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February 24, 2014 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Assembling a Film's Billing Block. The blurb at the bottom of a movie poster is called the "billing block." And while it might look like a bar code of haphazardly packed type, it is in fact the product of detailed legal agreements and intense contract negotiation. Below is the the billing block for a fictional film and an explanation of how it was constructed. (via kottke.org.)
posted by xingcat (28 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Of course, no discussion of movie poster billing is complete without a mention of Batman Returns' promotional team weirdly flopping Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer's credits on a horizontal floating-heads poster.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:46 AM on February 24




Poster Credits also has examples of unusual billing block formatting, which might have required special negotiations, based on the reference to "detailed legal agreements and intense contract negotiation" in the "standard" billing block.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:51 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


> Poster Credits also has examples of unusual billing block formatting, which might have required special negotiations

"So, if I understand you correctly, you want to format the billing block to resemble Josh Hartnett's giant tumescent dong? Let me check with my client and get back to you."
posted by indyz at 8:19 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


I imagine the follow-up question would be something along the lines of "What would my client's position on the, aherm, shaft be?"
posted by filthy light thief at 8:22 AM on February 24




"So, if I understand you correctly, you want to format the billing block to resemble Josh Hartnett's giant tumescent dong? Let me check with my client and get back to you."

Yeah, the alternate ones were really interesting looked at through this lens; I didn't know what the billing block was before and I didn't thing about it consciously, I just noticed when it was done differently and it's neat to how something so common and required can be used in ways.

That said, 40 Days and 40 Nights was one of the worst, most offensive movies I've ever seen. I saw in in the theater with my cousin (so I was around sixteen or seventeen) thinking it would be fun if silly and it was absolutely awful and super upsetting. SPOILERS FOR A TERRIBLE MOVIE: The normalization of sexual harassment in the workplace and rape and the idea that most men are so completely out of control that they are ruled by their libidos and that your sex life is everyone else's damn business and that there's something crazy and weird and impossible about abstaining from sex was absolutely horrible. Even being super sexual and thinking about sex all the time that movie absolutely and completely horrified me. It was gross and unpleasant and inappropriate and everyone in it was terrible. Ugh, I feel dirty just remembering it. It's a shame that an interesting use of a standard form was created in the service of such a disgusting piece.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:27 AM on February 24


The "interactive" in the NYT URL tricked me; I spent about 3 minutes waving the mouse around looking for the little active pixel that would make this do some crazy transition or something. I guess the online media team is using that part of the web server for stuff that's not a normal article format. This one is beautifully formatted although I would have preferred an interactive where I could highlight parts of the block and see the explanation.

Movie credit inflation is obnoxious; not just because it leads to ridiculous font choices but because it cheapens the credits. One director. One producer. At most three actors. Writer credit only if it's really noteworthy. Crap like costumes, music, score, "based on", all that noise should not be contractually required to be visible in a poster. I'd prefer it were left off the rolling credits too, although the way a lot of films do main credits and then everyone else sort of works.

At least we're past the days of movies being re-edited for home video release so that the credits occur before the movie. What was that ever about? I think it ended as part of the transition to DVDs.
posted by Nelson at 8:34 AM on February 24


Credits are equally political. During A Bug's Life I was working in Pixar's Graphics R&D department, and as the wrangling and negotiation over the where everyone's name went (and spilled over into hallway conversations), we were all "Yeah, whatever, we get a movie credit! Awesome!"

A Bug's Life had those "outtakes" during the credits, which ran beside all of the people who fought the political battle. Ours was the first block of credits after the outtakes ended, the first block to occupy the full width of the theater screen.

It was probably the only group of names that non-movie people ever saw in those credits. Everyone noticed. My parents got a call from a childhood friend of my sister who hadn't had contact for years asking "was that really the kid we knew in the '70s?".

I like to think that it wasn't random, that somewhere there was a PA or editor (whose name I should probably know or be able to guess) assembling the credits who thought "you know what, these guys have been the nicest about their credits, let's pay back the karma". But it was probably just luck. Either way, it's one of those moments I hold on to...
posted by straw at 8:34 AM on February 24 [5 favorites]


The two that get me are 1. The single name in a rectangular outline ("cause I'm special!) and 2. READ THE [PUBLISHER] NOVEL. Like a Scholastic book fair edition is so important to the bottom line that vital elements of the mise-en-scene should go uncredited.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:38 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


I imagine the follow-up question would be something along the lines of "What would my client's position on the, aherm, shaft be?

Fuck you! You can't just relegate my client to the shaft, he's going straight to the motherfucking glans or he walks.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:39 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


What was that ever about?

Back in the olden times when people had attention spans, all the credits were before the movie.

Now it's very rarely done, and usually as a callback to the old way.

Re the politics of credits, one of the only things I dislike about mostly concentrating on TV is that my name never rates a credit. I've had very few "wheeeeee it's my naaaaaaaaaaaame really big on a screen" moments because I've only worked on like 4 features.
posted by Sara C. at 8:40 AM on February 24


READ THE [PUBLISHER] NOVEL. Like a Scholastic book fair edition is so important to the bottom line that vital elements of the mise-en-scene should go uncredited.

