Thursday, February 28, 2008

Title Credits, Part 2

In yesterday's post on movie titles, I outlined the importance of having good movie credits, a trick often overlooked by most indie filmmakers, and listed some examples by way of illustration. Most of the examples I gave were from big budget films, which probably used glossy programs like After Effects. Great, but what if you're just a simple filmmaker with a shoestring budget?

Today, I'm going to show you title credits I've done on my own short films and how, with a little creative thought and good planning, you can create title credits not only ideal and unique for your film, but which can make your film sparkle no matter how small your budget.

You will need a few resources, but none of them are really too far beyond your reach:

  1. A computer with Microsoft Word and/or Photoshop
  2. A selection of fonts (the more, the better)
  3. A printer, preferably a laser printer
  4. A willingness to think waaaaay outside the box.

I directed Metronome in 2000. It's about a man vying for the love of a woman involved with a Bad Guy. Because the story is about pursuing and retreating, about being in love and being crushed by it, the story resembles the sway of a metronome ticker. So I wanted the credits to mimic that oscillating motion.

After storyboarding photos of a metronome taken from different angles, I pitched the idea to a professional photographer who shot the metronome, at cost (yes, in 2000, digital cameras weren't the norm, so I paid for the rolls of film). Next I scanned in the photos and laid type over the images with QuarkXPress (though you can do the same now in Photoshop); in theory, the ping-pong positions of the type would invoke a metronome's swishing. The results made Metronome's three minute film look extremely professional.

(NB: You will see hairlines on the photos, which was to remind me where I wanted the video's frame. In future, I won't do this again since you can see that hairline on some TVs.)

A Fairy Story
Joshua Mehler directed this 12 minute short and, since he tacked on some simple credits made in Adobe Premiere (which looked pixelated, and video-y), I insisted on doing the film's end credits. I found the font he used in the opening title credit and laid it next to another font which had fairies in it. Josh loved the final designs for the credits. When I was finished laying out the white credits on a black background, I emailed him the credits in a PDF, which he printed, taped to a wall, and shot. Voila!

My Shortest Apposition
This is a film about my newborn daughter so I wanted to capture the feeling of something fun and child-like. When I think of children, I think of crayons and coloring books. I also think of kindergarten and learning how to write. At left is the font I eventually chose as the template for my credits. I printed it on a US Letter page, almost as large as I could. Next, I taped it to the back of another piece of paper; I used an Artist's Sketching Pad (which is huge), but you could use another US Letter page, too. The advantage to a Sketching Pad is that you don't have to worry about the edge of the paper showing in the frame.

Then I bought a box of crayons. Total cost: 99¢. Using my new colored crayons, I simply traced the font until I felt I had the right mix of colors. Some colors were too light and might not show up on film. (Click on the picture at left to enlarge.)

And below is the "comp" (click to enlarge)—a "comp" is an intermediary to get an idea of what the final will look like. The lines in the final credits are going to be straighter and the type will be drawn more neatly, but it already looks pretty swanky!

Now here come a couple of twists.

I could tape these title credits against the wall and simply shoot them, but that's too boring. Instead, I'm going to print out and trace each credit at different sizes—one at 8" x 10", another at 4" x 5", another at 1" x 1.5", etc.—but film each title credit with the camera zoomed in or pulled out so each credit looks the same size on camera. Why? Because I can put my daughter in front of each title and play with the audience's orientation: in one credit, my daughter's whole body will lay next to the credit, while in another, her hand will be the same size as the credit. Finally, I can film the credits taped to the wall, or laying on the ground... which allows me to sit my daughter upright in one credit, and have her lay flat on another credit, which looks "upside down" in the frame.

I'm also toying with the idea of printing out photographs of these final credits (traced credits + daughter) with an old-fashioned white border and then mounting them in an old photo scrapbook book—the final credit sequence would be me flipping through these fake family photographs.

See how a little creative energy can turn title credits, often seen as a cumbersome appendage, into something new and fun which leaves a lasting impression in the minds of viewers? Title credits create a crucial first impression, and leave a lasting final impression as well. You can cut corners and slap on simple title credits, but why would you want to?

Here are some more ideas to create title credits without ever knowing a super-slick computer program like After Effects:
  • Take your crisply printed page of credits... and crumple it up into a messy wad of paper. Then open it up again, flatten it out. If it's crumpled enough, the paper's text will look marbleized from the creases. If you don't want the other white paper to look crumpled, flatten the paper back out and photocopy it with a light photocopy setting.
  • Mount the credits on a lazy susan and swivel it slowly to subtlely animate the credits.
  • Zoom in to the credits, but ever so slightly, not so much that it's distracting.
  • Tilt the credits to give them a perspective, as slight or as severe as suits your story.
  • Paint/draw/stencil/trace the credits.
  • Film the tracing of the credits from backlit tracing paper.
  • Photocopy the credits... 20 times or more.
  • Make a collage of text from newspapers, magazines, books... whatever.
  • Take photographs of the credits and film the photographs being handled.
  • Add the credits on a car's windshield wiper "promotional flyer".
  • Play with your food (care of Napoleon Dynamite).
  • Other places to display credits: billboards, computer screens, fogged up mirrors, snow, sand, product boxes, fridge magnets, birthday cakes... in short, anywhere in the real world where type already exists or can be written.

One final word of caution: avoid all overused fonts like Courier, Times New Roman, Monaco, New Century Schoolbook and Palatino. You might get away with Courier because it's a classic font, but all the other fonts have been done to death. I'm tempted to add Helvetica to the naughty list, but some font family of Helvetica still look amazing.

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