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Credit Where Credit Is Due

Guild rules, status, and careers all come into play behind the scenes of every opening credit sequence.

In my last post, I wrote about some of the creative decisions involved in orchestrating a film’s opening credits. Design is only one of the many considerations — what’s even more complicated are the politics, union rules, and hierarchy of actors and crew.  

Each credit in an opening sequence is commonly referred to as a “card.” You may have noticed that the biggest stars tend to have their own cards just before the film’s title. The other contender for the final pre-title card is the director. In general, the closer your card is to the title of a film, the more creative influence you had on the film. If an actor or crew member does not need to share their card with somebody else at the beginning of a movie, it’s a big deal. It means the person has “made it” in the film business.

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Opening credits, also known as pre-credits, can be classic white over black or integrated with establishing footage. In the latter case, the appearance of each credit tends to alternate between the right and left sides of the frame to maintain a sense of balance — but that can all be subject to change in order to fit the screen composition; in some cases, footage is swapped or re-ordered to better balance the credits.

Names on single cards are typically larger than shared cards and often negotiated as a percentage of the main title font size, but sometimes creative decisions of the opening sequence design force important names to be shown smaller. In this case, we actually have to obtain a formal waiver from whichever guild that person belongs to (Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild, Producers Guild, etc.).  

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Some films don't show any opening credits at all, instead opting to go straight to the title card or even a “cold open” where the main title doesn’t come up until after a dramatic first scene. That's a creative and emotional decision to forego credits in favor of jumping directly into the action or if there are no notable people involved with the film to raise audience anticipation.

What about the ending credits? They are far more standardized, rolling in the same order for every film, and everyone’s names are the same size. In fact, end credits are usually made by entering the information into an online service like Endcrawl, which produces a piece of video easily added to the end of a film.  

Comparatively the opening credits and title sequence is a much more creative bookend of a film. We're always honored when a director chooses us to work on opening credits because we're being trusted to kick off their baby in the right way.

Originally published: 03/11/2022

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