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Amid COVID Turmoil and Low Wages, Feature Producers Form Union

   Rebecca Green; Chris Moore PRESLEY ANN/GETTY IMAGES; TOMMASO BODDI/GETTY IMAGES

The new group led by 'It Follows' producer Rebecca Green aims to establish health and pension plans, basic minimums and a clear definition of what producers do. "It's become a hobby of the rich people," secretary Chris Moore ('Manchester by the Sea') says.

A group that has been organizing fiction film producers for nearly two years in response to seismic industry shifts and a global pandemic is officially launching a union.

Led by It Follows producer Rebecca Green and backed by other veteran indie producers, the Producers Union seeks to establish salary minimums and pension and healthcare plans for fiction, feature film producers — and perhaps producers in other mediums, in time — in an otherwise non-union field. Currently boasting 108 members, the organization unanimously ratified a constitution in March and has elected an executive committee whose members include Effie T. Brown (Dear White People, Real Women Have Curves), Monique Walton (Bull), Avril Z. Speaks (Hosea, Jinn), Lucas Joaquin (Selah and the Spades, Love Is Strange), Chris Moore (Manchester by the Sea, American Pie), Amanda Marshall (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Swiss Army Man), Gabrielle Nadig (Little Woods, Standing Up Falling Down), Heather Rae (Tallulah, Frozen River), Kishori Rajan (Random Acts of Flyness, The Short History of the Long Road) and Robert Salerno (I’m Thinking of Ending Things, 21 Grams).

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The announcement comes a few months after Green’s site Dear Producer published a survey of nearly 500 producers that found 41 percent of respondents made $25,000 or less from producing in 2019, while during COVID-stricken 2020, that number jumped to 56 percent. More than 80 percent of producers reported deferring their fee on a project, while 50 percent said they had done so on several titles.

“The role is just really struggling,” Green — who adds that she works non-producer jobs to make a living — says in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “And so myself and a lot of my colleagues are really at a crossroads: If this isn’t sustainable as a career, what do we do? And yet we love the work.”

“In the last 10 years, say, I’ve really seen the job get squeezed out because we have nobody to turn to,” adds producer and Producers Union secretary Moore. “It also is determining the type of projects that are getting made and the people who can afford to spend the time it takes to get any movie made: You basically have to be rich, so it’s become a hobby of the rich people. And that’s just not okay.”

Though the trade organization the Producers Guild of America currently advocates for the interests of a broad swathe of producers, Producers Union members say collective bargaining for fiction feature producers is necessary in the face of low fees and producers putting their own money into projects in early stages. Also at issue for them: the disappearance of studio producer deals, the need for greater diversity in the industry, industry shifts toward streaming that eradicate box office back end and the onset of a pandemic where producers didn’t have employer healthcare contributions or an organizing body in health and safety discussions. Organizers add that they will continue to recommend that their members also join or stay in the Producers Guild.

As for the Producers Guild, it said in a statement to THR about the union, “The PGA represents over 8,000 producers working both above and below the line across film, television and new media. Over the past fifty years, it has sought legal recognition as a labor union; however, such attempts have been rejected by both the courts and the National Labor Relations Board, primarily because the Guild’s members include both supervisors and employees. Notwithstanding this roadblock, the Guild remains committed to serving the best interests of our members including securing fundamental benefits and exploring creative solutions to all the issues they face. Consistent with that, the Guild supports the efforts of those producers who, today, have sought to form a new union.”

The Producers Union is classifying itself as a union of supervisors and will not seek certification under the National Labor Relations Act.

The group’s next steps include gathering more members, creating a basic agreement and presenting it to employers. They also intend to clarify a producer’s role and value: “Independent producers often work with first time directors, cultivating new talent before they have agent representation or management,” producer and union at-large officer Rajan said in a statement. “Today’s producer is responsible for developing intellectual property alongside the director, often for years, raising financing, managing budgets, overseeing production, and delivering the completed film to the distributor after a sale.”

Though the executive committee is primarily comprised of independent film producers, organizers say studio producers are involved in drafting the basic agreement. The group has also engaged informally with other major Hollywood unions — the Writers Guild, especially, has been supportive. “I have not received a phone call yet of like “What the hell, what are you doing?” says Green.

Adds Moore of the unionizing effort, “Rebecca and I and the other guys on the executive committee are very honest with each other [in that] it’s possible this whole thing gets destroyed, that we just can’t do it. But our view is that we can do it.”

 

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