Screenwriting Teacher Claims He Wrote Disney’s “Tangled,” But Film’s Director Says He Didn’t [UPDATED]

Are you an aspiring screenwriter who dreams of creating magical and intimate moments that simply teem in human behavior? If you answered “yes”, then Jon Bernstein might be the instructor for you. “My classes strive to master the ‘rules’ only so that we may creatively break them,” says Bernstein in his bio for his upcoming screenwriting course at UCLA.

The course listing also provides a handful of respectable writing credits for Bernstein, including crafting the screenplays for 2000’s Beautiful, the Jerry Springer vehicle Ringmaster, and Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. But it’s his claim of working as a contributing writer for Disney’s Tangled that has the film’s co-director, Nathan Greno, tied up in knots.

“We never worked with the guy on Tangled,” said Greno in a recent public post on Facebook. The post, not surprisingly, has only generated more skepticism about Bernstein’s professional claims as Greno’s friends and co-workers point out holes in the writer’s IMDB page and compare professional notes. In regard to Bernstein’s credit for writing Meet the Robinsons, screenwriter Michelle Bochner Spitz pointed out, “Jon Bernstein wrote the first draft(s) of Meet the Robinsons, and then had nothing to do with the movie when it was rewritten several times over for more than three years.”

Hollywood credits work in quirky ways, and Bernstein could have a legitimate, legal claim to the Tangled credit, which he also used to sell his 2011 script workshop, The Inspired Screenplay. But according to Greno, Bernstein didn’t seem eager to shed any light on the appropriation when he was contacted. “I brought up this ‘credit concern’ to Jon on his (personal) Facebook page and was I quickly deleted/blocked,” Greno wrote on Facebook. “I credit all of the writing on Tangled to our actual writer, Dan Fogelman… and so does IMDB.”

If Bernstein wishes to set the record straight on Cartoon Brew and allay Nathan Greno’s concerns, we welcome hearing his side of the story.

UPDATE [4/9/2013, 9:50pm]: The screenwriter Jon Bernstein has responded in the comments to Nathan Greno’s allegations that he didn’t work on Tangled. In a followup email to Cartoon Brew, Bernstein also said that he has removed the credit from his bio, because even though he is legally entitled to use it, he does “not wish to invite this sort of misunderstanding and mean-spirited innuendo again.”

The full text of Bernstein’s comment is posted below:

To suggest that I am misrepresenting my credits is offensive to me. I wish you would have done a bit of research before writing this mean-spirited and wildly misleading story.

I never claimed to write TANGLED. My bio states that I was a contributing writer. There were over twenty of us according to Disney’s legal documents. I was the first writer hired to work on it back when the project was called RAPUNZEL. This was before Mr. Greno was involved. When the film was released as TANGLED, I received a Disney legal document listing all the writers who worked on it. Writer # 17 — Dan Fogelman – is the credited screenwriter.

I was the first writer to be hired to work on WILBUR ROBINSON (later released as MEET THE ROBINSONS), based on the William Joyce book. It was my draft that got the project greenlit into production. There were many credited screenwriters; I was the first credited screenwriter.

I have never met Mr. Greno. When he friended me on Facebook, I saw that he worked in animation and we shared a few common friends so I accepted his friendship. He challenged me on my wall, not a private message. I replied in a private message and provided for him the dates that I was contracted to write RAPUNZEL and the name of the Disney executive with whom I worked. Then I unfriended him because obviously, why would I want to be friends with him?

Hollywood screenwriters know that film, especially animated film, is a collaborative medium. Virtually all animated films have multiple writers and countless animators.

Please feel free to confirm these facts with Disney legal.

Sincerely yours,
JON BERNSTEIN


  • Anonymous

    Are we sure that he didn’t contribute to some version of Tangled over the many years it was in development? Perhaps he did some work when the project was called Rapunzel Unbraided, who knows? How would Nathan Greno know whether he contributed or not to some previous incarnation of the film?

    I’m not saying he did, I’m just giving the guy the benefit of a doubt. It’s pretty common to list a project you worked on with the film’s final title. For example, a lot of people who worked on “The Kingdom of the Sun” say that they worked on “The Emperor’s New Groove” on their resume even if their work was not included in the final film. I don’t see any harm in that (if that’s indeed the case).

  • 90′s WDFA Vet

    During the 90′s, the writers who crawled out of the woodwork to claim credit for Disney’s animated successes were legion. Usually it was because he or she wrote an outline or draft during the early development phase, sometimes years before the project was green-lit, let alone assigned a director. Nine times out of ten, the director never even laid eyes on it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Holmen/562023961 Robert Holmén

    What is our society coming to when even people in Hollywood can not be trusted?

    He should say it wasn’t really a “lie”… he was just exercising his screenwriter talent for creating imaginary worlds.

  • Cheese

    No. 1 rule when it comes to writing screenplays, novels, fairy tales, and so on: always, I repeat, ALWAYS get your stories copyrighted before presenting it to Hollywood companies such as Warner Bros., Disney, Fox, Columbia, Weinstein, Paramount, and so on.

