Some of you are aware of the recent commotion over a particularly bad poster for Tom Hooper’s new historical drama ‘The King’s Speech’. Slashfilm, among others, posted something about it. My thoughts are not so much about the poster’s obvious badness as they are about the relationship between advertisement and a movie’s narrative, and how critical it is to make the movie live outside the cinema. I’m about to make a whole bunch of pretentious, arrogant and repetitive statements, so take it as my thought process, written out for your edification.
The above is a bad poster. Why? Because it doesn’t communicate the film’s essence. It looks, as many have said, like an ad for a run-of-the-mill Hallmark movie. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with putting your stars up front and center. If you do so, you should use them to get your film’s premise, themes, core emotions, and actions across. You see, the title says ‘The King’s Speech’ but the photoshopped stars do not. If I saw this in a theater lobby, I’d glance at it, probably without it registering in any meaningful way, and move on to a more interesting poster.
Sam Smith, a designer of good posters, spent just 30 minutes and came up with something excellent, in my opinion. It is, by his own admission, rough, but it works.
Note that it makes the title pop and stick in the brain. ‘The King’s Speech’, visualized in such a humorous and bizarre way, now seems a good deal more intriguing. The names of the stars are still prominent. With more time and money invested, you could turn out a detailed poster with, say, Colin Firth’s face reflected in the period-era mic. Weird, yes. Memorable, yes.
Cinema works on the saturation quotient. Of course, you must have all the right elements, but once you do, you grow them. A story is a living thing. A big, populist story — like, say, a movie — should be a very big, unavoidable living thing. Advertising is not just the way that artists and investors tempt people to come in, pay hard-earned money and sit in the dark for two hours. Done right, it’s seduction of the best kind. We want to be seduced. We want to believe. The wise advertiser knows not to merely sell the product, but to tell the story, and storytelling is all about raising questions, getting hooks in, creating possibilities. Film advertising should imply a world.
For the most part, Hollywood gets this. It’s why viral marketing exists, and works. Still, I’m frustrated by the overwhelming number of bad posters out there. Posters are critical. I think I remember a good poster and a good trailer more than any other aspect of marketing. Other ads tend to draw from these two, so that’s probably why. So, if your movie’s poster is as lazy as that of the ‘The King’s Speech’, it’s not a good sign. Take a page from artists like Sam Smith and find the central, intriguing image(s) that made your movie come together, consciously or unconsciously. If a movie doesn’t have a discernible compelling image, don’t bother advertising. Save your money and ours.
Budding filmmakers like myself need to embrace marketing as an artistic challenge. It’s easy to sell the movie short by making the main event the only thing of substance. That’s all wrong. Treat the movie like a bucket of paint and splash it all over the wall. Make it unforgettable. Make it a world.