Opening Title Sequence
was invited to create the evocative opening and closing sequences for
writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s newest thriller. After the creative success of the opening titles for
(August 1999) and
(July 2002), Shyamalan contacted Picture Mill soon after principal photography was completed to begin developing concepts for the titles.
Creative director and project designer William Lebeda was thrilled to be involved so early in the filmmaking process. “Night wanted to develop the titles along with the film as a whole. He asked me to read the script, and we spent some time talking about different creative directions, before he had even had assembled a rough cut of the film.” Lebeda remembers, “Night and Chris Tellefsen, the editor, wanted to work with the titles as they would with other footage from the film.”
“This collaboration was unlike any other I have had on a film. As Night and Chris were editing the film, new ideas for the opening would develop, and we would talk and try things, just to see how they would affect the film. For example, they would change the music, and I would design new titles based on the new score, which would spark ideas in the editing room, and so on. It was a dynamic give and take.”
Stills from Opening Credits
Click for Large Image
The final version of the sequence features the titles emerging through the branches of ghostly trees in a silvery mist, percussively edited to James Newton Howard’s final score. The tree footage was selected for its unusual camera movement and unsettling perspective. “The trees are silhouettes but have an eerie dimensional quality to them. Everything about the sequence — from the typography through the score to the startling edits — says, ‘Stay away from the woods. The woods are bad,'” comments executive producer Kirk Cameron. “And if the white title on black is scary, imagine what’s in the rest of the film.”
The strong creative collaboration between Picture Mill and Shyamalan dates back to “The Sixth Sense.” “That project, in comparison to Night’s last few films, was under the radar. We had seen the film and knew it was amazing, but no one had really heard of ‘An M. Night Shyamalan Film’ yet,” recalled Picture Mill executive director Rick Probst.
After titling “Unbreakable” with a different design studio, Shyamalan called Picture Mill for help with “Signs,” and a more personal project. “After the initial presentation on ‘Signs,’ Night called and asked us to redesign the film logo for Blinding Edge Pictures, his Philadelphia-based production company. Then he asked us to update the Touchstone Pictures logo as well, so the entire front of the film had a cohesive, classic look and feel.” The Touchstone Pictures logo was meant to be a unique version only for “Signs” but became so popular at parent Walt Disney Co. that it has become the new image for Touchstone.
Stills from Closing Credits
Click for Large Image
Lebeda realized the common theme in his work for Shyamalan, almost as it was happening. “It’s all black and white. All three film title sequences. And color is so important thematically those films that it’s interesting that they all begin without any color at all. This was a definite choice, especially in this case, because, for most of the design process, ‘The Village’ opening sequence was blood red.”
The closing sequence, which is entirely different from the opening, serves as a coda for the film. “Night and Chris wanted to make a gentle testament to the village and the people who built it, to affirm their lives. They sent me a selection of stills from the film, of images that don’t appear in the body but carry the unique personality of life in the 1890s. We cropped the images and treated them like daguerreotypes, fading and distressing them into found objects a hundred years old.”
The film closes with series of the daguerreotypes fading in and out, as the crawl rolls up the right side of the screen, ranging from images of common chores (such as hanging laundry) to formal portraits of key cast members. Lebeda worked closely with editor Chris Tellefsen to select and order the images. “Chris and I went over and over the images, refining and editing and ordering. We selected images with formal composition and the qualities of glass plate photography or still life painting. There is a deliberate progression and rhythm to the sequence, and every change to the order affected the entire tone of the images. It was an interesting puzzle with a subtle narrative all its own.”
“It has been exciting to be a part of something like this from the beginning,” reflects Lebeda. “To be invited to participate in the filmmaking process at such a intimate level has been a significant experience for me personally and for Picture Mill as a whole. We cannot thank Night enough for asking us for our contribution.”