Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Title sequence greatness

Title sequences are easy to overlook; they're often taken for granted because it's the time when you go to the bathroom or go get the popcorn. However, I propose that title sequences are one of the best indicators of whether a film or TV show is worth watching, at least when you have no other motivations (starring your favorite actor, based on a book you read, etc.).

Obviously imagery is important, but instead of taking advantage of this moment, most sequences seem to be an afterthought - let's just film some scenery from a helicopter and throw the performers' names over the shots of countryside. Sure, sometimes this b-reel imagery sets up the place, maybe the time, but it's not especially imaginative. When you sit down, you want to be immediately taken somewhere, otherwise it's too easy to become distracted.

There is a reason that movies are scored and music videos exist; music and movies accentuate each other. Good, deliberate music can convey tone and emotion, and is also a place were imagination is welcome. One loophole: silence can also be effective for setting tone.

The last piece of the puzzle is the font and style used for the titles. Type can actually demonstrate emotion and relevance just as much as imagery, since it too is a visual medium. For instance, use a font such as courier, and you might be reminded of a typewriter, thus the 1940s, and therefore a WWII-era spy thriller (or something like that, you get my drift). Well chosen typeface is key to a memorable sequence. Also, how do the titles flow into one another? This can convey the tone of the movie, such as frantic, lackadaisical, quirky, etc.

Originality in all three aspects makes for great sequences. Of course, sometimes there isn't a title sequence-- which can be cool too as long as it's intentional. Check out a list of some personal favorites after the jump ...

Catch Me If You Can
Great stylistic, retro illustration with perpetual movement that mimics the movie's time period and plot.
Find it in the catalog!

Deadwood & True Blood
I lumped these together because they're both from HBO and similar in their style and production value. They have purposeful imagery expertly timed to a theme song. The off-kilter font was custom created for True Blood.
Deadwood (seasons 1-3) Find it in the catalog!
True Blood (season 1-5) Find it in the catalog! 

The Fall
Each frame of the opening could be a still photograph. This is a movie within a movie, which creates drama and anticipation.
Find it in the catalog!

Food, Inc.
Winner for best use of a supermarket! Slyly presents a false sense of reality, which if you're aware of the content of the film, is spot-on.
Find it in the catalog!

Little Dorrit
Lovely kaleidoscope of movement; sense of depth and complication.
Find it in the catalog!

Royal Tennebaums
The clever and quirky sequence introduces the major players (and Alec Baldwin narrates). They are filmed grooming themselves in some way, towards the camera, as though looking into a mirror.
Find it in the catalog!

There are a lot more great sequences, so share them in the comments. Check out this cool site dedicated to the craft: The Art of the Title Sequence. Occasionally they interview the designers involved with creating the sequence.