Monday, October 04, 2010

A Film By Any Other Name or Author This!

A Film By..., the dastardly *possessory* credit that tends to lead off most feature films you see today which is intended to recognize authorship of the film. Authorship? Speaking of making enemies!

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:

Possessory Credits

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?




jimhenshaw said...

Every time somebody writes a possessory credit post, I hasten to point out that I am the author of a magnificent screenplay entitled "The Auteur Theory" which consists of 120 blank pages.

So far, not one single defendant of the possessory credit has offered to turn this property into a finished film, thus allowing the owner of said credit to prove once and for all just how much more important than anyone else the director is to the creative process and the final film experience.

It'll be interesting to see if David Fincher accords himself the possessory credit on his next film "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" where he'll not only be interpreting the work of another writer but of another director who already made it a hit in another language.

talk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

What about the editor?

Anonymous said...

This is what is wrong with the industry and culture. Everyone wants the credit especially if that credit has a fat check behind it or a bright light on it. Shouldn't making movies be fun? Cause this takes away from it. If you do something your proud of be prouder if someone recognizes the difference between your work and the million others who do the exact same thing. Don't go around gloating when you get the spot light and complaining when you don't.

You did note it Will the process is collaborative! We in the industry know it and respect what others do, I think that respect counts for a lot more than who gets the credit. If the wrong person gets the credit we all know who deserves it. I understand the whole get credit where credit is due but like Aaron points out there are a lot more positions that get left out. Not to mention an office who actually keeps the ball rolling.

I guess what I am trying to say is if you get the credit be happy, if you don't be happy, if this somehow gets people interested in the wrong person for the work at least you'll know where the real credit should go and likely that wrong person will want to hire you again.

Mark said...

Harlan Ellison said it right in 'Dreams with Sharp Teeth' - "where were you when the fucking page was blank?"


There is a good bit in 'The Limey' dvd commentary. Lem Dobbs is constantly railing against a certain reviewer that tore him a new one. They get to the scene where Terrance Stamp is beaten up and thrown outside of a warehouse. Stamp gets up, pulls a gun, walks in and lights the place up - the entire scene is directed in one shot and we don't see the actual violence but only hear the gun fire and see the flashes of light.

The reviewer called this bravura directing and an example of how Soderbergh worked to fix the script with his superior direction. Soderbergh laughs and says that he shot the scene exactly how it was written! So much for authorship.