Screen test

Strong title sequences and riveting trailers are vital if film-makers want to make a big impression, but who creates these teasers?

The design industry has never afforded Neville Brody the esteem he deserves in raising the profile of graphic design during the 1980s. Thanks largely to his work in typography and at The Face, graphic design during the 1980s and 1990s almost became the new rock ‘n’ roll – with Brody, David Carson, Tomato and Tibor Kalman achieving almost household name status as they made the successful crossover from design mag features to big pictorial spreads in style mags. Who’d have thought we’d be seeing the work of Ed Fella in the Financial Times magazine in 2000?

So it would make sense that one of the most visible forms of graphic design, namely film titles, would benefit from some of that high-profile action. But it’s never happened. Despite Kyle Cooper’s still powerful and shocking titles for serial-killer chiller Seven, and the gorgeous and innovative work by the likes of Juan Gatti, Balsmeyer and Everett and Tomato, most title designers are still faceless individuals who quietly ply their trade, unsung heroes who are harder to track down than the Unabomber.

Indeed, successfully finding the new American titles company mOcean, creators of the stunning titles for Mike Figgis’ Timecode, took hours; and they knew it. “Wow, how did you find us?” was the awed greeting I received. Things aren’t that different here in the UK, where title designers rarely appear in publicity material or on the closing production titles and aren’t even listed in film bible Sight and Sound, which lists all the credits when it reviews a movie, down to who made the sandwiches.

In the US the situation is being at least partially addressed by a touring exhibition, For Openers: The Art Of Film Titles, which celebrates the art of film title design. The work of Saul Bass, Pablo Ferro and Maurice Binder in the 1950s and 1960s is featured, through to Cooper (now head of his own company Imaginary Forces) and Spaniard Gatti. The multimedia exhibition, currently showing at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis before moving on to San Francisco in early 2001, is built from a ten-year-old collection by designer David Peters, who has rightly pointed out that “they’re a manifestion of the experience that people now take for granted on the Internet”.

With any luck For Openers may come to the UK some time next year (there’s information on the website, but until then we’re stuck with getting our anonymous fixes on screen. And while there may not be many contemporary title designers producing work of the calibre of Bass and Binder (though perhaps hindsight will show us there were), and the US may be sewn up by Balsmeyer and Everett and Imaginary Forces, new companies are always emerging to exhibit equally exciting title sequences.

In the US, mOcean is already making waves, here in the UK Simon Giles at The Film Factory is consistently producing good work, and even in trailer design we’re seeing more and more striking and original design, as evidenced by the work of Picture Productions. That should be enough to get you hooked.

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