I’d Like the Story I Wrote to be Written By Me

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o here’s something. Many people may not realize that writing credits on movies are not always terribly accurate.

Once upon a time writers would do work-for-hire scripting for studios. Paid to give up their inherent copyright. Thus their credit. Supposedly this doesn’t happen anymore, what with unions and laws and that sort of thing. But the concept of gang banging a script definitely persists.

These days, when a script is optioned or sold to a producer, it is often (maybe even always) re-written by another writer. Even multiple writers. However, presently, when things get a little muddy as far as authorship is concerned, some fat cat studio exec doesn’t just get to slap his girlfriend’s name on the byline.

These days WGA rules take over.

Now I don’t know all these rules. I’m not (yet) a WGA member. But my understanding is the credits are fairly self-regulating unless there’s a conflict. A conflict like whether a second writer has made enough of a contribution to receive equal credit.

In such a case, the guild steps in and tries to arbitrate a resolution. They base their decision on a double blind peer review. These peer writers seek to establish what percentage of the script was written by whom. The goal being to sort out who receives a “Written by” credit versus a “Screenplay by” credit.

“Written by” means you’re the author of the actual story. Not just a writer who’s come in and helped touch it up.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to it. Probably complicated as hell. Not entirely looking forward to being indoctrinate into that side of things. Though I’m sure it has its merits. Plus health insurance.

For the time being however, I’m outside the realm of the WGA. The WGAnywhere for that matter. And so are the producers with whom I’m currently negotiating an option for my script.

So I was surprised when Lawyer advised me that Producers’ probably wouldn’t accept my credit request. In our counter-offer I asked Lawyer to stipulate that I be guaranteed a sole onscreen “Written by” credit.

After all, with no WGA to protect me, I’ve got to protect myself. So why shouldn’t I demand that protection up front?

I suspect that Lawyer’s right. That Producers’ won’t like it. Probably because it might impede them from having another writer come on expecting credit. Which is kind of the point… But I’m not making the request to antagonize anyone. It’s really just about covering my own ass.

This isn’t about being precious. I expect to do rewrites. And if I fail to execute their changes, I expect that Producers’ll hire another writer to muck about with things. That’s the business. So be it. I’ve got other scripts. I’m here to get paid. If I wanted to be precious I’d write a novel and self-publish an ebook.

Why I’m covering my ass is because there won’t be a WGA arbitration committee set up if me and Writer B have a dispute. And if that somehow ever led to me getting second billing on a story that I authored… I… Would not… Be terribly happy.

It’s an issue of laying the foundation for a career. And if I’ve learned anything over years of trying to make it in this industry it’s that second to money, credits are the only things that carry any weight.

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9 Comments

Filed under The Journey

9 responses to “I’d Like the Story I Wrote to be Written By Me

  1. If you’re expecting the WGA to protect you, …
    Note there are two credits, both which are covered by a “Written by” credit. There is a “story” credit, which once gave rights in the sequel; I don’t know if it still does. There is a “screenplay by” credit.
    There are lots of permutations on screenplay by, written by. For instance an “&” once meant you’re a writing team. For instance “written by” Joe and Frank, means someone was the first writer; someone was the second.
    The game is to get credit and to get more work.

  2. mel

    that would be ludicrous… I hope you swing it!

  3. Consider asking for guaranteed sole *Story by* credit and then drop down to a guarantee of at least getting a shared “screenplay by” credit. That will make it clear that you were the original author, and your name will still be on it as a writer, as well.

    Having guaranteed “Written by” credit is not just unlikely, it also makes it impossible for them to hire a WGA writer. If they do hire a WGA writer, it’s not actually the worst thing in the world for you, because it’ll be forced to become a WGA project — *in which case you are suddenly covered under WGA guidelines*.

    Just a thought.

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