WGA Screenwriting Credit System - Process


On completion of a film, the producer presents proposed screenwriting credits to the guild and circulates the final script to all writers employed on the script. If any writer objects to the proposed credits, credit for the film enters arbitration. If the director or producer of the film is being proposed for a final writing credit, this triggers an automatic arbitration (WGA Screen Credits Manual, section III.C.1)

In arbitration, Guild members review all drafts of the screenplay by each writer and follow a formula that determines the credits.

The WGAE and WGAw both resolutely reject the auteur theory—that only the director is the "author" of a film—so a "production executive" (a producer or director) who claims a writing credit must meet a higher standard than others to receive credit. An original writer must contribute at least one-third of the final screenplay to receive credit. Subsequent writers who work as script doctors must contribute more than half of the final screenplay to receive formal credit on a film. A production executive who works on a script must contribute at least half the final product to receive credit (WGA Screen Credits Manual, section III.C.3).

Credit can be apportioned separately for the story, which is defined as a short treatment of the plot and characters, and for the screenplay itself when all writers were not equally involved in the creation of both. A credit might read "Story by John Doe. Screenplay by John Doe & Richard Roe." If an original screenplay is written, but then not used and a new screenplay is written, typically the original author receives at a minimum a shared "story by" credit.

Where a team of writers works together on a screenplay, their names are joined by an ampersand (&), and when two teams of writers work successively on a script, the teams are joined by and. So, a credit reading "John Doe & Richard Roe and Jane Doe & Jane Roe" means that there were two writing teams, John and Richard on one and the two Janes on the other, and they were working on the script at different times, one after the other. An individual writer who works on a script independently of a team or another independent writer will also have his/her name joined to the list of credits by an "and."

Where a film has been based on a previous film, but does not remake it, a "based on characters created by" credit is given, such as on the show Frasier. Every episode gives credits to James Burrows, Glen Charles and Les Charles, the creators of Cheers, the show where the character of Dr. Frasier Crane originated.

Only three writers may be credited for the screenplay if they collaborated and a maximum of three teams of no more than three writers may be credited no matter how many actually worked on it. For example, Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) had about a dozen writers, as did Hulk (2003). The film adaptation of The Flintstones (1994) supposedly had over sixty writers. This limit doesn't include those awarded credit elsewhere for creating characters or the original story.

The Guilds also permit use of a pseudonym if a writer requests one in a timely fashion, but the Guilds may also refuse to accept a pseudonym if it is designed only to make a statement. For example, screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski wanted to take his name off the Babylon 5 spin-off series Crusade and substitute "Eiben Scrood" ("I been screwed") to protest script changes the production company made. According to Straczynski, the WGAw refused because "it 'diminished the value' of the show and basically made light of the studio."

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