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Interview with Film Poster Designer Sam Smith

For Carlos Reygadas’ new film release Post Tenebras Lux, the ICO commissioned American graphic designer, Sam Smith to produce the poster artwork.  Both an artist and a musician (Smith is the drummer for Ben Folds) he approached the project as a film fanatic and an admirer of Reygadas’ Silent Light. Smith’s bold, abstract and colourful designs tap into Mexican and European illustrative poster traditions. Aesthetica speaks to Smith about his ideas for this project and his continued love for film poster design.

A: What was it that drew you to producing artwork for films?
SS: I got my undergraduate degree in Cinema Studies from NYU, and during that period I deeply enjoyed writing about film. But I’ve always been a visual artist, designing posters for my own movies I made as a child all the way through high school and making posters for my bands and school events. At a certain point, after touring for a few years after college and letting my writing skills slip, I became incredibly excited about the idea of channeling my film obsession into movie poster design, and to attempt to pursue an actual professional career in this area. The massive amount of inspiration I took in studying the designs of various international poster “schools” and the gold-standard packages from The Criterion Collection, for example, set me off running with a pretty good idea of the niche I wanted to explore graphically.

A: I am guessing you are a big film fan, are there any particular genres you like to work with?
SS: There’s a massive amount of fandom and popularity for movie posters these days but a good amount of it is tied to certain genres – nostalgic movies from the 1980s, cult horror and sci-fi. I get a real kick out of designing prints and poster designs for films by auteurs that don’t usually get this kind of treatment, and for films and filmmakers that I have grown to love in my study of cinema history. In the contemporary design landscape there is less competition in this sense – hardly anyone else has any interest in designing a Bresson print but it was a thrilling idea to me – but then I look back at the rich history of poster design in different countries and I realize that I’m in good company and, in fact, the poster artists of those countries and movements are far more influential to me than any current trends.

A: How did you approach the artwork for Post Tenebras Lux?
SS: It’s a bizarre and daring film, and thankfully it’s being handled by people who appreciated that and wanted to do something distinctive with the poster art. ICO referred to some specific things I had done that they felt were along the right lines stylistically, which is always very helpful. We didn’t have a lot of time to work with, and ICO trusted me to do my thing. I sent several ideas, some very minimal and some using stills from the film, but ICO pushed me to go even wilder with a certain abstract illustration style that I had been exploring as of late. I took some of the iconic images and ideas that stuck with me from the film and did my own thing, having a lot of fun designing for the landscape/quad format which I had never done before. They liked it instantly and I quickly finished it up. The final poster was created from conception to completion in a day.

A: You are also a musician, do you find your art and music influence one another?
SS: Interesting question! I’ve never thought about that. I suppose my taste in music and film have both simultaneously reached out towards the fringe over the years. I like older music now, more abstract and experimental music, and the same can be said with my interests in film and in design. What’s certain is that I absorb a great deal of inspiration from music, film and design, at all times, and they surely all mix together in my brain in ways I haven’t even attempted to analyse!

A: Do you have any particular interest in Carlos Reygadas’ films?
SS: I was completely stunned when I saw Silent Light in 35mm at the Belcourt, from the famous opening shot onwards. I saw it a few times just to try to unpack everything that was going on in it, after my initial experience which was quite spiritual. I was excited to see what Reygadas would do next and I was thrilled to be asked to work on this project.

A: What do you have planned for the future?
SS: I’m at a place where I’m not sure what will happen next, but I have a lot of ideas. I’d love to continue working with the clients and filmmakers that I have relationships with and have been fortunate enough to work with on an ongoing basis. I have a lot of juice left in me for film poster designs, as my love for film and design both deepen. But I’d also love to try some book covers, some isolated illustrations, and to explore some children’s book and product ideas (me and everyone else, right?).

For further info on Sam Smith’s work go to, www.samsmyth.net, samsmyth.blogspot.com, @samsmyth.

Post Tenebras Lux, Carlos Reygadas is now on release in selected cinemas, go to www.independentcinemaoffice.org.uk for more info.

Credits
All images are courtesy of Sam Smith.

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