Category Archives: Interview

Charlotte Rampling on The Look at BFI

The Look

Peter Lindbergh and Charlotte Rampling – Role Reversal

On 27 April this year Charlotte Rampling attended the BFI in London to give a Q&A with journalist Mark Lawson. Angelina Maccarone’s film The Look was the screening, a film on Charlotte Rampling that has the alternative title, A Self Portrait Through Others.

The Look screened as part of Cannes Classics, at the French Film Festival UK and was recently released on DVD by Park Circus. An intriguing and insightful work, The Look is divided into a series of chapters chosen by Rampling and discussed with friends and colleagues across locations such as New York and Paris.

The Look has already been discussed on our blog but here we provide the Q&A session with Charlotte Rampling at the BFI. Let us know your thoughts in our comment section below and enjoy!

The Look is available on DVD now (Park Circus).


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Interview: composer Craig Armstrong discusses Orphans

Douglas Henshall and Stephen McCole in Orphans

Douglas Henshall and Stephen McCole in Orphans

BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning composer, Craig Armstrong, has worked on films as diverse as Moulin Rouge, Love Actually and The Incredible Hulk alongside a string of critically acclaimed solo albums.

Armstrong is also a longtime collaborator with filmmaker Peter Mullan, providing scores for all of his short and feature films since the early 1990s. With Mullan’s 1998 film, Orphans, now released on DVD and Blu-ray, Jonathan Melville spoke to Armstrong about his work with the director and his memories of the film.

Jonathan Melville: How did you first come to meet Peter Mullan?

Craig Armstrong: The first time I met Peter was on a production called Losing Alec at the Tron Theatre in 1988. It was directed by Michael Boyd and I provided the music. We were both then involved in a production of Macbeth at the Tron.

Peter started making short films, the first one being Close and he asked me to do the music for that. Then he did A Good Day for the Bad Guys and another short called Fridge. Orphans was his first feature film and since then I’ve done all of his films, most recently The Magdalene Sisters and NEDS.

Orphans is very personal for Peter, it definitely comes from the heart.

How would you describe your relationship with Mullan?

It’s one of those relationships that has endured over the decades and I see him quite a lot, he’s actually a neighbour of mine here in Glasgow.

Generally, a director picks a composer whose style they like. With Peter, even before we did the first film, we had years of working together, so in those days at the Tron the music for the plays was pretty big, with live musicians. I’d already done some quite big movies like Romeo + Juliet and I was building up a lot of experience at that point.

By the time we got to Close he knew my style. When you build up a family there’s a lot of shorthand you don’t have to go through so I know what he likes. Colin Monie, Peter’s editor on Orphans, has also worked on all of his films. It’s a lot of fun working with Pete.

How did you approach the score for Orphans? Was it collaborative?

Stephen McCole as John in Orphans

Stephen McCole as John in Orphans

Orphans is unlike any other film really. Peter came to me a lot to try ideas out and I think we’re sort of on the same wavelength. It tends to be quite a natural collaboration and we’ll find something we like and work on it.

There was a lot of ensemble work on Orphans, a lot of music that was just a string quartet and it’s quite intimate. Orphans was the first film where there was a budget for a string orchestra, the Scottish Ensemble performed it, and it seemed to fit the movie.

It was an interesting score because a lot of Peter’s films are very story driven and you have to find an emotional counterpart. NEDS had a lot of room at the end to do extended pieces of music, but generally with Peter’s films you’re trying to enhance what’s on the screen, something you first saw in Orphans in the scene in the bedroom when the camera is going around the mother.

The script has a dark tone but there’s also a lot of humour in there. Was it difficult to convey those tonal changes in the music?

When you work on a film that’s quite sad or harrowing, your job isn’t to write incredibly harrowing music, it’s for the music to become one of the characters.

Peter’s films are under the category of drama and with that you sometimes need a bit of light relief. The humour is quite dark but you need to set up the more emotional parts. That happened with NEDS as well; it’s pretty harrowing but it’s always got humorous moments, which you need. It’s a dramatic technique so that when you go back to the drama it’s even more intense. His writing is really brilliant.

You can go against the drama, which can be really effective, go quite atmospheric rather than really emotional. I did that a lot in NEDS actually, I didn’t really go with the narrative, I went off on a different journey.

I was really happy with NEDS because of Glasgow and because we came from similar backgrounds, it took me back to being a kid, the good and the bad bits!

