Alan Smithee (also Allen Smithee) is an official pseudonym used by film directors who wish to disown a project. Coined in 1968 and used until it was formally discontinued in 2000, it was the sole pseudonym used by members of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) when a director, dissatisfied with the final product, proved to the satisfaction of a guild panel that he or she had not been able to exercise creative control over a film. The director was also required by guild rules not to discuss the circumstances leading to the move or even to acknowledge being the project's director.
Before 1968, DGA rules did not permit directors to be credited under a pseudonym. This was intended to prevent producers from forcing them upon directors, which would inhibit the development of their résumés. The guild also required that the director be credited, in support of the DGA philosophy that the director was the primary creative force behind a film.
The Smithee pseudonym was created for use on the film Death of a Gunfighter, released in 1969. During its filming, lead actor Richard Widmark was unhappy with director Robert Totten and arranged to have him replaced by Don Siegel. Siegel later estimated that Totten had spent 25 days filming, while he himself had spent 9–10 days. Each had roughly an equal amount of footage in Siegel's final edit. But Siegel made clear that Widmark had effectively been in charge the entire time. When the film was finished, Siegel did not want to take the credit for it and Totten refused to take credit in his place. The DGA panel hearing the dispute agreed that the film did not represent either director's creative vision.
The original proposal was to credit the fictional "Al Smith", but that was deemed too common a name, and in fact was already in use within the film industry. The last name was first changed to "Smithe", then "Smithee", which was thought to be distinctive enough to avoid confusion with similar names but without drawing attention to itself. Critics praised the film and its "new" director, with The New York Times commenting that the film was "sharply directed by Allen Smithee who has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail," and Roger Ebert commenting, "Director Allen Smithee, a name I'm not familiar with, allows his story to unfold naturally."
Following its coinage, the pseudonym "Alan Smithee" was applied retroactively to Fade In (also known as Iron Cowboy), a film starring Burt Reynolds and directed by Jud Taylor, which was first released before the release of Death of a Gunfighter. Taylor also requested the pseudonym for City in Fear (1980) with David Janssen. Taylor commented on its use when he received the DGA's Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award in 2003:
I had a couple of problems in my career having to do with editing and not having the contractually-required number of days in the editing room that my agent couldn't resolve. So, I went to the Guild and said, "This is what's going on." The Guild went to bat for me. I got Alan Smithee on them both. It was a signal to the industry from a creative rights point of view that the shows had been tampered with.
The spelling "Alan Smithee" became standard, and the Internet Movie Database lists about two dozen feature films and many more television features and series episodes credited to this name. A persistent urban legend suggests that this particular spelling was chosen because it is an anagram of the phrase "the alias men", but this is apocryphal.
Over the years the name and its purpose became more widely known. Some directors violated the embargo on discussing their use of the pseudonym. In 1998, the film An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn was released, in which a man named Alan Smithee (Eric Idle) wishes to disavow a film he has directed, but is unable to do so because the only pseudonym he is permitted to use is his own name. The film was directed by Arthur Hiller, who reported to the DGA that producer Joe Eszterhas had interfered with his creative control, and successfully removed his own name from the film, so Alan Smithee was credited instead. The film was a commercial and critical failure, released in only 19 theaters, grossing only $45,779 in the US with a budget of about $10 million, and Rotten Tomatoes reports an aggregate critical rating of only 8% positive. The harsh negative publicity that surrounded the film drew unwanted mainstream attention to the pseudonym. Following this, the DGA retired the name; for the film Supernova (2000), dissatisfied director Walter Hill was instead credited as "Thomas Lee."
Meanwhile, the name had been used outside of the film industry, and it continues to be used in other media and on film projects not under the purview of the DGA. Although the pseudonym was intended for use by directors, the Internet Movie Database lists several uses as writer credits as well. Variations of the name have also occasionally been used, such as "Alan and Alana Smithy" (screenwriters for the 2011 film Hidden 3D).
Historical uses of the "Alan Smithee" credit (or equivalent), in chronological order:
The following films credit "Smithee"; the actual director is listed when known. In a few cases the alias is used for a creative contributor other than the director, shown in boldface.
