The other day I was breezing through the “watch now” option on Netflix, and I came across a little animated film that had fallen off my radar. I remember being skeptical about Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs when I first heard about it, but I found the trailer to be cute and fun, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
A simple title fades up saying “A film by.” I roll my eyes a little, as I hate these masturbatory title cards, in general. But then the rest of the title comes in: “A Lot of People.”
“A Film by A Lot of People.” Word.
In a world of film where everyone is jockeying for position, fighting for more titles placed in more prominent places on their films, it’s fantastic to see a team of filmmakers who admit the truth…it takes a very talented team of people to make a film.
Film authorship is one of those annoying pet peeves of mine. These days it seems it’s no longer enough for a director to put his title last before the movie starts or first after the film ends. Instead, he or she needs her name over the title, proudly proclaiming that this is “A (Insert Douchebag Director’s Name Here) film.” This philosophy goes so far, in fact, that some filmmakers even insist that their name be put before the title. So instead of Shitty Movie 2, we often get Lame-Ass Insecure Director’s Shitty Movie 2.
I’m looking at you M. Night Shyamalan.
Now let me get something straight…I’m not necessarily insulting the film, itself. For example, I’m a huge John Carpenter fan, and I think he’s a great, whacked out filmmaker that has done some amazing work. But yes, it still bugs me that his name is before the title of Halloween.
Because John Carpenter did NOT author Halloween. He co-wrote the screenplay and he directed it (and excellently, I might add). Still, there was the incomparable Dean Cundy who gave the movie its eerie feeling using compelling lighting and camera angles. There was Tommy Lee Wallace’s brilliant idea to use the white, featureless face. And there were, of course, the actors who were actually on-screen bringing it all to life.
That’s how it is with every movie. There is simply too much to do…to many specialized jobs…for one or two people to do everything. Sure, the director gives guidance and signs off on everything. And some directors, like James Cameron, micro-manage in a big way. But they do not author the film. No matter how “auteur-ish” these filmmakers are, the film is not “by” them. Even when they are the key ingredient to keeping everything alive and bringing a unique style and tone to the table, the film does not belong to them.
This is a universal. Even Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry in Tyler Perry’s Madea Kills A Hobo Part 2 is not A Film by Tyler Perry (written and directed by Tyler Perry).
And this epidemic of masturbatory directors-gone-wild is more out of control than ever. Now you’re seeing no-name hacks insist they get their names above the title. How many times have you seen “A (Name I’ve Never Heard of) film on a movie poster. These are not auteurs, either. Many times, these directors haven’t had a serious hand in writing or shooting these films. They are, in effect, directors-for-hire in a studio system, yet their egos dictate that they fight for a meaningless credit for an oftentimes forgettable film.
STOP! Just stop. You have an amazing job, directors. You’re able to bring together so many artists and craftsmen in order to put forward a collaborative film that conforms with your style, intention and vision. It’s one of the most exciting and creatively fulfilling jobs on the planet. Isn’t that enough? Do you really need to stroke your ego that hard?
There is one final note, though, that does deserve some thought. Sometimes a director is such a big name, they, themselves, become a draw for box-office. And with that in mind, the studio marketing departments will put their names above the title on a poster. For example, The Departed had “A Martin Scorsese Picture” plastered all over it.
And I do get that. I understand the marketing needs of a film. But I don’t see Scorsese fighting for a bigger title card or whining about his auteur status. Because Marty’s got class. That’s why he calls it his “picture,” not his film.
So there is some leeway with these rules. But in general…get over yourselves, Hollywood directors. Besides, claiming authorship of a film does not all of a sudden make it artistic or even good.
Just look at Uwe Boll.