Scribe sues over denial of ‘Samurai’ arbitration

Eddy alleges fraud, conspiracy, breach of contract

HOLLYWOOD — Screenwriter Michael Alan Eddy has sued the WGA West and the producers of “The Last Samurai” over the guild’s refusal to arbitrate his claim of a writing credit on the Tom Cruise film.

Eddy took the step Monday, filing a complaint in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles that alleged fraud and conspiracy, breach of written contract, breach of the guild’s duty to properly represent him as a member and breach of the WGA’s minimum basic agreement. He specifically accused the WGA staff of intimidating the guild’s elected leaders in order to maintain the status quo on the contentious issue of determining writing credits.

Dispute centers on the WGA’s refusal to hold a credit arbitration hearing, which led to the assignment of writing credits on “The Last Samurai” as submitted by Warner Bros. Screenplay credits went to John Logan, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, who also directed; Logan also received a “story by” credit.

“I feel wronged, and I’m not going to run away with my tail between my legs,” Eddy told Daily Variety on Monday. “If this is the last straw that it takes to fix the credits system, then I’m happy to be that straw.”

Besides the WGA West, Eddy also sued Warner Bros., Radar Pictures, Interscope, Herskovitz, Zwick and Bedford Falls Co., the longtime Herskovitz-Zwick production shingle. Cruise and Paula Wagner, who also produced through their Cruise/Wagner shingle, were not named.

Herskovitz told Daily Variety, “From my point of view, this is about long-standing WGA procedures that are well accepted within the industry. I think this is, finally, a WGA issue.”

The WGA and Warner had no comment.

The filing came on the same day that the Producers Guild of America tapped Cruise, Herskovitz, Wagner and Zwick as nominees for its Darryl F. Zanuck producer of the year award for their work on “The Last Samurai,” one of six 2003 films to be selected. “Samurai” has grossed about $90 million domestically since it was released a month ago.

In the suit, Eddy cited language from the WGA’s credits manual that asserts that a writer’s position in the industry is largely determined by credits and that the administration of those credits belongs to the writers themselves. “The WGA has lost sight of the latter goal and instead is now operating on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, doing what it wants with impunity and without oversight,” the suit said. “It is a union in search of its bearings, bullied and manipulated by its staff.”

The WGA’s complex process of determining writing credits has long been a sore spot among its members. The guild employs the process on about 30% of films submitted, with three anonymous members comparing the final shooting script with the drafts that the writers seeking credit want considered, along with supporting statements.

Eddy has asserted that “The Last Samurai” is based on Interscope’s “West of the Rising Sun” project, which was initiated in 1992 with him as the original writer of a script about an American in Japan in the 1870s who winds up fighting with samurais. Garner Simmons and Robert Schenkkan, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his play “The Kentucky Cycle,” performed subsequent drafts on the project for Interscope before it shuttered.

After production wrapped on “The Last Samurai” last May and Warners submitted its “notice of tentative writing credit,” Simmons and Eddy protested to the WGA West that they should be included as writers. But the WGA West held a “participating writers investigation,” an administrative proceeding rather than a formal arbitration, and two of the three “expert readers” found an insufficient link between the two projects to hold an arbitration.

Simmons and Eddy appealed to the WGA West board of directors to reverse the administrative decision but the panel refused to do so Oct. 27.

Eddy asserted in the suit that he should be receiving a credit on “The Last Samurai,” which is in contention for original screenplay awards.

“Under WGA rules, Michael Alan Eddy, as the author of the first script, is automatically entitled to no less than a shared story credit,” the suit said. “But this was not to be, given the WGA’s secret, bizarre and utterly unfair process.”

The suit also called the WGA procedures “arbitrary and irrational.” And it accused the guild of “kowtowing to the desires of the big studios and hyphenates anxious to push their multimillion-dollar projects through to release while running roughshod over procedures that have been negotiated and agreed upon by the big studios and the WGA.”

For his part, Simmons has asked California state labor commissioner Arthur Lujan to intercede on behalf of himself, Eddy and Schenkkan to reopen a credits arbitration hearing so that all participating writers can present their cases. Simmons had gone to the National Labor Relations Board in November, accusing the WGA West of engaging in unfair labor practices, but the NLRB referred him to the State Labor Commission (Daily Variety, Dec. 30).

The guild allows any writer on a film to demand arbitration once the studio wraps a film and submits a notice of tentative writing credits. Last year, 67 of 210 features submitted were arbitrated.

The issue can polarize scribes, as occurred in 2002, when members voted not to lower the threshold of contribution percentages that allows producers and directors to get a screenwriting credit. Some claim that the current requirement of a higher contribution for producers and directors is unfair, in turn giving the whole system less credibility; others believe the rules are unfairly tilted in favor of rewriters who are also producers and away from the original scribe.

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