Opening credits are an integral part of feature films. As the opening credits roll, viewers get a sneak peek into the key talent behind the movie – the director, producers, writers, and of course the main actors.
The opening credits help set the mood and tone for the film. Viewers eagerly await the start of the movie as stylized motion graphics and music play during the credits.
But should short films follow the same structure and include opening credits as well? With their limited runtime, filmmakers creating short films often deliberate whether including opening credits is a good use of screen time. Or would those precious seconds be better spent on developing the actual story?
Let’s take a detailed look at the pros and cons of including opening credits in short films, some best practices, and when they may or may not be appropriate to use.
The Pros of Including Opening Credits in Short Films
Gives Recognition to the Cast and Crew
Most short films are passion projects created by aspiring filmmakers and actors looking to gain experience and exposure. Even if produced on a micro-budget, including opening credits gives an opportunity to recognize everyone who worked on the project. Cast and crew members can add the short film to their acting reel or portfolio.
Including key roles like “Produced by [Name]” and “Introducing [Actor’s Name] as [Character]” in the opening credits gives everyone who worked hard on the film a moment in the spotlight.
Sets the Tone and Mood
In feature films, the opening credit sequence helps transport viewers into the world of the movie by establishing a tone through visuals, music, and motion graphics. Short films can use opening credits in the same strategic way to immerse viewers in the story from the very start.
Filmmakers may opt for credits presented over footage related to the story, whether it’s showing scenic location shots, B-roll of main characters, or hinting at the plot or themes. Combined with the right background score, this technique gets viewers excited and engaged in just the first few seconds.
Provides a More Professional Feel
Including at least minimal opening credits makes a short film feel more like a professional production, rather than just a casual homemade video. Even independent productions can appear well-made and spectacular with the addition of credits.
Additionally, opening credits signal to film festivals, distributors and other industry professionals that care and consideration went into the short film. Having opening credits reads as being “complete” versus an unfinished project.
The Cons of Including Credits in Short Films
Eats Up Limited Runtime
The most significant drawback of including opening credits in a short film is the runtime consumed. While 2-3 minutes of credits may only be a small fraction of a full-length feature, it could be a sizable chunk of a short film’s 5-15 minute total duration.
Some filmmakers argue that every single second should be used to develop characters, progress the story, and showcase the most compelling scenes. Opening credits may be considered an unnecessary use of precious screen time.
Viewers May Find Credits Boring
Let’s face it – some viewers find opening credits boring, especially if presented as a static list of names in plain text over a black background. User experience should be a priority, and opening credits could cause viewers to lose interest quickly.
Many viewers want to get straight into the story. Various online platforms make it easy for audiences to skip right past the credits and start the core content. With short films already being so brief, some may argue credits are an expendable component.
Smaller Production Scale
Full-scale feature films have sizable casts and crews numbering in the hundreds. It makes sense to recognize all who contributed through extensive opening credits.
But short films often have much smaller crews, sometimes just a handful of people or students. Listing a long sequence of credits may come across as overkill for productions with just a core bare-bones team.
Best Practices and Compromises for Short Film Credits
Keep Credits Extremely Short
If opening credits are included, one compromise is to keep them very brief. List only the absolutely essential top-level roles like:
Directed by [Name]
Produced by [Name(s)] Written by [Name] Starring [Main Actors Names]
The credits can still recognize key contributors without taking up much runtime. Any additional crew members can be added in the end credits instead.
Use Visually Engaging Motion Graphics
Static black text over a plain background does little to captivate viewers. Utilize motion graphics, animation, and other visual effects to make the opening credits shine.
Look to major feature film credits for inspiration. Even a simple paper crumple effect or light parallax motion keeps credits visually interesting. Syncing names and titles to the music beats also enhances the sequence.
Put Some Credits at the End
If the opening credits start to drag on, consider moving some of them to display at the end of the film instead. Lead with the main talent credits at the beginning, then include the full crew credit roll after the story concludes.
Credits over Opening Scene
Rather than completely separate credits from the start of the story, some films elegantly blend both together. The opening credits can be displayed over the opening shot or scene to immerse viewers in the story while still recognizing the team.
This technique can work very effectively if the visuals under the credits hint at the themes and content to come. The Dark Knight’s bank heist opening under the credits is one great example of this method.
