Give credit unto who the credit belongs
“No respect! I don’t get no respect!” Depending on your age and pop culture awareness, you credit that line to either comedian American Rodney Dangerfield or the animated amphibious drum playing cowardly shark, Jabber Jaw. Perhaps you don’t know the source.
And that’s the interesting thing about, credit, it matters.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, there is a lot of ignorance about credit in the film business, screen credit specifically. You find some films where the Producer’s name is prominent on the poster /trailers but the Director’s name is nowhere to be found.
In the corporate world, it’s the equivalent of a supervisor taking credit for a job a subordinate did, thus denying them of a boost in their next performance review.
In recent times there have been three cases where a writer is hired, they develop and write the screenplay and by the time the movie is shot and released, their name is scrubbed from the film and one person takes, Writer/Director credit.
The industry celebrates and praises them, fans sing their praises for being a writing genius and the writer, usually, an unknown has to stay silent. They won’t be believed and the fan base will accuse them of being haters trying to take their MCM/WCW’s glory.
Crocodile tears have a funny way of moving public opinion towards the familiar, alleged perpetrator than a face or name they just recently heard.
In the United States, disputes over writing credits is handled by the Writer’s Guild America (WGA) who resort to their rules or when there is contention or arbitration.
They don’t allow a director to claim credit just because minor tweaks were made to the dialogue of scenes while shooting.
In matters of a screen credit dispute, where more than one person wrote a draft, the matter goes into arbitration.
Some WGA rules of Determining Credit that could be adapted in writing agreements.
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.
Source material is all material, other than story as hereinafter defined, upon which the story and/or screenplay is based. Eg Adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun or Things Fall Apart.
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.”
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.
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.
The term “Written by” is used when the writer(s) is entitled to both the “Story by” credit and the “Screenplay by” credit.
How long will writers be denied of credit while someone else claims it at Q&A sessions, premieres, interviews and award speeches? Do we really want to build an industry on a foundation of lies and theft?
Austin Kleon, author of, ironically, Steal like an Artist and Show your Work says,
“Haters aren’t your problem, obscurity is your problem”.
In each case, the alleged credit deniers are beloved public faces, while the writers are unknown, their obscurity doesn’t help their case get heard by objective ears.
As there is no functional Guild to protect writers, cases like this continue to occur. Because if the creatives don’t know about attribution of credit and call erring colleagues to order, why should the public?
While not perfect or flawless, the WGA’s fights for member rights have brought Hollywood to its knees on several occasions.
Guilds are more than collecting annual fees; they protect/serve their members, their work and future.