Is there a process that you follow on Mullan’s films?

The way we work is that I’ll go and write music for the film, and I might even do a rough for the entire film, and there’s maybe 25 pieces of music and he’ll tell me what he likes and doesn’t. Like a lot of directors he’ll maybe use scenes in different places and Colin has a lot of input as well. The editor starts playing with it you have to extend sequences or move it around.

Basically you try to immerse yourself in the film and you watch it day in, day out for weeks on end. Eventually you slip into it. Music is like being another actor, you’re almost part of the psychological make-up of the film and you get more into it and it’s exciting when you do the recording. With Orphans it was the first time he had a budget to record real people. It was exciting to hear the strings.

A lot of people ask about that piece of music, it seems to stick in people’s heads.

Michael (Douglas Henshall), Thomas (Gary Lewis) and a broken Mary

Michael (Douglas Henshall), Thomas (Gary Lewis) and a broken Mary

Do you do all your work from Glasgow or do you travel a lot?

I travel a lot. I’ve just finished a film in LA and Baz Luhrmann’s films tend to be in Australia. It’s nice working with Pete as we both work all over the world and it’s good to get back together. After we’ve done a session we usually go out and socialise and catch-up.

Do directors or producers mention your work with Mullan specifically?

Baz Luhrmann is a big fan of Peter Mullan. In America, directors don’t seem to know him so much as he’s a European director, but Baz Luhrmann has all his movies and really loves them.

What are you working on just now?

At the moment I’m doing a chamber opera for Scottish Opera. I try to work in Scotland as much as possible. I just did a film called In Time with Andrew Niccol, as I’ve always wanted to do a science fiction film. That’s stars Justin Timberlake and it’s out in November.

The main thing I’m working on is a new opera and we’re casting that. I’ve done one for Scottish Opera before, a series of short operas, and this is an hour long. It’s based on an Ibsen novel, The Lady from the Sea, turned into a libretto.

These days I’d say half the time I’m doing music for classical commissions and I recently did some work at the Glasgow-based festival Celtic Connections. I’m not doing quite as many movies as I used to, I just take the time to do really good ones.

Would you like to see your scores performed live in Glasgow?

I’ve done a lot of concerts for my film music in Europe, I don’t know why it doesn’t really happen here. Maybe it’s the old Glasgow thing, you’re often more appreciated abroad.

Peter has a lot of fans in France, I get asked a lot of in-depth Peter Mullan questions in France!

Visit Craig Armstrong’s website for more information on his work.

Orphans is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.

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Interview: Pierre Rissient on publicising La Piscine

La Piscine

Romy Schneider in La Piscine

As part of an impressive career in the film industry that has seen him work as first assistant director on Godard’s Breathless and become a renowned film historian, curator, critic and programmer, Pierre Rissient also found himself working as publicist on Jacques Deray’s 1969 classic, La Piscine.

With the film now re-released in cinemas, Jonathan Melville took the opportunity to speak to Rissient about his involvement with La Piscine, the importance of celebrating the history of cinema and the directors he’s excited about today.

Jonathan Melville: Where did your love of cinema come from? 

Pierre Rissient: I was 15 and still in High School. There were screenings once a fortnight in another school of films considered classics. At that time, 1951, cinema was not considered an art and I wasn’t into it but I went and it opened my eyes and I fell in love with cinema.

I attended every two weeks for 6 months and was encouraged to then go to the cinema to see even more.

Who were the directors you appreciated at that time?

The directors I first became crazy about, which was as common then as it is now, were Jean Renoir and FW Murnau. The turning point came when I saw a film that had received bad reviews but became a film noir classic, Jules Dassin’s Night and the City.

That became a great influence on me because I wondered how a film which I thought of as great could be vilified by almost everyone and it made me want to challenge established values. I was interested me in the Hollywood blacklist and over the years I became very friendly with many of its victims.

What was your first film-related job?

My first unofficial job was as an advisor of programming at a theatre in France. I was then made an apprentice director on a film by a veteran filmmaker, Henri Decoin, and through a friendship with Claude Chabrol I became assistant director on Les Cousins and first assistant director on Godard’s Breathless.

How did you come to work on La Piscine?

Jane Birkin in La Piscine

Jane Birkin in La Piscine

I’d interviewed José Giovanni, the noir writer famous for films such as Classe tous risques and Le Trou, and when he wrote the script of Rififi à Tokyo for Jacques Deray he asked if I’d like to represent the film to the press. The film was a strong critical success in France.

