Saturday, March 05, 2016

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.

38 comments:

YEKIMI said...

Who decides how fast they scroll by? I've seen some zip by so fast that they could possibly be going almost as fast as the speed of light.....certainly faster than Usain Bolt could run. Unless you're recording the thing and can freeze frame it or slow it down to to Warp 5, it seems sort of pointless to even have credits. Even movies in theaters seem to have sped up their credits but, then again, it seems like they list everyone that even walked by the set and glanced in their direction and their credits can take up to 10 minutes to scroll by. Maybe the Marvel movies have the right idea by sticking an extra scene at the very end of the credits in order to get people to sit through them.

Robert "kebernet" Cooper said...

"After all, who really reads these things? Relatives"

That is kind of the funny thing I kept thinking reading this -- if I am ever really curious about someone in the cast or crew, I will go look at IMDB.

I always wonder, though, how much of the elimination of the opening titles stems from the fact that networks have generally taken half hour shows down to 21 minutes from 24 or even 25 when I was a kid.

Stoney said...

It must be the "Aww, let the viewers look it up on IMDB" mentality at play here! Guest actors seem to get the real shaft by this.

The credits for "M*A*S*H" were perfectly readable but did you ever see the last time the show was running on TV Land? The entire closing was dropped. Credits were shown in tiny-type and rapid flash over the final scene. When it ended, next thing was Radar watching the choppers come over the hill as the next episode begins.

Also have to mention Netflix and their injustice to closing credits. They shrink the closing to about 1/32 screen size to get you back to the episode menu faster. Stream an episode of "Cheers" and you'll see.

B.A. said...

Louie CK's TV "series" opens with bright Franklin Bold, just like the old days. Too bad the closing credits are presented subliminally right when the DVR runs out, preventing me from verifying that the hottie in the bookstore scene really was in BROWN BUNNY. Can't tell from all the passive verbs, but somebody with a name, face and salary must be deciding to clip closing credits to get another 8% of adspace in a choked space that's already got people cutting the cord.

Alan C said...

I've always read credits. I'm not sure why except that I'm a reader. Maybe it goes back to when I was a kid and noticed that someone with the same name as my dad worked on a lot of the cartoons I watched Saturday mornings.

Big B's Random Blog said...

It shouldn't be a surprise that credits are smaller than in the MASH days: the resolution is so much better. Try small words in the 70s and noone would be able to see them.

Dale Hewlett said...

I picked up on the Cheers trick early on in it's initial run. In order to satisfy both Ted and Shelly they split the two factors that would indicate which one is the lead. Ted on the left, but at the bottom, Shelly at the top, but on the right. That seems the only way to give equal top billing.

Roseann said...

Yekimi-
Front and back credits can total only one minute. So if there are a lot of people to credit the names have less time on screen. If someone negotiated a single card or more seconds there is less time for the rest of the crew.
When I worked on Episodic TV as Wardrobe Supervisor the crew credits revolved. Some episodes had my name, some didn't. On the soap One Life to Live the crew got credit one day a year, right around Christmas. I guess that was our present from the network.

blinky said...

I think credits are only important to the person credited so essentially a waste of space and effort.

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LouOCNY said...

Stoney: MeTV - to their credit, runs the shows normal start to finish, with the end credits full sized at normal speed. Netflix has an opt out on that problem - you just have to look for it!

The MASH opening cast credits got HUGE after the fifth season or so.....

Ray said...

I've noticed, and it's seemed horribly unfair, that almost all networks now speed up, and picture-in-picture downsize, the closing credits naming all the people who did the work on an episode,...

but the "vanity card" (which I now know the name for thanks to you) never gets altered. JJ gets his three seconds of "Bad Robot" in fullscreen and full color, while his minions are relegated to the television equivalent of the agate-type boxscores.

Green Luthor said...

I'll always sit through the entirety of the end credits of a movie, although I'll admit I really only started to make a point of doing so when my cousin started working as a film editor. But, hey, it's only fair to read other people's relatives credits, too. (Honestly, I'm sure Marvel only started their end credit teasers to drum up hype for their next movie, and they are usually pretty cool, but if it gets people to sit through all the credits, more power to them.)

Anyhoo, separate question: is there any real difference between actors credited with an "and" and those with a "with"? Or if an actor is credited with an "as" (i.e., "And Ann B. Davis as Alice" from "The Brady Bunch")? Or is it just whatever the actor (or their agent) prefers?

Mike said...

I've read -- and Ken can probably confirm this if true -- the reason the MASH opening credits got so huge starting with season 4 was because they had to blow up the scenes toward the end of the sequence, to crop out Wayne Rogers as Trapper, and the end result didn't look that great. So they made the credits larger so as to cover things up more.

Dave Creek said...

