George Clooney–screenwriter or script doctor? Or just a heck of a lot of fun?
George Clooney seems like he gets along with everyone. You never hear anyone come off a movie and complain about working with him. He’s a great interview, so the media loves him. Fans like him because he’s the prototypical “women love him, men want to hang out with him” Clark Gable type movie star. Yes, everyone likes George.
Except, it seems, the Writers’ Guild of America. And Clooney appears to not be too fond of them either.
Variety is reporting that last fall, in arbitration, the WGA ruled that Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly should get credit for writing Leatherheads, while Clooney should not. Clooney felt that his rewrite of the script, which had been hanging around Hollywood for 17 years before he took it on, entitled him to an onscreen credit along with Brantley and Reilly (who, if you don’t know, was until recently a longime, very popular columnist for Sports Illustrated but will be moving to ESPN in the summer).
In response to the ruling, Clooney went “fi-core,” which means that a writer pays dues and is still eligible for the guild’s health and pension plans, but loses other rights, including voting on Guild issues. Clooney said that he would have preferred to quit the guild altogether, feeling that the union hadn’t backed one of its own members, but that would have meant that he couldn’t write or work on any WGA projects, and that’s pretty much every major film, as evidenced by the strike last year (Hollywood’s gain is, apparently, a loss for the world of student films).
All of this happened last fall, but Clooney kept it quiet until now, because he didn’t want to be seen as a divisive figure on the eve of the WGA strike. He’s been one of a group of actors, including Tom Hanks and Sally Field, who have been urging SAG to start talks before the expiration of their contract and another potential strike.
WGA rules state that a writer has to be responsible for 50% of the script in order to get credit. Grant Heslov, Clooney’s producing partner, said that comparing the original to Clooney’s drafts clearly shows that Clooney is responsible for most of what’s onscreen (Clooney had felt that Brantley and Reilly should get first credit because they still had created the general story and characters). Without reading for myself, I can’t judge whether that’s true or not. None of us can.
I know, the important thing to audiences is whether the movie is good enough for them to want to shell out ticket money (the release date continues to puzzle me–a football movie coming out the first week of the baseball season and the weekend of the Final Four? If you’re not going to open it in some key lull of the football season, between the league championships and the Super Bowl, for example, then maybe even the weekend of the NFL draft. This is just a very weird time for this type of movie.). But here’s the thing to keep in mind–if the movie gets bad reviews for its screenplay (and so far it is getting mixed reviews in general), then Clooney’s name is now out there taking responsibility for it; if word of this hadn’t come out, he would have skated. A bad review won’t kill his career (if Batman & Robin didn’t, nothing will), but it’s always interesting to see what happens when people are willing to take responsibility for something in a risk averse business such as Hollywood, where success has many parents and failure is always an orphan.