INTERVIEW

Pablo Ferro title sequence director

“I created the “quick cut technique” by editing because animation taught me every frame means something; you draw the movement, how fast or slow you make things.”

Doctor Strangelove, 1963
The Thomas Crown affair, 1968
Bullitt, 1968

Pablo Ferro answered to our questions with his son, Allen Ferro.

What does the term “title sequence” mean to you?

Pablo Ferro: It’s the sequence that opens the film and gives you some information about the characters. And you have to make it fit to the movie. It can’t be something just clever and nice to look at. When the movie is done you think: “What did I just do?” To me, it’s part of the movie. And being a filmmaker, I’m able to do that. Designers usually have never worked with film.
I created the “quick cut technique” by editing because animation taught me every frame means something; you draw the movement, how fast or slow you make things. In editing I used the same technique, shorten long things: you can put more information in a short time but that takes longer to do because you have images, they have to match; you just can’t use any image.
I made a lot of montages. But the one that worked out the best was To die for. You got to know the character before you met her, through the graphic stuff. And Gus Van Sant was great to work with, as he just left you alone and you (Pablo) came up with it. And I like outtakes; I used a lot of outtakes in the cemetery scene. So I used the beginning of the cemetery to bring the protagonist out, and he liked that and he put the cemetery back in the movie. The way he did it worked out great.
You were asking me how come the titles that I do fit movies.

Allen Ferro: It’s an interesting dynamic working with artists, who are now motion picture directors and historically, they trust Pablo implicitly; the true definition of an artist in terms of what they do, is that they’re left alone to create art and the public appreciates them for the work that they do.  In film or media production, it’s collaborative and so we prefer working with creative individuals who are familiar with Pablo’s work and are willing to collaborate with him.

P.F.: For example, Stanley Kubrick, I first worked with him on Dr. Strangelove, which is terrific. I first made a trailer. When I created that opening sequence, it happened at the last minute. He and I were having a conversation, he was asking me what I thought of human beings. I said: “Well, all the humans invent things, that are always very sexual”. That is how we decided to show a B-52 refueling in mid air. He was so excited about the idea; we had less than a month to shoot the film, which wasn’t enough time. So I suggested looking at the Air Force’s stock footage. The airplanes were shot in every angle you could think of. And there was one special shot they had where two planes were connected: it was a sort of far-away shot where the planes were bouncing up and down. So I said to Stanley: “Do you think we can do that, use these shots?” And he said “No way”, but we used them anyway. After finishing editing he came in with the song “Try A Little Tenderness” and it fitted perfectly. With the way the plane was in the film. It was amazing with the music.
Of course working with Stanley Kubrick was a great experience. He was very charming and very respectful of everyone, very magic. And just like me, he didn’t mind making changes, even though we worked before: he would find another way to do it better and shorter too. So we made a lot of changes. We worked day and night. Now people don’t do that and that’s probably the reason people complained about Stanley Kubrick. They say: “He keeps me up at night”.
After Dr. Strangelove, Stanley asked me to consult with him on future films. About being creatively trusted, when he asked me to do Clockwork orange, the trailer, I asked him if there were any scenes he wanted to see in it. He said: “Why do you ask me? You’re doing it”. I said: “Ok, I’ll get it done, see you later”.


How did you start in the film industry?

P.F.: What happened is that I did things for Stan Lee when I got to high school. They were doing an opening in an Ink and Paint department where everyone saw my animations. Stan asked me: “Do you got anything else?” I had a comic called “Alley Ugh”, I pulled it out and said: “I got this”. Stan llooked at it and said: “Oh, did you do the inking?” I said: “I wrote it and penciled it and I inked it”. He said: “You’re hired”. That’s how I got into the film industry. The ending of the comic was too shocking. I brought it over to Stan Lee, and he almost fell over the chair because he’d go: “Jeez, I have a problem, I can’t publish this”. I said: “Ok”. I was still in high school when I was doing that. Fortunately I also got a job as an usher, at a movie house that screened foreign films. So that’s what influenced me the most. I saw all of the masters. This was in the 50’s, very late 50’s, I learnt a lot from looking at those movies over and over again.

A.F.: Like Buñuel, and all of the classic moviemakers. You know animation from Eadweard Muybridge, right? So that’s the influence there, and his skills as an animator enabled him to work in advertising.

P.F.: Let me tell you another thing about the movie theater where I was an usher. The manager found out that I could draw. He wanted me to design a lobby to bring more people into the theatre. He said I’d sit in his office, so I don’t have to watch the movies over and over again. And I told him I liked to watch them over and over again! But I had to do one campaign for him so I did it, from which I learned how to blow up the art for the theater. We were playing Bitter rice at the time, and on the film poster, Silvana Mangano had those short pants on and her legs were right out. So I took her two legs with the pants and I put it over the box office. So when you bought a ticket, you had to go through her legs! And we got more customers in.

A.F.: You know Pablo is a visual artist so it stands the reason.


How would you describe the relationship between music and your work on titles?