Should Student or Indie Films Use Credits?
Low-budget independent and student short films have more flexibility when it comes to credits. Since they are passion projects and exercises, the credits don’t necessarily need to follow Hollywood standards. Here are some considerations:
Helpful Experience for New Filmmakers
Including some form of credits gives amateur or student filmmakers good practice in following industry norms and recognizing contributors.
The process of deciding which credits to include, choosing font styles, pairing names with titles, timing everything to music, and exporting in the correct format – these are all helpful learning experiences for new filmmakers.
Not Expected for Extremely Low Budget Productions
However, credits aren’t necessarily an expectation or requirement, especially for micro-budget productions with new filmmakers involved. The time would likely be better spent focusing efforts directly on the craft of the film itself.
As long as contributors are recognized in some way, such as verbally at a premiere screening, there should not be an obligation to include formal credits if the runtime is extremely scarce.
Focus Should Be on the Film Itself
Some filmmaking professors and professionals argue that for student and independent short films, the priority should be on developing a compelling story and exercising creative skills. Polishing formal credits should take a backseat for extremely new creators.
Especially if new to editing software, filmmakers may end up spending disproportionate effort on peripheral elements like credits when that time could be better invested into the film itself.
Examples of Short Films That Used Opening Credits Effectively
Let’s look at some real short films praised for their opening credit execution:
This cult comedy short packed its 80s homage opening with retro effects like VHS tracking lines, neon fonts, synth music, and retro studio logos. The 4-minute sequence sets the tone for the over-the-top action parody.
This Pixar short angles the credits to appear on surfaces within the first scene, like apartment walls and car mirrors. The credits almost feel three-dimensional and immediately pull viewers into the unique visual world.
This Disney short overlays basic credits over heartwarming opening scenes that hint at the story’s themes of ingenuity and imagination. The credits fit seamlessly without interrupting the narrative.
Should short films include opening credits? The answer is – it depends! Credits can provide professionalism and recognition, while also taking up precious runtime.
Here are some key takeaways:
- Keep credits short and sweet if they are included, listing only key roles.
- Make credits visually engaging and integral to the opening scene if possible.
- Student films may opt to focus efforts on crafting the film itself rather than polishing credits.
- There are creative compromises like putting some credits at the end.
While feature film credits set viewer expectations, short films allow more flexibility. Filmmakers should make smart context-based decisions about if and how to implement credits into their brief films rather than just defaulting to the feature film norm. A bit of creativity goes a long way!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you write opening credits for a short film?
For short films, focus on keeping the opening credits very brief – including only key roles like director, writer, producer, and main actors. Aim for 30 seconds max. Make credits visually engaging by incorporating motion graphics, stylized fonts, animation effects, or integrating them into the opening scene.
What credits do you put in a short film?
Key credits to include are director, producer(s), writer, director of photography, editor, main actors, music by, and special thanks. Save any additional crew for end credits to conserve time.
What movie has no opening credits?
Some examples of popular movies with no opening credits include The Lighthouse, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Apocalypse Now, and Aliens. They immediately jump into the first scene to immerse viewers quickly.
Do all movies have opening credits?
No, not all movies have opening credits. It’s generally the norm for feature films, but some famous movies like those mentioned above opt to exclude them. Short films in particular may choose to omit opening credits due to their limited runtime.
Should a short film have credits?
It depends on the context. Credits can add production value, but also consume valuable runtime. Keep credits under 30 seconds if including them, focusing only on key crew. Students may choose to prioritize the film itself over formal credits.
How long does it take to write a short movie?
Most short film scripts are 10-25 pages long and take 1-2 weeks to write on average. Extremely simple shorts may only take a few days, while more complex stories could develop over a month.
Does a short film need an ending?
Yes, even short films need some kind of ending or resolution to the central story or themes introduced. The ending may be open-ended rather than neatly wrapped up, but should provide closure.
How many scenes should a short film have?
A short film generally has 10-30 scenes depending on length, but can be as few as 5-10 for very brief shorts under 5 minutes. Scenes should move the story forward quickly with just essential plot points.
How short should a short film be?
Most film festivals look for shorts under 30 minutes with 15 minutes being an ideal length. Extremely short films under 5 minutes can also be impactful. Aim to tell a cohesive story matching the runtime as opposed to strict limits.