MOVIEMAKING has been a collaborative business since Day 1, but rarely have so many screenwriters converged on so few screenplays. While some upcoming holiday films may be credited to just one writer, that hardly means just one writer wrote the whole movie.
In some cases, producers and studios throw different writers at different sections of a story, adding a joke here, some action there. In other instances, a writer -- or team of writers -- does a top-to-bottom rewrite.
The Writers Guild of America is then asked to sort out who did what and award the credits as it deems proper -- a process that invariably leaves someone out in the cold. For example, while only three writers were credited for the first "Charlie's Angels" movie, no fewer than 17 scribes took a whack at its script.
For the writers, screenplay credit carries more than holiday party bragging rights and a chance to field questions at awards season screenings. Nabbing screenplay credit means a writer earns not only a six-figure production bonus but residuals (the industry's term for royalties) as well: On a blockbuster, those residuals can tally more than $1 million. And the Academy Award is given only to the credited writer, even if he or she wrote just two-thirds of the movie.
Fun With Dick & Jane
Synopsis: Remake of a 1977 comedy about a cash-strapped married couple (Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni) who become robbers to make ends meet. Opens Dec. 21.
Credited writers: Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller (credits not final)
Other writers include: David Koepp ("Spider-Man"), Ed Solomon ("Men in Black"), Ted Griffin ("Ocean's Eleven"), Peter Tolan ("Analyze This") and the team of Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer (who did an uncredited rewrite of Carrey's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas")
Back story: Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black") was originally going to direct but left the movie in part over concerns about the screenplay and was replaced by Dean Parisot ("Galaxy Quest"). A host of prominent writers then revised the script by Apatow ("The 40 Year-Old Virgin") and Stoller (TV's "Undeclared"). The rewrites and some late reshoots more than doubled the film's scores in audience previews.
Memoirs of a Geisha
Synopsis: Long-in-the-works adaptation of Arthur Golden's 1997 novel about a talented and striking Japanese geisha, played by Ziyi Zhang. Opens Friday.
Credited writer: Robin Swicord
Other writers include: Ron Bass, Akiva Goldsman, Doug Wright
Back story: Several directors, including Steven Spielberg, Spike Jonze ("Adaptation") and Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry") flirted with this project. Earlier screenwriters included Bass ("Stepmom") and Goldsman ("A Beautiful Mind"). When "Chicago's" Rob Marshall was hired to direct, he enlisted Swicord ("Little Women") to start anew. Marshall then brought on Wright ("Quills") to revise Swicord's adaptation. Sony, the film's distributor, asked the Writers Guild of America to credit Swicord and Wright, but the WGA awarded sole "Geisha" credit to Swicord.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Synopsis: Adapted from the children's novel by C.S. Lewis, the story follows the adventures of four children in a magical -- and dangerous -- land. Opens Friday.
Credited writers: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Other writers: None
Back story: Earlier attempts to turn the book into a movie didn't pan out, including a script by Menno Meyjes ("The Color Purple") that took the story from World War II London into modern-day California. That version was ditched, and Peacock's ("A Lesson Before Dying") screenplay got the movie green-lighted. Her script was then revised by director Adamson ("Shrek") and the writing team of Markus & McFeely ("The Life and Death of Peter Sellers"). While it is rare for a director to receive a shared screenplay credit (to avoid credit-grabbing, WGA rules require a greater showing of a director's contributions), the three other credited writers approved the final credit acknowledging Adamson's input.
Synopsis: An Israeli Mossad team tracks down and assassinates the Palestinian terrorists who orchestrated the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli Olympians. Opens Dec. 23.
Credited writers: Tony Kushner and Eric Roth
Other writers: Charles Randolph
Back story: The film is based on George Jonas' book "Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team," which has been a lightning rod for controversy ever since it was published in 1984. The book was subsequently turned into a 1986 HBO film, "Sword of Gideon," starring Steven Bauer and Michael York. Steven Spielberg and company also conducted original research for this latest version of the story. Oscar-winner Roth ("Forrest Gump") worked extensively on the script. Randolph ("The Interpreter") then polished it before Spielberg pushed back production to accommodate the schedule of Pulitzer Prize-winning "Angels in America" writer Kushner.
Synopsis: A movie musical based on Jonathan Larson's Broadway smash, with most of the original cast reprising their stage roles. In theaters.
Credited writer: Stephen Chbosky
Other writer: Chris Columbus
Back story: Soon after the rock opera's 1996 debut in the East Village, Hollywood started trying to turn it into a movie, with Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Barry Levinson considering directing. Producer Jane Rosenthal hired Chbosky ("The Four Corners of Nowhere") to adapt the musical, and when Columbus ("Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone") came onboard, the director reworked Chbosky's screenplay. Columbus and Chbosky proposed a shared credit (Larson died hours before the musical opened, and thus wasn't eligible for credit), but the WGA awarded Chbosky sole screenplay authorship.
Synopsis: This film is not based on the actual historical figure Casanova (1725-98) but on a fictional Casanova of the same period who falls in love with the one woman who's unswayed by his charms. Opens Christmas Day.
Credited writers: Kimberly Simi, Michael Cristofer, Jeffrey Hatcher
Other writers: Tom Stoppard
Back story: An Oscar-winning playwright, Stoppard was brought in weeks before the start of principal photography to completely revamp the script and hopefully add his "Shakespeare in Love" magic to another romantic comedy based on a historical figure. Before the wit cavalry arrived, lawyer-turned-writer Simi wrote and sold the original script, which was then revised by Cristofer ("Gia") and playwright Hatcher ("Stage Beauty").