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.


Metronome
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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

One of my heroes died today...


William F. Buckley, Jr.
1925–2008

Title Credits, Part 1

Most indie filmmakers make some common mistakes... maybe they don't spend money to color correct, or pay for a good soundtrack, or tweak the sound enough. Maybe they don't even spend money getting good sound to begin with.

Yet the most common misstep for indies is treating credits like an afterthought. Most indies resort to printing credits in 30 point white courier font on a black background. Oh no no no no no no no. Credits are a wonderful and special opportunity to set the stage for whatever shall follow, and all low-budget indie filmmakers should try hard to take advantage of that opportunity.

I suppose indie filmmakers see title credits as "merely" the ribbon one ties on a gift, and thus not as important as the gift itself. The truth of it is that the ribbon, the wrapping, even the fluffy bow... all of it is part of the gift. One might even argue that, because the ribbon and gift-wrap and fluffy bows all happen before the gift, they are as important, or even more important, than the gift itself. First impressions last.

In my mind, opening and closing credit sequences are like an appetizer and digestive at a sit down dinner: at the start, a credit sequence whets the palate by setting the tone and pace of the story, by introducing the setting—and in a best case, also sets up the characters and sketches out the backstory—and at the end of the film, a closing title sequence leaves the viewer with an lasting aftertaste.

How do you make good credits? What consists of a "good" credit? The answer is simple: integration. Find the core element of your film, whether it be comedy or horror or sci-fi, and use that to make your credits so unique that the title credits could only introduce your film. Look to the story's subject for inspiration. For example, if you're making a movie about a cleaning lady, draw title credits on a wall with crayons and have them get "cleaned away". I'm merely thinking off the top of my head, but if you think long enough, you will probably find something so unique for your story that's it's probably not been done yet.

Here are some of my favorite title credit sequences, with a few comments about each.

Delicatessen

Delicatessen -movie titles from DoYouReadMe?! on Vimeo.


Jeunet and Caro do some great titles with all their movies, but this is perhaps their best. If you're a fan of Delicatessen, check out the simple credits for their brilliant short film Foutaises.


Se7en

David Fincher hired Kyle Cooper to do these credits as a "mini-film", and the results speak for themselves. Following Se7en, Cooper went on to do over 150 movie credits sequences.


Thank You For Smoking

These are not my favorite, but they do capture the spirit of the film.


Dawn of The Dead

By splicing real news, fake news, and chaotic shots of zombies, these credits set a perfect tone for the film. Not to mention that the title sequence bridges the time gap from when the lead character goes to sleep and wakes up the following morning. Credits again by Kyle Cooper.


Serenity

Serenity's first 15 minutes are more than just title credits—they deftly outline a complicated backstory, introduce you to the Firefly ship, all of the Firefly's passengers, the story's villain, and finally hint at where the story is headed. This part of the title sequence starts with the main title and ends halfway through the credits. I challenge you to remember how many names you see on the screen.


Firefly

I put these in not because they're my favorite credits, but because they contrast so much with Serenity's credits, the movie version of the Firefly TV series; these credits introduce the series' characters and clearly set the tone of the series as half sci-fi and half Western.


Six Feet Under

Genius imagry set to music by Thomas Newman. If you knew nothing about this series, you'd get a pretty damned good idea after watching these credits.


Drive

From a cancelled series, but still fun to watch. You get a sense of the kinetic when watching these credits.


Battlestar Galactica

This is a clever 3 part mix: 1st part tells you what you need to know about the Cylons, 2nd part sketches out the backstory of how they Cylons are chasing humans, and the 3rd part shows lightning flash clips of the show for that episode.


Mission Impossible
(TV show, 60s)

Battlestar: Galactica got their 3rd part technique from an old 1960s show. Sure, this dates a lot now, but it still captures a feel for the action spy genre. And remember that these kinds of clips were done on film, not video, so you can just imagine how hard it was to do each opening sequence.


Mission: Impossible
(TV show, 1988)

A little more slick than the 60s, but the format is generally the same.


Tomorrow I'll show how I'm doing credits for a low-budget film... for less than one dollar.

Monday, February 18, 2008

You've got to be effing kidding me...

