Now on Indiegogo – The Title Sequence Designs of Dan Perri

Hi, I’m Dan Perri. I have worked in the Hollywood motion picture business for 40 years designing nearly 300 special main title sequences for feature films and television shows. For several years, I have wanted to produce a book on my film work to share with film lovers, design fans, and students.

This crowdfunding campaign is intended to raise funds for the design, production and printing of that book, entitled The Title Sequence Designs of Dan Perri.

The book, which has already been written and laid out by me, will cover 27 film titles and will be presented as storyboards from the title sequence accompanied by text and commentary relating to my process in creating the sequences and stories about working in this field. Included in the book will be details and anecdotes from working closely with such titans of the film industry as Martin ScorseseGeorge LucasRobert AltmanTerrence MalickOliver StoneSteven SpielbergWilliam Friedkinthe Coen brothers, and Jodie Foster – among many others – and about such award-winning films as Star WarsClose Encounters of The Third KindDays of Heaven,Taxi DriverAirplaneRaging BullThe ExorcistBlood SimpleNashville and more. In addition to storyboards from these film title sequences, the book will also feature never-before-published behind the scenes anecdotes as well as alternate and unused title designs from some of my best known work.

The book will be approximately 200 pages and will be 12.5” square with an embossed and specially printed and coated cover. The printing will be full color throughout and of the highest quality, hard-bound in true coffee table book style.

If you love movies and you love design, I know you’ll love my book.

Find out more about my new crowdfunding campaign here.

 

 

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Walter Hill and The Warriors

Walter Hill The Warriors
The Warriors director Walter Hill (right) on location with the cast.

I was coming off of a very big year. It was 1979 when my old friend producer Frank Marshall called about Walter Hill’s movie The Warriors to design the titles for his New York Street gang styled action drama.

The first meeting with Walter at the studio had Executive Producer Larry Gordon coming in to see what I was doing along with his new assistant, a young kid tagging along behind him, who Larry later ordered to get me a cup of coffee. Neophyte Joel scurried out and returned with cups of hot coffee for all of us.

Of course that was several years before little chubby Joel Silver became one of the most powerful and successful producers in all of Hollywood.

Walter’s films were very graphic with lots of primary colors. Much of the film was either at night or underground in these high contrast, dark subway tunnels and other dark locations, so a rich, solid black was a thematic visual thread in the film.

Well, I seized on this and began developing a graffiti styled title treatment that had the urgency, anarchy and energy of these young gang toughs.

The Warriors Title Card
The title card from The Warriors (1979)

It was easy to run some hand lettered paint dripping style of letters but not so easy to maintain readability to satisfy the intricate contractual requirements for the actors, technicians and producers that drive this part of the film business.

I mean, getting screen credit is a big deal and everybody cares about how their name appears on the screen. Fortunately, not everyone has a say so about the final result, but, those that do are the ones who I have to satisfy.

Because of the freestyle nature of the graffiti styled titles all the letters were not the same uniform size, so it became difficult to determine accurate percentages to meet contract requirements.

Within contracts are clauses written by actors, directors and producers agents and lawyers dictating size, position, placement and all relative to other titles, their order, prominence, parity and any other form of comparison and detailing that an agent or lawyer can dream up.

I wanted to integrate the titles within the live action shots of the underground tunnels of the New York City subway systems where the various rival gangs hung out and practically lived in during their travels around the city.

I converted all of the POV shots to a very stark super black black with saturated colors to punch up the violent and dangerous atmosphere of the gangs playground.

There were also several ‘whip pans’ – shots of the train traveling across camera from left to right or right to left that served as transitions from one shot or location to the next.

As passengers on the train and traveling in these POV shots I had the titles coming at camera as if they were moving in the air, in the tunnel gliding towards the train cars.  

But as the title got close and large in the screen I used a whip pan to push the shot off the screen along with the title that was moving at us. With the right sound effect is created a mini collision that was a violent reaction to the ‘attack’ of the title coming at us. This heightened the danger and violence that permeated the story. It was powerful.

The film was a big hit. Walter was very happy.

