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Scribe adds beef to French pic fracas

Veteran British screenwriter Allan Scott has a beef about the credits for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s WWI drama “A Very Long Engagement.”

Namely, he didn’t get one.

But for Scott, there’s a bigger issue at stake that should ring alarm bells for all Hollywood writers.

He spent several years developing Sebastien Japrisot’s novel for Warners in Burbank before Jeunet took it over. But because the movie ended up getting made in France by a company at one remove from the studio, Scott was denied the right even to make a claim for credit and payment.

The Writers Guild of America investigated at his behest but was troubled that it found it had no jurisdiction over the French production — even though the $60 million movie was co-financed by Warner and is being distributed worldwide by the studio.

As the U.S. majors get ever more involved in offshore filmmaking, Scott argues that the ease with which the WGA was circumvented raises troubling issues for Hollywood’s creative community.

“Naturally I am disappointed by this outcome. But I am also concerned about the precedent it establishes for studio projects in the future,” says Scott, whose prolific career started with Nic Roeg‘s seminal “Don’t Look Now.”

“That by corporate card-shuffling, multinational companies can, in appearance at least, nullify earlier contractual obligations by perfectly legal means, is a matter of more than abstract interest to writers everywhere,” Scott explains.

A WGA rep agrees that the issue of jurisdiction regarding multinational co-productions should be looked at more closely.

“I truly don’t understand the complaint,” counters a Warner spokesperson robustly. “This is a French film, in the French language, by a French writer and director, based on a French novel.”

Jeunet, who co-wrote his script with Guillaume Laurant, is equally dismissive, although he admits to seeing Scott’s draft. “I read it once rapidly, saw it was rubbish and threw it in the bin. Guillaume didn’t even see it. We wrote our screenplay entirely from the novel.”

“Warner decided the credits on the film; I had no say in it,” he says. “I suppose that if they didn’t give this screenwriter a credit, it was because they didn’t have to.”

Warner sold the book, but not Scott’s script, to 2003 Prods., a French company in which Warner owns a minority stake, with the majority held by French employees of the studio. That means 2003 is a “separate legal entity” from Warner and not itself a WGA signatory.

“These ‘separate legal entities’ have just driven a coach and several horses through the security of screenwriters,” Scott protests.

But is Jeunet’s movie really as French as Warner thinks it is? The pic’s nationality is being disputed in court by several French majors that allege 2003 is merely a vehicle for Warner to access Gallic subsidies.

If the court ends up ruling that 2003 is effectively U.S.-controlled, that might also breathe new life into Scott’s claim.

Scott was originally hired to adapt Japrisot’s book by David Puttnam under his Warner deal. When Puttnam retired, the project was taken on by Bill Gerber, then a Warner exec and subsequently a producer on the lot.

Scott went through drafts with several directors including Roger Michell, Jonathan Glazer and Ang Lee. Then Jeunet, who had harbored ambitions to adapt the book ever since it was published, approached Warner’s French office, and Gerber agreed to step aside.

But just to muddy the waters further, Gerber negotiated a producer credit for himself on Jeunet’s movie, even though he met the director only once.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that a WGA arbitration would find in Scott’s favor. Its rules require the first writer of an adaptation to demonstrate he contributed a third of the final screenplay. Having seen Jeunet’s movie, Scott is convinced he has a case — but the WGA says it is powerless to judge.

Scott comments, “I am hardly consoled by my remaining legal privilege — to litigate over such elements in the released film which might … have come from my work.

“As a writer for hire who spent many months, meetings, revisions and creative energy in scripting a version of the novel, I can only report that I feel traduced,” he concludes.

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