They say to never judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest … we all do it. The same is true of movie posters. The cooler, the more colorful, the prettier it is the more we want to see the film, however, an undistinguished photo or lack of content will make anyone take a quick glance and forget they even saw it. They say never judge a book by its cover…however, when it comes to marketing films, it’s very important to make the poster design that stands above the rest.
Of course plots, characters and the actors that play them are a huge reason we desire to see the movie but the movie poster is your first visual representation of that film. That first visuality is what gets moviegoers interested and excited about the upcoming movie. It is also the smaller version of the movie poster that is on streaming services. If you flip on Netflix you will instantly see hundreds, if not thousands, of movie posters all in one place.
Huge studios can afford to pay millions on multi-million dollar ad campaigns that include trailers, interviews/press junkets, magazine/newspaper/online ads, etc. They can also pay big money on graphic designers to make the posters and have photographers doing photo shoots during filming or providing full photo sessions with the actors after the movie is made. This is all for the huge marketing campaign that is to make sure their movie is the next blockbuster.
Indie filmmakers don’t have the same budget or resources and therefore must get creative. This also means that indies must make sure whatever their budget, the poster for their movie is as outstanding as it can be as it has to work hard to get seen in as well as all the studio posters.
A common indie poster of late has been the stacked method. This is where there are three or more screengrabs of the film stacked on top of each other with one large title. This can be confusing and hard to read for the average moviegoer. Visually there is too much going on and it is hard to pinpoint one’s focus. It is, however, an easy solution for a designer with a low budget to accomplish a quick poster.
It is better to have one focus on the poster and a still photograph is usually visually more appealing than a moving screengrab. One or two key photos on the poster will grab someone’s attention faster and keep their focus longer than a multitude of pictures being thrust at them on one page.
Unless of course there is a photo of a huge star. Anyone with a major actor on their poster will usually draw people in just on their fame alone. In the past, movie posters with just an actor’s face on it will get noticed and still have people running to see the flick just for the actor alone.
Indie films don’t have this luxury and therefore should stick with the basics. Photo’s of the overall plot of the movie just to give people a quick overview of what the movie is about. This can include people, objects or scenery. Keeping it simple is what should be at the forefront of the designer’s mind when in the creative process. Besides a stunning picture, only a few words, a quick caption or tagline, are all that is needed if any words are used at all. Too many words equal too much to focus on and in this digital, fast-paced world people want quick explanations. They will make a split-second decision on whether or not they will see that movie just on the poster alone and if they have read a long paragraph or if there is too much visually going on they will simply walk, or scroll by.
If the film has won multiple awards or acclamations then adding these to the poster should be used sparingly. Use up to three laurels and only the top award wins (for example Sundance Film Festival), using too many could be visually unappealing.
Hopefully, this advice can help with decisions and ideas to put into the elusive movie poster design. Final tips to remember are to keep things simple, visually appealing and easy to understand. Take a step back and look at the final product from the point of view of someone looking for a movie to see. Would the poster immediately grab the person’s attention? Don’t forget this will be among hundreds of options for them to choose from. Will this design stop the person in their tracks or will they continue to scroll on by? The answer to that question will let you know if you should redesign or not.