Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How to Sell Your Movie with a Poster: For Dummies.

As you probably know, for the past four years of my life, I've worked at a DVD store. Over these years, there have been a few things that I've learnt: a) No-one liked to keep classic movies in that shop, so I had to fuel my love for classic movies by actually buying them myself, b) No-one likes to order in foreign films because "no-one likes them" and c) When people come in to get a DVD, 95% of the time they make their choice based on the cover alone. While I was cleaning shelves, I noticed how achingly bad some DVD covers are, trying to sell themselves in one average sized rectangle. The worst offenders are generally the blockbusters and the straight-to-DVD B-movies, coz most indie flicks know that whoever is going to watch them probably knows a thing or two about movies.

Here's my guide, for dummies, to how you can market a movie with a poster:

Main Street (2010)
Despite the star power, this movie struggled to get a release (I think it went limited in America, but very few people saw it), and wound up on DVD, with a horrendous poster to match. But whoever designed the poster obviously had a field day with their assignment.

A) "From Horton Foote, screenwriter of To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies, and director John Doyle." That's cool, but come on, To Kill a Mockingbird was made just about 40 years ago. I get that this person won two Oscars for his work (but did it say that on the poster?), and unfortunately died before this movie was released, but the whole screen-writing thing is hopelessly dire on a poster. And John Doyle...this is his only film. But, oh well, putting stuff like that on a poster can only mean one thing: the production team really cared about their writer and director.
B) "Colin Firth, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson with Amber Tamblyn and Orlando Bloom" Wow, what a cast. You always gotta capitalize on a cast. That's first and foremost the thing you should remember when designing a poster. Even if your cast sucks, just make sure you have someone quite famous who maybe has two-minutes of screen time and stick them on the poster. Names will get you everywhere.
C) The next best thing to names are faces. When you have quite a good ensemble cast, you just line them all up and have them walking somewhere (or, in the case of X-Men: First Class, just have some mutants walking, others just standing, all over the place, just so you can get every character on the page). Make sure they have mildly different faces. Like, old Colin looks quite jovial, Ellen Burstyn looks like that happy old lady, and Patricia Clarkson looks like...someone just farted.
D) Ha! Witty! You see, since the title is Main Street, of course the title had to be put on a street sign. Even if the street sign is sitting quite low in the middle of the footpath, and if Colin Firth walks any further and does not see it, he will be hit in a place which...yeah.
E) Good old Orlando Bloom. While everyone is looking like they just stepped out of Coronation Street, he is donning the action hero attire. Just trying to jazz it up a little, eh?

Monte Carlo (2011)
Teens are all about the clichés. More so if they're the target audience for the latest Disney-style flick starring Selena Gomez.

A) "She's having the time of someone else's life." The tagline. It can always draw the audience in with it's dry wit. Especially when you take a well-known cliché like 'She's having the time of her life' and make it even more clichéd by saying 'She's having the time of someone else's life'. Clever, or what?
B) Oh, don't they just look jovial?! Okay, so Leighton Meester, Selena Gomez and Katie Cassidy are three beautiful young girls...except, well, judging by some of the other stuff that Meester and Cassidy have been doing with their careers, they're kinda past this kind of teen fluff that Gomez is well into. So, they're just hanging in the background looking happy, trying to shrug off their spoiled brat Gossip Girl's and their Taken prostitutes, while squeaky-clean Selena Gomez is up the front, y'know, looking squeaky clean. The girls at the back can look happy, but not as happy as Gomez, because she's the only actress anyone under the age of 12 would know.
C) Ah, the clichés! As part of a poster, you always have to show off a little of the character and their story. In this case, our heroine is wearing an elegant ball gown, but underneath, she's wearing cowboy boots! Oh, this tells us SO much about her! Like, she's into the whole parading-around-as-a-princess thing, but she's staying true to her roots! Cool story bro.

Never Let Me Go (2010)
Yes, this is a very good movie. And yes, we know that there is a better poster out there. This one, however, is pretty bad, but it is the perfect example of following the poster making skills for dummies. Trust me, the DVD cover that we have in NZ is worse...this whole poster is kinda blurred together. I could probably recreate it in Microsoft Word.

A) Names! And what's even better than names? When they have Oscar nominations! But never mind that Andrew Garfield fulla, because, as he doesn't have the old "Academy Award Nominee" above his name, he must not be a worthy actor. But he's helped along by Academy Award Nominees Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley, so he's worthy enough of your attention. Seriously...that's the kind of feeling I get from name dropping like this one. Not that I have anything against Oscar nominations though, they're all the rage on posters!
B) Keira Knightley is probably the most well-known cast member. So it's only natural that she gets to stare into the camera putting her hand up on the window in that fashion (and that doesn't really say that much about her character at all...Mulligan's character is someone more suited to that). Obviously, people will see her face and be like, "that's the chick off Pirates of the Caribbean!" and immediately put this in their mental watchlist. See, to be a good poster designer, you really have to get into the mentality of the person looking at this poster.
C) It's a love story baby just say yes. That's what I think when I look at that romantic shot of Garfield and Mulligan. People love their romances. It doesn't matter if this romance is a little different to that of The Notebook.
D) Ah, because that beautiful shot was featured on the completely normal poster, it just has to be included here. But really small and just as a place-filler. Because on this poster we have the characters, and now we have to have the setting. Not together, though, as that would be the easy thing to do.

Takers (2010)
This movie is pretty bad. And yet, people picked it up like it was the next The Godfather. Just with, y'know, rap stars.