This is just about the craziest thing I've ever seen:



Friday, February 15, 2008

George Lucas on Charlie Rose

One of the best hours I ever spent watching TV. Lucas has a lot of insight to impart about the nature and traditions of cinema, among other things. The part I most remember about this interview was Lucas talking about fresco painting vs. oil painting (around 28 minutes). A must watch:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Barack Obama on Charlie Rose

No, you can't.

Satire is the most aggressive form of flattery.Charles Poore

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tuesday, 7PM: Open for Business

As of 7PM yesterday, the WGA strike is officially over. This is great news—nay, fantastic news—and deserves some closing remarks.

Why did the strike happen at all? How could it have gotten so bad that writers thought their chances of getting a better deal would require walking out on work altogether? Why did the AMPTP offer so many rollbacks and no residuals on the internet before the strike, only to cave at the end of the strike?

Here's what I think...

Hollywood moguls were under pressure with their Wall Street investors to perform financially. The AMPTP was watching an emerging new media—the internet—where they they had been labeling webisodes and mobisodes as "promotionals" to encourage viewers to get hooked on a given series. Once a full episode had been broadcast, it was cheaper to re-broadcast those episodes and also label them "promotionals". Because webisdoes, mobisodes, and full-episode internet broadcasts were considered promotionals, aka "freebies", nobody can be paid from them or the AMPTP loses money.

Since the writers went on strike in 1988 and were convinced then to accept a debilitating residual rate on video rentals for VHS (the AMPTP's tack then was, "we don't know yet if there will be any money in home video rentals or DVD sales, but don't worry, we'll take care of you next time..."), the AMPTP thought they could pull the same stunt again. After all, the WGA is a guild, i.e., a loosely knit, geographically decentralized group, not like a company of workers, so if a strike occurs, it should be easy to whittle down the writers' collective resolve as the months would drag on. And to remind the writers on who's the boss, the AMPTP would start by offering writers 34 pages of rollsback on pension, health care, etc. so writers have to claw past all those rollbacks first and not have enough gumption left over to dispute the Big Kahuna, internet residuals. Essentially, divide & conquer.

What they didn't count on was:

  1. Writers have a long-term memory. The DVD medium for digital entertainment is already on its way out, soon to be replaced by the internet, and writers haven't forgotten how they got screwed the last time around with the residual rates for home video rentals and DVD sales. Like an abused lover, writers grew some self-respect since the last strike.
  2. Writers had the high moral ground. Writers weren't asking for a lot, just to receive residuals as authors of their work as if they were book authors and songwriters. Even then, they weren't asking for a set fee, but a percentage of profits—"If you don't get paid, we don't get paid." Writers slept the sleep of The Pure; their resolve was absolute.
  3. Writers are writers. The AMPTP might have waged an effective war in the trade magazines, but writers make their money with words, so over time, the court of public opinion swayed in their favor. It's kind of absurd for the AMPTP to tell Wall Street investors they expect to make tons of money off new media but tell writers there's not enough money to pay residuals fees to compliment meager upfront costs.

The strike's over. United we stood, united we won.

EPILOGUE
Every battle has its compromises and some items were left on the table. The WGA wanted to bring reality TV writers under the WGA umbrella, but had to cut that lifeline, for now. Most of us would assume reality TV shows don't even use writers... I mean, it's reality TV—what's there to write? While that's true to an extent, the AMPTP does hire "Consulting Producers" or "Story Editors", which is basically the AMPTP trying to give a title to these people which doesn't include the word "writer" for fear the WGA would try to have them covered, which means the AMPTP would then have to pay benefits, pensions, meaning less profit. But what does a "Consulting Producer" or "Story Editor" actually do? They create situations (scenes), they might help cast talent that best interact with each other (character creation), and develop each episode's rough storyline (story arcs). So in many respects, these people are a new breed of writer.

Thus, they also ought to be covered by the WGA.

But you can't win them all. Looking forward to 2011...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Paris at dawn

This is one of my favorite short films of all time and should be required viewing for all film pros and aficionados. It was shot in 1976, already astonishing for its time, and the title of the film is at the end. The caption at the beginning reads: "The film you are about to see was shot without any editing or speeding up".

