Film Writing Screen CreditsWriting Screen Credits

Creating the screen credits for your film starts on the first day of prep and ends on the last day of wrap.  The production coordinator presents a draft of the credits on the first day of shooting for the production manager and the producer.  Writing and designing the credits can be a fickle tedious process, hopefully by the end of this article everything will be a little clearer.

Screen Credit Design

The production manager needs to work with the producer to design the credits—both head and tail.  A design company can be hired to design the look of the credits, but the manager needs to organize  which names are required in what order as well as  which logos need to be included to satisfy contracts.

Research the types of credits you like by watching credits on TV or on rental features. What kind of credits can you realistically include? Do you have a limited allowable screen time, like on a television series, where you only have enough time to showcase the heads of the departments? Or  can you display a more detailed list of crew and assistants? Do you have so many donated items that you need to credit everyone’s contributions? What logos do you need to include and what union requirements do you need to meet? All of these things need to be considered while you are integrating the credits into your film. Listed below are some of the style choices you can make.

Head & Tail Credits vs Main & End Titles – Head credits, or opening titles, start at the beginning of the film before the first image fades in.  They typically end over the initial images of the story.  The film, “Unforgiven” has one of the shortest head credits ever seen, lasting only about twenty seconds. Whereas, “The Fugitive” has one of the longest opening sets at fifteen minutes long.

Tail credits run at the end of the film after the final shot fades out.

Main credits, however, can display during the head or tail at the discretion of the filmmaker.  These credits usually include star cast and key crew names, and are treated with equal contractual importance as  the head credits.

Credit Roll Layout vs Card Layout – Know how much screen time you can dedicate to both the opening and closing credits, this will dictate the best layout for your film.

You typically see a credit role in feature films.  These tend to be very detailed and ponderous, perfect for making sure everyone’s name is featured and readable.

A Card layout is a great option if you only have a limited time to roll your credits.  You can display more names on the screen in less time than a credit roll or crawl. Cards are also cheaper than a standard, theatrical credit roll.

Keep your long term goals in mind while planning your credits. If you’re planning on releasing a DVD, make sure your credit can be read on a standard television screen. This way the credits will be legible across many different platforms.  The most affordable credits use the post facilities existing fonts. These credits can be superimposed over your film or displayed on a blank screen. If you choose to use a custom font, make sure you own the proper rights to do so. Make sure the font is unmistakablyreadable Everyone should be able to read their name clearly.

How to Create a Preview Draft

On or near day one of principal, a draft of the credits should be ready for the production manager and the producer to review. The coordinator must gather input from all sources and consolidate the credits. After this, it is his job to actually generate the preview draft for distribution to the PM and producer.

The PM and producer will provide their input before the draft is distributed to the many others that must give their approval. Credits are a sensitive issue.  One omission, incorrect title, misspelling, or improper placement can lead to hurt feeling and a difficult work environment. The coordinator, the PM, and the producer review this draft, double checking each other to make sure the credits are faux pas free.  This process also works to iron out the initial design ideas.  An excellent first draft will be distributed as the official first draft. Detailed below are the steps the coordinator takes to prepare the draft for approval.

1.       Make a List of Credit Promises

To begin the credit preview, the coordinator consolidates their notes to make a list of who and what credits have been promised in all contracts, deal memos and letters of agreement.  Additional credit promises can be found in the post-production department and with the legal counsel.

2.        Get Approval for Format and Design

The producer may have specific requirements for the format of the credits, or they may want several different designs to choose from. The coordinator finds out as much as possible about what the producer and PM envision for the credits. Which positions will require a head credit? Which positions will begin the tail credits? How many lines can you fit on a card while the font remains legible? It is the coordinator’s job to come up with creative answers to these questions.

3.        Include Card or Roll Times  

When assembling the draft, the coordinator must include the timing of each card or the expected duration of the roll. This allows the approvers to instantly notice any timing problems with any of the people and companies they would like to (or have to) credit.  Timing restrictions can be found with the PM and the producer.

4.       Check Spelling

The coordinator must be absolutely certain every name and organization is spelled correctly. This is often a tedious task, but its importance cannot be understated.

5.       Make the First Preview Draft

The information the coordinator gathered and the format he designed are combined to create the first preview draft. The production manager and the producer may revise the draft several times before allowing it to become the ‘official’ first draft. Below is a sample of what a first draft should look like.

Be certain to note each contracted promise in the far right margin, shown here with the card times.

6.        Review the Preview Draft

At this stage the production manager will review the credits with the producer to decide how they best fit into the film and if they are meeting aesthetic and contractual requirements. They will make sure the wording requirements, the placement of logos and credit duration agrees with the guidelines laid out in the individual agreements.

Getting to the Final Draft

Once the preview draft is complete the work is far from over. The coordinator must generate and carefully track each draft. Every draft needs a clearly marked cover memo. The cover is designed to keep the credits confidential as well as tracking the number of drafts and editors.

These drafts go through innumerable rounds of approvals from producers, guilds, unions, legal counsels, and anyone else the PM deems necessary. Each change must be confirmed in a letter or memo and a copy sent to the PM and Producer.

This process repeats itself until all the credits have been approved and locked.