    Doesn’t people do that now-a-days?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Sullivan/100001833542564 Matt Sullivan

      All the time.

    • FriendofJon

      Mr Bernstein was approached by Disney to work on both of the listed projects based on previous scripts. I presume drafts of his work were submitted to the WGA during the contracted period, which is generally how a writer would document their ownership. There is no dispute with Disney that he worked on these projects. Just implications by the director.

  • z-k

    On the one hand, if Bernstein states something to the effect of “I helped develop”, then it’s a little clearer, rather than ” I wrote”, full stop. Writing a version of a script is more tangible than simply brainstorming with folks you know and not having any attribution later on. (Have been on that end of things a couple of times during the student film days.)

    On the other, would figure the best way Greno could’ve approach Bernstein would be through private email at first, rather than flexing nuts on Facebook right out of the gate. Though, there might be past history with some of the players involved.

  • http://twitter.com/AltAnimPodcast AltAnimation Podcast

    The book “How to write movies for fun and profit” by Tom Lennon has some great advice on how to secure a credit for writing a screenplay, which is usually important nowadays considering a script will get punched up by tons of people.

  • Floyd Norman

    Most screenwriting credits are bunk. Deals are made regarding credit, money, ect. My source is an “insider” who resided in the big, ugly stone bunker on the studio lot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Sullivan/100001833542564 Matt Sullivan

    It’s pointless writing scripts for animated films. Studios would rather tear a decent script apart and call it “development” I’ve written several scripts and I get told things like “We don’t feel this project is appropriate for animation” despite the fact it was expressly created by an animator ( me) with animation in mind. Brainless suits.

    yeah be interesting to hear the other side of this story..

  • Yoram Benz

    I would have to say I find the fact that he quickly deleted the comment from the director on his FB page and blocked him is a tell tale sign of where the truth might lie…

  • Axolotl

    Movie certainly seemed like it was written by a screenwriting teacher.

    • http://twitter.com/BeamishKinowerk Beamish Kinowerks

      I’m probably just jaded, but that’s the way I feel about most American films nowadays, both live-action and animated. When I watch a French, Japanese, Taiwanese, etc. movie, I truly don’t know what to expect, because their movies are told in a way that most Hollywood film executives would demean as being too outre and risky for audiences.

      • http://twitter.com/ragnarokprime The mighty Tfear

        Really? That’s almost the exact opposite thing that I feel, I feel as if these other places have cinema that’s tailored to their specific population, and a lot of that does not translate very well.

        One example was Ung Bok 2, there was one point in the movie after the hero has been all set up, and he’s totally badass now and ready to start tearing stuff up, and they do this vertical pan from this fire pit he’s standing over, up to his face.

        And it’s literally like…. 7-10 minutes of him starring intensely at the camera. My buddy turned to me and said “They’re real big into hero worship over there, this is the part where they all stand up and cheer.”

  • http://twitter.com/BeamishKinowerk Beamish Kinowerks

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the WGA not regulate credits in animated features? This is why many American animated films have exorbitant numbers of credited authors. If Bernstein did any work on TANGLED, even during its nascent RAPUNZEL stage, it would have likely been noted on the final product.

  • OtherDan

    Though it’s an interesting topic, it seems like CB is baiting Greno in this post. The statements cited sound unsubstantiated at this point. I hope that’s not going to be the new trend here on CB. It would feel more like a tabloid than a place to get the latest news.

  • JON BERNSTEIN

    To suggest that I am misrepresenting my credits is offensive to me. I wish you would have done a bit of research before writing this mean-spirited and wildly misleading story.

    I never claimed to write TANGLED. My bio states that I was a contributing
    writer. There were over twenty of us according to Disney’s legal documents. I
    was the first writer hired to work on it back when the project was called
    RAPUNZEL. This was before Mr. Greno was involved. When the film was released as TANGLED, I received a Disney legal document listing all the writers who worked on it. Writer # 17 — Dan Fogelman – is the credited screenwriter.

    I was the first writer to be hired to work on WILBUR ROBINSON (later released as MEET THE ROBINSONS), based on the William Joyce book. It was my draft that got the project greenlit into production. There were many credited screenwriters; I was the first credited screenwriter.

    I have never met Mr. Greno. When he friended me on Facebook, I saw that he worked in animation and we shared a few common friends so I accepted his friendship. He challenged me on my wall, not a private message. I replied in a private message and provided for him the dates that I was contracted to write RAPUNZEL and the name of the Disney executive with whom I worked. Then I unfriended him because obviously, why would I want to be friends with him?

    Hollywood screenwriters know that film, especially animated film, is a collaborative medium. Virtually all animated films have multiple writers and countless animators.

    Please feel free to confirm these facts with Disney legal.

    Sincerely yours,
    JON BERNSTEIN

  • Anonymous

    C Edwards: This is bad journalism. When writing an article, a real pro interviews all parties, get the facts straight and prints the story. This kind of writing is dangerous, and you are doing good working writers a major disservice. Thousands of writers do drafts of movies in development. It is called the creative process. Perhaps you don’t understand how things work. In the movie business, particularly animation many writers are brought in over years, and they all were contributing writers. Legally they are entitled to say that.

