Why does the director get all the credit for a movie?

You know what I’m talking about–the ads say “A film by Rob Reiner” or “A film by Ridley Scott” even when the only role the individual in question had was that of director, not producer, screenwriter, actor, or anything else. I’m not denying that the director’s role is essential, but if what he does is to “direct” the actual filming and editing of the movie, is it really true to say that the movie is “by” him? I would think that if a movie could be said to be “by” anyone, it would be the screenwriter: he’s the one who came up with the plot, characters, dialogue, often even the very idea for the movie in the first place. I mean, if Herb Plotnick writes a screenplay, Paramount picks it up, and Rob Reiner directs it, why is it said to be by Rob Reiner? Isn’t that a bit like saying that a novel is by its editor instead of its author?

In some sense, you’re correct. Filmmaking is a collaborative art, and it’s unfair to single out one person as being the creator of the film. In another sense, you’ve lost this argument already. Films are regularly referred to as if they were the work of their directors, and I don’t think there’s anything that you or I can do to change that.

There are no absolute ‘rules’ regarding this, but generally when a movie is called “a Joe Blow film” it means that Joe Blow probably at least wrote it as well as directed it.

Keep in mind too, that if the film wins Best Picture its always the producer(s) who walk up and take the statuette.

Well, no, Hail Ants, that’s not true. Check this on the next few films that you see. You’ll notice that the credits usually say “A Joe Blow Film,” regardless of whether the director also wrote the film. Furthermore, no matter what the credits say, many people in talking about the film speak as if the director was the creator of the film.

What you’re talking about is the “auteur theory”; the modern Hollywood doctrine that the contributions of the writers, actors, and crew are superseded by the director’s vision. The director does indeed have the final decision-making opportunity, as he can revise the script, tell the actors and crew what to do, and edit the completed film. But a strong script in the hands of a complacent director can shine through, yet the film is still credited to the director, which isn’t fair.

because the director is responsible for the majority of the work,
everything you see or hear in the film was in some way from the director.

a film is more of a visual/audio medium then a written word_

a similiar arguement would be that a painter takes the credit for his painting, the painting isnt done by the colors, nor is it done by the inspiration that led to the artwork.

I think it’s pretty likely that the director has editorial control of the screenplay, while the writers have no such control over the directing.

I also get the impression that hollywood feels writers are a dime a dozen, while directors constitute ‘talent’.

Well, directors are pretty important. Without a best boy or a fight choreographer a film can still get made. But without a director, you have no movie.

Technically, a directors job is to decide where the camera is pysically placed, and to direct the actors. But directors get the final approval of almost all decisions on the set. In smaller productions, the term “director” often covers a lot of ground. I know when I direct it covers everything from buying margaritas for the crew to hunting down four hundred foot extension cords when my light blow a fuse. In essense, the director is the one that makes sure that all these people, sets, lights and props ultimately add up to a bunch of images on celloid. They are the ones that make sure things get done.

Historically, the idea of a film being the director’s artistic vision comes from the French New Wave and it’s auteur theory. The people of this movement (from the sixties) posited that a film is as complex a work as a novel and is “authored” by the director.

There is a flipside to all this. When a film is a failure the director gets all of the blame- a bomb can ruin a director’s career far more easily than it can ruin a producer’s or an actor’s- even if it wasn’t really the director’s fault.

grisha sums it up. It doesn’t matter how incredibly great a screenplay is, its still just words on paper. The director of a film is the one person most responsible for it. He literally ‘makes it happen’ second by second, completely by hand.

No screenplay, no matter how good, will prop up an incompetent director. But a great director can do wonders with a mediocre or even bad script.

How do you factor in the “Alan Smithee” thing? A director is hired to do a movie and it turns out to be such a mess that he/she removes his/her name from it. I’ve always assumed (possibly incorrectly) that the director wasn’t allowed to do the movie his/her way because of studio interference.

Clarity, please?