You’ll be able to read more stories and anecdotes like this in my forthcoming book ‘STAR WARS to THE AVIATOR and everything in between, The Film Title Sequence Designs and Adventures of Dan Perri’.

Want to receive updates when I post a new blog? Be sure to follow me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Jack Nicholson and The Two Jakes

Jack-Nicholson-The-Two-Jakes.jpg
Jack Nicholson in The Two Jakes (1990)

After working with legendary producer Harold Schneider on Days of Heaven, I found that he was producing the sequel to Chinatown starring Jack Nicholson, who was also directing the film.

When Harold called to invite me over to Paramount to meet Jack I had reservations since I’d met him at a party a few years before and he seemed very distant and hard to talk to.

I certainly valued the opportunity to work on the film, now called The Two Jakes, and decided to put any concerns aside and go for it as aggressively as I could.

Harold was happy to have me on the project although he warned that it was Jack’s decision and that Jack also had another design company in mind. But Harold wanted me to take my best shot anyway. Well, I spent a lot of time researching both the origins of the sequel and the period setting of the ‘40s in Los Angeles.

Like the original, The Two Jakes was to be heavily influenced by the deco era that I loved so much and personally collected with great passion.

So, I went through all of my collections pulling elements that dug into and illuminated the era. I had finally assembled many graphic examples, magazine articles, and several props that I wanted to use in some inventive way in the title sequence. Maybe photograph something special and move lovingly across these objects and include the titles in an elegant, classical way.

The afternoon I arrived at Jack’s office he had just returned and was still distracted by his lunch meeting with someone else. During the meeting, he kept leaving the room with his tall, skinny, cowboy assistant. I could hear them laughing and goofing off. When they returned they were wiping their noses and sniffing a lot. Of course, it quickly became obvious what was been going on in the other room.

When I finally got Jack’s undivided attention he couldn’t seem to stop making rude and sarcastic remarks about everything I showed him. He seemed to like what he saw, but he just couldn’t keep his mouth shut about remarking on everything. He was trying to unnerve me because he was so wired. So, I just passed it off to he just being ‘Jack.’

I held my best idea and the most authentic prop for last. The idea had gobs of deco details with parallel lines and muted color tones caressing a lovely graphic deco logo that said the title.

I drew it directly from a nifty deco cigarette lighter that I had found some time ago to represent the metallic and richly detailed style I was looking for to represent the film.

I explained in minute detail how the subtleties of the original deco influence could seamlessly appeal to him and to the sensibilities of the film in an altogether authentic and organic way. I finished with a direct reference to deco elements of the era and concluded by handing him the deco cigarette lighter I had drawn the idea from.

He took it in his hand, turned it over, held it up, and lit it with the flint wheel. He looked at the flame for a long time. Then he turned to me, handed the lighter back and said in his perfect ‘Jack Nicholson’ way, “The Deco is in the movie!” Then he gave me that broad Batman Joker grin.

Then he silently gave me a long, hard look. Then he exchanged looks with his assistant, between them as if to say. ‘Doesn’t he get it? Doesn’t he know that this meeting is over?’

When I looked at Harold he seemed to be dumbfounded. He shook his head in disappointment and then looked at me as if to say, ‘I told you so.’ So, I stood up, shook Jack and Harold’s hands and quickly walked out.

For many months afterwards I kept the cigarette lighter that Jack Nicholson had handled in a plastic bag to somehow preserve his fingerprints. Finally I let go of the whole idea.

When the film came out – it – and the title sequence – were a huge disappointment. It flopped. Years later I used that very lighter in my own 1940’s film, Sharkskin.

You’ll be able to read more stories and anecdotes like this in my forthcoming book ‘STAR WARS to THE AVIATOR and everything in between, The Film Title Sequence Designs and Adventures of Dan Perri’.

Want to receive updates when I post a new blog? Be sure to follow me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

The Last Waltz

Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson in Cannes for the The Last Waltz screening in 1978
Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson in Cannes for the The Last Waltz screening in 1978

While working on the titles for The Last Waltz with Martin Scorsese, he asked me to completely handle the entire first reel of the film, spread out the titles throughout reel one and re-tool the color and contrast to make it more raw and powerful.

