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Take One - Titles and Credits

As we reach the final stages of our film, it is now the time to add the titles and credits to our project.

In my attempts to maintain some kind on chronology to the proceedings, I have left this section until the last stages of editing have been completed, though in reality we will probably have decided what our film will be called, back at the start when we conceived of the idea.

I always decide on a title at the beginning, sometimes even before the plot is completely worked out and this is rarely changed. I can, in actual fact, only think of one occasion when a title was changed and this was due to the problem of finding a location. Our film, Dropping Off was to be called, Taking the Plunge. The original idea, had our two characters stood on a bridge over a river, discussing the merits, or otherwise, of committing suicide. When a suitable location couldn`t be found, the script and title were slightly altered to fit the new location, a railway bridge. My thoughts were that the word “Plunge” better suited a plot, which concerned jumping into a river, better than on to a railway track.

The foregoing neatly brings me to my “rules” when choosing a title. These “rules” have slowly evolved over the years, but have now been adopted and adhered to for many films.

Rule 1. The title should be short. A maximum length should be 4 words, but 3 are better, 2 better still and a single word the ultimate goal!

Rule 2. Choose a title with as many meanings as possible. A vague title gives nothing away and hopefully it will help to intrigue and entice an audience in to wanting to see it.

Rule 3. At the end of the film, the meaning of the title should then be clear.

The above were not intentionally devised to create confusion amongst the audience. Like most things in the World of amateur film, they came about by accident. My first film, a collection of “comedy” sketches, made back in 1971, ran for 25 minutes, had about 3 decent jokes and had a nonsense title which was 14 words long. The end credits, written by hand on very long sheets of paper stuck together with tape, listed every possible (and impossible) job function undertaken by a film crew. One memorable credit was:

“Films posted for processing by…Ken Wilson ”

This was supposed to be amusing…. but it wasn`t.

Such lessons learnt the hard way no doubt steered me in the direction of my self imposed 3 rules plus several others. Long titles were out as were silly end credits.

There are many well-known film makers who have a distinctive style and their work could no doubt be recognised by their titles and methods of constructing their movies. So in effect, your choices will personalise your films as you develop your own “style”. I do not say that a long title or a short title is best, only what is right for a PHASE 4 film.

I would never use a title such as: “Our 1985 Holiday to the Isle of Wight”.

Eight words are definitely too many, the title gives too much away, (you know exactly what it is about) and my holiday films tend to end up on a shelf, unedited. Or at least, they have until now. (The Isle of Wight though is a favourite holiday destination!)

Sometimes a short title is impossible, especially with comedies. For some mysterious reason, thrillers seem to be better suited to a single word.
Demons, Twilight and Watching are three of our past works and all neatly fit my set of “rules”.

In a practical sense, I would advise that you give some thought to the name of your film rather than just giving it the first title you think of. Creativity should apply throughout your film and that includes the main title.

Credits

What about the actors? Well, what about the actors?

Think carefully about your wording when crediting your actors. I would strongly advise against the word: “Starring…”

“Starring” in any case, seems little used now in modern films and in most cases we simply have a list of the actors in order of importance (or pay).

“Starring” was never a word I liked much, as actors, however skilful or talented are still only human…except of course, Lassie…or Skippy. But I digress. In an amateur film, we may be very lucky to have a talent from the local theatre, who can really play the part of our romantic lead. However, a credit which reads: “Starring Elsie Longbottom” is hardly going to stifle the sniggers as our dramatic movie begins. It is unlikely that we can follow the method used in 30s/ 40s Hollywood and ask Elsie to adopt a stage name, say “Catherine Maclaine”, but at least we can drop the word “Starring”.

In the days when we all shot on Cine film, I certainly found the titling process to be a chore to be endured, not enjoyed. The titling process was always undertaken reluctantly, usually when 15 feet of film remained in the camera from the latest shoot and I needed to get the film sent to the Labs to check what we had shot. A set of block plastic white letters, were my first acquisition in this area and these were used indiscriminately on everything, no matter the genre of my film. A comedy, a thriller, a holiday film; all had the same block plastic lettering.
Using a photograph, a calendar or a plain card background placed on the carpet, my letters were carefully arranged using a ruler for guidance. Hours were spent lining them up before the camera was set above them on it`s tripod and pointing down at the floor. Lighting had to be set up and the cable release, gently attached. A momentary lapse of concentration and then the letters would be knocked out of place. More correcting followed. Hours of back-breaking tedious toil ensued as I skilfully arranged the rows of letters.

