Saturday, April 26, 2008

Theater of War

A few days ago I posted the poster for the Tribeca Film Festival showing of Theater of War, an excellent documentary by John Walter. It was fun, especially getting to work on such a huge scale compared to DVD cover size. It had a really tight schedule, so it meant some late nights, but ultimately I'm really happy with how it came out. I originally presented John with three options:

This one I initially thought was probably most effective at getting across the basic premise of the film to an uninitiated viewer—I was trying to present the idea of a comprehensive portrait of Mother Courage from many different angles, perspectives, and interpretations. Much of this was inspired by a book John lent me of posters from the Berliner Ensemble, a theater Brecht worked with after World War II. I liked the idea of using so many different designs-within-a-design, because it allowed me to make reference to a lot of different aspects of the film and really give an idea of the complexity, but the overall "wall of broadsides" gives it a nice graphic focus. (And yes, that is Karl Marx in there.) I did a revision to make it a little less text heavy:

...but ultimately we went in a different direction. Here's the second option:

When we first discussed the brief, John talked a bit about the idea of Brechtian collage being not about mixing elements but more about juxtaposing concepts while keeping them separate, so this is my take on that. The three images are meant to represent the artist (Brecht), the art (Mother Courage), and the outside world (the helicopter—a reference both to war generally and to a specific moment in the film where the outdoor rehearsal is interrupted by the noise of a helicopter). This is a good example, I think, of a design that works really well once you're familiar with the film (or, I hope so, at least), but doesn't quite do enough to explain it or draw in the uninitiated. Still, I liked it.

One of the coolest moments on this project was after I showed John the comps which used the helicopter motif, (both #1 and #2), John said that he was happy that I picked up on that, since that was a favorite moment of his, too. So much so, that after seeing it show up in the poster designs, he decided to add another shot of the helicopter to a montage elsewhere in the film, to drive home the metaphor. I haven't seen the final cut yet, so I don't know if that ultimately made it in, but still, a very cool feeling to actually influence (in a very very minor way) the finished film. That never happens on any Criterion projects!

And finally, the ultimate winner:

This comes from a moment in the film when, in the midst of a rehersal, Meryl Streep breaks character for a moment and stares up at (if I remember correctly), the director, lit directly from above. So it's a great moment because she's both character and actress, both in the moment and within the constructed reality of the play. (It's also a big portrait of a big movie star, so that doesn't hurt either.) I didn't know this when I started on the drawing, but John told me later that while he was filming that moment, he looked through the lens and thought, "that's it, that's the poster!" So why argue with destiny, really?

Some quick tweaks to the credit block and a little resizing of the image, and here's the final poster:


Anonymous said...

You never fail to impress. I tell every designer-friend I've got about this blog.

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Anonymous said...

This poster is also a happy instance where it reminds me of the picture of Marlene Dietrich. Light loves her tell you the truth, I watched a documentary which reveals how she "forces" light to love her face. She insists on the right angle and the right cameraman to work on her film just to bring out those famous contours.