It never ceases to amaze me how some people, having shot and cut a first class film with a really appropriate music track, then add titles befitting a soap packet without any further thought. I’ve written – and spoken – about this many times, and make no apologies for doing so yet again here.
We all know that music sets the scene and mood for a movie and can even enhance the action. At a talk at one of the clubs in our Region, a professional sound engineer showed the iconic Psycho shower scene, first with the original music track, then with a music track from a Disney film: the horror of the scene was, of course, totally destroyed by the Disney music. Not surprising. We’re all aware of the part music plays in a movie. Titles can play a similar role (and I’m not referring here to the actual wording, but to their style, size and positioning): they set the scene for what is to come. If they look amateurish, then the audience could well think they’re about to watch an amateurish film, which I’m sure is not quite what is intended. Amateur, maybe. Amateurish, hopefully not.
You have two things to think about. The actual typeface that is used – the design and ‘look’ of the lettering. And its size and positioning on the screen. Films you watch at the cinema and on television will often have the typeface specially designed by a typographer, to suit the movie. Look out for them next time you watch a film. We don’t have that luxury – but we do have (with internet access) over ten thousand free typefaces to choose from (Google ‘free fonts’). It would be pretty impossible not to find one that was suitable from that lot! Generally speaking the typeface chosen should be very readable. Obvious? Of course – yet you do see film titles in very unreadable faces when on the screen.
The heavily embellished ‘Old English’ style of lettering for example – I’ve even seen that one used all in capital letters! Many highly decorative fonts were never ever intended to be used that way: the Capital letters are extraordinarily difficult to distinguish when used throughout whole words. Why do people choose ‘Old English’? – well, they’ll probably tell you their film is ‘historic’. Good reason. Bad choice. Go on the internet and seek out a typeface called ‘Blackadder’ for example as a typical alternative – that will do the same ‘historic’ job – yet be far more readable, and have a better ‘feel’ for times of yore.
The second point is size: I have this theory that the reason why so many titles are emblazoned across the screen in massive letters is because, in the editor, the viewing screen is generally pretty small – and in order to see the lettering, the movie-maker makes it larger than is really necessary. It doesn’t need to be massive to be readable on a television, or when projected at your club. It doesn’t need to have horribly thick ‘casing’ either – ‘casing’ is the line that goes round each letter usually to make it more discernable against similar coloured backgrounds. But all too often those lines are way too thick and grossly coloured. Why? That’s for soap packets, not movies!
Also, sadly, some editing programs – Pinnacle Studio for example – actually offers these hideous heavily cased fonts as ‘presets’. They are ugly.
Use the same rule of thirds that you use when composing your scene to position your title as well – it doesn’t have to be slap bang in the middle. Whether or not you animate the title is down to the feel you want to give to your movie – but don’t overcook it. The animation should be part of the flow, and in keeping with the movie’s plot and theme, and not stand out like a sore thumb and jar the senses.
In short, devote as much time to thinking about your movie’s title as you do to choosing the music. Remember, first impressions count, and the title is generally one of the first things people will see in your movie. If they think that looks ugly, your movie is off to a bad start.