How Movie Posters Get From a Concept to the Wall: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Art of Poster-Making

posters post

The folks over at Trailer Park — who already gave us fascinating insight into how all of those tantalizing, thrilling previews you watch at the movies (or from your laptop) are made — have shared with even more behind-the-scenes intel, this time about how movie posters wind up on the walls of your local mutliplex and/or bedroom. Jeremy Kaplan, the President of the Print division of Trailer Park (which has created the one sheets for a wide range of films — from acclaimed Oscar-winners like Crash and Walk The Line to mainstream hits such as Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and The Campaign, to offbeat indie creep-fests like The Human Centipede, The Descent, Hard Candy and Hostel) explained the process of creating poster art for movies.

Whether they’re working with larger studios or smaller independents, Kaplan says that the jumping-off point and end goal for every project is the same: to find a solid collaboration between what the client is looking for and their own unique vision. But how they move from Point A to Point B isn’t as predictable as say, a romantic comedy. “Sometimes they haven’t even started filming, they’ve just locked a movie. They give us a script, we’ll read it, the client will give us direction on how they wanna sell it and also say, ‘Come up with your angle.'”

RELATED: How a Movie Trailer is Made

Of course, if the movie hasn’t started shooting yet, that means there’s no unit photography to work with for reference. After reading the script, the team at Trailer Park will come back to the studio with “scrapbooks, mood boards for tone and stylizing just to help the clients try to visualize and focus in on what works and what doesn’t work in their minds. Once we get feedback on that … we’ll do sketch concepts for a photo shoot, if that’s available.”

When cameras do eventually start rolling, they’ll head to the set to “try to execute those concepts and those sketches. We’ll come back from the photo shoot and start building key art and then we’ll also use unit photography. A lot of time studios will have a unit photographer on set and we’ll sift through thousands of images to find the best head or the best body or the best arm or the best background,” Kaplan explains. “A lot of times people think it’s all caught on camera but it’s 50/50. Sometimes you’ll get something on camera, but a lot of times the agency spends hours compositing the best pieces of the puzzle.”

NEXT: Piecing Together the Puzzle…

And that puzzle can consist of upwards of 12,000 pieces at times. “It used to be [that] you’d go in and they’d have three binders looking through a thousand images. But now with digital photography, unit photography is so voluminous,” Kaplan says. “You’ll come back from any project and there will be 12,000 images. Going through those images, that’s where it starts to get a little more difficult because it’s a little more of a scattergun approach with unit photography, where they want to make sure everything’s covered.” Of course, that very same technology provides challenges for Trailer Park when it comes to leaked photography online. “There’s a huge issue with piracy,” Kaplan says. “We have to use secure FTP sites, secure hard drives, encrypted hard drives, if we’re sending stuff back and forth. A lot of times it’s down to the wire, we’ll finish a file, and then it will be released online.”

Sometimes, however, when there are fewer assets to work with, that’s when the most creative ideas can come to fruition. “We pride ourselves on creating imagery with little to no assets. It’s challenging, but fun. The interesting part of our day is to say ‘Okay, I need you to source a chimpanzee [Planet of the Apes] or find a 14-foot Statue of Liberty, because we’re gonna destroy it.”

RELATED: The Production Assistant: Hollywood’s Most Important and Thankless Profession

Kaplan and his Trailer Park team, who could have anywhere from just four days to two years to work on a project and upwards of fifteen people on the assignment, can send out their finished product to distributors within days of creating the final product. “Sometimes … you’ll finish a file on Friday, it will get sent to the color separator on the weekend, they”ll do the color sets, they’ll print on Monday, and get it in theaters by Wednesday,” he says.

They also work with the other departments when it comes to creating the art work for DVD and online prints. “There’s no set way that they do it. Sometimes they’ll re-purpose the artwork from print for theatrical for DVD and online,” Kaplan says. “It’s a cohesive synergy between departments. We may have read the script or been on set and then, five to six months into a project, home entertainment needs to start thinking about it and they come to us and go, ‘Okay, so what’s going on?’ and we’ll say, ‘This character did this, this character changed their hair.’ A big part of the whole machine is being the expert on that project for the client.”

And, as evident by blockbusters such as The Dark Knight Rises or The X-Men: First Class, Trailer Park is not always responsible for just one poster. Kaplan explains, “If it’s a large event film, they’re gonna do a big media buy. So they know they’re going to do character teasers, they sometimes do a tease a year ahead of time, or they know they want to do specific media buys [for events like] Comic-Con, depending on what the genre of the movie is. A tease, a character tease, and then a big payoff. It really depends on how big the movie is.” When it comes to an indie movie with a smaller budget, however, “We’ll just do one piece of key art. Sometimes they’ll find avenues after the first round to do multiple pieces and try to find a place to put those pieces.”

But, it’s those very indie studios like IFC and Roadside Attractions that give Trailer Park the most creative freedom. “They’re not as boxed in with rules as much as the other studios. We’ll throw the net really wide and say, ‘This could be really crazy.’ It’s such bizarre content, we’ll hire special actors and actresses that don’t mind getting a little… crazy.” (See: the posters for The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence, if you dare).

RELATED: Sorry Humanity, ‘The Human Centipede 3’ is Happening 

Of course, even with creative freedom, a big name like Trailer Park still has to stand out from the pack. “The biggest challenge is, there are a lot of talented agencies in town, and there is a good amount of work in town,” Kaplan says. “Everybody wants to work for the same studios, so I think the biggest challenge is having the client be invested in you succeeding. We have an extremely talented group of people. There are other agencies in town that are just as talented, so that’s the price of entry. It’s a given that you’re talented and that you have to be able to have the chops to perform.”

“So the next challenge is when a client comes to three agencies and gives everyone the same materials, how do you stand out from the rest?” he adds. “One is creative thinking and trying to do the responsible thing and doing the unexpected. It’s a bake-off a lot of times with the studios. A big part of it is client service and making sure you’re doing your best. The clients want to know they can give you a project and not worry.”

Kaplan — who adds that no one single genre is “easier” to come up with imagery than others and that technology has significantly changed the art of creating posters (“It is getting hard to find out what was illustrated, what’s 3D, what’s in camera, what’s photoshopped”) — says that at the end of the day, in addition to making their client happy, “We get to create art. Those posters will live on a wall forever.”

[Photo credits: Lionsgate(2); Warner Bros; 20th Century Fox]

Follow Aly Semigran on Twitter @AlySemigran

From Our Partners:

Hottest Celebrity Twitpics40 Hottest Celeb Twitpics of the Month (Vh1)

Sports Illustrated Kate Upton‘Sports Illustrated’ Swimsuit Issue: A Visual History (Celebuzz)