EXCLUSIVE: Barry Levinson, a card-carrying member of the WGA for 40 years, has resigned over what he termed “reprehensible” treatment he was given in an arbitration of screen credit for the adaptation of the Philip Roth novel The Humbling. Levinson, who hoped to share credit with Buck Henry and Michal Zebede, said he didn’t quit because things didn’t go his way. He did it to protest the dismissive treatment he received after he read three opinions by the anonymous writers who acted as arbitrators. One that denied him credit had completely mixed up facts in the written decision, citing passages that didn’t make the shooting script, and even some that only appeared in Roth’s novel. When Levinson asked the WGA to request that the arbitrator be asked to reconsider the decision and get it right, or else be replaced, the WGA dismissed Levinson’s request. That is why he quit.
Levinson, who will go fi-core, said he has been working on the adaptation for the 2 1/2 years since Al Pacino was granted an option by the author and they engaged Henry to take a crack at the script. The film is about a relationship between a suicidal aging actor and a much younger woman. They just finished shooting with a cast that includes Pacino, Greta Gerwig, Kyra Sedgwick, Charles Grodin and Dianne Wiest. The film was shot in 20 days at around a $1 million budget. Some scenes were shot in Levinson’s home to save money, he said. They were blindsided by the WGA development.
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“This is out of frustration and reaching my boiling point,” said Levinson, who has been Oscar nominated as a writer three times in his long career. “This became an impossible situation. In 40 years, I never once asked for a credit, and I would not try to get my name included as a writer if I didn’t believe it was justified. When the decision came back that I should not be afforded credit and I asked to see the write-ups, one said I should get credit and explained why, another just said no and didn’t specify. And then there was this third person, who confused many of the scenes and attributed them to the wrong versions of the scripts. Some weren’t even part of the final version of the script. It was a very muddled critique that made no sense. It was just way too messy and inaccurate, and I asked the board to have this person read it again because I couldn’t see how this was a qualified judgment. Two hours later, they came back and said, ‘No, we think it’s fine.’
“It’s a flawed system at best, and this takes it a step too far,” Levinson said. “They’re saying, ‘Even though the judgment is flawed and there are inaccuracies, that’s OK.’ I cannot be part of a guild that could display such disregard for the work of a writer.”
The WGA as a policy does not comment on credit arbitration.