Behind the Scenes with Digital Kitchen: Making the main title for Little Drummer Girl

A Q&A with Associate Creative Director Andrew Julien on the main title for AMC's The Little Drummer Girl.

In many ways the main title sets the mood for a TV series, teasing audiences with a glimpse of what's to come. What kind of tone did you want to establish with Little Drummer Girl? 

The Little Drummer Girl is both a spy thriller and love story. For us, it was important to establish that sense of intrigue, suspense, and romance all set within the larger context of the 1970s. Our slower pacing, reduced color scheme, and photography choices all reinforced this approach.

Little Drummer Girl is an adaptation of a John le Carré novel. Are you given much of the screenplay to work with before developing the main title?

This is an adaptation so we didn’t want to rely too heavily on the novel. Luckily, for the pitch, we were given access to some of the show material including the pilot episode and major story beats. This all inspired our initial thinking. After winning we were given access to many more materials including art department and set photography. The show even sent a shipment of the actual props from the show.

What was the creative process like? Did you go through drastically different versions before arriving at the final main title?

Throughout, we worked closely with the show producer and director Park Chan-wook to make sure we built the best sequence from a story and aesthetic perspective. We started off with just initial mood boards and evolved into sketching style frames. We plotted out the story for our sequence by pulling out core themes to make sure there was a clear evolution from love story to mystery spy thriller. As we progressed, we began slotting in the most representative visuals, inspired by on set photography. Of course, throughout we scrapped many design frames and replaced them until we got to what you see as the main title.

It’s been often said that we live in the golden age of TV: There’s so much to choose from, and some series have even become known for their distinctive main titles. Has this larger shift impacted the way you approach the making of a main title?

Yes. That is certainly true. There is so much great content out there and even the chance to skip title sequences when you watch shows. In this main title we wanted to create something that was constantly discoverable and pulled viewers in and made them want to watch and not skip. As you watch our main title, the deeper you are into the show narrative, the more some of the visuals make sense. You might not notice something in the titles until you’ve seen episode 4 or 5. When we approach main titles with our clients, we always strive to create something that evolves for the viewer the more they watch the sequence. Their experience and view of the main title by the end of the show is completely different from when they began. We think of our titles as mini poems: they develop more personal meaning the more you watch and dissect them.

If you could name your 3 favorite main titles, what would they be and why?

We’ve created so many main titles, some of which people might not be so familiar with. It’s so difficult to choose from all of our work, but over each main title we’ve sought to experiment with different styles and approaches. Each main title has presented so many challenges and ultimately what unites them is our continual mission to create a sense of belonging for the viewer that adds to and elevates the show. Of course, Six Feet Under really put us on the map as a title storytelling company. For True Blood, we used the Southern setting as inspiration to evoke show themes without directly incorporating footage or overt allusions to the show. For that title we traveled across the Southern US to capture some of the scenes you see in the final sequence and shot on a variety of film formats. Dexter is one all of us are really proud of. It created a simple allegory and window in to the protagonist’s headspace. It’s impossible for any of us to cook breakfast without thinking of Dexter! Perhaps that is just it: our favorite titles are anything that sticks in your head well beyond the series’ conclusion.