If you look up the director, Alan Smithee, in the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), you will see a long list of less than stellar films including Wurm, Neowolf, and Street Walkers 3 among others. However, what you may not realize is that Alan Smithee is a fictional person made up to protect the careers of real directors such as Kiefer Sutherland and Dennis Hopper.
The director of a film faces many hurdles in making something worthy of his or her name. If the film is bad or unpopular, the blame ultimately rests on the shoulders of the director. However, sometimes the fault rests with studios and producers who override a director on key aspects of the film. They can even go so far as to hire someone else to shoot extra footage against a director’s wishes. This is why many films later release a “Director’s Cut” or alternate version of the film based solely on the director's editing.
So what can a director do if the finished film does not represent their creative vision? Unfortunately, the contract between a director and the production company doesn’t allow a director to remove his/her name from a film. So to solve the problem, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) created an official pseudonym, Alan Smithee (also Allen Smithee) for the situation in which a director could prove that his/her creative vision was no longer represented in the finished film. Only under circumstances of heavy re-editing or significant compromise of the director's creative control would the DGA allow the name Alan Smithee to replace the original director's name.
The Alan Smithee name was first created in 1968 for the film, Death of a Gunfighter, in which two directors provided fairly equal footage in the movie, but neither wanted to take credit for the finished product. The DGA agreed that the film represented neither director’s vision. It was then proposed to use a fictional director, Al Smith, in the credits, but the name was already in use in the film industry. The name was then changed to Alan Smithee to avoid any confusion. In addition, the DGA required that the director could not discuss the circumstances or acknowledge that they directed the movie.
One example of the Alan Smithee name is in the film, Hellraiser: Bloodline. The original director, Kevin Yagher, was upset with edits made without his knowledge, and he refused to reorder scenes requested by the producers. Yagher's version had more imagery and plot elements that he felt were necessary to explain the film. Since Yagher did not finish shooting all the scences, the film producers hired Joe Chappelle to complete the film including new scenes never intended in the original version.
Eventually, the Smithee pseudonym and its purpose became known as directors broke their silence. The public became aware that the Alan Smithee name meant a film was so altered or recut that the director did not want his/her name associated with it. The negative publicity that followed caused the DGA to retire the name in 2000. For the film, Supernova, in which director Walter Hill’s version was re-cut by Francis Ford Coppola, Hill replaced his name with “Thomas Lee" in the credits instead.
The Alan Smithee name does live on in projects not associated with the DGA and projects outside the film industry. Its use has even broadened to include other key roles such as the writer, actor, or producer.