By Rebecca Green
For the last two months, I’ve been in New Mexico producing my first pilot, HOT PINK, for Amazon Studios. I’ve spent the last several years in development on new projects and hadn’t been in production since 2016, which seems like a lifetime ago. I had forgotten how demanding production can be on a producer, more so during a pandemic. How much concentrated focus it requires from you. The communication skills you need to keep an army of people on the same page. The emotional space you need to open up within yourself to understand and empathize with multiple, dynamic personalities. How you need to shut out the rest of the world to be able to give your team your undivided attention. And the energy spent on ensuring everyone feels valued, heard, and respected. All on top of the logistical work that needs to get done to execute the creative team’s vision. The experience reminded me how important the role of the producer is to the process.
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, last month, myself and a group of my producing colleagues, announced the formation of the Producers Union. Organizing efforts began in late 2019 while I was in Los Angeles advising for the Film Independent Producing Lab. I found it very difficult to encourage the next generation of producers to enter the field of producing, knowing that there was not a sustainable path forward.
Out of my own personal frustration of not being able to make a living from producing, I started asking my colleagues if they knew why producers didn’t have a union. Eventually, I was connected to producer Chris Moore who had been in conversations about producers unionizing for many years. Chris and I began talking multiple times a week with our calls lasting several hours each. We spoke about the struggles producers are up against, whether it was working in the low budget space or on bigger studio/streamer films. We dissected previous attempts producers had made to unionize, but weren’t successful, and we brainstormed a different path forward. After several months of talking, we committed to figuring out, once and for all, if it would be possible for producers to unionize.
Chris and I then formed an Exploratory Committee of 24 producers, which evolved into a Steering Committee of 9. We also hired an experienced and out-of-the-box thinker for our labor lawyer. After almost two years of researching, listening to producer’s needs, and building consensus, 108 producers unanimously ratified a Producers Union constitution on March 6, 2021 and elected its first governing Executive Committee. I am proud and excited to take on the role of the President of the Producers Union.
While the official organizing efforts began with Chris and I in 2019, I would say the idea to take on this role was seeded a decade ago when I worked at the Sundance Institute as the Manager the Creative Producing Lab. Because of that job, I was able to build a strong community of producer friends who I rely on every day and who have been vital to my growth as a producer. Since 2010, I have listened to producers tell me their stories and share their struggles. I’ve seen firsthand on how in the last 10 years, despite the content boom, producers are being financially burdened more than any other key role, and each year the situation only gets more dire.
The Dear Producer Sustainability Survey Report, released in January of this year, revealed that in 2019, 41% of producers earned $25K or less from producing. In 2020, 56% of respondents earned $25K or less, with more than a quarter of respondents earning less than $2,500. By comparison, in March, the WGA launched the Deal Hub, a new online resource to help members and their representatives “make the best deals possible.” Based on its analysis of more than 1,000 screenwriting deals, the guild found that $250K is the median pay for all one-step deals (in which a writer is hired to write a single draft of a screenplay) while the median pay for studio deals is $293K, with $2 million being the maximum reported. These first draft deals account for nearly half of the screenwriting contracts the guild analyzed.
So why a union? Producers are the only people working in above-the-line (and most below-the-line) positions on a film without a union to join. Without union protections, producers are not afforded the same living wage, pension and healthcare employer contributions, creative rights, or safety policies as our collaborators are provided. Collective bargaining would permit producers to come together as a unit to negotiate contracts with employers to ensure the work of the producer is not exploited. Negotiating collectively will allow the producing community to better advocate and enforce fair wages and best business practice by having leverage at the bargaining table.
The need for a union became more pressing in 2020 as the pandemic shut down productions and upended festivals and theatrical markets. Producers were without a safety net and had no official representation when other unions and guilds gathered to create safety standards for productions and set up relief funds for their members.
I believe that the role of the producer is vital in our industry and that it is a specialized position that requires training and a specific skill set to execute. I do not believe producers can be replaced by studio executives, talent managers, or the A-list actors and directors who now all have first look deals as producers – in the same way I believe not everyone can step behind the camera and direct or sit at a computer and write an amazing screenplay. We all must be valued and fairly compensated for the unique work we are providing to our industry.
I’m now in my early 40s and a decade into my producing career, in addition to the 10 years in the industry prior to producing. I still cannot support myself on producing income alone. I am leading the union organizing efforts both for myself, as I love producing and want to continue with this vocation, and to lift up those who are being exploited by people and companies in positions of power.
Some have asked me if I still plan to continue Dear Producer now that I have taken on organizing the Producers Union. At this time, I am still committed to serving the producing community in this way. Dear Producer is my touchstone to producers – to your needs, ambitions, and ideas on how we can shape a better future for our industry. The work I do here brings me great satisfaction and a sense of purpose. That said, you may hear a little less from me and not as consistently. But know that behind the scenes, so much is happening right now to build a better ecosystem for producers.
If you have questions about the Producers Union, check out the FAQs on our website and sign up for our newsletter to hear about upcoming opportunities to connect with the Executive Committee and ask questions. There will be much more to come in the months ahead.