Earlier today I ran a piece where I excoriated the artists behind the unimaginative, boring, supremely PhotoShop-looking movie posters that clog our local multiplex. At the time I was looking at all the blowback my ‘Fuck Superhero Comics’ editorial got and thought to myself, ‘Nobody’s going to be coming after me for making fun of movie poster artists.’

Not so fast, buddy. It turns out that someone read my piece and decided to set right some wrong ideas I had. I like to think I know a thing or two about the movie industry – I’m no expert but I’m not quite a neophyte either – but I found this email really interesting, filled with fascinating behind the scenes details about all the work and creativity that goes into… really boring, crummy posters. It’s actually sort of tragic.

Hello Devin,

I’ve been reading your site for years now and I always have enjoyed your columns and reviews; your Star Trek:TOS reviews have been fantastic. You have an acerbic wit that i find enjoyable and entertaining. However, I need to take you to task for the article in which you wrote about the latest “Most Fastest and the Furiousestest” or whatever it’s called poster that’s floating out there right now.

I’m not going to disagree with you, the poster on display is indeed an awful one, devoid of any thought or interesting ideas. It’s just a poster pimping a product and in that case the studio execs were probably satisfied with the outcome. They not only gave the ok on the final, but probably suggested that it end up this way. Can you do me a favor though the next time you go on a poster rant? Please don’t blame the artist involved or the design shop that had to churn out this garbage. That not only does a disservice to the process you yourself are involved in, but it also shows that movie sites out such as yours have no idea what goes into the process of movie marketing. Now, I’m not saying it’s your fault or that I’m going to chide you for it. However, when the artist is always getting the blame or being called a photoshop hack it hurts, because these guys work their asses off churning out what you all deem hack jobs. They keep working at it even though they often have to produce weak product like this because maybe one day they’ll be able to create that one poster that people remember. I know because I worked in “entertainment marketing” for a few years.

Let’s put it another way, how many times have you read a script or a treatment that you found so absolutely enthralling but were only disappointed with the final outcome? What proceeds to happen at most of the movie sites out there right now? It’s usually a breakdown of the behind scenes gossip and maneuverings that thwarted whatever genius was found in the original script until it was distilled, nuetered, hacked apart, chewed up and then regurgitated onto the screen. The villians in this sad little tale tend to be the evil marketing and studio execs that produced the film itself. The advertising process for creating posters often times mimics the hack job done to most films.

The reason your article got me to start jabbing away is because there is tremendous effort put into the poster process, so much in fact you would question why a studio would spend so much time and money in said process only to end up with a trifecta of floating heads? Well, the artists are thinking the exact same thing. So when you say, “hey poster guy, fuck you”, that’s like telling Andrew Kevin Walker to “suck on a shotgun” because of the way 8MM turned out. The anger is misdirected my friend.

The process is a bumpy road at best. 99% of the design work is produced in Photoshop. To call it a “Photoshop job” (that many sites tend to do) as a way of insulting the poster or the artist, as if it makes it less artistic, is moot. There are practically no Drew Struzens or John Alvins out there creating posters anymore en masse. I remember when i saw Darabonts “The Mist” I laughed out loud at the screen when I saw Thomas Jane painting a poster in his living room. No one works like that anymore, unless IT IS Struzen and he’s been commisioned to do the piece. Hell, even that’s a very special assignment that probably went through a lot of red tape and back and forth to get him to do a piece for the film. Most movie studios equate painted or illustrated with “dated and old” and with a few exceptions movie posters haven’t been painted or illustrated in about 30 years. It’s been photographic and digital since then. The design process is handled through independent satellite studios and design shops. It’s extremely rare and almost unheard of that a movie studio has poster work done in house. On films with larger budgets, the studios often have two or three design shops competing on a job. They all do one or two rounds of designs that the studio looks at and then a hilarious dance ensues between the studio and design agencies. There is constant back and forth redesigning and churning out new ideas, usually resulting in anywhere between 10 – 20 rounds of design submissions. More often than not the original designs and ideas “churned out” are wild in their creativity. You’d be amazed at some of the talent out there. These guys know their craft. What they can do with a wacom tablet, some awful low res JPGs the studio usually provides and absolutely no direction whatsoever from the studio apart from “don’t make it look like a period piece or we need it edgy and gritty” would blow your minds away. The web is full of countless of portfolio sites where artists showcase their rejected work. Most of these pieces make the posters that are out there pale imitations or watered down versions of what these guys and gals are capable of doing. I know an artist who could probably create a book with just the rejected designs he created for Jackson’s “King Kong” that made the posters approved for the campaign look lame in comparison. The same goes for the artwork done for DVD’s. It doesn’t matter if the film had an amazing poster to begin with, the movie studios want to see other explorations and sometimes end up where they started but add insult to injury by adding some floating heads. In all fairness, if you want to blame someone blame the same studio exec telling Aronofsky to cut his film down so it’s more commercial.

Almost all artists are not “churning this shit out so he can spend the rest of his work day doing sudoku or surfing the web or something”. If it were that easy then hell, I’d be right there with you making fun of the artist involved. Working at many of these studios tends to be very hectic and the schedules are busy with changes and revisions being implemented down to the minute the poster is sent to press. There is tremendous turnover and burnout in this industry and no artist union to represent these guys for more decent work conditions. Many artists work 10 – 14 hour days on designs that you can all deem “Photoshop hack jobs”. Sorry, even these so called “hack jobs” require hours or sometimes days of work to get them to look the way they look. No monkey with a mac and photoshop could do the work that these artists do. Even the turds tend to be glossy and pretty.

What about all “the viral sites and the exciting tie-ins that the other marketing people are working on”? Well who do you think is doing this work? The very same places that get the flack with these posters. It’s not the artist involved but the suits in charge of the marketing. If you have a studio with an exec willing to take chances and trust in the designers at hand then you see magnificent work. You usually see this with smaller studios and art house distributors. When you don’t you see more drivel like Vin’s floating mug. The design studio can fight all they want and argue for what work they think is best but in the end they’re still offering services to the studios paying to keep these places open and the artists employed. If the design shop doesn’t deliver on what the movie studio wants, then they’ll take the job to a design shop that will and they always do.

Hopefully I didn’t come off too confrontational, it was not my intent. I just got tired of hearing about how bad these artists are when in essence they’re just trying to make a living out of something they love, designing posters for movies. They’re all film geeks just like you and me.

Thanks for your time,
Felipe Cerdán