Screenwriter Strife Hits Jennifer Lawrence's 'Joy'

David O Russell Annie Mumolo Split - H 2015
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David O Russell Annie Mumolo Split - H 2015

'Bridesmaids' scribe Annie Mumolo lost a credit to David O. Russell after he took over the picture. The silver lining? She may still be eligible for an Oscar after being awarded a story credit by the Writers Guild.

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

What happened to Annie Mumolo's writing credit on Joy?

In 2012, the Bridesmaids writer-actress was hired by Fox 2000 and producer John Davis to adapt the life of Joy Mangano (creator of the Miracle Mop), and she spent a year or more working on the script. When Mumolo delivered her work, executives at Fox 2000 felt the screenplay needed more character development. Davis' team had an idea: What if they offered the project to filmmaker David O. Russell (American Hustle)?

To everyone's surprise, Russell sparked to the material and agreed to direct the movie. Soon Jennifer Lawrence, who won an Oscar for Russell's Silver Linings Playbook and appeared in Hustle, signed on to star. Russell also was given leeway to rework the script, as he has on his previous films, abandoning some biopic elements and fictionalizing part of the tale, making the main character a composite of several female entrepreneurs.

"David is like an impressionistic artist," says Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler. "[Artists] take real things, put them through their imagination and create something unique." Just how unique is a matter of debate: When Fox 2000 looked at Russell's rewrite, it decided he should receive sole credit, but Mumolo, also an executive producer on Joy, demurred.

Writers Guild arbitrations are not uncommon, of course. And usually, an automatic arbitration would ensue because Russell also is the director of the film — and directors have a heavy burden of proof to show they contributed enough of the script to receive a writing credit. In this case, since Mumolo and Russell both served in a "producorial capacity," the automatic arbitration didn't apply, according to sources.

But after Mumolo disputed the credit, the WGA arbitrated anyway and ruled that she would share a "story" credit with Russell, and her name would be listed first. In a victory for Russell, he was given the sole screenplay credit on the film, which opens Christmas Day.

Mumolo, who declined to comment, may have hoped for more. "Annie feels emotionally tied to this," says a source. "It took a lot out of her life, and she became really good friends with Joy."

Still, there's a silver lining, so to speak: If the picture is nominated for and wins a writing Oscar, she'll get to share it with Russell. In 1995, Roger Avary, who had a story credit, won the Oscar for best original screenplay for Pulp Fiction alongside director Quentin Tarantino, who had a story and screenplay credit. And in 2005, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth (story credits) shared the Academy Award with Charlie Kaufman (screenplay) for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And last year's Oscar race saw Hugo Guinness (story) and Wes Anderson (story, screenplay) both nominated for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

It's hardly the first time Russell has changed a script dramatically or been involved in a credit imbroglio. John Ridley wrote the first screenplay for Three Kings (1999) but only received a story credit after Russell all but wrote a new script. (Last year, Ridley famously didn't want to share a writing credit with Steve McQueen on Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave despite McQueen's work on the screenplay.) Russell also made major changes to Eric Warren Singer's script for American Hustle, although Singer retained first screenplay credit, followed by Russell.

As for Mangano, insiders say the queen of HSN is pleased with Russell's take.