Jack Valenti, the Washington lobbyist for the major Hollywood studios, says filmmakers should do more to eliminate gratuitous violence from their pictures.

"They should look at their creative work and say, `Is this the best that I can do? Is there something here that is gratuitous as I define it?' " Valenti said Friday during a gathering of screenwriters called to debate entertainment violence.

Valenti, who has taken heat from Congress on the issue, said he will fight for the writers' First Amendment rights. But he said people in the movie business need to take personal responsibility and cut needless violence.

The event comes as lawmakers go on the attack against movies, television, music and video games following the school massacre in Littleton, Colo.

President Clinton and Congress have taken Hollywood to task, suggesting the industry has contributed to a culture of violence through the bloody images in the product.

At a seminar called "Guns Don't Kill People . . . Writers Do," Brian Helgeland, writer and director of the violent film "Payback," said writers should answer only to themselves and not adhere to a code of conduct.

"I wouldn't know how to respond to a code or a consensus as to what's responsible and what isn't acceptable. That is only for me to answer in my own work," said Helgeland, who also co-wrote "L.A. Confidential" and "Nightmare on Elm Street 4."

But William Mastrosimone, who wrote the HBO movie "The Burning Season" and the CBS miniseries "Sinatra," called Helgeland's perspective "dangerous" and "extremist."

"We need to look to ourselves and acknowledge the effect we have in the world," said Mastrosimone, contending that studies clearly show a cause-and-effect relationship between entertainment and behavior.

At the seminar, Callie Khouri, the Academy Award-winning writer of "Thelma & Louise," said the issues are more complicated than simply blaming one segment of society or another for youth violence.

She noted that she was surprised when audiences applauded a scene in her movie in which one character shoots a man.

"I hoped for a stunned reaction from audiences and realization that the character just sealed her fate," Khouri said. "I was terrified and I realized that I can't control how my work is perceived."