Steven T Seagle is the co-creator of Big Hero 6, Ben 10, Generator Rex, Soul Kiss, Camp Midnight, Imperial, Solstice, American Virgin, Allegra, and co-founder of the Man Of Action Entertainment. He is also a founding member of Speak Theater Arts and has taught at Ball State University, Pasadena City College, and Mt. San Antonio College. He writes a new column for Bleeding Cool, starting today, "What Do I Know".
No… "Thank You" is not enough.
I have grown weary of watching superhero, and other comic book originated genre blockbuster films and TV shows and seeing the very last credit be a swath of inspirational comic book creators lumped together for the non-credit "credit" of "thanks" while others take credit for concrete, tangible aspects of that film or TV show that was whole-cloth cut from the work of the people left holding the "thanks." And then the inevitable list of people the production forgot to give even a "Thanks" to while fully remembering to make use of their ideas.
The patronizing trend of offering comic book creators "thanks" at the end of films or TV shows for specific characters, settings, scenarios, storylines, visual designs – any of the intellectual property creations comic book creators generate – needs to stop. It should be replaced by actual, appropriate credits and meaningful compensation.
The idea that some creators are flattered enough by seeing their name "up there" – anywhere on screen has led mega-productions to do exactly that. "See your name?! You're welcome!" But the fact is, those original ideas are in the very DNA of these big productions. They're not the inspirational afterthought; they are the thought itself. The film or TV series would not hold the shape it does without those original creators' ideas. The actors would often not play the characters the way they do without the original conception. The fan base gravitating to those original elements in the film or TV show out of a sense of nostalgia is specifically geeking out over the preceding work's presence. The new fans responding to the film or TV show are often responding to story beats, character tropes, plots, and visual designs that worked in the original telling of the stories and are working the same way again.
While a definite step up from the previous trend of simply appropriating the ideas and creative work of original creators and attributing it solely to people's craftsmanship on the new production, this "thanks" band-aid is not a respectful or balanced payout for those original contributions. The people without whom the giant cinematic or television tentpole would not function in the same way – in some cases would not function at all (and has not) when these original elements are jettisoned – should and must be credited appropriately and compensated at the scale of the project.
Let's set aside the idea that if the creative material is inspirational enough to warrant greenlighting a massively budgeted entertainment enterprise, then the creator/s of that original content should be hired and given actual, meaningful seats at the creative table on the production itself because they thought of the things the current storytellers are enamored with and are probably as equipped as anyone to extrapolate that material in directions that will further build the creation out in entertaining ways – because we can take care of the easier pieces of this non-puzzle first and write a whole essay about that thought later. So here are the two simple remedies needed:
1 – The proper credit is not "thanks," it is: Concepts created by [CREATOR'S NAME]; [CHARACTER NAME] created by [CREATOR'S NAME]; Costume designed by [CREATOR'S NAME]; etc. Very simple. More than one creator involved? While you'll often hear as a rationale that this "makes it impossible to credit everyone," it – of course – does not. Check out that "Thank You" list at the very end of the production for proof that people can, indeed, be grouped under a single listing in the credits, no problem. The point is simple: if the film or TV show knows the thing they are "Thanks"-ing an original creator for, then they can actually credit that specific creator for that specific creation and should. Credits are free – they cost nothing – so to withhold a proper credit is unconscionable.
But speaking of cost, compensation is the other practice that needs to be brought to light:
2 – The proper compensation for these original ideas is not nothing. Nor is it a "thanks." Nor is it a random low-dollar payment a production will not miss, but a comic creator might be thrilled to get out of the blue. Films and TV shows hire and pay artisans quite well to plot, write, design, storyboard, etc. The original creators of elements used should be paid at least at the rates of others working on the production for bringing the thing the production doesn't have to create from the ground up. The thing that already works. And then the creator should be paid for making the original thing that is going to make someone else very, very wealthy. A meaningful premium is not going to bankrupt a massive production.
And yes, I am fully aware that work for hire is work for hire, and people sign contracts and take payments for their work in exchange for "rights." But let's be real here: many of these deals were done when no one had any idea what these characters and concepts would become financially. So, if the financial outlook changes on one side, it's up to the producers to be quality people and change the outlook on the other side. Create happy original creators who will spread the good news about the production because they have been correctly credited and valued – properly taken care of. And also – no, the public is not fully aware of what goes on behind the scenes to cajole or force creators into accepting non-beneficial terms – often after the fact – often against their best interests – so let's save all that for another essay and stay on the topic at hand:
When it comes to saying "thanks" for the previous labors of comic book creators in massive franchises, "thanks" is the least a mega-productions can do. But "the least" should not be the standard. The standard – a simple one to meet – should be much higher: Proper credit; Proper remuneration. Let's stop with all the "we don't know how to credit and pay people" nonsense. This is exactly how. Please do it. Go for the "all-win." It's better.
More from Steven T Seagle in 2021.