Earlier this year, London studio Print Club asked 16 creatives to design a two-colour screenprint based on a film being shown at this year’s Film4 summer screen at Somerset House.
The prints are now complete and will be on display at the house from 1-21 August. It’s an eclectic line-up including Japanese Shakespeare adaptations, gory Australian horror movies and cowboy classics, and a mixed bag of artistic styles, from felt tip prints to typographical representations.
We spoke to some of the artists involved in the project about the inspiration behind their designs and the challenges of condensing two hours of film into a single image.
Illustrator HelloVon was allocated 2009 Australian horror film The Loved Ones. His print depicts a key scene in which the film’s female protagonist holds a high-school prom party in her basement.
“The scene gets pretty gruesome with the use of a hammer and drill but I wanted to steer clear of the obvious gory route and went for a more internal moment, where she is crowned as the prom queen by her father with a pink paper hat. For me, it was important to create an image that could hang on someone’s wall, even if they weren’t die-hard fans of it, but [that didn’t] ignore the film’s violence – the highlights of her eyes are formed from a drill and a hammer, something you might miss at first glance,” he says.
Joe Wilson was asked to interpret Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare play Macbeth, exploring warrior traditions in Japan. His print represents one of the film’s final scenes in which one mans battles against an entire army.
“Out of all of the films, this seemed like a perfect fit for my work. I had a few compositional variations drawn up, scenes depicting witches and one with a skull, a helmet and a centipede, but this one was more cinematic and had a lot more dynamic to it. We were limited to two colours, which I quite liked as the film is black and white so there was no colour to influence my design.
“It’s fun to take apart a film’s visuals and reconstruct them in a new and interesting way with a totally new style. It can be hard to be selective though – it’s great to see a film distilled into one iconic image or object but it can be hard to find that one thing that sums it all up. It’s also important to consider what the people who will be buying these prints enjoy about it.”
Anthony Burrill’s print (top) is based on a quotation from The Way Way Back, a comedy about a 14-year-old boy’s summer trip with his mother, her boyfriend and his daughter.
“I was lucky enough to work with a film that’s being given it’s British premier at Somerset House – it’s been an interesting process producing a print that reflects the film, but that doesn’t give too much away. I watched the film at a press viewing in Soho, and spent most of it scribbling down notes in the dark trying to capture the dialogue. I knew I wanted to work with text and was listening out for bits that captured the spirit of the film in a short sentence, but also spoke about larger themes.”
“The dialogue comes from Duncan, the awkward and introverted lead character. The words are said not in a joyful way, but in an emotionally charged atmosphere and at a key dramatic moment in the film. The flourescent colour palette is inspired by a key location in the film – a gloriously 1980’s Water Wizz water park where Duncan finds refuge from his unhappy family. I see my print as a visual accompaniment to the film that also speaks about broader themes – it doesn’t have the responsibility of selling the film commercially, so in that way it could be poetic and visually strong.”
Steve Wilson’s print is inspired by The Untouchables, a US crime film starring Kevin Costner and Robert De Niro. His design is inspired by the infamous quote, “You Got Nothing.”
“I chose The Untouchables as I felt it had a lot of iconic imagery to work with that would translate well into graphic ideas. Regardless of whether someone has seen the film or not, everyone knows who Al Capone is and are aware of his look.”
“I used a font called Capone light as I thought it would be a nice hidden link to the main character and may only get noticed by those who know their typefaces, as well as it being a suitable typeface to represent the prohibition era where the film is set. I partly chose the quote because it worked well in the composition – the second letter of each word is an ‘O’, which enabled me to place the type in such a way that the Os create the buttons on his double breasted pinstripe suit. I also wanted to represent the violence in the film so added in a gun as though it is tucked into his belt, and the profile of the gun creates a dead mans face.”
“The main challenge [with this project] is really representing the film in your own unique way and trying to interpret something you are so familiar with into something that feels new and original. It’s because of this that I avoided characters and really tried to distill the film as a whole down into something that was a simple graphic idea.”
MOL – Print Club co-founder Fred Higginson, who curated the project with director Kate Higginson and creative director Rose Stallard – chose Ryan Gosling romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid Love.
“There seemed to be many quotes in the film that I felt would become iconic lines, and it was just trying to find the best moment to put into a poster that really represented the humour and tone of the film. U-haul vans are pretty recognisable in the US and the family break up [in the film] was something I knew was going to be key to my print – this character packing up his life’s worth into one van and feeling a bit like an island on his own. I also really liked the fact that this guy [who separates from his wife] sneaks in all the time to mow his wife’s grass at night time, so it was a case of mixing together the aspects that appealed to me. Considering its very much a women’s film I think it was good for a male illustrator to approach it.”
Peter Strain opted for 1976 horror film Carrie, about a telekenetic 17-year-old who lashes out at her school prom after being the victim of a humiliating prank.
“The main focus of the print is the shower scene but I wanted there to be an overall narrative within the image. The scene shows how sheltered Carrie is and the expression on her face, at discovering blood, really captures this. The blood flows down her hand in the shape of a cross to show the cause of this naivety – her obsessive religious mother. We then have laughter making its way up her body, like bullying will eventually push her her over the edge. Below that is the calm after the storm.
“I wanted to keep the colour scheme fairly minimal and I believe it makes for a bolder image. With other projects you generally have to generate everything from scratch but with the film posters there’s already so much to work with. The challenge is to always try to reinvent and re-imagine characters and scenes that already are very familiar to people.”
Anthony Peters’s print represents Cohen Brothers’ film, Raising Arizona.
“Most people simply remember Raising Arizona as a slapstick comedy in which a baby gets snatched by a barren couple who are desperate for a family however to me, it’s a story about the grey areas of morality and the deep-seated need inside the protagonist to ‘go straight’. My idea appeals not only to what most people know of the film, but also to the idea that the baby is the catalyst that allows H.I. [the protagonist] to finally be rid of his bad side, represented by Leonard Smalls [the film’s villain] on the horizon.”
“The teal and dark blue colours used in the print are a reference to colours I use for many of my previous Print Club projects. Much of my work is normally very colourful but with this project we were limited to two colours so I really had to put a lot of thought into how to make it work.
“I think there are a lot of very lazy film poster homages out there at the moment, many of which rely on being able to slap the film title on the bottom in a sans serif font but to me the secret to a good representation is that it can still be understood without the film title.”
James Joyce’s design is based on a scene from 1962 film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, a thriller starring Joan Crawford.
“I was offered a few films to choose from, but this one was the clear classic amongst them – the other films were more recent and movies that I wasn’t familiar with. I liked the idea of interpreting a vintage black and white movie as iconic as this one. I also thought that there were some strong visual cues I could take from the film that would make a strong image.
“It draws from the scene of Blanche’s supposed accident where there is a shot of the broken Baby Jane doll’s head, I felt that scene was the premise for the whole movie. The broken dolls head is also a metaphor for Jane’s damaged and fragile mental state. I found image references of 1950’s dolls heads so that the style would fit with the film.”
All of the prints featured in the exhibition will be available to buy online or at an invitation-only buyers’ night on July 31. For more information, visit printclublondon.com or somersethouse.org.uk.
The full set of prints is also featured in the August issue of Monograph, our subscriber only publication, out now.