All Artists Can’t Have Creative Control


Your article exploring the Artists Rights Foundation’s effort to establish creative control over their work for all filmmakers examines a longstanding controversy about how films are made and who gets to make the choices (“Fighting to Keep Movies as Their Makers Intended,” Calendar, April 26). The foundation, though including established filmmakers, doesn’t understand the realities involved.

As further reported in the trade press, the foundation cites the French example, hardly inspiring. The French film industry is subsidized by the French taxpayers and the American film companies, whose films are dominant in the French market and taxed with every ticket sold.

A film is made in three distinct time frames: pre-production, shooting and post-production. First comes the script and casting, then locations and schedule. Depending on who’s more important to the project, the director and the lead actor have strong voices here. The studio’s choice is final, but they’re likely to accommodate the preferences of both director and star.

Early in my career, I was granted these approvals, though if the likes of Willy Wyler or George Stevens was directing, you deferred to them. With Cecil B. DeMille (who financed his own films), John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock, the question never came up. This is true today of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese . . . and very few others.


During shooting, unless he’s badly over schedule, the director has the helm. The inevitable script changes are resolved on the spot, largely between director and actor. The studio takes a hand if disaster strikes, when the director can be fired (this would not conceivably happen to any of the above-mentioned directors).


The last, crucial stage is post-production, when the film is finally made. In the end, the studio controls this. They paid for it, they own it. The copyright laws prevail. As both actor and director, I’ve often railed against this reality, but I can’t deny it. (Writers Guild of America president and foundation board member) Frank Pierson says this is like “saying the Pope painted the Sistine ceiling.” It’s an apt analogy. The Pope didn’t paint it, but he owned it. It was his chapel, he paid for the paints, he hired Michelangelo (I know, I painted it for him).

Film is the art form of the 20th Century, the American art form, and an art so expensive that (especially nowadays) no filmmaker can afford to fund his own films. It’s also an art involving many creators. We concede total creative control to the Wylers and Scorseses, the Spielbergs and Fords; does this extend to their fellow guild members? And what about the other guys? Can the editor impose his first rough-cut assembly on the final version of a film, or the cameraman insist that his favorite tracking shot be included in the release print? What about the production designer, the makeup artist? Are we not all artists?


Come on, guys. If you want total artistic control, if you want final say on what happens to your film when it appears on television, home video, airplanes . . . do what Chaplin did. Write the script and the music, direct it, and play the lead yourself. Also, pay for the movie. Then, you own it.