Opening title sequences are where some of the best storytelling creative work is taking place and often are better than the movie that follows them. Unlike teasers and trailers, which tend to give too much away trying to entice you, with the title sequence you have an audience already committed to the movie. This is an opportunity for the filmmakers to enhance the story being told. If done right the titles can set the visual and narrative mood and even become an integral part of the story. But these sequences are not just a creative playground, they are bound by the contractual obligations of how long, in what order, at what size and font the names of the players are shown.
The first time I became aware of the titles of a movie having an impact on the story was "Se7en." Gritty, raw and a perfect introduction to the criminal mind of the villain:
Another sequence that remains very clear in my mind is the opening for "Catch Me if You Can." Inspired by the legendary Saul Bass, the sequence integrates the names of the performers into what turns out to be a mini reproduction of the whole movie you are about to see.
His work is beloved and imitated to this day, sometimes to great effect.
If you enjoy these then you must visit The Art of the Title Sequence. Featuring HD video, commentary and interviews with the creatives, producers and filmmakers behind some of the best titles ever. The site curates a series highlighting Single Take Titles that make you wonder how many takes it took to achieve the final result. Click on these links to see "The Player," "Touch of Evil" and "JCVD" in all their crisp visual glory.
It's a shame that tv shows can no longer afford the time to have title sequences as well. Those shows that do have elaborate opening titles, mostly on cable, demonstrate how the art of the title sequence can work on the small screen. (Does anyone have small screens at home anymore? I guess you do, if we count computers and mobile devices. More on television viewing on a later post.)
Here are a few standouts:
Here are two international tv show sequences I like. Though these shows are vastly different their openings have something in common, they do not include any credits, instead using the sequence to dive you right into the stories.
In the end, any work that manages to convey so much in less than 60 seconds is worth watching.
The Art of Title: web, facebook, twitter