Then followed a film written by Giovanni and directed by Jacques Deray, called Symphonie pour un massacre, a stupid title but a good film. I’d become friendly with Deray and when La Piscine came along he asked me to be around at the start.

Deray had made two films that weren’t too successful so people were hesitating to trust him with the new film and I encouraged it as I felt it could be quite a good film.

Then Alain Delon came on board and I was at the shooting and saw the first workprint.

What did your work entail on the publicity side?

One of my jobs at the time was to create a good mood at private screenings of films, helping critics prepare for them, so my being involved with a film was a kind of signal that it would at least be an interesting one.

I took two or three journalists to the set of La Piscine and I would take a small group of critics to screenings and chat to them at the start and end of the film.

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Marni Nixon on West Side Story: “It’s a work of art”

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in West Side Story

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in West Side Story

In the run up to the 50th anniversary release of West Side Story, Park Circus managing director, Nick Varley, caught up with famed and accomplished vocal performer Marni Nixon for a chat about her career in the movies and experiences on West Side Story.

Nick Varley: Can I first ask how you became involved in vocal dubbing in the movies?

Marni Nixon: In those days when I was doing the dubbing I was just at the beginning of my career doing a lot of singing and chamber music there in Los Angeles where I lived. But doing dubbing work in the movies paid the bills. I was doing jingles and commercials and a lot of interesting things like that and I also had three kids so had to make a living.

Of course one of your first assignments was Joan of Arc (1948) which starred Ingrid Bergman.

That is one of the first things I did. It wasn’t really dubbing but the soundtrack included the voices of angels and things – I had a very angelic voice [laughs].

I read that you helped Marilyn Monroe with some of her singing in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Is that true?

Yes, some of the high notes she evidently wasn’t able to do to their (studio Twentieth Century Fox) satisfaction and I had to imitate her sound and do it in the pitch of the particular song, I think it was Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend. But it was just a few notes actually, no big deal.

Then of course the three big movie musicals you are known for are The King And I, My Fair Lady and West Side Story. Could you talk me through how that worked. Were you auditioned for the roles?

The King and I, which was the first big one, I did for Deborah Kerr. They had hired somebody else to do Deborah’s voice but unfortunately she had a quick but serious illness and she died just a week before the dubbing was supposed to take place, so they were running around desperately trying to find someone and they knew me, as I was around the studios a lot and did incidental things. I was also known in LA as a concert and opera singer, so they just called me in and I quickly made a tape. They sent it to Richard Rogers, he approved of it, and I had the job in a week and then we started filming.

Of course, vocal dubbing was a profession for many people at the time and there were other people in your position who provided a voice for on-screen talent.

Yes, well I think there always has been and there always will be and still is.

And do you think, although it’s a shame we don’t see many movie musicals these days in cinemas, it would be possible and the audience would accept vocal dubbing of on screen talent today?

Well, I assume they would try not to have it dubbed. They would try to have someone doing the role that could do their own soundtrack. I think now that it’s known [by the public] that this is going on they would really have to. I don’t know. I can’t think that the actress who was being dubbed would want it to be known they were being dubbed.

On that very subject if we turn to My Fair Lady, that was the big issue there; no one was supposed to know Audrey Hepburn was being dubbed.

That’s true and Audrey herself thought that she didn’t get the [Oscar] nomination for the role because it had been rumoured that she hadn’t done her own singing. She felt bad about that. She felt she was snubbed. I always think that at that same time, it was Julie Andrews (who had done Mary Poppins) who was nominated because everyone was for her and wanted to give her credit. It was nothing against Audrey Hepburn, it’s just that everyone was for Julie Andrews – whatever she did.

Of course Julie Andrews had played the role of Eliza in the West End and on Broadway and everyone assumed she would get the film too but she hadn’t been seen on screen and wasn’t a big enough name for such a large budget film.

Right, they wanted someone who was more of a star name in movies.

So tell me, how did Julie Andrews feel towards you when she met you on The Sound of Music, because we actually get to see you as well as hear you in that film?

Julie Andrews was a dear, absolutely wonderful. I was actually on my way to audition for the very first revival of My Fair Lady on Broadway after we filmed The Sound of Music. In fact, the day after we stopped filming I got on a plane and flew to New York to audition and I had gone the day before to Julie and she actually helped me with one of the scenes that I was having trouble with – trying to figure out how to play the scene – and she was very helpful and gave me all sorts of pointers and was wonderful.

