|Not long ago, I found myself in a large visual effects studio watching an animator pouring his heart into the performance of a cute, stick-like alien with big saucer-shaped eyes. The animator’s name is Dave. He stands up, bleary-eyed from exhaustion, acts out the beat, searching for the right emotion, and then races back to his screen flushed with inspiration, feverishly pulling on a raft of sliders and IK handles to express it.
Beside him works another animator, Becky, who is doing the same. In fact, animator Dave and animator Becky are surrounded on all sides by a vast sea of artists—maybe fifty or more—all hard at work on the first feature film from legendary first-time director Hugh Jeego. Working from a script that took some schlub 6 years to write, Jeego will finish directing it in a mere 4 months, such is the power of his genius. The film is still untitled, but Jeego has said it could be called “A Hugh Jeego Film,” even after it is titled. Some insiders are also reporting that Jeego may change the title to “A Film by Hugh Jeego,” because Jeego is still debating which sounds cooler.
I lean over Dave’s shoulder, shaking my head in wonder at the brilliance of his performance. “That’s incredible,” I effuse. “How do you guys do it?”
Dave looks sharply at me, strangely taken aback. “Oh, no, we don’t do anything,” he objects. He then waves his hand over the army of animators around him. “We are all but vessels for the vision of the great Hugh Jeego.”
“Yes,” says Becky, swiveling in her chair to face me. “Much like the Force, we feel the vision of the Great Jeego flowing through us. We see with his eyes and think with his mind. The great Hugh Jeego possesses us, controlling our every thought and action.”
Becky is of course referring to the possessory credit, which, she explains, acknowledges the director’s ability to possess other peoples’ souls and assume authorship over everything they create, much like the devil did to Regan in The Exorcist.
This supernatural power, first discovered by two French critics—Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Goddard—in the 1950s, is wielded by some of Hollywood’s biggest directors, like Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg. In fact, the latter’s telepathic fortitude is so mighty it can even possess another director’s soul, like it did to Tobe Hooper’s in Poltergeist. In that case, “A Steven Spielberg Production” was placed high above “A Tobe Hooper Film,” just so everyone would know whose vital essence—whose special elan—had really been at work.
Unfortunately, some directors lack this power, like Peter Jackson, Martin Campbell, Woody Allen, and Francis Ford Coppola. Forced to rely on the talent and skill of others, they are ineligible for the credit. Most of the industry is reluctant to speak of this controversial voodoo, so I press Dave and Becky for more. “You mean, Hugh Jeego literally possesses your soul? Like Regan in the Exorcist?”
“Let me explain,” says Dave calmly. “When you work for a Hugh Jeego-type director, like, say, Michael Bay, it’s like a thousand psychic tentacles reaching out from his massive brain and impregnating the collective mind of the entire crew.”
I was agape with wonder at the magnitude of this revelation. I struggle to process it. “Like Roy Neary and Gillian in Close Encounters? When the aliens implanted the vision of the mountain in their heads?”
Dave hesitates. “Kind of,” he says, searching for a more accurate analogy. “It’s more like…, um, God implanting the Holy Spirit within you, telling you what to think, feel, and do.”
“Wow,” I say, awestricken.
“Yes,” says Becky. “For example, once I was hired onto a Michael Bay film, and within seconds of ‘receiving’ his implanted vision, the whole world changed before my eyes. Suddenly, everybody was moving in slow-motion, bathed in heat shimmer and taking long, heroic strides toward some mission of certain doom, their full-bodied hair blowing in the wind.”
My jaw fell. “You’re kidding me?”
“No, it’s really incredible,” says Dave. “Instantly, you know exactly how to sculpt that blendshape, move an IK handle, or even make a better subsurface scattering shader. It’s like you’re being operated by remote control.”
“Unbelievable,” I exclaim.
Just then, the writer walks past, overhearing our conversation. “This power to possess even extends to me,” he says. “It wasn’t until the Great Jeego had signed onto the project and taken control of my mind that I realized that it was he, working through me, who had written my script, through a process of ‘retroactive, transdimensional possession.’ Thus, it is truly his vision.’”
I’m speechless, flabbergasted, shaking my head at the floor, trying to wrap my head around these dangerous disclosures. “And what happens when the film’s over and his spirit leaves you?” I ask.
A sudden, ominous silence overcomes them. Dave and Becky’s eyes glaze over, as if they’re drifting into some dark, haunted place of the mind. “Well, it’s like withdrawing from heroine,” Becky says. “Sometimes…we get the shakes.”
“Usually, we have to go into rehab,” says the writer.
“One time, when I did a movie with Uwe Boll,” says Dave, “I had to check myself into an insane asylum for three weeks before his vision would leave me.”
“Oh, no,” I gasp, wide-eyed with shock.
Nevertheless, as well-established as the director’s possessory power is, Dave and Becky tell me there’s a group of subversives—known as the WGA—who refuse to accept it and, even worse, want the possessory credit banned. They say directing is not a creative act, but a job of discernment and assessment; that the director conducts the music, but he doesn’t compose it; or moreover, that he’s the captain of the ship, but he doesn’t build it.
“Hogwash!” says the writer. “Everyone knows that when the iceberg’s dead ahead, it doesn’t matter whether there’s a hundred-and-fifty holes in the hull and all the rivets are falling out; what matters is whether or not the captain can turn the wheel. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those ship wheels, but they’re, like, twice the size of the one in my ’98 Camry.”
A sarcastic smile creeps onto their faces and I begin to think I’m being toyed with. “You guys are playing with me, right?”
“Hell, no!” they yell, but their laughter says otherwise. What they tell me then is that directors and writers have fought bitterly over possession for years, sometimes to the death. Animator Dave tells me the story of Michael Wilson, who worked for an eternity on the script for Lawrence of Arabia. Unable to satisfy director David Lean, he left the project, only to be replaced by Robert Bolt. When the movie came out, the dialogue had been changed but Wilson’s scenario remained the same. “Wilson fought for credit, but Lean and Bolt both denied it to him, even on his deathbed. He was posthumously awarded the credit.”
“Thank God,” says Becky. “Because there’s no better time to savour the fruits of your labour than when you’re dead.”
I’m dismayed. “Why would they do that?” I ask.
“For the same reason Return of the Jedi and Empire Strikes Back never became films ‘by’ Richard Marquand and Howard Kazanjian,” says the writer. “For the same reason you have no clue who wrote Slumdog Millionaire, but you know it was A Danny Boyle Film. Everybody wants the credit.”
“That’s terrible!” I say, with righteous indignation.
“Yes, it is an indignity,” says the writer. “It’s also an absurdity and the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on a major art form.”
“It’s immoral,” I say. “Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins!”
“Indeed,” say Becky and Dave, nodding grimly in concurrence.