movie poster artistsMovie Posters that never made it to print
PART FOUR by Billy Ingram

Movie poster art team(Left: artists Jose Perez and Brad Hochberg at Seiniger Advertising in 1993.)

In 1992, a bum was discovered sleeping next to the dumpster behind a famous movie poster design firm. 'Dumpster Dan' had improvised a bed out of rejected movie poster comps that he fished out of the trash.

Major studios had paid tens of thousands of dollars to have these works of art created and this guy was passing out drunk every night on them. 'Dumpster Dan' was removed from the premises by security one morning while he was pleasuring himself over one of the comps.

Show business really is the most glamorous business of them all!

 

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Year of the Comet

Most movie posters start out life as a pencil sketch, these are by ground-breaking comic book artist Neal Adams circa 1990.

Many of the best illustrators in the business found themselves cranking out rough sketch concepts like these, one after the other, day after day. It was probably the hardest job of all, quickly illustrating another person's (often lame) ideas, making it look exciting and trying to capture a reasonable likeness of the stars on top of it all.

neal adams movie poster artThe money can be quite good. Sketch artists get paid by the drawing, so the really fast guys are able to make thousands of dollars in a day. This becomes hard to walk away from, to return to an illustration market that has shrunk tremendously since the advent of Photoshop. Photos can be so easily manipulated today that illustrators aren't needed for movie posters anymore, unless a particular style is called for.

Steven Speilberg, for example, always requests the work of Drew Struzan on his projects because he likes his style. Struzan is recognized as the best in the business, the gold standard. His illustrations will often become the final poster and appear on promotional items (like CD & book covers) because of Speilberg's loyalty - and the distinctive nature of his work.

movie poster art by neal adams

Bugsy movie posters

 

 

Bugsy

In the 1930's, tough guy Bugsy Siegel came to Hollywood to terrorize the film community for fun and profit. But that was nothing compared to the torture Warren Beatty put everyone through sixty years later for his big-budget 'Bugsy' movie.

Hundreds of comps were created for 'Bugsy' over the course of three months, millions of dollars were spent, marriages were shattered and several people nearly died pulling all-nighters to come up with just the poster for Warren Beatty's gangster movie.

bugsy poster artOn these comps, we see Annette Bening, shot by Bruce Weber, prancing around the desert in a gold-lame dress. The nice thing about designing movie posters is working with great unit photography and incredible special shoot material by the world's finest photographers. Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Annie Leibovitz and George Hurrell were all brought in to do special photo shoots for 'Bugsy'.

The photo in the background on the left is by old school movie studio photographer George Hurrell. He was the choice photographer from Garland to Garbo back in the day but Hurrell felt his work was forgotten in Hollywood by 1991 and was grateful for the assignment - a special request by Warren Beatty.

Hurrell (a small, unassuming gentleman) did some stunning work for 'Bugsy,' retouching his photos directly on the oversized, silver negatives he always used. This was one of the last jobs the legendary photographer did, if not the last; he died in 1992, a year after Bugsy was released.

While trying to decide on the final look for the campaign, Warren Beatty (who seemingly had total control over all aspects of production and promotion) asked that future poster designs have two scorpions having sex atop the logo. When we researched the mating habits of the scorpion to portray the action accurately, we discovered that scorpions don't copulate at all, they just sort of dance around each other. That didn't matter to the Beatty, a dozen comps were ordered with bugs screwing on the logo so that Warren could see it and (thankfully) kill the idea.

Bugsy Movie PosterAfter rejecting probably a thousand concepts for the poster (from several different agencies), art directors eventually ran out of viable ideas. We even desperately submitted Warren and Annette standing in front of dozens of dead bodies stacked up in the desert to resemble the Las Vegas skyline.

In the end, Tri-Star went with a tasteful Herb Ritts photo and a simple type treatment (at right).

Art director Olga Kaljakan tells us: "Beatty didn't decide on the final Bugsy poster, he wanted the one with the glasses with Annette in the foreground"prancing" but in the end the director, Barry Levinson, was so pissed off at having been left out of the whole process he demanded input and chose the final outcome. Cest la vie.

"Meanwhile Annette and Warren got married, copulated, unlike scorpions, and made lots of babies... and we're still working like
dogs, making futile poster comps for people with big egos."

Here's a photo of the Seiniger crew after a 30 hour day and night session creating art for Bugsy. It was one of several all-nighters.

Seiniger Advertising artists 1990
1. Unknown
2. Billy Ingram
3. Ann Frame
4. Jennifer ???
5. John Nakama
6. Chris Basinet
7. Memo M-
8. Dave Williams
9. Eric (Axis) Zerkel
10. Tony Nuss
11. Christian Struzan
12. Carol Mendoza
13. Olga Kaljakan
14. Joe Stamper
15. Adrianne Burke (formerly Graves)

When a film gets extraordinary reviews and/or needs a box office boost, 'quote ads' are run in newspapers and occasionally a new poster is ordered that incorporates the best reviews.

When you're looking in the paper to choose a movie for the evening, they ALL seem to have good reviews. But look closely to see who actually wrote the review. If it's some person you never heard of, beware - if any major publication liked the movie, the studio would have run a quote from them.

Not all well-known reviewers can be fully trusted, however - many will give a bad major release a good review just to get their name featured prominently in papers all over the country. They know the studios will be spending big bucks to promote a major motion picture and will use quotes from the most familiar names they can get. Though I have no insight, this might explain why Rex Reed and a few others always like every lousy movie that comes out.

Recent revelations that Sony Pictures promoted several films with recommendations from a movie critic who didn't even exist causes one to ponder: Why would Sony even bother?

I worked on the newspaper ad campaign for a major studio teen movie in the mid-Eighties (you'd recognize it). We needed a strong review for the ads, but hadn't gotten any good ones. A very famous reviewer (one of the biggies!) was contacted and asked if she would view the film and write something. The reviewer didn't have time to see the movie, requested that we write a quote that sounded like something she would say and she would sign off on it.

We came up with "Hilarious Summer Fun," faxed it back and forth for a signature and ran with it.

Close enough, right?

movie posters

Other People's Money poster

Other People's Money

When you can get the stars to commit to a special photo shoot, you're lucky. Generally the biggest stars won't do it, others are happy to cooperate in order to benefit a project that they have a major career investment in.

Others People's Money poster photoAnnie Leibovitz shot these hilarious set-ups and several others with newcomer Penelope Anne Miller and old pro Danny DeVito in 1990 - but these pictures were never seen by the public. So much wonderful work just gets chucked in the ashcan although I've seen rejected movie poster designs used on DVD box covers.

Looking back on my eight years as a movie poster comp artist, those were great times overall - even if it was the most stressful creative environment anyone could imagine. Maybe one day I'll tell you about some of the REALLY outrageous things that happened to us on a daily basis!

 

NEXT: PART FIVE:
The Art of the Movie Trailer

Examples of some of the most effective
campaigns of all time!



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