In 1967, a dispute between directors and screenwriters over the so-called possessory credit came to a climax. The possessory credit --both a marketing tool and an artistic recognition for someone's work-- had been used since 1915 and in most cases went to the film's director (see the image above). Hollywood writers had long resented this and in December 1966 came into action. During secret contract negotiations, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) ratified a new contract, saying that the possessory credit could only go to a filmmaker who had written the screenplay or to the author of the original source material. This, of course, led to furious reactions from many directors.
On 2 May 1967, director David Lean sent a telegram to Joseph Youngerman, chief executive of the Directors Guild of America (DGA), after receiving a letter on the possessory credit issue. An upset Lean states that he and other directors had deserved these credits and mentions his latest film "Doctor Zhivago" (1965) as an example (saying he deserved the credit more than screenwriter Robert Bolt). Here is Lean's passionate plea for retaining the director's credit:
MAY 2 67
JOSEPH YOUNGERMAN DIRECTORS GUILD 7950 SUNSET BOULEVARD HOLLYWOOD46
JUST RECEIVED POSSESSORY CREDITS LETTER STOP PLEASE POINT OUT TO MSSRS VALENTI AND BOREN THAT WE FEW DIRECTORS WHO HAVE THESE CREDITS HAVE HARD EARNED THEM OVER MAY [sic] YEARS FOR GOOD REASON STOP WE ARE PAID BIG MONEY BECAUSE WE CAN
BRING AUDIENCE PULLING STAR QUALITY TO OUR FILMS AS A WHOLE STOP WE BRING IT BY OUR PERSONAL INFLUENCE OVER ALL [??] INCLUDING
WRITER STOP AS TYPICAL EXAMPLE TAKE MY OWN LATEST CASE QUOTE DAVID LEANS FILM OF DOCTOR ZHIVAGO UNQUOTE I WORKED ONE YEAR WITH THE WRITER STOP
UNLIKE HIM I DIRECTED NOT ONLY THE ACTORS BUT THE CAMERAMAN SET DESIGNER COSTUME DESIGNER SOUND MEN EDITOR COMPOSER AND EVEN THE LABORATORI IN THIER [sic] FINAL PRINT STOP UNLIKE HIM I CHOSE THE ACTORS THE TECHNICIANS THE SUBJECT AND HIM TO WRITE IT STOP I STAGED IT I FILMED IT
STOP IT WAS MY FILM OF HIS SCRIPT WHICH I SHOT WHEN HE WAS NOT THERE STOP IF A DIRECTOR WRITER OR PRODUCER CANNOT CLAIM SUCH OVERALL RESPONSABILITY IT SHOULD NOT BE CALLED HIS FILM STOP IF HE CAN IT TRULY IS HIS FILMS AND GOOD LUCK TO YO [sic] ON
THIS IMPORTANT ISSUE SINCERELY DAVID LEAN JUAN BRAVO 7 MADRID
*Two weeks after Lean had sent his telegram, the DGA convened a special meeting on 16 May 1967 (with notable members present, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra and Billy Wilder) and called a strike. Consequently, the AMPTP backed down and ultimately gave the DGA what it wanted, i.e. when the Writers Guild contract expired in 1970, the director's right to possessory credits would be restored.
|David Lean flanked by the female stars of his "Doctor Zhivago": Geraldine Chaplin (left) and Julie Christie.|