WE’RE SELLING POSTERS – THE MOVIE IS AN AFTER-THOUGHT
American International Pictures was the exploitation leader in the 1950s and 1960s. Executives James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff spearheaded movies designed to be seen in drive-ins, appealing directly to teenagers and young people as their target market. AIP was unabashed in its attitude that marketing came first, product second. It didn’t develop movies, it developed campaigns. Nicholson would brain storm titles – Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow, The Fast and The Furious, The Beast with a Million Eyes – a concept poster would be drawn up and then a writer was given the assignment of turning it into a screenplay. Usually with an impossibly short deadline.
And that, my artist friends, is the cold hard truth of marketing creativity. You are selling the poster. The movie comes second. I am a filmmaker, not a graphic artist, so I always found that as discouraging as I’m sure many of you are feeling right now reading this. Nevertheless, it is so, and I have had to learn to accept that and stop kicking and bitching. It doesn’t mean we can’t do creative work and good work to back up that ad campaign. And if the movie is any good, it will be remembered long after the poster art is forgotten.
My first film as a director, Alien Force, was made for Wildcat Entertainment, and they followed a similar scheme to Nicholson and Arkoff’s. Once we had the title, producer Mark Gordon and myself went to the video store and looked at the boxes of a lot of action-oriented space movies and video games. Finally, we were inspired by the box art for Duke Nukem, the video game. We were inspired by the Duke’s pose and ripped it off – er, borrowed it – for the pose of our lead actor, Tyrone Wade, in a poster photo shoot. Next we rented an impressive alien mask from a costume store (this was before we knew what our alien would look like). Then we hired a graphic artist, Michael Feifer, to put it together into a pleasing poster.
I’d like to say the movie was a huge hit based on that cool poster, but still, I was pretty pleased with how it came out, and my premise still stands. If you want to sell your movie, spend some time on some kick ass ad art. The same principal holds true today. People won’t watch a streaming movie they have never heard of unless they are first inspired by that thumbnail ad art on their screen. Period.