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Screenplay Writing And The Opening Credits

By Expert Author: Dennis Russell

Five of my favourite opening sequence devices are as follows:
1) the typewriter beating out some relevant words. It's been used many times but my favourite is in 'All the President's Men', the classic 1976 film of the Watergate break in based on the book by Woodward and Bernstein directed by Alan J. Pakula. The camera closes right in on the beating keys - emphasising and drawing you in to the importance of the typewriter for these ground breaking investigative journalists.
2) The tilt from blue sky. A bit dated now, and I'm hard pressed to name any movies that used this device. However, it does serve to build up a sense of anticipation.
3) Low fast tracking shot. This is in fact the signature shot of French Director Luc Besson. Pretty much all of his movies use this device. In 'Subway' it appears briefly in the car chase sequence that takes place in the Paris streets. It's used again in Nikita as we follow the gang of thugs on their way to rob the drug store. It appears again at the start of Leon as the camera races in across Central Park and the rest of Manhattan to arrive in the restaurant. Dramatic and impactful. It is an overt stylistic device that obviously draws attention to the cinematic process and therefore reassures us that we are in the hands of someone who is cine-literate and keen to show off their film-making skills.
4) The slow track over a model or other artefacts. When done well this can be thoroughly immersive and arresting. For models, the best example is Jeunet and Caro's 'Delicatessen'. After an establishing sequence that takes us into the isolated eponymous building the credits begin - a slow graceful, but close and efficient movement ensues as the camera passes over the wonderfully soiled and worn artefacts from the workshop and kitchen all carefully inscribed with the names and roles of the film crew. An even more sinister example, which is based around a complex layering of graphic images, is David Fincher's Se7en. Ground breaking in its originality, the sequence has been heavily copied since, appearing frequently on TV thrillers and other similar, but lesser, films.
5) Animation title sequences for live action films. This has always been a staple of opening sequence. The master practitioner of this style was Saul Bass whose minimalistic animations with their crisp clear lines and curves achieved so much in terms of setting the scene, mood and tempo of the following film. Bass covered everything from comedy ('The Seven Year Itch') and thrillers ('The Man with the Golden Arm') to sporting action with the 1966 'Grand Prix'. Scorsese brought him back for a final few films in the 90s starting with 'Goodfellas'. The flip side of this seriousness is, of course, the equally brilliant Pink Panther sequences that set the scene for Peter Seller's brilliant comic creation, Inspector Clouseau.
6) James Bond sequences. As a Baker's half-dozen I will take the liberty of mentioning the Bond title sequences. A cliche, yes, but terrific and a staple in the British film business for many decades now. Even in the early days when the in camera and post-production effects were more basic they managed to suggest a glamour and stylistic luxury that were way over the budgetary limitations of their day.
So, if you, as a writer, want to dip your hand into the designer's world, then feel free to include a bold and innovative title sequence within your first few pages. Just make sure that you don't blow the whole budget before the end of the first reel.
Stephen blogs regularly about writing-related matters in this fast moving digital landscape on the key issues that matter to writers and and those interested in writing. Screen writing is a particular focus with regular tips and advice on story, character and plot matters. e-books and e-book readers are changing the way we consume and collect books and there is much to say about how this is changing our world. Thoughtful, comprehensive and always provocative and stimulating.

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