Create Database to Give Writers Credit

Joseph Shefa is completing his first screenplay, a mystical comedy titled "Mythica." His e-mail address is

As a new screenwriter, I still hold sacred the relative anonymity of those who write movies for love--and for a living. Ask 100 people to name the writers of their three favorite movies and at least 99 will respond only with the silence that enables screenwriters to toil in relative obscurity, no matter how successful they may become.

The whole issue of writing credits has two faces. The first is the very real dilemmas pointed out by the various writers and filmmakers of “The Rock” and “Cable Guy,” who are involved in a controversy over the Writers Guild of America’s standards (“ ‘Cable,’ ‘Rock’ in Disputes on Writing Credits,” Calendar, May 21.)

If future work is greatly governed by previous credits, then this debate will never be fully resolved under the present labyrinthine process of bringing a script to the screen.

Taking this impossibility as a given, why is it not possible for an industry database to be created, containing a short, accurate account by each film’s producer and director of the screenwriting genealogy that resulted in the movie? While the Writers Guild, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and critics may continue to cite the “wrong” writer--for better and for worse--those who need to can simply consult the database and from there determine who would be best for their current project.



As writers it may not be great for our egos--or our souls--to be miscredited for writing we did or didn’t do, but at least the truth will be on record, and our next project may then be the result of genuine merit. The public, of course, will be too busy going to the movies they want to see to really care who said they wrote what.

The second face of writing credits is more esoteric. Any writer worth his or her salt will tell you that their best work comes from “somewhere else"--call it the Muse, God or what have you--that they plug into on certain blessed occasions. In fact, it is those watermark moments that allow us to endure the daily frustrations of the writing process--and the writing business. Fortunately, such “close encounters” will never be subject to arbitration.

An Arthurian legend tells of a knight who married a damsel trapped in a spell. He had to choose between her being exquisitely beautiful at night in the privacy of their chambers and hideous during the day to the horror of all, or hideous at night to be alone and a beauty to the court during the day. If I had to choose, I’d take the beauty of working on continuing projects in my own chambers, so to speak, over external credit any day.


The bottom line is, as long as I’m allowed to keep writing, you can put Bob Dole’s name on the screenwriting credits. D.H. Lawrence once said: “Never trust the artist. Trust the tale.”

As people flock to the theaters to see “Mission: Impossible,” you can pretty safely assume that hardly any are going expressly to see the work of David Koepp, Robert Towne and Steven Zaillian, and those screenwriters are probably too gratefully absorbed on their next projects--and enjoying their fortunes--to really care.