Do you remember the grimy creepiness of Se7en's opening, or the elegiac power of Blue Valentine's title sequence? Some films keep titles to a minimum, jumping into the story as quickly as possible. Others approach the sequence as a kind of overture, giving audiences a taste of the story-world they are about to enter. Look into the art of Film and TV title design through the latest episode of PBS's arts-focused webseries, Off Book. How do some of today's top title designers approach this task? And what can we learn from them?:
Interviewing the title designers of films and shows like Se7en, Blue Valentine, Mad Men, and Zombieland, the episode reveals the kind of creative and practical problem-solving they must undertake:
The episode does a great job of hitting the heart of title design -- how do you create something that is both an organic part of the film, yet separate from it? I think Jim Helton has the right idea -- the title sequence is a kind of movie within the movie. But it doesn't try to ape or imitate the actual style of the film, instead the title sequence is an opportunity to expand and approach the same thematic matter from a more experimental or poetic direction. Think of the difference between a short story and a poem. In a short story, we try to create a narrative that carries us through the thematic tensions and conflicts, moving in time, explaining the why and where of how these characters behave. The poem can be more like a frozen moment, it is allowed to focus exclusively on a feeling, a mental state, a single thought. Great title sequences do just that -- they can present us with an emotional dunk, intriguing in its creepiness or sadness or excitement, and propelling us into the narrative that follows.
Title sequences can also be nothing more than text over the narrative's opening moments, or a plain black screen, and still be very effective. But if you can pull off a memorable title sequence that adds and informs what is to come, you should go for it. Blue Valentine's opening title sequence does an exemplary job:
What are your favorite title sequences? How about your least favorite? What do you think makes or breaks a great title sequence?
[via John August]