I hate that the actors and their characters are never matched up on many shows. That gives rise to the IMDB effect that others have mentioned. I wonder if actors ever encounter people who recognize them from being on a show but have no idea what their real name is.

Covarr said...

I like the idea of joke credits. Not even necessarily as blatant as the opening to Deadpool, but even something like putting the "and" credit first, or Police Squad!'s habit of having a special guest star who literally died in the opening credits as they were being introduced. Just something to shake up the norm (NORM!) a bit, y'know? Certainly if you do it funny enough, the audience will pay more attention, and I'd think that'd be more valuable to any actor than getting a specific spot or size in the credits.

MikeK.Pa. said...

A lot of cable networks, like TNT, run the credits of the previous show in a little box on lower half of the screen as opening credits for the next show appear. Also, many shows in syndication seem to speed up the credits (Law and Order is a prime example). A big disservice to the cast and crew, especially for the bit players.

LouOCNY said...

I believe the credit reading thing was really started with the original STAR TREK...a lot of Trekkies/Trekkers watched to the very end, memorizing EVERYthing, so people like producer Robert Justman, some of the directors, even a propman lke Irving Feinberg became demi-Gods to them.

Cat said...

Perhaps a Friday question, why were Ted Danson and Shelley Long's credits arranged the way they were in the opening of Cheers? Was that always the way it was going to be or was it something their agents had to argue over?

Andrew said...

My favorite credit sequence was in an episode of Breaking Bad. In the opening scene, Danny Trejo plays a cartel member. After a discussion with his boss, he gets his head chopped off by the Cousins. Then there's the brief title and music intro. Then the credits start rolling as the regular episode begins. The credits end with "Special Guest Star, Danny Trejo." By then he's already dead. Sort of a dramatic example of the old Police Squad routine.

Jon88 said...

Not just relatives. I read credits. That's how I know that sometimes the production companies screw up royally. I have seen crawls where they failed to update the information, and so they were crediting the people who had worked on the previous episode. And Fox owes a big apology to about a half-dozen actors (with speaking parts, not extras) who received no on-screen credit in this week's "The Grinder."

JR said...

As was said above, I always liked the way CHEERS handled billing: lower left and upper right.

Also, here in NY, there was a dance show a few years back that was done by two troupes of performers; on any given night, you either saw Group 1 or Group A.

Kris Hendrickson said...

On the subject of MASH credits, I noticed once that Alan Alda"s first and last name are stacked diagonally on the screen instead of being centered like the rest. Sounds silly, but was there some stylistic reason behind this?

Kris Hendrickson said...

On the subject of MASH credits, I noticed once that Alan Alda"s first and last name are stacked diagonally on the screen instead of being centered like the rest. Sounds silly, but was there some stylistic reason behind this?

Cap'n Bob said...

Apparently, the more verbiage in your credit the more important you are. My favorite was:

And Starring
MISS BARBARA STANWYCK
as Victoria Berkley

Mike Doran said...

Silly, semi-relevant anecdote:

Back In The Day *TM*, many daytime soaps ended each day's episode with "the beauty shot".
The credits would roll over a shot of one of the settings used in that day's show, with the actors going about their business, silently, while the theme music played.

On this day, sometime in the early '80s, All My Children ended with a shootout in a South American hotel room. The assassin didn't get whom he was after, and fled the room just as the scene went to black.

Final commercial, and then credits over the beauty shot, which was the lobby of the hotel, with many extras going back and forth, and the hotel staff doing their hotel-staff things.

On this day, AMC was running "long-form" credits: not only the full cast for that week (about 40 names total, give or take), but a semi-full roll of tech credits.
Normally, AMC would run either one of these or the other, but rarely both on the same day. Also, the AMC theme back then was slow and somewhat stately, and this very long credit roll crawled accordingly.

We're talking between two to three full minutes of network time.
And all us AMC fans were reading every name, diligently.

So anyway, as the credit crawl came to its final entry -

ALL MY CHILDREN
(copyright notice beneath)

- the elevator at the back of the hotel opened, and the assassin dashed through the lobby, making his escape, as the nonplussed lobby patrons looked up briefly, and the concierge shot a disdainful glance at the escapee.

I guess you had to be there ...

B Smith said...

One thing that really made FRASIER a cut above the rest was the trouble they went to to film a little bit of business to be going on while the end credits rolled. Sometimes it would be relevant to that episode's story, sometimes not, but the fact that they did so added a real touch of class to the whole show.

Diane D. said...

Omg, that was hilarious, Mike Doran! Thank you for that sagacious, relevant, and very funny anecdote.

Peter said...

