Thursday, June 28, 2012
The Other Possessory Credit
You've seen them already, but you may not know what they're called.
When a movie has the credit as "A Film By" followed by a name (and it's almost always the director's name), that credit is known as a possessory credit. The director is saying that the film is theirs.
You can find a quick history of the possessory credit here, but the tl;dr is this: the Directors Guild of America (DGA) has in its basic agreement that every director shall be allowed to negotiate for an increase of their credit. So many of them do. Can't really blame them for that.
Now, you may think that this use of the "A Film By" credit diminishes the contribution of everyone else who's worked on the film, to which I'd say: you'd be absolutely right. But the DGA isn't going to let up on this. Many years of negotiation show us that at least in the mid-term, and likely for the long term, the film by credit is here to stay.
But there's another solution which gives an equal share of the credit to the writer, first put forward (to the best of my knowledge) by Ted Elliott.
The director's possessory credit is sometimes known as the Hitchcock Credit, as it was often used by Alfred Hitchcock who, according to auteur theory (which is bollocks, by the way) was Just So Damn Good that he could legitimately be called the primary author of his films, thus justifying the possessory credit.
Ted therefore suggests another, similar-yet-different credit for writers to adopt. If you've ever seen Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky (and if you haven't, why the hell not?), then you'll note that in the title sequence, the film is credited thusly:
Paddy Chayefsky's Network
The Chayefsky Credit, therefore, would run alongside the Hitchcock Credit. So rather than
Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder (as seen here)
the film would be credited as
Frederick Knott's Dial M for Murder
A Film By Alfred Hitchcock
And if the director doesn't insist on a possessory, then there's no reason for a writer to either.
This is something that can be done case-by-case. Like directors. Stick it in a contract. Negotiate with it. Trade it away for more money, if you like. But put it in the terms as something you want.
I don't like the A Film By credit.
But if directors are prepared to fight tooth and claw to get recognised for their work, then I think that we should too.