A 5th Ghost Story April 14 2020
GHOST STORIES marked our third collaboration with Flying Unicorn Entertainment. We’d previously worked with FUE to design the title credits for Kaalakaandi (KK - written & directed by Akshat Verma) and Lust Stories (LS - Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar & Zoya Akhtar).
But Ghost Stories (GS) would prove to be one of the most challenging projects we’d ever undertaken.
For GS, we wanted to go beyond the minimal designs we’d created for KK and LS and craft something richer than our previous works... but what we didn't see coming was that the story itself would prove to be the most elusive component in the making of this title sequence.
As with our previous two collaborations, we had an open brief this time this time as well - which is such a rare opportunity in a commissioned project. And, unlike in LS, where we went from concept to final delivery in 13 days, we had about 5-6 weeks to create the titles for GS – there was enough room for us to be ambitious in the scale of our storytelling.
We knew early on that the Netflix logo could transform into the Ghost Stories logo
Our initial approach was to take inspiration from and incorporate elements from the four films, but at the same time, we wanted to create something new and unique with these inspirations…
With that goal in mind, our first concept was a fairytale-esque tale - it had a childless couple, a doting grandmother (who was actually an evil witch), a nurse (who has in cahoots with the grandmother), black magic that transformed the couple’s dead babies into cannibalistic beasts… and crows, the harbingers of doom.
We plotted out the storyline extensively and decided to push ourselves one step further. On all our previous projects, our extended team of animators/ visual designers would draw the storyboards based on our script. This time around, we drew the (stick-figure) storyboards ourselves.
However, on the night before we sent in our first concept to Ashi, we realized that it leaned heavily on one of the four films… and possibly even gave some of its secrets. No storyteller wants their story's surprises given away or even hinted at beforehand, and to our horror, that’s exactly what we’d ended up doing!
We were fully aware of what Ashi would say when she saw our concept pitch, so it didn’t come as a surprise when she shot it down without a second thought. By this point, more than the failed pitch, our concern was about time – we’d already spent a week to craft this concept, and now we had to start from scratch.
Our studio wall blackboard always comes in handy when we map out story beats
Since our first concept leaned so heavily on the elements from the four films, when we sat down to work on the second concept, our immediate instinct was to go in the opposite direction.
To that end, we decided to craft a completely original story that would have no connection with the other films. I guess we were also fantasising about the possibility of the titles becoming a fifth ghost story in the anthology, albeit an animated one. The idea of creating a wholly original ghost story was tremendously exciting and we plunged into the task eagerly… and three days later we had three new story ideas for the titles.
Needless to say, these were shot down as well.
The concepts we pitched had nothing to do with the four main films - we’d gone so far from the directors' films that the audience would be confused by the title sequence… and so we went back to the drawing board, a third time.
It had been 10 days since the project was green-lit… and each passing day without a locked concept meant one less day to design and animate the final film.
Opening storyboards for the Ghost Stories title sequence
We were driving down from Kottayam to Kochi when Ashi gave us the thumbs down for the three original ideas we’d pitched. Long drives have always been a special space for us – we’ve discussed many concepts, brainstormed and cracked story ideas inside the cocoon of our car… and this drive proved to be fortuitous for us!
As we were mulling over a completely new approach to the title sequence - it had to convey the 'ghost story' theme without revealing any secrets from the four films, and yet, reflect the films in some way too - Tina said: "What if all the characters in the films were dead, and they were all going on this long march of the dead…"
Tina’s visual of a procession of ghosts was sparked by GRR Martin’s remark about ‘his’ ideal ending of Game of Thrones - “No one will be alive by the last book. In fact, they all die in the fifth. The sixth book will just be a 1,000 page description of snow blowing across the graves…"
We didn’t have a clue about what the larger story would be… but something about this visual appealed to us and we immediately shared it with Ashi. To our surprise (and relief), she gave us the go ahead…
We went back to the films and looked at all the characters - the living and the dead, the various locations and elements - and over the next couple of days, we hammered away at this one-line-concept. The fleeting image of a procession of dead people put on flesh and blood, and evolved into a man on the run, traversing horrific landscapes in a frantic bid to escape the spectral beings that h(a)unt him…
The skeletal structure of the storyline that became the final title sequence
Cracking the story for Ghost Stories’ title sequence took us much longer than we anticipated and we’ll readily admit this: it was disappointing to see the first four concepts rejected one after the other.
It’s never easy to watch your ideas turn to dust. But the one thing we know is that it's always healthy to keep some distance from your story and be welcoming and accepting of feedback (however harsh it may be).
As editors and curators of the comics we publish, we know how valuable and critical good feedback is to the crafting of a story, and our collaboration with Ashi reinforced that belief - she made the right calls each time we pitched a concept, and more importantly, she did not lose faith in us through the entire process.
Ultimately, creating these 5 concepts for Ghost Stories was a very rewarding journey. Slowly, but steadily, we arrived a concept that everyone was excited about, on the personal front, we overcame our inhibitions and insecurities to draw our version of the storyboards.
And to top it all, the three stories we crafted in a span of three days was a huge confidence boost… and even though none of them made it to the final film, we're really excited about one of them and aim to make it into a comic this year!
Storyboards for the final act in the Ghost Stories title sequence