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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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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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