Madman Entertainment

Save Your Legs: The Life of a Theatrical Poster Designer

Adventures in Distro is a regular feature where we pull back the velvet curtain to reveal the inner workings of Madman Entertainment and the world of independent feature film distribution. Today we speak with Madman’s Theatrical Art Director, Marcus Cobbledick about the dying art of theatrical poster design and specifically the design of the theatrical poster for Save Your Legs!

The Theatrical Poster for Save Your Legs!

Mr. C:  Have you always wanted to do theatrical posters? What is your background?

MC:  I always had an interest in art and graphics growing up and like a lot of kids, would pay homage to my favourite TV shows and movies by emulating the character / key-art. During my teens I enjoyed drawing caricatures of friends and family and would sometimes label them with titles and text… I guess that it was like a lo-fi version of key-art design!

After graduating from NMIT and working for a couple of years as a Junior Designer I took on a 12 month contract at a studio based in South London who serviced MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox and Universal. We worked primarily on home entertainment titles but it gave me an introduction into the industry and made Madman Entertainment a good fit on my return to Australia in 2003.

MR. C: So using the SAVE YOUR LEGS! poster as the example, how does the process begin? Can you outline this, from viewing the film to your initial conversations with production. What’s your process for formulating a look and feel? 

MC: In most cases the process of creating original theatrical key-art starts with a screening of an unfinished film. Next we usually meet with the film-makers and go through the production stills, discuss the film and the creative inspiration behind it. These conversations can be quite helpful in generating ideas for key-art concepts.

Apart from using the film itself and the assets provided as the main point of reference, there are a number of additional factors that define the creative process; audience, positioning, budget, key sales points etc. ie: the brief.

In the case of the SAVE YOUR LEGS key-art, an initial ‘teaser’ poster was created for MIFF six months before the film’s theatrical release. This teaser poster contained elements that we created for the opening and closing title sequence of the film itself. It also included an illustration that was commissioned in India as a backdrop for one of the film’s closing scenes. This initial teaser poster set the tone for the primary key-art.

Early concept, with character art based on a prop from the film.

MR. C: So talk us through that next process with the client and incorporating their feedback. What are some of the challenges here? You have both the producer and the distributor’s marketing team offering feedback- what are their usual concerns?

MC:  The film-makers have been involved in every creative decision associated with their film from the outset, so understandably they have strong views on how the poster should look.

Distributors represent the business side of the equation and often have slightly different views on what form the key-art should take. The solution often lies in establishing common ground before starting concepts and having a watertight brief that all parties have agreed on.

In the case of the SYL key-art it was decided both internally and by the film-makers that the MIFF teaser poster was a solid start but not entirely appropriate for the film’s primary key-art. It was agreed that additional themes and messaging needed to be included. Because of the audiences that we were targeting the key-art needed to be more comedic and uplifting. It was also suggested that Bollywood iconography may be a welcome addition.

Mr. C: On the Save Your Legs! poster you got the chance to work with an illustrator. Can you give us a rundown of that process?

MC:  It was decided that the facial expressions in the original Indian portraits of the three lead characters were not comedic / warm enough and would need to be re-developed. We contacted the Jackie Winter illustration agency and Tom Simpson from Wellington, NZ was commissioned for the job. Tom was supplied with a link to the film’s trailer, image references and a formal brief. Within three days he came back with an initial black and white sketch.

Tom Simpson Initial Sketch

Revisions were made until we were happy with the likeness and proportions of the characters. Tom works digitally (on a Wacom tablet) so once we had given him final approval he was able to supply layered files that could be easily pasted straight into my Photoshop document.

MR. C: What does a theatrical poster need to do beyond just being pretty. Perhaps discuss why we have credit blocks, quotes, and all that other guff too? 

MC: A film poster is essentially a marketing tool. Along with the trailer it’s the face of a campaign and plays a role in the success of a film’s release. As creatives, our aim is to produce key art that is iconic, memorable, engaging, informative and most of all enticing enough for our target market to want to watch the film. It’s always a bonus that if at the end of the process a piece of key-art is both beautiful and original.

Credit blocks are there as a legal requirement and quotes / tag lines are intended to further strengthen the marketability of the film.

Noise: The 'less is more' approach.

MR. C: What are some of your favourite posters you’ve worked on and why? 

MC: For me the NOISE key-art represents a rare opportunity to make the tone and mood of a film the primary focus of its poster. The ‘less is more’ approach can be an effective way to create intrigue for the right title.

NQH was a special title as I was involved in the project before pre-production.

NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD was special title as I was involved in the project before pre-production and worked many hours on the film itself. We had access to thousands of wonderful production stills and vintage posters from the archives so we were spoilt for choice when selecting images for the poster montage.

Wake in Fright, a wonderful opportunity to experiment with fluro inks and printing processes.

The WAKE IN FRIGHT poster was created for the re-release of a classic Australian film. It was a wonderful opportunity to experiment with fluro inks and printing processes. Glendyn Ivin (director of LAST RIDE) told us that when he saw the hyper-real printed version of the poster, it’s stark beauty reminded him of the emotions that he felt when he watched the film for the first time. This response made the process worthwhile.

The first time that I truly collaborated on a poster.

The SNOWTOWN poster was the first time that I truly collaborated on a poster and experienced the many advantages of generating and executing ideas within a team.

MR.C: Who are your inspirations as far as key art poster art go? Local and international?

MC: 1. Jeremy Saunders: An obvious choice as he is based in Australia and we have been fortunate enough to work with him here at Madman. Certainly a master at creating beauty.

2. Neil Kellerhouse: A typographic genius and probably the most original poster designer in Hollywood. He has also given me some great advice on creating key-art.

3. Pre-photoshop artists like Drew Stuzan who illustrated film posters from scratch. There is an extra layer of romance and fantasy that is evident in their work. I also wish that sometimes we could go back to presenting rounds of key-art concepts in sketch form rather than our almost fully-formed photoshop mock-ups.

MR. C: Can you discuss theatrical posters as an art form for a moment? How have they changed in the last 30 years or so? For example the tendency towards floating heads… And your thoughts around that. 

MC:  There are certainly visual trends and formulas that are associated with film posters.

Designers and marketing departments are often influenced by what’s ‘hot’ at the time and are sometimes guilty of not working outside their own comfort zone and exploring  possibilities.

Familiar design formulas are often used to give the audience clues on what sort of film it is. ie; Romantic Comedies often have solid white / colourful backgrounds, action posters have to contain at least one explosion and at the moment it seems that they require airborne fragments of some description.

As far as floating heads go… Sometimes there ain’t a lot of options if you want to get 10 cast members in a poster and make them all as prominent as possible!

MR. C: What do you love about your job? What are the challenges?

MC: As I mentioned earlier ‘It’s always a bonus that if at the end of the creative process a piece of key-art is both beautiful and original’. Not every piece of design achieves this goal but striving for it is probably a key motivator for me.

As a key-art designer you sometimes feel as if you have multiple clients. Earning the creative trust of a film-maker who is handing over their ‘baby’ must be balanced with acknowledging the commercial realities and interests of the distributor. The process of creating a poster can be an epic roller coaster with many unexpected twists and turns… So exercising patience, understanding and persistence can certainly help.

Save Your Legs – Official Trailer

Save Your Legs is in Australian cinemas Jan 2013.

More of Marcus’ work can be seen at:

twitter: @mcobbledick


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