Interview: French filmmaker Rémy Gente, creator of THE STRAIN’s special opening titles

If you’re watching FX’s vampire drama The Strain this season, you can’t have missed the show’s special opening titles, which appeared during episode 9’s “The Battle for Red Hook”. The normal ones are just dimly-lit shots of dirty bathroom tiles smeared with the show’s title in blood, but episode 9’s were a sumptuous feast of graphic novel inspired animations. They’re beautiful and, in my opinion, do a far superior job of setting the tone of the show, which is becoming more comic-book as it goes along.

I spoke with their creator, French filmmaker Rémy Gente.

DAN OWEN. First, congratulations on your excellent work with The Strain’s opening titles sequence, Rémy. How were you approached to work on the show? Did the producers already know your work?

RÉMY GENTE: Thanks a lot. Yes, they did. Carlton Cuse and the other executive producers commissioned from me an opening titles sequence for season 2, episode 9.

Can you give us an idea of your background as a filmmaker, and some of the other projects you’ve been involved with?

I’m a 31-year-old self-taught French filmmaker and art director, living in Paris. I was born in the south-west of France. I came to Paris in 2005 where I started to work as a graphic and motion designer for various companies, and for different types of projects; such as commercials, music videos, feature films, fashion films, trailers, and opening titles. Then I started to direct music videos for electro rock bands, such as Dead Sexy, Carbon Airways, and Apoplexie. The “Pimpon” music video I directed for Apoplexie, for which I also did the art direction and post-production, was nominated at the Berlin Music Video Award for ‘Best SFX’ and ‘Best Art Direction’. (Editor: you can watch it below).

How long did The Strain’s opening sequence take to design and animate, and did you have complete artistic freedom?

From storyboarding to post-production, it took approximately thirty days. Yes, I had complete artistic freedom from the beginning to the end.

Your opening titles have a fantastic comic-book style, which really suits the mood of the show better than the previous one. Was this always the intention? Presumably it could have been less stylised?

Thanks a lot. I’m glad you say that. Well, I was actually very surprised by the positive response to my opening titles. A lot of fans wrote on social media that they wanted the opening titles I created to be permanent. I think the twelve-second title card was really great and very efficient. No need to change it. My intention was just to try to do something different, while being as respectful as possible to the original material. The idea was also to create a bridge between the comic-books and the TV series, so the audience will remember where the original material is coming from. Or making them want to discover the comics.

Yes, it could have been something less stylised, but if I had done something more realistic I think it would have been more confusing for the audience, who might have thought that the opening titles had changed during season 2. Making a comic-book style opening titles almost at the end of season 2 is a great treat for the fans, I think. I’d love to do another opening titles sequence for season 3.

What was the trickiest part of designing the opening titles? And is there a particular visual or moment you’re most proud of?

Nora Martinez was the trickiest character to represent. As each character appears on screen for only two to three seconds, I wanted to represent each character in the most iconic way possible. I didn’t want Nora to be a passive character. I wanted her to be strong and offensive, just like Dutch. I think it was important to represent one of the three main female characters of the show as an active and strong character holding a weapon and ready to fight.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed making Myriam’s heart in the jar and also the shot where the rats are running away.

What’s next for you? And do you think you’ll be asked to amend the opening sequence if some of the featured characters die, or leave the show?

Since The Strain‘s opening titles sequence aired last week in the U.S I’ve been contacted by several French and American producers to do the opening titles of their feature films and TV series. I don’t know if I’ll be asked to amend The Strain episode 9 opening sequence, but I’d love to do an opening titles sequence for the entire season 3. Not necessary in a comic-book style, but maybe something involving some live-action elements. I think it will depend if the fans ask for it from the producers or not. I already have several ideas to do something really stunning and different. The choice belongs to the fans, I think.

But for now, I really want to focus on what I love the most, which is directing and telling stories. I’m currently working on the post-production of my short film Blue Skin, which takes place in a near-future where a scientific device allows a special police unit to visualise the last 15-minutes of murder victims. When Jolene, a young woman, is found dead in her apartment, an Inspector in charge of the investigation is going to realise the killer’s not what he was expecting. It’s a pure horror film with a Lovecraftian science-fiction touch. Maybe there’s a chance for it to become more than a short film in the future, but I can’t talk much about it for now.

I’m also currently working on a short film that I wrote called Noir and that I will be shooting before the end of this year. It’s a short horror film involving creatures. I think it will be finished before Blue Skin.

I’m also developing a comedy-fantasy TV miniseries that I wrote. It takes place in the lucha libre and Mexican culture, which I love. It will involve Santeria, exorcism, comic-books, transgender culture, and a lot of deadpan humour. I’m also working with my French friend director Yann Danh (whose great film At All Cost has been recently bought by Anthony Zuiker) on a short science-fiction film called Fixed. That takes place in Paris and is in the spirit of John Carpenter’s They Live. I plan to shoot it next summer. And I’ve also been working since last June on the writing of an invasion feature film called Le Remplacant (Replacing), which is a behind closed doors film. It was inspired by a true story that happened to one of my neighbours when I was younger.

That all sounds great, Rémy! I wish you all the best for the future, and thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of your work very soon.

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