Sat, December 18, 2010
Entertainment > Movie

Angry screenwriters tell story of abuse in film industry

2010-12-18 15:52:01 GMT2010-12-18 23:52:01 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

HANGZHOU, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Though his latest film, "Orphan of Zhao," is drawing plaudits nationwide, "Farewell My Concubine" director Chen Kaige is also taking barbs from two screenwriters who say he failed to credit their co-authorship of the script.

"Since we wrote parts of the script, our names should have been included in the screenwriters list," wrote Gao Xuan, online, in her blog.

"Orphan of Zhao," an adaptation of a Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) play, is the story of a physician who sacrifices his own son to save the only child of the Zhao family after their massacre by a general, and helps the child to seek vengeance against when he grows up.

Gao Xuan said she and Ren Baoru were invited by Chen to write the script in 2008. They stopped after finishing the first half of the story in July 2009, because Chen changed the plot development.

Gao and Ren, two famed female screenwriters, have jointly wrote some popular TV series, such as "Farewell Vancouver" and "My Youth Who Call the Shots".

At the premiere on Dec. 4, Gao and Ren found their names listed as "writers for earlier stage" in the credits, while Chen was credited as the sole screenwriter.

"What an invention! We've never heard of such a thing as 'writers for earlier stage'," Gao wrote. "It's merely a rude denial of our authorship."

The producer, Chen Hong- Chen Kaige's wife, argues Gao and Ren should not be acknowledged as screenwriters, as they did not complete the script, and the crediting as "writers for earlier stage" was approved by lawyers.

Chen Kaige, the internationally acclaimed Chinese director, is famous for his mastery at approaching movies with philosophical and intellectual insights.

Chen's 1993 film "Farewell My Concubine", about the homosexual relationship between two Peking Opera stars, won the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival and earned two Oscar nominations.

DECLINING STATUS

"Authorship fraud has allowed directors to virtually take full control of movie making and degraded the writers into an inferior status," said Gao in a complaint echoed by her peers.

"The interests of screenwriters are often abused by both directors and producers," says screenwriter Wang Xingdong. "Unpaid wages, deprivation of authorship, and plagiarism are not uncommon for screenwriters."

Professor Fan Zhizhong, of Zhejiang University, says the screenwriters' grievances are the culmination of a long-running trend in the industry. "China's film industry has been embedded in a culture that attaches more importance to visual effects than narratives since the 1980s, which has, to a certain degree, led to the decline in status of screenwriters."

However, writers say this has implications for the livelihoods too.

"Most Chinese screenwriters are severely underpaid. The pay for many writers is just 3 percent to 5 percent of the film budget, far less than that for directors and lead actors," says a writer who declines to be named.

"Our share is in great disproportion to the contributions we make."

However, an elite few remain above such grievances, earning "extravagant sums" for their work, says screenwriter Pan Yichen.

"There is a huge disparity between the earnings and status of the famous and the obscure.

"And some directors are still willing to listen to the suggestions of the writers and recognize their contributions."

FEAR OF RETRIBUTION

Many attribute the writers' frustrations to the absence of laws and regulation.

Director Cui Lingyan says Hollywood has a set of rules and regulations concerning movie credits prescribed in the Screen Credits Manual.

Screenwriters can always turn to the Writers Guild of America, the screenwriters' union, if they feel their interests are violated.

"However, in China, we don't have such rules and regulations or any special organization to protect the interests of screenwriters," Cui says.

"We have to maintain a good personal relationship with producers and directors to ensure the smooth operation of our contracts," says Gao Xuan.

"Many screenwriters stay silent about abuse for fear of retribution," says screenwriter who declines to be named. "Once you come to the fore to voice your discontent against directors and producers, you will very likely be blacklisted and consequently face an even bleaker future."

"The problems will not be solved by writers waging war on producers or directors," says Gao Xuan. "The solution is the establishment of laws and regulations to stipulate the rights and obligations of screenwriters."

Ultimately the issue could affect the development and fortunes of China's film industry, says Ding Baode, a Shanghai-based writer: "By protecting screenwriters' rights, we can bring more creativity into the Chinese movie industry.

"Many Chinese movies are plagued with low quality narratives and a lack of creative storylines, which has much to do with the dismissive treatment of the screenwriters," Ding says.

"A way of life that elbows them out of their deserved credit has suppressed their initiative and passion. Only by giving them due respect and pay, can we expect more masterpieces on the screen."

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