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Man on a ladder, changing the billing on a marquee in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Billing is a performing arts term used in referring to the order and other aspects of how credits are presented for plays, films, television, or other creative works. Information given in billing usually consists of the companies, actors, directors, producers, and other crew members.



From the beginning of motion pictures in the 1900s to the early 1920s, the moguls that owned or managed big film studios did not want to bill the actors appearing in their films because they did not want to recreate the star system that was very prominent on Broadway at that time. They also feared that, once actors were billed on film, they would be more popular and would seek sky-high salaries. Actors themselves did not want to reveal their film careers to their stage counterparts via billing on film, because at that time working in the movies was deplorable and unacceptable to stage actors. As late as the 1910s, stars as famous as Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin were not known by name to moviegoers. According to Mary Pickford's biography Doug and Mary, she was referred to by the public as "the Biograph girl" in all of her films before 1905.

Before Mary Pickford, the public used to call Florence Lawrence the "Biograph girl"; but in 1910 Lawrence was lured away from Biograph by Carl Laemmle when he started his new Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP). Laemmle wanted Lawrence to be his star attraction so he offered her more money ($250 per week) and marquee billing, something Biograph did not allow at the time. She signed on; with the release of her first IMP file, The Broken Oath, she quickly became the first film star to receive billing on the credits of her film. From then on, actors received billing on film. Also originating during that time was the system of billing above and below the title, to delineate the status of the players. Big stars such as Pickford, Fairbanks, and Chaplin were billed above the title, while lesser movie stars and supporting players were billed below the title.

During the era of the studio system, on-screen billing was presented at the beginning of a film; only a restatement of the cast and possibly additional players appeared at the end, because the studios had actors under contract and could decide billing. The studios still followed the billing system of the silent era.

However, after the studio system's collapse in the 1950s, actors and their agents fought for billing on a film-by-film basis. This, combined with changes in union contracts and copyright laws, led to more actors and crew members being included in the credits sequence, expanding its size significantly. As a result, since the late 1960s, a significant amount of the billing is reserved for the closing credits of the film, which generally includes a recap of the billing shown at the beginning. In addition, more stars began to demand top billing.

Billing demands even extended to publicity materials, down to the height of the letters and the position of names.

By the 1990s, some films had moved all billing to the film's end, with the exception of company logos and the title. Although popularised by the Star Wars series (see below) and used sporadically in films such as The Godfather and Ghostbusters, this "title-only" billing became an established form for summer blockbusters in 1989, with Ghostbusters II, Lethal Weapon 2, and The Abyss following the practice.[1] Occasionally, even the title is left to the end, such as in The Mummy Returns, Avatar, The Passion of the Christ, Hot Fuzz, Apocalypto, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight.

Main billing

The order in which credits are billed generally signify their importance. For example, in films, the first is usually the motion picture company, followed by the producer (as in "A Jerry Bruckheimer Production"). Next, depending on his/her standing, the director may be granted an extra, prominent credit (as in "A Ridley Scott Film"); this practice began with directors such as Otto Preminger or William Wyler in the late 1950s.

The major starring actors generally come next, then the title of the movie and the rest of the principal cast.

If their contribution is deemed significant, other personnel (such as visual effects supervisor) may also be included. These are then followed by the other producers, the screenwriter(s) and again the director (as in "Directed by..."). The order in which the latter are billed is usually directly related to an individual's status in the film industry or role in the film. If the main credits occur at the beginning, then the director's name is last to be shown before the film's narrative starts, as a result of an agreement between the DGA and motion picture producers in 1939. However, if all billing is shown at the end, his/her name will be displayed first, immediately followed by the writing credits.

Some directors are so highly regarded that they receive what seems to be a producer's credit, even if they did not produce the film. Victor Fleming was one such director: his films always featured the credit "A Victor Fleming Production", even when someone else produced the film. James Whale was similarly credited.

The actors whose names appear first are said to have "top billing". They usually play the principal characters in the film and have the most screen time. However, well-known actors may be given top billing for publicity or contractual purposes if juvenile, lesser-known, or first-time performers appear in a larger role: e.g., Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman were both credited before the title in Superman (1978), while Christopher Reeve, the unknown actor who played Superman, was not. Frequently, top-billed actors are also named in advertising material such as trailers, posters, billboards and TV spots.