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Gill Robertson interview: bringing Kes to the stage

A new version of Kes comes to theatres

A new version of Kes comes to theatres

Adapting a well known book for the stage can be a daunting prospect for any theatre company. When that novel has also been turned into a successful film, as in the case of Barry Hines’ ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’, better known as 1969’s Kes, deciding on a unique style becomes even more important.

As Scottish children’s theatre company, Catherine Wheels, puts the finishing touches to their new version of Kes, at the same time as the film is re-released in UK cinemas, Jonathan Melville talked to Artistic Director, Gill Robertson, about casting, kestrels and why the story remains relevant to modern audiences.

Jonathan Melville: Barry Hines’ novel has been adapted for the stage before, but this is a new take on the script. What inspired your version?

Gill Robertson: I was inspired by the original book and although I remember being heartbroken by the film, it is the book’s ability to share the inner thoughts and feelings of Billy Casper that made me love the story and want to stage it. I also think that this story is as relevant now as it was over 40 years ago with the character of Billy representing every child who is let down by family, education and a way of life that offers them little hope.

The novel is set in the 1960s, with references to a particular way of life in Yorkshire. Has anything needed to change for 2011 audiences?

We have remained pretty faithful to the original story but have added another aspect to the play which has enabled the story to be more abstract about the settings and the situations that Billy encounters. We knew from the beginning of the project that we didn’t want to put a gritty 1960s northern drama on stage, so we’ve shifted the story and set it in the memory of an older Billy Casper who has returned to witness his young life. This has freed up the play and the way we stage it, so it is not so bound by the original story.

Also, although our version is set in Yorkshire we have softened the accent and as it is for a 10+ audience have curtailed the some of the swearing.

How did you cast the production?

We were really fortunate that the actor James Antony Pearson, who plays Billy, was committed to the project right from the start. I had worked with James before and I knew that his physicality and ability to present emotions honestly and truthfully were crucial to an audience’s understanding of Billy. We searched a long time for the other actor who plays the older Billy and a multitude of other characters and luckily discovered Sean Murray, who is a brilliant actor and also looks uncannily like James, which is a lovely coincidence.

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Interview: David Hughes on cutting classic film trailers

West Side Story

Film critic, journalist and author, David Hughes, cut his teeth in the advertising business as a copywriter and producer with London-based agency The Creative Partnership, before moving to Picture Production Co as a writer/producer. After spearheading literally hundreds of campaigns, from Trainspotting to Pulp Fiction, he left to form his own movie marketing company, Synchronicity, in 2006, which he continues to run out of Soho.

Hughes has to date created four theatrical trailers for Park Circus – Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, Boudu Saved From Drowning, The African Queen and West Side Story.

With his latest trailer for the company, West Side Story, now in cinemas ahead of the film’s 16 September re-release, Jonathan Melville spoke to him about his passion for cinema and about what makes the perfect film trailer.

Jonathan Melville: When did you become interested in cinema?

David Hughes: Probably, like many people, when I saw Star Wars at the cinema in ‘78. I was 10 at the time, so science fiction was probably my first love – even though I didn’t realise at the time Star Wars wasn’t science fiction at all, but fantasy.

Which trailers inspire or enthuse you?

Ones that do something completely different, or something old in a new way: the backwards trailer for video game Dead Island is brilliant, but although I admire the trailer for David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, you can draw a direct line between that and Stanley Kubrick’s hand-cut trailer for A Clockwork Orange – and that’s 40 years old!

When did you first get involved in making trailers?

I started in 1990, and I’ve been privileged to work on ground-breaking trailers for films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, Amelie, Schindler’s List, The Blair Witch Project, Trainspotting, and countless others. Trailers tend to be a bit more formulaic these days, but only because most of the best ideas have been used up by the 500+ films released each year in cinemas (and many more on DVD!).

I got into the business, by the way, through the copywriting route: in those days, most trailers were caption or voiceover-driven, so the written word was the foundation of most of the trailers you saw. These days the audience is more sophisticated, and they bring more to the table, so you don’t have to hold their hands quite so much. It’s more about the concept of the trailer, the music, and the mood. And we no longer use the word “Starring”!

