The type isn't rising. We're sinking.
The seduction of Bassian lines generating in linear suffocation also gives structure to Jorge Calvo's opening title sequence for Rodrigo Cortés' Buried as the universality of death and Saul Bass wriggle anxiety from the vine. Bracketed pictorials offer more for us to trace while hastening toward interment.
Our interview with Creative Director/Designer Jorge Calvo of Royal Cow is spoiler laden and salty.
A discussion with Title Designer JORGE CALVO.
How did you become involved with the project?
JC: This is a true story...
Two guys meet at a party... one of them is a movie producer and the other is a book editor... there are drinks and small talk...
The editor says to the producer:
So you are making a movie huh? My brother-in-law has a company where they do titles and animations and shit like that...
And the producer thinks:
Yeah, right, I’m sure he's a fucking genius!" and blandly says "That's great."
And so the editor insists:
NO really... he has a web page and everything.
And then the producer thinks:
Big fucking accomplishment!" (line stolen from Analyze This.)
Well, the editor has a couple more drinks and, much to the dismay of the producer, INSISTS
You're gonna’ love ‘em, they are great... where is your computer... I'll show you!
At this point, the producer rolls his eyes and thinks:
All right let's get it over with!" and says "...excellent, what a great idea!"
That’s when the editor brings up the web page and the producer sees title and design work with some big names with even bigger accolades... Pedro Almodóvar, John Malkovich, Heineken, Volvo, Coca-Cola.... Oscars, BAFTAS, CESARS, GOYAS!
THAT’S when the producer’s jaw hits the floor:
HOLY SHIT, why didn't you say so! When can I meet your brother-in-law?" (his brother-in-law is my partner in Royal Cow)
So anyways... that's how I got to do the titles for Concursante, Rodrigo's film before Buried. He must have liked them, because he called again!
So how did you go about developing the titles?
I remember the day I got the first calls for the show... I was in a particularly bad mood, overworked, sleep-deprived... and the first call was from the producer:
Jorge Calvo? Rodrigo gave me your number, he wants to talk to you about doing the titles for his next film, Buried.
My over-cranked-on-caffeine brain heard:
That spoiled brat of a director wants you to do his precious titles even though I have someone at the lab that will do them for free, as part of the package.
Oh boy, I'm gonna walk right into a bear trap... just what I need! Let's give Rodrigo a call anyway and see what he says..."
So then Rodrigo says (spoiler alert):
Hey Jorge... how would like to do the titles for my next film? It's about a guy buried underground; he spends the whole movie there... we don't see anything else except what happens in the coffin in almost real-time. Oh, I forgot... the first two minutes are a black screen in complete silence! I'll send you the script... in fact, I'm cutting it myself...why don't you come over and have a look, I have the beginning more or less!
I thought (sarcastically):
Not exactly the cheering up I need... Jesus Christ, what a fucking party... I'm sure it's going to be a blockbuster... can't wait to do the titles for that! BUT... on the other hand...if they don't come out nice it won't be a problem because... who the fuck is going to go see that!
And so I say:
That's fantastic!... I'll see you there!
So I get there and I sit in front of the computer and he says:
Okay, I won't play the whole two minutes of silence, just the last few seconds to get you in the mood for the beginning...
(Spoiler) Black screen. Silence. Sounds of a guy waking up...
So then Rodrigo presses the space bar and the film stops and I jump:
Don't stop now... SHIT!... It's too little...WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!.... This is fucking incredible!... Give me more!... You said you had more than this!
But Rodrigo says:
You've watched almost fifteen minutes, I don't have much more yet...
I thought to myself:
WHAT?... fifteen minutes!... It felt like three minutes, this is gonna be big! This guy is a fucking genius!
And So I said to Rodrigo:
WHAT?... fifteen minutes!... It felt like three minutes, this is gonna be big! You are a fucking genius!
I was mesmerized... really excited. This was Hitchcock's remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark... But IN A COFFIN! I thought, this was an action-thriller movie and it had to have action movie titles.
I explained my thought to Rodrigo and he said:
Exactly... I knew you'd get it! I need the audience holding onto the their seats... for them to go through two minutes of a coffin-like experience wondering ‘what the fuck’s gonna happen next?
