Oh, I’d never share credit with anyone…

November 3, 2011 § 1 Comment

written byThis was the response I received when I had a conversation with a writer I know, it was about me signing a writing deal where I was going to share writing credit (“AND”). The backstory was the previous writer on the project was unable to execute the producer’s notes, so they brought me on board to fix the script. They needed a writer who could work with the director and incorporate his changes into a workable screenplay.  The first writer was completely entitled to credit and did the heavy lifting of the adaptation and the first three drafts.  I took the script’s third draft and worked it through the eighth draft.  I’ve been hired before to do “script doctor” jobs where I was the silent savior without credit, but this time I was able to receive co-credit for writing as part of my deal.

I nearly burst out laughing when the writer I know responded to my news of shared credit with, “Oh, I’d never share credit with anyone.” The are a limited amount of writing gigs and more than enough writers to do the job well. Many of these people are equally if not more talented, and the key for you is to get that job and build your experience, credits and relationships. The jobs offered to me are from production companies who have hired me before. Our films have been successful and they know they can trust me to get the job done on schedule without any bristling about changes. My mantra is: “I want to work and get paid as professional to do my craft.” This other writer’s ignorance about how difficult is really is out there will probably end up hurting him. He might walk around with his “one” script and profess how he will never make changes or share credit, he’ll grow older and the script will always be just a hundred pages of words.

new pilotOur next topic of conversation was about changes you end up making in screenplays. He bristled when I told him about another possible rewrite job where I was to change the lead from a male to a female and script’s location from one country to a completely different country on the other side of the world. He stared at me with pity in his eyes and a superior attitude, as if I was living in some world he would never have to visit.  I sensed he felt like it was going to only be “A List” for him or nothing.  So be it. This was the job offered—take it or leave it. I’ll take it, thank you sir, may I have another? You can always go back to waiting tables or working at Starbucks (no offense, I love Starbucks) with your lofty standards.  If you want to work in this industry, the key word is “W-O-R-K” and collaboration.

I respect this writer’s lofty aspirations, but he’s never been paid to write a screenplay, worked with directors or producers, and has never had a produced film credit. He just might hold out too long while another writer gets the job and he’s branded as “difficult.”  It does happen. I find many first time writers I meet have this attitude, as they have never slogged through the trenches to experience how nearly impossible it really is out there to make a living as a screenwriter.  They believe they will sell the first idea they pitch or the first script they write. Hell, after I graduated film school, that was my belief too.  Best of luck and sure, it does happen — rarely.

Producers and directors like team players and a movie is a collaborative work of art. When you finally get to a level of being trusted by directors and producers to execute notes, you’ll build a very important reputation and you’ll work again. If you’re lucky and get paid to write a screenplay and the film goes into production, you will receive one of the most important aspects of a screenwriting career —credit.  Trust me, I’d rather share credit on a produced film than to receive no credit at all.

Here is the WGA Screen Credits policy:

1. Writer

The term “writer” is defined in the Minimum Basic Agreement. In general, the term “writer” means a person employed by a Company to write literary material or a person from whom a Company purchased literary material who at the time of purchase was a “professional writer,” as defined in the Minimum Basic Agreement.

For purposes of credit, a team of writers, as defined in the Screen Credits Manual Section I.B., is considered as one writer.

If literary material covered under the Minimum Basic Agreement is written by one member of a team, separate and apart from the work of the team, such literary material shall be considered separate from the literary material by the team for purposes of assessing contributions to the final shooting script. Therefore, such individual is eligible to receive writing credit as an individual writer and/or as a member of a team.

2. Literary Material

Literary material is written material and shall include stories, adaptations, treatments, original treatments, scenarios, continuities, teleplays, screenplays, dialogue, scripts, sketches, plots, outlines, narrative synopses, routines, and narrations, and, for use in the production of television film, formats.

3. Source Material

Source material is all material, other than story as hereinafter defined, upon which the story and/or screenplay is based.

This means that source material is material assigned to the writer which was previously published or exploited and upon which the writer’s work is to be based (e.g., a novel, a produced play or series of published articles), or any other material written outside of the Guild’s jurisdiction (e.g., literary material purchased from a non-professional writer). Illustrative examples of source material credits are: “From a Play by”, “From a Novel by”, “Based upon a Story by”, “From a series of articles by”, “Based upon a Screenplay by” or other appropriate wording indicating the form in which such source material is acquired. Research material is not considered source material.

4. Story

The term “story” means all writing covered by the provisions of the Minimum Basic Agreement representing a contribution “distinct from screenplay and consisting of basic narrative, idea, theme or outline indicating character development and action.”

It is appropriate to award a “Story by” credit when: 1) the story was written under employment under Guild jurisdiction; 2) the story was purchased by a signatory company from a professional writer, as defined in the Minimum Basic Agreement; or 3) when the screenplay is based upon a sequel story written under the Guild’s jurisdiction. If the story is based upon source material of a story nature, see “screen story” below.

5. Screen Story

Credit for story authorship in the form “Screen Story by” is appropriate when the screenplay is based upon source material and a story, as those terms are defined above, and the story is substantially new or different from the source material.

6. Screenplay

A screenplay consists of individual scenes and full dialogue, together with such prior treatment, basic adaptation, continuity, scenario and dialogue as shall be used in, and represent substantial contributions to the final script.

A “Screenplay by” credit is appropriate when there is source material of a story nature (with or without a “Screen Story” credit) or when the writer(s) entitled to “Story by” credit is different than the writer(s) entitled to “Screenplay by” credit.

7. “Written by”

The term “Written by” is used when the writer(s) is entitled to both the “Story by” credit and the “Screenplay by” credit.

This credit shall not be granted where there is source material of a story nature. However, biographical, newspaper and other factual sources may not necessarily deprive the writer of such credit.

8. “Narration Written by”

“Narration Written by” credit is appropriate where the major writing contribution to a motion picture is in the form of narration. The term “narration” means material (typically off-camera) to explain or relate sequence or action (excluding promos or trailers).

9. “Based on Characters Created by”

“Based on Characters Created by” is a writing credit given to the writer(s) entitled to separated rights in a theatrical or television motion picture on each theatrical sequel to such theatrical or television motion picture.

Where there are no separated rights, “Based on Characters Created by” may be accorded to the author of source material upon which a sequel is based.

10. “Adaptation by”

This credit is appropriate in certain unusual cases where a writer shapes the direction of screenplay construction without qualifying for “Screenplay by” credit. In those special cases, and only as a result of arbitration, the “Adaptation by” credit may be used.

Keep filling your blank pages because if you stop, you’ll never have any chance at success.

Scriptcat out!

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§ One Response to Oh, I’d never share credit with anyone…

  • Hilary says:

    I’ve always thought that the script/production is all that matters. I’ve shared writing credits with people who did little more than brainstorm a troublesome scene with me, and once, I took over directing a play when the original director was fired, having done no rehearsals and no preparation. His name appeared on the programme as the Director. Did I care? No. Just as long as the play was a success.

    Perhaps (hopefully) my ego isn’t as big as my love of the craft.

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