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8 Pseudonyms Famous Writers and Directors Used in Movie Credits

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Just because you created the work doesn’t mean you want credit for it. Sometimes directors, writers, and actors use pseudonyms to protect their true identity for works they are not proud of, while other various reasons include modesty, religious and political persecution, and just sheer entertainment value. Here are eight movie pseudonyms you may not have known.

1. Pseudonyms: Peter Andrews, Mary Ann Bernard, and Sam Lowry

Real Name: Steven Soderbergh

Director Steven Soderbergh often writes his own movies and works as his own cinematographer and editor. The 50-year-old director doesn’t like to see his name used multiple times, so he adopted the practice of using pseudonyms for his various movie credits.

While working on the film Traffic in 2000, Soderbergh wanted to use the credit “Photographed and Directed by,” but the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) has firm rules against credits between a writer’s credit and a director’s, so Soderbergh decided to use the pseudonym “Peter Andrews” (his father’s first and middle name). He has since used the pseudonym “Mary Ann Bernard” (his mother’s maiden name) for his editing credits, starting with his 2002 film Solaris. At times, Soderbergh also used the pseudonym “Sam Lowry” as a writer’s credit.

2. Pseudonyms: Ian McLellan Hunter and Robert Rich

Real Name: Dalton Trumbo 

In 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) blacklisted Dalton Trumbo for suspected involvement with the Communist Party. Unable to work in Hollywood, Trumbo used the pseudonyms “Ian McLellan Hunter” and “Robert Rich” to continue as a screenwriter. In fact, Ian McLellan Hunter and Robert Rich received Academy Awards for Best Writing for the films Roman Holiday in 1954 and The Brave One in 1957. Dalton Trumbo was later given the Academy Award for The Brave One in 1975, one year before he died. Years later, Trumbo posthumously received the Academy Award for Roman Holiday in 1992.

3. Pseudonym: Douglas Sirk

Real Name: Hans Detlef Sierck

Regarded as a very popular writer and director in pre-war Europe, Hans Detlef Sierck changed his name to “Douglas Sirk” when he fled Nazi Germany to the United States with his Jewish wife in 1937. Douglas Sirk’s career flourished in the States; he made colorful and lush melodramas including Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and A Time to Love and a Time to Die. Sirk remained an influence on the next generation of directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Pedro Almodóvar, Wong Kar-Wai, and Todd Haynes.

4. Pseudonym: Bob Robertson

Real Name: Sergio Leone 

Afraid that American audiences wouldn’t accept a western made in Italy, Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone changed their names to “Bob Robertson” and “Dan Savio” on A Fistful of Dollars in 1967. The film was a big hit in America for its genre bending conventions and heavily violent nature. The film also birthed the popularity of the “Spaghetti Western,” or Italian Western genre in the United States, and Sergio Leone went back to using his real name on all of his future films. 

5. Pseudonym: Roderick Jaynes

Real Names: Joel & Ethan Coen

The Coen Brothers work together as a filmmaking duo: Joel takes the directing credit, while Ethan takes the producing credit, and both share the writing. But when it comes to editing, the Coens decided to use the pseudonym “Roderick Jaynes,” so their names wouldn’t appear multiple times in their films' credits. Roderick Jaynes has twice been nominated for Academy Awards, for his editing work in the films Fargo and No Country For Old Men.

6. Pseudonym: Donald Kaufman

Real Name: Charlie Kaufman

Writer Charlie Kaufman shared a writing credit with his late twin brother, Donald, on the film Adaptation, which was directed by Spike Jonze (real name: Adam Spiegel; the pseudonym is a reference to musician and bandleader Spike Jones). The Kaufman brothers were both nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2003. If he won, Charlie Kaufman would have received both of the Oscars—because Donald never actually existed.

7. Pseudonym: Woody Allen

Real Name: Allan Stewart Konigsberg

Born Allan Stewart Konigsberg, “Woody Allen” changed his name to Heywood Allen at the age of 17 after a traumatic experience at an inter-faith summer camp as a child. He later started to write for The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show at age 19, before becoming a playwright and a prominent writer and director. 

