This little three word credit has been a thorn in the sides of the DGA and WGA (director and writer guilds) for decades with directors stating that they're taking credit for an audiovisual work that is inherently distinct from the script whereas writers, on the other hand, have thought it absurd for anyone other than the writer to claim authorial ownership.
But in the late 1960's the Directors Guild fought for and won through the Producers Alliance (AMPTP) the right for directors to choose to have that credit at the front of a finished film. In fact, they pushed the knife in further and in 1981 even won the right to have that credit on all advertising including outdoor advertising (though this practice was abandoned in 2004).
From the Directors Guild of America basic agreement handbook:
Many directors choose to place a signature credit on their work commonly referred to as a "Film by" or "Possessory" credit. There is a long honored history of filmmakers being accorded such credit. The BA provides for the director's right to negotiate for such a credit and prohibits the companies from engaging in any agreement with any other guild or organization that interferes with that right. If you are not successful in getting the issue of the possessory credit on the table, please call the Guild.
Film is and always has been a creatively collaborative medium. Sure, some directors bring more to the table in terms of distinct look, tone, or visual style when interpreting the written word of the screenplay and getting it up onto the screen, but a film is ultimately a group effort and it starts with a story written by the writer, or the 'author'. That this credit even exists has always been baffling to me...and I belong to both guilds!
Anyway, I watched The Social Network this weekend. Great script. Great film. And I have nothing against director David Fincher. He's always been a solid perfectionist filmmaker with a distinct visual flair.
And my point is?
My point is if you've already seen the movie in the theaters, read the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (one of the best you'll see this year) HERE, or even just the first page (click on jpeg below to enlarge), and you should see what I'm getting at.
This scene as written *is* the film that appeared on screen this weekend. So would someone please explain to me why Fincher deserves sole authorial ownership and the "A Film By..." credit?