Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Credits

Writers, actors, producers, directors – anyone who can – fights hard to receive well deserved credit. There are guidelines for who receives credit, what the credit is, and where the credit is placed. Did you ever notice that if credits are in the beginning of a show the director’s credit is last, and if the credits are at the back the director’s credit is first? Actors squabble over top billing. Single card vs. shared with other actors. Agents also negotiate over whether an actor receives an “and” credit, which distinguishes him or her from the rest of the cast. Writers and producers quarrel over which credit goes next to the director’s.  Writers negotiate their titles.   "Co-executive supervising producer"  "Executive creative consultant", "Supervising Script Story Editor", etc.   They're all writers sitting at the same table working on the same script.

And for all the battles over credits, no one seems to say anything about the size of the credits on the screen. This becomes an even greater issue in television now that there are no longer opening titles. Credits are slipped in and out of the body of the show, under dialogue and action. No longer are they in opening titles where there is nothing to shift your focus. And they can be placed in the middle of the screen instead of on the bottom like an afterthought.

A number of shows have credits so small and in such unreadable fonts that it’s nearly impossible to read them. LOST was one such show. Tiny, thin letters in white. And if they happened to occur over a scene at a beach then good luck. They completely disappeared. Seems to me it’s not fair to the people involved. It’s bad enough that closing credits are now ridiculously squeezed, but you can blame the networks for that. Undecipherable opening credits is a stylistic choice often made by the showrunner.

I understand there’s a certain amount of humility involved. Absolutely filling the screen with your name is a little much. The MASH credits were huge. I admit it was fun seeing my name so big, but that size was already established so I could enjoy it guilt-free.

But there’s plenty of middle ground. The letters don’t have to be that large if they’re in a font style that’s easily readable and a color that pops. (Yellow or bright white seems to work best.)  In fairness, a lot of shows do just that. 

I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request. After all, who really reads these things? Relatives. And unfortunately, they don’t have a union.

50 comments:

Nathan said...

Occasionally, I'll have a location that demands screen credit. I get the knee-jerk appeal, but I always feel the need to point out that they're likely to show up in that mass of "Thank You" credits that includes the director's third-grade teacher and the guy who managed to deliver bagels during a blizzard.

Whenever this comes up, the Location Agreement specifies that their credit will be of "size, placement and duration solely at Producer's discretion". (There's also usually a weasel-out clause so that there's no recourse if the Producer forgets.)

Anthony said...

I like how Community slipped away from the shrinking version of their opening credits to the point where, past season 1, they never seem to skimp on that cootie-catcher... even doing fun variations. I think that's helped the name recognition for the actors at the start of the show.

My family can never remember the names of the actors who play Raj and Howard on The Big Bang Theory and I think that has something to do with the fact that they run the credits over the opening tag, even though they have a proper opening theme song.

Word capture: dignator. Yes the opening credits should be a dignator - a dignity designator.

Tom Quigley said...

Ken, nice vidcap of Ted Danson and Shawnee Smith from your writing/directing turn on BECKER, "The Usual Suspects", one of my favorite episodes!

Sandra-colchones said...

I had not noticed the importance of placing the credits, I guess that marketing studies it all. Interesting reading.

Chas said...

Given the importance of credits, how it it that broadcasters are permitted to shrink credits down to a small box with a scroll moving at light speed inset into a promo for whatever is next? Do the various unions have no say in this?

femmeperdueu said...

I have been known to sit through 10 minutes of movie end credits out of respect for the people who worked on that movie and thus deserve that someone glimpses their name, so I'm right there with you. After all, if they can run those awful and distracting advertising scrolling things on the bottom of the screen (often covering up the action taking place), they can make room for the credits.

Matt said...

I hate it when the end credits start and the show goes split screen to do a commercial or promo, and they also speed up the credits to the point where you have no chance of reading any of the titles or names.

Roger Owen Green said...

I agree with Matt. And it' not just promos; sometimes, it's the next episode of Law and Order on cable.

I always loved reading the MASH credits. they had to make William Christopher's name slightly smaller because his last name was so long.

The Milner Coupe said...

You may be surprised at who reads those credits. I am not in your industry but I do like to know who is responsible for creating and producing what I am watching. As your other commentors have mentioned, I despise what they are doing now-a-days with merging two time slots by overlapping the credits.

It reminds me of some of the restored older movies where they completely leave off the ending credits.

I suppose they general attitude now with the unions is to get the moola now and forget about the legacies.

Stupid... and disrespectful.

Mark said...

