The film nominees for the PGA Awards were announced today in the latest stop on the Oscar trail, but it’s no doubt going to be bittersweet for the producers of some of the films who’d dreamed of getting onstage to accept a Best Picture Academy Award. That’s because among this year’s crop of films that have received the most Oscar buzz, many of their producers will be, in all likelihood, on the outside looking in if their films go on to win Best Picture – in large part because the PGA didn’t add three lower-case letters to their names in the credits: p.g.a.
Those little letters mean that the PGA has determined that the credited producers “performed the majority of the producing duties on the film” – and that’s generally what the Academy goes by when handing out the Best Picture nominations.
But not always.
On Oscar front-runner La La Land, which was the big winner at Sunday’s Golden Globes and a PGA Award nominee, producer Gary Gilbert was not given the p.g.a. mark, while Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt all made the cut. Sources say Gilbert, who shared in the NBA Championship last year as co-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, arbitrated the PGA’s decision but lost.
On Hacksaw Ridge, the Mel Gibson-directed World War II drama that took forever for its creative and financial development to come together with a patchwork of financing on its $40 million budget, Bill Mechanic and David Permut got the p.g.a. marks. It was the latter who brought the Terry Benedict-directed documentary and the rights of Desmond Doss to Mechanic, who quickly bought the project. But Benedict, who, who got rights that the conscientious objector Doss refused to grant for more than 50 years before leaving the decision to leaders of his Seventh-day Adventist church, didn’t get the p.g.a. mark. And neither did Paul Currie, Bruce Davey and Brian Oliver, the Cross Creek Pictures principal who provided a final financing piece to the movie, even though they all received “produced by” credits.
And while the Academy almost always goes along with the guild’s choices, it isn’t bound to do so, and on rare occasions, has overruled the guild. According to the Academy, in order to qualify as a producer nominee in its Best Picture category, “The producer must have been determined eligible for a Producers Guild of America award for the picture, or must have appealed the PGA’s refusal of such eligibility. Final determination of the qualifying producer nominees for each nominated picture will be made by the Academy.”
That’s what happened three years ago when the Academy overruled the PGA on The Wolf Of Wall Street, adding Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio as Oscar-eligible producers, and removing Riza Aziz. The film was nominated for Best Picture, but lost out to 12 Years A Slave.
Scorsese won’t have that problem this year, however, if Silence is Oscar nominated (despite not having been PGA-nominated today). On that film, which took decades to bring to the screen, he’s been given the mark, along with Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Randall Emmett, and Scorsese’s Goodfellas producer Irwin Winkler. But Gaston Pavlovich, who received a “produced by” credit, didn’t get the p.g.a. mark, and neither did Vittorio Cecchi Gori, an early financier who sued Scorsese when the filmmaker made Wolf Of Wall Street and postponed Silence.
It’s been 18 years since a group of prestigious producers grew so disgusted at seeing five producers rush the stage when Shakespeare In Love won Best Picture in 1999 that they met at Richard Zanuck’s house and created something of a Good Housekeeping seal “mark” to limit the number of Oscar-eligible producers. And since then, the PGA’s vetting process has become nearly as accepted as the one used by the Writers Guild to bestow screen credit.
The PGA processed 325 films for its producers mark that were scheduled for a 2016 calendar year release – more than double the 150 that were processed for 2015 – and accounting for the majority of films released last year.
The PGA has been battling the proliferation of producer credits for decades, arguing that “undeserved” producer credits undermine the legitimacy of the producer credit itself. The Academy has also attempted to rein in the number of Oscar-eligible producers, ruling that it will only recognize “three or fewer producers who have performed the major portion of the producing functions.” It reserves the right, however, to include a fourth producers if it so decides, and in certain instances, allows for a two-person producing team to be considered as a single “producer.”
That’s why, if Oscar long shot Loving should win Best Picture despite not being PGA nominated, there’ll be more producers onstage accepting the award than there were for Shakespeare in Love. Loving has six producers who have received the p.g.a. mark: Sarah Green, Nancy Buirski and the producing teams of Colin Firth & Sarah Green, and Marc Turtletaub & Peter Saraf.
Turtletaub and Saraf have seen firsthand that a PGA nomination doesn’t always lead to an Oscar nomination. They and fellow producer David Friendly, Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa all received the p.g.a. mark for Little Miss Sunshine back in 2007, but Berger and Yerxa didn’t receive Oscar noms, even though both were integral and fulfilled the PGA requirements for credits, including finding the script, bringing in the director, choosing the cinematographer, assisting in the re-shoot of the ending and getting the picture into Sundance.
Which producers receive the p.g.a. mark is sometimes a contentious process. In 2006, five days before the 78th Academy Awards ceremony, Bob Yari, one of five credited producers of Crash, sued the PGA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after they’d determined that he hadn’t produced enough of the film to be eligible for an Oscar. The film went on to win the Best Picture Oscar, but Yari went on to lose his lawsuit.
And just in October, Fifty Shades Darker producer Dana Brunetti blasted the PGA for denying him a “produced by” credit on the film, telling the guild, “This is the last straw with me of my guild screwing me over.” The guild relented a month later, saying that based upon additional evidence, he’d get the “produced by” credit – and its coveted p.g.a. mark – after all.
Several other contenders have more than three producers who were given the p.g.a. mark. Manchester by the Sea, for example, has five: Matt Damon, Kimberly Stewart, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck and Kevin Walsh. Hidden Figures also has five: Donna Gigliotti, Pharrell Williams, director Theodore Melfi and producing partners Peter Chernin, & Jenno Topping, and Arrival also has four: Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, Aaron Ryder and David Linde.
Moonlight, which won the Golden Globe for best drama, is another Oscar front-runner. According to its official site, its p.g.a.-credited producers are Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. But if it wins, executive producer Brad Pitt will be watching them give their acceptance speeches from his seat at the Dolby Theatre because the Academy doesn’t honor executive producers, even though they may have played a significant role in getting the film made by raising the money and securing the underlying rights.
And that’s why Aaron L. Gilbert, who’s never won an Academy Award, won’t win one this year for Fences – because he’s one of the film’s executive producers. Should Fences win, the Oscars will go to producers Denzel Washington, Scott Rudin and Todd Black.
Ryan Reynolds is in the running for a Best Picture Oscar, as he and producers Simon Kinberg and Lauren Shuler Donner were PGA-nominated for Deadpool.
PGA-nominated Lion (produced by Angie Fielder and Emile Sherman & Iain Canning) and Hell or High Water (produced by Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn) have not been processed for the producers mark but have been submitted to the PGA for awards consideration.
Despite the inevitable snubs, most producers believe the system works and that it had to be changed. It is harder than ever to get independent financing for the kind of movies that dominated the Golden Globes on Sunday night and comprise Best Picture lists because major studios don’t want to spend money on them. Back in the day, studios and indie financers were known to barter producing credits for tangible and intangible reasons that ranged from funding to managers grabbing credits if their star clients committed and whose names got movies made. It is certainly lot better than right after Shakespeare in Love, when Hawk Koch, Kathy Kennedy and Dick Zanuck met at Zanuck’s home, fearful that the craft of producer was being denigrated by the Wild West system that was then in place.
Movie companies, which didn’t particularly care about that cause, took awhile to come around, but all the major studios and most of the major indies are now onboard.
And most producers agree that the occasional snub of a worthy producer is an acceptable price for a system they say works; no longer are producing credits bestowed on relatives, talent reps, lawyers or financiers, at least not those that are tied to the p.g.a. mark.