TITLE SEQUENCES - Complications Ensue
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Friday, March 31, 2006

Mark Hand writes
I heard from a producer who worked with Mark Burnett that he says no matter how small the show's budget, it's worth it to spend a lot on your titles. First impressions being what they are, and all. I agree with Burnett, titles are incredibly important.

Specifically, I'm thinking about the two kinds of titles: ones that tell you what the shows are about and the ones that don't. In the old Battlestar Galactica they gave you the premise as a voice over; Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Gilligan's Island did it in the theme song. Speaking of Burnett, Survivor does it with captions. If you think about it, those openers are like public declarations about the show's attractive fantasy: you want to watch this because...

Yet not many shows do it.

I'm wondering what you think about title sequences that tell you what the show's about as opposed to the ones that don't. Or if you have any other thoughts about titles in general.
I don't know how much money you need to spend on your title sequence. But I agree that a title sequence does a lot to set the tone. We've been watching Northern Exposure lately, and the sequence showing the town of Cicely, Alaska, with a young moose wandering around looking the place over, nicely sets the tone for the quirky show. he teaser can't be guaranteed to encapsulate the series; it's just there to hook the audience. A good title sequence tells you what the tone of the show is going to be.

I really like the title sequence to Naked Josh, and not just because my name is there under the words "Created By." It really sets the tone of the show I wanted to write. In some ways, I think it sets a better tone than we achieved in the episodes. It makes the characters feel more like a circle of friends than they actually were.

So, me, I'm in favor of title sequences. Even if I do fast-forward through the endless Sopranos titles, I at least play a few seconds of them every time to remind me of the tone they're going for.

The other nifty thing you can do with title sequences is play with the audience's expectations. If you're going to kill off a main character in your pilot, as so many do these days, be sure to put the character in the main title sequence. Then you'll really sucker the audience. (If you don't, as I gather they didn't do in the Conviction pilot, then everyone knows that character's doomed. No "player character glow" for him!) And of course there's Buffy, "Superstar," where Jonathan has so warped the world by his spell that he's become the superstar of the show in the credits.

So, class: which shows don't have significant main title sequences? If you were designing a main title sequence for them, what would it look like? What does the show lose by not having one?

8 Comments:

this is in regards to a movie's titles, or opening credits, not a series', but I thought it relevant.

Have you seen "Waiting"? I rented it, and though a good movie (for what it was, a juvenile coming-of-age comedy), the opening credits were so cheaply done that once the movie itself started, my expectations were way, way down. The opneing simpl made it look like a bad student film (which, at times, it also sounded like -- though there were other great moments in dialogue).

thetvauthority.blogger.com

By Blogger Banana Martin, at 12:26 PM  

I'm seeing a growing trend in using an abbreviated opening title sequence. The ones for Supernatural and Lost immediately come to mind. The show title appears briefly on screen after the teaser, then coming back from commercial break, they dive right back into the story, putting up a loooong line of credits as they go. I've clocked credits still rolling five to eight minutes into the show. I'm not really sure I like that.

But one thing I definitely do NOT like -- and will vehemently oppose if suggested for my own show -- is that hilariously awkward exposition voice-over, like the ones they use for Mutant X and Andromeda, which clumsily explains the premise of the show for those tuning in for the first time. The Collector also used a voice-over (by the devilish Colin Cunningham) for the first dozen episodes or so but then lost it when they realized that anyone with a brain would be able to figure it out within the first ten minutes of the show.

By Blogger Kelly J. Compeau, at 12:47 PM  

I also like th short series title sequence, like "Lost."

The wrost of the voice-over, explain-y title sequences around right now, I think, is "My Name is Earl;" the best most recent one, I think, was "Buffy," which also stopped using it after the first season (I think, might have been two).

By Blogger Banana Martin, at 2:15 PM  

Some series use the "saga sell" in with their opening titles, EARL being a prime example along with ANDROMEDA. They recap the selling premise of the show then go into the "previously on..." segment, then go to the title sequence.

I like the 4400 titles, as they are sort of eerie and the song lets us in on the premise. SPOOKS/MI-5 is another good one with great use of split screen and montage to let us know who we'll be dealing with in the series.

I also like LIFE ON MARS and HUSTLE -- mainly for the great integration of picture and music as it ties into theme.

But I really like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA'S titles as they quickly preview the show you're about to see, and give you just enough tease and not too much meat so you're hooked.

In terms of "classic" shows, I've always liked the opening titles to the original TOMORROW PEOPLE. Haunted, futuristic, compelling.

Oh, and KJC - MUTANT X was a show that always "could've" in my mind -it could've been darker, it could've been more logical, it could've been better. It didn't have to be "X-Men Lite." It was a missed opportunity. Sad.

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 10:48 AM  

RE: Mutant X
I couldn't agree with you more, Bill. It was a great premise bogged down by stale dialogue and tired plots. I was hoping for so much more...

By Blogger Kelly J. Compeau, at 2:07 PM  

One show that has the oddest titles I've never seen is the Australian show 'CNNNN'.

It's a parody of the 'CNN' news broadcast and there seems to be NO titles. None.

It just starts. Then at the end, there is just a short 'We are now returning you to your normal broadcasting' - and it ends.

Sometimes it doesn't even end there, as the 'commercial' after the end title is sometimes a parody. But only sometimes.

It is quite disconcerting, as you don't quite know for sure what is real and what isn't. (I guess, that's kind of the point!)

No idea how they cope with credits - I guess they figure the target audience is web-savvy enough to get the credits off the web, and the rest don't care.

It is possible they've hidden the credits and title cards in a single frame, or a microdot on the screen, but I've never seen it ...

Mac

By Blogger Mac, at 1:18 AM  

Kyle Cooper did such a great job with the title credits for Se7en that I've been following his work ever since (he also did the titles for Spider Man). His choice to use the titles to make a mini-movie that represents the film, and do it by using typography in visually entertaining ways, has been seminal for me as a director.

When Bravo did reruns of The West Wing, I noticed their title credits had cheesy synth music in the background for the 1st season... then, as the show took off, they hired real musicians to redo the score for subsequent seasons. I love that score and could listen to it over and over again—having it performed by real musicians makes all the difference in establishing tone and reminds you why you tuned in to watch that show.

J.J. Abrams made the credits for Alias on his computer for almost no money, but the music is so catchy that you'd never know it. The credits for his next show Lost are lackluster by comparison, but must have also been made in an attempt to keep costs low until the show took off. Those particular credits don't really do much for me. I wish Abrams would revisit them.

Firefly had great credits with a very Western feel, and folksy music. (I wish he'd actually have put horses in one of the episodes!)

Battlestar Galactica's credits are superb in establishing the epic scope and gravity of their plight: the possible extinction of all humans. I really like how Season 2 lists a gradually diminishing population number to illustrate how each life matters.

My wife and I love watching the credits for Six Feet Under every single time. Great music, well shot, captures the essence of the show, establishes mood... it's genius!

I'd also have to agree that putting narrative in a title sequence is almost always clunkyt. The only way to do it well would be to have writing you could listen to over and over again, almost like music. 24 does this in a way by taking clips from what people have actually said on the show, not by insert explantory "meta-text" like the characters are speaking directly to the audience (as in Andromeda or Mutant X).

By Blogger Ross Pruden, at 7:38 PM  

Also:

Loved The X-Files credits. Obvi.

Hated Millenium credits (yes, I know it won awards and all and it's a great series, but those credits always bugged me every time I saw "Who cares?").

By Blogger Ross Pruden, at 7:42 PM  

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