Funniest set of credits is the opening credits for Harlem Nights, which was made at the height of Eddie Murphy's ego. This is literally what's shown:

Paramount Pictures Presents

In Association With Eddie Murphy Productions

A Film By Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy

Then the last two credits are:

Executive Producer Eddie Murphy

Written and Directed by Eddie Murphy

My favourite jokey credit is in Naked Gun 2: Un Film De David Zucker

unkysan said...

Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis get equal top billing in the movie "Boeing Boeing". How? In the opening credits their names spin around in a counter-clockwise circle so neither is ever on top. You can also see it in the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/embed/FchnNJOEZmM?feature=player_detailpage" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe

VP81955 said...

I note the vast majority of big-screen comedies today use Futura Bold/Black in their advertising, as I suppose that's now the de facto "comedy" font (as unsubtle as most of today's comedies sadly happen to be). Converdsely, any serif font is usually reserved for drama or horror.

ELS said...

Regarding font styles... I was once in a theatrical production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" where the brothers wore various colored t-shirts, and each had his initial on it. The issue was that some of the shirts were light, some were dark. The solution - and it would work for TV, movies, probably any medium - is to use a white/light font, but with each character having a black border. Either the border is visible (light background) or the actual letter is visible (dark background.)

No, no charge, Hollywood. Just remember me for the next Academy Awards. :)

Andy Rose said...

Speaking of spinning credits, the principals of Filmation -- Norm Prescott and Lou Scheimer -- put their Produced By credit in a spinning circle to get equal billing. On many Filmation episodes, that was likely to be the best-quality animation you'd see.

One split-the-difference credits technqiue I hate is on film posters where the two lead actors appear side-by-side in the photo, but are credited left-to-right opposite the way they are shown in the photo. Usually this is done when the leads are male and female so there's no chance of the actors being misidentified, but it still looks ridiculous.

Rock Golf said...

Frank D'Angelo is a Canadian millionaire who makes films that are the equivalent of vanity press. At the very best, his fims are mediocre. He gets one-time big name actors (James Caan, Paul Sorvino, Daryl Hannah, Armand Assante, and Eric Roberts in his most recent) to appear. The films do zero box office, but somehow get enough video & on-demand rentals to keep going.
He's Canada's Ed Wood, but with a bigger budget.
His latest film in which he stars, directs and wrote the screenplay is "Sicilian Vampire".
His name appears in the credits 145 times. Surely that's a Guinness record.
How did he manage this? Well, he included almost 60 songs in the soundtrack that he wrote himself and performed with his recording group. (Again, an expensive project that he gets funding for despite lack of sales or quality.)

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Credits are important.
I love looking at them, and noticing people that 'ring a bell'

Recently, my wife introduced me to a show she enjoys a lot called, "iZombie".
Seeing the beginning credits, I realized why she liked it (though she didn't have a clue because she doesn't read credits).

I recognized the name of the creator and showrunners: Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero who I know created one of my wife's favorite shows, "Veronica Mars".

Ray said...

And then there are the credits at the start of Marv Newland's immortal Bambi Meets Godzilla, consisting entirely of Marv Newland (and "Marv Newland created by Mr. & Mrs. Newland"), before the rather short run of the film itself.

GJS said...

I miss the old style credits, but they are clearly a throwback to a bygone era.

These days, some credits seem to fade off and on almost to the first commercial break of the show. I hate that the audience has become immune to show content covered with credits, network logos, TV ratings, pop up advertisements. I know the battle is lost, but the assault on the senses only distracts from this viewer's enjoyment of the show.

8traxrule said...

Presentation-wise, TV has become an unwatchable mess. But more importantly than de-emphasized credits, I don't understand why those who work on shows tolerate the networks putting their logos onscreen through literally the ENTIRE show! I had wanted to work in TV on the technical end, but decided not to after this trend started because I would simply refuse to have anything to do with that practice! I would not even allow some stupid dog video shot by me to be shown on "America's Funniest Home Videos" as long as ABC defaced the screen with their logo! It just ruins the picture and whatever integrity the show has, plain and simple, and I simply can't watch any show with them on. I know Matt Groening doesn't approve of logos (though that hasn't stopped him from continuing to do The Simpsons, or going on to do Futurama for the Fox network), but practically everyone else in the industry has been silent about them, like they're the elephant in the room. Meanwhile networks can't prove what they've GAINED by doing this, and most of the clueless people who still watch their shows don't even notice the logos, so what good are they doing anybody? It seems like if the top TV show creators and producers demanded the logos not be onscreen during their shows, then they'd finally go away, but there seems to be a gag order for them not to talk about them at all.

Mark O'Neill said...

...I tried to find out why the title "MASH" and the cast names in the opening credits got a bit larger, starting in season 4, to no avail. For that matter, I tried finding out who made the decision to change variations in the actual theme music (several, over 11 seasons), also to no avail. Burt Metcalf was not even aware of the variations.