We had already put a special title up in front of the Academy Leader just for the projectionists to see that instructed them to “PLAY THIS FILM LOUD!,” due to the raucous nature of The Band, the style of their music and the muscular style that Marty chose to document it. As a result of being so involved I had a good relationship with The Band leader Robbie Robertson.

The Last Waltz This Film Should Be Played Loud!

Since this was to be The Band’s last concert together, Robbie was intimately involved with all the creative decisions on finishing the film. Due to their drug culture, he and Marty worked on the sound mix together all night long and slept all day.

Then Marty and Robbie asked me to design the ad campaign for the film and I subsequently had made two presentations to them and to the United Artists executives who were to release the film.

This was a continuation of my relationship with the powerful UA VP of Production, Mike Medavoy, who I had met when Bob Altman brought me into UA with an ad campaign for his Paul Newman film Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson that I had designed the previous year. Mike became very impressed with my work and loved me being on Waltz.

Well, one night I was lying in bed in my new Encino condo when the phone rang. A screeching sound was coming from the phone that was so loud I couldn’t put it to my ear. When it stopped I heard Marty’s voice calling to me from the re-recording stage at Warner Hollywood. He and Robbie were mixing and “suddenly thought of me”, he said. They wanted to talk about the ideas for the ad campaign and wanted me to come right down there as soon as I could.

Suddenly, I said goodbye to Johnny Carson, hopped out of bed, jumped in my Porsche convertible and flew down the Hollywood freeway to the Goldwyn Recording Stage.

When I got there, Marty and Robbie had cranked the music up so loud that they didn’t even hear me come in. Then Robbie noticed me and, gestured for me to sit in the cavernous theater, presumably to wait for them to find a break in the reel.

There was only one other person there who was sitting right in the middle of the theater.  I came up and sat down next to this lovely young woman who was smoking a joint. I nodded hello and then realized it was Robbie’s friend, actress Geneviève Bujold. While waiting we shared her joint, laughed and rocked together to the great music.

After a bit, Robbie invited me into the client room that was soundproofed to look at some of my designs. While Marty continued mixing, we sat down at a round table. Robbie was all sweaty and looked totally ratty. He was wearing a black leather shirt that was dripping off of his body. He pulled a small bottle from one of the shirt pockets. It was about the size of a restaurant salt shaker. He ceremoniously put it in the middle of the table. It was filled with cocaine.

We did the obligatory few lines and then began talking about the campaign. When Marty came in I was greeted similarly by doing a line or two with him and then we got down to business. They loved the ideas. We later took them to UA but they had already settled on something else and my ideas went to the design graveyard in the sky.

You’ll be able to read more stories and anecdotes like this in my forthcoming book ‘STAR WARS to THE AVIATOR and everything in between, The Film Title Sequence Designs and Adventures of Dan Perri’.

Want to receive updates when I post a new blog? Be sure to follow me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

John Schlesinger and The Day of the Locust

John Schlesinger
Director John Schlesinger

In 1975 I learned that the Nathaniel Hawthorne novella The Day of the Locust was being made into a film by John Schlesinger at Paramount, and that my friend Conrad Hall was shooting it. When they got into post-production I called Connie and asked if he could help to get me a meeting with Schlesinger. He invited me to dailies the next day but I begged off for a few days.

I decided to make a special presentation. Since I loved the late 1930s era of the film, the moviemaking setting and the rich characters in the book, I decided that I just had to work on it.

I went to Larry Edmunds Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard and bought a couple of dozen period black and white stills of filmmaking in the ‘30s. I chose a great piece of Pete Fountain’s Dixieland music from my own record collection, transferred the sound to ‘mag’ stripe and began designing a sequence to the music.

I created a simple, graceful photo montage complete with all of the main titles as was listed in Daily Variety. I shot the entire sequence on 35mm color film, paid for the film processing and prepared it to be screened for Locust‘s director, John Schlesinger.

