Why Good Movie Posters Matter

When you hear stories from designers about why they chose to get into this business, often they point to their childhood love for film art and design as the culprit. Growing up with a steady stream of images ripped from the walls of theatres or video stores informs everyone’s visual language, but only a few are compelled to continue the tradition of endearing an audience to a film. They want to share that feeling of adolescent excitement through their own work by covering streets and subways with poster art that catches your eye while saying something worth listening to. But for better or worse, those ideals become challenged by the realities embedded within the industry.

We often forget how quickly a film enters into our lives before seemingly vanishing in an instant. Our society moves at such blinding speeds that the lifespan of a one-sheet is equally finite, existing for the amount of time it takes to entice you into a seat before it’s gone. As a result, executives are racing to ensure the financial success of their investments, leaving little room or desire to subvert audience expectations. If an avenue has played well before, precedence has a way of extinguishing the appeal of coloring outside the lines. ‘Commercial’ becomes synonymous with ‘safe’, and few would argue that this is an unreasonable position to take.

So why does it matter when reality begins to stifle those earliest creative impulses felt by designers? Film posters are large sheets of paper destined for the landfill, born chiefly for the purpose of using images of its stars or the accolades it’s received to sell an audience on a story. They have and always will be short-lived instruments that serve to preserve the bottom line, remembered long-after only by fans or collectors of film paraphernalia. Many of the largest blockbusters of the last five years have embraced this, helping to further a mindset that embraces dispensability and leaving in its wake an ever-growing body of work devoid of humanity.

It has become difficult to shake the sense that with each passing season we’re being inundated by imagery we’ve seen time and again, with little desire to grab the ankles of anyone passing by. So it should come to no surprise that calls for more authenticity or artistry fall on deaf ears when the medium itself is designed to warrant so little. Why should we even be demanding more from something with such a simple purpose, much less expect greater ambitions from those directly involved in their creation?

Make no mistake: beautiful, smart, stunning posters do creep through. Many of them appear on the edges of cinema, where independent productions lie, or found through the establishments that have risen to offer an alternative to traditional advertising. But their numbers are small, and without striving for more on a grander scale, less accessible quality is being created for future generations to be inspired by. We’re left with an overabundance of retreads for safety’s sake – a collection of ideas more shallow than the last, reducing the visual landscape to a collective eyesore that ordinary people have to endure. There’s little to be excited about when the future seems rigged to usher in more banality than the one we’re currently in.

I remain hopeful. While the odds may not be in its favor, we may yet see the work that startles and excites breaking free from the fringes to dilute the dull and unimaginative weight we seem to be carrying today. Few dazzlers are found on the side bus stops or hanging at the local AMC, but as the years go by, perhaps there’s a chance that the pendulum could swing the other way. Less would be relegated to the rubbish bin; more would be sought after to hang on walls long after their primary purpose has expired. Audiences would be enraptured, and a new generation are given a wider breadth of inspirations to be affected by.

Maybe it’s not possible, and this amounts to little more than a form of lofty idealism. You’d be hard-pressed to find a utopia anywhere within the struggle between art and commerce. At the very least, there will always be a corner of the industry truly passionate for the type of work that so many entering the field desire to do, even if that space continues to shrink, or is found solely at the farthest reaches of mainstream cinema.

(This originally appeared on film.com last year. I’ve fixed it up a bit.)

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.
Marcus Aurelius
You globe full of ninnies, pull yourselves together! Don’t you realize we’re all the same underneath?
Graham Chapman

I’m not sure where this is from, although if I had to guess I’d say it came from that enormous Taschen book dedicated to the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The quote comes from Christiane Kubrick, and it’s quite good.

"Stanley thought we are always falling behind our scientific and technical achievements. We are very good at making more and more things - but to do what with? We haven’t kept up, psychologically and philosophically. We are not profound. We are still getting away with the most boring entertianments. We are shallow, and we know it. We suffer from it. The choices we make are not satisfying. Our sins are all of omission - of not doing the more interesting things that we could do. There is a lethargy, a lack of energy and concentration that prevents us from reaching the key point where we are as creative and perceptive as we really wish to be. We are in the terrible position of being smart enough to know that we are not smart enough. For instance, we still can’t imagine, "What is God?" So In 2001 we see fantastic tools of communication. People can speak over zillions of miles, but nobody has anything to say. So we pretend. We live in a little world of nonsense and send each other funny photos and cute stories, with this enormous technology. “Happy birthday,” and so on, when nobody seems to care or react. It’s very melancholy - although two things we really can do. War and pornography we’re good at.”

It is not the best book I ever encountered, perhaps, but it is for me the handiest, and I keep it about me in much the same way one carries a handkerchief - for relief in moments of defluxion or despair.
E.B. White on Walden
People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.
I hit 50 and realized I’m probably past the 50-yard-line, and I started to think that time is all we’re given in this life, the hours and what we do with them. It sounds simple, but it’s true, and it makes you realize that you have to pick the areas in your life that cause time to stop, that make you feel the fullness of the moment.
Richard Linklater

80’s Wisdom


From Space Camp, of all things.

"My philosophy is: sleep late, drive fast, and not take any of this shit seriously."

"Why do you want to please anybody but yourself?"

"What’s the worst thing that can happen? We’ll all die, right?"

Somebody may beat me, but they’re going to have to bleed to do it.