Matthew Chojnacki and the Fine Art of Alternative Movie Posters

To many who have read my work, my love of alternative movie posters will come as no surprise. I’ve found them to engage the particulars of a film’s soul more expertly and pay due respect to the qualities of filmgoing that bring avid fans back again and again. Thanks to Matthew Chojnacki and the good people at Schiffer Publishing, there is now a book collecting many of the great artists of the last years and their astounding contributions to a craft that has fallen to the wayside in terms of studios investing in film’s success.

Titled alternative Movie Posters: Film Art From the Underground, it’s a sensational book that captures the variability in style and approach making this new wave of expression so compelling. Everyone interprets a film differently and what this collection exhibits is that each rendering is correct through the filter of reception. Some artists you may recognize, but many others I presume you will not, and that is a very good thing. Any great art book should present you with new ideas and experiences if it is worth its weight.

Recently I spoke with the man behind the book, Matthew Chojnacki, and gained great insight not only into his background and approach, but to the origins of the book and how he went about amassing such an impressive grouping of artists. If you’ve been looking for that new coffee table book to not only invest yourself in, but to impress your friends, you can look no further. Matthew has done it for you.


Garrett Tiedemann: I guess the simplest way to begin is with how this project got started. I know it’s open ended, but did you start this with the intention of a book or was something else the ignition?

Matthew Chojnacki:  I’ve long been a fan of music gig (concert) posters.  A few years back I was at a music festival and noticed that these same artists were starting to tackle film posters as well.

I was a big collector of movie posters in the ’80s and early ’90s, and feel that these artists are tapping into film art in a way that hasn’t been seen in decades.  Today, alternative film posters are much more in demand by moviegoers than the theatrical one-sheets created by the studios themselves!  While the one-sheet creativity at film studios is on the decline in recent years, these underground artists are picking up the slack.

GT:  How long did it take for everything to get going? Were there any road blocks that could have derailed it?

MC: One hundred artists are featured in the book (from twenty different countries), out of 105 that I contacted.  I was shocked by the level of support and enthusiasm these designers had for the project!  Not only to bring their work to the forefront, but also for the bigger cause of reminding readers of the “lost art” of the film poster.  The designers are also ardent moviegoers, who all miss, for example, the great hand-drawn posters by Drew Struzan in the 1980s.  Struzan killed it during this era, creating stunning film art for Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Goonies, etc.

GT: How did you choose and then work with the artists collected?

MC: I wanted to include a wide range of film genres and artistic styles.  I listed what I thought were the most dynamic and influential artists and started e-mailing away!

GT: What were criteria for the project?

MC: 1) The poster couldn’t have been released in a mainstream theatrical run, and 2) The poster needed to make my eyes pop.  The 200 featured posters did just that.

GT: Were films selected by the artists or by you? Did artists produce more than one piece?

MC: In general I approached the artists with one to four posters in mind. However, many had amazing new images that weren’t yet revealed and completely won me over/changed my mind.

GT: How was the process of assembling into a book? Did you have a good sense of the end result or did that arise from its creation?

MC: Each page features one poster image supplemented by commentary, and the corresponding image on the opposite page visually correlates in theme and design.  This was an important feature for me.  Many art books have a rather random layout, and I wanted each spread to convey a distinct visual experience.  The layout for the book is sleek and simple, yet at the same time was heavily curated.  I worked for a few months on the visual pairs alone.

GT: In putting this together did you have any other ideas in mind? Gallery exhibitions or variations on the book tour to display the work first hand?

MC: I’m currently in talks to have a few pop art gallery showcases, where posters would be paired as in the book.  I’m really excited about this! The posters look great in the book, but even better as full-size theatrical one-sheets.  The level of detail on some of these posters is absolutely jaw-dropping.

GT: Do you get a sense that studios are taking any hints to the state of their poster designs? I think to how vinyl has come back swinging with (in some cases) great art packaging and how many film scores are again being released that way – though the best releases are probably the small publishing houses and for the most part re-releases. Is the film poster realm starting to take these artists seriously and maybe return to earlier considerations of marketing? Or no? If no, why do you think there is resistance? Would you want that to happen? Or, is it better as a counter movement?

MC: In general, I don’t see the mainstream studios as moving too quickly towards a higher class of film posters.  It’s probably part budget-related, part contractual (many actors’ contracts have requirements regarding film posters), and part….laziness? I think that there’s an assumption by the studios that the buying public will flock to films purely based on casting, and posters have been watered down in the last decade to merely communicate celebrity-dom.  “Wait….Tom Cruise is in this?  Then count me in!!”

That said, there are a few companies that are quickly moving with the underground art trends (see Blu-ray/DVD company Scream Factory), and certainly there a few directors that really care about their one-sheets (Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Kevin Smith).  But those are the exceptions.

And, of course, as with music, the indies are doing their own thing.  There are no rules in the indie world (and often no celebrities), and therefore one-sheets really have to communicate the film itself.  And, in general, whenever you have up and coming artists doing handshake deals with filmmakers (and musicians, etc.), without a ton of rules and regulations, the true art comes forward and you have great synergy.

GT: Did this project change how you look at movies? What you expect from them? I imagine it evolved what you look for in poster designs, yes?

MC: Yes, yes, and yes!

Speaking with the artists was really an eye-opening experience for me. First and foremost this small but motivated (and friendly!) underground pool of artists are ardent moviegoers.  They LOVE the movies in which they design for.  Some of the more detailed pieces took in upwards of a week (day and night) to complete, and the passion really shows in the results. I already had respected these artists’ work, and my interviews with them amped it up even more.

GT: Were there any films you wanted done that did not happen? Are there any you have thought of since this book was complete?

MC: There are a ton of movies that I personally love that I couldn’t find alternative film posters for (or found them after the book was submitted). Perhaps this lends for a sequel.  But many of these pics were a bit more obscure (yet mainstream to me)…like the underground camp classic Sleepaway Camp, and a handful of ’80s comedies that I used to watch incessantly.

GT: With the shows in discussion, what’s the future look like for you? Will this be your life for at least the immediate future?

MC: Currently I’m doing a lot of promo for print, blogs, and television. While many authors loathe promotions, I really get into it.  Since the artists in the book are from all over the world (20 countries), it’s opened me up to a lot of locations that I normally wouldn’t reach.  I recently did interviews for periodicals in the UK, Australia, