believe this document will prove invaluable.

Some of you will no doubt have questions that arise from the Guidelines.  The Guild is planning to dedicate blocks of time over the coming weeks and months that will serve as “office hours” to address member questions or concerns.  Meanwhile, we urge you to review these Guidelines and implement their recommendations on your productions as swiftly as may be feasible.

Thank you for your time, attention and readiness to ensure a safe and harassment-free workplace on your productions.

Sincerely,

Gary and Lori

 
- Read the guidelines below or click here to view a PDF


PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA
ANTI-SEXUAL HARASSMENT GUIDELINES
1/19/18

The Producers Guild is an organization that represents, protects, and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team and is committed to fostering work environments free from sexual harassment. We are in a transitional moment as a society, in which we are re-evaluating behavior in the workplace and beyond.  Producers possess authority both on and off the set, and can provide key leadership in creating and sustaining work environments that are built on mutual respect.

Ultimately, prevention is the key to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace. Through sufficient resources we can educate our members and their teams.  Together we must model our commitment to a workplace free of harassment and encourage colleagues to do the same. 

The PGA Anti-Sexual Harassment Task Force is undertaking a thorough review of the tools currently available to facilitate prevention, reporting, counseling and protection.  We also are working with other organizations in the entertainment community, such as the industry-wide Commission led by Anita Hill, as well as TIME’S UP.

We offer the following information and recommendations as first steps to preventing and responding to harassment in the workplace.  As further developments occur, the PGA’s Anti-Sexual Harassment Task Force will share them with you. These guidelines are not meant to be taken as legal advice, but are provided to assist you in creating policies and programs and to assist individuals in responding to harassing behavior.  You should always consult legal counsel as appropriate to ensure you are complying with federal and applicable state laws.

IDENTIFYING SEXUAL HARASSMENT[*]

 

QUID PRO QUO HARASSMENT

When a job, promotion or other professional benefit is conditioned on the recipient’s submission to sexual advances or other conduct based on sex, or such benefits are denied to an individual because they refused to participate in a romantic or sexual activity. 

Examples: Producer agrees to cast actor/actress only if s/he submits to sexual request(s); Financier threatens to pull funding from project because an individual refuses to submit to sexual request(s).

 

HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT

Unwelcome verbal, physical or visual conduct that is severe or pervasive, and which creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment or interferes with work performance. You may experience such sexual harassment even if the offensive conduct was not directed towards you.

Examples: Making sexually explicit or derogatory comments or jokes, either out loud or via email; inappropriate touching or groping; visual conduct includes making sexually suggestive gestures or publicly displaying sexually suggestive or explicit images.

 

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT

·       A hug, kiss on the cheek, or casual touch is not necessarily sexual harassment.  The key is whether the behavior was unwelcome or offensive. 

·       It does not matter if a person has sexual feelings towards the recipient, only that the behavior is of a sexual nature and that it was unwelcome and/or offensive.

·       Sexual harassment laws do not create a general “civility” code.  Personality conflicts or non-sexual insensitive actions do not in and of themselves constitute sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is gender-neutral and orientation-neutral. It can be perpetrated by any gender against any gender.

      

RECOMMENDATIONS

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is illegal under federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and may violate individual state laws. The law requires employers to take action to ensure that no worker ever be subject to sexual harassment in the workplace.  Employers must have a policy against sexual harassment and explain to employees the process for reporting and investigating complaints about harassment.  Employer must also take prompt remedial action reasonably calculated to end the harassment if they knew or should have known it occurred[†].

The Producers Guild recommends:

·       First and foremost, all productions comply with federal and state laws regarding harassment. If you are uncertain about the nature of the law, please consult with your in-house legal department (if you have one) or with an attorney.  If you do not have access to such resources, reach out to one or more of the resources listed in Exhibit B. 

·       Each production, in whatever medium or budget level, provides in-person anti-sexual harassment (ASH) training for all members of the cast and crew, prior to the start of production and prior to every season of an ongoing production. Effective training should not be simply focused on avoiding legal liability, but must be part of a culture of respect that starts at the top.  Such training takes different forms and styles; make certain that the training you utilize is tailored to your specific production and its needs.  Producers should ensure that the individual trainer has experience providing training in the area of sexual harassment laws and that all levels of management are present at the training in order to demonstrate the production’s commitment to the policy. 

·       Each production continue to be vigilant in efforts to prevent sexual harassment during the production process.  Consider taking steps to maintain awareness of harassment on an ongoing basis, such as periodically adding sexual harassment to the AD’s safety briefing. 

·       Each production offer reporting procedures that provide a range of methods, multiple points-of-contact, including contacts at different organizational levels and in different geographic workplaces (e.g., a TV series that shoots in New York but maintains a writers’ room in Los Angeles), if applicable.  We suggest designating at least two (2) individuals, ideally of different genders, that cast/crew members can approach if they are subject to or witness harassment.

·       Reports of harassment are listened to with attention and empathy. If a cast or crew member reports an incident of harassment, assume the complainant is being sincere until further inquiry can be undertaken, while bearing in mind that the report itself does not predetermine guilt. Reassure the reporting party that the production takes harassment very seriously and that s/he will face no retaliation for reporting. The production should move quickly to address the allegations or engage a third party to do so, allowing for as much transparency as can be provided.

·       Producers be alert for any possibility of retaliation against an employee who reports harassment and take steps to ensure that such retaliation does not occur. Retaliation is illegal, and it is a serious concern for individuals reporting harassment and can take many forms.  Anyone making a complaint or participating in an investigation is protected against retaliation.  Retaliation includes, but is not limited to, firing, change in work responsibilities, transfers, ignoring or excluding, unwarranted discipline, or otherwise making a complainant feel uncomfortable or unwanted in the workplace.

·       Producers should be sensitive to interpersonal power dynamics and the way even their casual questions or requests may carry implicit authority. We recommend that producers conduct all meetings and/or casting sessions in an environment that is professional, safe and comfortable for all parties, and encourage others on the production to adhere to these same standards.


PROTOCOL FOR VICTIMS, WITNESSES, PRODUCERS[‡]

A substantial body of law protects individuals from workplace harassment. (See Exhibit A.) The following recommendations are intended to supplement and facilitate observance of those laws.

·       If you are (or believe yourself to be) the victim of a crime, contact the appropriate authorities immediately.  Be aware of the statute of limitations on filing a charge for acts of harassment or abuse in your state.

·       Create and maintain documents. Make notes regarding any harassment you suffered or witnessed, or any conversation or exchange with the harasser, including dates, times, places, and the specific behavior(s) you felt to be harassment. Make such notes as soon as possible following any incident, while your memory is still fresh. Keep these notes (or copies thereof) in a place outside the workplace. If possible, send yourself or a trusted friend a time-stamped email containing all of the relevant information. Also, maintain any relevant texts, emails, pictures or other documentation. 

·       If the behavior is not a crime, and if you are comfortable doing so, consider speaking to the offending person. Be specific about the behavior that made you uncomfortable, and try to communicate and help them understand what made you uncomfortable and/or feel unsafe. An example of what you may say is, “The comment you made to me the other day made me uncomfortable, and I am asking that you do not make similar comments to me in the future.”

·       Report the incident(s) to one of the designated individuals working on the production. If that avenue is not available or for whatever reason feels unsafe, report the incident to the relevant HR department and/or seek the guidance of an attorney, if necessary. If you need to find resources, consult or refer to one of the resources, including Hotlines and administrative agencies, listed in Exhibit B, following these recommendations.

·       If you are aware that a member of the team is being harassed and does not feel comfortable speaking to the alleged offender, the producer needs to step up on behalf of the team member, engaging in a candid discussion with the person about the harassing speech or behavior and ensure that they understand that the behavior must stop immediately.  The producer then should ensure that the allegations are further addressed as warranted. 

These recommendations are only the first step in a long process of changing our professional culture. Under federal law, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. Ultimately, an inclusive workplace helps protect against all forms of discrimination. We will see even more progress once boardrooms and corporations—as well as production offices and sets—are balanced with gender and racially diverse leaders who will hire inclusive teams as a matter of standard practice. We look forward to refining these recommendations as new approaches are tested and new resources become available, and will share our findings with our PGA members and colleagues in the industry.


EXHIBIT A

HISTORY AND BACKGROUND ON HARASSMENT LAW

The U.S. Supreme Court held in the landmark case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986) that workplace harassment is an actionable form of discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Some acts (e.g., rape, sexual assault, blackmail/extortion, etc.) rise to the level of criminal conduct. It is not always easy to assess whether harassing behavior is illegal. Victims are encouraged to first report any complaints they have to their employer. They also can consult with an attorney and take the steps outlined in the recommendations of these ASH guidelines. Victims also are encouraged to consult any of the resources provided for in Exhibit B.

 

EXHIBIT B 

RESOURCES FOR REPORTING AND ENFORCEMENT

·       If you are looking for an attorney, you can contact the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, which is housed at the National Women’s Law Center:   www.nwlc.org/timesup.

·       Women In Film has launched a Sexual Harassment help line — an integrated program to refer victims of harassment to designated mental health counselors, law enforcement professionals, and civil and criminal lawyers and litigators:  (323) 545-0333 / womeninfilm.org. 

·       You also may contact the California Bar Association (http://www.calbar.ca.gov/) or your local state bar association, which should provide you with referrals and/or access to free legal services.  

·       The Actors Fund provides free and confidential help for those who have experienced sexual harassment. Services include short term one-on-one counseling, referrals for helpful resources and assistance in locating legal services. Please visit the following link for more information: http://actorsfund.org/services-and-programs/entertainment-assistance-program.

·       SAG-AFTRA has a hotline to report sexual harassment or abuse: (323) 549-6644.  Members of the SAG-AFTRA union, as well as all other relevant unions, also may contact their union representative for assistance.

·       If you do not have a Human Resources department or the internal reporting process at your company is not effective, then consider filing a formal complaint with a federal or state agency.  The three most common states where production takes place and the corresponding agencies are:

o   California:  https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/

o   New York:  http://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/index.page

o   Georgia:  https://dol.georgia.gov/

Or you may contact the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): https://www.eeoc.gov/employees/charge.cfm.

EXHIBIT C 

RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO AID IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT TRAINING

Producers can take many measures to discourage or eliminate harassmenin the workplace.  One of the most essential, as noted earlier, is reliance on anti-sexual harassment (ASH) training and presentations.  One resource for PGA members is the online course “Harassment Prevention” offered by Contract Services, a non-profit organization that administers a variety of programs for the benefit of the motion picture and television industry.  The course covers how to identify behaviors that create or contribute to unlawful harassment, discrimination and retaliation, as well as, information on how to assist in preventing and responding to incidents of harassment in the workplace.  While this course is not yet available to PGA members at the time of this writing, it is expected to be made available within the next month.  Contact PGA Director of Member Services Kyle Katz at kyle@producersguild.org if you are interested in receiving information about this program.

Please make certain that the training you engage is specifically tailored to the needs and challenges of your production (e.g., size of cast/crew, length of shoot, different cohorts of employees, extensive location work, challenging subject matter, etc.) and that the trainer is experienced in discrimination and harassment laws. Ask that your training includes guidance to encourage “bystander intervention” which empowers co-workers and gives them the tools to intervene when they witness harassing behavior.

As a further resource, we encourage you to review the guidelines for the filming of scenes of a sexual nature as they appear in SAG/AFTRA’s contracts (https://www.sagaftra.org/files/2014_sag-aftra_cba.pdf) found in Section 43, Page 110 (for principal performers) and Section 17, Pages 674 and 747 (for background performers).

  



[*] Descriptions and definitions are substantively drawn from the work of the TIME’S UP Legal, Legislative and Policy committee, as well as from materials provided by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

[†] This summary provided by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

[‡] As with “Identifying Sexual Harassment,” these recommendations rely on the work of the TIME’S UP Legal, Legislative and Policy committee

 

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