Within the movie, poster industry mistakes are made. The whole point of this article is to help make you aware of these mistakes so that you don’t make them!
Mistakes within the entertainment marketing industry can be costly in both time and money. Are there only 9? Of course not! The following are some of the more common mistakes I have seen over the years.
Admittingly, I have made a few of these mistakes. In fact, most newbie designers and art directors have when they first started.
Copy cat artwork & plagiarism
Almost all art directors and designers in the movie poster making business use other artists work as inspiration. In fact, there is a term for sourcing inspirational artwork; it’s called “pulling scrap.”
Pulling scrap simply means finding cool artwork and making a little folder for yourself so that you have a way to sell your idea to a creative director.
Sometimes you will go ahead and make a quick sketch and accompany the sketch with 2-3 pieces of scrap. Then you can present this idea to the creative director so that he or she can either approve the idea, kill the idea, or suggest something for the idea.’
This also applies to coming up with Title logos. Usually, you can find some good typography online to help push your logo in a certain direction or style.
The problem with this way of designing is that some people take it too far and end up straight copying. Please don’t do this as it is disrespectful to the artist and sometimes could be illegal due to copyrighted material and images.
Plus it makes the movie studio and agency that created the work look really, really bad.
Back in 2018, Disney Studios dropped some posters created by marketing agency BLT for Solo: A Star Wars Story. The major problem was that they looked very similar to some CD cover designs that designer Hachim Bahous did back in 2015 for Sony Records.
What do you think? Do you think Solo is too close to Funk for comfort? Well, Mr. Bahous seemed to be disturbed about this situation, according to this article by Quartz.
Check out this article if you are curious about the story:
Throughout history, plagiarism and copycats have been a problem, and sometimes they end up in lawsuits. Lawsuits don’t sound too fun, and fan artists need to be extra careful. We took a look at fan art and legalities and dropped some knowledge with this article.
Licensing photography issues
Stock photography and artwork are used all the time in the commercial art business, and the movie poster business is no different. What that means is sometimes we need to pull photography and artwork, otherwise known as “stock.”
Let’s say you want to add some gritty texture to your Photoshop file, or you need to replace a background with a more compelling sunset. Where o you go? Well, almost every movie poster agency uses both Getty Images and Shutterstock as their go-to source of stock photography.
These stock photography companies cost money, so you are essentially buying the photography, textures, and artwork to use in your poster designs. Some have plans where you can purchase each photo individually, and others have a subscription-based model.
However, I have seen some junior designers just starting out resort to using stock photography from sites that don’t provide a solid license, or they just rip artwork from random websites.
This may be OK for coming up with a concept or using it temporarily to sell your idea, but if you were actually to use the unlicensed photography in your artwork and it was released to the public, the agency that hired you could be liable and lose a lot of money in a lawsuit.
So the takeaway here is to always use stock photography that comes with a license from a reputable company.
Within the stock photography websites, you will find great photography in the editorial section, but these editorial images are not allowed for commercial use. They are for editorial uses only.
A workflow suggestions is to remove editorial images in your search filters.
Licensing typography issues
Just like stock photography, typography needs to be licensed. A lot of times, you can find some amazing fonts online but do they have a license you can purchase?
You better read the fine lines and license info. Sometimes people will license their fonts for creative endeavors but not commercial use.
Plus, the free font websites are a little like the Wild Wild West. Just because some say they are free doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use them when making movie posters for the agencies you are working for.
There are a few movie poster agencies that have gotten into trouble for using fonts that didn’t have an appropriate license. That being said, make sure you are purchasing fonts from reputable font foundries. If it sounds too go to be true, it usually is.
Image quality control and pixel problems
Movie studios usually send over assets to work with. Assets are the photography and artwork from the actual movie or TV show. Sometimes you will get photography from a special shoot that was shot by a professional photographer or photography that was shot during filming, which is called “unit.” This is usually the best-case scenario.
Worst case scenario the studio has no photography and they expect you to use screen grabs from the actual film!
When this happens, it can be a major problem. Let’s say you have a screengrab of the actor, and it’s perfect. It’s a close crop of the face, and it’s going to be a banger. You start building your poster, and it looks great. The question is, did you blow it up? Chances are it’s going to look very pixelated and crappy.
We have to remember at all times that our posters are getting printed and blown up to 40 inches or more. In this situation, you may not be able to use a close crop idea. Creative directors will kill your poster idea and send you back to the drawing board.
Just be conscious of your image quality at all times and remember it’s going to get blown up should a movie studio choose your poster.
The art of retouching is real. Some art directors are great at it, and others not so much. I’m sure you’ve seen both good and bad examples of retouching in the real world.
Most of the time, newer art directors and designers are a little too heavy-handed when it comes to retouching. You will see skin tones not matching, too much brushwork, shadows that are too strong, and removing blemishes that should not have been removed.
Don’t mess with Eva’s mole!
Side note: it’s worth it to spend your time learning how to properly retouch.
Flopping faces and silly swaps
A big no-no in poster design is flopping the images of the actors and actresses. Let’s say you place a subject in a scene you have created, but the shadows don’t make sense. A simple fix would be just to flop the image of the actor, right? Well, it’s a bad idea because it will look strange and you are messing with reality.
Actors’ faces are not perfect, and they may have recognizable features or blemishes on one side of the face, and when you flop it, you are messing with how they look in real life. Never do this.
This also applies to swapping faces and bodies. Be sure you are not flopping body parts and not aligning your swaps correctly. “Frankensteining” is part of the job, but take your time and resort to proper anatomy.
Sometimes dropping in images onto backgrounds and vice versa without proper sizing and perspective can really make your design look wonky.
Photoshop has a perspective tool that may help or, better yet, get a colleague to put their eyes on it to make sure your artwork looks “ok.” You will want to do this before you present your poster to your creative director.
What is treatment? The best I can explain is that it’s the overall style, including technique, color, tone, and execution. Sometimes one’s treatment doesn’t match the actual movie you are trying to sell.
This is an extreme example, but you wouldn’t put a gritty texture with blue tones on a romantic comedy. You would save that for drama or even a horror movie.
Lack of adhering to the client brief
When I first got into the movie poster business, I didn’t really understand the process of listening. What I mean is that we always get a brief from the client, aka the movie studio marketing team, which explains what they are looking for.
Most of the time as a Jr. Designer, I was off in La-La land thinking about what I thought would be a good solve and not what the client was looking for.
This would result in my ideas getting killed by the creative director!
Over time you get better and better at understanding what the client is looking for. You have to constantly remember you are working for them, and that’s it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “Is this idea going to align with their ask?”
Learn from mistakes
Chances are, if you are starting out, you will be making a lot of mistakes. Don’t worry, we all make them. The point of this article is to help you identify these mistakes and make yourself less susceptible to them.
The cool thing is that we are currently creating an online course dedicated to the art of movie poster design. We will have tutorials on both how to make the artwork and how to get a job for a top movie poster design agency.
I’d advise you sign up to our newsletter now so that you will be notified as soon as our courses are available.
Also these 2 popular articles have helped many soon to be art directors learn a little bit more about poster design: