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Watch “Limitless”‘ Amazing Opening Titles

Watch “Limitless”‘ Amazing Opening Titles (photo)

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Three days.

That’s how long it took after we put the finishing touches on our massive list of the greatest opening titles in movie history for me to want to revise it. That’s because three days after we published the list, I saw Neil Burger’s “Limitless.”

Here’s how I laid out our criteria for a great opening credits sequence in the introduction to that piece: “Bold graphic design and impressive cinematography are important, but how the design and cinematography is used is more important. These fifty films have style and substance. While they dazzle our eyes they’re also busy engaging our brains and our hearts, establishing mood, presenting characters, and introducing themes.”

All of that applies to the opening of “Limitless,” 80 seconds of dynamic imagery that also serves to establish many of the film’s recurring visual motifs and ideas. This visceral sequence sends us hurtling through the skies and streets of Manhattan as we get a taste of what Bradley Cooper’s Eddie Morra feels on the brain-boosting drug NZT: an exhilarating sense of freedom mixed with the terrifying realization that said freedom might be uncontrollable. The ride is amazing, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to make it stop.

I’m delighted to present the complete opening title sequence to the film, along with an interview I conducted just a few hours ago with director Neil Burger about the inspirations for, and execution of, this fantastic sequence.

Matt Singer: Where did the idea for the titles originate? Was it in the original script when you got it?

Neil Burger: It wasn’t in the script. It was something that I wanted to do. I had this idea of visualizing the way Eddie’s mind worked, how he looks at the microcosm and the whole at the same time. He’s seeing the atoms and the planets simultaneously, if you will. So I started looking at fractals, because that’s how fractals work. The part looks identical to the whole. Like snowflakes: if you look closely at one little twig of a snowflake it’s the same structure as the larger branch, and if you keep going deeper and deeper into it, it’s always the same.

And there are these things people have animated called “fractal zooms.” But they’re always done with amorphic shapes or abstractions. I wanted to bring it into the real world of New York City. I wanted to move down the street in an infinite zoom, where these shapes and buildings and structures kept seamlessly regenerating themselves.

I had the idea initially for Eddie’s time-skipping blackout sequence, as a way of showing how his mind’s moving through space and time. And then I thought that I would use it in the title sequence as well to create a kind of visual overture for the movie. Because the visual effects don’t pop in until ten or fifteen minutes into the movie, and I wanted to make sure viewers were aware that the movie was going to go in that stylistic direction.

These fractal zooms are also a clever play on the way most movies begin, which is with some kind of big establishing shot that zooms in on a setting or character we’re going to follow. You’ve taken that to this crazy extreme, which makes perfect sense for this movie, which is about a character whose brain goes to this crazy extreme.

Yeah that’s right. In a way it does. It starts with what could possibly be his point of view jumping off this building, and we go into this reflection in the windshield of the cab and we keep going deeper and deeper. So, yeah, it is a play on that kind of movement. It goes seamlessly from the street into the brain and then the segments of the brain turn into the boroughs of New York and then we come down into Chinatown where Eddie lives.

So those fractal zooms: did you shoot them yourself or did you hire a effects company to make them for you?

I drew out this very specific idea I had and then we took the idea to a number of different visual effects companies. Everybody was game, everybody liked the idea, but nobody could figure out how to do it. And then they always tried to reduce it! They’d say, “Well what if it was just this one part?” So we went into production without a visual effects company. And it wasn’t until after we finished shooting that I finally hooked up with this guy Dan Schrecker from Look FX, who I’d once talked to about an early incarnation of the job like two and a half years ago. We talked about it and then he and his team came up with a method to get what I was after. So it was designed by myself and Dan and then it was executed by Tim Carras from a company called Comen VFX.

How many drafts of the sequence went back and forth between you and the designers until you got exactly what you wanted?

Well the first thing they brought back was really just a test. It works by using multiple cameras chained together. You place them at different stations at very specific heights — I’m not going to say much more than that because it’s a secret.

[laughs] All right.

I think the very first test was a bunch of little pieces of different stuff. I watched it and told them “Well this part is what I’m after.” And then maybe the second or third go-around something very cool happened, where suddenly the sidewalk just seemed to go on forever. And I knew: that’s what we’re doing. But even then, we still had to test everything at different speeds and things like that. So it was a number of drafts, let’s put it that way.

The score fits the scene perfectly. Was it written to the visuals?

Yes. In fact: there was no money for this title sequence. So when I went out and shot the time-skipping stuff that occurs later in the film — zooming through the night and the subway and all that stuff — I made sure that I grabbed some stuff that we could use for the opening. But we were working like crazy; we only finished the movie about three and a half weeks ago or something. So then I was like, “I want this title sequence,” and it was already February. So we put it together very quickly and then sprung it on the composer, Paul Leonard Morgan. We were like, “Look we need an additional two minutes of music. Now.” [laughs] And he not only had to compose it, he also had to graft it to the existing music in the scene. And he did.

Watching the clip again, the other thing I became cognizant of is how important the placement of the actual text is on the screen is, so that it’s readable without being disorienting or distracting from the zooms. Was it a trial and error process to find that perfect placement?

Yes it was. I had a bunch of different ideas about that. I wanted the text to feel like it was kind of burned into the film a little bit, like almost branded into it. I wanted it really big, but I also wanted to be able to see the background. And I found the font we used in the original book [that “Limitless” is based on] in the chapter headings.

Are you a fan of title sequences in general?

I love cool title sequences when they feel organic. I think the trap with title sequences is if they feel like the beginning of a TV show, like its own little advertisement for the film.

One of the things I liked about what you did for these titles is that it felt fresh and different, but were there any classic sequences that you held up as inspirations?

Frankly, I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before. In “Fight Club,” obviously, the camera pulls out through the brain and then out through [Edward Norton’s] pores but this is different from that. I wanted this to not be abstract. The whole movie has this crazy pace where you’re cartwheeling forward in this feverish way, and I wanted an expression of that in the beginning of the movie.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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