In my continuous pursuit of thinking about elements that make up compelling marketing for indie films, I was watching some opening title sequences by Saul Bass. The attention to detail and integration of everything that makes up a film’s public identity (or that dreaded word BRAND) is often missing in most independent films. A strong visual brand is especially needed by low budget indie dramas where the audience is usually vaguely defined and the marketing will not be reliant on notable names or genre audiences. Starting with a well crafted film is the baseline for a successful release, but what draws people in to click on a trailer and then click again for more information? What makes the difference between seeing a film poster and buying the ticket to see it? It is grossly naive to think that just making a good film and having an aggregator put it on iTunes or cable VOD will equate to anyone seeing it, so what can indie filmmakers and marketers do to make a film look appealing and compelling enough that an audience will recognize it, click it, watch it?
Something that seems to be used so rarely in independent film is motion graphics. The iconic graphic artist Saul Bass believed that giving the film a dynamic opening drew the audience into the action from the first frame. Often the entire identity of the film (brand) hinged on his title sequence design. Bass said,”My initial thoughts about what a title [sequence] can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.” An emotional resonance is what is needed both in the opening of a film, but also in all of the marketing of the film. A title, an image or a trailer that doesn’t convey immediate emotional knowledge (NOT just what the film is about, but how does it make you feel) will likely be ignored in a marketplace crowded with thousands of film choices.
I spoke to motion graphics designer Scott Gordon to find out how indie filmmakers can work with these designers to create some compelling visuals that will draw an audience in.
When is the best time in a project to consider using a motion graphic artist? I know this depends on what it is being used for, but in my experience with indies, they often think of things too late.
SG: “The earlier the better! The more time we have, the better the final outcome. For opening titles / end title sequences or in-film graphics, I like to start working with people once there is a rough cut available…and it can be really rough. I just want to get a feel for the tone and the timing. Of course if the filmmaker has a strong, clear idea of what they want, then it’s not as important.
Over the past several months I have been getting a lot of calls from filmmakers who are WAY early in the process, but want to use motion graphics in their Kickstarter videos – sometimes before anything has even been shot. Motion graphics are perfect for that because you can create something really dynamic and engaging, but without needing the equipment and crew necessary for live action shots. Those Kickstarter videos are so important to make a professional and sophisticated first impression.”
What information do you need to know before starting the project? How should one prepare to work with you? Does it help you to have some examples and what should those examples take into consideration (the characters, the animation, the general tone of the piece)?
SG: “I can get going with very little – at bare minimum – what’s it about? Comedy? Drama? Any direction you want me to go in to get the ball rolling? Is there any preexisting artwork? Cast photos? Unit photos?
I love working with indie filmmakers because everything is so direct. Ideas aren’t going through 15 different offices at the studio before getting to me. I LOVE to have the client send me links to styles or feel they like, that really helps narrow things down. It’s your film, and my job is to create a dynamic piece that is going to pull the audience in right off the bat. I’ll present ideas, but ultimately the director will dictate where we go with it, and that’s how it should be. So examples are great!
Examples can be really general (ex: I like the feel of this video at :36 seconds in) or super specific (let’s just copy the Dragon Tattoo open). And they don’t have to be video either; art work, book covers, whatever…lots of times it’s just about creating a feeling.”
What projects have been your favorites to work on and why?
SG: “Last year I did the opening titles and end sequence for a movie by Victoria and Jennifer Westcott called Locked in a Garage Band – it’s in festivals now. It was the most rewarding experience! They are in Canada, and they tweeted that they were looking for an After Effects person – I answered the tweet and from the very beginning it was just a great pleasure working with them.
I sent them my reel and they said ‘We like the opening titles for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.’ We used that as a launching point and everything just fell into place. In their case, they ended up using the opening title sequence as an ending piece before launching into the end credits which I also did. Rather than just typical white text crawling on black, we did a nice scrapbook-y thing that worked really well with the feel of the movie.”
Here are links to the Locked in a Garage Band pieces.
“For a typical project, we’ll talk by phone or email and discuss what it is the client is looking for and if there a rough cut I can watch. The client may upload materials to dropbox – stills, a general rundown of credits to show in the opening, etc. I’ll take a couple of days and come up with 3 or 4 general looks and send them along. When the client picks one, I get to work. I’ll typically send quicktimes to show my progress and the client can make corrections if there is anything they don’t like along the way. I’ll send a final piece for notes, then revise per clients wishes. Finally when all is done, I’ll render out a full size file to go to the editor to drop in!”
How did you become a motion graphic designer?
SG: ”I started working at an entertainment advertising firm. They had just started a DVD division and needed someone to design and animate the menus. I was in the print department, but taught myself After Effects and I kind of made myself the motion graphics guy. From there, I went to Sony in Culver City and worked there doing menus for a couple years. I’ve been self employed for ten years, doing DVD Menus, Bluray menus, TV Show packages, Corporate Work, and now title sequences. My degree is in commercial photography. I’d say it helps a lot to have some design background or education. But I taught myself and I’ve done all right!”
We have to get around to cost as some point. What should a filmmaker budget for a title sequence? a DVD menu? a full scene in the film? a 2D vs 3D project?
SG: “I charge by the project – there are so many different styles, some are more time consuming than others…so I generally wait until I have a good idea of what the client wants before we talk about price. Is it a 30 second piece? Is it a three minute piece? Is it pure motion graphics, or are there motion graphic elements over existing video? I also have kind of a sliding scale for indie projects – I’ll charge less, but those jobs are generally more rewarding than my bigger jobs. Also, I like to think that indie filmmakers eventually will not be so indie and we’ll have built a relationship that will pay off in the future. Is your budget SERIOUSLY limited? Let’s come up with something that works for you for $500. Have $2500? Let’s do something a little more awesome.”
Do you generally meet with clients in person or can you work remotely?
SG: “Not to be anti-social, but I much prefer to work remotely. On a typical day, I can jump back and forth between five or six projects, and to jump in the car and drive across town to talk in person isn’t so efficient. Most of my clients I have never met in real life. Working remotely allows me to work with clients in Canada, London, the East Coast etc… Between phone, email and IM, we can communicate very effectively. When I have samples to send, I either email it or if it’s too big, I’ll put it on Dropbox. Final deliverables are big, but Dropbox works for that too.”
Q: How can a filmmaker get in touch with you?
SG: ”Twitter! I’ve found 90% of my new clients in the last three years through Twitter. Just put ‘Looking for motion graphics and my Twitter handle @scottgordondvd and I’ll respond!”
Scott Gordon is a Los Angeles based motion graphic designer. You can find more of his design work here
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