I was very nervous that day at Paramount when Connie introduced me to John and his producer Jerry Hellman. They had just come off of making the Academy Award-winning film Midnight Cowboy and they were the hottest guys in town.

The dailies looked fantastic and I felt very intimidated by John’s amazing artistry. But as they commented on the dailies with John’s editor, Jim Clark, I could see that they were true artists and knew they somehow would appreciate my ideas. After dailies, Connie made the introductions and I announced that I had something to show them on film.

Well, the screening went beautifully. They raved and ‘ahhhed.’ When the lights came up suddenly John and Jerry were right there in my face praising the “beautiful thing” I’d created.

Graciously, John explained that part of the dailies we just viewed – a gorgeous dressing sequence where a group of extras come into the studio in street clothes, go through makeup and wardrobe and become this group of wealthy aristocrats in King George’s court – they had spent over $200,000 on filming it, fully intending it to be the main title sequence.

And, though they couldn’t just throw it out and use my sequence, they asked, would I like to design the titles over that footage? Would I? As quick as that I said, yes, yes, yes! Soon thereafter I was put in touch with John Barry, the wonderful composer of most of the James Bond film scores, at that time, and many others as well, who was to compose the music for the film. I’d always loved John’s music and it was an absolute delight to work with the elegant English gentleman.

I even felt that the choices and subtleties of my design got better by collaborating with him. His music fell over the sequence I was placing titles over and his gently appreciative comments to me about my type choices and placement were much enjoyed. He loved the subtleties of the sepia brown shadow cast off of the ecru letter faces. It was a subtlety I had worked hard to achieve within the film spectrum and the limitations of the film optical process. But is was finally, just right.

The Day of the Locust
The Day of the Locust (1975) title card

The Locust work went exceedingly well except for having to work with the tyrannical Paramount Head of Post Production, Paul Haggar. Paul had been there since the early ‘60s and knew where all the bodies were buried. So his job was secure.

The trouble came with producing the end titles. They were over one, long shot that went on for over four minutes. The titles rolled over the shot and, if anything was wrong – change a period to a comma – and it had to be photographed over again. It was certainly easy enough to change a comma to a period on the existing artwork but following that, the entire process had to be done again. Shoot the type elements into a roll or a ‘crawl’ make 35mm intermediate film high contrast elements, make a print back, create an offset, make ‘combo’ elements and then re-shoot the film elements ‘bi-packed’ with the background film interpositive element to a new four minute piece of 35mm Eastman color negative, develop the negative and make a print before viewing the piece with the producer for approval.

I made the mistake of taking the producers orders as he gave me type changes but didn’t clear them with Haggar. When he found out that I had shot the end titles seventeen times (17!) because of changes the producer made he banished me from the Paramount lot for a very long time. Never before or since in my entire career have I shot and re-shot an entire end credit sequence seventeen times.

Once, when a producer wanted me to meet with him against Haggar’s orders, I tried to sneak past Haggar’s office window trying to get to the producers office. When Haggar saw me from his office – located just inside the main gate where he could see anyone who entered the lot – he literally threw open his window, screamed at me and threatened to have security throw me off of the lot. Finally, I was actually escorted from the lot. Many years later, Paul Haggar suddenly liked me again and I enjoyed working on Paramount Pictures – for a while.

You’ll be able to read more stories and anecdotes like this in my forthcoming book ‘STAR WARS to THE AVIATOR and everything in between, The Film Title Sequence Designs and Adventures of Dan Perri’.

Want to receive updates when I post a new blog? Be sure to follow me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Marcello Mastroianni and Sharkskin

Marcello Mastroianni, Federico Fellini, and Sophia Loren at the 65th Academy Awards in 1993
Marcello Mastroianni, Federico Fellini, and Sophia Loren at the 65th Academy Awards in 1993

I had tried for many years to make a feature film about my grandfather – a tailor – and my Italian family set in post World War II Manhattan.

I had written a good script from stories told in my family about run-ins that he had had with local mobsters in his Italian Harlem neighborhood. It was called Sharkskin.

There was a role for an elegant middle-aged Mafia Don and I imagined I’d found the perfect actor to play the part.

