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The Art of the Credits Sequence

October 8, 2010

When we think great filmmaking, nobody ever mentions the credits. We take it for granted and never appreciate how relevant the opening credits could actually be to the film itself.

Before the 60s, Hollywood opening credits were usually just laid out on title cards that just kept dissolving into one another before the beginning of the actual story and never showed up at the end (only a simple “The End”). There wasn’t much artistry to it. However, after some time (I don’t know who pioneered it) the credits became superimposed over visuals, blending the text with the story. Now many of you may think, “who cares? Credits are just credits. We see them again at the end of the film anyway.” Wrong. Although they do show up at the end once more, the placement and presentation of the opening credits, in my opinion, greatly affects the audience’s initial perception while being subtle. They have the ability to give you hints as to what sort of film you will be watching. We can get a sense of pacing, or the momentum, of the film. Sometimes the credits won’t even show up until after the first scene is over in which case the audience is stamped with an emotion before gradually entering the world of the film. Credits sequences can even tell back story, as artfully done in Watchmen (coming to think of it, that’s probably the best part of the whole film). On rare occasions, there simply are no opening credits and a film jumps right into the story (brilliantly done in There Will Be Blood) which evokes a storybook-feel; almost as if we are reading a novel (read the title, flip the page to Chapter 1). However, Hollywood films usually require opening credits for contractual reasons and so directors need to come up with a clever way to incorporate them.

From the Moving Image Source, Matt Zoller Seitz (who also did an amazing video essay of Wes Anderson’s filmmaking style) and Aaron Aradillas analyzed the credit sequences of three of David Fincher’s films (they will analyze 2 more so check the official site later this month for the rest) which clearly reinforces this idea.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A film doesn’t begin with the first scene but rather before the “Fade In.” The credits are a tool to recognize the creators but it could be more than that. The credits sequence itself can be an agent of subtle storytelling that adds another layer of depth to a film. Think about it for your next film. I know I will.

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