Clooney goes fi-scab

by Paul William Tenny

george-clooney.jpgYou may have heard that George Clooney went fi-core right in the middle of the WGA strike, supposedly to protest his not getting credit for rewriting a 17-year-old script. If not, that's kind of all there is to the story. Rick Reilly and Duncan Brantley wrote Leatherheads on spec and sold it to Universal, then went on with their lives as the studio sat on it for nearly two decades before Clooney discovered the property and rewrote it into a comedy.

If you'd believe his version of events, Clooney changed enough in the script to warrant screen credit of some sort, if not equal billing with the original authors. Personally, I think it was a cheap selfish stunt by an actor that doesn't have any appreciation for the craft he's shitting all over.
Because Clooney also starred in and produced the film, the script automatically went to an arbitration committee to determine how much work he did and what kind of credit he deserved -- if any at all. Hyphenates have to meet a higher burden to get writing credit, and even if you accept it as a plainly unfair burden, those are the rules of the road in a guild that exists to protect writers. The panel that ruled 2-1 against Clooney is made up of fellow guild writers and owes its existence to a hard fight against the studios who wanted this power for themselves.

Although there were probably a number of options available to the panel to give Clooney some credit, but not primary credit, they decided to give him nothing at all. Before you start screaming about how petty the entire process sounds, you've got to understand that what a writer gets in residuals depends heavily on what kind of credit they get. Someone who did so little work that they only qualify for a "Story by" credit isn't going to get as much as the person who did the bulk of writing the script. From what I understand, rewriters get sloppy seconds over original authors unless the rewrite is so complete that it's hardly the same story anymore.

Clooney thinks he changed so much that he deserved at least something for his efforts, but two of the three writing panelists disagreed. I'm not sure who else could possibly be more qualified to make that judgment that other writers, but there it is, and Clooney clearly wasn't happy with the result. So here are where my thoughts come into this. It's not only possible to lose unfairly in a fair process, it happens all the time. You'd be surprised at how many innocent people are convicted of crimes they didn't commit and are sentenced to death in this country. People are imperfect beings and unfortunately mistakes are made.

What bothers me is what Clooney did afterwards. Going fi-core as a protest to losing a credit arbitration is a completely random, ineffectual yet damaging knee-jerk reaction. First of all it's permanent -- you can't change your mind and return to the fold. It removes all doubt as to the man's sincerity when he said he supported the writers and the strike -- he doesn't and that is now unquestionable. He can't vote, will be paying fewer dues that the guild needs to function, can work as a scab during strikes, can't attend union meetings and will have his ass kicked right off the picket line in the future if he goes within a hundred feet of one.

Second, and more important, it doesn't change the outcome of the ruling. In fact, if there were some sort of appeals process for credit rulings (I don't know if there are) then he'll certainly be banned from that as well. The judges in question probably won't change how they go about making their decisions, and he can't lobby to have the process changed in any way either.

I'm sure it's frustrating to lose a credit ruling like this when you feel like you've put a substantial amount of effort on the table, but in Clooney's case you've got two very important exceptions working against him -- things that make me want to kick him right in the nuts for doing this. Because he stared in the film, produced it, and whatever other jobs he usurped with his star power that writers basically never get, the bar has to be higher. His power to change that script that he didn't write was probably limitless, and with that kind of power must come a higher level of responsibility. It's so easy for someone like that to just walk in, change a few things here, and a few things there without putting in a couple months worth of work, and then claim sole credit from otherwise powerless writers, that there has to be something in place to prevent abuse.

That's a good system to have in place to protect writers who have no power on their own. If Clooney had come at this as a writer without his acting history and cred, he wouldn't have even got the film shot in the first place. That's a fact.

Moreover, the only thing he's fighting for with that screen credit is money. Having his name on the screen as a writer isn't going to raise his profile -- I doubt it'll even increment it fractionally, especially since the film kind of bombed in the theaters anyway. I imagine he was already a WGA member at the time so this script wasn't going to be the key to getting into the guild. Beyond that and as I said, which credit he gets determines how much money he makes, and how little the other writers make once attribution is diluted, and we're talking about a millionaire here.

It really boils down to not much more than a pissing contest over something that means almost nothing to Clooney's career, but a hell of a lot to Reilly and Brantley. Their script going into production with the credits they get will probably pay them more than most people make in an entire year. It probably wouldn't even pay Clooney's shoe bill.

Now I do sympathize with the guy here because none of us knows how significant his rewrite was, but I've got to trust the panels decision and I even support Clooney's right to protest that ruling. But to go fi-core as a result is easily the most childish reaction I can think of, short of suing the guild.

For what it's worth, screw Clooney and it's probably for the best anyway. If the man wants to be that selfish and pathetic, let him take his ball and go home.
in Feature, Film


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