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Why do movie credits list every last person who had anything to do with the production?
October 18, 2009 6:21 PM   Subscribe

Why do movie credits list every last person who had anything to do with the production?

Recently I paid attention - for probably the first time ever - to the entire detail of a movie's closing credits & was amazed that they bothered to list roles like "wardrobe truck drivers" and the like.

Now, I can understand that editors & cinematographers & so on would have an interest in getting acknowledgement & advertising their services through credits.

However, I cannot understand why miscellaneous support roles whose skills & qualities are not in any way apparent in the finished product would need a mention.

So, considering that:
- the general public couldn't care less who drove the wardrobe trucks or supplied the cutlery for the catering service, and
- that these jobs are most likely filled by agencies or word-of-mouth anyway, and
- that prospective employers (other producers) would have no way of evaluating these people from a mere listing like that...

...why are they listed in the credits at all? Is it just an ego thing, or is there something I'm missing?
posted by UbuRoivas to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Movie credits explained.
posted by dfriedman at 6:23 PM on October 18, 2009


Also see.

(These two links found via a Google search: "Movie credits explained."
posted by dfriedman at 6:28 PM on October 18, 2009


You're missing the Valhalla midnight cinema tradition of wild applause for the hairdresser, for one thing.
posted by flabdablet at 6:28 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you worked on a movie, wouldn't you want to be credited? You couldn't have had the movie without any of those positions/people, so they're important, too, even if their work isn't as obviously visible.
posted by ishotjr at 6:32 PM on October 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


However, I cannot understand why miscellaneous support roles whose skills & qualities are not in any way apparent in the finished product would need a mention.

Except, without them, the movie didn't get made.

...why are they listed in the credits at all? Is it just an ego thing, or is there something I'm missing?

Well, it is often considered part of the "payment" on a film gig to wind up in the credits.

But it's also there to acknowledge that the people were vital to producing the movie. It's almost the opposite of ego... it's the producers saying, "All of these people are responsible for the movie, and so they deserve to be in there as much as the 2nd unit grip."

And where do you draw the line? Who's important enough to get in the credits? If not the wardrobe truck driver, then why do we need the 2nd unit assistant electrician? If not the 2nd unit assistant electrician, really, why should anybody who didn't run a camera or appear in front of it be in the credits?

- that prospective employers (other producers) would have no way of evaluating these people from a mere listing like that...

This is the most important thing: the fact that you've worked on a movie set, and have proof of it, is part of that evaluation process. And there's nobody to call and ask... movie crews essentially form out of the ether, with a small core of consistent people calling up friends and friends of friends. Then, when the shoot is done, people scatter back across the country as they go home. There's no supervisor the next shoot can call up and ask.
posted by Netzapper at 6:32 PM on October 18, 2009


People lower down the food chain on movie sets work long long hours for not much money.

It's an acknowledgment of hard work and a chance for those people to see their name on the big screen. Hollywood does have a caste system, but there's also a tradition of acknowledging and crediting the people who do the grunt work. I think you're overthinking a bit.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:32 PM on October 18, 2009


(Maybe once people did use the credits to prove they actually worked on a film, but I can't really imagine an electrician or grip bringing in a 35mm film can and running it off for someone who wanted to hire him. I imagine they called references in the old days; now you just look at IMDB.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:34 PM on October 18, 2009


Which is to say, most people get hired by word of mouth anyway, so there's kind of a trust there and you just take the resume at face value. But someone claimed to have worked on a big Hollywood movie and I doubted his honesty, I would check imdb, not the credits.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:41 PM on October 18, 2009


dfriedman: I tried various google searches, but didn't find those ones - thanks for that.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure they answer my question. There's a lot of info about what the esoteric-sounding roles mean, but not much explanation of why they're all listed, other than that "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." This just doesn't make any sense to me.

For example, if you're a producer looking to hire a wardrobe truck driver, would you really rent 100 DVDs & fast forward to the credits to start jotting down names?

Or, if you were a wardrobe truck driver, would your CV consist of DVDs of movies you've worked on?

Maybe somebody in the studio is hired to double-check peoples' references, but that'd be a strange way of doing things, no? It's not as if this is done (to such a detailed extent) in any other industry that I can think of, and plenty of work takes place in temporary project teams.

