How many billionaires does it take to make a movie about a reclusive billionaire? In the case of Warren Beatty's Howard Hughes pic Rules Don't Apply, which Fox has begun screening ahead of its Nov. 23 release, it took 16 credited producers - many of them the richest individuals associated with Hollywood.
That number isn't unusual for a film assembled using financing from multiple sources, but the blue-chip backers all have been given a "produced by" credit rather than the customary "executive producer" given to moneymen and women. At a screening for industry tastemakers Oct. 13, the end credits contained a card reading "Produced and directed by Warren Beatty" that was followed by three more cards, with five names per card, listing all the other producers involved. The massive list has rankled the Producers Guild of America, which is currently reviewing contributions of those listed to decide who deserves its "p.g.a." mark that follows a producer's name when determined he or she actually has done the heavy lifting of getting a movie made.
"I would think there were not 16 producers who really produced Warren's movie," says producer Hawk Koch, who, with Mark Gordon, worked for years to establish the mark to ensure that a movie's real producers get the credit they deserve. "Knowing Warren and having worked with him on several films, there's one person who produced that movie, and his name is Warren Beatty."
Working without studio backing for the first time in his directing career, Beatty, 79, financed his passion project - about an aspiring actress (Lily Collins) and driver (Alden Ehrenreich) who fall under the sway of Hughes (Beatty) - by turning to a select circle of high-net-worth individuals.
The production, budgeted at about $27 million, began filming in February 2014 with backing from, among others, Arnon Milchan's New Regency, James Packer and Brett Ratner's RatPac Entertainment, supermarket magnate Ron Burkle and real estate heir Steve Bing, all of whom were rewarded with producing credits - as were financier Jeffrey Soros, billionaire and former Lionsgate chair Frank Giustra and former Warner Bros. and Yahoo chair Terry Semel, taking a producing credit for the first time in his career.
Several principals of Birdman backer Worldview, which invested $3.25 million in Beatty's film, came aboard before that company imploded amid a series of lawsuits in 2014. Christopher Woodrow, who was sued for alleged embezzlement, as well as COO Molly Conners and investor and heiress Sarah E. Johnson, who were countersued, are reunited in the end credits for Rules.
And Beatty, a lifelong liberal, might now bristle at another of his producers, Dune Entertainment chairman Steven Mnuchin, since Mnuchin is serving as Donald Trump's national finance chairman.
While production companies are free to designate anyone a producer, the PGA will award a lowercase "p.g.a." only to those individuals whom it decides have done more than 50 percent of the actual work - from development through production, post and marketing. The mark isn't just a status symbol, it also determines who is eligible for the PGA's best picture award and Oscar nominations should a film be nominated for the best picture Academy Award. Explaining the rationale for the mark, Koch says, "Any producer knows what a real producer is and what a real producer does on a film. We're looking out for producers' rights. It doesn't mean we don't appreciate financiers, but they are financiers, they are not producers. Even though producing is an amorphous job, we created a list of criteria, and if you're not doing the majority of those things then you are not a producer, and you don't deserve the credit of a producer or awards for producing."
Because Rules is being vetted at the moment, the PGA declined to comment on how it might decide who gets p.g.a. marks on the film. But PGA executive director Vance Van Petten says: "We know it's very difficult for filmmakers to raise funding - that's why there's an executive producer credit. It's sad to see the produced-by credit being given away. And to have 16 produced-by credits is really deplorable."
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.