Features and Columns · Movies

Why More Movie Directors Should Weaponize the Title Card

Why aren’t more directors using opening title cards as a storytelling device?
Drive My Car Title Card
By  · Published on June 1st, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a two-part video essay that looks at what makes a title card such a great storytelling tool.

If you’ve made your way to this column before, you may have heard my soapbox rant about the modern-day preference many blockbusters appear to have for documentary realism. What? Is audience immersion really so fragile that anything other than muddy color correcting will cause your audience to disengage? Why are you so afraid of reminding your audience that they’re watching a movie?

I’m always overjoyed to add another extravagant feather to my cap in this tirade against defacto aesthetic realism. And the following double bill of video essays allows me to do just that. Bold, assertive title cards absolutely rule! A title card dropping 41-minutes into a film (as with Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car) doesn’t make me jolt awake out of my cinema-induced stupor. In fact, late title cards are much more likely to make me lean forward and go “oooo” than anything else.

Directors? Why are you saving your title card for the end of the film like some studio-mandated note that you had to tack on? (Fun fact, as the essays note, without a title card, it’s not necessarily possible for films to claim copyright. So often title cards are studio-mandated).

Done correctly, title cards can be an assertive show of intentional craftsmanship; a way of succinctly telling your audience what to expect, what a film’s tone is going to be, and where the film sits in the genre tapestry. Not only that, title cards are just another asset in a filmmaker’s toolkit. They’re another muscle that helps them tell the story. And some film’s muscles are atrophied, goddamnit!

Give us the daring, franchise-defining cold opens of the Mission: Impossible and James Bond franchises. Hit us with mid-film title card drops that signify that everything is about to change. Give us music-backed spectacles that reinforce tone and emphasize originality.

Want more soapboxing (from someone else) with visual aids to hammer the point home? Here are two video essays that do exactly that:

Watch “The Greatest Weapon Directors Aren’t Using” and “Movies Aren’t Using This (and it’s a mistake):

Who made this?

This video essay on why late title cards are great is by Adam Tinius, who runs the YouTube channel Entertain the Elk. They are based in Pasadena, California. You can follow them on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).