What it takes to make a great movie poster

10:57 pm on 24 April 2024
Two images side by side. On the left is a picture of Henry Erdman outdoors by a scenic lake. He smiles at the camera. On the right, a red and white stylised movie poster for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Henry Erdman got his start in Hollywood movie posters by telling his employer he knew how to use Photoshop - when he didn't. Photo: Henry Erdman

Behind every movie poster you see down at your local cinema multiplex, there might be hundreds of concepts, sketches and preliminary drawings leading towards that one image.

Henry Erdman - a graphic designer working in Hollywood - has designed posters for some of the biggest blockbuster films of the past decade, including Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Tenet, and The Boy and the Heron.

But making his way in the industry required some creative thinking. He joined RNZ Nights' Emile Donovan from Los Angeles to share how movie posters get made, and what makes a successful poster.

Erdman says figuring out what makes a good poster was a marketing problem more than it is an art problem,

"It's really movie poster design, not movie poster fine art, so it's whatever is going to solve the marketing problem for the movie. And of course having something beautiful to go along with that, and trying to find the balance. But it's mainly about putting butts in seats."

Erdman says there is often a team of 6-12 designers making posters for every individual movie at the advertising agency who are hired to do the publicity.

"And usually there are multiple agencies on each movie, so for a single movie, the studio is seeing anywhere from 20 to a couple of hundred posters, it really depends on the size of their budgets how much they want to see.

"But it's a long and laborious process, lots of revisions, usually taking place over the course of months, if not years."

He says there are a lot of trends and tropes in movie posters and with studios being very risk adverse, it can be creatively frustrating.

"There are tropes for different types of movies in different genres, like comedies you might often have a plain colour background with the actors looking funny or something and bold typography, with while something more adventurous or sci fi you'll see what we call the montage poster, the Star Wars 'heads in the sky' kind of thing."

He says designers may also have to deal with contractual obligations, such as actors stipulating they need to be certain sizes on the poster.

Erdman says he has always been a movie buff, but the movie poster industry was something he "stumbled into" after studying graphic design and film in college, before looking for jobs in Los Angeles.

He says he only sees about 15 percent of the films he works on before creating a poster.

"The ones we usually see earlier are the smaller indy ones, because they're usually finished by the time we get to see them."