Possessory credit mess

Letter to the Editor

Dear Jack Shea,

Re: your response to Peter Bart’s column (Daily Variety, Aug. 24) on possessory credit.

You state that “the position of the Director’s 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 have the “right to negotiate” for a credit regardless of whether or not they deserve that credit? Should Campbell’s have the freedom to label a soup CLAM CHOWDER that contains no clams? It’d be a disservice to the buyers of soup, and damn insulting to the clams!

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 is not 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 cameramen, 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 and 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 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 a 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 No. 1 and if they pass, then someone’s finger drops down the list from auteur No. 1 to auteur No. 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 payoffs, 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?


Dale Launer

Screenwriter and director

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