An actor may receive "last billing", which usually designates a smaller role played by a famous name. They are usually credited after the rest of the lead cast, prefixed with "and" (or also "with" if there is more than one, as Samuel L. Jackson was in the latter two Star Wars prequels). In some cases, the name is followed by "as" and then the name of the character. This is not the case if that character is unseen for most of the movie (see Ernst Stavro Blofeld).

The two or three top-billed actors in a movie will usually be announced prior to the title of the movie; this is referred to as "above-title billing". For an actor to receive it, he/she will generally have to be well-established, with box-office drawing power. Those introduced afterward are generally considered to be the supporting cast.

Actors that have high status in the industry don't always get top billing; if they only play a bit part, then it may go to the person who portrayed the main character. Some major actors may have a cameo, where they are only noted within the other cast during the end credits. Sometimes, top billing will be given based on a person's level of fame. For example, besides his brief appearance in Superman, Marlon Brando received top billing in both The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.

If an unfamiliar actor has the lead role, he may be listed last in the list of principal supporting actors, his name prefixed with "and introducing" (as Peter O'Toole was in Lawrence of Arabia). Sometimes, he may not receive special billing even if his role is crucial. For example, the then-unknown William Warfield, who played Joe and sang "Ol' Man River" in the 1951 film version of Show Boat, received tenth billing as if he were merely a bit player, while Paul Robeson, an established star who played the same role in the 1936 film version of the musical, received fourth billing in the 1936 film.

If more than one name appears at the same time or of a similar size, then those actors are said to have "equal billing," with their importance decreasing from left to right. However, an instance of "equal importance" is The Towering Inferno (1974) starring Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. The two names appear simultaneously with Newman's on the right side of the screen and raised slightly higher than McQueen's, to indicate the comparable status of both actors' characters (this also features on the advertising poster).

If a film has an ensemble cast with no clear lead role, it is traditional to bill the participants alphabetically or in the order of their on-screen appearance. An example of the former is A Bridge Too Far (1977), which featured 14 roles played by established stars, any one of whom would have ordinarily received top billing as an individual. The cast of the Harry Potter films includes many recognized stars who are billed alphabetically, but after the three principals.

In the case of the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet, there were many famous actors playing supporting or bit roles, and these actors were given prominent billing in the posters along with the film's actual stars: Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, and Kate Winslet. In the actual film's credits, they (along with the other actors in the film) were listed in alphabetical order and in the same size typeface.

If an actor is not an established star, he or she may not receive above-the-title billing, or even "star" billing; they may just be listed at the head of the cast. This is the way that all of the actors were listed in the opening credits to The Wizard of Oz; Judy Garland, although listed first, was given equal billing to all the others, with the cast list reading "with Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley", etc. F. Murray Abraham, a supporting actor at the time of Amadeus, did not receive special star billing although he played the lead role of Antonio Salieri; his onscreen credit reads "with F. Murray Abraham", although his name does appear first in the cast.

In some cases, the position of a name in the credits roll can become a sticking point for both cast and crew. Such was the case on Gilligan's Island, where two of the stars were only mentioned by name in the closing credits. Bob Denver, who played Gilligan, was so upset with this treatment that he reportedly told the producers that since his contract stipulated that his name could appear anywhere in the credits that he wished, he wanted to be moved to the end credits with his co-stars. The studio capitulated, and moved Denver's co-stars to the opening credits of the show.

Competitive top billing

Sometimes actors can become highly competitive over the order of billing. For example:

Spencer Tracy was originally cast to play the lead opposite Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955) but when neither actor would relinquish top billing, Tracy withdrew and was replaced by Fredric March, who took second billing to Bogart. Bogart's role in the film had earlier been played on Broadway by Paul Newman but the young actor was not considered for the movie version since Newman, viewed by studios at the time as mainly a stage and television actor only beginning his movie career, was in no position to compete with Bogart.

Whenever it was pointed out to Spencer Tracy that he routinely took top billing in his films with Katharine Hepburn, he responded, "It's a movie, not a lifeboat."

In the opening credits of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Alec Guinness, who is generally regarded as the main character in the film, receives third billing, after William Holden (who demanded top billing) and Jack Hawkins (who does not even appear until halfway through the picture). However, in the closing credits, Guinness is billed second and Hawkins is billed third.

