Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What is a "Producer In Name Only" and how do they get paid for getting nothing?

On Monday I dropped a term that some of you may have been unfamiliar with: Producer In Name Only.

As it turns out, one of my readers WAS familiar with that term and offered up an assessment even blunter than my usual candor:

I am quite familiar with the reputation of the PINO from first hand experiences, but never realized there was a name for it! 

Better know as the parasites who burrow their way into the credits of a project and then use those credits to go get more work (under false pretenses) and they continue to fail upward while sabotaging one project at a time. 

The PINO becomes a self fueling cycle of inept undeserved saboteurs running around with over inflated credits.

A lot of PINOs are managers who attach themselves to scripts as producers or executive producers. Do you know what that means? Not a heck of a lot. In most of those cases, the person in question pockets a check and gets included on a lot of email chains, but they have no creative role on the project at all. Often, they might not even have a voice on the business side of things either.

You're not dealing with Brian Grazer or J.J. Abrams here. I'll give you an example of such a PINO. Buffy fans, have you ever watched the credits on the TV show and seen the "Executive Producer" credits for Fran Rubel Kuzui and Kaz Kuzui? Do you know what they contributed to the TV show? Nothing.

 "At least two of the executive producers have never seen the set of Angel. A business deal signed at the outset of the Buffy film gave them a financial stake in all things Buffy. They've received credit and sizable checks for the duration of Buffy and Angel for doing absolutely nothing. (Names furnished upon request)" - Dan Kearns, crew member on Angel, wrote in the essay, "Angel by the Numbers" from Five Seasons of Angel (2004), p25.

A good guide to identifying PINOs is to listen to a writer's commentary and see if there's any "Producer" or "Executive Producer" credit that they snicker at.  These crop up often on the Seinfeld DVDs, when Jerry Seinfeld's manager's "Executive Producer" credit pops up.  The name "Bernie Brillstein" often provokes this response.

This is a good example of how the title "Producer" is probably the most abused in Hollywood.  Not all producers are created equal.

That's why you want to take extra care when attaching a "producer" to your script.  Remember the tale of Anthony E. Zuiker, who sold his script to a producer who soon became a hinderance to getting a major studio to sell it. 

Sometimes the PINO might just be out for credit and some money.  If that's all they're after, you might be lucky.  And in fairness, not all PINOs are bad.  I had one script where I told a friend of mine to attach themselves as "Executive Producer" if they made use of their favors to get the script in front of someone who might be interested in it.  In that case, I believed in the script but I knew that this person could get it in front of people who were inaccessible to me. 

With that arrangement, we both would have benefitted from the script getting made.  As friends, we were only too happy to help each other.  The worst-case scenario for something like this is where you get stuck with a parasite.  This is where your writing is doing all the heavy lifting of getting people interested and the PINO is little more than a parasite looking to gloom onto your success.

Beware this arrangement, particularly if after you do the hard work of getting "real" producers attached, they have delusions of being actively involved as a producer.  A bad PINO can screw you over by being a pain-in-the-ass that the real creatives get sick of accommodating.  Zuiker's story the other day might be a less common one, but stuff like that definitely happens.

You can't always predict how someone attached to your script might try to exploit you.  So take care when allowing someone to tie themselves to your success. 


  1. Kind of makes the transgression of a-hole screenwriters who dun you unmercifully to read their screenplays seem rather trifling, eh wot?

  2. How bad a thing is the manager who wants to attach him/herself as an Executive Producer? I think I might be in that position.

    1. In most cases, that's totally legit - especially if they've been developing it with you.

      Also, if they get a producing fee, it's customary that they won't take their 10-15% from you.

      If he tries to double-dip, t

    2. Sorry... Damn phone. If he tries to double dip take that as a red flag

  3. Actually the Kuzui's made the original Buffy movie. It was their idea to turn it into a tv show and they owned the property. I think that makes them a little more than PINOs; at least for Buffy.