Speaking with legendary title designer Dan Perri enlightened me to a whole new aspect of film. Sure, we’ve all seen the Star Wars opening crawl or the smoking opening credits of Raging Bull, but have you ever wondered what the creative process of that looks like?
I was lucky enough to chat with Dan about his career and exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image and was very fortunate to be able to visit the exhibit for myself in Queens a week ago. In this interview, Dan and I talk about his career, working with Martin Scorsese and what to expect in his exhibit.
Thank you so much to the lovely folks at Sunshine Sachs for this opportunity and for allowing me the chance to see the exhibit myself!
Coastal House Media: Dan, let me first say thank you so much for your time. It’s really a pleasure and an honor to speak to you. I was looking through your filmography and you’ve worked on so many films that I’ve seen. It’s actually amazing. First I want to ask you just to start off, I haven’t spoken to a title designer, but could you tell me some sort of tidbit about doing this that maybe the average moviegoer doesn’t know?
Dan Perri: Well, in the future film business, and even independent and studio films, there are requirements that they have to have certain titles on screen because of tradition and contracts. So they have to present the name of the film, of course, and then usually there are contracts that tie the actors to the title. Like they have to be the same size, precede the title in some cases, and then other technical people might be tied to it as well. So there’s this whole string of requirements.
Over the years, filmmakers have realized the benefit of [title sequences] since the titles have to be there. [They realized] that they could use that screen time while introducing the titles and help the viewer to get into the film. So they will hire someone like me who is a specialist at creating something that helps the storyteller tell his story.
So, I go trying to find the elements of the story, whether it be the character, the personality, the setting, the era [or] anything unique about the story that I could find images from to emphasize that and therefore introduce that main element to the viewer and at the same time knock off the titles.
So for me, the titles are not the most important thing. It’s the story that might be behind the titles that I try to embellish and bring to the film and the storyteller and incidentally, the titles take place. Now, of course, there are times that only the titles on the screen, you know, screen’s black or red or brown or whatever, and so the personality is the only thing there. Then the job gets harder because you gotta find elements in the type you’ve chosen. And all the subtleties of that. Once you’ve chosen the type style, how they’re set, how they’re arranged, how they’re stacked up, how they come in and out, what color are they, what adjustments to the design [of] the letters — maybe some letters that joined together to create a logo. There’s a myriad of things that you can do in the simplest form, [like] just typing over a background, but all those separate elements in that simplest form are relatively insignificant separately, but collectively, they make [an] impression and impact on the viewer and on the storytelling as well.
CHM: It sounds like you’re contacted by a studio for a certain film, what was the first big project that kind of got you started on doing all of these projects?
Perri: The first big studio film I did was for United Artists called Electro Glide in Blue. Robert Blake plays a cop in the film, so it’s widescreen and images. Conrad Hall shot it and it’s set in the West and it’s about these kinds of Western cowboys who are cops. So I brought these Western elements to it and selected shots from the film and treated them in a graphic way so that it felt like they were from the 1880s.
And I did hand lettering for all the titles and did free frames and subtle dissolves and fades and so on, and it worked very nicely with the music. So that was the first big studio film. And then I learned later that — this was 1973 — Billy Friedkin heard about the film [and] that it had really good sound, so he went to see the film one day to evaluate the sound, and he later hired that sound editor for The Exorcist but he saw my work on the film and it’s hired me to do the titles for The Exorcist.
And once that film — which was one of the very first blockbusters — hit [theaters], I was known throughout the industry and everyone suddenly wanted me to work on their films. And I’ve been very fortunate [and] because of that and pretty much I’ve been working ever since.
CHM: Before I get into your exhibit, some of my favorites of your title sequences are your collaborations with Martin Scorsese — my favorite being the Raging Bull title design. it’s amazing. Do you have any tidbits about the work you’ve done with Scorsese?
Perri: Yes, my first film with him was Taxi Driver, and then I did seven more in a row and I was kind of his in-house, well, that’s the wrong words. I wasn’t working for him, but on every film he did, it was just a given that I would do it. So whenever it was time, he call me [and] I’d come in. I mean, I was presenting ideas and competing with others and because of the way he works, he’s so collaborative and willing to work with all of his creative people and support them and encourage them rather than tell them exactly what to do. And so as a result of that, he gets the best work out of those people.
And just the way he casts his actors, I see that he casts his costume designer and he casts his cameraman and he casts his title designer as well. So he chooses the right person and then he lets them do what they do. And as a result, he gets their best work. It then allows him collectively to do his best work. That’s why his films are so good.
