There are lots of good reasons to be excited about Mr. Robot, the USA Network’s summer thriller about a hacker who gets entwined with a gigantic malevolent corporation (among many other things): the twisty plot, the artfully constructed atmosphere and ominous vibe, the riveting performances (especially from star Rami Malek), the homages to Fight Club and other film classics.
But another part of the show that stands out is a bit more subtle: its title cards. Each week, creator Sam Esmail uses that shot—the moment near the beginning where the show’s name is displayed—as an opportunity for experimentation and a way to help establish the show’s overall tone. Every episode features a different shot underneath distinctive red lettering (which, we learn in episode 9, has historic significance for Malek’s character).
Co.Create reached out to Esmail to find out why he puts so much thought into such a brief moment and how he goes about creating the cards (have a look through all of the images in the slides above).
“I love how a film opens. It’s almost always the best part about a movie: The first images of whatever I’m about to watch fill me with awesome anticipation. It’s so incredibly important, but it’s also fucking exciting. It’s a blank canvas that you can do anything with because you have nothing before it to worry about, no context—you’re creating the context. All filmmakers obviously treat this very differently. Whether it’s slow or fast, with a bang or with a seduction, it is the purest way to set down the gauntlet and demand the viewer’s attention. It’s telling them, buckle up because we’re about to go on a fucking ride. If done well, it can be incredibly visceral and disarming. Most of my favorite films tend to have amazing opening and/or title sequences—Pulp Fiction, Blue Velvet, every Kubrick film, to name a few.”
“When it comes to TV, I’m not crazy about the way the format traditionally handles title sequences. Don’t get me wrong: Some of them are beyond impressive and do an amazing job of setting up the tone and world. But they are typically the same every episode. After a while, I find myself skipping them because they usually don’t give me any new information about the episode I’m about to watch. With Mr. Robot, I ultimately wanted absolute control every time we kick off a new episode.”
“Because we work in a visual medium, symbolism is very important to me. Choosing that perfect opening image—it has to glimpse the theme or heart of that particular episode while setting our story in motion in a captivating way. We spend a lot of time carefully thinking about it, and the process usually starts by distilling the essence of each episode. Once we do that, the image quite often pops out at us.”
“The typeface was the one ingredient about the opening titles that we kept as our flag of consistency. Fonts are something I obsess about constantly. People might find that silly, but for me, everything in a film should be deliberate and designed. This was also something that was going to serve as our signature for the overall series, not just an episode. I must have looked at hundreds of fonts before settling on our current one. I’ve always likened our genre to the paranoid thrillers of the ’70s and ’90s, and this title card checked that box for me perfectly.”
“To make an impactful statement about the episode we’re about to watch: That’s what I want the opening titles to do. The mood and tone are ultimately going to be decided by the episode—but that title sequence needs to fucking say it loud and clear up front.”
The season finale of Mr. Robot airs Sept. 2 at 9 p.m. EST on USA.