In March, 1993 the Motion Picture Academy was to give a special Oscar to the Italian film director, Federico Fellini.

The Academy had invited frequent Fellini collaborators, famed Italian actors Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni to present the statuette to the famed filmmaker at the Academy Awards.

I learned from a publicist friend that Mastroianni was in town staying at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in Westwood. In hopes of attracting him to my story I wrote a very flowery and flattering letter to him praising his acting and elegant style and that I’d written it just for him. I invited him to read my script.

Sunset Marquis Hotel
The Sunset Marquis Hotel in Westwood

I put the letter and the script in a special expandable manila envelope and drove it over to his hotel.

Arriving at the front desk I requested to see him but was told that he was out. I left the script for him and disappointedly went into Westwood Village for lunch.

Later, while driving back to my little office in Hollywood I checked my telephone answering machine on my brand new built in car phone.

To my astonishment there was a phone message from Mastroianni about my script. While listening to his message I spun an immediate u-turn and headed back to the hotel..

In his most wonderful Italian accented halting English he rambled a lovely and sweet description of his perusal of my script.

He said, “Hello, my dear Meester Perrri, dis ees a, Marcello Mastroianni. I a look at a you script and a, I a see the part that you have a written for me, but a,…de role,…heh heh (chuckle) …it’s a, too small, it’s a too small…So a, I leave de script for you and a, thank a you very much. Good a bye.”

I rushed up to the hotel front desk and quickly asked for Mr. Mastroianni, only to be advised that he, again, was out. But, he had left something for me.

I pulled the script from its original envelope and leafed through it. I saw that he had underlined the character name every time it appeared and probably only read his dialog to add up the number of lines his character had.

Shaking my head with chagrin I put the script back into its envelope only to notice that at the bottom there was a pile of peanut shells.

While reading it, my choice to play Don Angelo Piano had used my script envelope as a trash can.

I only hoped he didn’t feel the same way about the script.

I never found out.

But as I watched him hand the Oscar to Fellini on the Academy Awards TV broadcast a few days later, I longingly wondered how I would have found a way to direct the great star in my little Italian film.

But my good friend and quite a wonderful actor, John Capodice did a splendid job bringing the character to life in 2013 when we finally shot Sharkskin, 20 years later.

It’s now available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and YouTube.

You’ll be able to read more stories and anecdotes like this in my forthcoming book ‘STAR WARS to THE AVIATOR and everything in between, The Film Title Sequence Designs and Adventures of Dan Perri’.

Want to receive updates when I post a new blog? Be sure to follow me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Marty Scorsese and Gangs of New York

Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese on set of Gangs of New York (2002)
Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese on set of Gangs of New York (2002)

I hadn’t seen or worked with Marty since The Color of Money in 1986. After Money Marty began working with Saul Bass. Well, after doing five films with Marty, sadly, Saul died and Marty was devastated.

During post production I had a couple of conversations with Marty’s longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker and finally, she invited me to come to New York to meet with Marty and see a cut of Gangs of New York.

When I saw him at the screening it was like no time had passed at all. We embraced and chatted so comfortably that 16 years absence just faded away.

I had many strong ideas after the screening and we met briefly for me to describe them in detail. It all came back to me as to why I’d always done my best work with Marty.

And that was because he was so sharp and always got what I was saying and was right with me on the details of the concept and the idea and immediately responded, added to and helped to clearly define it in a form that it could be executed and brought to full fruition.

Right away I had the idea of the big, bold wooden letters for the title treatment that came right out of the 1850s era of newspaper and poster printing with big, wooden hand cut letters and black ink on newsprint paper.

Upon returning to LA I scoured the city for authentic, wooden letters from the early days of American newspapers. They had to be physically of similar size to each other and I wanted a variety of typestyles within the letters and words to give a bigness of the city and the melting pot of different kinds of people all melded together in one big, loud and boisterous town.

Further, the wear and the damage to the letters with ink stains and years of grime would represent the violence and the struggle just to stay alive in such a rough and dangerous environment.

