To launch the Doc/Circuit tour of 'Milford Graves Full Mantis' we commissioned American graphic designer Adam Maida to create a new UK cinema poster. This interview between Doc/Fest Director of Film Programming Luke W Moody and Adam Maida offers his insight into creating lead images, and contemporary film poster design.
LWM: Your work often includes collaged extractions of photographic elements, what forms the basis of a lead image for you?
AM: There has to be something specific about an image in how it distills a theme or subject that I want to represent. Something as simple as form or certain light qualities can form an excellent basis for the construction or deconstruction of said theme.
LWM: How much do you rely on a brief when creating a film poster image, does it help structure your ideas? Do you prefer to experience the film firstly to open your imagination?
AM: Seeing the film definitely helps the process. But I think I'm equally content with just having a synopsis with central themes to work from. I don't really believe in giving away the film in the final design, especially if the audience has never seen the film before; why spoil it? The goal is to intrigue the viewer, it's a privilege to get the attention of the every day person with your work. I want to exploit that ephemeral moment and give them something they won't forget, not something that feels familiar.
LWM: Is your work digitally native, or does the process begin with a sketchbook?
AM: Both. Each medium/method is dependent on a given project or whatever mood I am in. Ultimately, both dictate the direction that I will pursue for a work. I do try to be somewhat versatile, but majority of the time I find starting with rough sketching helps get the gears turning and thins out the herd of bad ideas.
LWM: What happens to those initial sketches? Do you ever share them with the commissioning party? Or do you prefer to present more established ideas? I often find that, in film, if you present something very rough as a means of filtering thoughts to a non-creative collaborator it often leads to more confusion than direction.
AM: Everyone has different expectations. I find that if I can't succeed in getting my point across with a sketch that is slightly more advanced than a stick-figure drawing, then what's the point? I think clients more often than not appreciate the straightforwardness to this approach.
LWM: You've worked across various formats, including criterion covers, article illustrations and festival posters. What excites you in a commission? How do you find the collaborative process of birthing an image?
AM: When someone comes to me with a commission I look first to see if its for either a good cause that I can support, or its a piece of a work that says something beautiful, or has an opinion about our current state of affairs. It's not always the case but, I find the process most fruitful when a client trusts me to know when to say, stop. In that regard, I enjoy the collaborative process quite a bit. When you create good work together it also produces a better relationship and they become comrades instead of clients.
LWM: Film poster design is often referred to as a lost art, but I feel, at least in the documentary landscape, there's been a renaissance of bold poster design lately, which designers are you into right now?
AM: Yeah, I've definitely been impressed by some work throughout the spectrum of more independent and experimental films, for sure. The first that comes to mind is Bráulio Amado. Our posters function in different channels of the arts, but I think we draw from similar influences and approaches in terms of representation and how we challenge the viewer's expectations of what a poster should look like. We both have worked extensively in the editorial art world, so I think there's that connection too. Akiko Stehrenberger is a great artist doing more commercial film poster design. I've also been into the work of older but still relevant designers such as Micha Klein, Peter Bankov, and Alex Jordan (formerly of Grapus).
You can discover more of Adam's work at adammaida.com.