Though the method of using opening credits was prevalent in the American film industry from very early times, it was only as recently as the 1970s that the use of closing credits to list complete production crew and cast in American films was established. Before that, films were released with only opening credits which consisted of just major cast and crew and there were no closing credits.
As in motion pictures, until relatively recently, most television programs also did not list the entire cast and crew.
Opening credits are shown at the beginning of a film. Opening credit lists the most important members of the production. They also usually mention the major actors, guest stars, producers and director. Closing credits on the other hand lists the entire production crew. Opening credits are now usually shown as text superimposed on a blank screen or static pictures, or sometimes on top of action in the film. Opening credits may or may not be accompanied by music. When opening credits are built into a separate sequence of their own, they are called title sequence.
Closing credits in a film are shown at the end of the film and list all the cast and crew involved in the production. Closing credits are usually shown on the screen in small characters, which either flip very quickly from page to page, or crawl from bottom to top of the screen. Credits which crawl either left to right or up and down are also known as rolling credits. However, the trend in films today is to use post-credits scenes at the end of films.
Another important term in connection with film credits is “billing.” The term billing in the context of films denotes the amount and order in which film credits information is presented in advertising and on the film itself. Information given in billing usually consists of the actors appearing in the movie, the directors, producers, the companies producing and distributing the movie (by name and/or logo), and artistic and technical crew. The title of the movie is also considered to be part of the billing.
However, the recent trend in American motion pictures is to do away with the opening credits. Some films do not even display the film title until the closing credits begin.
An important feature of the American film industry is that the screenwriting credit for motion pictures and television programs under American law is determined by the Writers Guild of America (WGA). The Guild is the final arbiter to decide who receives credit for writing the screenplay, the original story, or creating the original characters. Therefore a production company which is a signatory to the Guild’s Basic Agreement must comply with the Guild’s rules regarding credits.