Friday, March 4, 2011

Since you asked...

Lately a lot of people have been asking me what it means when you have "a film by" at the start of a movie. 

What does this mean? In the industry this is referred to as a "vanity credit". The Spreety online site presents this as an explanation:

vanity credit n. 1. A credit given for work that one has not performed, such as a talent manager taking an Executive Producer credit on a film starring her client. 2. A possessory credit, such as “A film by [director’s name]” or “A [director’s name] film”. This presents the director as the principal creative force behind a work and discounts the importance of the contributions of the many others (often numbering several hundred to over a thousand) who participated in the work’s creation. 

Generally this credit appears on the work of a Writer/Director someone who has created the characters and story of the film. We see it on "A Quentin Tarantino Production" or "A Spike Lee Joint" these are well-deserved credits. These men have crafted these films from the idea stage, shaped the characters and threaded the storyline perfectly. We can see their skilled fingerprints on every frame and cleverly crafted line of dialogue. 

However the vanity credit doesn't have a lot of fans in the film world. Over at here's what some people are saying about this subject. First up Robert K S:

Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Posts: 1,919

A film by Joe Johnston and John Fusco

I saw this rather unique "a film by" credit recently, on Hidalgo.

Generous of Johnston, and a unique way of diffusing the controversy of taking such a credit on a film where the director is not also the writer.

Apparently British director Mike Hodges does the same thing with his films.

Screenwriter David Goyer, famous for his comic book adaptations, once visited a class I was taking. "What do you think of the 'a film by' credit?" someone asked.

"It's a bullshit credit," he said, the contempt shooting from his tongue.

"So you'd never take it?"

"I'd never take it."

"What about for films on which the writer and the director are the same person?" I asked.

"It's bullshit. Filmmaking is a collaborative process involving the talents of so many people. A director doesn't have the right to claim that credit when it should also go to every other person involved in the making of the movie."

Goyer makes his studio directing debut with Blade III this year--we shall see whether he was able to shun the temptation!
All the best,
Robert K S

Then this from Imran Zaidi:

Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: San Mateo, CA
Posts: 3,782

I always thought that "A Film by" actually carried the mark of an amateur. I mean, when you are making a film in filmschool, and wind up writing/directing/editing/catering/driving/lighting and possibly even acting in your three minute short, well then okay- go ahead and say "A Film by John Doe" and spare us two minutes of screen credits listing your name fifteen times.

Having said that, as a writer, in the professional world my feelings are ; If you have any of the following THREE solo credits.

Writer (sole)
Producer (sole)
Director (director)
Actor (lead)

Then go ahead and lead with "A John Doe Film" or "A Film by John Doe" So I would be okay with a Orson Welles or Kenneth Branaugh on a couple of their projects. 
Imran Zaidi

Then finally Philip Boyer had this to add: 

"A Film By" is a vanity credit that a lot of people (especially screenwriters, search for that phrase at Wordplay and you'll be surprised at the strong feelings it invokes) wish would go away. The thinking among people who don't have the power to make the claim of "A Film By" is that too many people put too much effort into a film for one person to claim the film as by him.
Philip Boyer

Taking Mr Boyer's cue I scooted over to Wordplay to see what they were saying about this credit. Boyer's right there are a lot of strong feelings about this. Too many to repeat here but they all pretty much boil down to the same thing and are summed up here by Wordplay contributor Kent Jensen:

When you *write*, cast, design sets, oversee makeup & costume directly, storyboard, light the set, set up the shots, actually DIRECT the actors in stage movement and help bring the level of emotional response needed, gain cooperation out of your producers, view the dailies/reschedule, ensure that the film to video/digital transfer is done right, edit, mix, review scores, re-edit, ensure that the final print is cut correctly and approve the check print --- THEN, gawddamnit, that person deserves the credit of "A FILM BY"
Kent finishes by putting his money where his mouth is by saying:

Yes, I am militant on this. I have told my producer in Norway, that if I ever let him put "A FIlm by Kent Jensen" at the start of a film (commercial, short, feature) that I've directed, even if I've written it as well, he may punch me repeatedly.
Kent's rant is an old posting but it was actually the first post that came up when I did the search. The others all pretty much echo his stance. Have a look for yourself.  
So in response to your question "what does A Film by" mean? I can't really tell you. As far as I can tell if you have written and directed your film then you deserve to have this credit. 

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