PS flabdablet: I honestly can't recall people ever cheering the hairdressers in the Clockwork Orange midnight sessions.

on preview: oh, lots of other answers. I'll shut up & butt out now; don't mean to moderate my own question.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:48 PM on October 18, 2009


I've always figured it was like a resume system. When you're looking for a job, you list your credited rolls, and it's always easy to check (especially with things like IMDB)
posted by delmoi at 6:49 PM on October 18, 2009


For example, if you're a producer looking to hire a wardrobe truck driver, would you really rent 100 DVDs & fast forward to the credits to start jotting down names?

Or, if you were a wardrobe truck driver, would your CV consist of DVDs of movies you've worked on?


Obviously not, but you could always double check if you wanted too. And with IMDB it's all searchable. But remember, that was probably built at first using credits. If the question isn't "Why is all of this recorded" but rather "Why do all of these names get added to the credits on the actual film" I guess part of the answer is "why not?" It's not like people need to stick around for the credits if they're not interested in them. I think seeing your name in the credits would be pretty cool for the people involved in production as well.

And obviously there's some path dependence involved here, it's done because it's always been done, the first movies probably didn't involve as many people.
posted by delmoi at 6:53 PM on October 18, 2009


For example, if you're a producer looking to hire a wardrobe truck driver, would you really rent 100 DVDs & fast forward to the credits to start jotting down names?

No, no, of course not.

However, if somebody comes to you and says, "Hey, I want to drive your wardrobe truck. I have movie set experience: I drove the catering van for Heat," you know there's something keeping him honest. If he is lying, there's a publicly available way to prove it.

The mere existence of the potential to check up on somebody holds everybody to a higher standard. If you didn't get the credit, you didn't work on the movie.
posted by Netzapper at 6:54 PM on October 18, 2009


Union/guild contracts.
posted by aswego at 6:55 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think what might be missing in these answers is an acknowledgement of the camaraderie and sharing in the artistic process that takes place while filming a movie...

You may be the director, the star, or the producer, but you still depend on the folks doing the more menial jobs, and appreciate the contribution... you want to acknowledge that effort...

That said, I've been in one movie, and didn't get credited... that's the LAST time I'm a zombie extra for the kid!
posted by HuronBob at 7:00 PM on October 18, 2009


I recently was in charge of the credits for a friend's film. Everybody was in it, including "boy on motorcycle in background of park scene". It was karma thing, the only payback some people got. My payback was putting myself right at the end of the roll.
posted by signal at 7:07 PM on October 18, 2009


No film credits? Then let me tell you, without fear of contradiction, that I was best boy grip on E.T.. Hire me!
posted by fightorflight at 7:47 PM on October 18, 2009


Used to date a man who made films. Yes, he stood up and craned to see the credits through the crowd that were leaving as he wanted to see who had done a particular bit he wanted done as he like the way they did it. He was looking to hire. So, yes, the credits are there, in part, for other people in the industry.
posted by x46 at 7:49 PM on October 18, 2009


The thing is that this (list everybody) is very recent.

Sure, it's great that everyone's getting acknowledged, but it's a new thing. Even films made in the '70s and '80s didn't list all these little behind the scenes jobs. Movies made in the earlier years listed even fewer.

So the real question is, what's behind the very recent change?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:54 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


now you just look at IMDB

Yes, and IMDB's main source of data is on-screen credits.

Hollywood does have a caste system, but there's also a tradition of acknowledging and crediting the people who do the grunt work

I'm not sure that's really a valid line of reasoning, because if you watch any movie from approximately the 60s or earlier the credits seem like a quick afterthought and list only the principles/above-the-line people, and none of the minor technicians.

My spin on this is that it's rooted in the heavy union influence, but I have nothing to back that up.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:59 PM on October 18, 2009


The thing is that this (list everybody) is very recent.

if you watch any movie from approximately the 60s or earlier the credits seem like a quick afterthought and list only the principles/above-the-line people, and none of the minor technicians.


Yes, that's what I found at this link:

The use of closing credits in film to list complete production crew and cast was not firmly established in American film until the 1970s. Before this decade, closing credits usually consisted only of a list of the major cast members, and in many cases, particularly in silent films, movies were released with no closing credits at all.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:13 PM on October 18, 2009


I can't find the clip, but what first came to my mind was the opening of The Great Muppet Caper, where Fozzie or Gonzo asks why are there credits, and Kermit's response is "These people have families."

