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COUNTERPUNCH

Professionals Deserve the 'Contributing Writer' Credit

June 10, 1996|MIKE KROHN | Mike Krohn is a screenwriter-director who has worked for major studios and networks. His TV writing credits include "Star Trek: Deep Space 9" and a film for television, "Ed McBain's 87th Precinct." His feature film credits include "Extreme Justice" and "Philadelphia Experiment 2." He is currently writing an original science-fiction thriller for Universal Pictures

As a professional screenwriter of motion pictures and television, I have some serious problems with Joseph Shefa's point of view ("Create Database to Give Writers Credit," Calendar, June 3).

Shefa starts by saying that he "hold[s] sacred the relative anonymity of those who write movies." Unfortunately, those of us who make our living as writers have been fighting against this anonymity for a very long time. The Writers Guild of America works very hard to increase the profile and rights of screenwriters throughout the process. There's nothing sacred about being ignored or treated like a replaceable commodity.

Shefa also says Bob Dole can take his credit as long as Shefa is allowed to continue writing. Fine for him, but professionals deserve to be recognized for what they create. We've paid our dues, learned our craft and nobody allows us to continue writing--we have earned our place in the creative community.

As far as his database suggestion is concerned, many such lists already exist, including Baseline, Studio System and several on the Internet. The issue isn't checking a writer's resume, it's giving credit where credit is due.

On several occasions, I have worked for months on a project, seen actors say my lines and directors shoot my scenes, only to have the credit go to someone else (usually the first writer hired). Since screen credit is almost uniformly tied to bonuses, WGA arbitration may be the best of many poor solutions to determining screen credit.

What many professional writers would like to see is the addition of a new WGA standard--the "Contributing Writer" credit.

Placed in the end crawl of a movie, the credit would list every writer who was hired to work on the project. No arbitration or negotiation is involved. If you had a WGA contract to write on the picture, you get your name in the credits as a contributing writer.

Some writers complain that this will reduce the impact of their sole screen credit. Hogwash. Give credit where credit is due. If I work one day on a set getting coffee for the producer, I get screen credit as an assistant. Why should I get less for writing 100 pages of the script that actually get used?

Like a lot of screenwriters, I'd like something to show for my work, even if it isn't primary credit on the posters and the financial bonuses that go with them. I want to be able to point to a movie and say I worked on it, and actually be credited for the work I did.

Finally, Shefa contends that nobody goes to see movies because of the writer. Well, they may not know the name, but as Steven Spielberg pointed out when he received the Thalberg Award, it all starts with the word.

Without the screenwriter, "Mission: Impossible" would still just be a rerun, "Twister" would be a game from the '60s and "Eraser" would just be the pink thing on the end of a pencil. Screenwriters deserve credit and recognition for the work they create.

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