Question: When a film wins for best picture at the Academy Awards, who gets to take home the Oscar? Does each of the executive producers get to take one home or is there just a single statue that they all have to share? I've wondered this for many years, and I figured it was finally time to end my silence!

Answer: This is a very timely question, and one with implications beyond how many Oscar statuettes the Academy has to have made for various best-picture winners. First, the award does go to the producer or producers, not to the director — the auteur-vision thing notwithstanding — or to the executive producer(s). For some years now, there's been concern among the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences about what's been dubbed "credit creep," and specifically the proliferation in recent years of credited producers, coproducers, executive producers, coexecutive producers and associate producers, and there's been a widely held perception that a number of those credits have been given out as favors or rewards for unspecified services, rather than because the individual actually had anything to do with producing the film. After five producers stepped up to accept statuettes for producing Shakespeare in Love (1998) — including Miramax studio head Harvey Weinstein, who took up what might gently be called a disproportionate amount of the group's allotted acknowledgement time — the Academy ruled that only three producers could receive statuettes, and that if there were more producers credited, the award goes to "those three or fewer who have performed the major portion of the producing functions." The Academy specified that studio executives were ineligible unless they had been there in the trenches while the film was being made and encouraged the filmmakers themselves to hash out the issue of who among them would be left out in the cold come Oscar-night glory, which didn't always go down well.  

This year the Producers Guild of America stepped in and set itself up as the arbiter of which producers credited on a best-picture nominee are actually eligible for an Oscar if it wins, creating an auditing process designed to make a fair determination as to who is and isn't a real producer. If the guidelines are on the PGA's website, they're buried somewhere and I couldn't find them, but the process reportedly involves looking at 46 different aspects of a producer's job and evaluating which of the credited individuals performed a significant number of them. The message appears to be that you're not eligible for an Academy Award, which is supposed to recognize achievement, just because you coughed up a wad of cash. The whole issue has already become extremely contentious: Bob Yari, one of the six originally credited producers of Crash, lost his credit after guild arbitration. So did actor Don Cheadle, Mark R. Harris and Bobby Moresco, leaving writer-director Paul Haggis and Cathy Schulman alone on the film's official credits. But only Yari sued: He's in court with Haggis and Schulman and has indicated that he's considering suing the PGA.