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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Michael Tolkin

Screenwriting credits, floating up in the air

January 15, 2010 |  5:54 pm

Reit In Michael Tolkin’s script for the 1992 Hollywood satire “The Player,” studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) strangles a screenwriter he believes is trying to blackmail him.

It hasn’t gotten that gruesome in Hollywood. But for some involved in the script business these days, the movie’s arc may feel a little too familiar.

Screenwriters on some of the season’s biggest movies have seen acknowledgment for their work, if not choked off, then certainly minimized -- a group that includes, as fate would have it, Tolkin himself. So when the Golden Globes are handed out on Sunday, the names that viewers associate with the most lauded films may not quite include all the people who drove those movies forward.

That could be particularly true for three of the movies that lead nearly all others in Globes recognition — “Up in the Air,” “Nine” and “Avatar,” which have collectively amassed 15 nominations.

The issue cuts to the heart of contemporary Hollywood, where screenwriters are abundant but successes are rare, leaving a lot of people to scramble for a little bit of glory.

To those removed from the rituals of Hollywood, the fierce debate over credit can seem like arguing over who rides shotgun on a weekend road trip — arbitrary and, in the end, not very consequential. But for writers, credit can mean the difference between getting and not getting future gigs, higher paychecks and the acclaim and envy of peers. And credit issues can extend beyond how the Writers Guild of America arbitrates who did what on a script to shape the public (and media) consciousness about a writer's standing.

All of this comes against the backdrop of writer concerns that they are not given the same respect as their peers, particularly directors. “These things just seem to be messier lately. Everyone wants credit and nobody seems to be able to figure out the truth,” said an agent for several high-profile screenwriters who requested anonymity because the agent may yet work with some of the writers.

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