I’ve done my best work with him cause of how he’s collaborated with me and supported me and always loved the ideas I’ve brought to him. So I can do them at my best, make all of the choices and the decisions along the way, and then bring the final product to him.
CHM: And a follow-up on that, just because I’m curious about how the process works, this can be in regards to any of the films you’ve done, but when you’re brought into a certain project, what have you seen at that point? Like, I don’t know if the film’s finished or if you have anything that you can base the font on and then how do you then come up with the ideas?
Perri: Well, I’m always brought in while the post-production process is taking place. Usually, they’re still cutting, so I need to see the film in whatever form it is in so I can have my own emotional reaction to it. And out of that ideas just come into my head. I still don’t know how that happens, it’s still a mystery, but fortunately, they still come.
And not just one idea; it’s always three or four or more ideas. So I have to sort through all of those as if another designer has brought me these ideas and I’ve gotta look at them all and decide which one I think is best. So I’m working with myself in that way, and these ideas come to me. I always work in the exact same way since the very beginning: an idea that pops into my head and I have to literally scramble and find a piece of paper, something to draw it on, on the paper with a pencil — it’s always a regular old pencil with me eraser on it so I can erase something and change it — but if I don’t jot it down right away, sometimes it goes away. It evaporates, it’s gone. I can’t even remember it.
So it’s that process has always been present in my work. Ever since I was a kid, when I started designing graphics and doing sign painting when I was in high school, I work with a pencil and a piece of paper and that has worked for me. So it has never changed. Of course, after I’ve made the drawing, I will scan it and take it into the computer and then I can manipulate it. [When] I would do that on paper and, one after the other would paint and brush and now I use the computer for that. But the idea still comes the same way and putting it down to visualize it is the same way I’ve always done.
CHM: That’s amazing. It’s like a musician when they think of a melody or something and they’ve gotta run home and jot it down.
Perri: Yeah, exactly. I was on a plane one time with Stevie Wonder — he was on the same flight [and] I wound up having dinner with him — but he and his assistant were together in two seats and every so often Stevie would motion to him and this guy would jump up and go to the overhead and bring down this little machine. It looked like a court reporter machine that Sony had made for him. And instead of typing letters and so on, it would type notes and anytime Steve would get a musical idea, he would write it on this machine that had been made for him.
So he worked exactly the way I worked and I think a lot of creative people do. You have ideas and you get them out in some way that you can translate and develop them. It’s a successful way of operating.
CHM: Not to keep you off of the topic at hand too much, but I do wanna transition to your exhibit. Is this the first time your work’s been in an exhibit before or have you done something similar to this before?
Perri: It’s the first time. I’ve never shown my work except for occasional screenings I might have for friends who wanna see the body of work together. And this is the third phase of a program that I’ve wanted to develop and apply, and that is the process of sharing my work, which has come out of my desire as a teacher to pass on and share what I’ve done and what I know.
So it’s my knowledge and my work that I feel obligated to pass that on to mostly students because that’s who would benefit [from] it, but there are lots of people who are fans of the work and fans of film and of title design and so on and I regularly talk to those people. But it’s mostly students and schools that I visit. I’ve had tours all over London, France, the U.S. Two weeks ago, [I] spoke to USC, their film department, and I’m talking to Cal Arts out here in L.A. next week. So I keep getting invited to these different places and I simply show my sample reel, which is like a minute-and-a-half collection of just the logos of different films and then there are tons of questions and they wanna hear the stories and like [what it’s like] to work with Scorsese George Lucas or whatever it might be. So, I greatly enjoy that. The sharing is where it’s come from, and that’s the first stage is to teach and share it with students, the second phase is I wrote a book about my career, which I self-published. It’s now on my website, danperri.com, and people from all over the world are buying it. I’ve sold about 500 of the 1,000 that I printed, but I get orders all the time from every part of the world and I shipped them a lot myself personally. So that’s the second stage to reach more people and share the work.
And the third stage is to exhibit the work. So I approached, uh, the Museum of the Moving Image and suggested they do an exhibition of my work and they loved the idea. So over the months, we developed it and cultivated and discussed the approach and so on. Barbara Miller and her guest curator, Lola, who runs Art of the Title, you know that site [and she] collaborated with Barbara, and they together curated the show.
I haven’t seen it yet — I’ll see it Sunday when I go there for the reception opening of it. But I’ve seen pictures of it, I imagine you have too, and it looks wonderful. I’m really thrilled with what you’re done with it.
CHM: Well, I’m going on Saturday and I’m so excited to see it. It seems like you had this yearning to start the exhibit, but how long did these conversations take and what exactly was being discussed? Was it hard to pick and choose what would go into the exhibits?
Perri: Uh, yes. Barbara initially had a good idea [when] noticing that a lot of films I’ve done happen to be set in New York or with New York directors. Like most of Marty [Scorsese]’s work is based in New York. Walter Hill, for example, did The Warriors which was set in New York so we were looking at the notion of the show being heavy on films that are set or take place in New York.
And so the films that Barbara selected were in that vein. But there are many that I felt were important to represent my work that wouldn’t have been in the show because they [weren’t] New York-based films, but still, they’re good examples of what I’ve done. So we kinda expanded that and there are now two video presentations.
One [features] sequences from the core films and then a group of others that are more general, that represent things I’ve done that were important to my growth as a designer and some of those films that are not as successful perhaps, but good pieces of work. So that’s how that happened.
CHM: My last question for you is, I know you kind of mentioned that the presentation of some of your work, what else can people like myself that are gonna go expect to see? Are there storyboards or anything like that?
Perri: Uh, no, I don’t really do storyboards much. There’s, there’s one on, on, I think the, uh, excuse me, the Species sequence, which I hand-animated, but it’s just the opening of the actual title. So there’s a storyboard on that, but I don’t. I don’t find [that] storyboards are effective to present ideas.
There are lots of artifacts from different films. I like to create things in reality whenever I can. Like [with] Caddyshack, the idea was the golf ball instead of the word “Titleist,” it has the word “Caddyshack” and it’s in the same type style as the word “Titleist.” So I had a ball made and they couldn’t make it the size of a golf ball cause it’d be too small to properly letter the letters so they made it the size of a softball. I then filmed it, and without anything around it, it looks like the size of a golf — so it served the purpose. But that [the golf ball], that is in the show. It’s in a glass case somewhere.
The license plate that I had made from Star 80 is in the show, which I had made and had chrome-plated and filmed it live and moved lights around so it looked like it was alive. There’s the logo from Freebie and The Bean, which was a big saddle with multiple colors of neon lights on it. So I painted that by hand like an animator would, and I filmed it with a live camera and then superimposed it over shots from film.
There are a number of original designs that I did on tissue paper and pasted down onto a piece of cardboard and put a flap on it and brought it to George Lucas on Star Wars. A few of the alternate ideas that are there in the case as well. There are the wooden letters that I used for Gangs of New York [which] were original letters that were used to print headlines in newspapers from the 1850s, which I found at an old type shop and assemble them, photographed them, and became the logo for the film. Those letters are there as well, and a few others that I can’t remember at this moment.
Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Design is on display at the Museum of the Moving Image now until January 1, 2023. For more information, click here.
EXCLUSIVE | Alma Poysti and Jussi Vatanen On How ‘Fallen Leaves’ Became Such a ‘Learning’ Experience
Fallen Leaves premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and went on to win the Jury Prize. On the other hand, Aki Kaurismäki’s direction, screenplay, and performances by Alma Pöysti & Jussi Vatanen received critical acclaim. Finland has decided to send the MUBI film for Best International Feature at the 96th Academy Awards.
Apart from being praised at several prestigious festivals, the Finnish movie has received a lot of love from the viewers in its theatrical run. Whether it is storytelling or acting performances, the Aki Kaurismaki directorial is getting the recognition it deserves. Alma Poysti and Jussi Vatanen are impeccable in their roles and continue to take the audiences by storm. Luckily, I, on the behalf of Coastal House Media, had the opportunity to speak with both stars at the movie’s press conference earlier this week. We discussed how their experience on stage aided in preparing for such complex roles.
Both the actors have been astonishing on the stage, but we all know that movies are a different ball game. I asked how they mentally processed the acting experience while starring in Fallen Leaves and although they shared different anecdotes from what they learnt while shooting the film, both actors admitted that they were “grateful” for this experience. While answering the question, Poysti said she loved how silence can also mean so much in movies and it’s something that she is still processing. She said, “I’m so inspired and so grateful for this experience, and the amount of humanity that runs through our roles. Work is so beautiful and it actually means something to people. This kind of purity inspires me to investigate how much can you take away and when less is actually more. Also, you have to be quite brave to let the camera in when you are taking off the masks and taking away the pretending.”
“Being as bare as one dares can create a fascinating and beautiful space. Trusting the silence reveals a silent dialogue within and between characters, where few words are needed but carefully chosen, with nothing extra. I’m still processing and enjoying contemplating this concept,” Poysti added.