I had a nice selection of both Roman and Gothic letters that I stacked up and started to shoot still photos of them. The old wood had a wonderful, dirty brown, ochre burnt Sienna feel with a lot of wood grain and stained face of each letter. It looked fantastic.

Of course, ‘GANGS’ had to be the most prominent word but then I stacked a great Bodoni Bold NEW sitting on top of a terrific square serif face for ‘YORK’ and a very tiny ‘OF’ sat in front of ‘NEW.’

The physical letters I used for the Gangs of New York title card
The original wooden letters I used to create the Gangs of New York title card

Though I wanted to shoot the letters live action, I knew it would be too expensive so I simply photographed them in natural light on a very high definition digital camera. I wanted to get the thickness and the blunt mass of the assemblage to convey the crowded, dense conglomeration of buildings and people crowded together, living on top of one another.

Then I began making camera moves on the letters to punctuate the power and bigness of them to state the name of this big, muscular film.

I wanted the letters to be so big that they would go off of the screen, completely crowding out anything else.

Just in time to do my tests, I got the U2 music that they had written and recorded that would play behind the titles which really inspired me to shoot a move that the music would punctuate and really drive home the feeling that I wanted.

I shot several different moves on the title and shipped them to New York for Marty to see. He loved them and gave me the go ahead to produce it on 35mm.

The Gangs of New York title card as it appears in the film
The Gangs of New York title card as it appears in the film

The remainder of the main titles were to go to the end of the film, which is where I was able to push the design to the limit and move the letters off of the screen and move inside of them to create these great graphic shapes that I then superimposed very bold, dimensional titles with shadows cast on to the big letters for a really outstanding effect of historical, dramatic and very atmospheric feeling. Everyone was very pleased.

However, a big wrench suddenly gummed up the works.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Marty called to tell me that he had just told the owners of Miramax that he didn’t want to use their logo on the head of Gangs of New York. He explained that his first scene was so moody and quiet that he felt the logo overpowered and diminished the scene that followed. The owners actually listened and were actually willing to see what Marty had in mind to replace their logo for just this film.

So, this problem fell into my lap to create and design an alternate logo that would embody the qualities of Miramax but not the bold, loudness of their old, massive, giant letter ‘M.’

I played around with many, many ideas, from a proscenium stage with a curtain opening to drawings of two overweight guys to a sub-amorphous ooze with the letters squishing within, coming into readability and then out again. The final one is shown here.

The special Miramax logo I designed for Gangs of New York
The special Miramax logo I designed for Gangs of New York

You’ll be able to read more stories and anecdotes like this in my forthcoming book ‘STAR WARS to THE AVIATOR and everything in between, The Film Title Sequence Designs and Adventures of Dan Perri’.

Want to receive updates when I post a new blog? Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

Norman Jewison and F.I.S.T.

Sylvester Stallone in F.I.S.T. (1978) directed by Norman Jewison
Sylvester Stallone in F.I.S.T. (1978) directed by Norman Jewison

Out of the blue I got a call from Norman Jewison’s producer who said that Norman wanted me to design the titles for his new film F.I.S.T. starring Sylvester Stallone.

They asked me to fly to London and that they’d pay me $1000 just to meet with him and see his film. Well, I said yes. And a few days later a first class ticket arrived and I was off to London.

Upon arriving I was collected at Heathrow by Norman’s driver in his Jaguar sedan. We went off to Pinewood Studios outside of London where I met Norman for lunch in the studio commissary. After lunch he graciously took me for a tour of the lot and told me many remembrances about the history of the storied film production facility.

We then went to the studio screening room where he showed me the film. We chatted about ideas and then I was taken to the Athenaeum Hotel in London.

The next morning I had to race back to LA where I received over 25,000 feet of F.I.S.T.’s second unit footage that was air freighted to me so I could cut a montage that we were to use for the main and end title sequences along with title design ideas for the main titles.

It seemed to me the film was so unbelievably muscular, bigger than life, and powerful that the titles must be so big and tough that they could barely fit into the screen. And they were and they barely did (only because of legal requirements). Unfortunately, with the main title being only four letters and Sylvester Stallone’s name having to be the same size, the main title looked small compared to the star’s name.

