Film credits unveiled: Your complete guide to acknowledging contributors

Theater's ending credits showing behing cinema seats

Most people don’t stay in the theater until the last film credits roll, but those who do know just how many dedicated people it takes to make a feature film.

The opening and closing credits acknowledge and thank everyone involved in making a film, from the highest-paid movie stars to the guy who held the boom mic. In fact, the production company is contractually obligated to list almost everyone who worked on a film.

Today’s screen credits are almost an art unto themselves—more than a simple list of names—so you’ll want to take the time to get them right on your own film production. 

Regardless of whether you’re creating a short film or feature motion picture, this guide shares how to create film credits for your next video project. 

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What are film credits?

Film credits outline people's roles in creating a movie or television show. You can show them at the beginning or end of a show, and give thanks to the people who worked on it.

Film credits differ slightly depending on when you show them:

  • Opening credits. In modern films, the opening credits typically run through the key creative forces behind a project, such as the production company, executive producers, the director, the lead actors, and the show creator, if applicable. 
  • Closing credits. Closing credits are more comprehensive and may include all the individual crew members.

In older films, before television was more widespread, the opening movie credits were often the only credits on screen. They listed the film's major creative and financial forces, cast members, and all of the crew. Of course, there are many exceptions to this, like the original Star Wars trilogy or Citizen Kane.

In contrast to film, television shows and movies, which are more ephemeral productions that are often shorter in length than a typical film, used the closing credits to list everyone who worked on the show.

This trend caught on in the film world around the mid-1960s; by the early 2000s, most American films had done away with opening credits entirely. 

Closing credits for the Star Wars III movie.
Closing credits for the Star Wars III movie. Source: YouTube.

The importance of film credits

Film credits are a big deal in the world of TV and cinema. Production team members rely on them to get the word out about their contributions, particularly if they work behind the scenes. 

Cast credits might also reveal the identity of a character actor who disappeared into their role, or that one actor whose name was on the tip of your tongue the whole movie. Writing and design credits call attention to the team members whose creative visions shaped the production.

Professional unions and guilds, such as SAG/AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America, may stipulate specific billing orders within a film credits template. They do this to advance the careers of their union and guild members. 

Some film companies specifically hire a production credits editor to ensure that credits appear correctly and no angry letters arrive from Hollywood law firms.

Opening credits structure

The standard film credits order for an opening credit sequence goes as follows:

1. Production company (distributor)

The distributor acquires and releases films in cinemas or home video platforms. They also help market and advertise the movie. 

2. Production company (producer)

This company sees the actual production, from financing to locations to legal contracts. Big entertainment companies (think Disney or Warner Brothers) might have the film's production company and distributor under the same roof. In other cases, these are separate entities.

3. Film title

The title usually comes before most of the heavyweights on a film, though sometimes the lead actors’ names appear before the title. Sometimes, films don’t even show the title card until the end. 

4. Lead cast

The featured lead actors may get their names before the film title—particularly if they’re super famous—or they may wait their turn and appear in the credits.

5. Supporting cast

The supporting cast has roles smaller than the big stars. Or, they could be actors who aren’t super popular just yet. Either way, they typically appear after the film title and the top-billing actors.

6. Casting director

The casting director is the person who leads the overall casting process, including scoping talent and auditioning roles. 

7. Music composer

If a film has original music (most do), the film composer might be credited right around this point in the opening credits. This would not be the place to list the bands whose music you licensed for the film. 

8. Costume designer

The costume designer usually gets acknowledged at this stage of the opening credits sequence.

9. Associate producers

In most cases, associate producers aren’t the bigwigs whose name and money bring caché, but they do a lot of the actual work to make film sets function.

10. Editors

Video editors take all the footage from the film shoot and then shorten and shape it in post-production. They work closely with the director and turn raw footage into the final product. They’re credited after many other key players in a film.‍

11. Production designer

The production designer oversees all visual design choices in a movie, from sets to costumes to props to hair and makeup (and maybe even the fonts used for the very opening credits you’re watching). Other designers who work under them may not get mentioned until the end credits, but the production designer often ends up right around here in the opening sequence. ‍

12. Director of Photography

Also known as a cinematographer or DP, the director of photography is in charge of the actual filming process (plus the lighting and camera considerations that go along with it). In many cases, their artistic role on set may be second to only the director.‍

13. Executive producer

Sometimes the film’s stars serve as executive producers. Executive producers can also come from the studio. They could also be the managers of the directors and screenwriters. Whatever role they had in the film, they provided some meaningful service to the production.‍

14. Producer

In most cases, the producers are the bosses of the film. They’ve arranged for all the financing and legal rights, and they can hire and fire pretty much everyone on set—including the director. In some cases, the producers are the principals in the production companies listed at the top of the opening credits. But they’re also mentioned again (the perks of the job!).