  • David Freedman

    My favourite claim is from a certain someone (with a name too close to my own) who writes on his website; “This
    is the workshop taken by many novelists, as well as by the screenwriters,
    directors, producers, stars, and key creative and marketing executives from
    the companies which make or made:” And then he goes on to list just about every film and TV series ever made including The Simpsons. It’s one thing to have contributed in some way, but it’s another to have taught someone who worked somewhere where they made The Godfather. There’s stretching and then there’s dislocating your spine. Hey, I once taught a guy who worked at the Ford factory. If you like the new Ford Focus, that was down to me.

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    Yeh- this is just sloppy gossip. An obvious misunderstanding.

  • AmidAmidi

    This wasn’t an investigative piece about who wrote TANGLED. It was a post about the director of TANGLED complaining on the Internet about how he felt that someone was taking too much credit for someone else’s work.

    • http://twitter.com/ragnarokprime The mighty Tfear

      So really cartoonbrew is just a soapbox for Mr. Greno to spew allegations? Maybe the title should be changed to Director of Tangled accuses innocent screenwriter over misunderstanding.

  • anonymous

    This is the first time I have visited Cartoon Brew. It seems to be a site that welcomes anyone to spew trash and then position it as legitimate news. If you acknowledge that Greno was misguided in his accusation then why post this wildly misleading piece including images above that are only meant to hurt Bernstein. This is massively irresponsible and damaging to reputations. Take this image down and remove this post.

    • http://www.bluemonkeysfrommarz.com/ BlueMonkeysFromMarz.com

      agreed. this amounts to borderline slander. highly irresponsible gossip-manufacturing.

      since this isn’t the first time, i’m finally removing CB from my feeds.

      i’m sure the next time i hear anything about Cartoon Brew it will be for another “journalistic” screw up.

      good luck.

  • wallyballou

    At least you highlighted his response, but if he is correct, the headline “claims he wrote” is misleading and should have been corrected. Also the accompanying illustration was inappropriate.

  • DNDTN

    I think Nathan Greno should publicly apologize. He didn’t think twice before publicly throwing Bernstein’s name through the mud so he needs to do the right thing now and apologize.

  • FriendofJon

    Wow. The fact that Mr Greno went through the trouble to Facebook Friend Jon, so he could immediately lie in a post, so that Mr Edwards can create this “unbiased” post is pathetic. That took some effort. Honestly, isn’t there enough bitterness in the industry, that you don’t need to go out and fabricate it.

    I don’t know what any of them considers a “writer”, but clearly the legal department at Disney considered his work on the project significant enough to identify him in his contract prior to the release of the film. I find it hard to believe that Mr Greno, who is so close to Mr. Fogelman, couldn’t have just asked him since certainly the same list of writers is included in Mr. Fogelman’s final contract. Being himself a writer at Disney he would know this.

    That Ms Bochner Spitz would imply that Jon was tangentially involved in the script for Meet the Robinsons in an article disputing credit is especially rich. I read many of Jon’s drafts and can assure you the entirety of the structure of the
    movie was created by him and remained in the film. As far as I can tell, she spent three years creating filler gags and should be ashamed of her comments. If she would like to refute this perhaps she can post the draft she started with and the final draft and your readers can be the judge. Better yet, see firsthand examples of her sparkling wit and humor at her homestead dot com website. Anyone who has seen the film will easily be able to identify her shtick that was largely panned by the critics.

    I don’t read your blog, but for those who do, I would consider if fabricated “news” is something you would judge to be “coverage of industry trends and the lighter side of animation’s impression” as Mr Edwards is purporting to report. To me it’s just bitter, sad and verging on libelous. It’s especially egregious since all involved work in the industry and are completely aware of the different levels
    of writing on a film, both credited and non-credited. Honestly, you would think these people have better things to do with their time and shame on Mr Amidi for allowing this garbage on his site.

    • caricaturist

      Spitz spat is now dis-enTangled with solid knowledge from deep Disney…

    • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.spitz Michelle Spitz

      In my defense, I did not imply nor intend to imply that Jon was “tangentially involved” in the Meet the Robinsons script. I stated that Jon wrote the first draft(s) of the script and and that is entirely correct. It is also correct that Jon was not involved with the film for over three years when it continued to be developed. I was not disputing Jon’s credit on Meet the Robinsons. He deserved the credit as did ALL of the other credited writers. I met Jon at the Meet the Robinsons premiere. He was warm, friendly and I Iiked him immediately. I have nothing against him personally or professionally and my comment on facebook was clearly taken the wrong way by you and perhaps by Jon as well. For that, I apologize. FriendofJon, sorry that you don’t like my website. I created it on my own without the help of a web designer many, many years ago and haven’t updated it since. Obviously you don’t care for my humor. Sorry to disappoint you, but I probably won’t slit my wrists just today. Maybe tomorrow. But not because of you. As for spending three years writing “filler gags,” simply not true. Maybe YOU should do a little research before making false claims. Talk to the director, Steve Anderson. He will tell you that I worked with him and the story team writing and rewriting entire scenes for more than three years. Thank you for your time.