4 reasons why receiving Producer Credit may not be all it's cracked up to be.
It's a common practice in the entertainment industry. Producers operating on shoestring budgets will, in an effort to secure the property and/or services of talented individuals, ofer them some kind of producer credit in lieu of the usual compensation those people might normally command.
This kind of thing is, somewhat surprisingly, quite attractive to many in the business. Perhaps it's the prestige of being a producer, or perhaps it's taken as recognition of one's value to a project.
But, receiving a producer credit on a film, play, musical or album is often a bad idea. Here are some of the reasons I advise my clients against accepting credit.
The Lead Producer doesn't have any “skin in the game”
If you're taking producer credit in lieu of compensation, the lead producer is getting a huge bargain. As such, he (or she) is taking a much smaller risk with the project than would be the case if you were being paid what you're really worth. And, if there's less at risk, the lead producer may feel freer to take bigger risks elsewhere, thus leading the project into peril.
By contrast, when a producer has money on the line (whether his own or investors'), he's less likely to take unreasonable risk or maintain untenable positions with the project.
Undervaluation of the recipient's contribution to the project
If the lead producer isn't willing or able to pay you an appropriate fee, it should tell you something about the value he or she places on your services. Essentially, the lead producer is telling you, “hey, I don't think you're worth what you charge for your services, so let me give you something that doesn't cost me money, instead.”
More importantly, however, if you're willing to take less than ‘normal' compensation, it shows the lead producer and the rest of the world that you think the same way. Your services really aren't worth what you charge.
Of course, sometimes you'll get involved with a project you feel passionate about and be willing to discount your fees to be associated with them. And that's fine. Just be sure you're discounting for the right reasons.
In my view credit alone shouldn't be one of them.
Time and again, I've seen situations in which a “producer” on a project has absolutely no control. He or she is getting producer credit, but exercises no real authority to influence the direction a project takes. It's a little like being at the helm of a ship, holding the steering wheel, but not being permitted to turn it to avoid a collision. Without a meaningful degree of control (or at least a right of consultation) producer credit can be pretty meaningless. Even if the film wins major awards, it's typically only the lead producer and the core producing team that actually benefit from the recognition.
Exposure to Liability
As I've written about before here [http://firemark.com/2010/07/20/producer-credit-lieu-of-compensation-trouble-making/], recipients of producer credit can find themselves in the crosshairs of litigation from angry contractors, unpaid vendors, disgruntled investors, and anyone else with a beef against the project. Being identified as a producer tells the world that you are a person responsible for the production, and everything that flows from it, whether good or bad. It doesn't matter whether you are really responsible. If someone has a problem, they'll go after all of the producers. In one recent case, for example, a credited producer with a minority financial interest in a theatrical production (and thus no real control over the project) was held vicariously liable for copyright infringement when the lead producer unilaterally decided not to pay the playwright. He hadn't, the jury concluded, done enough to prevent the infringement. So, under the principle of joint and several liability, he's responsible for the entire $250,000 judgment. [http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1585582747453574240&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5]
So, receiving producer credit may actually be worse than not being involved in a project at all. At the very least, acceptance of such a proposal can send subtle signals about the parties' valuation of the recipient's services.
Of course, there are plenty of valid reasons to receive a producer credit. Foremost among these, though, should always be that you're actually a producer of the project, not a mere figurehead, but wielding real influence over the project, and thus earning the right (and responsibility) of being called “Producer”.