15. Writers

The penultimate item in most opening credit sequences is a screenwriting credit. This goes to the writer or writers who drafted the script. When you see multiple screenplay credits on a film, this may mean it underwent substantive rewrites. The first name listed is the person who wrote the original draft.‍

16. Director

The director is the lead artistic figure in a film production. The producer has the money and the legal rights and can hire and fire people, but the director is the boss of every designer, actor, and crew member on set. They also get the premium billing in an opening credits template.

Some movies include all or parts of this information; some films don’t have opening credits at all—this is mostly a creative choice by the director. 

Opening credits for James Bond’s movie, No Time to Die.
Opening credits for James Bond’s movie, No Time to Die. Source: YouTube.

Closing credits structure

Closing credits tend to have a less uniform structure than opening credits. In the old days of Hollywood, nearly all the credits came before a film, and the end credits typically just named the production company or said “The End”. 

That said, most contemporary films now list the cast and crew in the closing credits. A typical order would be:

  1. Director
  2. Writers
  3. Producer
  4. Executive producer
  5. Cast—often in order of appearance or in order of story importance
  6. Director of photography
  7. Production designer
  8. Editor
  9. Associate producers
  10. Costume designer
  11. Music composer
  12. Music supervisor (someone who oversees all of the film’s music, both original and licensed)
  13. Music collaborators and facilitators (orchestrators, contractors, copyists, editors)
  14. Casting director
  15. Unit production manager
  16. First assistant director
  17. Second assistant director
  18. Entire production crew, separated into departments like electrical, sound, set, and costumes
  19. Entire post-production crew, separated into departments like editing, color, sound, and visual effects
  20. Stunts (performers, directors, choreographers)
  21. Second unit credits—a film crew that shot additional footage beyond the main production
  22. On-set catering and craft services
  23. Title design
  24. Licensed songs, including artists, composers, and publishers
  25. Final sound design, including mix recording studio and fixing bad quality audio
  26. Special thanks
  27. Shooting locations
  28. Logos for guilds, unions, rental houses, equipment sponsors, and local film boards or government agencies that helped the film by way of tax credits or other incentives.
  29. The film’s copyright
  30. Disclaimers (e.g., the film is a work of fiction, no animals were harmed in the making of the film, etc.)

When should you use logos in film credits?

You’ve likely seen film credits examples where various logos appeared alongside the names of the cast and crew. These logos may be for:

  • Film commerce boards, such as the National Film Board of Canada.
  • Equipment makers like Panavision.
  • Guilds, including The Writers Guild of America.
  • Production companies like Broadway Video.

Whenever these logos appear, you can safely assume they were specifically negotiated with the film’s producers. For instance, the National Film Board of Canada may have provided the producers with great locations, favorable tax incentives, and 2-for-1 Tim Horton’s coupons… but they had to put that logo at the end of the film in exchange. 

If you end up making a film that requires logos in the end credits, you can expect those parties to provide their own logos for you to use.

Caption: Closing credits for the original Toy Story movie. 
Closing credits for the original Toy Story movie. Source: YouTube.

How to add credits to your film

Descript includes a ton of handy templates for common filmmaking tasks, including credits. To create rolling credits, just click the “Templates” icon at the top (which looks like four squares), then navigate to “Gallery,” then “Titles,” then select “Credits.”

Rolling credits created in Descript
Rolling credits created in Descript

The ultimate tool for video and sound editing: Descript

Whether you’re at the Spielberg level remaking West Side Story, an indie filmmaker, you can’t do it alone. You’ll need help from other people and tools to help you achieve your vision. 

Descript helps with the entire production process—from your movie opening to your ending credits. The video editor cuts together the perfect scenes from filming. You can even add funny bloopers to ending credits, or whatever you want to make your vision come true.

With Descript, you can:

The best part? Descript also has advanced features like video and screen recording, color grading, and AI-powered green screen technology. 

You’re not limited to just video credits—you can also use Descript’s editing software for social media videos, music albums, and feature films. Sign up for a free account today

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