Three weeks later when the little yellow packet dropped through the letterbox and the film was projected, it became clear that they were all slightly crooked and all had to be re-shot. Ahh the joys of film-making!

From here I moved on to flat plastic letters which were pressed down, though these were not even straight when they were manufactured. Next it was Letraset, where at least we had a choice of styles, sizes and colours.

But now through the wizardry which goes by the name of computer technology, we can at last get out titles straight! (However good or bad the film may be!)

So now it's all so easy, who else should get a credit?

Well, to be fair, everyone should, but let's do it appropriately. What do I mean by that? O.K., hands up anyone who has seen a film which has credits like this.

“A film by Harold Grungemold”; “Written by Harold Grungemold”, “Camera Operator, Harold Grungemold”, “Filmed in “Harold Grungemold-A-Vision”.

Alright, I admit it. The last one was made up!

Harold Grungemold may be a superb film maker and he (quite rightly) wants to tell us all about it, but let's be fair, what's wrong with a modicum of modesty?

“A film by…” is possibly sufficient, but condensing and grouping together of credits is acceptable too. In this case, we would end up with: “Written and Filmed by…” or “Edited and Directed by…” or whatever may be the case.

This becomes a matter of common sense and can be applied in most cases to reduce the list of credits, but still acknowledges individual contributions.

In modern Cinema, the end credits alone can go on longer than the average amateur film in total. In one recent blockbuster, I purposely watched the DVD to the very end and the credits listed thousands of names in alphabetical order and lasted for over 15 minutes. Now that is a lot of Letraset!

The End

Once again, this neatly brings me to “THE END!” Not actually the end of part 12, but “THE END” as a caption. I personally dislike “THE END” and have not used one for about 20 years. Once again, the professionals have seemingly falling out with it and a “THE END” Title rarely if ever appears on modern films. Not that anyone will be around to see it anyway after 15 minutes of rolling credits! If any film defiantly sports it's “THE END” in your local Multiplex, you can bet only the spotty 17 year old popcorn sweeper will see it.

So what's wrong with “THE END” you may ask? Nothing, if you wish to use it. But it seems to me archaic and unnecessary. Why does the audience need to be told that your film is over? Surely there is some failure on the part of the film maker if it is not clear to them and they need to be told.

We may imagine a future BIAFF event when a film has omitted it`s “THE END” caption and 30 IAC members are still sat there mid-May. (Perhaps I should banish such a ludicrous notion?)

So what is the alternative? Perhaps if we had a Helicopter at our disposal we could opt for the long track back from the final scene on some deserted beach as the end credits roll. That is a cliché but an obvious closure.

More suitable would be a simple list of the actors (if fiction) and crew.

Sometimes actors names alongside their characters and a still from the film would be better. A fade out to your logo or the year of production is also a good choice. If accompanied by the dying notes of your music track, no-one should be in any doubt that your movie is over.

In part 13, we shall discuss final “tweaks” and holding a premiere.

p.s. You can put your hands down now you at the back!

TAKE ONE The Movie

As I mentioned in a previous issue of FVM, I have been working on a film version of this series. This was begun way back in April of 2004, when I contacted several well known fiction film makers from around the UK to help put together a documentary about the ways in which we construct our films. This is by no means a definitive “How-to-do-it” film, nor does it include every fiction maker who can make a decent movie. It is however a documentary which covers many aspects of the problems we face when putting together a fiction film.

I believe that in effect, it brings together the two main strands of our hobby and will hopefully appeal to both documentary makers and fiction film makers.

The completed movie runs for 1 hour and is reviewed n FVM. My thanks go to all those who helped in this venture. It could not have been made without their help.

The mini DV tape has now been donated to the IAC library.

- By Ken Wilson (first published in FVM)

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Page updated on 11 October 2011
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