- WGA screenwriting credit system
United States, screenwritingcredit for motion pictures and television programs under its jurisdiction is determined by either the Writers Guild of America, East(WGAE) or the Writers Guild of America, west(WGAw). The Guilds are the final arbiter of who receives credit for writing the screenplay, the original story, or creating the original characters, a privilege it has possessed since 1941. If a production company is a signatory to the Guild Basic Agreement, it must comply with Guild rules.
The system is seen as important to writers primarily for reputational purposes. Nearly all sources (e.g. the
Internet Movie Database) list only the official credits certified by the WGAE or WGAw. John Howard Lawson, the first president of the Screen Writers Guild(the former name of the WGAw) said "a writer's name is his most cherished possession. It is his creative personality, the symbol of the whole body of his ideas and experience".
The credit system also affects writers' eligibility for membership in the union, which is determined on a point system awarded on what a writer has done, and it affects future income. While all writers, credited or not, are paid for their work at the time, residual income from future exploitation of a film on video, pay-per-view, broadcast television, and the like, usually is paid only to the credited writers.
Upon completion of a film, the producer must present the proposed credits for screenwriting to the guild and circulate copies of the final script to all writers employed on any draft of the script. If any of the writers object to the proposed credits, the credit for the film enters arbitration. If the director or producer of the film is proposed for final credit, an automatic arbitration is triggered. [WGA Screen Credits Manual Section III.C.1.]
During arbitration, members of the Guild review all drafts of the screenplay by each writer and follow a formula for determining the credits.
The WGAE and WGAw both resolutely reject the
auteur theorythat only the director is the "author" of a film and so when a "production executive" (a producer or director) claims credit, he or she must meet a higher standard than others to receive credit. An original writer must contribute at least one-third of the final screenplay to receive credit. If subsequent writers labor on an original screenplay as script doctors, they must contribute more than half of the final screenplay to receive credit. If a production executive works on a script, he or she also must contribute at least half the final product to receive credit [WGA Screen Credits Manual Section III.C.3] .
Credit can be apportioned for the story, a short treatment of the plot and characters, and the screenplay itself when all writers were not equally involved in the creation of both. A credit might read "Story by John Doe. Screenplay by John Doe & Richard Roe."
Where a team of writers works on a screenplay the names are joined by an
ampersand("&") and when two teams of writers work successively on a script, the teams are joined by "and". So, a credit reading "John Doe & Richard Roe and Jane Doe & Jane Roe" means that there were two writing teams, John and Richard on one and the two Janes on the other.
Where a film has been based on a previous film, but does not remake it, a "based on characters created by" credit is given, such as on the show "
Frasier". Every episode gives credits to James Burrows, Glen Charlesand Les Charles, the creators of " Cheers", the show where the character of Dr. Frasier Crane originated.
Only three writers may be credited for the screenplay if they collaborated and a maximum of three teams of three may be credited no matter how many actually worked on it. For example, "
Lethal Weapon 4" (1998) had about a dozen writers, as did "Hulk" (2003). The film adaptation of "The Flintstones" (1994) supposedly had over sixty writers. Those awarded credit for creating the characters elsewhere and the original story are not included in this limit.
The Guilds also permit use of
pseudonyms if a writer requests one in a timely fashion but has been known to refuse to accept one which makes a statement. For example, screenwriter J. Michael Straczynskiwanted to take his name off the " Babylon 5" spin-offseries "Crusade" and substitute "Eiben Scrood" ("I been screwed") to protest the changes made by the production company. The WGAw refused, however, because "it 'diminished the value' of the show and basically madelight of the studio" said Straczynski. [http://www.jmsnews.com/msg.aspx?id=1-16393&query=Eiben] Ronald Bassis an Academy Award winning screenplay author who has helped to write or consulted on over one hundred screenplays (not all of which have necessarily been produced), but who has received only twenty or so "written by" or "screenplay by" credits under Guild rules.
There is a common misconception that a "story by" credit may be given to a person who simply has the story "idea" for a film or television program. This is never the case, as all writing credits are for actual writing. It is often the case that a screenwriter will produce a
spec script, which after being optioned, will then undergo a "page one rewrite" resulting in a new draft. In many such cases, the original author then receives the "story by" rather than "screenplay by" credit.
Here are some complicated examples of WGA-approved exceptions to the typical one-writer credit.
*"The Rock" (1996), starring
Sean Conneryand Nicolas Cage, has the writing credit "Story by David Weisberg& Douglas S. Cook. Screenplay by David Weisberg& Douglas S. Cookand Mark Rosner."
*"Armageddon" (1998) starring
Bruce Williscarries the credits "Story by Robert Roy Pooland Jonathan Hensleigh. Adaptation by Tony Gilroyand Shane Salerno. Screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh and J.J. Abrams."
Legally Blonde 2" (2003) gives "characters" credit to Amanda Brown for creating the characters as she wrote the novel that the first film was based upon. The film gives the credit "Story by Eve Ahlert & Dennis Drake and Kate Kondell. Screenplay by Kate Kondell."
*"" (2003) credits "Screen Story by
Ted Elliott& Terry Rossioand Stuart Beattieand Jay Wolpert. Screenplay by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio."
Scary Movie 4" (2006) credits "Screenplay by Craig Mazin& Jim Abrahams& Pat Proft. Story by Craig Mazin. Based on Characters Created by Shawn Wayans& Marlon Wayans& Buddy Johnson & Phil Beaumanand Jason Friedberg& Aaron Seltzer." The original "Scary Movie" was based on a combination of two scripts, causing its sequels to have increasingly complicated writing credits.
