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Los Angeles, California

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I Walk the Line

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Following a recent screening of I, Robot I ran into some friends who were looking rather bleary eyed. One finally gasped out, “That’s got to be the longest end-credit scroll in history.”
The statement prompted a brief discussion of when exactly the practice of putting a comprehensive list of artistic and tech credits at the tail of a film began. There are certainly examples of end-credit cards and scrolls dating back to the silent era but one person seemed to believe that the first film that reversed the trend of front-of-the-film acknowledgements was The Godfather: Part II in 1974. In an interview in 1982, John Carpenter claimed in a self-satisfied manner that his end credits for The Thing ran seven minutes, and it was a record length at that time. It’s now the standard.
For most people, end credits are a signal to bolt for the exit and get to the parking structure before the rest of the crowd to avoid paying the babysitter another hour’s tending fee. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule that include anxious relatives and cinemaniacs awaiting the appearance of a familiar or arcane name.
However, there are bigger and small things at issue here.
Certainly prior to the 1980s, receiving a screen credit for other than key contributions to a finished film was virtually impossible. One would have to do a major dig to discover the name of the caterer on Gone With the Wind or to find the people who were employed as the stand-ins on Citizen Kane. Camera crews and construction workers, unit publicists and postproduction sound mixers were employees with good salaries and benefits but hardly in a position to negotiate celluloid placement.
The reason that so few were cited on movies had less to do with ego or indifference than the plain fact that those running the studios were all too aware that audiences just wanted to see the movie. Patrons didn’t have to be reminded of the stars in the cast and, with the possible exception of seeing Edith Head’s name, were unlikely to ooh and aah as the title cards announced the key technical and artistic contributors. Some unsung hero figured out in the late 1940s that you could ease the pain of that initial minute or two by running credits over moving images.
In retrospect it’s fair to say that an insufficient number of people were being acknowledged on screen. It would be nice to think that the reason things changed was because everyone sat down and decided to do the right thing. Closer to the truth is that studios could no longer dictate or exclude certain key creative contributions and the unions began to negotiate for increased recognition of members.
Recently I ran into Fred Roos, who co-produced The Godfather: Part II and asked him what he could recall about that picture’s expanded credit listings. He wasn’t aware that the film was in the vanguard in that respect but could vaguely recall that Francis Coppola had wanted to be more inclusive in the recognition of different crafts.
It’s now de rigueur to list seemingly anyone who got within a mile of the set, from drivers to interns and people involved in post right down to the person sweeping up the trims. And that’s created a sort of reverse tyranny. While it’s a fine line to qualify someone that made a contribution to the finished film from someone that simply showed up, other than front-of-feature acknowledgement there are often thousands of people democratically noted that cannot possibly all be on an equal artistic footing.
So in an effort to be inclusive, many do not get the credit they deserve. Someone involved for weeks or months on a film is apt to receive worse credit placement than an off-camera day player. It’s impossible to imagine that this is the victory spoils of a hard-fought campaign.
Ironically, the one area that falls short of a comprehensive listing is acting, where the cut off appears to be a “bit with business.” I don’t know what the equivalent boundary is from craft to craft but for sanity’s sake it would be shrewd for unions and guilds to come up with a delineation and if not stop the madness, put it in check.

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