January 22, 2010 / 4:59 AM / 8 years ago

So, what exactly does a film producer do?

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Six years after the Producers Guild of America first defined what a producer does, its Producers Code of Credits has become an invaluable tool.

The code not only helps explains who should be credited with an Oscar or Emmy, but it also gives everyone in the industry a way to determine what qualifies someone to hold the title of producer on a movie or television show.

It also happens to be a handy, credit card-sized document that unfolds into three pieces.

“So when someone says, ‘I’ll finance your movie, but I want a producing credit,’ (filmmakers) can literally pull out this little card and say, ‘Actually, financing is more of an executive producer credit,'” says Vance Van Petten, the PGA’s executive director. “They love that they can say, ‘No.'”

For years, the role of the producer was undervalued because almost any manager or financier who wanted to be one could muscle a credit. That was something the PGA fought passionately to change, culminating nearly five years ago when the movie Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ruled that no more than three producers could be Oscar-nominated for any one film (a rule that has since become more flexible).

“The arbitration process at the PGA is extremely thorough,” says Laurence Mark, producer of “Julie & Julia” along with last year’s Oscar telecast.

“They not only get statements and questionnaires from the producers involved, but also call on costume designers, creative executives at the studios, the editors, casting directors and others to literally get a full range of opinions. They are extremely conscientious and thorough.”

Limiting credits has “cut down on the abuses,” says Van Petten. “It still happens but much less.”

“One hears far less frequently about people who don’t actually do the job getting credits on movies,” says “Milk” producer Dan Jinks, “particularly when it comes to movies that are up for awards consideration. It’s hurtful to people who work incredibly hard on movies to see somebody who possibly never even showed up on the set get a credit. That has been going away, due in large part to the efforts of the Producers Guild.”

Since the introduction of the code, the rate at which the PGA has rejected applicants has more than doubled, from about 10% six years ago to more than 20% today, giving an imprimatur that adds legitimacy to a real producer. That’s important because confusion about the producer’s role was putting legitimate producers out of business.

“Producers were losing their development deals at studios in huge numbers,” PGA president Marshall Herskovitz says. “We really needed to bring about a better understanding of the role of the producer in the creation of content.”

But perhaps the 4,200-member guild’s most visible initiative is the annual Golden Laurel Awards, taking place on Sunday at the Hollywood Palladium.

Originating in 1990 for film and television, the awards have become a surprisingly reliable barometer of Oscar success. The PGA’s feature winner has gone on to take the Oscar 13 times in 20 years.

Like the Academy, with which the PGA works closely with on issues of credit, this year’s Golden Laurels has expanded its best picture category to 10 nominees. High-profile contenders “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” will compete with “District 9,” “Star Trek,” “Up,” “Up in the Air,” “Invictus,” “An Education,” “Precious,” and “Inglourious Basterds.”

“The profile of our awards has grown in recent years,” Herskovitz says. “As people in the industry have come to understand the role of the producer in the creation of a film, it naturally follows that the PGA Awards are seen to have real value in the industry.”

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