Re: illegible credits. Clearly there's some kind of legal obligation at work here, but if they can't be read how can they be deemed to have fulfilled that obligation?

Damn it, I want to know who played Waitress or Second Cop, because I think I saw them last week on MeTV.

Anonymous said...

Ken,
On Cheers,the actors named seemed to float over the old time pictures.Shelly Long over a blonde, Ted Danson over a bar tender ect, was this on purpose?
Thanks
Joe

Jen said...

I always watch the credits. My least favourite are the sped up ones, because they often give me vertigo. It makes my eyes hurt just to look at them.

I also can't stand when they squeeze them into a tiny window so they can run an ad for what I'm going to be watching in 60 seconds ... and it usually happens right before I'm about to see the who played a certain character.

I definitely appreciate slow rolling, readable credits, whether they're at the front or the end. Before I was ever involved in film I watched credits, and I always feel that it's insulting to see the tiny little names speed by when those tiny little names put that show together.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I think The Simpsons has by far the best credit font on television today. It's worked very well since 1989. Readable mid-sized letters in the middle, but not exactly at the very bottom of the screen either.

I love reading screen credits. I usually need to rewatch the opening of the episode because of that, so I can pay closer attention to the action as well.

It's how I discovered names like Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky (they were the first credited names on the show during the early seasons), and of course David Isaacs and yours truly, in the case of Dancing Homer.

If you ever watch Napoleon Dynamite (the 2004 movie, that is), notice the amount of names at the end credits. The director felt it was fair to credit every single high school extra on that film. That amounted to 180 names overall.

Barbara C. said...

As a non-industry regular Jane, whether I pay attention to the credits is sometimes a matter of how they are presented. For instance, I am aware of a lot of the tech people for The Wiggles because I've not only had to watch their videos a million times, but they show their tech people on the screen with their credit.

I love the history behind George Lucas paying all of those fines for Star Wars: A New Hope for putting all of the credits at the end of the movie because he knew that they would mess up the movie if he put them at the beginning according to guild rules. (It would kill the effectiveness of the opening story scroll.)

I did notice in the Downton Abbey credits that most of the cast is listed alphabetically, not by star power. Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, and Penelope Wilton are just mixed in with the "lesser knowns".

Nathan said...

@Milner Coupe,

End credits were the exception rather than the rule before the 1970's. Up to that time, there wasn't a standard, but most older movies ran title credits naming the cast and some of the key people behind the scenes. "The End" was usually the last thing before the lights came up.

Tom said...

I seem to remember that when the film "Boeing Boeing" came out, the ads had the names of Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis in the form of an X, so that neither of them had their name over the other.

Scott H. said...

I always like seeing the two leads share credits on the same screen, inevitably with the one on the right higher than the one on the left, as if the names are fighting for the better placement. I always think of this as the Laverne & Shirley credit, where Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams's names fought it out onscreen. I think that was the case with Ted Danson & Shelley Long on Cheers, wasn't it? Maybe I'm mistaken. These days, it's the arrangement for Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher on "Two and a Half Men".

Johnny Walker said...

It doesn't get much bigger than David Suchet's credit in the Poirot opening sequence... A minute long(!) and his is the only face and name (well, beside Agatha Christie) that appears on the screen:

Agatha Christie's Poirot

RyderDA said...

I have always wondered why old movies had the credits in the beginning (and big, major movies had just 3 screens of names -- no one's dry cleaner was thanked, much less the Transportation or Catering people) but current movies have the credits at the end (and they're 10 minutes long). I even know of movies "in the middle" (from the late 60's & early 70's) that had a version of both, with some credits at the beginning and then more at the end.

Another thing I don't understand is why some movies list the actors names at the end, then repeat the list only with the characters they played (HARRY POTTER springs to mind). Obviously someone's negotiating for something for some reason.

In TV, I find it disappointing that too many of the bit part roles can't be identified in the credits. You see someone, they do a bang up job and they are memorable, but they're listed as Man #3 in a list of 6 people. No idea who they are. No idea of if Man #3 was even the guy who caught your eye. Thank goodness IMDB covers TV and has people's photos.

julial said...

Now that I've started to read your blog, I try to look for the writer's credit at the beginning of "Frasier" episodes to see if you were involved. But even though the credits are rolled out slowly, in beautiful fonts, the actors are so good that inevitably I'm caught up in watching their faces and forget all about the credits.

If I'm really determined, I'll go back several times, but usually it's better to give up and just do an online search. I'd so much rather just watch the show -- and maybe that's the best compliment of all.