And you know what, the best boy and the wardrobe assistant do have families. And they were a part of making the film and should be acknowledged for it. Even if it's only so someone's child can say, "There's my Dad's name!" Pixar has a tradition of listing the babies born to their employees during the making of one of their films, which specifically seems geared towards that acknowledgment.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 8:17 PM on October 18, 2009


collective bargaining agreements with unions drive a whole lot of it, such as article 18 of iatse local 856's collective bargaining agreement. (of course, it rather punts by referencing industry custom and practice. that's just the first agreement i found online -- others may be more specific.)

but part of your premise is completely false: not everyone who works on a production in a significant way appears in the credits. the agreements of several major guilds (writers, directors, probably more) restrict the number of their members who can be credited. the article in salon mentions this.

and there is a very good reason for all of the production-related unions to want their members credited: it allows them to double-check that non-union labor isn't being used. if the wardrobe truck driver isn't in the credits, who is to say it was a union wardrobe truck driver?
posted by jimw at 8:18 PM on October 18, 2009


My younger brother has been involved in the extremely-indie-film industry for a while, the kind where you're emailing all your friends to see who can loan you a slide rule as a prop and where you ask your lead actress to go on a pizza run for you at lunch. After he DP'ed his first film, he told me "You want to know how to make me want to work with you again? Two things: show up and shut up. If I call you for 6:15, be there at 6:15. And if I don't get to you until 10:30, don't bitch. Also, if you have an idea for a scene I'm running that you're not in? You can talk about it to your friends over beers, but I don't want to hear it. Show up, shut up, and be legitimately competent at your job, and I will love you forever and recommend you everywhere."

Those credits are proof that for at least one job, someone showed up and shut up. Or if not proof, they at least offer a way to find out if the person in question showed up and shut up on that production. If the wardrobe truck driver doesn't show up and keep his/her mouth shut, it can cost millions of dollars in salaries, so it's important even for the tiniest cogs to not be flakes.
posted by KathrynT at 8:18 PM on October 18, 2009


Why do movie credits list every last person who had anything to do with the production?

They don't.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:23 PM on October 18, 2009


Also, for folks citing IMDB a a source-- it's user-submitted, and while they do some fact-checking, it's possible for one's entire body of work or literal existence to be incompletely or incorrectly represented. This former coworker of Mr. F's, for instance, is alive and well, despite sharing his name with a deceased PGA Tour player.

(It takes a lot of work to get an incorrect credit removed from IMDB, too; I spent three months once explaining to their fact-checkers that I wasn't Fairytale Married-Name until 2008, despite someone having added a credit for me under that name for 2007.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:29 PM on October 18, 2009


Ive worked on a few well known feature films in a digital capacity (visual effects, pre-viz) and I have always missed out on a credit. It sucks a bit when I think I had more influence on the final product than the truck driver.

I've never really pressed the issue but from what I have gathered it's because we are not unionized the same way as anyone in the crew is. The number of credits a post production company gets to give to their employers is negotiated as part of the package when they bid on a project, Ive just never been involved in a senior enough position to get one.

I dont think this is the case for crew - joining whatever unions they have might automatically get you a credit. However I dont really know much about that side of things..
posted by phyle at 8:33 PM on October 18, 2009


Why do movie credits list every last person who had anything to do with the production?

Not to derail, but they actually don't- one source of frustration for those interested in movie music is that they almost never list the musicians involved in the soundtrack. I've known a lot of studio musicians and they could never explain why, but would have liked to have seen their names up there...I've always assumed, like several above, that it was because they didn't have a union that negotiated that end-of-the-movie glory.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:46 PM on October 18, 2009


much of the crew that worked on Die Hard 3 was not listed in any credits because they only worked on the South Carolina sets. South Carolina is not a film union state, so the workers were not union and did not require listing

...Further intimations at union regulations being behind a lot of those seemingly-obscure names popping up. . This NYT article includes the suggestion that nepotism ha played a part in the inflation of closing credits.
posted by bunglin jones at 8:50 PM on October 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Unions. It didn't used to be this way. If you go watch older movies, you'll see the actors, director, producer, and not much else.
posted by chairface at 8:51 PM on October 18, 2009


I honestly can't recall people ever cheering the hairdressers in the Clockwork Orange midnight sessions

Probably a Melbourne thing, then.
posted by flabdablet at 8:53 PM on October 18, 2009


Lots of the answers already here touch on the reasons/arguments for inclusive credits from various perspectives... but chairface/jones are most right about why it's a recent and growing phenomenon:

Since this is a "nice little extra" that everyone from hairdressers to runners would enjoy having, it's a perk that's included, or added into, in each union's contract as they're up for renewal.