I could say much much more, but I'll let the film speak for itself:



When you're done watching it—and not before—go visit the imdb trivia page here. And if you understand a little French, you can see the making of it here.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why we're going to have a President Obama

If I were a political strategist for John McCain, I'd be extremely worried right now. Running a campaign against Hillary Clinton is a best case scenario for McCain because Hillary Clinton's sullied past is sure to polarize a lot of conservatives to vote against her, even if they don't really care about voting for McCain. Plus, Clinton and McCain are evenly matched in experience, so swing voters will probably vote for the one most aligned with their political beliefs.

But a campaign against Barack Obama? It's a nightmare—the slogans will be things like old vs. new, traditional vs. fresh approach, anti-same-sex marriage vs. pro-same-sex marriage and, the clincher... pro-war vs. anti-war. Since public sentiment has swung away from the war in Iraq, Obama is sure to lead that bandwagon all the way into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The youth vote is not to be dismissed, either: Obama represents a newer generation of politicians not mired in the tired dialectic of the 60s and 70s, but looking forward to a new future... younger voters want a candidate who inspires them to use politics to make a significant change in their lives. What they want, plainly put, is new blood and new ideas.

I haven't even mentioned the fact that Obama swept three more states today with a whopping 2:1 delegate ratio. And the next three states—the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia—are also very favorable Obama states, so his momentum is now hurling forward like a freight train... one day not long from now, perhaps we'll all wonder if Hillary Clinton ever seriously stood a chance against Obama at all.

Al Gore didn't run for President this time because his political advisors told him Hillary Clinton's campaign was unbeatable. I wonder what Gore's advisors are thinking now...

(In proofing this post, it occurs to me I never mentioned the black vote... which, of course, would be disingenuous to say that had nothing to do with Obama's campaign. Seriously, though—it didn't even occur to me!)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Chris Matthews on Barack Obama

Integrity in our politicians? Preposterous!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

80,000 votes

After 15,000,000 Democratic votes yesterday and, by a popular vote tally, Obama lost by only 80,000 votes.

That's a difference of only 0.53%.

Obama is no longer an underdog... he's a contender.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Strike is almost over... (phew)

It looks like the WGA & AMPTP are really close to putting this nasty strike behind them:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Negotiators for Hollywood studios and striking writers have agreed to terms of a new contract that could be presented to union leaders in days and, if approved, end their three-month-old labor clash later this week, two sources told Reuters on Monday.

While the outlines of an accord were reached over the weekend, the two sides still need to hammer out contract language before a deal is submitted for approval to the governing boards the East and West Coast branches of the Writers Guild of America, they said.

Those sources, who were briefed on the status of talks but were not authorized to speak publicly about them under a media blackout, said negotiators hoped action by the WGA boards on a deal could come as early as Friday.

An endorsement by WGA leaders presumably would be accompanied by a decision to call off the strike, but if the WGA boards were divided, the walkout might continue pending a ratification vote by rank-and-file members.

One source said the big breakthrough in the latest round of talks, which began January 23, came on the key sticking point of how much writers should be paid for advertising-supported Internet "streaming" of television shows.

That source also characterized the writers' agreement in principle as an improvement over the terms of an earlier, separate contract deal for Hollywood directors that helped pave the way for studios and the WGA to resume bargaining after weeks of stalemate.

"They reached agreement on the major terms, and now its a question of reducing it to (contract) language, which we're all hoping goes well and continues in the same spirit of progress that the talks have experienced so far," he said.Link.

This is fantastic news. Obvi.

As for how good the deal is? Time will tell... stay tuned.

P.S. I got handed about a month's work to do in 2 weeks so you won't see me updating very much for a while.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Everyone wants to be a Director

Common knowledge:

  1. Everyone wants to make movies.
  2. Everyone wants to be a film director.

Here's the problem:
  1. Films depreciate in value over time, like cars.
  2. Film libraries, however, appreciate over time, like houses.

Furthermore:
  1. Film directors are employees.
  2. Film producers are employers.

And as we all know:
  1. Employees are dependent on an income stream.
  2. Employers create, and thus have more control over, income streams.

Finally:
  1. Film directors make movies.
  2. Film producers own movies.

This is why:
  1. I direct my own movies because it's a life dream.
  2. I own my movies to retain control over how my movies make money.

But don't forget:
  1. We are still in a war over how best to monetize digital entertainment.
  2. As content proliferates across the internet, the rules over digital ownership must adapt.