RCP said...

Can't remember it offhand, but I recently watched a film in which the actors' names during opening credits were nearly impossible to read - one guy was lucky because his name appeared against a flash of dark trees. This would seem to be an easy fix, no?

On the flip side, the end credits for Titanic (don't ask me why I sat through them) took I think 11 minutes to complete. My best friend from college works on 30 Rock, and I know exactly where to look on the screen - a bit right of center - when his name appears for .008ths of a second.

Ron Rettig said...

I read them and think they ought to be legible. I'm not in the biz although father was active in production end of 30's & 40's film and later TV exec and brother was TV network employee.

Chris said...

Friday question: can you clear up what's correct and what's not when writing the action block before the dialogue? I've read a number of scripts and it always seems to be different. A number of "how-to" websites say it should always be written in ALL CAPS and present tense (because it describes what the characters are doing RIGHT NOW). Also, they say when a character's name appears for the first time it should be underlined. I've seen pilot scripts for shows like Studio 60, How I Met Your Mother or Entourage that follow none of these rules. (What's the correct option in Final Draft for the action block, is it "Scene Heading" or "Action"?)

Sorry for the long ass question.

benson said...

While I can't speak for the (cable) networks, but seeing this practice is place now on so many reruns, I think they would tell you, it's either speed through credits or chop the rerun even more unrecognizably than it was before. I see TVLand creating their own closing credits and running them over the final scene of a show. Yes, it's disrespectful to the people who worked hard on the project, but if that's the trade off for seeing a little more of the original product, I think I choose the latter. And then head over to IMDB to check out the credits.

Ray said...

I don't know. As a "regular" viewer, I'll skip over an opening sequence if it's a DVD or I've DVRed the show, so I won't see the credits. And credits superimposed over a scene can be really annoying... the "Star Treks" were particularly bad like that - sometimes they had six names up at the same time for teleplay and story. I want to see the actors and the set, and I'm always glad when the credits are finally finished, even though I do read the guest stars, and the writers and director on shows that I particularly enjoy.

One thing I noticed recently, and which seems to be true only for American shows: Apparently you're not allowed to place an on-screen credit over a cut? That is to say, the credit never comes up, stays up as you cut to another shot and then disappears. That seems like a weird rule...

Heidi said...

I grew up loving the name "Thad Mumford." Did he do his completely awesome name justice?

Anonymous said...

As someone who has produced main titles, it's entirely about the actor's agent and the negotiation with studio lawyers. Oh, and ego.

Also, IMDb is not 100% accurate, keep that in mind when you visit the site.

the end credits for Titanic took I think 11 minutes to complete.

They currently try to limit who gets credit with all the companies who do VFX for all those big budget movies.

but if they can't be read how can they be deemed to have fulfilled that obligation?

If everyone is equal size and screen-time is an equal blink-and-you-miss-it amount of time, it fulfills the contract. Stupid, huh?

Ken, on a personal note, you're more a written blog than photo-driven, but will we get some pix of Tasmania/ NZ?

thanks, Steven

jbryant said...

Tom: You're right about the BOEING BOEING ads. Even better, the opening credits of the film configure Curtis and Lewis' names as a circle that revolves around a plane engine so that no one's name stays on top.

Randy said...

read the end credits on movies like Airplane and the Naked Guns. Hilarious

Thomas said...

I remember an episode of Top Gear where the ending theme was something they had remixed over the course of the show, and was a feature in itself.
On its *first* showing on TV, it got minimized and spoken over for the entire duration.
Unimpressed.

Chris said...

Here's a question for friday: I've never seen a hilarious pilot (I'm talking about how funny the jokes are). It seems even the great shows become really funny (as in episodes you remember for the rest of your life) midway through the first season (the earliest). Why do you think that is? I would think writers would do all they can to make the pilot as funny as possible, or is it more about characters and how relatable they are?

Dave B said...

Rather than post illegible credits, why not simply post them online? Let's face it, other than friends and family, nobody is really all that interested in who the Second AD is. This notion of TV production pros somehow "deserving" on-screen credit escapes me. You don't put up a sign in front of your house listing the names of the construction crew, after all. It's an odd, ego-driven quirk of the entertainment industry.

Anonymous said...

Since it is possible to lookup credits, why are they even needed? Books get the author but that is about it. Paintings get the artist and that is it. Computer games may have a little something buried away. It is extremely rare to find credits anywhere else - so why the obsession?

Kirk said...

