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When it comes to design, there are no rules. But there is such a thing as bad taste. Bad taste on purpose can be a great way to communicate your product—especially if it’s a campy satire. But if you’ve made a gothic horror or character drama, you don’t want to have crappy looking artwork.
There’s a tendency in the movie business to create Key Art that looks like the latest hit. There’s also a tendency in the movie business to create Key Art that is totally misleading, just so that company can make a buck when the film is released.
My film FIRECRACKER could be cataloged as a Gothic horror. But it is far from a horror film. But the distribution company had the idea of marketing it as a horror film, with blood dripping off the letters and so forth. That was a horrible idea. I fought them, and got them to release the film with the Key Art I had designed, which communicated more honestly about the atmosphere and tone of the film.
My film CASSEROLE CLUB could be cataloged as a drama, or character study. It has some campy moments (it takes place in 1969, so the costumes and art direction lend itself to looking campy even if the subject matter isn’t funny at all), and might have some sexual situations, but there really isn’t anything “sexy” about it. The distributors for that film wanted to market the film as a “sexy” and titillating soft-core exposé. I thought that would be a horrible mistake as well because the people expecting to see a sexy and soft-core movie would be totally disappointed. But why did they want to market it that way? Because sex sells. That’s why.
My thinking is: if you want me to make and then sell you “Babes & Bikini Bingo: Summer Camp” or “Haunted Carnival, Part 3” I’m happy to do so, but don’t do something dishonest by marketing a movie that isn’t the movie.
When you design your movie poster, it’s important to remember that although different fonts can sometimes look cool, they do not look cool when you place them all together at the same time. I always cringe when I see a design that features more than two or three different fonts. It’s a dead giveaway that the designer just discovered Photoshop when you get the sense they had an urge to use EVERY font they could find.
I try and keep fonts simple and usually only use two. One font is used for the main title, and another for actors names, blurbs, and other copy. I try and make sure that the font I use for the main title is not used anywhere else in the design. Using it more than once diminishes the impact of the main title. So I always find a complementary font to use for everything else. Remember: less is more.
With regards to the image or visual art, think about a memorable moment in the film and use it. Before someone sees your movie, they don’t know what that image means, but after they see your movie, next time they see the artwork, it’ll remind them of your movie. I try and avoid showing something if it’s giving too much away. Like, if your movie is a murder mystery you probably wouldn’t want to show the killer on the cover holding a knife, because it would ruin the viewing experience. But maybe if you wanted to throw off the viewer, you would show each character holding a weapon—then the viewer won’t know whodunit.
Saul Bass was a great designer of movie posters. You might want to look him up. His designs were far from the traditional Key Art you see today. But, in this world of the Black Market Punk Rock Film Distribution, Key Art that is actual Artwork might be the perfect idea.