Motionworks’ writer and producer, Jonny, explains why he loves what he does.
I was a weird kid. For several reasons, some may argue. The one particular quirk worthy of note here is that from a very early age I was obsessed with title sequences. It never crossed my mind until recently that many people may find that a little odd. The fact remains, some of the most vivid memories I have of my early childhood are directly related to title sequences. Typing that, even I find it a little odd.
I recall jumping up and down with excitement as Tom Baker’s final series of Doctor Who began in 1980. Not because my favourite show was on, but because it had an awesome new title sequence and funky new theme tune. I was too excited to take it all in, and gutted that I had to wait a full seven days to sit myself right in front of the screen and concentrate on remembering all the beautiful details. No Youtube then, no catch-up services. We didn’t even have a video recorder until the late eighties, so I was reliant on my memory of that precious minute it played out live.
In stark contrast I remember hugging a cushion tightly while watching the opening to Sapphire and Steel, in equal parts terrified and inawed by the booming narration, suspenseful music and unsettling animation. (I shouldn’t have been watching by the way, I had nightmares for weeks about the ghost of the soldier at the train station). I can also remember embroiling my friend Zoe in my passion, as we acted out the action clips from the opening titles of Hart to Hart. I was quite a guy, she was gorgeous. So yes, I was a little too invested in TV titles at a young age, but it was a relatively harmless quirk. I mean, the lad two doors down used to eat worms.
My fascination continued throughout my childhood. These days, if I’m in nostalgic conversation with other middle-aged people, and a classic TV show is brought up, the chances are I’ll be picturing the title sequence in my head and humming the theme tune. George and Mildred had five different title sequences, and I can picture them all. Of course I’d keep that little nugget of trivia to myself. For my sake and theirs.
As I matured I became a more discerning connoisseur, and as passionate as I was about sequences I loved, I was in equal measure apathetic to the bad ones. It became far more obvious to me when producers had put some time and effort into the titles, and when they were simply an afterthought, a cobbled together set of clips. I realised that a successful sequence was one that truly reflected the mood, genre and narrative of the show that followed. It acted as a doorway between my mundane reality, and the fantasy would I was about to enter. As it played out, it triggered an emotional response in me, getting my mind composed for the viewing experience. I gave bonus points to a sequence that rewarded the viewer for paying attention. The X-Files springs to mind, when the closing text was sometimes replaced with a cryptic clue, or Fringe with its wealth of title variations to show which universe and time period the episode was set. It was like they were making the extra effort for people like me. It almost felt like a validation.
I still get excited about title sequences to this day. It could be argued that we are in a golden age. Elastic’s Game of Thrones titles are sublime, a journey around a map of the locations featured in the show accompanied by an epic theme. The animation is intricate and beautiful, and gives a clear feel for the world in which the viewer is about to immerse themselves. The bombastic theme excites, the sweeping journey around the map indicative of the wild ride to come. It even adapts to only show locations relevant to the ongoing story, thus rewarding viewers paying close attention. Bliss for a self-confessed nerd like me. I’d also like to mention my admiration for Imaginary Forces titles for Stranger Things. This sequence successfully evokes the series through music and typography alone. As the eighties-inspired synthesised theme builds to a climax, the letters of the title card glide into place. It manages to be eerie and unsettling, with the music and glowing retro font setting us firmly within the time period of the show. It gives the viewer a feeling of nostalgia, and prepares them for oncoming perils and tension. It’s opening titles like these that should never be treated to the ‘skip titles’ treatment offered by many streaming services. They are an intrinsic part of the viewer experience. They are wonderful.
So that’s why I love what I do. It’s been a part of my life since I first started watching television. Walking into my first Doctor Who production meeting was a double whammy for me. One of my favourite TV shows of all time, and I had the privilege of playing my part in shaping the title sequence that would welcome viewers in for the whole of Peter Capaldi’s run. A dream job. Every production meeting thrills me, each is a privilege, each an opportunity to share my passion. Maybe I was a weird kid, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.