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These days a number of films and TV series open cold -- that is, throw you right into the action. Others opt to establish tone with a title sequence. Such is the case with Mad Men. In just 36 seconds, you become fully aware that Don Draper's life is not quite as it seems. Mark Gardner and Steve Fuller of the design/production studio Imaginary Forces talk about how they approached the opener.
Q: How much did you know going into the job?
Mark: Matt spent a lot of time telling us about show and why the 1960s was a perfect time to set the show in. At the culmination of his call, he said something really enigmatic that set the bar really high. He said, "I don't want to be like this but this is how the show could start: A faceless guy who gets up, gets breakfast with his perfect family. Puts on his coat, leaves, goes to work. He goes into the elevator, rides up to the office, opens the window and jumps out. All seen from behind.... but not that."
Steve: That told us he was looking for something edgy and provocative. We knew The Sopranos, and the level he worked at. We knew he wasn't going to go for anything silly.
Q: Did you get it on the first try, or did you tinker with other concepts as well?
Steve: We thought it would be cool be to put the ad man inside some of the classic ads... and have them turn on him. Like the classic VW ad and changing it, so the car is chasing the man. Then we built a little bit of the architecture with the ads -- Mark brought it together -- the idea of everything coming together in the fall, the building collapsing around him, tumbling in turmoil and him snapping out, perfectly composed in that confident position he is in the end.
Q: The fall is pretty stunning.
Steve: The fall is such a great a metaphor for the confusion; it's such a helpless position. It's also something people can relate to in dreams, when you're jolted out of sleep, that feeling of falling. We intentionally kept it simple with straight cuts, cinematic angles and pacing. The slow motion is a big part of that dreamlike kind of feeling.
Mark: We made an animatic from live action shots. We looked at falls-- David Fincher's The Game, a couple of music videos, different things we put together. That's what made this feel so filmic, in a completely graphic way.
Q: What else influenced you? Given that Saul Bass made so many movies with Otto Preminger in the 1960s, did he come to mind?
Steve: Anytime you put a silhouette down it's Anatomy of a Murder. What we tried to do is take what's great about that era of design and move it in different ways. They had a way of stripping down their solution to a really pure form. It's a balance of restraining yourself. In this case, it needed to be sophisticated and smart looking. The last thing we wanted was for it to not match the tone of the show.
Mark: The one influence that no one mentions is the titles to Casino. The style is completely different, but conceptually, it's close.
Q: What other titles are you fans of?
Steve: I love the idea even when you watch Psycho, you're expressing something with a simple rectangle. And what Bass did for Bunny Lake is Missing, with the ripped paper. Also, Pablo Ferro -- he did all the stuff we know, like Dr. Strangelove. And Kyle Cooper (Seven, Donnie Brasco). Anyone working in this business now owes a lot to him for making it an art form again -- you forget you can make a movie or a show feel better through an opening to set a mood.
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