The ones I really enjoy, though – and I’m not just saying this – are the trailers we’ve made for some of the older films, like The African Queen, West Side Story, From Here to Eternity, Psycho and All About Eve. There’s something magical about bringing modern trailer techniques to older films, especially the real classics.

Is there an art to making a film trailer or rules you need to follow?

There is an art to it – but my business depends on keeping it to myself!

Do you feel an added responsibility when you’re dealing with a much-loved classic?

My first reaction was yes, but actually at my company, Synchronicity, we treat every film as if it’s a future classic. You can’t just say ‘Oh, it’s just a kids movie’ or whatever – every film has the potential to be somebody’s favourite film, and that’s a metaphorical sign above each of the edit suites while we’re working: EVERY FILM IS SOMEBODY’S FAVOURITE. Even if it’s just the director’s! There’s no such thing as a ‘minor’ film while you’re working on the marketing for it – they’re all important. But the “much-loved classics” you mention are, often, the ones that give you the greatest job satisfaction!

Your first trailer for Park Circus was Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Did you have to work to a brief?

Not really…I think the trailer suggested itself from the film itself. It was so beautiful to look at, and had such a distinctive colour scheme, we knew exactly what the captions should look like, and as soon as our editor saw Ava Gardner singing at the piano, he knew he wanted to use that music piece for the trailer through-line.

It’s little touches like that which come more easily when you’ve been making trailers a long time: you have an eye for exactly the right shot, an ear for the right music, a feel for the correct tone… and what the Germans would call a “fingerspitzengefuhl” for the whole thing. And with a film as glorious as Pandora, the copy for the captions seems to write itself. It was a sublime experience, from start to finish.

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Brandon Schaefer interview (3 of 3): designing the West Side Story poster

West Side Story

In the final instalment of our interview with Brandon Schaefer (you can also read parts one and two), the artist behind the Park Circus posters for The Last Picture Show, Kes and West Side Story, discusses his work on the latter ahead of its cinema re-release in the UK on 16 September 2011.

Like many Park Circus films, West Side Story is recognised as a classic of the musical genre. Is it daunting to take on such a well known film?

Not particularly because of its place in the history of film, but there were other factors that made it more daunting than most. Usually, I’m aware of how time has treated different pictures, it’s impossible not to be. But I feel like it’s important to shed that baggage if you can when going into a project, otherwise you’re focusing more on the mythic qualities that surround it as opposed to the heart of the story.

How much did you know about West Side Story before you began the project?

When I was 13, our teachers at school herded us up and stuck us on a cold, concrete floor below a TV that played the movie, for what seemed like an eternity. Time heals most wounds, though, so my appreciation of it softened over the years.

An early West Side Story poster sketch

An early West Side Story poster sketch

Were you aware of the original poster? What did you think about it?

Yeah, definitely. Saul Bass gets dragged out as an influence for many people, and I’m no different. There were other poster designers who were good, or just as good, but, despite what keeps being tossed around lately, the man had range and was a master of symbolism and metaphor that he weaved into iconic executions. The poster for West Side Story was no different, and that is what made the project more daunting than it should’ve been: having to walk into Saul’s house and not ruin the upholstery.

There are some elements of the original in the new design, namely the figures on the steps. Were they iconic to you?

Most of his work is iconic on its own, but the decision to retain certain elements from the original campaign came chiefly out of the brief. The color palette, along with the catwalk typography, were two of the big pieces that needed to be carried over, so the process became a means of figuring out how to preserve and honor those elements while adding something unique to the proceedings without taking a piss on the whole thing. A lot of the variations on the original artwork over the years have done that by adding a lot of unnecessary jazz, so the idea was to keep it as simple as possible while connecting it back to the film.

The solution to paint the title on a brick wall came from two places: the stark lighting on the walls of the buildings at night, and the end title credits, which took a similar approach with the typography. My parent’s house had a brick wall, so I popped to it one afternoon, snapped a picture, and worked from there.

Inspiration for the wall in Brandon's West Side Story poster

Inspiration for the wall in Brandon's West Side Story poster

Did you have any early concepts that didn’t make it to the final poster?

Almost a dozen or so. They were sketches, and the ideas were more illustrative. I’m sure that approach would’ve been a beautiful direction to have taken the poster in, but on a practical level, they felt redundant when you factored in the dancing figures and the scaffolding type treatment. People probably wouldn’t have noticed, or cared, but they felt more like showing off for the sake of showing off rather than honoring the restrictions set out in the brief. If a bus hasn’t hit me in 50 years when the 100th anniversary approaches, maybe I’ll give it a shot then for fun.

