July 18, 2024

OPINION: Whose movie is it anyway?

Lost in Scene

I’ve recently been getting into collecting Criterion Collection releases, which are premium physical releases of prestigious movies from Hollywood and international world cinema. They cost a lot more than a normal DVD or Blu-ray release, but the trade-off comes from extra goodies like filmmaker’s commentary and physical booklets with essays and/or supplementary material.

The Criterion copy of “Do the Right Thing” came with excerpts of Spike Lee’s director’s journal, with dated thoughts and written experiences from the filmmaking of the movie. It’s fascinating to mull over and see how filmmakers view something they create while actively in the process of making it.

With the high price, Criterion releases appeal to film nerds exclusively (so, me), but there’s really only one problem I have with the releases. On every cover of every release the movie is attributed to the director, “a film by The Director,” similar to a novel.

Now, I think filmmakers getting credit for their work is incredibly important. In most normal studio releases, the name of the director would often be sidelined in favor of posting the actor with the biggest appeal. To have the director be the biggest name on the package is the right thing to do.

However, no movie is exclusively by the director. The phrasing that attributes all credit to the director shouldn’t be used like a book, where sole creativity is the content. To say that “Do the Right Thing” is exclusively by Spike Lee is objectively wrong, even if it is a “Spike Lee joint.”

This is semantics and I don’t actually have an issue with how Criterion handles credit; I do agree if there had to be one name on the packaging, it better be the director’s. However, the director is one part of a much larger machine at work.

Think about a movie you watched recently. You might find yourself thinking about a specific visual image, or a dialogue scene. Maybe action is bursting out of your brain, or even something quiet and meticulous. Think about everything in the screen that you can see, the actor, the costumes, the set, the lighting. Think about what’s not seen, the camera, the film crew that is undoubtedly behind the camera scurrying around.

Who wrote the dialogue? Who designed this set? Who built that prop? Who is behind the camera? Who did the makeup for this actor who is only in this one scene? Who even is that actor? Who choreographed and blocked the actor’s movements? How did this movie even get the budget for all of this?

Filmmaking is inherently a collaborative medium. Someone almost always has to be behind the camera while someone or something is in front. Someone had an idea, wrote it in detailed directions, and then gave it to someone else to bring to life. Directors can write their own screenplays, but screenplays these days are often collaborative themselves.

Directors have co-directors, second unit directors, stand-ins and producers. The Director’s Guild of America demands only one name to be the director (except in certain circumstances, like the Coen brothers who had to fight for the dual credit).

I may have dunked on actors and the amount of exposure they get before, but think about the nature of performance. To completely take someone else’s ideas and convert them into a living, breathing character seems impossible on paper, but the entertainment industry depends on those who have the magic powers to do so.

Who even owns the character at that point? The words out of their mouth belongs to the performance, but also the screenplay. A hand raises to point, but the impact is stronger with a stylish sleeve that matches. Their movements work in the space that isn’t theirs and with props they didn’t make.

The animation industry has been in a nightmarish state in trying to obtain credit as hundreds of hours can be put into the work of a single shot. A character has a voice actor, but hundreds of animators give life to the movements and expressions. Can we really credit the voice actor for the sole performance of this character?

The film industry has attempted to give credit to those in the forefront with awards shows and turning the names of certain filmmakers into a brand, but frankly, it will never be enough. The credits are the one way filmmakers can make their claim, but streaming services know most people skip them and will show the algorithm’s next piece of content instead.

The unfortunate truth is for most movies (especially in Hollywood) no director could name every person who was on the production team. We see them as leaders who manage their creative vision and sculptors of finished movies out of months of production work. This can be true, but that creative vision has to go through hundreds, thousands of people to make the movie real.

Nick Pauly

News Reporter for Creston News Advertiser. Raised and matured in the state of Iowa, Nick Pauly developed a love for all forms of media, from books and movies to emerging forms of media such as video games and livestreaming.