×

WGA, Clooney at odds over credit

'Leatherheads' ruling leaves filmmaker cold

Aside from bringing back pro football’s formative days, “Leatherheads” might be remembered as the film that permanently drove a wedge between George Clooney and the Writers Guild of America.

Clooney went financial core last fall, after the WGA decided 2-1 in a credit arbitration vote that only Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly deserved screen credit on the picture that Universal opens today.

Going fi-core means a member is still technically a member of the WGA, but has limited rights within the guild. Fi-core members have to pay dues and are covered by the health and pension plans. Once you elect to go fi-core, the decision is irreversible.

“When your own union doesn’t back what you’ve done, the only honorable thing to do is not participate,” said Clooney, who stressed he made no attempt to exclude Brantley and Reilly.

Clooney says he would have quit the WGA altogether if he could, but that would have prevented him from working on all WGA-covered productions. He says he wanted nothing more to do with the WGA but didn’t want to be hampered in his ability in writing scripts.

As for “Leatherheads,” Clooney took a languishing 17-year old project and got a greenlight after personally giving the script a major overhaul that transformed it into a screwball comedy. He says he felt he’d written all but two of the film’s scenes.

While he agreed that Brantley and Reilly deserved first position credit for hatching the idea and characters, he was incensed enough by the WGA arbitration process to go financial core, which rendered him a dues-paying non-voting member.

The WGA had no comment about Clooney’s decision.

Clooney didn’t appeal the WGA ruling, and kept his action quiet because the WGA was gearing up for a strike at the time. He didn’t want the filing seen as him having split ranks with the union over the labor dispute.

Clooney has been a vocal advocate for urging studios and unions to resolve their differences as soon as possible; he joined Tom Hanks, Sally Field and others at a testy February meeting with SAG leaders in order to urge the guild to start bargaining ASAP.

To Grant Heslov, who partners with Clooney in the production shingle Smoke House, and who was a producer with Clooney on “Leatherheads,” the fi-core move was simply a reaction to a bad WGA decision.

“This script that Duncan and Rick wrote sat languid until after we finished ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’ and George wanted to do something lighter,” Heslov said. “George liked ‘Leatherheads,’ but said it never felt quite right. He took it to Italy with him, and I remember when he called to say he thought he’d solved it. One thing that you clearly see, if you read the original, the subsequent drafts and then his draft, is that he wrote the majority of the film. When I got the call about the decision that he wasn’t getting credit, I was shocked. We both thought Duncan and Rick would get first position credit, which they deserved. But this wasn’t right.”

WGA requires directors who seek writing credit to be responsible for 50% of the script. Heslov said Clooney kept his displeasure quiet because he didn’t want to be viewed as a credit hog since, after all, he is the star, director and a producer of “Leatherheads.” But Clooney confirmed his exit to Daily Variety.

Heslov said this wasn’t about ego, pointing out that when Universal sent a notice that the film would bear the credit “A George Clooney Film,” Clooney nixed it. And while Clooney and Heslov shared an Oscar nomination for original screenplay on “Good Night, and Good Luck,” Clooney and ex-partner Steven Soderbergh removed their names from the producer roster, leaving Heslov the sole nominee when the Clooney-directed pic became a best picture candidate.

“He doesn’t take possessory credit because he believes this is a collaborative business and he’s not a guy who needs credit,” Heslov said. “Financial core was his form of protest, but when he did it, he didn’t want it public. We’re both big union guys. Between us, we belong to 12 unions. I think they made the wrong decision, and he was within his rights to respond by going financial core.”

By going fi-core, writers withhold the portion of dues spent by the WGA on non-contract activities — while still being able to write scripts. Fi-core writers pay dues that are 1.9% less than regular members; they also can’t vote on contracts or in any WGA election.

Under WGA rules, if the director or producer of a film is proposed for final credit, an automatic arbitration is triggered.

More Scene

  • Taron Egerton Cannes Film Festival 2019

    Taron Egerton Addresses ‘Rocketman’ Comparisons to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ Takes Subtle Jab at Bryan Singer

    Taron Egerton says that he’s flattered by comparisons between his Elton John musical “Rocketman” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” last year’s smash hit about Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. “I’m proud that we’re mentioned in the same breath,” says Egerton, who plays John in the upcoming “Rocketman,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to a five-minute standing [...]

  • Ethan Hawke, Bobby Cannavale and Griffin

    BAM Gala Marks Leadership Change, Celebrates Brooklyn as 'Cultural Center of New York'

    Wednesday’s annual gala celebrating the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) served as a poignant moment of transition for the New York stalwart of contemporary performance. As long-time artistic director Joe Melillo, who along with Harvey Lichtenstein transformed BAM into a vanguard of progressive art, prepares to pass the torch to new leadership, gathered patrons and [...]

  • Dua Lipa Tom Jones

    Dua Lipa and Tom Jones to Perform at amfAR's Cannes Gala (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety‘s Marc Malkin is on the scene at the Cannes Film Festival. Get the scoop on all the news, parties and more straight from the Croisette below. AmfAR’s upcoming Cannes gala is shaping up quite nicely. Sources tell Variety that the evening will feature performances by Dua Lipa and Tom Jones. And they’re not the only [...]

  • "Deadwood" Cast Describes Emotional Homecoming on

    'Deadwood' Cast Describes Emotional Homecoming on the Historic Set

    The phrase “Welcome the f— back” marks the billboards and posters for the return of “Deadwood,” but that sentiment doesn’t just apply to the audience. Returning to the town of Deadwood was a homecoming of sorts for the cast and crew of the HBO show, who shared that stepping back into the meticulously recreated late-1800s [...]

  • Awkwafina to Receive Maui Film Festival

    Awkwafina to Receive Maui Film Festival Shining Star Award

    Awkwafina will receive the Shining Star Award at this year’s Maui Film Festival. The 20th annual gathering runs from June 12-16. The award is given to actors “who dare to dream big dreams and delivers brilliantly charismatic and revelatory performances every time that opportunity knocks.” “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate and [...]

  • Issa Rae, Hasan Minhaj & Michael

    The 2019 Webby Awards Celebrate the Spirit of the Internet

    At the 23rd annual Webby Awards in New York on Monday night, presenters and honorees reflected on the advances that led to both the highs and lows of the internet in 2019 – and how the organization itself has had to evolve to accommodate that rapid shift. “When we started in 1997, pretty much the only [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content