Mamet Versus Writers Guild, the Action Thriller Sequel
After the controversy over credits for “Wag the Dog,” celebrated playwright and screenwriter David Mamet reportedly has decided to attach his name only to movies on which he is the sole writer.
The writer and director of such films as “The Spanish Prisoner” and “House of Games” uses a pseudonym on his next movie, “Ronin,” an action thriller starring Robert De Niro. When the United Artists film is released Oct. 2, it will carry the credit: “Screenplay by J.D. Zeik and Richard Weisz.”
Zeik, a newcomer to movies, wrote the original script. Weisz--who either did a little tinkering or completely rewrote it, depending on whom you ask--is really Mamet.
“The credits should read: ‘Story by J.D. Zeik, screenplay by David Mamet,’ ” said John Frankenheimer, the movie’s director. “We didn’t shoot a line of Zeik’s script.”
Contradicting others close to the production, Frankenheimer said Mamet used a pseudonym as a form of protest. “The Writers Guild arbitration committee decided in its wisdom that the writing credit should be split.” According to Frankenheimer, Mamet subsequently opted for the Richard Weisz credit.
Mamet, who rarely speaks with reporters, declined a request for an interview.
On “Wag the Dog,” the Writers Guild of America decided last December to give another writer first billing, provoking howls of protest from the movie’s director, Barry Levinson, and reportedly angering Mamet. Frankenheimer said a similar thing happened with “Ronin,” although others close to the production said Mamet made only a modest contribution to the script, and his contract from the beginning allowed for the use of a fake name.
“Mamet was brought in at the last minute before production to beef up De Niro’s role,” said Stephen A. Dembitzer, Zeik’s attorney. The lawyer said he was told by Mamet’s representatives that, after his experience on “Wag the Dog,” the writer had decided to leave his name off movies when he steps in to work on another writer’s script.
He used a pseudonym rather than give Zeik sole credit, Dembitzer said, because writers receive greater residuals if their names appear in the credits, even if the name is fake.
In addition to enlarging De Niro’s role, Mamet added a female love interest and rewrote several scenes, the lawyer said. When the studio submitted proposed credits that read, “Written by J.D. Zeik and Richard Weisz,” Dembitzer went to Mamet’s lawyers with a request.
Since Mamet’s contributions were minor, “we said to them, ‘If he’s not automatically going to get credit and since he would only take a credit under a pseudonym anyway, why not withdraw [Mamet’s name] and give J.D. sole credit?’ ” Dembitzer recalled. “It’s more meaningful for J.D. because he’s at the start of his career.”
Mamet’s lawyer, Stan Coleman, declined, Dembitzer said. He recalled Coleman saying, “ ‘After David went through that controversy before [with “Wag the Dog”], he’d like to derive any benefits we can derive from the process.’ ”
The plot of “Ronin” involves three former Cold War spies who vie for a mysterious briefcase. The studio describes the film as an action thriller replete with murderous double-crosses and a surprise ending a la “The Usual Suspects.”
Dembitzer described Zeik as a New York playwright and classics scholar in his 30s who decided to try his hand at writing action screenplays. “Ronin” is his first movie to be produced, but his attorney said he has six scripts in development at various studios.
Calling Frankenheimer’s treatment of Zeik “offensive and denigrating,” Dembitzer accused the director of unceremoniously dropping Zeik “to curry favor with David Mamet.”
United Artists declined comment on the matter.
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