Actually, the key grip is the person who really controls things. :slight_smile:

Seriously, what I want to know is what do the producers do? All I know about their role I learned from Mel Brooks.

they sign the checks.
(or at least approve them)

My take on the producer is that he or she might be called the Program Manager. Theirs, I think, is the task of getting the budget and assembling the elements of the crew; The Director, and the various other directors such as casting, photography, editing etc.

I would expect a good producer would have a director and some leading actors in mind from the start and would work pretty closely with his prospective Director, who might be called the “operations manager” to get a group that can at least not break into open warfare during the filming.

Director’s don’t sign checks, producers do.

Unfortunately directors generally get most of the credit although I would agree that they are the most reliable indicator of how good a movie will be. If you have a great script, great actors, a great cinematographer, and a great production designer, then you hardly even need a director to make a great movie if he leaves it in the hands of his help. The director gets the credit because he/she is the highest person on the creative ladder barring creative producer and is the final arbiter on all things creative.

I’ll go a little bit out on the limb here and say that a movie producer probably has much the same role as a producer in my industry (video games).

We’ve got Art Directors, Technical Directors and Designers, each of which work with each other to produce an end result (in video games all these directors really add up to one Director with a capital D as seen in film). The producer has an umbrella authority, which includes veto rights, the right to cut what they want, control of the budget, and ultimately they’re responsible for anything that happens with the product. If it’s a flop the producer is the one that takes the fall on the production-house side. If the product does very well though, the credit goes to the directors and not normally to the producers. It seems that is what happens for movies too - we never hear of a movie in terms of the producer’s contribution but I’m sure if a movie flops the studio isn’t going to be giving that producer another flick any time soon.

Boiled down: Responsibility. In a lot more ways that simply signing cheques, too.


The Writers Guild of America has something to say on this issue:

Check out William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade, samples here in which he takes issue with the auteur theory. It and the later Which Lie Did I Tell? are the essential how Hollywood works primers. They are both great reads.

I always thought that the writer and director should share equal billing. Just my opinion. Maybe the fact that I’m an amateur writer has something to do with it…

No matter how good the script, it’s the director who translates it to screen, which is why he gets the credit.

The auteur theory, BTW, did not originate in Hollywood by directors or even in France (as some assume). It was critic Andrew Sarris who first articulated it, based on the simple belief that great directors were those who produced great movies. A loot at a good-to-great director’s career shows that they favored certain themes and certain subjects.

Further, a great director is usually involved in the writing in some way, even if he doesn’t take writing credit. Alfred Hitchcock, for instance, didn’t write his scripts, but he told his scriptwriters what he wanted them to do and sent it back when they didn’t.

Reading credits is not a sign of whose responsible for a movie, BTW. Further, all directors are allowed to make an uncredited rewrite of any script. So just because something says “written by Jim Smith,” it doesn’t mean Smith had anything more than the general concept.

Sarris admitted that the director is not aways the auteur of the film (he cites, “Casablanca” as one example). Some films have no auteur; in others, it’s the writer (“Being John Malkovich,” for instance, owes more to Kaufman than to Jones). But he points out that if the director isn’t the auteur, than the film isn’t really directed, it’s shot.

The best proof of the auteur theory was a book that was trying hard to do for writers what Sarris’s “The American Cinema” did for directors. The problem was that the writers listed – all quite good – only made good movies when they had a top-notch directory. If the director wasn’t important, then they would have made top films for every director, not just those considered above the pack.

I’ll admit, however, that “A Film by” credit is sometimes given when the director isn’t really the auteur.

Pauline Kael on the auteur theory: “The auteur theory originally meant something quite different from what people understand it to mean now. What it originally said was that a director conferred value on a film – that if a director was an auteur, all of his films were great. I think the public never understood that, and neither did most of the press. It was an untenable theory, and it fell from sight … It’s sometimes discouraging to see all of a director’s movies, because there’s so much repetition. The auteurists took this to be a sign of a director’s artistry … But for all the director’s movies to be alike in some essential way can also be a sign that he’s a hack.”

It’s sublimely ironic that Sarris can be credited as auteur of the auteur theory since it is based on François Truffaut’s 1954 essay Une certaine tendance du cinéma français.