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 directors, dissatisfied with the final product, proved to the satisfaction of a guild panel that they 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 movie 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 auteur theory, which posits that the director is 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 he had spent 9 to 10 days filming, while Totten had spent 25 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 the name was deemed too common and 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 1997, 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 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. He 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 United States with a budget of about $10 million. Rotten Tomatoes reports an aggregate critical rating of only 8% positive.
The film was nominated for eight Golden Raspberry Awards at the following year's ceremony, and won five, including Worst Picture. 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", and Accidental Love director, David O. Russell, left the product credited to Stephen Greene.
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:
Catchfire (1990) as originally released in theaters, directed by Dennis Hopper. A subsequent video release under the title Backtrack was Hopper's intended "director's cut", for which he received credit.
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:
Dune (1984), only for the version as extended and edited for broadcast television; directed by David Lynch. In addition to the "Smithee" directing credit, for the broadcast TV version Lynch's screenwriting credit goes to "Judas Booth" (a reference to Judas Iscariot and John Wilkes Booth)
MacGyver, "Pilot", directed by Jerrold Freedman, and "The Heist", director unknown (1985).
Moonlight, TV movie and pilot for an unsold series (1982) (not to be confused with the later CBS vampire series), directed by Jackie Cooper and Rod Holcomb.
The Owl, 1991 television film credited to director Tom Holland when originally broadcast. Holland approved of the 46-minute television cut but disliked the extended 84-minute home video cut and credited it to "Alan Smithee".
Last Exile, episode 21, animation director unknown.
Daredevil #338–342, a comics series published by Marvel Comics: Writer D. G. Chichester learned during a brief break from the series that he was to be replaced; for the five issues he was obligated to write he demanded an Alan Smithee credit.
Team X 2000, a one-shot comic published by Marvel Comics, is credited to two writers. One being Sean Ruffner, the other being credited as "A. Smithee," is also believed to be D.G. Chichester.
Strontium Dog, a 2000AD comic strip: In 1996, writer Peter Hogan was dropped from the series and his episodes rewritten, and demanded that his name be removed from the credits.
2007 Issue of Inside Tennis magazine in place of the usual Art Director spot of the masthead.
In the making-of documentary about the production and release of 12 Monkeys, director Terry Gilliam draws a doodle illustrating his frustration at unexpectedly poor test screening surveys, then decides the drawing is not up to his usual standards and so signs it 'Alan Smithee', explaining the history of the name as he does so.
In the game Fire Emblem Heroes, the artist for the Mythic Hero Elimine is credited as "Alan Smithee".
The Elusive David Agnew, a mockumentary included as a bonus feature on the DVD release of the Doctor Who serial The Invasion of Time, is credited as having been directed by "Allen Smithee". This use of the pseudonym is in reference to "David Agnew" itself being a pseudonym under which Doctor Who producer Graham Williams and script editor Anthony Read were credited for their writing work on The Invasion of Time.
The 1977 TV series Logan's Run was so heavily rewritten, screenwriter David Gerrold was credited as "Noah Ward", sounding like "no award".
City Heat (1984) as originally released in theaters, fired director Blake Edwards had his screenwriting credit changed to "Sam O. Brown" (a nod to another of his films, S.O.B.)
Showgirls (1995) as edited for television, directed by Paul Verhoeven (who used the pseudonym "Jan Jensen", instead of "Smithee"). 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.
Highball (1997), after a falling-out with the film's producer left it released in an unfinished state, Noah Baumbach had his directing credit changed to "Ernie Fusco" and his writing credit changed to "Jesse Carter".