Here’s an amusing time killer. As well it’s educational. Let’s call it a self-teaching moment. It happens sometimes when I’m connecting with an old pal who just finished his or her movie.
“So who’s the producer?” I ask.
This is usually followed by a chuckle of some kind. Embarrassingly. Which I generally remind whomever I asked the question that there’s nothing to be chagrinned about. It surely wasn’t they who’d done the absurdist producer piling on.
First, let me digress a moment. Give a smidgeon of context.
When it comes to movies, it is said that writer’s write. Directors direct. Actors act. Editors edit. Set decorators decorate. Caterers, well… you get it.
But when it comes to the producer, it is oft-wondered, considering the crazy-making conga-line of producer credits on a movie, what the hell did he or she actually do on the movie?
The following is an amalgam of conversations I’ve had one too many times. Or maybe, for amusement’s sake, never ever enough.
“So who produced?” I ask.
Now, it’s not that I’m blind. I’ve seen the one sheet or the movie itself—usually an independent picture—and clocked the impossibly long list of those who received credit.
“Like who actually produced the movie?” my friend Blake replies. “Or who are all the people who receive credit?”
“Let me make it more fun,” I say, opening up the IMDB app on my smartphone. I click on my friend’s recently released movie, toggle over to the full credits button and giggle as the assemblage of producers practically fills the screen. “Let’s start at the top. Micky Bankston.”
“Micky was the executive on the movie when it was at the studio,” says Blake. “He traveled when it went into turnaround.”
“Russell Knox,” I follow up.
“Micky’s boss. When he went to work for Russ, that was part of their agreement. He gets credit too.”
“Chez Reeves?” I ask.
“Part of the investor group.”
“How many in that?”
“Five I think?” Blake seemed to ask himself. I flip my phone around so he can see the page. “Thom Mueller. Sebastian Hector. Max Cramer. Kevin Gündôgan. And Chez. That’s the German investment group.”
“All producers?” I ask.
“That’s what it says on screen,” Blake glowers. “But you know.”
“Know what? That they didn’t produce?”
“What can I say? They came up with the dough. So they get their names on the movie.”
“Kyle Merrick?” I ask.
“He found us the money group,” admits Blake.
“And he gets a producing credit?”
Blame merely shrugs, not near as amused as I am.
“Carolyn Eason,” I read.
“If you scroll down you can see she’s also our casting director.”
“So why does she get the producer credit?”
“Producers agreed that if she succeeded in securing our A-List cameo she’d get a producer credit. But only associate producer.”
“Billy Bob Thornton is A-list?” I ask.
“It’s a matter of opinion, I guess.”
“And it was the producers who granted her the shared credit,” I continue. “Did those producers include the producers I’ve just read through?”
“Of course not,” says Blake.
“Lucas Birdsong?” I continue.
“He’s partnered with Tom Hoge,” says Blake. “They bought the underlying rights.”
“To the book?”
“To the book and the New Yorker article.”
“Did they produce?”
“Technically. But… not really. They bought the rights. Hired the first writer.”
“Travis J. Barlow.”
“Runs the production company.”
“Cameron Guthrie,” I add.
“Tyler Goggin on there?” looks Blake. “He’s with the company too.”
“Did any of them produce?”
Blake laughs at this one.
“On like day five we were shooting at this little stop n’ shop on Topanga,” says Blake. “Goggin—he’s the big domo over there—is just driving by on the way to his Santa Monica office and sees the crew parking sign, then the camera truck. He jumps out of his Tesla and shouts, ‘Hey! This is my movie!’ Like he didn’t even know where were shooting in his neighborhood.”
“Classic,” I say.
“Never left the office,” says Blake. “None of ‘em.”
“But they’ll be at the premiere,” I add.
“Shane Chalmers,” I continue.
“Our lead’s manager.”
“Lemme guess,” I say. “Movie star gets the picture to pay his manager’s fees and give him a production credit.”
“Old story,” says Blake.
“It’s a she,” corrects Blake. “And no. She never leaves Manhattan.”
“Andrew Yun?” I ask.
“Unit Production Manager,” says Blake. “He got bumped in exchange for lowered fees.”
“But he still gets his UPM credit.”
“Of course,” adds Blake. “There’s aftermarket DGA points with that. Little green residual checks.”
“Actress’ mom,” says Blake. “They’re a matched pair. Whenever and wherever the daughter works, the mom works.”
“If being on the set every day counts. Though the only time she gave her opinion was when she didn’t like her precious girl’s dialogue.”
“Think he was the gap guy.”
“Bridge loan. When we almost ran outta money. Talk about leverage.”
“Always wanted to be a movie producer, huh?”
“I’m outta names,” I suddenly say. “Gotta ask though. Who produced then?”
“As in who actually produced the movie? Day to day?”
“Prep to post,” I confirm.
“Me,” says Blake with a shrug. “Our UPM. And Joshua’s boyfriend?”
“Joshua’s boyfriend?” I ask, referring to the director whom I thought was still in the closet.
“He was a first AD long before they got together,” explains Blake. “Miles of experience. But the other producers didn’t think there was room on the marquee.”
“Room on the marquee?” I laugh. “It’s not a marquee you need. More like the side of a barn for all those names.”
“And none of ‘em really produced,” laments Blake.
“What about you?” I ask. “They didn’t wanna share credit with the writer?”
“Last writer,” corrects Blake. “It’s not like they didn’t offer. At one point, the guys at the production company realized that I was doing most of the heavy lifting and not getting paid for it. They wanted to give me a co-producer credit. No money. No credit block. Just in the credit roll.”
“I was the last writer,” explains Blake. “And I didn’t want to risk a credit arbitration if I didn’t have to. So I passed.”
I understood all too well, having once been in the same spot. Once a writer accepts a producer credit on the movie, it is flagged for instant arbitration because the Writer’s Guild is highly suspicious of producers claiming to be writers. I believe it’s unofficially referred to as the Frank Yablans rule, stemming back to the days when the semi-famous producer, in order to get the union to fund his health care, would demand to be included as a writer on the picture. To that effect, the statute makes sense. Only in reverse it sometimes screws a writer seeking deserved credit as a producer.
Producer-wise, the little indie had itself a head-spinning handful of dead weight. Though I suppose each of those “producers” was more than happy to frame the movie’s one-sheet and hang it in his or her office as some sort of “look-what-I-did” trophy.
In recent years—and due to a proliferation in producing credits seemingly only outdistanced by Taylor Swift’s Instagram followers—The Producers Guild has developed a set of sharp teeth and begun to seek ways to diminish the number of on-screen credits afforded non-producing producers.
I think I’ll close with this old joke.
Question: What’s it take to become a movie producer?
Old answer: Take a writer to lunch.
New answer: Find a leverage point, apply it, and voila, you’re a movie producer.