Meanwhile, Vatanen echoed the same sentiment and credited the filmmaker to make things so easy for them. He said, “It definitely was a learning process and we got to witness old-fashioned filmmaking that is so minimalistic. I and Poysti, we both learned how can you achieve a lot by doing so much little and deliver a lot of emotions by just being present in that moment. Of course, Aki is there to help us and you just need to follow what he is trying to paint on the canvas. So, it took away all the pressure.
The actors also shared that the movie was filmed in a mere 20 days, jokingly noting that they’ve spent more time discussing the film than actually shooting it.
Fallen Leaves in currently playing in theatres across the US.
EXCLUSIVE | ‘Joram’ star Manoj Bajpayee Reveals He Never Takes Time To Get Out Of His Characters: ‘Never Had The Luxury…”
Actor Manoj Bajpayee is known for playing intense roles. From Bhiku Mhatre in ‘Satya’ to Professor Siras in ‘Aligarh,’ Bajpayee has always enthralled us with his impeccable acting performances. His upcoming movie, ‘JORAM,’ is no different and sees him playing an immigrant labourer.
In Joram, skillfully directed by Devashish Makhija, we follow the poignant journey of Dasru, an immigrant laborer. His life takes a harrowing turn when his beloved wife is tragically murdered, and he finds himself entangled in a relentless and unforgiving system determined to defeat him at all costs. Faced with unimaginable challenges, Dasru makes a desperate choice to protect his infant daughter, Joram, and embarks on a daring escape to his long-forgotten homeland nestled deep within remote forests.
The movie, which was screened at this year’s JIO MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, received a standing ovation from the audiences. Bajpayee, who was present at the screening of the film, opened up about how he prepared for the role of Dasru and how he manages to come out of them.
While responding to a question posed EXCLUSIVELY by COASTAL HOUSE MEDIA journalist Aayush Sharma, the renowned actor revealed that he drew upon his personal experiences of originating from a humble village to authentically portray the character of Dasru.
“I come from a village. My journey has been very, very long. I have met several people. Such has been my journey that I don’t need to go to jhopadpatti to play a jhopadpatti guy. There are so many experiences stored here (points to his brain). I had to simply refresh m memories from my childhood. That’s how my character Dasru cam alive to me. I felt like I had seen him before. I just had to construct him for this film,” Bajpayee said.
On the other hand, the ‘Gulmohar’ star admitted that he never had the luxury of taking a lot of time to get a character out of his mind. Bajpayee added, “As to how I come out of it, I jump to my next film (laughs). Nowadays directors like Devashish Makhija are very, very demanding. They just want to suck you in and want you to forget everything and take a plunge in their world. I try to be a sincere listener to my directors. It’s in my DNA that I don’t get nostalgic about my films. All of us actors are like that. We find our ways to approach our actors. When we don’t work, we try to relax and go back to reading, spending time with family, etc. However, I have heard several actors taking a lot of time to come out of their characters. That is a luxury I’ve never had.”
The film also stars Smita Tambe, Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub and Tannishtha Chatterjee in pivotal roles. ‘Joram’ is scheduled to hit theatres on December 8.
INTERVIEW | Petersen Vargas, Kaori Oinuma, and Gillian Vicencio Talk Filipino Dark Comedy ‘A Very Good Girl’ and Its Overwhelming Success: ‘A Big Achievement For Us’
With movies like ‘Parasite’ and ‘Shoplifters receiving worldwide praise, there is no doubt that Asian cinema is finally getting the recognition it deserves and it is in no mood to stop at all. Joining the bandwagon is Petersen Vergas’ new movie ‘A Very Good Girl,’ starring Dolly De Leon and Kathryn Bernardo in the lead roles. The movie tells the story of Philo (Bernardo) and what happens when she is fired from her job by a stylish retain mogul named Mother Molly (De Leon). However, things go out of control after the firing as Philo embarks on a journey to take revenge and is certain about how she wants to destroy Molly’s empire.
Apart from Bernardo and De Leon, the film also stars two young stars of Filipino cinema – Gillian Vicencio (Joenna) and Kaori Oinuma (Rigel) – who have surprised everyone with stunning performances. As per our review, ‘A Very Good Girl‘ is a roller-coaster ride, filled with brilliant performances, high fashion, and superb production design. Its captivating narrative and visually stunning presentation keep audiences engaged and entertained from beginning to end. The film has received a lot of praise from critics as well as viewers for its storytelling, acting performances, and visually stunning production design.
Coastal House Media caught up with the director Petersen Vargas and actors Gillian Vicencio and Kaori Oinuma to learn more about the creative process and what kind of preparations went into making ‘A Very Good Girl’ such a massive success.
