In addition to providing artistic recognition for exemplary work, possessory credits in filmmaking — which include credits in the form "Alfred Hitchcock's..." or "A Frank Capra Film," as well as "A Film by..." — are branding and marketing tools that are individually negotiated by the director with the company producing the film. There are many instances where someone other than the director received a possessory credit, for instance: Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl and Stephen King's The Shining — or Sam Goldwyn's The Best Years of Our Lives. However, most possessory credits for theatrical films go to directors, in recognition of the director's primary role.
The DGA has never sought exclusive rights to possessory credits, and everyone involved in a motion picture is eligible to seek such a credit.
Since 1968, the DGA Basic Agreement (the DGA master contract negotiated with studios and production companies) says that directors "shall have the right to negotiate for any credit in excess of minimum," and that "It is the policy of the Employers to affirm the traditional right of each individual and management to negotiate freely for ... all forms of special credits." So, while the contract protects a director's right to negotiate for the credit, it acknowledges the right of each person involved in the filmmaking process to do so.
D.W. Griffith takes the first possessory credit on an American film for Birth of a Nation.Over the years, directors such as Frank Capra, George Stevens, King Vidor, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean take possessory credits on their films, as do great international filmmakers such as Federico Fellini, Jean Renoir and Francois Truffaut.
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On December 13, the Writers Guild of America, west (WGA) and the AMPTP ratify a new contract that limits the ability of a director — or any film artist — from taking a possessory credit unless they are a writer on the motion picture or they are the author of the original source material.
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On January 4, shortly after learning of the secret negotiation a month earlier, the DGA sent protest telegrams to the AMPTP and all the major production companies that said in part that the DGA would not "accept or abide by your attempt to bargain away, in private council to which we were not a party, credit rights of motion picture directors which have been long established by industry custom and practice."
On April 5, the AMPTP presents a compromise proposal from the WGA whereby directors who had received possessory credits in the past — directors such as George Stevens, Fred Zinnemann, Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock — would receive a waiver and continue to receive possessory credits, but requires Writers Guild approval for all other possessory credits.
On May 16, a special meeting of a 53-member DGA Action Committee unanimously agreed that the Writers Guild proposal was unacceptable. At the DGA annual membership meetings on both coasts with notable members of the Action Committee in attendance including Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Norman Jewison and Robert Wise, DGA members unanimously agree to prosecute the issue "in the courts and by all other means."
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On January 24, the DGA sends official notification to the AMPTP that it had advised its members to withhold services after April 30, the expiration date of the DGA Basic Agreement, from producers who failed to remedy the possessory credit situation.
With the threat of a strike imminent, the AMPTP addresses the situation and on April 10 a statement acceptable to the DGA is announced. The AMPTP affirms the right of each individual and management to negotiate for special credits and is protected in the DGA Basic Agreement.
The DGA and studios discuss ways to end the proliferation of credits on billboards. An agreement is made to give a "film by..." credit to a director on any billboard containing more than 6 personal credits, as a "poison pill" to discourageexcessive credits. In years to follow, many directors receive "film bys" from that provision, and excessive credits continue to proliferate.
During the negotiations of 1994-1995, the WGA unsuccessfully attempts to prohibit anyone other than a writer from receiving a possessory credit.
Entering a new round of contract talks with producers, the WGA develops a "Pattern of Demands" for their 2001 Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement. Among the demands is the goal to "Eliminate use of possessive and similar credits."
After meeting with more than 175 prominent directors to canvas their opinions on the WGA's proposals on the possessory credit, the DGA informs the WGA that the DGA will not tolerate any provision in the WGA contract restricting the director's ability to negotiate possessory credits.
The DGA meets with studio and WGA executives to find common ground on the issues of a writer's creative participation. The WGA achieves "preferred practices" in that area which are supported by the DGA, but nothing which affects possessory credits.
On June 25, DGA President Jack Shea details in a letter to members the Guild's role in helping to find a resolution to creative rights differences over the WGA/AMPTP contract that was ratified by WGA membership on June 4. Shea writes, "The DGA put forward proposals that we believe would have been a major step toward enhancing the value and meaning of this credit... The DGA will continue to explore possible solutions to the proliferation of possessory credits and protective measures for the historic value of the credit."
After more than a year of discussion by the Creative Rights Committee of the DGA and the National Board, the DGA Board votes to institute a historic sideletter to its Basic Agreement that alters the provisions under which possessory credits can be awarded to DGA feature film directors. It also offers guidelines for the studios to consider as they are negotiating with individual directors over whether to grant the possessory credit and terminates the billboard mandatory "film by" provision.