I've been reading credits since middle-school, and I'm not in the business. I read this blog because I saw Ken Levine's name on so many episodes of MASH and Cheers. I read Mark Rothman's blog because I saw his name on so many episodes of The Odd Couple and Happy Days. I've never understood how people could enjoy TV shows or movies without having some curiosity about who wrote them. Do they think, as Billy Wilder and Charlie Brackett by way of Williams Holden once put it, that the actors make up the words as they go along? At certain times of the day, even Nick at Night and TVLand now use shrunken credits (the picture's compressed to make room for a promo) As a kid I used to get a kick finding out that the same guy, Aaron Rueben, produced both The Andy Griffith Show and the VERY different Sanford and Son. It would be difficult now for some kid to notice such a connection (well, I suppose the kid COULD be out playing instead of sitting in front of the tube reading credits, but still...)

DwWashburn said...

I've never understood why a star having his name at the end of the cast list with a word "and" "with" or "and / as" was such a coup for the actor / agent. It would seem to me that the further down on the list you are, the less of a "star" you are.

Oh and to the discussion of credits at the front or end of the movie. The first movie I ever saw with credits at the end only was HEAD. I thought it was very effective.

JJadziaDax said...

I understand that someone in the business would want the credits to be legible and that especially family would like to see them but as a viewer I've never cared about being able to read them or paid any attention to them. It isn't that I don't want to know who the actors are, especially when trying to place a guest star you just Know you've seen before, but you really don't need to read them real time these days. Just google the episode credits on imdb and if that isn't up to date (and what gives with that site being a week late so annoying) they will be listed in an article on the show.

Dave Creek said...

I've always wondered why some credits identify an actor by his/her character and some don't. I first noticied this on HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET. Ned Beatty, arguably the best-known actor on the show at the time (Yaphet Kotto and Richard Belzer being exceptions, perhaps) was dumped into the end part of the credits AND identified by his character, Bolander.

But I knew who he was -- in the days before IMDB, it was years before I knew who the other actors were because they weren't identified by character. Why ID Beatty as if we weren't famiiar with him?

Tv Food and Drink said...

And if the network decides to run a lower third advertising another show altogether... forget it.

I worked at Game Show Network for a number of years - GAME SHOW NETWORK - and they would run lower thirds for their original programming during reruns of older game shows that used that same space to show the "clue" to the viewers at home. Maddening and stupid.

Too many people who don't care about television make the decisions concerning it.

Record Keeper said...

Potential Friday question, kinda related: when a cast member who also writes, produces or whatever gets his credit at the same time he's on-screen (like Alan Alda for M*A*S*H), is that usually happy coincidence, or is there sometimes lobbying involved?

Also, on "and" in final billing: Jimmie Walker got the redundant "And Also Starring" credit on Good Times. Did that mean he was REALLY special?

PS to chas: I think the record speed for squeezed credits goes to Band Of Brothers when it's on Spike. Each page of credits gets about 3 frames.

Cap'n Bob said...

I saw a show a few years ago that kept running credits, one name at a time, for almost the first 15 minutes of the show. Sheesh!
And I hate when they shrink credits from old shows and flash them by so fast Evelyn Wood couldn't catch them. Let's face it, the networks don't give a damn about the viewers, they just want to promote. That's why they have their annoying logos on the screen all during the show.

Dale Paynter said...

I remember watching the restored version of "Lawrence of Arabia". The credits for the original movie were just a few screens worth. The credits for the restoration contained hundreds and hundreds of names.

Birdie said...

I immediately thought of what Scott H said re Cheers, Laverne & Shirley etc - that is always such an obvious battle. But I've still always assumed that the bottom left/ Ted Danson position was the slightly better one to have. Do you agree, Ken?


Another thing that will sometimes be done - in movies - is that if there are 2 stars, it will be one order on the poster, and the reverse on the opening credits. Ie All the President's Men.

GMJ said...

I watched a show's end credits as a kid because I liked hearing the show's end themes and started to pay more attention to the people who work behind the scenes. It's unfortunate that network promotions trumps closing theme songs and credits. (Frasier credits must have gotten a waiver from NBC when it came to split-screen promo closes. Also, thank goodness for pay cable networks or else end credit themes would vanish.)

Having worked behind the scenes at a local affiliate, it was nice to see my name on the screen, which was once every other month, time permitting.

In re: IMDb

The website is only as good as the people who submit the information. Some production companies and more than a few web volunteers take the time to transcribe the names and titles of shows currently on the air as well as shows from before IMDb existed.

Helena said...

I read all credits; I like recognizing names of writers, directors and producers from earlier seasons or other shows.

