Credit where credit is due!
December 16, 2004 8:50 PM   Subscribe

[Filmfilter] Why are some people listed with their character's names and others not in film opening credits? [MI]

I just watched “Alien” (again) and noticed the following about the opening credits: six of the seven cast members (Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, and Ian Holm) are listed with just their names, after which it says “and Yaphet Kotto as Parker.” Why do they have his character’s name listed? If they had wanted to give him special emphasis to make up for listing him last, wouldn’t “and Yaphet Kotto” have done just fine? I’ve seen this in other films and TV shows as well and have never been able to figure it out. (I seem to dimly recall another ask mefi question related to this but all my searches have come to naught, as has more general google-fu).
posted by googly to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've always wondered this, too, since the credits for "Lost in Space" consistently list the guy who plays Dr. Smith as a "special guest star", or something like that, even though he's in every single episode.

My guess is that sometimes it's done for emphasis (i.e. look at this new actor or actress we've discovered, but don't look too hard, since the star of the picture is Harrison Ford) and sometimes it's done to flatter someone who's actually not all that important (i.e. the guy who played Dr. Smith).

I think it's sort of like when you see a movie from the sixties, and the credits say "and introducing Tuesday Weld as [...]"

In Yaphet Kotto's case, he probably hadn't been in anything big before Alien, and they might have wanted to draw extra attention to him because he's a great actor.
posted by interrobang at 9:29 PM on December 16, 2004

Sometimes the credits as shown on a DVD or broadcast version are not the same as the original film credits. Often, an actor that was relatively unknown at the time the film was made becomes more famous later, and the production company will tap their name in for an after market version.
These things are also negotiated by the actor's agent , as well as following certain union rules. So Yaphet Kotto may have had a clause requiring the "as . . ." credit, whereas the others did not. He's not as big of a "name" as the others, and more of a character actor. So his rep may have felt emphasising his character was more to his advantage. With the "bigger" stars, it's assumed people know who they are on sight, and they may view being credited with their character's name as more negative. Yaphet Kotto has also done a lot more TV work than the others. So it's possible he was the only current member of the TAG at the time, and that union's rules required character credits, whereas SAG does not.
posted by sixdifferentways at 9:30 PM on December 16, 2004

I can't answer this in full, but I do know that there's much attention paid to these matters. Really hoity-toity actors get their names on the screen before the title of the film, others come later. There is a big dollar difference between:

Harisson Ford
Karen Allen
Raiders of the Lost Ark


Harisson Ford
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Karen Allen

Also notice things like: at a certain point they insert the word "with" to denote that lower-paid actors names will follow:


Some get "special appearance by" while some are just low down in the cast listings. Basically it is all about how much "star power" you can command in your contract. The more, the better 'placement' your agent will get for your name in the credits. There are as many places for an actors name in the credits as there are different titles in a corporation. While they seem meaningless to us, they are, in fact, quite meaningful to audiences around the world and to the actors/agents involved,

But specifically with regard to "Actor ABC as XYZ-Characer-Name I'm really not sure.
posted by scarabic at 9:37 PM on December 16, 2004

Heather Locklear was a "special guest star" throughout her career on Melrose Place, but that was due to her contract, or so I've heard. I understand she was on an episode by episode deal as opposed to the rest of them who were signed on by the season.

I would guess that the actors that are singled out have agents that wrote it into their contracts. I've noticed it mostly with younger actresses, as in "introducing Phoebe Cates as Billy's girlfriend from Gremlins", or whatever. It draws attention, convinces audiences they should be paying attention, and works for both the actor and the movie. But I have no idea. I'd love to hear a definitive reason.
posted by loquax at 10:04 PM on December 16, 2004

It's because the actor is understood to have more power/fame/prestige than the size of the role might otherwise indicate.

The textbook example is in the opening credits to 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind.' You're watching the credits go by, and just after the last names who merit pre-movie billing leave the screen, you see "and Francois Truffaut as 'Lacombe.'"

Even in America, Truffaut arguably had more cred than Dreyfuss (the star) or even Spielberg, and it's bizarre in a miraculous sort of way that he's in the movie at all. To give him the billing he 'deserved' would have meant listing his name first, which would have made no sense, because he had a relatively small role. And if he wasn't going to be first, then simply choosing a place for him in the usual pecking order wasn't enough; a special distinguishing credit had to be given, or it would have been insulting. Sure, like everything else, it's negotiated through agents and lawyers, but that's why. An actor who thinks that this is going to be their breakthrouh role wants the credits to support that idea, and a seasoned actor doesn't want to see their name listed in the credits in a way that implies that they're not as important in the greater scheme of things as the person in the lead role.

