One issue dominated the candidates’ statements released Monday by the Writers Guild of America West in anticipation of board elections next month — vanity credits.
Almost every single candidate rails against the practice. John Wells, a candidate for guild president, called directors’ habit of using the phrase “a film by” a “particularly nasty bit of narcissism.”
His opponent for the post, Beth Sullivan, agreed with him, even if she gently chided him for “spending nearly a third of his statement” on the subject.
To many of the candidates, the issue is basically about respecting writers.
“Too many writers are still barred from the sets of films they’ve written, not included in press tours, and often not even acknowledged in press kits,” wrote Joan Owens, running for the board again after serving from 1991-95. “Also, I will always be opposed to the vanity ‘a film by’ credit.”
Ann Marcus, running for re-election to the WGAW board — a body she first joined in 1977 — said she would have preferred to simply say, “Hello, it’s me again and I’d like your vote,” because the issues “have been discussed so many times I’m afraid of causing eyestrain if I trot them out again.”
But, for the record, Marcus said priority must be given to establishing meaningful residuals for cable and foreign markets, eliminating free rewrites and late payments, and persuading producers to “promise to reduce and eventually get rid of possessory credits.”
The 23 candidates for president, vice president, secretary-treasurer and board of directors issued the statements as part of the ballot package being mailed today to 8,208 active members of the western guild. They must be returned by Sept. 16.
“I don’t know who first coined the expression ‘the vanity credit’ for the possessory credit, but it is hubris, even rudeness, for directors of feature films to take a ‘film by’ credit,” said Victoria Riskin, who is running for a second term on the board. “It is disrespectful to all those who contribute to the creative vision of a film — foremost you, the writer.”
It is time, she said, “to end this insulting practice.”
To Irma Kalish, who first was elected to the board in 1977, abolishing the vanity credit would help to remedy “the wrongs of long-entrenched, demeaning industry practice.”
Two years ago, when Kalish resumed her seat on the board after a hiatus of more than a decade, she was convinced that she was “returning to a kinder, more gentle era in guild history, a new nirvana of calm contemplation of issues so trifling and negligible they were practically non-existent.”
Kalish admitted she was wrong. “In short order we went through a disputed election, an aborted MBA (minimum basic agreement), internecine contention with Writers Guild East, and a palace rebellion resulting in a change of executive directors,” she wrote in her statement. “May you serve on the board in interesting times, says an old Chinese fortune cookie, and that is certainly how the cookie crumbled.”
Also in the running are Carl Gottlieb and current president Daniel Petrie Jr., both vying for the title of vice president; Michael Mahern and Jim Staahl, for secretary-treasurer; and Don M. Mankiewicz, Terry Curtis Fox, Gregory Poirier, John McNamara, Patric Verrone, Jessica Klein, Michael Backes, David Hollander, Sharon D. Johnson, Jonathan Estrin, Charles Edward Pogue, Michele Em and Michael Ajakwe Jr., for the board of directors.