The process of assigning credits on documentary films has turned into a “free for all,” according to a group of top doc producers who hope to bring order to an unruly situation.
The Documentary Producers Alliance issued a formal set of guidelines Tuesday meant to distinguish financial backers on a film from those who do the bulk of producing day-to-day, a line that has become smudged with the explosive growth of documentaries. The guidelines have been endorsed by 24 organizations with an important stake in documentary film including the Sundance Institute, the Tribeca Film Institute, Film Independent and Kartemquin Films.
“Producer credit should be reserved solely for the person/s who are hands-on throughout the process of making the film,” the document reads. “The Producer works side-by-side with the Director to realize the artistic vision and overall goals of the film.”
“We started to see that the producer credit was being sold or given to financiers and that this was happening with other credits as well—the associate producer credit, the co-producer credit,” Beth Levison, chair of the DPA’s crediting committee, said in an interview. “It wasn’t fair that some people had to work for that credit and that other people could essentially give a certain amount of money and just get that credit.”
Fenell Doremus, a fellow DPA member, says the guidelines are about “preserving the integrity of the producer credit,” adding “credits are currency in this industry and to have a producer credit for the work that you’ve done is essential to you getting the next job, to getting the next bit of financing…That’s where the fairness issue comes up.”
The document, titled “A Guide to Best Practices in Documentary Crediting” and published on DocumentaryProducersAlliance.com (read the final draft here), outlines a series of screen credits appropriate for financiers, depending on the level of monetary support they have contributed to a project. At the top of the heap, “Presented By” is “given to a distributor, exhibitor and/or financier that provides a majority of the budget.”
The Executive Producer title, meanwhile, may straddle financial and editorial roles, per the DPA guidelines. “The EP can be a financier…or a film professional who contributes to the creative development and production of a film, offering essential value and guidance through editorial input, fundraising, producing issues, legal matters, or distribution strategy. The EP may also be an early champion or validator of the project.”
The guidelines are unequivocal when it comes to a title that has been cropping up recently on documentaries. “The DPA does not endorse the use of the Creative Producer credit,” the document states.
“The industry had started to use this new credit, called a ‘creative producer’ credit,” Levison says. “It sort of allowed financiers to take the producer credit and then they renamed the day-to-day working producer’s credit and we’re saying, ‘That’s not OK. We shouldn’t have to modify our credit so that our credit can be given to financiers.’”
Levison and Doremus declined to cite specific examples of documentaries where they felt inappropriate credits had been awarded, but Levison did note, “We know examples of filmmakers giving a financier a credit that we don’t think should be for sale. We can’t blame filmmakers and we would never judge them but it is a common practice.”
Adds Doremus, “We’ve all been, to a certain extent, culpable in selling credits for less than what they’re worth in our films. There are filmmakers that I know who have engaged in this very practice and are so thankful and hungry for these guidelines to be out in the world so they actually have a leg to stand on when they can now turn and say, ‘Actually, that’s not good practice. I’d rather not do that,’ to a financier who may be asking for a producer credit for financing.”
The document also notes Kickstarter “has agreed to share these guidelines with their filmmaker community and to also help advance the conversation around documentary crediting.” The crowdfunding platform has become a key destination for documentary filmmakers chasing revenue for their projects, but its impact on crediting has proven problematic.
“Kickstarter has a practice that, as a perk, if you contribute a certain amount of money then you can get a [film] credit,” Levison says. “So the conversation we had with them is can you incorporate these guidelines into your filmmaker packets so that when filmmakers are devising their Kickstarter campaigns they understand that they certainly shouldn’t sell the associate producer credit, they certainly shouldn’t sell the co-producer credit and they certainly shouldn’t sell the producer credit.”
Asked for comment about the DPA guidelines, Kickstarter told Deadline, “We will be actively following the conversation around crediting in nonfiction films and are happy to add this document to the resources we share with our film community.”
Levison says the guidelines “are recommendations and not rules” and are not expected to apply to every circumstance on documentary films.
“We recognize that they might not always be applicable,” she says. “We’re not envisioning these guidelines necessarily as an end point…This is definitely meant to be a meaningful start.”