WGA prexy stands firm

Writers Guild of America West president Brad Radnitz on Wednesday responded to directors’ criticism of writers’ efforts to make inroads on creative rights issues, reaffirming his belief that the so-called possessory credit should be eliminated.

“The problem we have with our sister guild is not who has the last creative decision, but the fact that there are many people making creative decisions and they are entitled to equal credit,” Radnitz said.

Radnitz made the comments in an interview during which he confirmed that he would not seek another term as president of the Writers Guild of America, citing professional and personal obligations. Dan Petrie Jr. and Lynn Roth are running for the post (Daily Variety, June 12).

Radnitz’s tenure has been marked by the guild’s effort to boost ties with guilds worldwide, respond to government’s V-chip proposals, and to increase the profile of writers in the industry.

The WGA, for instance, made its first showing at Cannes this year. Among upcoming events: a Maui roundtable, where scribes will hobnob with studio execs and talk about major issues in the business.

But scribes’ efforts to make inroads on creative rights issues have been an ongoing source of tension between the WGA and the DGA, perhaps heightened because the scribes guild is going into negotiations for a new contract with producers. The first meeting was held on Tuesday, and another is scheduled for next week.

The big flashpoint in the past has been the writers’ efforts to end the use of the “possessory credit” — the “A film by” label used at the beginning of a pic. In the last negotiations in 1995, assurances were given that studios would try to curb the use of the credit.

Recent studio contracts indicate that use of the credit may reduce in frequency in the coming years, according to some WGA officials.

But “it is a tough one to gauge,” Radnitz said. “I don’t see the visual evidence.”

In fact, Radnitz said that he sees “new incursions” being made by directors in taking so-called voiceover credits in film trailers. While the terms aren’t used onscreen, an announcer would describe a pic as being “from the maker of …” or “the creator of … .”

Some credits, in fact, are beyond the purview of the WGA contract. “These may not be solvable in labor negotiations,” he said.

But DGA officials, while acknowledging that the possessory credit may have gotten out of hand, have said that helmers should continue to have the right to negotiate for such as credit.

When the DGA elected a new president and officers last weekend, several DGA officials said that one of the issues they would watch in their coming term was the WGA negotiations. In 1995, when the writers sought guarantees for a “viewing period” so scribes could comment on a director’s cut of a film, directors cried foul.

But Radnitz sounded a cautionary note about the coming months of talks: “The directors always seem to insert themselves into our negotiations, but we have never taken anything away from them.”

DGA officials had no comment.

“What we are trying to do,” Radnitz added, “is to maintain an agreement that was made (with producers) a quarter of a century ago. The agreement was very loud and clear. It said that (the possessory credit) would be phased out.”

Radnitz was elected two years ago in the midst of a debate within the guild over another contentious issue, a proposed revamp of the guild’s system of awarding credits among its members. The proposal was voted down in a referendum.

Radnitz was among the vocal opponents of the new credits proposal, but he still sees a need to look at the system. Almost every quarter there is a high-profile dispute between writers over their credits on a feature.

Radnitz recently appointed a new committee, chaired by John Wells, that will look again at the credits issue. One idea, Radnitz said, may be to get approval for a credits revamp item by item, rather than en masse as in the last referendum.

“There are continuing problems with the credits system,” Radnitz said. “We should continue to look at it.”

One of Radnitz’s first major ideas was a writers roundtable, and the Maui conference will take place in August, just as his term is ending. A lineup will soon be announced, but he sees the event as a way to end friction between scribes and studio execs.

“What we hope,” he said, “is that people will start seeing each other in a different way.”

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