What’s next for you?

If I’m lucky, more film related work. I appreciate what I get to do and enjoy the heck out of it, so it’s something I could easily do for the rest of my life. Or until that bus hits me. Whichever comes first.

Thanks to Brandon for his time – visit his website at to find out more about his work. West Side Story is re-released in cinemas on 16 September, keep an eye on to see if it’s showing near you or follow our Twitter feed or Facebook page for more information.

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Brandon Schaefer interview (2 of 3): The Last Picture Show & Kes

An early sketch for Kes

An early sketch for Kes

Following our introduction to the film posters of Brandon Schaefer, in this second part of a three part interview he discusses his work on Park Circus cinema re-releases, The Last Picture Show and Kes, with film journalist, Jonathan Melville.

Jonathan Melville: Your association with Park Circus Films stretches back to April 2011 and the re-release of The Last Picture Show in cinemas. How did you come to work with them?

Brandon Schaefer: A few years ago I had done a poster for Unzero Films in France for Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out which crossed a desk or two here, which is sort of where the seeds for our relationship were planted.

Brandon's initial sketches for The Last Picture Show

Brandon's initial sketches for The Last Picture Show

Presumably you’re given a brief with each project. What was The Last Picture Show brief and how did you approach it?

There was a lot of freedom with The Last Picture Show, actually, which made for an interesting process, especially when you take into account the history behind how the film was advertised. A lot of what had been done in the past focused on movie theatre related imagery with a clever twist, or stock shots of a bustling town from the 1950s. Neither really clicked, especially for a film as deeply complex and atmospheric as Last Picture. The focus became an exercise in honing in on the tone and feel, rather than getting cheeky with symbolism…and crushing that idea that the film took place in a bustling town from the 1950s.

The finished Last Picture Show poster

The finished Last Picture Show poster

Do you provide a few different options for clients or do you just have one in your head?

It depends on the project, but most of the time, a single idea popping into your head fully formed is unexpected and incredibly rare. The last time I had one was two years ago in a bathroom, so it’s not something you can really plan on. Most of the time, I tend to scribble down a lot of ideas while pacing around. If I’m not completely confident in a single one, I’ll work at cycling through a few different options with the client until I land on one that feels right. Nobody’s perfect, though, so I do wind up having to toss things out and start over.

You’ve now created a stunning new poster for Ken Loach’s 1969 film, Kes, out in UK cinemas on 9 September. When were you first approached with the commission?

Thank you. I think it was bordering on the end of June/beginning of July? We had a good bit of time laid out for Kes, but the bulk of it came together surprisingly quickly. We lucked out, I suppose.

An early Kes sketch

An early Kes sketch

Had you seen the film before you worked on the poster?

I hadn’t, but I’d seen the DVD cover recently: it had just been released in the states, so I was familiar with the name and the synopsis. I went in with that and a hunch that it would probably make me pretty sad when all was said and done.

Did you look at the original design for inspiration?

Not for inspiration – I tend to keep to the movie itself for that. Only after I’ve watched a film and sketched things out do I check to see what was used in the past, just to make sure what I’ve got in mind hasn’t already been done before. It’s amazing how many original thoughts you can have that turn out to be done by someone else years prior.

There are a few versions of the original design, most of which focus on David Bradley’s character. Why did you switch the focus to Kes?

The kestrel becomes his world, in a way – a source of hope and inspiration. A light in a tunnel that doesn’t see sunshine, much less anything else. That’s important. Billy remains, though, reflected in its eye.

Brandon's final Kes poster

Brandon's final Kes poster

Were there any versions of the new poster that didn’t quite make it?

There were sketches for different directions that played on the rugged, industrial areas of Barnsley, but the structure of those would’ve been more in line with what was done for The Last Picture Show – less illustrative, more photographic. They felt too similar, and I try desperately not to repeat myself often, so gears were switched and the others focused more on Kes.

The technique in rendering those that didn’t make the cut would’ve featured more expressive illustration, which probably would’ve wound up being too self indulgent. And at the end of the day, it’s not always about showing off, but doing what feels right for the film.

In the final part of this interview, Brandon looks ahead to the release of West Side Story to cinemas and his work on the poster redesign – keep an eye on our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more information.