So he told me to go home and do whatever the fuck I wanted and to let him know when he could see something. He said, “I’ll have my people talk to your people.”
What were some of your references?
I can't think of Hitchcock without thinking of Bass (Saul, of course). In fact, I can't think of film titles without thinking of him... on the one hand, I like it a lot; but on the other hand, a lot of my early work on film titles was with Juan Gatti, a true genius who followed in Saul's footsteps and took it a lot further.
But then I thought, “How obvious is it to do ‘Saul-bassian’ titles for a ‘Hitchcockian’ film? I'm gonna do something different!” Of course, in the end, I did the Saul-bassian thing because it's what made sense. In the early concepts you'll see I tried more of a 3D kind of thingy... it looked nice, but not depressing enough. I wanted the dry 2D-ish thing look... so definite, so there... so in-your-face.
What were the initial design stages like? How many different concepts did you go through?
I kept thinking of going down, down... the guy keeps getting deeper and deeper into shit... but as all the images kept flowing through my mind, I started working on the music.
I usually do that anyway; music is such a basic and primal thing and it does so much for the image (or takes away from!). I usually work first on the audio part of my projects and then work with the image over the music. Everything flows much more naturally that way (sidenote: I was in a rock band for a while as a youngster.)
In Buried it was especially true: I wanted some action film titles... it had to be ominous, almost depressing; paranoid, but also high energy (to carry you through breathless, like the film would afterwards.) So I went through darkish-action-commercial-films-made-by-interesting-directors music and realizing put together a Frankenstein score with the pauses and rhythms I needed and started to work... throwing stuff at it and seeing what happened.
I like to work with stuff from the actual film, but without revealing anything. Only if you see the film and watch the titles a couple of times would you get it. It's like telling the story without you realizing it. I use a picture of a flashlight for the DOP title for example, because (the character) Ryan has one in the film (not the same model, it's not about being literal.)
So, I worked with pictures of the elements he had with him in the coffin or elements that had been used to put him there. Those pictures were the pieces of the puzzle that I had to get out of there alive, much like him (only I had a little more time.)
What was the length of this project?
I don't remember... it must have been between two and three months, though not exclusively.
Did you set goals or is it more organic for you? How critical are you with your ideas?
Definitely organic! I go through a very similar routine on every job.
Stage 1: "Oh my God! What can I do, I can't think of anything! Don't these people see that I have no talent? I've managed to pull it off so far, but this time I'm definitely going to be found out! I think they are hiring at that new Starbucks, maybe I'll stop by tomorrow and apply for a job..."
Stage 2: "I guess that could look kind of nice, hmmmm.... wow! Wouldn't it be interesting to do a 2D thing but with a 3-D thing, only without lights..."
Stage 3: "This looks great! I'm the shit!... If only I could work it so it's slower but at a faster speed!" (in that stage is when I wake up at 4 a.m. with a solution to a design problem that has been haunting me all day or days)
Stage 4: (usually after not seeing the job for a couple of days) "What kind of crap is this? Are you serious? I’d better start this shit from scratch and this time do it right." (I often do start over.)
When do you know when something is right?
They have to drag me away from my computer and send the stuff to the lab while I scream from the back: "Wait, you don't understand!.... I'm not finished! It just needs a little more work! I swear, just give me another day! I promise I won't start from scratch again!"
One time they kidnapped one of my daughters and sent me a video of her blindfolded... she read a note: "Daddy, if you don't let these people send the titles to the lab they won't let me see you again!" I'm kidding... they didn't actually do that... they just threatened to.
What are some of your favorite title sequences & designers…something that people on this side of the planet might not be familiar with.
You should check out Juan Gatti if you don't know his work; a lot of what I did with him is on my website under Cine y Television (the English translated side of the site is down unfortunately.)
Also check out La Mala Educacion, Entre las Piernas, La Comunidad, etc...
What do you have on the horizon?
A couple of commercials... a project for an educational government website... a "definite maybe" title sequence. Business is kind of slow here... especially the film industry.
What did you learn on Buried that you will take into future projects?
Don't take a job in Iraq for a while?
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