A Modern Translation: Original Film Posters for Red Dawn, Threads, and The Quiet Earth

These days, a film’s marketing has very little to do with the film itself – with rare exception, a film’s promotional materials are created with a very specific intent.  That is, they serve to entice viewers into purchasing a ticket.  The most traditional form of film advertising is the poster.  The film poster is an omnipresent medium that can make or break initial audience reception and often serves as a source of reverence in itself.  For my creative proposal, I created three original one-sheets (27 by 41 inches, standard for film posters in the United States) for the films Red Dawn (1984), Threads (1984), and The Quiet Earth (1985) using Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.

These three films are linked temporally, but their portrayals of the Apocalypse are divergent and disparate.  Film marketing has changed just as much as contemporary tropes on the topic, but the one-sheet remains its holy grail of advertising mediums, as it is cheap, mass-produced, easily distributed, and readily reappropriated for print advertisements.  Though these films were released over fifteen years ago, I used contemporary aesthetic sensibilities when designing their respective on-sheets.

I looked first to the original advertising of all three films – Threads had none, except for film stills and a disappointing DVD cover – and the others had a handful of posters, some better than others.  I found most inspiration in the works of other poster designs – beginning with the impeccable one-sheet that accompanied the 1969 theatrical release of Michael Ritchie’s Downhill Racer, which features a black-and-white image of Robert Redford and costar Camilla Sparv about to kiss in the upper half and a rocky horizon in the lower half.  The film’s swooping title text is topped with an equally pleasing headline – “How fast must a man go to get from where he’s at?”  I also gleaned influence from designers like Saul Bass, whose associations with Hitchcock films will forever endear him to the world, and modern designers like Corey Holmes, who designed some of my favorite promotional posters for films like Thirteen, Trade, Enemy of the State, and The Sixth Sense.

In my advertising for each film, I paid attention to the message I wanted to convey through one sheets.  For Threads, I wanted a black-and-white image with contrasting text that is ambiguous and frightening.  I designed it in particular to serve as a teaser poster, which is released well in advance (up to 2 or 3 years) of a film’s release.  For Red Dawn, I wanted to echo the style of a propaganda poster, and I used an anglicized Russian font for the title text to hint at the origin of the film’s “Red” invasion.  The Statue of Liberty has been used often in film marketing materials, from the iconic head of Liberty in Midtown Manhattan in the one-sheet for George Miller’s Escape From New York (1981) to the decapitated Liberty in the one-sheet for Matt Reeve’s Cloverfield (2008).  I stylized the image to be consistent with the overall tone and used a silhouette.  For The Quiet Earth’s one-sheet, I used stills from the movie’s opening sunrise.  I kept the imagery simple, like the film, and hoped to keep its understated, postmodern apocalypse into consideration.

As per the course with the medium, designers rarely are credited, largely due to the fact that one-sheets are ultimately paid advertisements – and these days, seem to be created solely to showcase heavily Photoshopped close-ups of movie star heads floating over the film’s title.  Film posters may say little about the film they advertise, but they are tokens of modern marketing that can readily blur the line between art, design, and advertising.

Ultimately, I seek to represent the films truthfully, though not necessarily explicitly, and with their makers’ intentions in mind.

Works Cited

Dawes, Brendan. “Saul Bass.” Saul Bass on the Web. 1998. Web. <http://www.saulbass.tv/>.

Holms, Corey. “Portfolio Archive.” Corey Holms – Graphic Designer. Web. <http://www.coreyholms.com/portfolio/>.

McDaniel, Kirby. “Collecting Basics, Part 2: More Sizes.” MovieArt.net. 16 Apr. 2009. Web. <http://movieart.net/articles-and-resources/collecting-posters/collecting-basics-part-two/>.

“Original Film Poster Sizes, Fakes and Glossary.” Movie Poster Art Gallery London. Web. <http://www.mpag.co.uk/posterglossary.htm>

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