P.F.: They’re always together. One doesn’t live without the other. Not like the music video I cut for Michael Jackson’s Beat it. When I cut a title sequence together, I cut it silently, I only find the music later. I did a title for Jonathan Demme’s movie Citizens Band, for which I took the inside of the CB radios, all the electronic connectors and all that stuff; I pulled them apart to stage them for a stop-motion shoot. I photographed them, using special lenses, and animated them on a stand. It was a very different feeling. If I tell people I did it on the animation stand, they say: “No, this is live, it’s moving like it’s live.” I took a Jack Nitzsche tune and put it together with this and it dropped in perfect. People also think the music was scored to the movie but in the movie, there is no music in the main titles.


I’m particularly fond of your work on The Thomas Crown Affair. Could you describe how you made this title?

P.F.: They hired me first to do a logo for them, like I did for The Russians are coming the Russians are coming. And then I became friends with Hal Ashby since that movie, and of course, he had seen all the stuff that I got. I first did multiple-screens for a television commercial in the 60’s. Then I did multiple-screens for the Singer Pavilion at the World’s Fair. So when Norman wanted to make the film shorter, he said we should do multiples, and that’s when Hal said: “Pablo knows how to do that”. So I had to work out the polo scene design. Later on, they wanted me to do all the multiples. At that point, I hadn’t done any titles for the movie; that came later. I did all the montages that are in the movie too. When I first showed it to Norman and Hal, they said it was beautiful and so Norman asked me: “Pablo, do you think you could make the montages longer?” So I said: “I can make it any length, you tell me how long you want that sequence and I’ll do it that way.”

A.F.: 60 multiple screen composites all done on film. I haven’t seen a design as good as Pablo’s since then.

P.F.: Then of course after that I became a hero in the studio! Everybody was saying: “Wow, that’s great!” Then Norman Jewison wanted me to do the titles; he wanted to do multiples. I said: “Well I can’t give away what we have in the movie, I have to do it with stills. So I could do it with the production stills. I said: “Give me all the production stills, all the publicity stills, any kind of stills you have of the movie”. For the main title, I took all the stills, they were all black and white, no color ones in there. And that’s where I put different stills in different places. Of course I can’t help but make things move all the time, so we did this in animation. It was something completely different from what was in motion pictures or television during that time.


Did you meet Michel Legrand?

P.F.: Oh he was great! I would see him once in a while in the studios. But when we screened the multiples, after he was finished looking at it, he rushed over to me and said: “Pablo it’s just wonderful, terrific, I can’t believe it, it’s so great”. He was so excited, that I solved the problem by saying: “Well, your music inspires me.”

A.F.: It’s an absolutely beautiful song, so it was perfect. I was dismayed when they actually remade the movie, because like a lot of remakes, they would never capture the full essence and mood of the original. And they didn’t.

P.F.: The Thomas Crown Affair design was really a magazine layout in a movie and that’s why the multiples work. In the movie there was a fashion sense with Faye Dunaway and Steve, the way he was dressed, and she was dressed. It was definitely classy like one of those fashion magazines. It’s amazing how he got himself involved into that. Because I’m sure that wasn’t meant to be at the beginning. Haskle (Wexler) did a beautiful shot, and he always shoots things that he sees all around. If you remember the old man walking outside the bank during the beginning of the robbery: well he took that shot and I looked at it and I said: “Oh, that’s great, I gotta use that”. Haskle surprised us all the time. He would always come up with things. I said: “I wanna see everything he shot”.

A.F.: But Steve fell in love with your work.
P.F.: Steve was great. He fell in love with all the work I did. He was doing Bullitt in San Francisco and he asked me to work on it. I said I couldn’t stay too long because I was going to work on my next project in New York to recut a movie, advising and second unit directing. I said: “I’m really committed to that”. We spent a month trying to come up with it again. And he was great just like Stanley. He set me up in a beautiful house overlooking the bay. And then “Pow!!” all of a sudden the idea came out. I took a black and white photograph and I cut out the word “Bullitt”, so you could see through. I had him come over, we were outside and I brought the sign all the way up to his eyes, and he got it! He said: “Great! Let’s do it!”

Outside it’s black and white, inside it‘s color. Then outside it’s color and inside it’s black and white. So we kept doing that. And the camera was always moving from right to left, it never stopped. That’s why the titles look great; the camera is sliding around and moving. But the background made it that way. Of course I helped a little bit moving everything to the screen, but they did the rest. And I was going to shoot that sequence but then there wasn’t enough time, I had to go to New York. But I did the first shot in Bullitt though. It’s the Chicago newspaper. I went into a hotel, with a camera and a tripod and I pointed, cause it was supposed to be a nice shot of the tribune’s building. And then from there we pan over to the river and maybe move four times and that’s it. Then we left. Good thing that night, because the next day was the riot. I escaped that!

 

What can you tell us about the title you did for the remake of Psycho by Gus Van Sant? It’s exactly the same as the one Saul Bass made.

