Todd Phillips has issues with the Writers Guild of America. This is well documented. And his gripes are not at all unreasonable. The WGA's credit arbitration process - which determines who receives a "written by" or "story by" credit on the poster and in the opening/closing titles of the movie - is absolutely insane. I know a lot of working screenwriters, and I can't think of one who'd go to the mat defending the very murky criteria by which all of this gets decided. Phillips explained the nonsense when we spoke last year for THE HANGOVER (after I asked why screenwriter Jeremy Garelick - who was on the set of the film the day I visited - had been denied a credit).
Phillips: It's interesting, and this happens to everybody. Judd Apatow did a massive amount of rewriting on THE CABLE GUY, which a lot of people don't know about. A massive amount. There are weird rules in the Writers Guild, and I don't want to trash the Writers Guild. I certainly don't want to trash the original writers, because they came up with a great idea and a great concept. But if you look at the original script - and the only reason I'm saying this is because Jeremy Garelick is a phenomenal writer and he gave so much of himself. We sort of disappeared for four months and really rewrote this movie: Mike Tyson was not in the movie, there was no tiger, there was no baby, there was no cop car, there was no brother-in-law that came on the trip. We're not talking about "tweaks" to the script; we're talking about massive rewriting. But the Writers Guild has these insane rules that if you're also a director on the movie, you have to prove this insane amount of work - and they have very nebulous rules of what that work is. It actually went through an arbitration, and I don't know what happened. I'm not a big fan of the Writers Guild. The WGA. The Whiners Guild of America. (Laughs)
And you can't not be in it. You don't realize when you go into the film business... I mean, you don't go into filmmaking to be a part of groups and things. Then suddenly they're like, "You've got to join this union, and you've got to join that union." I don't even believe in the way they do this certain stuff. It's disappointing. But it's mostly disappointing for Jeremy. I'm still the director of the movie; my name's on the movie, and people who know my films can feel me in this movie. But Jeremy did a massive amount of work. And the fucked up part is it's not even the fault of the original writers. They even agreed. But they Writers Guild was like, "No, no, you're being pressured by the director, so we're not going to stand for this." It's just astounding.
I thought Phillips would do everything in his power to avoid this on his subsequent films, but, evidently, he had another bad experience with DUE DATE. I haven't seen the film yet, but it's not hard to believe that Robert Downey Jr. did a substantial amount of rewriting on the movie; he's extremely collaborative (I watched him practically re-stage the Stark Exposition map scene in IRON MAN 2), and generally has a good idea of what's going to work comedically. But Downey was predictably denied a "Written By" credit by the WGA for DUE DATE, so Phillips decided to voice his displeasure in an "Awards Watch Roundtable" session convened by The Hollywood Reporter.
The below excerpt is notable for two reasons: 1) Phillips is backed up by fellow A-list screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (who, unlike Phillips, is a frontrunner for every screenplay award being dished out this year), and 2) they are trashing the union in front of its president, THE COMPANY MEN writer-director John Wells.
They elaborate on their grievances in the full video, which is well worth watching. Sorkin acknowledges that he probably just kvetched his way out of a WGA Award for THE SOCIAL NETWORK. It'll be interesting to see if this holds for the Oscars as well, since he's thus far been regarded as the prohibitive favorite for the Adapted Screenplay trophy.