The black cloud of the Harvey Weinstein scandal hung heavy over the Producers Guild of America’s third annual Produced By NY conference, held Saturday at Time Warner Center.
Discussions of mechanisms for allowing victims of sexual harassment to come forward, the drive for greater inclusion of women and persons of color, and the need for clear guidelines for behavior on film and TV sets were hot topics across the daylong series of panels.
Weinstein, the renowned producer and former co-chairman of Weinstein Co., has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by more than 60 women dating back 30-plus years. The deluge of disturbing allegations during the past few weeks has shaken the industry and spurred renewed efforts to combat the pernicious tradition of the casting couch that has been part of the fabric of Hollywood since the silent era.
“We all, as producers, have to stop and do something a little different,” said Lori McCreary, who heads Revelations Entertainment and is co-president of PGA with Gary Lucchesi.
McCreary and other speakers throughout the day emphasized the importance of bringing more women and persons of color into the industry as a means of battling discrimination in all its forms.
“Once our film crews look more like our audience, our industry is going to be better for it,” McCreary said. “We’re going to know how to treat each other. We’re not going to let these kind of things to perpetuate for another 30 years.”
The PGA is working with the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Television Academy to develop a framework to encourage people who experience harassment and discrimination to lodge complaints without fear of reprisal. The PGA board has meetings set for Nov. 10 and Nov. 15 to discuss approaches to the creation of an industry-wide commission to monitor complaints as has been suggested by Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm chief and an AMPAS board member.
Such an effort would have to be an industry-wide effort to be effective, McCreary said. But producers should be a driving force because bringing people together to tackle specific projects is what producers do best.
William Horberg, VP of PGA East and a film veteran, likened the challenge of addressing sexual harassment to the issue of on-set safety a generation ago. The responsibility should be on producers to ensure that those working on a production feel there is an open door to address problems.
“We have to lead and create a culture,” Horberg said. “As producers who have to be those people who say, this is our film, this is our crew, this is our set and this is the way it’s going to run.”
Lucchesi, president of Lakeshore Entertainment, added that producers need to bring the same level of attention to the reality of the workplace environment as they do to other aspects of a production. Before production begins on a movie, Lucchesi said he insists that the key creative team makes a point of “squinting” at the script in an effort to get ahead of potential problems.
“There are a lot of people — and I would include men especially — we don’t squint now” at the workplace environment, he said. “In the future, we’re all going to squint a lot more.”
Kay Rothman, VP of PGA East, said the need for vigilance extends down the line to producers in the trenches, not just those at the top.
“I have to take responsibility to put my neck out and figure out a way to do it knowing that the people who hired me will support that, and if I need to I’ll go to them and they’ll say ‘If you saw it, I believe you, let’s do something,’ ” Rothman said. “I can also mentor and bring up a generation of people who understand what is appropriate and what is not appropriate on a set and not just say ‘Well, I’m not signing the checks. It doesn’t matter to me.’ “
Earlier in the day, actresses Jessica Chastain and Sarah Jessica Parker addressed the need for prominent women in the industry to be proactive in spurring change when it comes to diversity and inclusion. The two appeared with their producing partners, Kelly Carmichael of Chastain’s Freckle Films and Alison Benson of Parker’s Pretty Matches Productions.
“I realized that being part of the industry meant I was part of the problem,” Chastain said. “We’re complicit in our inaction.”
Chastain said she makes a point of working with a female director at least once a year — even if it’s only a short film. She also told the crowd that she was looking for good material focused on indigenous women and invited submissions.
Carmichael emphasized that Freckle Films projects look to staff women at all levels of the production. There’s a big focus “on making sure you have women in departments that are not usually cut out for women — not just in costumes and not just in production design,” she said.
The panelists swapped stories about dealing with nervousness from financiers and distributors about whether they had the skills to manage a production and stay on budget. Parker admitted she prefers to work with smaller budgets “so it doesn’t feel like a terrifying burden” and so that there is urgency to the work. “Who needs all day long to sit around. All we want to do is act and work and write. The best part of the day is when the cameras are rolling,” she said.
Other attendees of the conference acknowledged the ripple effects of the Weinstein revelations.
“We’ve all examined our practices in the past few weeks,” said Christine Vachon, veteran indie producer behind Killer Films. “We’ve tried very hard at Killer because we’re a very female-run company.”
“All producers need to keep an eye on the ground, on the set to make sure there’s no real toxicity happening,” Vachon said. “Even though I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress — there are more women dps and department heads — most film sets are mostly male. It’s still the way it is. We just try and pay a lot of attention.”
Graham Broadbent, producer of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” echoed the sentiment that producers needs to set the tone for behavior.
“You want the very best values on your film, top to bottom,” Broadbent said. “I wouldn’t sit around a place that wasn’t all right. That’s not what I want to do.”