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Brandon Schaefer interview (1 of 3): Designing classic film posters

A new take on Back to the Future

A new take on Back to the Future

For many film fans, a well designed poster can be as iconic as the movie it’s promoting. As well as re-releasing a growing number of films back into cinemas, Park Circus are also increasingly commissioning new posters which both celebrate the original while at the same time introducing films to contemporary audiences.

One artist who has worked on a number of recent Park Circus posters, including The Last Picture Show and the upcoming Kes and West Side Story, is US-based designer, Brandon Schaefer. In the first of a three-part interview, film journalist Jonathan Melville talks to Brandon about his introduction to the world of poster design and how he approaches the task.

Jonathan Melville: Can you tell me a little about your background – when did you first discover your love of art and illustration?

Brandon Schaefer: I’m 26 years old, and started stumbling into design when I was in my early teens. I grew up in a family full of people that dabbled in the arts, so you couldn’t escape the influence, even if I wasn’t very good. It wasn’t until I was six that I caught on to the fact that people’s arms didn’t come out of their heads.

Have movie posters always interested you?

Brandon Schaefer

Brandon Schaefer

My grandfather used to help me put together binders filled with clippings of movie advertisements from the newspaper that I got a kick out of when I was really young. They weren’t anything spectacular, just pieces from silly movies like Young Einstein. My favorite was that art-deco inspired poster for Rocketeer; I tore it out and had it framed for years.

Do your favourite films and favourite posters differ?

More often than not, easily. The brilliant film Dancer in the Dark has a striking poster that plays off of the main character’s poor sight, but the film itself isn’t one I’d want to be stranded on a desert island with. For whatever reason, I could watch Finding Forrester until my eyes bleed, but the giant floating head of Sean Connery that dominates the poster doesn’t get me all hot and bothered under the collar.

You’re perhaps best known for creating a series of alternate posters for films such as Back to the Future and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Where did the inspiration for those come from?

I had taken a few years off after I graduated to deliver furniture because my last few years of school burnt me out. When I sat back down to start designing again, I needed a way to get my head in the right place, and movie posters were something I’d done in college for my thesis.

So, I went back to what was familiar, but could be approached differently piece by piece. Movies ask for a more sporadic approach, because most stories aren’t the same.

Do you sketch different version of a poster before settling on a final one?

Yeah. I’ve got a stack of cheap notebooks filled with lined paper that I toss ideas down in. They’re usually fairly small thumbnails, with several on a page, one after the other. I doubt anyone could really decipher them – they’re just a load of scribbles thrown on paper so I can keep my head clear and not get too attached to one idea.

It’s like having a portable dumpster that I can dive back into without having to worry about tetanus.

Brandon's Back to the Future poster

Brandon's Back to the Future poster

What was the response like to these posters? 

I hope that the people that stumbled upon them enjoyed what they saw. I know a few are hanging in places like AMC TV and Rocksteady Games, and there were plans for a book a year ago, but that fell through. So it’s humbling to know that there were some positive responses out there, but it’s not something I concerned myself about because the posters were done for myself.

Do you think there was a golden age of poster design?

Honestly, no. There were periods when a lot of the art had more going for it in terms of craft, but I think you could chalk that up to what tools were available at the time. People used to paint floating heads, now they Photoshop them. Granted, there’s more charm in the past, even if the work was less than brilliant. That stems from being able to see a human being behind the work, whereas today, it’s easier for that to get lost.

It’s important for people to know, though, that a lot of the problems that today’s poster designers tackle are very similar to what Saul Bass faced in his heyday.

Brandon's The Dark Knight poster

Brandon's The Dark Knight poster

Would you like to see a return to illustrated movie posters from the industry at large?

Maybe not necessarily illustrated posters, but more honesty. And by that I mean, a poster created with Photoshop or illustrated by hand can both have their place as long as they communicate something true about a film. I’m sure that sounds a bit broad and open to a lot of interpretation, but…what I’m shooting for is an idea or a tone.

As long as you’re trying to get across something honest about a picture, I think that whatever you create stands a better chance at connecting with people than something that is just clever, or worse, deceptive.

Visit Brandon’s website at to find out more about his work.

Part two of our three part discussion with Brandon will focus on his The Last Picture Show and Kes re-release posters, while part three looks at West Side Story – keep an eye on our Twitter feed or Facebook page for more information.

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