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Alan Smithee (also Allen Smithee) is an official pseudonym used by film directors who wish to disown a project, coined in 1968. Until its use was formally discontinued in 2000, it was the sole pseudonym used by members of the Directors Guild of Americamarker (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 actual director.


Prior to 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 and he had spent 9-10, with roughly equal footage in Siegel's final edit, but he made it clear that Widmark had been effectively 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 it 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, 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 aired 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 name was also applied retroactively to the half-hour 1955 television drama The Indiscreet Mrs. Jarvis starring Angela Lansbury when it was released on VHS in 1992.

The spelling "Alan Smithee" became the standard, and the Internet Movie Database lists about two dozen feature films and many more television features and series episodes credited to this name.

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 wishes to disavow a film he has directed, but is unable to 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, grossing only $45,779 in the US with a budget of about $10 million, and the Rotten Tomatoes web site reports an aggregate critical rating of only 6% positive. But the publicity surrounding the film drew 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. Variations such as "Alan Smythee" and "Adam Smithee" have also appeared. Although the pseudonym was intended for use by directors, the 1981 film Student Bodies credited "Allen Smithee" as producer in place of the actual producer, Michael Ritchie. The film's director, Mickey Rose, took credit under his own name.

Credits given to Smithee

Film direction

The following films credit "Smithee"; the actual director is listed when known:

In modified versions

  • Dune (1984) as extended and edited for broadcast television, directed by David Lynch; Lynch's screenwriting credit goes to "Judas Booth", an inside joke for Lynch, who states the studio betrayed (Judas) and killed (Booth) his film
  • Ganheddo (AKA GunHed) (1989) as released in the United States, directed by Masato Harada
  • The Guardian (1990) as edited for cable television, directed by William Friedkin
  • Backtrack (1990) as originally released in theaters, directed by Dennis Hopper, credited to Hopper in a "director's cut" for a subsequent video release
  • Scent of a Woman (1992) as edited for broadcast television, directed by Martin Brest
  • Rudy (1993) as edited for television, directed by David Anspaugh
  • Showgirls (1995) as edited for television, directed by Paul Verhoeven (who instead of Smithee used the pseudonym "Jan Jensen"). However, the edited, R-rated version of Showgirls that was prepared for release at Blockbuster was supervised and authorized by Verhoeven, and this version carries the director's name.
  • Heat (1995) as edited for television, directed by Michael Mann
  • Meet Joe Black (1998), as edited for in-flight viewing and cable television, by Martin Brest
  • The Insider (1999) as edited for television, directed by Michael Mann

Television direction

  • Tiny Toon Adventures, which often had inconsistent artwork and dialogue that had been rewritten at the last minute, had several episodes that were credited to "Alan Smithee"; some of these episodes were actually directed by Art Leonardi.
  • A Nero Wolfe Mystery, "Motherhunt" (2002), the 5th episode of the second season
  • It's Academic, June 19, 2006, TV episode, had numerous credits attributed to Smithee.
  • Karen's Song, first episode credits Allan Smithee.
  • La Femme Nikita, "Catch a Falling Star", episode 16 of season 4 of US TV series, believed to be directed by Joseph Scanlan.
  • MacGyver, "Pilot," and "The Heist," episodes (1985).
  • Moonlight, a 1982 TV movie and pilot for an unsold series (not to be confused with the later CBS vampire series), directed by Jackie Cooper and Rod Holcomb.

Music videos direction

Other media

Smithee has been credited with works in other media:

See also


External links and sources

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