Buffy fans may noticed that as the American Pie franchise got bigger, Alyson Hannigan was deemed worthy of a 'and Alyson Hannigan as Willow' credit, which was not the case when the show started.
posted by bingo at 10:33 PM on December 16, 2004

...on second reading I see that the question is more about the difference between simply adding 'and joe smith' and adding 'and joe smith as amberglow.' I don't think that there's an official reason, except that the second way sounds more dramatic, and will perhaps make it more likely that you'll make the connection when you hear the character's name vocalized as the movie progresses.
posted by bingo at 10:39 PM on December 16, 2004

I know that SAG has rather strict rules about how people are credited, but I don't know whether this is in the rules or not, nor what is the reason of listing the character name.
posted by lazy-ville at 4:39 AM on December 17, 2004

Bingo has it pretty much. Getting the last "and" credit is more prestigious as coming in the middle after the leads, sort of throwing an extra bone to the actor. And some films use it as a joke: both Ocean's 11 and Ocean's 12 have "and introducing Julia Roberts as Tess" and the last acting credit.
posted by sexymofo at 4:56 AM on December 17, 2004

Thanks everyone! I guess Yaphet Kotto had a damn good agent back in the day - his career sure has taken off more than Veronica Cartwright's, considering they had exactly the same amount of screen time.

All the answers make perfect sense. I still can't quite get it through my head that using the character's name makes things sound more dramatic; but then I imagine this is just one of those things that have fossilized into Hollywood convention...
posted by googly at 5:38 AM on December 17, 2004

I've always found the 'special guest star' label funny when used in films (usually of the lower budget variety) rather than television.
posted by picea at 6:01 AM on December 17, 2004

There's an interview with Jonathan (Dr. Smith) Harris here, in which he explains how he got billed as special guest star on "Lost in Space." The "Allen" mentioned is producer Allen Irwin:

Then he [Allen] said, "I suppose you want billing?"

"It is only proper that an artist of my stature receive proper billing on the screen."

...Now my head is spinning. What is going on here? In 40 years I never figured it out. Never. I never knew whether it was a game, or whether he was stalling for time, or what? But I've never gotten to the bottom of it.

...he [Allen] said, "Well let me tell you, you weren't in the pilot, your character didn't exist in the pilot, everyone else is signed, sealed and delivered, and as far as billing is concerned you will have to be last."

And I said "Oh, and Would you mind telling me who else is in the show . . . eh huh . . . very nice people I'm sure. But I don't want to be last."

And he {Allen] said, "You go home. And you think about it. Now out. Get out."

I staggered out of that office, I tell you. I'm a well known actor with vast experience, but I staggered out of that office. The script was sent and I read the script and I said 'Hmm hmm hmm . . . Jonathan this is a good one. But last position . . . shh . . . not a chance! However, you cannot tamper with other actor's billing."

I could not decide never in my full life, what to do. Be in last position. Last position... Hmmm . . . well, sometime special last position? I wonder. So I called an old friend of mine who was head of casting at ABC.

And I said "Have you ever heard of a regular member of the cast being given the title 'special guest star' ?"

He said "Certainly, no. I've never heard of that."

I said, "That's all I need to know."

I called Irwin and I said "I've solved the billing problem."

[Allen] "Yeah," he said with a tone. "What?"

I said "I will accept last position on a separate card - 'Special Guest Star Jonathan Harris'."

Well, for the next 20 minutes I never heard such language in all of my life. [Allen] "%&**&% actors, can't act anyway, who told you you could act, you don't know %^&*&%^ about acting. Err . . . err . . . errr . . . " and this went on and on, and I just sat back and listened.

And then he said "OK" and hung up.

That was the first time ever in history that anybody got Special Guest Star. I started that whole nonsense.
posted by grumblebee at 6:29 AM on December 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

(Actually, the Ocean's Twelve closing credits make a joke on Julia Roberts' listing in the first movie. I won't spell it out for fear of spoiling the movie, but look at it more closely if you get a chance.)
posted by occhiblu at 7:36 AM on December 17, 2004

From what I've been told, every actor's name placement before and after the movie, are huge bargaining tools used for contract negotiations. If you have two people of equal "fame", one can opt to go first and the other can go last, with an "and", or "guest starring", etc. The agents work everything out and usually the actors know nothing about it until the contracts are issued for signature. After that, some people think of it as their trademark and request to always be listed that way.
posted by blackkar at 9:24 AM on December 17, 2004

Wow, grumblebee -- that is a very cool story that I had never heard before. Harris gets bonus Cool Points from me for having the balls to do it.
posted by davidmsc at 10:36 AM on December 17, 2004

« Older Where can I get a crash course in calculus?   |   Where should I go to develop film in Toronto? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.