Friday, September 9, 2011

Who Deserves Credit for Movies (Directors vs. Everyone Else)

It’s a trend that runs through the veins of most casual moviegoers – the attribution of the completion of a film solely to the director. It’s undeniable that the lucky individual who takes hold of the esteemed reins of director has the greatest influence over the development of a film. But to say that a movie like Shutter Island is “one of Scorsese’s best works” is a downright lie, not because there’s not a possibility for it to contend for one of his best works but because Scorsese wasn’t the only force driving the creation of the movie.

Shutter Island is the product of the adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane, multiple studios, Paramount, writer Laeta Kalogridis, a dozen producers, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the hundreds of members of the crew. Why, then, do most people attribute an entire movie’s creation to the director? My thoughts? They probably don’t know any better. I’m sure everyone has sat through the credits of at least one movie. The list of people involved are far too great for you to ever develop a familiarity with any of them, but that unfamiliarity doesn’t constitute the lack of recognition they receive. I’m willing to state that most directors don’t know how to handle all of the equipment, properly apply makeup, or perform most of the technical tasks required to make a movie successful.

Yes, it’s the director who makes decisions as to how scenes are shot, how to use the lighting, how actors should approach the scenes, and nearly every other aspect of how the film looks. But he couldn’t do any of that without a good many uncredited (by the general public) individuals.

For example, it doesn’t matter how Scorsese decides to direct DiCaprio, Leo is Leo. His screen presence is something in itself, something the viewer sees and automatically associates with DiCaprio, not Scorsese’s direction. In fact, many might also refer to Shutter Island as a Leonardo DiCaprio film, not a Scorsese film. Many likely considered Inception in the same manner. Despite Nolan’s direction being a large “must-see” stamp on the film, DiCaprio cast in the leading role was a magnet for his many Titanic fangirls and others who simply appreciate the work he does. The cast of a film is doubtlessly integral to its success, and leading actors may have just as much a right to call a film their own as the director.

The script, in this particular example, is unoriginal. No, I don’t mean stolen. I mean not the creative work of Scorsese. The film was adapted from a novel, but wasn’t advertised as such, and the collection of people who know about Shutter Island, the novel, are probably amongst the few who may sympathize with my ideas on this subject. Cinematography and film editing were each handled by a single members of the production team. Neither have names that I’m familiar with, though this contemplation of mine may lead me to take increased notice to these individuals. What’s more surprising to me is that the editor, Thelma Shoonmaker, is a three-time Oscar recipient who worked with Scorsese on multiple occasions, including Goodfellas and The Departed. However, I don’t recall ever hearing much about her, not even as a mere appendage to the name of Scorsese. Wouldn’t one be inclined to believe Shoonmaker’s editing has something to do with the visual presentation of what are considered some of Scorsese’s best? I’m sure many would say no because Scorsese oversaw her direction. For me, that’s not an excuse. Shoonmaker attended film school and studied the art of editing. She has her own style, and whether Scorsese had any input as to how she worked or not, it’s ultimately her style of editing that shows up, not Scorsese’s visual vision.

I believe I’ve made enough of my point clear in that brief analysis of Shutter Island, but readers would be wrong to interpret this as saying directors shouldn’t have their names pasted onto movie posters. That’s not true at all; in certain situations, they do deserve to be widely recognized as a driving force behind the creation of a film. In this area, directors such as Christopher Nolan and the Coen brothers begin to shine through. Not only to these directors oversee production, but they tend to fiddle with the screenplays, producing, cinematography, and editing. These are the directors who I have no problem attributing the majority of a film to. They put themselves in as many positions as possible, and while there are still a great many important aspects of creating a film that  they can’t take part in, the multiple roles they assume do enough to speak for their desire to create a film that’s most reflective of their creative vision.

So at the end of the day, who deserves credit for movies? Honestly, it’s hard to say. Cast and crew far outnumber directors, producers, and the like. There are roles that are more important than others. Maybe a movie would have turned out just fine with only a single grip. Maybe it would have turned out better without either; but that’s not to say they didn’t put forth their fair share of effort. It’s just an insignificant measure of worth that I’m using to determine who should be credited. There’s often only a single editor for a film. Without them, production would never conclude. Does that mean they deserve more credit than the casting director? Again, no.

At this point, I feel as though I’m just going around in circles, so I’ll finish up with but a few more statements. At the end of the day, deciding who should be given the most credit is quite ambiguous and largely varies from project to project. While I don’t agree with the fact that many people attribute movies only to the directors, there’s really no way to get everyone’s name out there – except in the credits. And for people who love making movies, that’s enough.