This is probably negotiated in advance as a condition of buying the rights/getting the thing greenlit, so, yes, it absolutely is more important than whoever the costume designer or composer was.
posted by Sara C. at 8:43 AM on February 24


Writer credit only if it's really noteworthy.

Are there instances of movies in which the writer's (or writers') input was not noteworthy?
posted by alby at 8:46 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Like for work-for-hire novelizations, not original literary properties that were optioned. Think Peter David, not Cormac McCarthy.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:49 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Back in the olden times when people had attention spans, all the credits were before the movie.

Easy to do when the bulk of the people involved were uncredited.

Personally, I would insist my name appeared in Comic Sans. People would zoom right in on that.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:57 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


Personally, I would insist my name appeared in Comic Sans.

I'm pretty sure contracts or union rules would militate against including text specifically aimed at inducing passersby to tear down and stomp on the posters.

40 Days and 40 Nights was one of the worst, most offensive movies I've ever seen.

I am so, so gratified to hear this. That premise seemed appalling when it was first unveiled, and all I'd heard since then was "eh, not good."

posted by psoas at 9:16 AM on February 24


not original literary properties that were optioned.

These are actually the films most likely to have big name writers attached.

Also easily 90% of studio films are adaptations nowadays, anyhow. If no adaptations merit a screenwriting credit, Charlie Kaufman is probably the only screenwriter whose name would ever hit the billing block.
posted by Sara C. at 9:17 AM on February 24


You know, independent from the specific content, that was one of the most information-dense pieces of writing I have ever read, and I appreciated it very much.
posted by seyirci at 9:28 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


I learned about this indirectly from some old movie about a faded star who wanted to make a comeback (Sunset Boulevard, maybe? It's been so long I don't remember). But her agent comes to her to say she's been offered a movie, and she says something like, "Jane Doe in Name of Movie," and he replies, "It's Name of Star in Name of Movie, with Jane Doe" or something like that, and she deflates, and that sensitzed me to noticiing how credits are organized and what the different prestige is of different placements and wording.

This was a good article. It looked dense at first and maybe not all that readable, but it was very clear.
posted by not that girl at 9:39 AM on February 24


I don't have any experience with posters, and my trailer work has slowed considerably in the last few years. But for an actual feature, I once had a client come back a couple weeks before their release date to change the main title credit "Written & Directed By" to "Written and Directed By" because one of the guilds was going to fine them $30,000 if they released their film with and ampersand instead of the actual word. So yeah, people can get pretty worked up about all this if it's not done properly.
posted by dogwalker at 10:13 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: "Back in the olden times when people had attention spans, all the credits were before the movie."

Back in those olden times, the credits were about 3-7 names long, and even today's attention spans are longer than that.

If you're going to list all 34 of the secondary-processing scenery details animators, you can't do it before the movie. No one will show up until it's half over.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:50 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


Josh Hartnett's giant tumescent dong?

Yes please.

Crap like costumes, music, score, "based on", all that noise should not be contractually required to be visible in a poster.

I don't really see why. The heads of departments that put a movie together are often vital to the end result, the desirability of seeing it, and some are famous in their own right; if I see Howard Shore's name as the composer, I know if nothing else that the music in the film is likely to be beautiful. And frankly if I ever saw Ngila Dickson's name on a poster (costume designer for LOTR), it could very well induce me to see the film because she is a genius as far as I'm concerned.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:16 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


There's limited space on a poster. You can't put everyone on it. If having Howard Shore do the music is a big part of the film, awesome, put his name on. But when 50 names become obligatory all 50 become contractually equally visible.
posted by Nelson at 2:29 PM on February 24


I was objecting mainly to your characterization of incredibly difficult work being done by highly talented people as 'noise.' I agree that we really don't need to see seventeen different co-producers, however.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:33 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


The major amount of excess noise in these comes from the naff names of production companies and the proliferation of producers. I have no objection to the people whose creative contributions are included (which is not to say that all producers are non-creative, but really). Basically, though, the billing block is not there to get your attention. It's to assure someone's future career.

Univers 39 Ultra Condensed is the most common font used

Oh, this is the bit that I hate. As I said, none of this is actually there to get your attention and this is pretty much why. But being a nerdy engineer type I foolishly believe it would make more sense to use a less hair-thin typeface and instead of insisting on simply height insist on aggregate, I forget the term, but basically the area of a letter like lower-case x. Then you and your lawyers can all be happy and we, the mere plebs forced to read it, can be happy too.
posted by dhartung at 4:54 PM on February 24


In what possible universe did Shelley Long vie for equal billing with Bette Midler?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:19 PM on February 24


But being a nerdy engineer type I foolishly believe it would make more sense to use a less hair-thin typeface and instead of insisting on simply height insist on aggregate, I forget the term, but basically the area of a letter like lower-case x.

AFAIK, there isn't a term like "x-width." But if there was, they'd use a font with an out of proportion lower case x, and then set it all in caps.

A better approach to your aim would be to insist on a monospaced font, but then you're eating up poster real estate--which doesn't help the project--while not gaining much in terms of readability.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:42 PM on February 24


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