I previously talked about my issues with modern trailers, in that I mentioned that Trailers are very important due to their position as first impressions for people. The other item that makes up peoples first impression are posters. They line Bus stops, buses, the insides of cinemas are can be found up and down your Facebook feed. They often give us our first chance to really look at someone as a character and can actually tell a lot about a film based on certain aspects. Below I’m going to go into what it is that makes up parts of a poster and as usual, my complaints with certain ones.
As a brief overview you can very often tell what a film is going to be about by the poster. So much so that often every single poster is exactly the same. Quite literally. Because at some point, we decided that originality had died and CTRL-C, CTRL-P is enough. Examples? If your poster is Orange and Blue with a person in the middle looking towards the audience with a gun? You best is a fast paced action movie! Blue with someone runing down a street on a 45 degree angle? Guess this is a crime thriller. A big eye that has something wrong with the iris/pupil? Better bring my blanket for this horror-fest. Are the majority of characters sitting in the middle of the poster in between someones legs? Time for a sexy raunchy comedy. White background with red letters and a man and woman back to back? It’s gonna suck!
I’m stereotyping but seriously, look it up. Theres a formula and it exists for a reason. Our brains take the orange and think of explosions and we know what it means for the film. The blue shows something cold and that it isn’t gonna be a happy time. Our brains see these colours and common elements and we know what to expect from the film. First impressions. It lets us know what genre and tone to expect and also who the main characters and cast are gonna be. You’d be a bit annoyed if the poster had Tom Cruise’s magnificent profile on and he got on a train at the start and just left. This is good because the your in the mood to watch an action film, you know what to look for. The same goes for any other genre, or if you want to watch a certain actor. But its still copy and paste, and it’s lazy. The best and most memorable posters are ones that completely ignore these rules and instead focus on a unique element of the film, and these are the films I stop at and take 5 minutes to think about.
So, you’ve designed your poster and decided that it looks amazing. Now, you need to fit in the names of your cast. The film stars are put up at the top. But which order? Well, this is actually something that is decided by actor contacts. Yes. An actors contract for a film will say ‘Name goes first on billing/posters’. And this sucks. Seriously. Someones artistic vision is taken apart because of your ego? No! This is most annoying when you have an ensemble cast and just want to try to figure out who the BLEEP is who. I am spending all my time deciding how much I hated about your film and blaming it on the crew that I don’t want to have to figure out who you are.
The strange thing is, this applies to the position of people on posters as well. If you look at the poster for ‘The Towering Inferno’, and this is interesting I swear, Steve McQueen’s name is first left to right, but Paul Newman’s is first top to bottom. And then the pictures are the same. If you look LEFT to RIGHT you see Steve McQueen first, but from TOP to BOTTOM its Paul Newman. This is due to both of them receiving the rights for ‘Top Billing’ and while this is a cool bit of trivia, it’s just stupid, if it wasn’t for this kind of debate, we might have had a better poster and I hope you feel bad, sirs! With all your money and fame! The same happens with ‘Superman the Movie’ Christopher Reeve, who plays the Man of Steel gets 3rd billing! Gene Hackman, who plays his nemesis Lex Luthor and Marlon Brando, who appears as Jor-El for roughly 10 minutes, actually gets top billing! This is ridiculous!
You know what else gets really annoying? How much of a poster is taken up with the most useless bits of text. Poster quotes and ratings are chief among these. I mean, they don’t really serve that much a purpose due to the fact that you are never going to put a poor ratings on your poster. I would love to see a poster with a 1 star rating on it and the quote ‘…MEH…’ just to spice it up a little. As for the quote itself, half of them are taken out of context just so they can use certain words ‘the curtains were BEAUTIFUL in that one bit’, ‘it was INCREDIBLE how many chocolate fingers he fit in his mouth, ‘The toy box at home is FILLED WITH ACTION men toys’. Or they make an entire sentence out of 5 different ones ‘the not at all COMPELLING use of TAKE-AWAY menus made for a downright stupid scene that was devoid of ACTION’ becomes ‘COMPELLING TAKE-AWAY ACTION’ and it’s almost as fictitious as your romantic subplot you liars!
