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Picture Mill Opens & Closes The Village

Picture Mill was the production company behind the opening and closing sequences for THE VILLAGE. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan contacted Picture Mill soon after principal photography was done, to begin developing concepts for the titles.

Creative director and project designer William Lebeda said, Night wanted to develop the titles along with the film as a whole. He asked me to read the script, and we spent some time talking about different creative directions, before he had even had assembled a rough cut of the film. Night and Chris Tellefsen, the editor, wanted to work with the titles as they would with other footage from the film. This collaboration was unlike any other I have had on a film. As Night and Chris were editing the film, new ideas for the opening would develop, and we would talk and try things, just to see how they would affect the film. For example, as they would explore music for the film, I would design new titles, based on the new score. Which would spark ideas in the editing room, and so on. It was a dynamic give and take.

The final version of the sequence features titles emerging through the branches of ghostly trees in a silvery mist, edited to James Newton Howards final score. The tree footage was selected for its unusual camera movement and unsettling perspective. The trees are silhouettes, but have an eerie dimensional quality to them. Everything about the sequence, from the typography, through the score, to the startling edits says, Stay away from the woods. The woods are bad, comments exec producer Kirk Cameron. And if the white title on black is scary, imagine whats in the rest of the film.

The closing sequence was entirely different from the opening, and serves as a coda for the film. Night and Chris wanted to make a gentle testament to the village, and the people who built it, to affirm their lives. They sent me a selection of stills from the film, of images that dont appear in the body, but carry the unique personality of life in the 1890s. We cropped the images and treated them like daguerreotypes, fading and distressing them into found objects, a 100 years old.

The film closes with series of the daguerreotypes fading in and out, as the crawl rolls up the right side of the screen, ranging from images of common chores, like hanging laundry to formal portraits of key cast members. Lebeda worked closely with Tellefsen to select and order the images. Chris and I went over and over the images, refining and editing and ordering. We selected images with formal composition and the qualities of glass plate photography or still life painting. There is a deliberate progression and rhythm to the sequence, and every change to the order affected the entire tone of the images. It was an interesting puzzle with a subtle narrative all its own.

It has been exciting to be a part of something like this from the beginning, reflects Lebeda. To be invited to participate in the filmmaking process at such a intimate level has been a significant experience for me personally and for Picture Mill as a whole. We cannot thank Night enough for asking us for our contribution.

Credit List for Picture MillExec director: Rick ProbstCreative director, design & animation: William LebedaExec producer: Kirk CameronProject producers: Hilary Klarberg

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Rick DeMott
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