Minefields – what’s in a name?
(a) “Sometimes when there are multiple writers on a project, you go through a process called arbitration. That’s to figure out who gets the ‘Written by’ credit on a movie. It’s all handled by the Writers Guild, and it’s an incredibly screwed-up system that’s probably the best system that we can manage given all the variables involved. Arbitration is handled by an anonymous, one-time only panel of three different screenwriters who read all the drafts and figure out who should get credit… It’s not a legal proceeding, but you’re trying to explain in your arbitration statement exactly why you deserve the credit you think you should get, and talk the panel through the logic of why this other writer deserves a different credit.”
(b) “A writer friend of mine once described screenwriters as ‘egomaniacs with low esteem,’ and that’s a great description.
What arbitration does is it kind of forces a writer to confront what he or she has actually done, what the contribution was. Is the person coming along who wrote behind them better than them? And what does ‘better’ mean?
There is no ‘better’, because the reasons scripts get rewritten and fooled around with have very little to do with the quality of the writing. They have to do with what’s required.”
(c) “I always call people when I’m rewriting their scripts, to talk to them before I take the job. I make sure to let them know. A number of times, I’ve turned down credit on movies, because I felt that the original writers were not getting their fair share.
Do I think the system is a good system? Not particularly. When someone writes a short story. It says ‘Based on a short story by,’ and then ‘Screenplay by.’ So when an original screenplay is written, why wouldn’t it say ‘Based on an original screenplay by,’ and then ‘Rewritten by’?”
Excerpted quotes from (a) John August & (b) Dennis Palumbo & (c) Zak Penn
Tales from the Script (2010)