Whenever a new contract is up for negotiation, if the workers in that union don't already have "all members must be credited" in their contract... they will have it added in as a concession. And if not at that time, then sooner or later. And since it's hard to imagine anyone bothering to ask for that perk to be removed from a contract, the result over decades is a slow, steady crawl, until every union for every job type is eventually represented.

Is this a good or bad thing? Dunno. I watch credits.
posted by rokusan at 9:06 PM on October 18, 2009


The purpose of me being in the credits is so that it can be seen by the girl I take to the première.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:39 AM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


"These people have families."

Indeed. At the end of Cloudy with a Chance for Meatballs, they list the children born to cast and crew during production.

Cheap good will, if nothing else. And how cool/mortifying for the children involved!
posted by IndigoJones at 5:50 AM on October 19, 2009


What surprises me is when they list all the employees at an effects studio. That is not unionized and is actually a completely separate company that is hired en masse. Basically just a vendor.
posted by smackfu at 6:21 AM on October 19, 2009


I was astounded at the length of the credits at the end of Rock Band 2. In addition to the multifarious developers, they also listed the designers of every individual tattoo texture, instrument skin, guitar pick, amplifier, microphone, cable, wristband, and of course, detailed credits for each of the 84 songs in the game soundtrack. Sitting through this thing after beating the game was downright ludicrous. So, it's not just a film trend (assuming that other games these days do the same thing, but I'm not enough of a gamer to say that with certainty).

I'd guess this has something to do with the hyperlitigious culture we're in and that ubiquitous sense of entitlement. I can't imagine there's any real value in being credited, besides bragging rights. For the very obscure listings, even that probably doesn't go very far. If I was credited in some huge blockbuster for something like food catering or wardrobe transportation, I don't think anybody but me and my immediate family would care, and the novelty would wear off after a couple months and fade into obscure personal trivia. In the grand scheme of things it really doesn't matter. But studios probably feel they have to bend over backwards to include absolutely everybody in the unlikely even that some obsessive nobody will raise a fuss and try to sue over some perceived slight. So they're just covering their butts, so to speak.

The world would be a much better place if more credits were done in the style of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Monkey Island 2.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:11 AM on October 19, 2009


As above, not even close to everyone who works on a movie has their name appear in the credits. Studio employees, for instance, never receive credit even though they may have worked on a film for literally years. Writers who may have written a significant portion of a film often never see their name appear on screen, due to the bizarre WGA credit system.

Most people who appear in the credits are contractually obligated to appear there. This includes almost all crew who are part of IATSE (which encompasses almost every department from costumers to editors), all producers, actors, writers, etc. Those who are not part of a union, or who do not have contracts (production assistants and what have you) have no guarantee of appearing in the credits.

For visual effects vendors and other vendors that perform contracted work, the production company negotiates how many credits each vendor is entitled to, and then the vendor submits a credit list. So even then, if a vendor employed 40 people on a movie but only had 20 credits, that's 20 people whose names don't appear in the credits.

And people in the industry most certainly do check the credits and make decisions based on the work they see in other movies. "Who shot that?" "What country did they shoot this in?" "Who did they use for the visual effects?" etc.
posted by hamsterdam at 1:22 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks, everybody - that was very enlightening. I think I'll run through and mark a bunch of "best answers" based on links I particularly liked, personal experiences shared, and first mentions of things like unions & contracts etc.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:16 PM on October 19, 2009


ON all those saying "I'd just check IMDB" - fair enough, but remember.. it's not a primary source, it could be wrong.
And also remember.. the rules for including credits sort of pre-date the IMDB, and the internet, and possibly, color TV.
posted by TravellingDen at 10:44 PM on October 19, 2009


It's good to recognize that Imbd can be wrong, definitely. But also, the "primary sources" such as the original screen credits themselves, can be wrong or incomplete. (For example, look at the credits for Buster Keaton's movie The General, and then look at its Imdb page - the Imdb lists a hundred people who were uncredited but (they say) appeared in the movie.)

Not disputing any substantive point here, just noting that being a primary source doesn't guarantee accuracy or completeness.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:37 PM on October 20, 2009


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