I had just a few days before I was to fly back to New York where I would meet Jewison at the United Artists screening room, screen the montage and show him type treatments and then literally – the same day – fly back to LA in order to produce the sequence to meet the release date deadline. Somehow, I did it!

Against Bill Conte’s powerful musical score I found a few great hits and used them to power the gigantic titles onto the screen. It was really right for the film and Norman was very happy with the results.

You’ll be able to read more stories and anecdotes like this in my forthcoming book ‘STAR WARS to THE AVIATOR and everything in between, The Film Title Sequence Designs and Adventures of Dan Perri’.

Want to receive updates when I post a new blog? Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

Josh Brolin and Private Eye

Private Eye Josh Brolin Michael Woods
Private Eye stars Josh Brolin and Michael Woods

In the mid-80s I lived in a little house in North Hollywood and – before he got famous – Josh Brolin lived right down the street with his first wife and baby.

Around that same time Josh was cast in the new Tony Yerkovich Universal NBC TV drama called Private Eye, and – independently of his casting – I was hired to create the main title sequence.

It was great for the product that Josh and I knew each other because when I was given the two main cast members – Josh and his co-star Michael Woods for one long night, we were able to create and collaborate on some great shots in their cool 1950s cars around the night time Hollywood streets and the Sunset Strip.

I shot with this new piece of equipment – a huge crane rigged on a car platform – that I had used the previous year for another series with Michael Nouri call Downtown.

I could do 360 degree moves around the cars making big booms from up high to down low in one shot.

The next day I started editing the sequence to this fabulous, sexy jazz theme that Tony had commissioned from the best studio musicians in town. Tony had previously created Miami Vice so he knew all about cool sexy guys and atmosphere with great cars and cigarettes and chicks.

It was set in LA in the ‘50s with all of the great nightclubs and Sunset strip hangouts. I made sure to use lots on stock shots of the Hollywood scene and nightclub signs with lots of chrome and klieg lights and metal.

As I was editing, I came across a porno film clip of people having sex and, as a gag, I cut it into the edit of the sequence for Tony to see for the first time.

He came to my office and I ran it for him against the jazz main title theme.

I watched him watching the sequence. When the porno clip came up, he suddenly frowned and looked confused.

He put up his hand to stop me and said, “…wait a minute…”  I feigned dumbness and looked at him quizzically. He said, go back a little bit, I think I missed something.”

I looked at him again. He turned and looked very sternly like he was really unhappy.

I started to worry just as he broke into a big, loud laugh.

He said, “you son of a bitch!” We both laughed and he said, ”too bad we have to take that out. It kinda works. But the network would have my head!”

For a time, the show did very well, but after a year it was cancelled.

Maybe we should have left it in. I later designed a logo for his production company.

You’ll be able to read more stories and anecdotes like this in my forthcoming book ‘STAR WARS to THE AVIATOR and everything in between, The Film Title Sequence Designs and Adventures of Dan Perri’.

Want to receive updates when I post a new blog? Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

Robert Redford and All the President’s Men

Robert Redford
Robert Redford promoting All the President’s Men in Nashville in 1976

1976 was a good year for me. Having done Taxi Driver, Marathon Man, and Welcome to LA, among several others, then along comes All the President’s Men.

Alan Pakula had chosen me from other work that he’d seen of mine. But though he chose me to do the film, I had to be approved by producer, Robert Redford.

A few days after meeting him and Dustin Hoffman at a screening of an early cut, I was summoned to Bob’s office. His Wildwood Enterprises, as a producer on the film, had their own building on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.

My drive-on pass took me right up to the small, wood frame building and I parked in front. I noticed a beautiful, vintage Porsche parked on the right end of the parking spaces. As I was to come to his office on other occasions, that Porsche became another and another from his stable of vintage Porsche cars.

The reception area was of normal styling and I waited for the nod to go into his inner office. Entering Bob’s office was like stepping back in time. The walls and floor were covered in old, distressed wood with antique furnishings and a bear skin rug covering much of the floor.

