How the Academy Rules Are Stacked Against Indie Producers

By Rebecca Green


In an effort to diversify its membership, this past June the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued 928 invitations to new members, a number higher than previous years.

  • 49% invites to women
  • Overall percentage of women in the Academy now: 31%
  • 38% invites to people of color
  • Overall percentage of people of color in the Academy now: 16%

However, while all of this is exciting news, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of resentment as I saw my colleagues announce their Academy invitations. Though I’ve produced six feature films, I am not eligible to apply for the Academy because of rules that are specifically stacked against independent producers. Let me explain…

Though I have produced six feature films, only two of them are considered eligible because of this Academy rule:

Academy membership is limited to film artists working in the production of theatrically-released motion pictures.

There are several reasons this is problematic for all independent filmmakers, regardless of role. For instance, both indie and and A-List talent are turning to streaming giants Netflix and Amazon to fund their films. That’s a battle for another day, though, and one I’ll let Netflix fight… The battle I will take up is in regard to the Academy’s math when it comes to producing credits. 

The good news, or so I thought, is that I actually do have two theatrically released films. I produced (with Laura D. Smith) IT FOLLOWS and I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, which both had robust theatrical releases and received critical praise. IT FOLLOWS took in 14.7mil in US box office and I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS brought in 7.5mil in US box office making them two of the highest grossing indies of 2015. Yet despite this, I was still not eligible to join the Academy. Let me explain…

The eligibility requirement that producers might not be aware is this one:

Where more than one person receives a producer or “produced by” credit, such credit is  reflected for the purposes of branch eligibility by the appropriate fraction; e.g., a producer credit shared by two individuals is calculated as .5 for each toward the requisite minimum of 2. If one or more credited producers earns the PGA “mark,” those individuals receive a full credit (if only one producer has earned the “mark”) or a fraction (if two or more have earned the “mark,”  e.g., if two producers earned the “mark,” each one receives .5 credit). Producers who share credit (but have not earned the “mark”) still receive the fraction based on the total number of credited producers.

To dissect this further, the credit breakdown on my two theatrically released films looks like this:

Rebecca Green, p.g.a.
Laura D. Smith, p.g.a.
David Robert Mitchell, p.g.a. (writer/director)
David Kaplan (representing financier)
Erik Rommesmo (representing financier)

Rebecca Green, p.g.a.
Laura D. Smith, p.g.a.
Brett Haley (writer/director)

To help you follow the calculation… for IT FOLLOWS, my credit is divided by three because three of us received the Producers Mark (a certification issued by the Producers Guild of America). On I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, my credit is split in half because two of us received the Producers Mark.

If you do the math, in the eyes of the Academy, I have only produced 83.3% of one film. To say that I am insulted by that calculation is an understatement.

If in reading this you felt a slight punch to the gut, let me hit you a littler harder. If you venture over to the eligibility branch rules for writers and directors, you will notice that neither are subject to the same fractioning calculation if there are multiple writers or directors on a film.

Anyone who has produced an independent film, especially one in the 1mil dollar range, as were IT FOLLOWS and DREAMS, knows that one producer is never enough. As producers, we’re not just filling the producer role, we are also filling every other role in which the budget doesn’t allow us to hire someone to fill. This could include running a Kickstarter campaign, which is a tremendous amount of work, to acting as the casting director or location scout/manager. We are driving actors to set, doing grocery runs for craft service, and acting as the post-production supervisor. And long after the film is completed (while the director is off on his/her next film), the producer is also delivering the film to a distributor(s), which takes months to complete without compensation. We are setting up and managing the collection account, continuing to update financiers, handling legal, and overseeing accounting and taxes for years to come.

By fractioning off my credit, it is as if Academy is saying I only worked part-time on my films. As if I only showed up to set for half the days of production or aren’t still working on the films now in 2018 even though they were released in 2015. And if it’s not about the hours being put in, which it shouldn’t be (what about my expertise, creative input, and the relationships I bring to the table that aren’t quantifiable in hours?), then what the Academy is saying is that my contributions to the film aren’t as valuable as the writer or director.

Listen, I know that producing credits are complicated and I don’t have all the answers, but I would like to start a conversation.

The following are points I ask the Academy to be aware of and take into consideration:

  • The Producers Guild of America (PGA) is not a union. Unlike writers and directors who have the union backing of the WGA and DGA, a producer’s credit and fee are not protected by a union.
  • It has become increasingly common that financiers ask for ‘produced by’ credits rather than the standard executive producer credit. So much so that we are often pushed up against a wall and told that the financing deal won’t close unless we agree to share our producing credit. And so we do in order to get the film made.
  • And the same can be true when attaching big name actors to a project who also want to be credited as a producer.
  • It is also common for the writer/director of a film to ask for a ‘produced by’ credit, which is a conversation that usually happens at the beginning of the process, leaving the producer in a vulnerable position to argue against the request, as it starts the collaboration off on bad footing. 
  • While the PGA offers a process to apply for the Producers Mark, the PGA states, “Certification marks exist solely for the public good. The Producers Guild believes that audiences deserve to know which producers, among an often-extensive list of credited individuals, actually did the work.” However, by approving the mark for directors who also receive a producing credit, one could argue that this confuses audiences. And the obvious argument to be made is, why doesn’t the Producers Mark exist for the good of the producers? Who is looking out for us?

To my fellow producers, I encourage you to fight harder when you are faced with a credits battle. Worry less about ruffling feathers and remember your value on the project. Imagine how you are going to feel years down the road when the film is premiering and you see other people credited for your work.

To the directors reading this, I ask that you seriously consider what you are asking for when you insist on receiving a ‘produced by’ credit. Ask yourself this – for the endless creative contributions your producer is giving you to elevate your vision, what are you giving your producer in return? Would you be open to sharing your credit? 

To the producers who were accepted into the Academy this year, I applaud you. New and dynamic voices in the mix is a sign of change, but the change shouldn’t stop at increased membership numbers. It is in your hands to challenge the Academy’s eligibility rules for producers and work to restructure the guidelines so that producers aren’t pushed to the fringes of the filmmaking process and are considered of equal value to our counterparts.

For Academy Branch Requirements, click here.


Rebecca Green is the Editor-in-Chief of Dear Producer. She produced two of the top-grossing and critically acclaimed independent films of 2015, IT FOLLOWS and I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, which generated a combined domestic box office total of $22 million. Named one of Variety’s “10 Producers to Watch” and nominated for the Piaget Producer’s Award at the 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards, Green was also a 2017 Women at Sundance Fellow, Creative Advisor for the 2017 Film Independent Producing Lab, and the Fall 2016 Allesee Endowed Chair in Media Professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Green holds a B.F.A. from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.