Credit where credit is due

I read with interest your Daily Variety column on the possessory credit in “The Back Lot” on Monday, Aug 3. Since the debate about possessory credits often generates more heat than light, I welcome this chance to correct the record on some of the points you raise.

The issue of DGA Magazine which inspired your column reflects a more nuanced view of the debate than your readers might have been led to believe.

First, the position of the Directors Guild of America is not that all directors should be granted the possessory credit, but that anyone should have the right to negotiate for it, including directors, producers and writers. DGA Magazine included an article entitled “A Film By,” giving a history of the possessory credit debate. Among other things, it shows that this credit was used as far back as 1915, 21 years before our guild was even founded. Over the years, the possessory credit has gone to producers and writers (“Mario Puzo’s The Godfather,” “Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl,” “David O. Selznick’s Production of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind”) as well as to directors such as D.W. Griffith, Frank Capra, George Stevens and Alfred Hitchcock.

It is quite true that many directors feel strongly about their right to a possessory credit on their film.

It is also true, as you point out, that some of our directors choose not to take a possessory credit. The same issue of DGA Magazine included an interview with Martin Campbell discussing his decision not to take a possessory credit on “The Mask of Zorro.” His decision is as honorable as that of another director who utilizes a possessory credit. The Directors Guild’s concern is only that his right to decide whether to seek that credit should not be constrained.

Finally, Michael Bay is not looking to “discount the contribution of writers” — as your misrepresentation of his interview makes it seem — or any of the other many creative collaborators that make crucial contributions to every movie. Neither is any other director who chooses to take the possessory credit.

The reality of feature film production, however, is that directors generally have the ultimate responsibility for the films they direct. A director who achieves a possessory credit is getting a public acknowledgment of that responsibility. The possessory credit issue is but a scapegoat for those who don’t like that reality.

— Jack Shea, President, Directors Guild of America

As a writer, a producer and a director, I understand and appreciate your remarks about the possessive director credit striking at the “heart of the writer’s craft and their self-worth.” I can understand the concern for the writers. I can even accept their protest and their indignity over having a director get a possessive credit.

I would even be more enthusiastic in my support if film and television writers were at all concerned about the proliferation of producer credits. At least a writer must write in order to get a credit. We now have both television shows and motion pictures with 10 and 12 producer credits. Many times “producer” credits go to agents, managers, executives, spouses, friends and yes, even writers, who do not perform a producer function. It seems that writers are passionately concerned over the dilution of their own credit, but find nothing alarming or unfair about films and shows where there are endless producers, co-producers, executive producers, supervising producers, writing producers, line producers, etc., etc., etc. It is somewhat appalling that the very same writers who are offended by the director credit would not hesitate to take a producing credit when, in fact, they performed none of the actual producing duties. The writer/producer credit often represents a concession rather than function.

The director’s explanation of the possessive credits is that they were involved in many decisions over a period of time, while many times the producer found and developed the property with his/her own money. To my knowledge, none of the directors who take the possessory credit or the writers who take a producer credit have ever had the financial responsibility that television producers assume every day. Yet many writers do not hesitate to take the best, biggest and most prominent producer credit they can as part of their negotiation, rather than as a result of their contribution.

I am quite certain that if writers refuse to write on films and television shows that gave a possessive credit to the director and if writers refuse to take a producer credit unless they performed a valid producer function, a better case could be made to eliminate director possessive credits.

— George Schlatter

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