The Film Before the Film

The Unexpected Art of Film Titles


Design By Photo by Electric Park Films

Not one aspect of film and television can be taken for granted. If you are seeing it on screen, even for a second, someone (or many people) spent hours making it just right. And Danny Yount, motion designer at Prodigal Pictures, is one such obsessor of screen seconds. Yount’s task is to produce the title sequences for films and television series — the visuals seen before the film or show even begins. For Yount, the title is an entire production on its own, complete with editors, animators, production designers, sets and actors. “The Film Before the Film,” a short piece by Electric Park Films, examines the unbelievable efforts that Yount and his team spend on the small moments before a movie or television show begins.

But title design wasn’t always such a production. Old black-and-white films worked with plain rectangles filling the screen, staid and sensible in their calligraphic displays of the requisite names. It wasn’t until 1955 and Saul Bass’s groundbreaking animated title sequence for Otto Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm, that this portion of the film became regarded as its own particular art form. “At one point in our work, Otto and I just looked at each other and said: ‘why not make it move?’ It was really as simple as that,” said Bass in his short film, Bass on Titles. From there the art picked up speed, eventually progressing from Bass’s minimal paper cut-outs to the full-fledged production efforts of today, by people like Yount. Regardless of how large-scale the title sequence is, it’s all in pursuit of that single, small task. In Yount’s words: “It’s a way of conditioning the audience to what they are going to see, or at least lighting up their senses a little bit before the show begins.”