A) Oh look at all those names! Matt Dillon, Paul Walker, Idris Elba, Jay Hernandez, Michael Ealy, Tip "T.I." Harris, Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen. There are so many great things about this:
-Firstly, they're all male. Hey, Zoe Saldana, the star of the highest grossing movie ever to grace this Earth, was in this movie! But no, with all that testosterone this is the coolest thing to happen to the world after The Expendables.
-Secondly, I haven't even heard of half of these people, but that doesn't matter. Because, if all these names managed to make it to the poster, then this movie must have a great cast!
-Thirdly, famed rapper 'T.I' used his full name Tip Harris on the poster. That shows some swag, man.
-Finally, Matt Dillon is first billed but he don't even get to be on the poster. Because, obviously, he ain't got enough swag like these bros here.
B) Ooooh, Chris Brown. Looking serious. Coz this is a serious acting job. His face is so serious that he looks just like what the public think of him, thanks to him beating up Rihanna. Yeah, no matter how serious this acting job is, we ain't never gonna let you live that one down, buddy.
C) Look how serious everyone else. And look how much swag everyone has. Except for maybe Hayden Christensen, who is proudly brought to you by PhotoShop. He's just sitting there, lightening the mood with his out-of-place top hat and nerdy bow-tie, just living up his status as the whitest guy in the room who doesn't have any swag. That shows character range, folks.
D) Again, the tagline! "Everyone's after something." Ain't that a great burst of philosophy? Especially when you apply it to a whole lot of gangsters.
E) Just look at everything on the table in front of them. A gun, an alcoholic beverage, a bottle of champagne, a martini, a suitcase which is presumably filled with money. Welcome to the 'Swag Parlour', where the men are as clichéd as their possessions.
F) The website! ""...Yes, even the website URL has to ask a question which many don't really care to find out the answer for. Oh, how amazing is the internet?

 The Social Network (2010)
Last, but certainly not least, the DVD cover for one of my most favourite films, the amazing The Social Network. Which was given the most bland portrayal of poster making for dummies.

A) "Screenplay by AARON SORKIN, Directed by DAVID FINCHER." Two amazing people, yes, but usually the stars should get a little love, too. But they're so important they get to go right under the title, because everyone knows who they are. Which is unfortunately not true.
B) "A BRILLIANT FILM." "AN AMERICAN LANDMARK." "REVOLUTIONARY. ABSOLUTELY EMBLEMATIC OF ITS TIME AND PLACE." "SENSATIONAL. A ONCE-IN-A-GENERATION MOVIE." "MAMMOTH AND EXHILARATING." If you were around during 2010/2011 awards season, then there is no doubt you would have seen how critically acclaimed this movie is, which is why the poster designers decided to make the critical acclaim their big draw. Critical acclaim is everything, and when you have as much as this one had, then you just gotta shout it out from the rooftops. Or from a DVD cover...whatever floats your boat.
C) A single picture of Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg standing there smiling away while a couple have a little hug session. Wait...this isn't a romantic comedy? No, we're led to believe that Marky Mark is smiling because of all the critical acclaim this movie got. As I said, critical acclaim is everything.
D) We all love Facebook, don't we? So, incorporate the Facebook font into the title for this movie and BAM! People think they're seeing a movie about Facebook but really they're seeing a movie about a douchebag who shits on his best friend but his best friend tells him to lawyer up asshole because he's not coming back for 30% he's coming back for everything. And there's something about forced cannibalism in there.

So, do you have any tips for poster making for dummies?


  1. Love, love, LOVE this post, Stevee.

    I actually really like The Social Network's poster, though. Not as good as the face one that films like The King's Speech and everything after it has done, but the marketing for TSN was pretty good.

    On the other hand, particularly the first one, all those posters are down-right awful. I really cannot stand how bad they made that 2nd poster for Never let me go. Obviously the previous one was way to artsy for people to handle, clearly.

  2. Ah haha - brilliant stuff, Stevee.

  3. There's cannibalism in The Social Network? NOW I'm interested :)

  4. Superb post - maybe one should watch that Selena Gomez film to find out what those two ladies are doing in it.

  5. Fantastic work. This must be the sort of thing you pick up on after a while. I've spent a lot of time perusing through DVD rental stores and seen my fair share of awful posters, but I've never examined them in such a precise, thoughtful manner as this. Great work!

  6. Cherokee - Thanks!
    The Social Network's DVD cover is pretty okay, but it looked a little bland on the shelf. Let's just say, some idiot bought 28 copies of it, and no-one really wanted to rent it, so we've spent the past six months trying to sell all these copies off. People just don't know what a great movie this is.
    I know! But as I said, the DVD cover for Never Let Me Go is way worse. It seriously looks like a dodgy Mills & Boon cover.

    Ruth - Haha, thanks!

    James - Haha, well you never actually see this forced cannibalism. Just some chicken is fed to a chicken. Haha.

    Sebastian - Thanks!

    Mette - I was thinking I might see it just for that. Damn, I knew I should have seen it today ;)

    Tyler - Yes, I pick up on it all the time. We get some truly awful ones in. Thanks!

  7. Great post. It's always amazing to me how much the marketing for these films ends up looking the same, and yet we still keep going back.

    If I ever make a movie, I'm going to try to incorporate ALL of these tools into a single poster. Cause that would obviously make my movie the best, right?

  8. So much truth in one post. Real shame that many posters lack originality or imagination these days. Love the work of Olly Moss... wish a studio would give him a job. Just look at these

  9. I think someone should hire you to create the posters for there movie

  10. Great dissection of movie covers.

  11. NeverTooEarlyMP - Yes, we just keep going back. But there have been some really good posters...just few and far between.
    And yes, that would make the BEST movie ever!

    pturner1010 - I love minimalistic posters like those. They are way better than the ones they usually use.

    Julian - It's my second career choice. Haha.

    Raghav - Thanks!


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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