How To Determine WGA Screenwriting Credits

Are you a screenwriter unsure how the WGA screenwriting credit system works?

Screenwriting credits for theatrical motion pictures are designed by the WGA to give screenwriters due credit for their work. It may sound simple, but a lot of time (and often argument) goes into completing the term “written by”.

Writing credits, in the presence of multiple writers, are separated with an “&” symbol or the word “and”. The distinction is that “&” refers to a writing team. They are credited as a single writing entity. Writers in teams are listed in alphabetical order, but given equal weighting.

The term “and” refers to subsequent writers or writing teams.

WGA rules state that up to three writers or writing teams can claim “written by” credit. This applies even if there are subsequent writers, which have generally made minor contributions to the screenplay. Examples include dialogue punch ups and joke writers.

Credits are awarded on several factors:

  • the original writer or writing team
  • subsequent writers or writing teams
  • whether the writer(s) is/are a production/non production executive or team
  • whether the work is an original piece or non original (rewrite/adapted)

The non original writing category is the easiest to credit. Any writer or production/non production executive must have written at least one third of the script.

For original scripts, a writer must have written more than one third of the script to claim credit. If there are additional contributions from production and/or non production executives, the first writer is also entitled to half a “story by” credit. A written story is a essentially a treatment (often around 5-10 pages) which outlines the characters, themes, plots, conflicts and key scenes.

If a script copyright is transferred to another production entity, the original writer(s) and production/non production executives can often claim a “story by” credit if they don’t qualify for a “written by” credit. This applies if less than a third of the original script remains in the final shooting script.

In the case of rewrites or adaptations, contributors can also claim certain credits such as “based on an a short story” or “based on characters created by” without any caveats in the writing credit arbitration system.

Subsequent writers must write at least one half of a script for credit. They aren’t entitled to a “story by” credit unless the story has changed so much that they become the primary writer. This also applies to non production executives claiming “written by” credit.

Production executives wishing to claim “written by” credit must contribute to more than half of the screenplay.

This system was not only devised to give writers due credit on a movie, but also to limit production executives and ancillary contributors from claiming credit for minor work.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. jondabach says:

    Great, quick resource to point people to. I’ve been in fights with producers who hired me to write scripts and/or optioned one of my scripts thinking they are entitled to a story by or written by credit for making 10 or 15 line changes…totally ridiculous.

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