MY RESPONSE TO DGA PRESIDENT JACK SHEA'S DEFENSE OF THE POSSESSORY CREDIT AD IN VARIETY
Screenwriters need to educate the public on the importance of the role the screenwriter plays in a motion picture. How would they do that? They can either spend hundreds of millions of dollars in print and media ads - or they can try to play out their case in the court of public opinion. You do this by setting an idea "on fire" and fanning the flames so it shows up in the newspapers, magazines, radio and TV. You allow light to shine on the subject, and shake it up and keep shaking it up until the truth to bubbles up to the surface. If you make it news then you make into the news, you get millions of dollars of free exposure.
I tried goading the president of the DGA into public debate. No takers. In fact the president of the WGA tried (successfully) to put the fire out. But it continued - and we saw a nice big article by Bob Welkos in the Los Angeles Times. It discussed the issue and the fracas between the DGA and WGA.
There was some response to this article by letters to the Times and a mention of the row in Variety.
Soon after that, the Directors Guild of America took out a full page back cover ad aggressively defending the director's "right" to negotiate a possessory credit, and defending the idea of the credit itself. It was written by the (then) president of the DGA Jack Shea.
And what did the Writers Guild of America do in response? Nothing. NOTHING! NADA! BUPKIS! Dan Petrie, Jr., president of the Writers Guild of America did absolutely nothing.
So I wrote a letter to Variety. And here it is.
Dear Jack Shea,
RE: your response to Peter Bart's column on possessory credit.
You state that "the position of the Directors Guild of America is not that all directors should be guaranteed the possessory credit, but that anyone should have the right to negotiate for it, including directors, producers and writers."
Really? Should people should have the "right to negotiate" for a credit
regardless of whether or not they deserve that credit? Should Campbells
have the freedom to label a soup CLAM CHOWDER that contains no
The credits on a motion picture should be a truthful and accurate reflection of the contributors to that film, not whatever you can negotiate. The truth should not be negotiable .
You quote David Lean saying he feels he deserves possessory credit (of the film DR. ZHIVAGO) because he chose the writer, the actors, the cameraman, the composer, the set designer, the sound men and the laboratory , that he staged it, and he filmed it. "It was my film of his script which I shot when he was not there...if a director, writer, or producer cannot claim such overall responsibility, it should not be called his film."
First, the director is responsible for making the movie , not creating it, but secondly, more importantly the quote - " My film of his script " - strikes at the real heart of the matter, not "the right to negotiate".
" My film of his script "...suggests that the process of making a film renders the original point of departure to the status of irrelevance, that the end result becomes a separate and distinctive entity. This is foolish. Actuating the idea, no matter how artfully it is executed, must not be confused with the idea itself.
"My film of his script " implies a kind of dualism that the two are separate. They aren't. Separate the story from a movie and you have nothing left! Nada! You can't separate a story from a movie simply because movies are stories.
Occasionally a director will conceive an idea that a writer turns into screenplay, but far more often a movie originates with a writer who executes an entire story, populates it with characters, puts words in their mouths makes all of their decisions from beginning to end. Then, after it's slated for production , it comes time to attach a director. A list is made up of directors available to work during that time period . Another list is then derived of directors deemed suitable to the material. The script then goes to director #1, and if they pass, then someone's finger drops down the list from auteur #1 to auteur #2 and so on until someone says yes. It strikes me as absurd that anyone who was ever a name on a list could deserve full credit for a movie they didn't even conceive ! And should that director have the right to negotiate for possessory credit long before the movie is even made?!
To a screenwriter this is a dubious claim at best; our concept, our execution of our story, our dialogue, our plot, our subplots, our structure, our characters, our meticulously-engineered emotional moments built up from our other meticulously-engineered moments, our setups, our pay offs, our beginning, middle and end...
... their movie?
Directors direct the movie. "Directed by..." is a clear, appropriate and honorable credit for a difficult and monumental task. Why do some directors insist on more?
Screenwriter and director.
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