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The Magic of the Opening Sequence

Recently, I have noticed the importance of opening credits on television. In this day of age, where instant gratification is the norm and sitting through an hour-long program without checking Facebook is a challenge, the opening credits must peak enough interest to keep the viewer engaged.

Now…to put my theory to the test…let’s take 2016’s most popular tv show, Game of Thrones, and analyze the hell out of its opening sequence (linked below).

First of all, that song. I don’t even watch the show, and I know every note. It is easy to remember and easily repeatable, creating a recognized reference among the public.

The opening graphics allude to a board-game. This is a brilliant marketing tool because the tv show’s target audience is interested in fantastical worlds like Dugeons and Dragons. Setting up the world of the show like a board-game allows the audience to feel like they are an integral part of the experience: like they are actively choosing where the journey will lead, instead of passively watching it.

The credits show the viewers the exact lay of the land so when they enter the world of the show, they are not completely lost because they already have a roadmap in their head; they have something to refer to in case they get confused or lost. It is almost like dramaturgical notes in a program. If someone were to go see The Cherry Orchard and did not know the characters names and how they relate to one other, he or she might get up and leave because it can be extremely confusing. But if he or she had a roadmap in the program to parse out who is who, staying and figuring it out might become an exciting challenge.

Another stage show that gave its own kind of opening credits to let the audience in was Natasha and Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. The opening song explains every character’s quality and role in their most simplistic form, and having this as a reference point helped tremendously. Game of Thrones, like Natasha and Pierre, lays the groundwork in its opener so that the viewer is encouraged not to give up.

And now let’s talk about my favorite….

The Young Pope’s opening sequence does all the things that I want to do with my art. It creates this feeling inside of me that I often describe as “sexy”. “Sexy” art triggers something inside of me that makes me a little more alert and ready for action; I move from the back of my chair, toward the front, ready to pounce at any moment because my full body is engaged in the action. I am ready to be the most present version of myself.

Let’s start with song choice again—All Along the Watchtower. Wow. Perfect. Flawless. The slow motion walking to one of the most iconic power songs is dead on. It starts soft and then comes in with the drum beat that sounds like a heart beat stimulating the viewers to lean in, to want more. The names in the background that appear in blue neon bring in a modern graphical element that tell us something is skewed from our normal perception of Vatican City.

And the comet in the background going through the paintings is just subtle enough not to notice right away, but when you watch it’s trajectory it starts off beautifully floating through the painting and then gets hotter and hotter until it starts destroying painted objects. But it does this while still not pulling complete focus. (oh and side note…as the series goes on the comet gets more and more wild; the credits subtly change in this way from episode to episode. GENIUS RIGHT?!)  AND THEN JUDE LAW TURNS HIS HEAD AND WINKS. It’s like he let you in on his little secret…he ain’t your average Pope so get ready. And then he walks off camera with a big shit eating grin, almost like he’s saying “you don’t know what I have in store for you.” What is he going to do?!

The comet then makes a return and strikes an older man that represents what we perceive the Pope to look like (a la Pope Francis). The comet literally shatters our pre-conceived notions of the world we thought we were going to enter. The old King is DEAD and we have no idea what we are in store for. It is only the end of the beginning. And now 1 minute and 30 seconds later, I know this is a show I want to watch.

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