Worship Media Arts

How to Avoid “Popcorn Time” in Worship


Does your worship begin with “popcorn time”?

What is “popcorn time” you ask? Good question.

Before 1955, there was a reoccurring problem at the beginning of feature films. Much like today, films began with credits introducing the cast and eventually the title of each film. The problem was that opening titles were basically devoid of creativity. In fact, audiences and projectionists resented them.

Film producers went so far as to imprint a note on film reels requesting that the projectionist “pull curtains before title”, as they’d often wait until the main title came up to open the curtains to reveal the screen.

As you can imagine, audiences would typically wait until the opening titles were over to pay attention to what was happening on the screen. It created an environment where moviegoers would spend the first several minutes of a film buying and munching away on popcorn, until a film’s title was revealed and the narrative began.

This all changed when “The Man With the Golden Arm” came out in 1955. It began in what was then an unconventional/paradigm-shifting way, where the titles were done not just with text, but with moving graphic elements. Graphic artist Saul Bass created for that film what is now know as “the title sequence”.  You can see it here:

Simple by today’s standards, this title sequence ushered in a whole new method of storytelling that has continued on into today’s summer blockbusters.

Saul believed that the opening titles could be used to set a mood that would invite viewers in to the underlying core of a film’s story.  He saw opening titles as a metaphorical extension of a film’s narrative.

Bass described title sequences like this: “I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.”

While we don’t run credits at the beginning of worship, many of our services begin in the exact same way from week to week, often stuck in a rut of repetition and lacking much in the way of creative expression.

In working with worship design teams for over 14 years, and I often encounter reluctance to putting highly creative elements up front for fear that they may be missed by a large number of attendees. The response is often “people come late and will probably miss it. We should probably put it later in the service”.


2 Comments so far »

  1. Richard K Williams said,

    Wrote on June 16, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    Great article, Jason! Thanks for the movie history, insights and suggestions. Forwarded the article to church leadership.

  2. Nikki said,

    Wrote on October 10, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

    Love it!
    Love the quote: “…so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.”
    Creighton is towing the line at his new job in campus ministry at Alabama. He is determined to start the service at 8 on.the.dot. His hope is that if he can train people to arrive on time, then we won’t get into the rut of excluding elements toward the beginning.

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