8. Pseudonym: Alan Smithee

Real Name: Any Director Who Doesn’t Want Credit For A Movie 

The Director’s Guild of America (DGA) invented a pseudonym for directors who had lost creative control on a film’s production and wanted their names off the final version of the movie. “Alan Smithee” was a way for directors to have a “clean” resume divorced from terrible movies. The first use of the pseudonym was on the film Death of a Gunfighter, which Robert Totten and Don Siegel directed separately in 1969.

The DGA retired the Alan Smithee pseudonym in 2000 with Kiefer Sutherland’s use of it on the film Woman Wanted. Other “notable” Alan Smithee uses were David Lynch’s directing credit on the extended edition of the movie Dune, Michael Mann’s credit on the edited for television versions of Heat and The Insider, and Steve Langley’s work on the animated feature film Mighty Ducks The Movie: The First Face-Off. Director Paul Verhoeven used the pseudonym “Jan Jensen” (a Dutch variation of Alan Smithee) on the edited for television version of Showgirls.

Although officially retired, the pseudonym continues to be used as TV, music video, and video game credits.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
5 Fascinating Facts About Koko the Gorilla
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy

After 46 years of learning, making new friends, and challenging ideas about language, Koko the gorilla died in her sleep at her home at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California on June 21, 2018. Koko first gained recognition in the late 1970s for her ability to use sign language, but it was her friendly personality that made her a beloved icon. Here are five facts you should know about the history-making ape.

1. SHE KNEW OVER 1000 SIGNS.

Francine "Penny" Patterson, then a graduate student at Stanford University, was looking for an animal subject for her inter-species animal communication experiment in the early 1970s when she found a baby gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. Originally named Hanabiko (Japanese for "fireworks child," a reference to her Fourth of July birthdate), Koko took to signing quickly. Some of the first words Koko learned in "Gorilla Sign Language," Patterson's modified version of American Sign Language, were "food," "drink," and "more." She followed a similar trajectory as a human toddler, learning the bulk of her words between ages 2.5 and 4.5. Eventually Koko would come to know over 1000 signs and understand about 2000 words spoken to her in English. Though she never got a grasp on grammar or syntax, she was able to express complex ideas, like sadness when watching a sad movie and her desire to have a baby.

2. SHE CHANGED WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT LANGUAGE.

Not only did Koko use language to communicate—she also used it in a way that was once only thought possible in humans. Her caretakers have reported her signing about objects that weren't in the room, recalling memories, and even commenting on language itself. Her vocabulary was on par with that of a 3-year-old child.

3. SHE WASN'T THE ONLY APE WHO SIGNED.

Koko was the most famous great ape who knew sign language, but she wasn't alone. Michael, a male gorilla who lived with Koko at the Gorilla Foundation from 1976 until his death in 2000, learned over 500 signs with help from Koko and Patterson. He was even able to express the memory of his mother being killed by poachers when he was a baby. Other non-human primates have also shown they're capable of learning sign language, like Washoe the chimpanzee and Chantek the orangutan.

4. SHE HAD FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Koko received many visitors during her lifetime, including some celebrities. When Robin Williams came to her home in Woodside, California in 2001, the two bonded right away, with Williams tickling the gorilla and Koko trying on his glasses. But perhaps her most famous celebrity encounter came when Mr. Rogers paid her a visit in 1999. She immediately recognized him as the star of one of her favorite shows, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and greeted him by helping him take off his shoes like he did at the start of every episode.

5. SHE WAS A LOVING CAT MOM.

Koko was never able to have offspring of her own, but she did adopt several cats. After asking for a kitten, she was allowed to pick one from a litter for her birthday in 1985. She named the gray-and-white cat "All Ball" and handled it gently as if it were her real baby, even trying to nurse it. She had recently received two new kittens for her 44th birthday named Ms. Gray and Ms. Black.

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