Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground
Erin Pearson chats to Matthew Chojnacki about a film posters book that breathes new life into the artform.
Matthew Chojnacki’s book Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground, is a collection of around 200 film one-sheets by a range of artists who demonstrate remarkable talent and originality of vision. Clever, funny, edgy, and at times dark (notably, Rowan Stocks-Moore’s Bambi offering), these re-imaginings form a stark contrast both stylistically and thematically to their commercial counterparts, and to vast majority of one-sheets more broadly.
Part of what makes this collection so distinctive and exciting, is the way that many of the one-sheets seem to be geared towards film lovers, by film lovers. They communicate a message, from one film fan to another. these messages are told through the expression of iconic, or even obscure images and themes, which is a testament to the cultural competence of both the artist and the beholder. For someone who has not seen the film, the owl on Kako & Carlos Bêla’s poster of Blade Runner means very little, nor does the blood-splattered Twinkie featured on Vincent Gabriele’s Zombieland entry. Furthermore, that most of the posters run on a limited number of prints, and are fleshed out in the book by the artists’ details and short interviews, all adds towards a sense of exclusivity and difference that re-frames these one-sheets as works of art in their own right.
Matthew elaborates on the significance of these alternative one-sheets below, explaining the origins of the project, and how studios can take note from the work contained within.
Q: How did this book come about?
A: I’m a big collector of music gig posters (especially The Bubble Process out of Cleveland, Ohio), and noticed a few years back that these concert poster artists were starting to dabble with film posters as well. I’ve always been aware of fan art, but in the last five years the alternative film poster “movement,” if you will, has been very organized and has grown tremendously. It’s at the point now where moviegoers are skipping the collection of theatrical one-sheets entirely and are instead opting for alternative movie posters.
I noticed that a coffee table book had yet to be released on the topic, and I thought that it was a great opportunity to shine a light on these brilliant artists and to help bring them to the forefront.
Q: These one-sheets create a sense of exclusivity and distinction that is often tied to works of art. How do you think that they go about doing this?
The quality, artistry, and uniqueness of these posters is absolutely un-paralleled in comparison to mainstream theatrical one-sheets. I recently bought Amityville Horror, for example, by Jay Shaw. He used glow-in-the-dark ink to reveal a series of flies in the poster, which is ingenious.
Typically alternative movie posters are printed as giclées or are screen printed, and are numbered and signed. Print runs are 50 prints or less, and cost anywhere from $20 USD – $75 USD. These pieces typically hit all the marks not only in terms of movie nostalgia, but also as true pop art pieces. Many of the minimalist pieces in the book (Coffee & Cigarettes by Victor Hertz of Sweden) could be hung in any type of environment – from a college dormitory to a modern home to a pop art gallery in Soho, NY. Some of these artists are able to merge commercialism, pop art, and statement not too far off from an Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein.
Grab these posters while they are still affordable!
Q: These one-sheets trade on information that you would know from having seen the film. Do you think part of what makes them so striking and effective, is that they more directly communicate with the audience in this way? Rather than an approach that targets the broadest possible viewing audience, or that has to cater to commercial sensibilities?
Certainly a lot of alternative movie posters cater to fans that have already seen the film. They are a wink to the insiders, more or less. They touch that “a-ha” moment in the film, or even an obscure element of the picture that really hits home with ardent moviegoers. If I were a studio head, I would be snapping up these images to use for blu-ray and collector packages.
However, you have a good point about reaching mass audiences. That said, most current theatrical posters simply communicate who is in the film (with a bit of airbrushing). Do any of Eddie Murphy or Tom Cruise’s posters really tell you much more than their billing status in the film? What is missing these days are those jaw-dropping posters that really compel you to see a picture based on the one-sheet alone. Quentin Tarantino still does this to a certain extent (you could tell Pulp Fiction was going to be a cool pic simply by the poster alone).
Ditto for the nice poster work around The Dark Night. Heath Ledger’s clown face imagery was dark and cool and curious.
However, these are now few and far between. Theatrical one-sheets rarely capture the emotion behind the picture. They’re very dumbed down and go through a lengthy approval process including the actors’ contracts (i.e., who receives first/second/third billing, how large their image needs to be), producers, directors, and the studio heads as well. The end result of this chain of events guarantees a very watered-down and generic poster, sadly.
Q: Do you have any favourite artists or one-sheets that are linked to commercial cinema? If so, why do they stand out?
I absolutely adored the comic book-style drawings of the ’70s and ’80s that adorned not only a flurry of theatrical one sheets, but also VHS video box art as well. During this period I was addicted to comic books, Mad magazines, Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids, and Hot Rod stickers. One sheets for the National Lampoon flicks and so many comedies of the ’80s (A Christmas Story, Better Off Dead, Police Academy) had this same exact style, and they pulled me into a lot of great flicks….and a lot of bad ones, too.
Two of my favorite artists from this period were Drew Struzan (Back to the Future, The Goonies) and William Stout (Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Rock ‘N’ Roll High School).
There are a handful of directors that see to take an interest in the quality of their one-sheets. Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, for example – great pics, great posters. But generally the indie film scene is leading the way, as these underground directors are desperate to get attention for their films and to get them financed. Posters for the indie flicks I Am Divine and Rewind This! recently caught my eye.
Q: Broadly, what do you think makes for an effective one-sheet?
A: Not unlike a trailer, it needs to pack a punch and be multi-dimensional. Aside for merely communicating the cast, it should also convey the exact feeling of the picture. It should be as dramatic, funny, horrific, or intriguing as the picture itself.
Q: How do you feel about the state of posters and movie art today? Can studio promotional materials take note from this book?
A: I think that studios are starting to see the light again, slowly but surely. In fact, a few of the artists in the book had great stories to share. Federico Mancosu did a mock teaser one-sheet for Django Unchained and posted it to Quentin Tarantino’s Facebook page. Cut to Tarantino’s people calling Mancosu – Tarantino loved the poster and purchased it to use as the basis for the film’s teaser one-sheet. Likewise,Nathan Thomas Milliner and Midnight Marauder have both been enlisted to create blu-ray artwork in the US and UK. And Rowan Stocks-Moore, who designs “dark” Disney-inspired prints, was contacted by Disney to work as a freelance artist.
Ultimately, film studios could use this book as a rolodex for reaching the most creative film poster artists in the world. Alternative Movie Posters features 100+ cutting edge designers from over 20 countries…..all of whom are only an e-mail away.
We’re giving away one copy of Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground to one lucky winner.
Simply answer this question by posting a comment below:
What’s your favourite movie poster and why?
Answers need to reach us by 12 mid-day on April 4th, 2014 and the winner will be chosen by author Matthew Chojnacki. You can also send answers via twitter @BigPicFilmMag
(This competition is now closed but if you still want to share your favourite posters with us, feel free!)