For my remixed television intro, I chose to turn the serial sit-com Arrested Development into the genre so popular these days: a drama with supernatural elements. I’m a huge fan of the show, and from watching it so much, I noticed that for a comedy, there are an awful lot of strange, non-sequitor sequences floating around. It followed that instead of a comedy, it could be a freaky, dramatic detective show. I went with major elements from TV shows like The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and CSI: Miami. I took the investigatory components from CSI: Miami and mixed them with the supernatural components from Buffy and The X-Files. Though it may seem on the nose, I couldn’t help but use the original X-Files theme song; as creepy evocative themes go, nothing beats the synthesizer-with-piano combination that The X-Files theme has. And of course, scary music made the odd, already borderline creepy imagery in Arrested Development even scarier.
The biggest stylistic component I messed with in this project was shot cutting and placement. I watched the trailers for my source television probably a dozen times each, and one element kept repeating: for an occasionally action-packed drama, the key is quick shots. I shortened the length of many shots, which was kind of difficult; as sit-coms go, Arrested Development has very long takes, as nearly all of the show is shot with a shoulder-mounted camera. Another important aspect of shot placement was the variety; in the intros I analyzed, there were many short shots of vastly different subject matter. In The X-Files intro, each shot only lasts a couple of seconds, and either highlights some kind of paranormal activity or shows a main character. The character shots are broken into two or three different shots, interspersed with the aforementioned paranormal imagery. I borrowed that element for my trailer by never putting two character shots next to one another. Those character shots are bookended by transitions to and from creepy imagery, and as Dick says about in his Anatomy of Film, “What a dissolve [a type of transition] means-if, in fact, it means anything- is determined by the context.”1 I tried to use the transitions to transmit some creepiness by osmosis; infecting the otherwise normal character shots adjacent to the weird stuff with creepiness.
I consciously used semiotics in my video to convey most of my intent without the use of explanatory text, which is rarely found in television intro sequences. I relied on symbolic signifiers. For example, I lowered the brightness in many of the otherwise cheerfully lit scenes because as Danesi says in Messages, signs, and meanings: A basic textbook in semiotics and communication, darkness can stand for “impurity” and “corruption,” two things a supernatural thriller is chock full of.2 Another example of symbolism I used is the shot with the gunfight; in our culture, guns are strong symbols of danger and death. I also used iconic signifiers, such as the man with the hook for the hand in one of my shots. Hooks are icons of villainy in our culture, two prime examples being Captain Hook and the maniac from the well-known campfire story involving a hook-handed killer.
It was also important for me to show the relationship between Michael and George Michael, who I renamed GM because it sounded more grown up. I use an establishing shot in the first few frames to show father and son close together (with serious-looking suits to boot!) and another father-son shot later on with GM studying some document and Michael looking important and busy.
Obviously, I need the audience’s knowledge of thriller/detective shows in order to make this intro meaningful. As long as the audience has seen elements like these before, I should be able to convey the genre shift. As Sobchack puts it, “once the initial film is made. it has entered the pool of common knowledge known by filmmaker and film audience alike.”3 Elements like quick shot cuts, fade-out transitions, teletype-like text, and an instrumental song all contribute to the serious, supernatural atmosphere of a thriller/semi-procedural show like Buffy or The X-Files.
One trouble built into this project was avoiding the comedic shots in Arrested Development. So many jokes are woven into the scenery that it’s difficult to isolate creepy or scary moments. Another issue I had was splicing the music at the end of the video; many songs are abridged for TV intros, but The X-Files theme song I used has very little dead time, so it was hard to seamlessly force an ending onto a three-minute song. Also, most TV intros are not over one minute, so it was hard at first to find enough footage, but that became easier as I re-watched more of the show.
I’d recommend to future students to start much earlier than I chose to, as it would allow for more time spent tweaking the video to make it absolutely perfect. Also, I’d recommend doing what I did, which was choosing a TV show I’d seen a million times. This made thinking of appropriate footage to use much easier than if I’d chosen a movie that sounded like a cool concept but had only seen once or twice.
And finally, here is Arrested Development’s usual tone.
1. Dick, B. F. (2005). Anatomy of film. Boston, Mass: Bedford St. Martins.
2. Danesi, M., & Danesi, M. (2004). Messages, signs, and meanings: A basic textbook in semiotics and communication. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.
3. Sobchack, T., & Sobchack, V. C. (1980). An introduction to film. Boston: Little, Brown.