Movie Credits for Critters

I enjoy reading credits after movies. And so it was, the other day, that I found myself reading the cast list of You’ve Got Mail and discovering tagged on to the end the names of two dogs credited as though they were actors.

Brinkley…“Spot” (or something)
Dog in Elevator…Lucy

From what little I understand about movies, all actors with speaking lines must be credited (union rule?) and listed in some sort of order of importance. So, the dogs were listed at the end–certainly to not piss off any human actor. But why list them at all? This isn’t a “Lassie” or “Benji” movie in which either animal figured prominently–especially the role of “Dog in Elevator”, which, IIRC, didn’t so much as bark.

Two WAGS of my own:

  1. Because the trainer’s contract said to put 'em in? But: you don’t see every trained animal used in movies credited. And the “Dog in Elevator” didn’t exactly perform clever tricks.
  2. Because it’s cute? That’s what I suspect.

What’s the point?

WAG of my own: anybody (or anything) who gets paid to be in the movie gets a credit unless they specifically ask otherwise. For example, Bill Murray’s appearance in “Tootsie” was uncredited until the movie went to cable or videotape (I don’t recall which) because he didn’t want anyone to think it was a “Bill Murray” movie.

Nope, sorry. Extras (the people who walk through in the background, or sit at tables around where the main scene is played, etc.) are paid to be in the movie, usually minimum wage or barely over, and are not credited.

The rules are complicated, but here’s a simplification: If your character is named in the script, you get a credit. That doesn’t mean you have an actual name, necessarily; you are just singled out as a specific person.

For example: Imagine a scene in a convenience store. The star is first in line, talking to the guy behind the counter. At the end of the scene, the star turns around, yells at the guy behind him, and pours a bottle of water over his head.

The star: obviously gets a credit. The guy behind the counter: gets a credit with a speaking role. The guy in line who gets dumped on: gets a credit. Everybody else in line, in the store, outside the store: extras, no credit.

So just expand this rule to the animals. Family pet? Specific character, has a name, gets a credit. All the other dogs in the park? “Extra animals,” no credits.

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If you spent a lot of time and money training an animal wouldn’t you want its name in the credits so it gets more work and you get more money?

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For the record, extras also aren’t always paid. For the horror film ‘The Faculty’, students at UT Austin were asked to show up for the football stadium and weren’t paid a dime. The ‘honor’ of being in a Robert Rodriguez movie was apparently enough payment.

I also had a friend who was an extra for one of the Mighty Ducks sequels. Again, no payment, but they did get to meet Emilio Estevez in exchange (big deal). The funny thing was, he said that only about every other person was real. The stadium where they filmed it had cardboard cut outs of people cheering to fill in the holes because not enough people showed up at the actual shoot.

Those cardboard people are used more and more in films. Cuts down on the number of extras you need.

There are a variety of reasons why actors appear uncredited. Most often, it’s a big name star taking a small supporting role. They’d rather have no credit at all than to be on the credits, since that would be an excuse to pay them less. Robin Williams has done this quite a few times.

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And extras are also going digital, like everything else. Some of the critters in the Star Wars Special Edition, multiple Weird Als in “The Saga Begins” video, many many crowd scenes, for example.

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