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Making 'Seven' Audience Snap to Attention : Movies: Unique, creepy credits 'walk that line between titillation and repulsion,' creating a kind of background and a bit of foreshadowing for the thriller's last act.

November 03, 1995|CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Director David Fincher's idea for the opening credits of "Seven" was a twisted but oh-so-clever one--a metaphor for the film itself. Fincher was hoping to grab audiences by the collar as soon as the first credit rolled and hold on tight for the duration of the film.

So, even before any elements of the creepy plot unraveled, his mission was to lure and terrify viewers during the opening credits by unveiling subtle, seemingly inexplicable but sinister aspects of the movie's crimes, offering a peek inside the mind of the killer committing them.

"It was a way of introducing the evil. The idea was that you're watching title sequences from the mind of somebody who's lost it, someone who's one can short of a six-pack," Fincher said.

"The one piece of direction that Fincher gave us was, 'All I want is for the audience to want to run screaming from the theater during the title section,' " said Peter Frankfurt of RGA/LA, which produced the opening credits.

So, as the titles shakily roll past, the visuals--some of them on the screen so briefly that they are almost subliminal--show a man slicing off bits of his fingertips with a razor blade, then a man's hand obsessively crossing out sexual terms in a book and filling pages with tight, whacked-out handwritten notes, then a hand holding a photograph and first blacking out the eyes, then eventually the entire face of a wide-eyed little boy.

"[The credits] really walk that line between titillation and repulsion," Frankfurt said.

The hit movie, which stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, focuses on a city plagued by a series of grotesque murders being done by a clue-dropping psycho-killer--who later identifies himself only as John Doe. Doe is bent on wreaking vengeance for what he sees as violations of the Bible's seven deadly sins.

Now in its seventh week of release, the film has grossed more than $73 million and is the fall's biggest hit.

"The credits centered around the whole notion of creating a kind of background, a little bit of foreshadowing for the killer since you don't meet the killer on-screen till the last act of the movie," Frankfurt said.

"They won't understand while they're watching it, but they'll get it later," Fincher said. "There's a lot of evil and sub-text that people are affected by."

"Seven's" opening credits were directed by credits specialist Kyle Cooper of RGA/LA, a film veteran who has also created the credits for "Dead Presidents," "Crimson Tide," "Assassins" and "Quiz Show," as well as many other movies.

"The idea Kyle came up with was showing John Doe's books--his writings, the pictures he coveted and ones that inspired him," Fincher said.

In one of the frames a hand meticulously cuts out the word God from a dollar bill, a visual devised by Cooper.

"I hesitated on that one but decided to do it because John Doe took it on himself to play God," Cooper said. "My job was to find the darkness, then execute it to its absolute zenith."

Directing the visuals behind the credits was a painstaking process, lasting eight days, two of them shot on stage with hand models (playing Doe) scribbling in a fetishistic manner and ritualistically cutting and pasting.

Cooper and Frankfurt remember those days, in particular, as unnerving ones, lending to the eeriness of the overall project.

"We had a rigorous casting process [for the hand models]. Some of the people who came around were slightly psychotic," Frankfurt said.

"The person we ultimately chose . . . did Tai Chi exercises to convince me to use him," Cooper said. "I couldn't tell if it was a demonstration or a threat," he added with a laugh.

The credits themselves are startlingly different: crudely lettered, as if written by a disturbed hand.

"I always liked the idea that the titles would be written by Doe, hand-lettered," Fincher said. "We wanted to have them look personal, not typeset. I liked that it wasn't slick."

Despite their hand-hewn quality, at about $50,000 all told, the opening credits for "Seven" were relatively inexpensive. The cost on some films can swell to as much as $500,000 for attention-getting credits, Fincher said.

In addition to the eerie, dissonant industrial rock that fills the background for the credits, Fincher said he put such disquieting and violent sounds as people shrieking and dogs barking insistently into the low-frequency channels on the soundtrack.

"We called it the feel-bad movie of '95," Fincher said. "Our whole intent was to remind people who came to see 'Legends of the Fall' that they were in the wrong movie theater."

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