Sharps & Flats
An accidental obsession
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BY ROBERT GLATZER | You've stayed through the movie's final credits -- a seemingly endless scrolling of mysterious job titles like best boy, grip and Foley artist -- and if you're like many people, you have no idea what all these individuals do, or whether they're just involved in some sadomasochistic cult headquartered at the studio. We'll get to them, along with gaffers, wranglers and second second assistant assistants, but first let's talk about ego. Credits aren't really there for the audience. They're there so the industry will know who did what on the film. They help with future jobs, with better contracts, with more deals and obviously with getting more money next time. Credits are where the agent earns his or her money, because it's the agent who negotiates the credits.
First, draw a horizontal line. That line is an accountant's way of describing the costs of making a movie. Above the line go the names of all the creative people involved (along with the pay or compensation they're going to get). Who are the creative people? They're the ones with agents. They are the director, the producers, the writers, the stars and featured actors and (these days) the production designers, composers, casting directors and cinematographers. Below the line go all the production people -- the crew members -- and the out-of-pocket costs of making the movie, like allocations for location rentals, building sets, purchasing or renting equipment, getting props, recording and editing the sound track, buying film stock and processing it in the laboratory, generating the optical and special effects (now often up to half the total production cost) and the like. The line is not a figure of speech. Every production is described as consisting of "above-the-line" and "below-the-line" costs.
Now the fun begins. Who should be listed first? With a few exceptions, there's a predetermined order. The very first credit you see on the screen, just after the lights go down and the theater informs you that this is the feature presentation and you are fortunate enough to hear it in one or another version of Dolby sound, is the name of the studio (Buena Vista, Columbia, Universal, etc.), followed by the name of the production company that actually made the film (for example, Amblin), followed by the name of the investment group that hopes to make a fortune by backing the film (for example, a group of dentists in Minneapolis might call themselves "Whitecaps IV"), usually credited as "in association with." Then the director's first credit, usually "a film by (your name here)," or "a (your name) film." Then come the stars, and then comes the film's title. Sometimes the stars' and director's credits will be reversed, depending on the star's deal with the studio. Then (often) the featured actors, followed by the key production people -- the casting director, composer of music, production designer, editor, director of photography and then ...
And then it gets sticky. We come to the writers and producers (the director will always get the final credit). The film "Quiz Show" listed 11 producers in the opening credits, although in fact there were 14, but three had asked to have their names removed. Variety's story reported that "it required several weeks to work out a viable device for listing all the credits -- which would be co-producers, executive producers, 'also produced by' producers and so forth. When one refused to go along with the settlement, the entire 'grid' had to be painstakingly reconstructed." Since no film requires 11 producers, much less 14, we can be pretty sure that we're seeing ego at work. Who are these people? Often they're friends, relatives, personal trainers or other hangers-on of the star whose names are added on as a part of the star's contract, a kind of big perk for the "little people." When the film has two or even three big stars, they all may want to do this. Thus the multiplicity of producer credits.
When it comes to writers, though, the situation is different and more complicated. The Writers Guild of America allows only three writing credits on a feature film, although teams of two are credited as one, separated on the credits by an ampersand ("you & I"). However, if each of us works independently on the script (the most common system), we are separated by an "and" and credited as "you and I." But wait; you wrote the story on which the script is based, so you get "story by" credit, and your credit for the screenplay precedes mine, even if I wrote most of the script, except that if my script made substantial changes to your story, I'll get first "screenplay by" credit. If more than two of us worked on the screenplay, the credits will probably read something like "screenplay by you & I and he and she." You and I worked as a team, but he and she worked separately. It actually does have a certain logic to it, when you think about it. After all, the movie of "The Flintstones" had by various counts at least 35 and possibly as many as 60 writers who worked on the script. Somehow the system found a way to not list most of them, and for that we can be grateful.
The Directors Guild of America permits a film to list only one director, even when it is known that two or more worked on it. Except in very rare cases (a death in mid-production, and it had better be in the very middle of mid-production) there is only one directing credit. This is very good for a director's ego, certainly for the one who gets the credit, but also for the one who doesn't -- particularly if he or she had started production and then been removed by the producer at the insistence of the star or the studio. The public won't know that the removed one either screwed up or incurred the wrath of those more powerful. In either case, the removed one will live to direct another day. More rarely, a director will take the initiative and leave a production because of conflicts that cannot be resolved, again usually with the studio or the star. All of this will most likely take place either before or during the first few days of shooting.
N E X T_P A G E _| Who is Alan Smithee?