The following films were credited to their actual directors during their original theatrical presentations. When re-edited for TV, or for other reasons, the Smithee credit was used:
The 19th Golden Raspberry Awards were held on March 20, 1999, at the Huntley Hotel Garden Room in Santa Monica, California, to recognize the worst movie industry had to offer in 1998. The list of nominees follows, with recipients denoted in bold.Appointment with Fear (film)
Appointment with Fear, also known as Deadly Presence, is a 1985 American film directed by Ramsey Thomas for Moustapha Akkad and Moviestore Entertainment. The film stars Michele Little, Douglas Rowe, Garrick Dowhen, and Kerry Remsen.
The film had theatrical release in 1985 by New World Pictures and release on VHS in October 1987 by International Video Entertainment, followed in 1991 by Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment. Ramsey Thomas had his name removed from the project, replacing it with the pseudonym Alan Smithee.Building a Mystery
"Building a Mystery" is a song by Sarah McLachlan, from her multi-platinum album Surfacing, first released in 1997. At a live performance, Sarah explains the song as being "basically about the fact that we all... have insecurities to hide, and we often do that by putting on a facade." She also goes on to say that "unfortunately, if we just be who we are, that's usually the more attractive and beautiful thing".A fan favourite, the song was an immediate Top-40, Soft AC, and Hot AC hit which paved the grounds for her future songs "Sweet Surrender", "Adia", and "Angel", all from the Surfacing album. "Building a Mystery" debuted at number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early September 1997, and peaked at number 13 a month later.
The album version of "Building a Mystery," and the live albums Afterglow Live and Mirrorball contain the line, "A beautiful fucked up man." The radio version replaces this line with "A beautiful but strange man" or the original lyric garbled beyond recognition, and during performances on radio or television, Sarah sings the line "A beautiful messed up man."
The video features a man, described as McLachlan's boyfriend, taking points of light from wherever he travels and stitching some sort of garment. When McLachlan investigates in his absence, she finds that he has been assembling a skirt so decorated as to be lit with stars. Matt Mahurin directed the video, but later disowned it with the Allen Smithee credit.
The song was her biggest chart hit in Canada, spending eight weeks at #1 on the RPM charts and ranking as the #1 single of the year in the magazine's year end chart. It won the Juno Award for Single of the Year in 1998.
The track also made McLachlan the recipient of the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards of 1998, beating Mariah Carey, Shawn Colvin, Paula Cole and Jewel.The video for the song features Moist front man David Usher.
It was #91 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 1990s.Catchfire
Catchfire is a 1990 American action thriller film directed by Dennis Hopper and starring Jodie Foster, Hopper, Fred Ward and Vincent Price with cameo appearances by several other notable actors, including Charlie Sheen, Joe Pesci and Catherine Keener. The film was disowned by Hopper before release and he is therefore credited under the pseudonym Alan Smithee.
The original screenplay was written by Rachel Kronstadt Mann, then re-written by Ann Louise Bardach, who was hired by Hopper and producer Steven Reuther. During the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, Hopper hired Alex Cox to do another polish while the film was shooting.
Hopper released a director's cut of the film in the United States on cable television titled Backtrack, which runs 18 minutes longer than the theatrical version.City in Fear
City in Fear is a 1980 Edgar Allan Poe Awarded television drama film. It was directed by Jud Taylor, under the pseudonym Alan Smithee, and written by Peter Masterson and Albert Ruben. The film score was composed by Leonard Rosenman.