The other bit of text that can often take away from an otherwise beautiful piece of art is ‘From the Makers Of…’, and this is due to the fact that half the time it’s completely irrelevant. OK now, I’ll admit that ‘From the Director of…’ and ‘From the writer of…’ can be great. It really can help to advertise and gives a great connection. But, it can also sever ties. What if this film is so bad that I now know that said director/writer was’t the creative control behind that original film and now their entire body of work going forward will fill me with nothing but disappointment and regret? Looking at you George Lucas. Next to that is the fact that half of these call backs reach so far that it’s well out of Six Degrees of Separation. ‘From the Studio…’ These guys work kinda close to these other guys and we hoped that rubbing them against each other an hour a day might help maybe? ‘Directed by the Writer of…’ Well, I can make a pretty good chicken ramen so I guess I can fix your car? ‘Produced by the Director of…’ He came to a meeting or two and said ‘Well Done’ so he basically made it, forget the other guy who actually poured his soul into it. ‘From the mind of…’ He slapped an idea on a white board during brainstorming and now we took 60 other people to develop it but sure.
My point is that I think half these call-backs inflate the ego and cult of personality of certain key hollywood players, without giving credit to people who might have actually done a lot of the work. I am known to go off on one about ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, I believe Tim Burton gets WAY too much credit, for years I didn’t know he wrote the film and took it as he came up with the concept and the rest was other people. How dare Tim Burton take all the credit and not it’s director Henry Selick. I have since found out that Burton wrote the script but I still think he gets too much credit and people really need to give some props to Selick. Less credit to people who’s names are known and more to the people who are TRYING to make their mark on this world.
Similarly to trailers, posters these days have an issue of quantity of quality. The main example of this is the ‘Character Poster’, which is where certain characters get an entire poster to themselves, as a way to highlight certain aspects of that character. It may feature a certain quote to do with said character, for example ‘Inception’ has character posters that detailed the roles played by the character in question; Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s poster said ‘The Point Man’ while Leo’s said ‘The Extractor’/ My issue here is that maybe not every character in film needs a poster. The main problem here decides in franchise films, the Church of M and Tolkien Universe being easiest to pull up. Starting with the Holy Red M, Guardians of the Galaxy was chief among this. It takes longer to look at some of these posters than the characters had screen time! I’m pretty sure eventually they are gonna start doing posters of Stan Lee but the tagline ‘Man’ at the top of every poster, rather than his eventually cameo role. As the The Hobbit, did you know we had posters for every Dwarf? That’s 13 dwarfs. Plus posters for Gandalf, Bilbo and characters that, as we will complain about for all eternity, weren’t in the book! Other than songs do half the dwarfs get lines? I can’t name all the dwarfs and I’ve tried! And half the names rhyme! It’s an epidemic, and it needs to stop. No cineplex is going to fill every poster slot with posters for a single film so please stop it. If I am such a fan of The Avengers that I need to know what a certain character with 7 minutes of screen time in a 2.5 hour long film is called I’ll google it. I can do that. It’s Ulysses Klaue.
I want to motion for an embargo on character posters. Every film gets 5. Pick your 5 most important characters, the 5 with the most screen time, and give them a poster if you must. Sure that means some characters might have to share but I’m sure they can deal. Put it in your contracts! But at least now I know who the key players are that I need to know the names of from the book/comic and who I should be focusing on and not wondering of Glenn Close is going to do something other than say ‘Prick’ and have really cool hair.
Alright, I’ve complained a lot here, and I want to balance the scales a bit by talking about some thing I like. Older movie posters are actually ridiculously pretty. I have a soft spot for the Drew Struzan posters for Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I spent to such of my early life watching these films and staring at the VHS boxes that maybe they just remind me of simpler times but my lord are these pretty, and they show a level of detail and effort that modern posters and their designers just don’t seem to have the time for. Or, and more likely, studio heads just don’t care enough unless it’s a big franchise movie.
The another kinds of posters I’m a huge fan of? Minimalist. This extends past movie posters and into almost anything. The simpler you are able to make something, the more I enjoy looking at it. There was a movie blog a while back, that I don’t think updates anymore, but it showcased fan made minimalist movie posters and I would love going through that and just looking at these awesome designs. Example? A black background with a single Blue line in the middle. That A New Hope. Same deal but with a Red Line? Empire Strikes Back. Do an orangish background with a rolled up whip and you have Raiders of the Lost Ark. Just showing a single element of a film can be a really great way to advertise a film.
And thats me done for this one. In conclusion? Put some effort into your posters or try to think of something different and unique that no one else CAN do and you’ll have my attention and some others. And don’t lose that in your hand-picked words and stars and who plays who and other stuff that does;t matter, Because posters can be art too.
**** – ‘I read it, it was about posters’ – Leigh A. Jones