P.F.: For some reason, Gus wanted to do it shot for shot so he would do every shot and he did. He would do that that angle, he would shoot that that angle. He would shoot that close-up and he wanted the title to be the same, not change it. But it was amazing. We couldn’t change the music and I had to build the titles within that exact space, but I had more titles than they had on the Hitchcock version. We did a lot of the things zipping in and out in different ways, and we did not notice it was a repeat. And I had a conversation with Elaine Bass; they made all Saul Bass’ titles together. I also talked to Harold Adler, a master calligrapher, he would send letters to his wife in the form of an animal or a flower. He originally did the lettering for Hitchcock. So I asked him to do it for me as well! Harold Adler did most of the lettering for Saul Bass. He did a lot for me too, in movies like Philadelphia. He’s such a good letterer.

A.F.: He’s a very underrated, not so well known calligrapher and artist who worked with Pacific Title. And Pablo worked with him exclusively to a great degree.
Returning to the title of Psycho, it was a homage. Saul Bass and Pablo were good friends. It probably would have been that Saul would have wanted Pablo to do it, if anybody. So Elaine really blessed that Gus made it happen, so that’s how it happened. Pablo collaborated with Saul on Channel 4.

P.F.: Yeah, they also gave me credit. Saul Bass and myself got credited for the opening.


Do you think you may have influenced an entire generation of graphic artists and directors?

A.F.: Yeah, yeah. I’ll answer that question quickly and then I’ll let you answer it. The answer simply is: absolutely, if you look at the commercials today and the movies today. For instance, Where the wild things are, we kept getting phone calls from friends and colleagues saying: “What a wonderful job that Pablo did on that”. And we would say: “What are you talking about? It’s not us”. But we’ll still take the credit because that’s his style. If you look at the Jaguar commercials, if you look at the insurance commercials, and a lot of TV programs that have his style of lettering and cutting and multiple-screen, you’ll see the influence.

P.F.: Let me give you the origin of the lettering that is like my signature. I created it for Dr. Strangelove. After we did the airplanes in mid air and the music, I started putting titles over on the left, and over on the right and Stanley said: “I hate it, I don’t know where to look: at the plane, at the letters?” We have to see both of them at the same time, otherwise it won’t work. That was a hell of a problem. So I drew tall letters and I showed a sample to Stanley and said: “Stanley, that means we have to fill the screen with lettering so you are forced to see both things at the same time”. So we did a test on the whole main title sequence and it worked. It even worked out better because I was rushing around so much, I didn’t have time to do it perfectly. I did it on tracing paper. I had to do a rough and I copied it on a tracing paper, and when I inked it, it looked crumbled with rough edges.

A.F.: It picked up the paper’s fiber pattern.

P.F.: And I wanted to have somebody else do the lettering of my layout. Stanley said: “No, no, I like the way you do it”.  He liked the way I made it look like a mistake.
Which comes to an actual mistake that I made. I misspelled the word “Based on the book”. I let out the “d” so it says “Base”. Nobody noticed it then Stanley calls me and says: “Why did you do this?” I said: “Stanley I thought you would catch it, I mean I can’t spell so I never would have caught it. I told everybody that was very satirical, you know “base”, instead of “based” in the movie. Stanley thought about the irony and he started laughing.

A.F.: Yeah army base, air force base.

P.F.: He said: “Yeah, that’s ok”, and we laughed ant that was it.


What do you think of the new wave launched by Kyle Cooper with “Seven”?

P.F.: Kyle Cooper? Yeah, he does some interesting work, I like his titles.

A.F.: Seven, that’s another one that they started calling up Pablo. Kyle was influenced by Pablo. They talked a number of times and especially during symposiums that they attended together. Kyle told Pablo that he had always admired his work. So naturally when he did Seven it looked very much like Pablo’s style. And then we would get the phone calls again: “Good work on Seven” and Pablo would respond: “What are you talking about?” We’ve had that conversation a bunch of times, with different people. “Good work on this job” and we would say: “What are you talking about?” The influence is very apparent.

P.F.: I have to go ahead and correct all these misinterpretations.

 

Can you tell us your top title sequences? Like the title sequences you think is the classiest.

A.F.: That’s a very hard question to answer. It’s like: what did you eat today and what’s your favorite food?

P.F.: Well I could tell you about the filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick, Hal Ashby, Jonathan Demme, Sonnenfeld.

A.F.: Yeah, there’s William Friedkin too. Pablo has worked with a lot of artists: Gus Van Sant, Tim Burton, Norman Jewison, Sam Raimi. And then producers.

P.F.: Oh Sam was great, he was terrific. And that’s how I get good work, because of them, people I’m working for. People who are not that caliber, I don’t work well with them, I have a lot of problems. Because when I do something they don’t understand the concept, I’d do the same thing and show that to Stanley, he would go: “Oh yeah”. Some other people just don’t recognize it. That’s when it becomes hard. I say: “I’m not having fun, I’m leaving”. You have to have fun when you work.

Men in Black (1997)

Stop Making Sense (1984)

Good Will Hunting (1997)