The Truth About Getting Your Screenwriting Credit

1Along with selling a screenplay, early on, one of your first goals should be to get a “Screenplay By” credit on a produced movie—even if it’s a bad one!

You get the bragging rights of saying you are a produced writer.  If the movie stinks, you can always say that the producers and directors changed the movie a lot and it’s not what you wrote – but you still get to call yourself a producer writer!

One of the biggest accomplishments for a screenwriter is getting their first screenwriting credit on a movie that gets domestic theatrical distribution – meaning it gets shown at the theatres in the United States.  Of course, the accomplishments can go up from there, but this is a huge one.

Too often, however, this excitement is thwarted when you realize that someone else wants to share the credit.

Filmmaking is a collaborative process – and it’s hard to say where one aspect of it begins and ends. 

This is a big reasons that who should get the screenwriting credit is often muddied by other people.  The final screenplay is always emerging through the collaboration process, so sometimes it becomes a challenge to determine exactly who wrote how much, or who wrote the main story, and who should get what credit for the screenplay.

Just to set the stage here, think of this scenario:  One writer comes up with the concept, another one writes out the story or treatment, and yet another one writes the screenplay, and still another does the final polish on the script. Many fingers often go into the screenplay pie, including the director and producer, and everyone may try to horn in on the credit that should be yours.

As a screenwriter, you should always be protective of your credit all along the process.  If you are not watching closely, you could end up with no credit on a film or share a credit when it really should be yours.  Don’t give in easily if someone wants to share on your credit.  Having a shared credit carries far less weight than sole credit for Screenplay By.

One of the reasons this happens, however, is legitimate.  Let’s say that the story you wrote started out one way – and it needed work.

The producer and director hires one of their favorite screenwriters to rewrite your script.  Over time, they keep re-writing.  Then although there are a couple of recognizable elements, the screenplay basically evolves into a completely different story. 

The original idea has now changed greatly as it evolved from phase to phase, but it launched off of your screenplay’s platform.  So who should get the Screenplay By credit?

This is where the union comes in – the Writers Guild of America.  They recognize this and break down exactly how the credit should go.  They are there to try to protect writers and make sure that the credits are given properly and if there are multiple writers, that their pay is divided properly as well as the residuals.

Of course, it can turn into a big mess if there are a bunch of writers on the project.  So the best thing is to do is to try to protect yourself in the beginning so that you don’t have to worry about it. 

Here are three things that you can do to help protect the credit you deserve.

1.  Register and copyright your screenplay.

This is one of the basic things that you probably already know about and are already doing.  If you aren’t familiar with this, then go to the WGA.org and you can find the details on how to register your screenplay.

2.  Make sure that any contract you sign addresses the issue of what credit you will get in the end.

The assignment of credit is a standard part of a good contract. Some novice writers sign a contract that doesn’t address credit and they agree to work that out later. That’s a very bad idea.  It almost always ends up NOT in the writer’s favor.  Work this part out up front.

3.  Get an entertainment attorney or literary agent to negotiate your contract.

Despite the complaints that screenwriters often have about how their agents don’t do enough for them, ultimately, a good one will know how to properly protect your credit.

If you don’t have an agent or can’t get one, then consider hiring an entertainment attorney to negotiate on your behalf.  Usually you can pay one to do the negotiation without them having to make a big commitment to be your “rep” ongoingly.

To some writers, it might sound like sharing a credit among everyone would be fair. But the WGA acknowledges that the more you share the credit, the more it waters down the credit, so the sharing of that credit should be very conservative.

There are strict guidelines about who should get credit and also how that credit should be noted on the film’s actual rolling credits.

When the time comes for you to be concerned about this, be sure to protect yourself after all the hard work you’ve put in!

To help understand this in more depth, I have broken down how all the pay and credits work per the Writer’s Guild of America contract.  I have created an ebook to help you figure out what kind of money you should be able to sell your script for and how to pay attention to the credits.

The book is titled “What Every Screenwriter Needs To Know About Selling Your Screenplay.”  If you purchase it, you will get an instant download.

Meanwhile, keep on writing and rewriting those screenplays and protect your work!