questionmarkHow do you go about using a pseudonym? My name doesn’t particularly stand out, and I’ve been using a pseudonym I really like while blogging. I’d like to use this as I submit scripts to contests/fellowships/agencies, but I’m not sure of the legalities of doing such. I don’t want to legally change my name — just write under a pen name.

How would I go about doing this, but still receive credit for what I write? How would I make authorship clear on applications/registrations?

— Phillip
Salt Lake City, Utah

Your email included your full name, and I disagree — your last name is straightforward, easy to pronounce and easy to remember. But if you decide you want to use a pseudonym, there’s nothing stopping you.

For now, just use your chosen pseudonym on your scripts. You’ll need to use your real, legal name on contracts and registrations, but for casual purposes, your nom-de-plume is fine. It’s only when people start paying you actual money that you’ll need to address the legitimacy of your pseudonym.

The WGA determines how names appear on screen, and the rules are pretty specific:

19. A writer must use his/her own name in all writing credits unless he/she has already established a pseudonym or registers one at the Guild office before commencement of employment on a writing assignment, or before disposition of any rights to literary material on which he/she wishes to use such pseudonym.

Here’s what this means in practical terms. At some point, you’ll get a job writing for a WGA signatory company (any of the studios or major producers) and will be required to join the WGA. When you do, there will be forms to fill out, including a place for your pseudonym. You better be sure it’s the name you want to use for the next 30 years.

There’s one special case that sometimes comes up. A writer has the right to use a pseudonym if she receives credit on a movie, but don’t really want her name associated with it.

Credited writers of theatrical motion pictures are guaranteed the right to use a “reasonable” pseudonym if the request is made within five business days after credits are final and if the writer was paid less than $200,000 for writing services on the movie.1

In this situation, you’d still get residuals and all the other protections from being a credited writer, but you wouldn’t have to claim public ownership of a movie that went horribly awry.

It’s important to remember that using a pseudonym is different than legally changing your name. That’s what I did in 1992 before moving to California. My original last name flummoxed everyone, so I went to court in order to swap it with my father’s middle name. It was a massive hassle, but in the long run, it’s worked much better to have one name in both public and personal life.

  1. The $200K threshold seems arbitrary, but it’s a demand from the studios. If they’re paying a writer that much, they want to be able to use his or her name and credits for marketing purposes.