Many people outside and some inside the entertainment industry say it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world. The Hollywood system can be a competitive setting for many in the sector. Still, there are people and groups out there who have your back. NPACT, a trade association for nonfiction production companies, is one of those groups looking out for those in the entertainment business.
Created in 2017, when Nonfiction Producers Association (NPA) and PactUS merged, NPACT has been at the forefront for those in Reality TV in the United States. NPA and PactUS represented unscripted TV producers who joined forces with the parallel purpose of promoting the needs of independent production companies. The General Manager of NPA, John Ford, headed the newly formed NPACT. At the same time, PactUS chief, David Lyle, stepped in as president emeritus. However, with the unfortunate passing of Lyle and Ford stepping down in 2019, leadership had changed.
Michelle Van Kempen, the trade group’s head of policy and development, stepped in the interim as the new general manager for NPACT in 2019. Kempen, co-principal at Film Garden Entertainment in Los Angeles for over 20 years, had operated as executive producer on over 2000 episodes before joining the group. Yet, when she had conversations with Ford, the veteran television production executive had considered stepping away from television for good. Kempen had met through productions with TLC Channel, and those talks drew her back into television.
“I heard about what was then the NPA. It was all about production companies coming together and sharing information,” Kempen said when discussing what first grabbed her attention about NPA. She continues, “Which was exactly what we had tried a couple of different times to start—my business partner and me. So that was really exciting to me that the business was growing in the direction of having that happen and that I could potentially be involved in helping that continue to grow.”
Kempen eventually joined Ford in helping run the NPA in 2016 and continued when NPA and PactUS merged in 2017. Later in 2020, Ed Wilson, an entrepreneurial media executive, was named Executive Chairman. However, in the same year, members of the organization had felt the impact of the COVID pandemic. Still, they stepped up to help those in the production business.
The 2020 COVID outbreak affected many people worldwide and those in Hollywood. “We were very involved in an industry at the beginning of the pandemic,” Kempen states regarding NPACT helping during the pandemic. The interim GM of NPACT says, “We got involved with an industry-wide coalition and helped draft potential legislation. We talked to lobbyists, special interest groups, senators, and Congress about the effect on production.”
Not waiting for action to be made, NPACT continued.
In September that year, the nonfiction association established a hotline for COVID-19 safety issues. The hotline was launched for unscripted producers and crew members to report health and safety concerns affected by COVID-19. This vital tool was advised to every position level regardless of the film production they were working on. NPACT took this anonymously submitted information and formulated the best course of action to practice the guidelines
NPACT’s goal—which comprises 100+ members—is to “unify, educate, and advocate for the nonfiction production industry.” The association’s website states a series of methods for accomplishing its mission to achieve this. NPACT aims to build sensible partnerships among producers and content partners, increase diversity in productions, and mentor future generations of nonfiction production leaders. The community of producers also provides forums that allow sharing information that can benefit others to create and advocate the best practices in nonfiction production.
Kempen states, “The way that the member companies share information; we do these online department meetings. Across our members’ companies, the department heads all come together to share. If there are issues they’re having, things they want to talk about, or things they want to find out how other people handled a similar issue.” She adds that these forums are great and allow others to help each other with the exchange of supportive information. However, the impact on the community goes further.
NPACT conducts an annual survey of unscripted, documentary, and reality series productions that showcases the best networks for producers to work in collaboration. The questionnaire initially began when PactUS partnered with Variety in 2017. It takes anonymously voting from its members to rank their favorite networks and streaming platform across multiple categories. These surveys aim to evaluate working conditions in the nonfiction production world and areas that can use improvements for better production flow. Though these surveys have been very effective in Hollywood, NPACT’s idea of community is just as important.
Part of building a community is creating diversity. Different walks of life come into the entertainment industry hoping to hone and share innovative ideas. NPACT understands the importance of this notion and has a significant diversity and inclusion initiative that has partnered with advocacy organizations with the same goal in mind. The “NPACT Opportunity Initiative” has worked with The Handy Foundation, COOP Careers, Arts2Work, HBCU in LA Internship Program, and others. They provide training programs, interns, and those looking to find themselves working in nonfiction production.
But, NPACT doesn’t just join forces with advocacy groups; the association goes further.
The association has held sessions and speaking engagements with virtually every film/tv college program in the Los Angeles area and New York. Unscripted television isn’t taught in film school as extensively as narrative storytelling. NPACT does its part in helping those who have found an interest in unscripted television. Members and speakers from the association have visited these schools to talk and help guide those who want to break into nonfiction production.
NPACT even offers follow-ups to these mentoring sessions, networking, and job fairs for graduates looking for an entry-level position. Again, beneficial to those outside of the association, but much more is offered for members of NPACT.
Besides the knowledge base portion of benefits given to members of NPACT, the groups offer an array of practical advantages. For example, the association’s website provides contract negotiations counsel to work with “networks and producers to improve the development, contracting, and production process.” To add more, NPACT does its part in employee relations in understanding applicable laws to nurture and pass on information for a productive workforce in nonfiction productions. Other informative areas that NPACT presents are distribution, savings on resources, and legal issues that go a long way in the producer world. Another example of the fantastic perks of this community of like-minded people is their live and virtual events.
2019 saw NPACT host their first mini trade show, “Content Tech LA,” to a resounding success for the company. The event hosted 10-15 exhibitors and companies wishing to provide products or services to make unscripted production easier, cost-efficient, or more advanced. The simple format garnered many attendees, which warranted the association to bring the show back for June 14th, 2022, and a June 23rd virtual event. The members-only events will showcase their helpful and latest products and services to improve operations, HR, development, production, and post.
Groups like NPACT are what the entrainment industry needs to survive. With the help of communities like these, it can help those that wish to share, educate, and inform ways to create innovative programming. NPACT’s service in the nonfiction production world has come a long way in contributing to future generations of producers and the unscripted workforce. The unifying goal among its members is a shining example of helping those and striving for the advancement of Hollywood.