I approached him as he sat behind an old wooden desk in blue jeans and chambray shirt with his cowboy boots crossed on the top of the desk. He rose and greeted me warmly and we immediately began talking about our experiences in common.

We had both gone to neighboring San Fernando Valley high schools that played each other in football. Though several years older than I, we talked of the camaraderie of hailing from competitive schools. We laughed and got along great.

After walking across the lot to the commissary and stopping to say hello to the head of the studio and several movie stars along the way, we had lunch, after which, he hired me.

Alan J. Pakula
Alan J. Pakula directs Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford on location.

Working with director Alan Pakula was a delightful, though somewhat frustrating experience. He was making an extremely fine and important film and, as was his style, he was very meticulous to the smallest detail.

He would make changes to the edit constantly. At a time when films were cut on film every change required splicing added or subtracted frames and feet of film by hand with a special splicer and splicing tape. There was a joke around the editing room that Alan had made so many changes, so many times, that the entire film was in ‘single frame splices.’

When it came to the title backgrounds, I designed elegant, graceful titles in very thin, all caps Helvetica Light type over his live action backgrounds of the Watergate break-in that took place in the underground corridors, office hallways and offices.

Everything was dark and mysterious and I applied the titles to the extreme lower corners of the frame as small and dark as possible so they were barely there. Further, I executed very long title fades so they were like wisps of smoke that snuck in and out without even being noticed – just like the burglars slipping into the Watergate Hotel.

After shooting the sequence to 35mm from special inter-positive elements taken directly from the original – these ‘IPs’ require handling the original negative very carefully to avoid damage in order to copy from the intermediate rather than from the original film element. If a shot calls for a 10 second section to be used in the edit, extra frames are copied to the IP for handling and adjusting purposes.

The director decided to lengthen many shots that required using sections of the IP that were extra frames before and after the section originally called for by the edit.

But the changes were so far from the original edit, extra frames of the original had to be made as new IPs causing slight mismatches in the edit and in the color of the backgrounds due to creating the extra sections weeks later and differences in film processing made the extensions look slightly different.

Ultimately, it took extra attention by the color timers at Deluxe lab to adjust the color differences. Finally, it looked excellent and was done.

I worked for a good while on designing the opening presentation titles so they were pure and belonged to the story and to the film and not part of the studio. I had to find a way to separate the Warner Bros. logo from the start of the story. I’d already converted Saul Bass’ new logo from black on red to black on gray, but we needed something more.

At one point I suggested a Bugs Bunny cartoon to immediately follow the logo to distract the viewer from it. Following the logo, we finally wound up holding on soft white in silence for what seemed like an interminable amount of time until the audience became uneasy, thinking something was wrong. Then, when we were about to lose them – BAM – in an extremely tight closeup, a typewriter key slams onto the screen with a sharp hit – in succession, announcing  ‘June 1, 1972’ –  the start of the story. It was a very bold and startling move. And very effective. It threw us right into the story.

When it came to the closing sequence, Alan wanted to show the most important newspaper headlines that the Washington Post had published during the height of the Watergate scandal as a series of bold images that would conclude the story.

In order to design these images I had to acquire them from the Library of Congress in Washington DC. When the library refused to send these one of a kind newspaper front pages, I was sent to Washington to photograph them.

So, on Christmas morning the head of the Library of Congress opened the library especially for me and my photographer and we spent most of the day on our knees on photographing about 40 Washington Post front pages on the floor. Then, I spent that night at the Watergate Hotel.

I brought the film back to LA, had prints made and created a sequence from them to end the film. I delivered it and, with my work completed, I left the film.

It was’t until the cast/crew screening that I learned that ultimately, Alan wasn’t happy with the sequence, and, instead, he photographed a series of tight shots of Teletype machines typing out the same headlines as the newspapers had shown.

It worked even better.

You’ll be able to read more stories and anecdotes like this in my forthcoming book ‘STAR WARS to THE AVIATOR and everything in between, The Film Title Sequence Designs and Adventures of Dan Perri’.

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