For The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), James Stewart was given top billing over John Wayne in the movie's posters and the previews (trailers) shown in cinemas and on television prior to the film's release, but in the film itself, Wayne is accorded top billing. Their names are displayed on pictures of signposts, one after the other, with Wayne's name shown first with his sign mounted slightly higher on its post than Stewart's. Director John Ford remarked in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich that he made it apparent to the audience that Vera Miles' character had never entirely recovered from an abortive romance with Wayne's gunslinging rancher because "I wanted Wayne to be the lead." [2] Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford used precisely the same billing formula for All the President's Men (1976), with Redford receiving top billing in posters and trailers while Hoffman was billed over Redford in the film itself. [3]

In the film The Towering Inferno (1974), Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and William Holden all tried to obtain top billing. Holden was refused as his diminished star power was no longer considered to be in the league of McQueen's and Newman's. To provide dual top billing and mollify McQueen, the credits were arranged diagonally, with McQueen at the lower left and Newman at the upper right. Thus, each actor appeared to have top billing depending on whether the poster was read from left to right or top to bottom.[4] Technically, McQueen has top billing and is mentioned first in the film's trailers; however, at the end of the movie, as the cast's names roll from the bottom of the screen, Newman's name is fully visible first, something McQueen apparently didn't catch. This was the first time that this type of "staggered but equal" billing had been used for a movie, although the same thing had been discussed for the same two actors five years earlier when McQueen was going to play the Sundance Kid in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). (McQueen ultimately passed on the part and was replaced by Robert Redford, who didn't enjoy McQueen's status and took second billing to Newman.) Today, it has become understood that whoever's name appears to the left has top billing, but this was by no means the case when The Towering Inferno was produced. This same approach has often been used subsequently, including 2008's Righteous Kill starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino.[5]

In The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), F. Murray Abraham asked for above-title billing. This was rejected as too many other stars were getting it (Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith). Thus, Abraham asked for his name to be completely removed, even from the credits. Eleven years later, Don Cheadle did exactly the same thing when his name wasn't allowed to appear above the title in Ocean's Eleven (2001), presumably because his name would have alphabetically preceded George Clooney's and, unlike with the later sequels, the cast above the title was presented alphabetically (Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts). Cheadle removed his name from the credits. [6] The producers apparently wanted Clooney, not Cheadle, to be the first name a casual viewer of the advertising would see.

In the film Miami Vice (2006), Colin Farrell originally received top billing. However, after Jamie Foxx won an Academy Award he requested top billing and received it despite his role actually being much smaller than Farrell's. Foxx's name appears first in the opening credits, while Farrell still receives top billing in the closing credits.

In a commercial for Michael and Michael Have Issues (2009), the aforementioned characters (faux-)argue over who gets top billing for their show.

Director billing

  • In 1980, George Lucas resigned from the Directors Guild of America after it insisted, against his wishes, that Irvin Kershner, the director of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, be credited at the beginning of the film; it had previously allowed the original Star Wars (1977), which had a similar opening sequence, to go unchallenged. Because Lucas got his way, he has been generally viewed as being responsible for popularizing the "title only" style.
  • Kevin Smith doesn't use the tag "A Kevin Smith Film" in the credits of his movies. His feeling is that a movie is made by everyone involved, and not the product of just the director.[7]
  • Ben-Hur is one of the few MGM films in which the director receives very prominent billing in the posters advertising the movie — the posters state "A William Wyler Film", although the same credit does not appear in the actual on-screen credits. A similar example is David Lean, whose Doctor Zhivago and Ryan's Daughter both carry the credit "David Lean's Film of" (followed by the title).

Unbilled appearances

  • As Gary Oldman appeared under heavy make-up in Hannibal, he requested that his name be completely removed from the billing and credits in order to "do it anonymously".[8] However, Nathan Murray is still credited as "Mr. Oldman's assistant" and Oldman's name was added to the end credits upon the film's home video release.
  • For suspense purposes, Kevin Spacey, who plays the killer in Seven, requested not to be credited in the opening titles or in any advertising for the film. His name appears in the closing credits.
  • Ashton Kutcher appears as the main antagonist, Hank, in the 2003 family comedy Cheaper by the Dozen and is uncredited although he is one of the film's main characters.

Billing block

In the layout of film posters and other film advertising copy, the billing is usually placed at the bottom and set in a condensed typeface.[9] By convention, the point size of the billing block is 25 or 35 percent of the average height of each letter in the title logo.[10] Inclusion in the credits and the billing block is generally a matter of detailed contracts between the artists and the producer.

See also


Specific references:

General references:



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