Waltzing Matilda plays as large, brush-stroked words in white show against a grey overcast sky above the sea. 'STANLEY KRAMER PRESENTS A UNITED ARTISTS RELEASE’ they say, as a black submarine bobs up. And the words linger. On the next page, in brushstrokes that fill the top half of the screen is GREGORY PECK. You can count to ten and keep watching the bobbing submarine. Then, in turn, in the same big letters, are Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins in (new screen) ON THE BEACH. (This was1959, before Psycho, and Anthony Perkins was one of the good guys.)
Then there are are a few slow-moving pages with the names of other cast members in more modest but still legible type.
In a remarkably few screen changes during which Gregory Peck raises binoculars and, presumably, looks this way, we learn that the screenplay was by John Paxton from the novel by Nevil Shute. Banjo Patterson’s name lingers, and we see that the Royal Australian Navy liaised. We learn the production was designed by someone, the film was photographed by someone and the music was by Ernest Gold, which may have surprised the ghost of Christina MacPherson if she was hovering.
Then, just over two minutes from the start, it says PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY STANLEY KRAMER and that’s that. We know nothing of the gaffer, the grip, the transport or who provided lunch or which hotel the stars stayed in. When we reach the unhappy-every-after, with the nuclear cloud visibly making its way to Melbourne, the big letters say THE END and we are free to get up and take our newly troubled selves home without getting those looks that you get nowadays when, after seven or eight minutes of fast-moving, tiny type in which you can barely make-out who provided security in the Canadian sequences and who made the leading man’s wig, we dare stand up and begin to shuffle out.
Why is this so?
In the olden days, a star was a star if his or her name appeared before the title, an honour negotiated before contracts were signed. The next few pages gave the least necessary information and didn’t make the audience hang about. Since there was no easy access to the net the assumption seems to be that no-one particularly cared about the caterers. But actors’ unions and collectives of production people cared, and insisted on acknowledgement.
Now, even though we can look things up, we are hardly spared a single name. Producers don’t have to pay for film any more. It costs virtually nothing to digitise, and people who have helped in even tiny ways to bring a film to the screen want their name there. Something for the cv. The whole thing must provide full-time jobs for teams of people (all credited) who have to get these names and their functions up and spelt correctly.
New jobs are created all the time. In the nine-minute, thirty-second credits for The Lord of the Rings, sharp-eyed watchers can see who was the wrangler manager and who the compositing inferno artist.
Perhaps a hundred people were directly associated with making OnThe Beach. Now, in Hollywood blockbusters, especially those with lots of visual effects, there can be thousands of names (the 2013 film Iron Man includes more than 3,700) and thousands of jobs, most unimaginable to the gaffers of old.
Nowadays the gaffer is more likely to be called the chief electrician but I imagine old movie-making, when a grandfather had the job of taping and tacking cables to the floor that so some idiot didn’t trip, pull out the socket and wreck the shot. And the grip? Now there is likely to be a team of people and machines to support cameras and dollies and sound equipment, keeping them steady so that only the screen action moves.
Today’s films are most likely to start with the money people than with the stars. Distributors and financiers want you know who they are with cleverly designed graphics, one after the other, that linger almost as long as Ava Gardner used to. Only after the vital handful of these do you begin to get to the more important of the creatives.
As ever, the film starts after the director’s name. Most of the rest are left until last and then you are bound, by today’s version of good manners, to sit perfectly still until they have all ripped illegibly up a fast-moving black screen. Never easy to see whether there was a gaffer.
But there are lots of other jobs in film. Sadly, perhaps not so many here where film companies struggle for funding, but talented food stylists, make-up artists, set-builders and sound engineers are apparently being snapped up by the booming British film and television production sector, which employs more than 80,000 people. Of those, 55,000 work in film and video production and almost half are freelance, according to statistics gathered by the British Film Institute three years ago.
Perhaps there could be a perfect little holiday job for you, followed by your name on a big screen in a split second of light.