You are working with two of the biggest stars in Asian Cinema, Kathryn Bernardo and Dolly De Leon. Were the roles specifically written for them and they were the first choices for playing Molly and Philo? Also, do you think that the world will be surprised by their Mukti-layered performances?
Vargas: Yes! So, the way we developed the material like we were already thinking of Kathryn and De Leon. So yeah, those roles were tailor-made for them. But what was surprising was what they added to the roles because their performances provided more depth to the characters. It’s surprising because as you’ve said, Kathryn hasn’t done a role like this. So, I think a lot of people were very pleasantly surprised and embraced her character. Viewers call it the new era of Kathryn Bernardo. Meanwhile, as far as Dolly De Leon, I already knew she was gonna kill it, but seeing it in person, directing her, and seeing what she’s done for the film, it still amazes me I could never get tired of watching her thing.
Kaori, you are the jack of all spades. You are a dancer, model, and actress and you can sing as well. The future of Asian Cinema or Filipino cinema is looking bright when people see you on the screen. But what was the first instance where you felt that acting is something I want to do professionally and make my career in?
Kaori: Oh, my gosh! I fell in love with acting while doing my first-ever project, I wasn’t good at that time and even now, I know that there’s a lot to improve. But I just realized that for me, I realized that when you act, you’re free to do whatever you want to, to feel the needs of your character, and as a person, I am not that free. I think I want to dive into acting just because I want to be free, as a person, I can’t wait for that time that I’m free.
Gillian, your character, Joenna, is one of the most important ones and takes the movie in a whole new direction. When the script came to you and you got to know that you were playing this character, what was your first thought and what kind of preparations went in to make sure you nailed the character?
Gillian: You know, when they offered me this role, I just really accepted it, right there and then. But when I read the script, I understood the struggle and the pain of the people who are being taken advantage of, and for me, it’s important for this kind of situation to be known and to be represented. So, no matter how sensitive the topic was or what was going on with the character? I think it was time to spark some discussion about it, especially here in the Philippines. So, I discussed the creatives and directors about the backstory of the hierarchy, and I just did my best to portray it. I just hope that I did justice to the topic because it’s very important, it’s very, crucial.
Outfits play a very important role in this movie because it shows two very distinctive personalities of every character. Was that always a part of the movie? Or you thought of giving the story a spin by including this aspect while shooting.
Vargas: I think it was very much part of the DNA of ‘A Very Good Girl,’ just because it was like a showdown for me and costume design was very key in getting a glimpse of these characters. Like, once you see what those characters were, you’ve kind of like get to know them already, just from that visual. So, it was very important because we wanted to take this campy route very, very seriously. (laughs) I wanted it to be very over the top, I wanted it to be extravagant. So it was fun and because I think Philo’s character is a superhero. Like she, she dresses down to like her normal self, and then suddenly just transforms into a superhero with her with her killer outfits. Yeah, I think I’ve always just envisioned this film ending with two beautiful women in long gowns, but like, you know, like, a drip in blood and jewels. That was always the vision. So yes, definitely, outfits were a big part of the storytelling.
So, the movie has been released and it got amazing reviews. How are you guys feeling after the amazing reviews/social media reactions and do you think such reactions would be able to tell the world that Filipino cinema is back with a bang?
Vargas: The response has been very overwhelming. We are very grateful that we are successful at the box office and people are flocking to the cinemas, giving this film a chance. It’s just a pleasure to see those seats filled out. We’re very grateful and I liked how people started talking about the important themes of the film. Of course, we wanted to engage the audiences in a very fun way in this dark comedy journey, but beneath that, it was very important for us that people talked about the important topics of being good and accountable and this whole story of womanhood. So yeah, I appreciate it a lot and I hope that the audiences outside of the Philippines could feel the same way and support the movie in the same manner.
Gillian: I agree with Peterson. We came out from a pandemic and the Philippine cinema was not doing good. But, we are finally having viewers in theatres right now because of ‘A Very Good Girl’ and I’m very happy that ‘A Very Good Girl’ is the first Filipino film to premiere in Hollywood. So that’s a very big achievement for us and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so happy and grateful. It’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming. I’m just happy with the way people are receiving the movie. Thank you so much for appreciating our work.
Kaori: I think they said it all. Seeing people go back to the cinemas is a very big achievement for me and all of us. The responses and the praises for the movie, I mean, Oh my gosh, it’s overwhelming. The best thing is that people are now open to the new genre and they’re committed to us as well. We love them. We love very good people.
‘A Very Good Girl‘ is currently playing in theatres across the US.
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