The film stars David Janssen (his last film), Robert Vaughn, Mickey Rourke, Perry King, William Prince and Susan Sullivan. It is about a newspaper's attempts to sensationalize the killing spree of a psychopath. It premiered in the USA on March 30, 1980.Death of a Gunfighter
Death of a Gunfighter is a 1969 Western film. It stars Richard Widmark and Lena Horne, and features an original score by Oliver Nelson. The theme of the film is the "passing" of the West, the clash between a traditional character and the politics and demands of modern society.Hunting for Witches
"Hunting for Witches" is a song by English rock band Bloc Party. It was released as the third single from their second studio album, A Weekend in the City, on 9 July 2007. The song peaked at number 22 on the UK Singles Chart.Let's Get Harry
Let's Get Harry is a 1986 action film directed by Stuart Rosenberg. It stars Michael Schoeffling, Thomas F. Wilson, Glenn Frey, Rick Rossovich, Ben Johnson, Mark Harmon, Gary Busey, and Robert Duvall. The film direction is credited to Alan Smithee, a pseudonym used by directors who repudiate their involvement in a film.Meet Joe Black
Meet Joe Black is a 1998 American romantic fantasy film directed and produced by Martin Brest, and starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Claire Forlani. The screenplay by Bo Goldman, Kevin Wade, Ron Osborn and Jeff Reno is loosely based on the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday.
It was the second pairing of Hopkins and Pitt after their 1994 film Legends of the Fall. The film received mixed reviews from critics, grossing $143 million worldwide.Morgan Stewart's Coming Home
Morgan Stewart's Coming Home is a 1987 American comedy film starring Jon Cryer, Viveka Davis, Paul Gleason, Nicholas Pryor and Lynn Redgrave. The screenplay was written by Ken Hixon and David N. Titcher. The film was also released as Home Front and Homefront Riviera in some countries. The film was directed by Paul Aaron/Terry Winsor, but upon release the director was listed as "Alan Smithee", a name often used when directors ask to remove their names from a picture.River Made to Drown In
River Made to Drown In is a 1997 drama film starring Michael Imperioli, Richard Chamberlain, Ute Lemper and James Duval. Though directed by James Merendino, Merendino had his name removed, and the film is credited to Alan Smithee. River Made to Drown In failed to secure US domestic theatrical distribution, but was released on DVD and has appeared on here! television.Solar Crisis (film)
Solar Crisis is a 1990 Japanese-American science fiction film. The screenplay was written by Joe Gannon and Tedi Sarafian (credited as Crispan Bolt), based on the novel Crisis 2050 by Takeshi Kawata, and directed by Richard C. Sarafian (credited as Alan Smithee). The cast featured Tim Matheson as Steve Kelso, Charlton Heston as Adm. "Skeet" Kelso, Peter Boyle as Arnold Teague, Annabel Schofield as Alex Noffe, Corin Nemec as Mike Kelso and Jack Palance as Travis. The executive producers were Takeshi Kawata and Takehito Sadamura, with FX cinematographer Richard Edlund and veteran sound editor James Nelson as its producers.Stitches (1985 film)
Stitches is a 1985 American comedy film directed by Rod Holcomb as Alan Smithee and starring Parker Stevenson, Geoffrey Lewis, and Brian Tochi. It depicts the misadventures of three students in medical school.Sweet Surrender (Sarah McLachlan song)
"Sweet Surrender" is a song by Canadian artist Sarah McLachlan. It was released in March 1998 as the second single from her multi-platinum album Surfacing. The song peaked at number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 2001, a maxi-single with remixes by DJ Tiesto was released peaking at number 6 on the US Hot Dance Club Play charts three years after its original release.The Challenge (1970 film)
The Challenge is a 1970 made-for-television movie starring Darren McGavin and Mako. Director George McCowan chose to hide his involvement by using the pseudonym Alan Smithee (spelled Allen Smithee in the credits). This was the last film appearance of Paul Lukas.The Shrimp on the Barbie
The Shrimp on the Barbie, released in Australia as The Boyfriend from Hell, is a 1990 comedy film directed by Michael Gottlieb (under the pseudonym Alan Smithee) and starring Cheech Marin. The title is derived from a line in a 1980s series of popular ads starring Paul Hogan promoting tourism to Australia: "I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you".Woman Wanted
Woman Wanted is a 1999 film directed by Kiefer Sutherland (later credited as Alan Smithee). It is based on a novel by Joanna Glass, who also wrote the screenplay. It stars Sutherland, Holly Hunter, Michael Moriarty, and Sutherland's mother, Shirley Douglas.