For his latest entry into his cannon of modern TV classics, Ryan Murphy wanted to try something new: In all the shows he’s created and/or produced, he’s never had an animated opening title sequence.
This might seem like a trifle, but for a producer as creatively diverse as Murphy, no decision is made without the clearest of intentions to elevate the story.
Murphy’s first installment of his anthology Feud recounts the legendary rift between Hollywood titans Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, specifically during the period in which they co-starred in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? To condense the essence of that era in an opening title, Murphy wanted to evoke the spirit of title designer impresario Saul Bass (The Man with the Golden Arm, North by Northwest, Anatomy of a Murder, Psycho). And for that, he called on his own impresario Kyle Cooper.
Cooper, who’s well-known for creating the innovative sequences for Se7en, Dawn of the Dead, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, just to name a scant few, has worked with Murphy numerous times before (American Horror Story, Scream Queens, The Normal Heart), but Feud presented the distinct challenge of creating a full story arc within the outline of Bass’s iconic designs while making it relevant in 2017, somehow.
“Working within the period constraints helped us navigate a little bit clearer,” says executive producer Alexis Martin Woodall. “We’ve explored main title sequences on a couple of shows that we ended up realizing that we didn’t need one on. We didn’t need one on [American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson]–a main title sequence for a show like O.J. suddenly makes it about the sequence and you want to say here’s what’s going on and get into it. With Feud, you want to say please sit back, remember a different time. Remember the way music felt. Remember the way the palette looked.”
From beginning, middle, to the end, Cooper breaks down his thought process behind blending elements of What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? with abstract concepts of Crawford and Davis’s cutthroat feud.
I like the idea that [What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?] begins when she gets her legs crushed in the car. [Murphy] wanted the car to be first so it starts with this impact and then all of a sudden, where are we? We’re in Hollywood–let’s start the abuse and toss her off the cliff at the Hollywood sign.
I like the studio executives manipulating them because the more you read about it, their fights were what were making people buy the tickets. They were being manipulated and I thought it was important to say that metaphorically.
Bette Davis had this little makeup heart on her face [in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?] and the gate of the house has a heart in the center of it, too. Ryan wanted to have a knife to go down through the heart for the main logo. I thought it was appropriate because the knife going through the center of it reminded me of the way that the gate opened.
Once [Joan Crawford] sees the rat, there’s this vortex that happens and the edit picks up with the fighting getting more intense. And so there’s metaphoric conflict and then there’s just conflict in our visual language of the things they were doing to each other in the movie itself.
The phone seemed to be like this larger than life thing, so I wanted to feature that. The staircase in the movie was also so strong, with the hard lighting and kind of film noir.
We wanted to accentuate what Bette Davis and Joan Crawford did to annoy each and harass each other. [Murphy] knew that he wanted to document some of the things they did to each other. So there are literal events that happened in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? and us tipping our hat to the metaphoric things.
The ending was one of the hardest shots to figure out. One of the things that was important to Ryan was that they both just wanted to be loved, admired, and validated by each other. His feeling was that all feuds have at their center of them a desire for the affection of the other person and anger because they’re not getting it.
[Murphy] seemed to think that they had so much in common in their life outside of this movie–that they maybe could have been friends if the situation was different. There was something kind of intrinsically sad about the fact that they never could get over this, even in their old age. We had it that [Davis] buried [Crawford] and then the camera tracks out and then the actresses pass each other like never really connecting. And there’s tears that come down their faces that are also hearts. There’s also two seagulls that go in their different directions, like they never really were friends.