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Title designer Danny Cannon

'You only get one shot at a first impression': The words that Cannon, who now directs TV episodes as well, lives and works by.

July 19, 2009|Cristy Lytal

In the era of TiVo, Danny Cannon knows that most people will fast-forward through a run-of-the-mill opening credit sequence. So to introduce the new Jerry Bruckheimer-produced cop series "Dark Blue," he crafted blink-or-you'll-miss-them main titles that last only 12 seconds.

The son of a North London prop man, Cannon grew up on movie sets and had aspirations to become an actor. He joined an improv theater company and performed in plays before realizing his talents lay elsewhere.

"I was a nervous actor," he recalls, "so luckily video cameras became more available to us when I was in my late teens."

After directing several award-winning short films and falling under the mentorship of director Alan Parker, Cannon attended the National Film and Television School in England.

Since then, he has directed pilots for and episodes of "CSI: Miami," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Eleventh Hour" and "Dark Blue" -- and created the series' main title sequences.

"Presentation is a large part of the job, and I'm intensely proud when it comes to putting my best foot forward," he says. "You only get one shot at a first impression."

The 12-second rule: Cannon kept the main titles for "Dark Blue" short and sweet.

"The whole minute-long opening-credit sequences seem a bit old-fashioned these days," he says. "All we need to do is tell you what you're watching. Our 12-second title graphic goes in between two pieces of drama -- [the opening teaser and the rest of the episode] -- so we wanted to keep the drama flowing. It's about getting back to the drama as quickly as we can."

Grab and go: On "Dark Blue," a different opening teaser precedes the main titles for each episode of the show, which stars Dylan McDermott and airs on TNT.

"The first part before the main titles is usually two or three minutes, and it sets up the world that we're in and where we are undercover this week," says Cannon. "It starts you right in the middle of the drama. For the pilot, for example, it's a sequence where a guy is tortured almost to death, and at the end of that sequence we do the main titles. So it's a really striking way to start, and it's been working for us very well."

Mood music: Since the opening teaser changes with each episode, the music for the main titles has to be extremely versatile.

"In the opening teaser right before the main titles, we usually build to some dramatic crescendo -- somebody's in trouble, somebody's in danger, somebody's in jeopardy, or a clock starts to tick," says Cannon. "So the main title music needed to have a certain sense of urgency.

"At the same time, I didn't want it to be an over-complicated melody that distracts you, because you never know episode to episode which emotion you need to feel at the end of that teaser. You don't know if it's scared or sad, or sometimes we may want to end in a humorous way. I needed to pick something that could be an exclamation mark to all those emotions. So Graeme Revell and David Russo composed original music.

"After we watched the pilot, we picked up some instruments and jammed and talked about things and tried many versions of the music that would go there."

Font of distress: In creating the lettering for the main titles, Cannon didn't just stick to Times New Roman or Courier.

"I made white titles on black because it's classic movie format, and it doesn't distract you from the drama that bookends it," he says. "I also distressed the letters quite a lot, because it's a gritty show. It's a show that takes place in dark corners in Los Angeles -- the alleyways and the rooms we don't normally go to in an underground, subterranean world."

Drawing the line: The working title of "Dark Blue" was "The Line," and this inspired the look of the main titles.

"I wanted to reveal the title gradually in a striking, graphic way," says Cannon. "The vertical lines look like prison bars, and they look like damaged tall buildings. And then I put the horizontal lines in gradually [to create the letters that spell 'Dark Blue'].

"I actually got this from Ridley Scott's original teaser trailer for 'Alien.' Nothing's original, is it?"

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