IQ forum member Enrique discusses working with graphic designers for your film project.
As a working graphic designer who occasionally freelances, most of the time I’ll come across someone who doesn’t understand what it is we do as designers, what it is we’re giving them, or the value of either. It not only makes it difficult to work with them, but most of the time it leads to them saying, “You’re charging too much, I’ll just have my cousin do it, he has Photoshop too.”
This is the basis of my little article here, not to talk about this type of client but to explain what it is we do so that anyone reading this is better prepared to work with a graphic designer. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume you are a client in need of a movie poster.
What it is we do
To most laymen, all we do is sit at our computers, click-click, type-type, and we’re done. I’ll be the first to admit, that is the labor-intensive part of what we do. And yes, your cousin with Photoshop can go “click click type type” as well, but that’s where the similarities end.
Most people go to designers because they “want something cool.” That’s the wrong way to approach it. You should hire a designer because of their expertise, their experience. Whether fresh out of art school or with 20 years of work under our belt, we have an understanding of composition and color, how to control the viewer’s eye, maximizing space, etc. We know never to use red beside green, or to stay away from those god-awful “fancy” fonts that come with your operating system.
If the designer has years of working experience, then he will also know the unspoken rules of poster design, such as the lead’s picture should be 20-40% larger than everyone else’s. They know which posters have succeeded in doing their job and which ones failed. They’ll know certain actors have a tendency to pose in unflattering ways *cough*Christian Slater*cough* and will know immediately how to remedy that.
In short, you’re paying the designer to know how to do things right, and do them right the first time. Yes, there are mistakes, but even a big mistake by a professional designer will look better than the best your Photoshop cousin can do. And this extends beyond the artwork – if you’re having your designer handle the printing, an experienced designer will know how to prepare the artwork for whoever will be mass-producing the prints.
What we are giving you
In the case of a movie poster, it’s not merely a cool piece of art with your movie’s title on it. For all intents and purposes, the movie poster IS your movie. Especially today, most average movie-goers won’t bother reading a review or plot summary, and they will go into a movie unaware of what the movie is actually about. This is where the poster comes in – call it a shorthand summary of your movie… the Cliff Notes.
The poster is also a marketing tool. A good poster designer will know what to emphasize and enhance. If the only name in your whole show is a B-list actor, then their face will be the first thing we’ll see (especially if they have a built-in fan base), their name second. Yeah, there may be much cooler images we can do for you, but they won’t sell your movie. After all, why spend all that money on Michael Madsen if no one’s going to know he’s in your movie?!
Key art (as it’s properly known) has been known to make or break movies. Many blame the stick-figure motif used in the recent Zack and Miri Make a Porno campaign for the poor box-office (because they didn’t capitalize on Seth Rogen’s face). There’s also the story about how Robert Evans raised $4mil for The Cotton Club based on a poster alone, before he even had a script.
Professional key art will increase the chances of your movie being sold when released on DVD. I often see movies with horrible packaging where I can tell the pictures were screen-captures from the movie and not actual photographs. Some people think pasting your actors’ picture onto a gradient and adding “emboss” to the movie’s title makes it look good. It doesn’t. It makes it look like their cousin did it. People will immediately thing it is a cheap product and will avoid it in favor of the better-looking, flashier DVD right beside it.
Working with a designer
Designers will each have their own way of doing things, but there are some thing they will all need:
- Good, high resolution photos of your cast (and maybe settings or special props, etc.). This is THE MOST CRITICAL part… too often I see producers submit screen captures of the movie and assume that because it’s the same resolution as the movie that it’s “high res”. It’s not! Always have someone on set with an actual PICTURE camera taking pictures!
- The text that you want on the cover (not just the summary on the back, but the tagline and any quotes you want as well)
- It should go under “text” above, but I have to single this out because it has happened to me… provide the billing block text! The billing block is that list of credits at the bottom of every poster. You as the producer should know who gets listed and in what order.
Other elements that you should have for your designer, but that aren’t critical:
- Your company logo(s)… if you already have one, provide it to your designer in a high-res format, or better yet, in a vector format.
- The movie’s title treatment – this is the graphic presentation of your movie’s title. It’s not unusual for the package designer to come up with the title treatment if one doesn’t exist, if they do, be sure they provide you with hi-res versions so that you can apply the treatment yourself to other items, like stickers, postcards, invites, etc.
- The movie itself – in some way, shape or form, the designer needs to know what the movie is about. This can be either having them see the actual movie, seeing clips, trailers, etc. But again, it sometimes happens that a designer will work with little to no reference, going only by what the producer tells them (I produced 12 posters this way for one company, having seen none of the movies and only 2 of the trailers).
- UPC barcode – most often it’s the duty of the producer to acquire the UPC barcode, which is often delivered as an image file. If the designer understands UPC codes, it may suffice to simply give them the number and have them generate a new barcode image (with the same number). This can be acquired and integrated when the artwork is finished.
Once the designer has all these elements (sometimes before), they should present you with a variety of “comps”, or compositions… different ideas in rough form. These could be sketches or paste-jobs from the material you provide. Depending on the arrangement you make with the designer, you may either select one or a few to develop further, or ask for more comps. At some point, one final comp will be chosen and taken to final rendering.
As the producer, you may already have an idea of what you want, but it’s generally a good idea to let the designer (especially if they have a lot of experience) come up with some ideas themselves, in case they think of something that you don’t.
When the artwork is finished, you might have your designer handle the printer (whether they do it in-house or it’s a vendor of your choosing). This is recommended as they will be able to speak the same language as the printer, thus reducing mistakes and time. Pantone, spot colors, bleeds, trim, trapping, etc. is not something a beginner should be dealing with, especially if you’re printing out 1,000 posters at $5 a pop!
Before asking your cousin, or even yourself, to create a poster for your upcoming epic, think about this – what qualifies them to do the job? The fact that you have Photoshop? Photoshop isn’t a qualification, it’s an object. I drive a car, but it doesn’t qualify me to race in the Indy 500.
A good designer will know how to SELL your movie, not just make it look cool.
Join the dission on this article in the forums