During my time at Technicolor, I was fortunate enough to work with Randy Balsmeyer, the owner and creative director of Big Film Design. As a prominent figure in the New York film industry, he has delivered main titles and visual effects for several acclaimed features. His prolific list of credits also reflects his ongoing relationship with directors like Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers.
After spending the day at a series of talks in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Type Directors Club, Randy came by the ThoughtMatter studio to discuss his work and share a few of his stories about collaborating with some of these celebrated directors. Well-designed main titles act as a companion piece to a film or TV show. Visuals, music and typography set the tone, pacing and mood for a film, sometimes offering a glimpse into the characters or storyline.
Randy spoke about storyboarding a few elaborate concepts for the main title of Naked Lunch. What he and director David Cronenberg ultimately created was an abstract sequence that focuses on form and color which I think speaks to the era of the film’s story.
A very different example of Randy’s work would be the titles for Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq. Statistics comparing the murder rate in Chicago to those of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq set the scene for a film with a serious cause. Their use of gun shots paired with a voiceover by social activist Father Michael Louise Pfleger create a sense of urgency, danger and immediacy that places the viewer in the middle of an urban warzone.
Because Randy is also a director and visual effects producer, he can propose, concept and execute work as epic and emotional as his Emmy-nominated main title for Angels in America. In an overhead sequence, the viewer is transported through clouds looking down over bridges, highways and buildings. His experience across these various disciplines ensured a seamless sequence ending at the Bethesda Fountain where we are greeted by the winged angel statue that comes to life to confront us with her turning head and stare.
Audiences may view a main title sequence and not consciously realize they are being set up for an experience, but I never watch an episode of 30 Rock without thinking of Randy! With its energetic music and breakneck editing, the intro captures the frenetic pace of New York and the entertainment industry while perfectly matching the humor and snappy dialogue of the show.
“I like to think that our title sequences are not just freestanding pieces, but an integral part of the movies they are in. They prepare the audience for the story they are about to see; sometimes with mood or energy, sometimes with information or backstory. At their best, they become part of the total experience of the film.”