Damon Lindelof Explains The Leftovers’ ‘Self-Aware’ New Opening Titles

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A still from The Leftovers' new opening titles, designed by Angus Wall at Elastic.

The season two changes to HBO’s The Leftovers go beyond new characters and a new setting: The Damon Lindelof–Tom Perrotta series also boasts a completely overhauled main-title sequence and theme song. Gone is the haunting classical composition by Max Richter and the beautiful (but very sad) Renaissance-like depiction of the Sudden Departure. In its place is a much more contemporary open, in which snapshots of ordinary people doing everyday things roll by, albeit with a twist: Somebody’s missing from each picture. Vulture caught up with Lindelof by phone and asked him why he decided to set a new tone.

For the record, I actually loved the opening titles from season one.
[Laughs.] Oh, really?

But the new one is great, too. Tell me why you decided to change them.
I will say, I loved the opening titles last year. But even internally, among the writers and producers on the show, there was this feeling that I always got when I’d say, “These titles are awesome.” People would kind of look at [me] and go, “Oh, cool. Damon’s excited about it, so I’m not going to tell him the opening titles are not for me,” or, “I don’t like them.” I became more and more aware as the season went on, and the show was out there — you know me. I’m not going to say I don’t read reviews. Of course I do. I’m immersed in that culture. Just because I’m not on Twitter anymore doesn’t mean I don’t hit my sites. So I’m aware of what people are saying, and I became more and more aware that [while] I loved this thing, other people [did not]. And so anytime that something is not connecting, you wonder, Should I change it?

It is not unprecedented.
There’s a great tradition of shows changing title sequences from season to season. Some shows like Weeds used the same title song but had a different band cover it. The Wire did the same thing. So the idea of basically saying, “What if we changed the main title?”—  I was the one who actually raised it. I floated the idea out there to HBO, to my wife, and some of my writers. And when I said it, they were all like, “Yes, you should absolutely do that.”

Why do you think some folks were so eager to see a change? And what convinced you to listen to them?
I loved those titles from last year, but I can’t say they’re not super, mega-pretentious. And while I will certainly cop to a certain level of pretentiousness, I think those titles completely and totally tipped over. And most importantly, [they] were completely representative of what I did not want the show to be anymore. They weren’t self-aware. I think the new title sequence is self-aware. It knows what it is. And it’s tonally more in line with what I want the show to be, or what I know the show can be.

Which is …?
Which is, it can express seriousness and loss. But it can also express other ideas. It can have smiling faces, as opposed to anguished faces. It can have real faces, as opposed to painted faces. Yu and Company, who did the titles last year, this is not a discredit to them at all. They executed perfectly what the concept was. But Angus Wall at Elastic, who designed the new title sequence — from the first moment that I saw the idea, I was like, “Oh, this is what it should be.” This doesn’t mean The Leftovers is going to change its title sequence every season. But when I first saw the sequence, in a very nascent state, I knew this was what it should be.

How did you settle on the new theme song, 1992’s “Let the Mystery Be,” by Iris DeMent?
I got turned on to it by Patrick Markey, who was one of the producers on The Leftovers. When I was down here shooting the first couple of episodes, he said, “Hey, do you know who Iris DeMent is?” and I said, “No.” And he sent me a YouTube clip of her singing this song, and I thought, Oh my God, this is amazing. The lyrics to this song are basically everything I want people to feel about my writing. So when we were digging around to find music to put to the sequence, we tried maybe seven or eight different choices. But nothing held a candle to “Let the Mystery Be.”