Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher were both Hollywood veterans when they were elected as co-presidents of the Producers Guild of America in June 2018. But while both had overseen big studios, films and television shows, nothing could have prepared them for what they’d encounter in their four years Iin office with the PGA, including the #MeToo revolution, the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We didn’t know each other when this shotgun marriage was formed,” Berman said. “But we sort of joined hands and said, “let’s try our best to move this forward.” And we’ve had the best time with each other. It was definitely more than we ever considered when we said yes, but I will say that we’re leaving with our heads held high with a lot of pride for the organization and what the organization has been able to accomplish in a difficult, difficult time.”
Before they bid farewell to their co-presidency, they will celebrate Saturday night at the 33rd PGA Awards in Los Angeles. The untelevised show gives awards to producers of films (nominees include “The Power of the Dog,” “CODA” and “Dune”) and television shows (from “Ted Lasso” to “Squid Game”). And they’ll also be honoring the likes of George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, Issa Rae, “Dune” producer Mary Parent, Greg Berlanti and Rita Moreno.
Both women were already trailblazers in their industry before taking the job with the guild. Fisher has been a studio executive for over 40 years, overseeing films like “The Goonies” and “The Fugitive” at Warner Bros., and “Men in Black,” “Jerry Maguire” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” as vice chairman of Sony Pictures. Berman, meanwhile, made her name in television as an executive producer of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and an executive at Fox, overseeing the development and scheduling of shows like “American Idol” and “Arrested Development.”
During their tenure at the Producers Guild, they led efforts to combat sexual harassment in their business, worked to diversify their membership and provide mentorship for underrepresented groups at various career stages and encouraged greener productions. When the pandemic hit and production came to a standstill, Berman and Fisher helped establish a relief fund for members, transitioned community events to virtual settings and helped form safety protocols when production was able to start again.
When people started getting back to work, PGA members would gather on Zoom to share information, give advice and ask for it too. The community spirit was unprecedented and shone a spotlight on a job that often only gets noticed when things go wrong.
“In the midst of all the horrors of the last year, producers prevailed,” Fisher said. “Producers are the unsung heroes and don’t often get the recognition. Our job is to be sometimes invisible and push everybody else forward and make a working machine, which we try to do. And obviously the director is at the helm, but I think it’s been a good time for producers to be able to stand tall and for the world to respect what’s been accomplished because it could have been that there was no business. And that didn’t happen.”
They also helped blur and level out old divisions between television and movie producers within the guild. Berman’s involvement, Fisher said, was key to that since there had never been a high-powered television producer in the president role. Now, they have the highest number of paying members they’ve ever had: 8,400 people.
The awards Saturday will be a chance, after last year’s virtual gathering, to come together and celebrate what producers have been able to accomplish in a particularly difficult stretch.
“Every producer is a small business person. And interesting, difficult times create opportunities for entrepreneurship,” Berman said. “I had a movie shut down, a pilot shut down, a series shut down. But with time and working through things with a lot of very, very capable people, all of those things wound up happening and getting done. And I know that our colleagues had similar experiences. And we all come out of it, certainly not unchanged, but definitely, in some ways, stronger.”
Fisher doesn’t generally like awards shows, but this one is an exception. Part of that has to do with the fact that it’s not televised.
“People are much more casual and it’s much more chummy,” Fisher said. “The honorees have had time to think about what they want to say and they really do talk about what the business means to them and what their work means to them. And it’s not a showoff-y, soundbite-y version of things. It means a lot to get an award from people who actually know what the job is and what it takes to get anything made good or bad.”
Now both Fisher and Berman are ready to get back to their day jobs as producers. Berman’s next stop will be the Cannes Film Festival with the Baz Luhrmann movie “Elvis.” And they’re glad to be leaving on a high note.
“We have the satisfaction, at least, of knowing that we did make a difference,” Fisher said. “Never as much as you want, but definitely a difference.”