JERICHO, NY, January 16, 2002 – Alan Smithee has directed over 47 feature films in Hollywood, yet he has never attended a premiere, completed an interview or shown his face in public. Publicists have gone to great lengths to keep his name out of the gossip columns and trade papers. Why? Because Alan Smithee does not exist. The name is a pseudonym for disgruntled directors. In Hollywood, an Alan Smithee credit indicates that the director asked to be removed from the credits.
The one-hour original production “Who is Alan Smithee?” premieres on Tuesday, March 5, 2002 at 10:00 PM (ET). Through revealing interviews with directors Martha Coolidge, John Singleton, Tony Kaye and Arthur Hiller, and conversations with noted journalists and film historians, the special uncovers the little-known facts behind a Hollywood myth.
The Alan Smithee name began in 1968 with “Death of a Gunfighter” starring Richard Widmark. Throughout filming Widmark complained about director Robert Totten’s work and insisted that he be replaced. The studio fired Totten and hired Donald Siegel. Siegel spent a total of nine days working on the film. When it was complete, neither Totten nor Siegel wanted director’s credit. Fearing public embarrassment and decreased box-office receipts, the studio appealed to the Directors Guild of America (DGA). The DGA came up with the name Alan Smithee, which became established in Hollywood as a pseudonym that directors could use if they did not want personal credit.
One of the most volatile public clashes between a director and studio occurred during the making of “American History X” (1998). As a novice director, Tony Kaye did not have a “final cut” clause in his contract. When New Line Cinema cast Edward Norton in the lead, Kaye protested believing that Norton was not right for the role. As a result, it was a tense shoot. However, the two managed to develop a working relationship.
When Kaye delivered his cut to New Line Cinema, the studio suggested minor tweaks and alterations. Kaye, however, took another look at the film and decided he wanted to make major revisions. He shortened the film, eliminating many scenes featuring Norton. Norton would not support the film unless his scenes were restored. To appease the actor, the studio allowed him to have input in the editing room.
At this point, Kaye revolted. He took full-page ads in the Hollywood trades denouncing the studio and their treatment of his film. The studio refused Kaye’s request for more time to finish the picture so he applied for an Alan Smithee credit. The DGA, having witnessed Kaye’s public griping, denied his application, and the film was released with a Tony Kaye credit.
The controversy around “American History X” shed light on a topic that Hollywood had kept under wraps for nearly thirty years. In 1997, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas wrote “Burn Hollywood Burn,” a satire about the misadventures of a director named Alan Smithee. Arthur Hiller was tapped to direct and he explains in “Who is Alan Smithee?” that after he delivered his cut of the film, the studio re-edited his work, so he appealed to the DGA for an Alan Smithee credit. His request was granted but many people in Hollywood suspected a publicity stunt. Hiller continues to reject these accusations.
Following the controversy of “Burn Hollywood Burn,” the DGA abolished the Alan Smithee credit. Today, when a director requests that his or her name be taken off a film, they must submit five pseudonyms to the DGA. The DGA then chooses which name the filmmaker will use.
“Who is Alan Smithee?” is an Orchard Films production for Wellspring Media. It is directed by Lesli Klainberg and executive produced by Julie Goldman and Caroline Stevens. Klainberg and Maia Harris produced the show; George O’Donnell served as editor. Marc Juris and Jessica Falcon are the executive producers for AMC.
AMC is the nation’s premier movie entertainment network, bringing timeless favorites to a broad audience by placing them in a fresh and contemporary context. Award-winning original documentaries, series and specials are infused with the energy and excitement of Hollywood. Launched in 1984, AMC is currently available in 81 million homes.
AMC is owned and managed by Rainbow Media Holdings, Inc. A subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corporation (NYSE: CVC) and NBC, Rainbow manages American Movie Classics, WE: Women’s Entertainment, Bravo, The Independent Film Channel, MuchMusic USA, Rainbow Sports, News 12 Networks and MetroChannels as well as the Rainbow Advertising Sales Corporation and Rainbow Network Communications. In addition, Rainbow is a fifty-percent partner in FOX Sports Net. AMC is one of the assets included in a new series of Cablevision common stock — Rainbow Media Group tracking stock (NYSE: RMG) — which began trading on the NYSE on March 30th. MGM (NYSE: MGM) owns a 20 percent stake in four of Rainbow’s national networks – AMC, Bravo, IFC and WE: Women’s Entertainment.