On M*A*S*H I thought the credits were too big, because they blocked the picture and the action. I would almost move in my couch, trying to look behind the big letters at what was going on. It didn't work.

Another thing with most shows these days is that the names of the actors roll by in the beginning, but not any information about which character they play. When I watch a show for the first time, I don't know who's who. Why should I have to look it up online when I have the show and the credits right in front of me? Why can't the credits look something like "Actor Name as Character Name", or at least put the name of the actor on the screen at the same time as that actor's face is on the screen.

Pat Reeder said...

Just be grateful you work in TV where writers get credited at all. I work every day, making morning radio guys around the world sound witty, and only they know where the material really came from. Most civilians don't even know that what we do for a living (radio show prep) exists. And even when I've ventured out of the field, I never got any credit. I've punched up speeches for major politicians and written lines for them that earned praise for their wit from top columnists at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, London Telegraph and more. But it was praise for the wit of the guys who gave the speeches, not the schmuck who actually wrote the line. I often wish I could list those accolades on my resume, but I'm like a CIA agent: I have to just cash the check and keep my mouth shut.

VW: "Riall" - Isn't that the woman John Edwards impregnated? Thank God he never asked me to help write one of his speeches. Although I could give him 10 minutes that would really kill.

Anonymous said...

I asked this before here, and didn't see an answer but..it fits in with the theme.

Here in Norway where I live, when film or TV show ends, they OFTEN minimize the current screen to show on another small screen what is coming up next, and announce. So basically they dampen the sound, talk over it, and make the screen too small to read while credits role. Now that I'm older I often want to see if I recognized a person in a movie or show (wasn't that a young Robert Duvall in that scene?) and this bugs me, but further...I keep wondering if this is even legal?
I just assumed there is some kind of agreement between tv stations that want to run a film, and the filmaker regarding showing the full credits.
Sometimes they just CUT, right as the credits begin.
Is this allowed? Aren't they required to show credits?

5w30 said...

Seeing the evolution of credits in films since 1927 and tv since 1948 is worth a book in itself - but I think one of the greatest beginning credit sequences is in IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1A7bJD3atk

Bradley said...

I've always read the credits, at the beginning and the end. I'm not entirely sure why, but I do.

Speaking of big credits, I think Garry Marshall movies have the hugest credits known to man. The titles take over the entire screen, as though you were about to watch Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur, when really it's only Katherine Helmond in Overboard.

VP81955 said...

I seem to remember that when the film "Boeing Boeing" came out, the ads had the names of Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis in the form of an X, so that neither of them had their name over the other.

"Outrageous Fortune" did something similar with its posters; Shelley Long received top billing on one side of the Mississippi, while Bette Midler gained top honors on the other side. (Not sure who got which side, or who got dibs on the Twin Cities or New Orleans.)

Ms. Frashes said...

Somewhat lame Friday question: I'm rewatching a highly serialized show from the 80s (LA Law) that starts every episode with "Previously on...". Do actors, writers, etc. get pay and residuals for those video snippets that are reused, sometimes for multiple episodes?

I rewatched Cheers and a large portion of Wings last year, and it seems like all these shows were so much more leisurely 20 years ago. It might just be that I've forgotten the plots, but still remember the characters, so the show is very enjoyable. So many modern shows (dramas and comedies) just seem frenetic with interchangeable characters that are hard to distinguish. In the frenzy to create a hit show, it seems like everything has become quite shallow and one-note. Characters often don't evolve anymore.

I also recently found and watched "The Class" (available on YouTube). Apparently it was a victim of the writers' strike, but I found it to be really competent comedy writing that consistently engaged me. The two creators (Crane and Klarik) certainly have extensive experience writing long-running comedy, and to my eyes, it really showed. (I don't remember it at all...it was paired with 2 1/2 Men, so perhaps I was reluctant to sample it.) After years of writing in the format, it must get easier to create character beats, to set up a physical comedy bit, and to service a character arc while still amusing the audience.

As far as credits, I definitely pay attention to the creative people, because I've discovered that often it's the creators who determine the quality of a show. If I recognize a producer/writer of a show as being involved with something I thought was great, I will definitely try it. For most actors, I'll want to see a couple positive reviews from trusted critics before I sample their show. Sometimes it's quite disappointing to find out that that favorite actor is really quite limited after all and needed that great material to elevate their performance. However, I will try everything Ted Danson is in, because I think he's fantastic and picky about the roles he chooses. There's a very short list of actors that have earned that kind of loyalty from me.