Magazine article Metro Magazine

Title Deeds: Titles Are like Special Effects-When They Do Their Job, We Don't Notice. If Something's Wrong, They Become All Too Visible

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Title Deeds: Titles Are like Special Effects-When They Do Their Job, We Don't Notice. If Something's Wrong, They Become All Too Visible

Article excerpt

IMAGINE A MOVIE SCREEN CIRCA 1977 showing empty space. Suddenly, a small rebel cruiser zooms overhead, under fire and pursued by an enormous Imperial space cruiser that swoops low over the point of view. At the same time, John Williams and the London Philharmonic orchestra start playing ... 'Let's All Chant' by the Michael Zager Band.

See how important the title sequence is for your film? Despite meaning different things to different directors (and audiences), title sequences must work for the production.

Title sequences (if there even is one--1990s Robocop 2 had no identifying titles until the end) are varied creatures. Sometimes you see only the name of the presentation. Sometimes, the title sequence is spliced with story or narrative, sometimes it just lists all the principal cast and crew before the story starts.

They can be filmed or digitally animated, simple typography or elaborate effects, with or without music or a combination of all the above.

Some titles are institutions in themselves. One of the highlights of a James Bond movie for many is the dream-like title sequence of lavish imagery--almost as if we're entering Bond's mind.

There also seems no rhyme or reason to what suits a particular genre. A Beautiful Mind featured white on black text naming the director (Ron Howard), producer (Brian Grazer) and title. Spider-Man began with a sweeping animated sequence of webs and cityscapes featuring cast and crew members.

So how do you make the best title sequence for your production? The first question to ask is; why have titles at all?

What are Titles For?

As Jackie Allison, design producer of Sydney post-production and effects wunderkind Animal Logic, explains, the most important and obvious job of a title sequence is to put us in the director's headspace.

It's good to have a sequence that gets you in the mood. In that thirty or sixty seconds you should get a snapshot of how to feel. If it's done right, the viewer will be brought into the movie really quickly.

Anthony Battaglia of Box Communications-whose work with director David Caesar includes Dirty Deeds--thinks effective titles mark the point in the audience's minds where it's time to shut up and watch.

'A lot people start talking in title sequences because there's nothing happening and they're not really interested', he says. 'Most titles feel like a commercial break. The way we work is to not give them [the audience] that distance but really draw them in.'

Successful freelance film designer and filmmaker Janet Merewether expands. 'In a practical sense it's an audience settler', she says. 'It takes them from the foyer or candy bar to a more contemplative space. There's a literal bridge in time where you want to establish the mood of the film.'

But remember that film titles are a comparative luxury--your audience has paid good money, presumably know what they've paid to see, and have no remote control.

TV is a slow starter's worst nightmare. As Gary Shepherd--Editor, ABCTV Perth--has to keep in mind, time is against you. 'In a half hour program you've only got so much time to portray the story', he says. 'Even less on commercial TV. Often the titles of a TV program will be an identifier because you might be in another room and hear the show starting. After the title track, the titles are usually appearing and the story's already underway.'

However, warns Suzanne Browne of Sydney's Zealot Productions, an identifiable title design (including the soundtrack) can work both ways. 'In designing for TV, hopefully people are going to see it lots of times, so you don't want anything that'll end up annoying.'

Title sequences also have legalities you might not have to consider if your stars are film school friends and the dog. But if you reach the stage where you're signing Baz Luhrmann or Cate Blanchett, agendas will creep in and your titles will be affected--another reason title sequences evolved was because of contracts stipulating that certain people had to be credited. …

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