Give Credit Where It’s Due

Since film composers first began practicing their craft, they often have not received proper credit. Back in the early days of film, composers were usually listed (if at all) in the opening credit cards sandwiched in between other “technical” craftsmen. Separate titles cards for composers were rare, much less giving credit to the numerous composers who worked uncredited on a project. Though separate title cards are now the norm, the practice of not giving proper credit still continues.

It was recently brought to my attention that the credits for a contemporary score this summer listed a certain name as primary composer, when the bulk of the actual score was instead completed by the composer who was given an “additional music” credit in the end title scroll. The awkward (but far too typical) situation has been compounded when the lead composer has been caught unawares at talkbacks following screenings of the film, unable to properly discuss the music since he didn’t write it. Since the composers won’t go on record, I won’t be naming names, so as to spare them potential embarrassment. Besides, they are understandably caught between a rock and a hard place. To speak out could jeopardize future composing gigs and potentially damage their relationship with that studio.

The issue of credit—in any job, in any field— will always be a thorny issue. And for film composers, it’s a catch-22. You can’t get the gigs without the credit and you can’t get the credit without the gigs. It’s an issue I have no control over and I’ll let those men and women on the front lines fight their own battles. From my end as a writer, the issue goes beyond a single composer’s career and livelihood. It affects the future of film music journalism.

As a journalist, when I am sent information from a label or studio, I rely on the information in those credits to inform my reviews and articles. If that information is incorrect or misleading, so is what I print. And what goes on the Web, stays on the Web, forever and ever, hallelujah, amen. So when future generations continue to read misleading information, it perpetuates the myths of who composed what.

I don’t flatter myself that what I write will have any lasting power—maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I have no control over that either. But I don’t like to have it brought to my attention that my contributions to film music journalism contain errors, simply because the studio didn’t provide me with the proper information. Credit always comes down to financial considerations and I’d be a fool to think it was otherwise in this case. But some consideration should be given to the publicity that is being generated for a particular film and score, especially when the information in that publicity is incorrect.

When I first found out about this a few weeks ago, I was livid. It’s not the first time this has happened in my career, and it certainly won’t be the last. Without a look at the recording session cue sheets, I doubt you can never be sure who wrote exactly what for any particular score, and sometimes not even then. And I realize this is a far bigger issue than my own selfish, naive dreams of error-free journalism.

I wonder what would happen in our own small world of film music journalism if my colleagues and I banded together and refused to give any publicity to film music until the situation changed and we could be assured we were given the proper information. Sure, it’s an extreme scenario. But in my angrier moments, it’s fun to contemplate. Would we be willing to give up our free promos for the sake of a cause? For some, probably not.

For all I know, maybe nobody cares—not the composers, my fellow journalists, or film music fans. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood have written uncredited work—Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, Franz Waxman, the list goes on and on. And I can probably count on two hands the people in the industry who actually care who wrote what track on a particular score. I didn’t know Fred Steiner contributed material to RETURN OF THE JEDI until he died. Wouldn’t it have been nice to give him credit for his work on such a seminal franchise of film music history while he was still alive?

For all of my faults and weaknesses (and they are many), I’m a trusting person. This gets me into trouble more often than I care to think about. I do not like to have my trust tested—by myself or others—and in this particular instance it was. But putting my own ego aside (if that’s possible), it’s the bigger picture of film music history that bothers me. I feel for the composers who have to perpetuate the lies simply to save their careers. And I feel for all of us film music fans who continue to live with incorrect information, whether we care or not.

Maybe the fact that Fred Steiner wasn’t given proper credit for JEDI means nothing to you. But if you’ve read this far, it damn well should.

4 comments

    1. Don’t bother guessing. It’s not the film that’s the issue here. (And, no, it’s not POTC. That’s the last I’ll say on the matter.)

  1. It seems like they can’t resist attaching Oscar-winning names to movies, even if it screws the up-and-comers. Hate it when they do this.

    Remember when Robert Rodriguez resigned from the DGA when they wouldn’t let him give proper credit for Sin City? Now that is one cool guy.

  2. Fred Steiner also composed uncredited cues for Jerry Goldsmith and Quincy Jones (“Mackenna’s Gold”), to name but two. Fred was very underrated as a composer.

    The biggest ‘hack composer’ from the Golden Age was Herbert Stothart. A majority of his scores were ‘ghosted’ by such greats as Daniele Amfitheatrof, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Bronislau Kaper, Andre Previn.

    The list goes on.

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