As the Hollywood blockbuster model completes its shift from trilogies to a theoretically infinite series of mutually supporting installments, film franchises are increasingly importing the concept of a writers room from television to help bang out ideas for all the new “shared universes.” Transformers has one, as do Avatar, Star Wars, and Universal’s long-gestating monsters series. These rooms all work differently, but THR reports they’re facing the same big problem: How the heck do you credit all those writers?
It’s just not a human desire for recognition that makes writers want to see their names in the credits: Though each writer in the room is being paid for their efforts, the credits on the finished product determine their share of those sweet, sweet residuals. Current Writers Guild of America rules stipulate that a project can only be credited to three writers or writing teams — and each writing team can only have a maximum of three members. The “story by” credit, too, can only go out to two people. In the hopes of emulating the old adage about monkeys and typewriters, blockbuster writers rooms have as many as a dozen writers all pitching ideas. Some of them, like Transformers’ Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, get hired to pen a separate script afterwards, but what happens to the other writers whose ideas get used? The WGA does have a waiver process to increase the number of writers allowed to be credited as a writing team, but that’s never been used for a film yet. Often, they’re just out of luck.
So far, two alternative methods have emerged for avoiding this quandary. The separate-but-related trend of dual-track development solves this problem by creating another one: A studio simply hires multiple writing groups to work on scripts separately. The one the studio likes the best becomes the movie, and its writers get the credit. As with writers rooms, ideas from the other writers can end up in the final script, but they’ll have to apply for a writing credit afterward*. As Gregg Mitchell of the WGA West explains, “All of the writers who are eligible for writing credit – which may include writers who performed on the ‘track’ that was not selected – are entitled to seek writing credit on the motion picture and any writer whose contribution to the final shooting script meets the requisite threshold will receive writing credit.”
One writers room has hit on a seemingly fairer way: Universal’s monsters franchise has a smaller number of writers, which is the studio’s way of trying to set boundaries. Though they all meet as a group to talk about ideas, each writer gets their own monster lane.
Elsewhere, though, the universal problem-solver appears to be what it usually is: money. Agents tell THR that they’ve started demanding higher fees for their clients for writers-room sessions, knowing they’re unlikely to see any credits. “When it comes to these big franchises, studios are under pressure to make them work,” one anonymous agent says, “but we’ve got to make sure our clients aren’t being cheated because of it.”
* This post originally stated that writers whose scripts don’t get picked up in the dual-track process will not be credited.