The arbitration process has been vocally criticized by some Guild members.However, the Guilds have won most lawsuits against it, the WGAw membership overwhelmingly rejected changes to the arbitration procedures in 2002, and writer Eric Hughes — who made reform a centerpiece of his campaign for the WGAw presidency — lost the election in 2004.
A chief objection is the secrecy of the process.Who|date=July 2007 The identities of the arbiters are secret and so the parties have no way to object to the qualifications or possible biases of their judges. Second, the decision itself is secret, even from the parties to the dispute, so they have no way of knowing why they lost or won credit. Secret decisions also make an appeal impossible and leave no precedent for future disputes. (There is an appeal panel, but it only concerns itself with technical details as to whether the rulebook was followed.)
One criticism of the process often raised concerns existing material, such as a book, being adapted to film. Generally, the first writer to work on such a project will naturally appropriate the most cinematic elements of the story, but other teams subsequently working on the script may take their cues not from the first draft, but, again, from the original text itself.
Barry Levinson, the director of " Wag the Dog" (1998) and a disputant over screenwriting credit for the film (which was adapted from a novel), says Fact|date=November 2007:
:If a writer creates an idea from scratch, that's one thing. Even if the script is given to other writers and rewritten, that first writer created the seeds of that idea and he or she should get some regard. But for a script from a book, it's different.
Even if little of the initial efforts remain in the final script, the original writer is often awarded credit because he or she was first on the scene.
Examples of credit conflicts and resolutions
Frank Pierson, formerly WGAw president and the current ( as of 2005) president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, says "the large majority of credits are still straightforward and uncontested" but "when they go wrong, they go horribly wrong." Phil Alden Robinsonsays "No one can trust the writing credit. Nobody knows who really wrote the film."Fact|date=December 2007
Hunter S. Thompson's " Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998) was adapted for the screen, Alex Coxand Tod Daviesdid the initial adaptation. Terry Gilliamwas brought in to direct and he rewrote it with Tony Grisoni. The Guild initially denied Gilliam and Grisoni any credit at all even though Gilliam claimed nothing of the original adaptation remained in the final film. "As a director, I was automatically deemed a 'production executive' by the Guild and, by definition, discriminated against. But for Tony to go without any credit would be really unfair."Fact|date=December 2007 After complaints, the Guild did award Gilliam and Grisoni credit in addition to Cox and Davies but Gilliam resigned from the union over the dispute. "It's really a Star Chamber," said Gilliam of the arbitration process, which he claimed took more work than the screenplay itself.Fact|date=December 2007 Graham Yost, the credited writer of the film "Speed", has stated publiclyFact|date=December 2007 that " Joss Whedonwrote 98.9 percent of the dialogue...We were very much in sync, it's just that I didn't write the dialogue as well as he did. That was a hard part of the whole "Speed" thing. It's my name up there, but I didn't write the whole thing. But I fought hard to get that credit, so I'll live with it."
From 1993 to 1997, there were 415 arbitrations, about one-third of all films whose credits were submitted.
"When the article focuses on certain films, they are noted in parenthesis after the citation"
Michael Cieplyand James Bales. "Legal Clash Over 'Samurai' Credit". " The Los Angeles Times". June 6, 2004. C1. (" The Last Samurai")
*Jane Galbraith. "3 on the Towne, or How to get a 'Firm' writing credit". " The
Los Angeles Times". July 4, 1993. (Adaptation of John Grisham's "The Firm")
*"Giving credit where credit's due". "
Hollywood Reporter". October 8, 2002. 97.
*Michael A. Hiltzik. "Untangling the Web". " The
Los Angeles Times". March 24, 2002. A1. ("Spider-Man")
*Shawn Levy. "Hollywood Tale: Writing the Script, Losing the Credit". "
The Oregonian" ( Portland, Oregon). January 25, 2004. A1. ("Miracle")
*Nick Madigan. "Scribe tribe on warpath". "Daily Variety".
June 8, 1998. 1.
*Dennis McDougal. "Hollywood Screenwriters Weigh a Real-Life Revolution at the Ballot Box". "The
New York Times". September 18, 2004. A17.
*Dave McNary. "WGA mulls credit rules". "
Daily Variety". October 24, 2002. 2.
*Dave McNary. "Scribes nix bid to ease credit rules". "
Daily Variety". November 18, 2002. 1.
*Dave McNary. "A thorny debate continues to plague the Writers Guild of America". "
Daily Variety". December 18, 2003. A10.
*Kate O'Hare. " [http://tv.zap2it.com/tveditorial/tve_main/1,1002,271|81677|1|,00.html The "Bus Guy" Triumphs on "Boomtown"] . Zap2It.com.
May 23, 2003
Tom Shales. "Sometimes Giving Credit When It's Due Isn't Easy". " Chicago Tribune". May 3, 1985. 5. (A television miniseries on Raoul Wallenberg)
*Virginia Wright Wetman. "Success Has 1,000 Fathers (So Do Films)". " The
New York Times". May 28, 1995. Arts section, p. 16.
*Robert W. Welkos. "'Cable', 'Rock' in Dispute on Writing Credits". " The
Los Angeles Times". May 21, 1996. F1. ("The Rock" and " The Cable Guy")
*Robert W. Welkos. "Giving Credit Where It's Due". " The
Los Angeles Times". May 11, 1998. A1.
*Michelle Williams. "How Many Writers Does It Take...?" " The
New York Times". May 17, 1998. Arts section, p. 17.
WGA script registration service
Writers Guild of America Award
Television in the United States
Cinema of the United States
"For a similar conflict resolution technique in the film directing credit, see
* [http://www.wga.org/subpage_writersresources.aspx?id=167 Official WGA west manual on writing credit (as of November 15, 2002)]
* [http://www.wgaeast.org/mba/credits.html WGA East page on credit determination]
* [http://imdb.com/wga IMDb's page on credit determination]
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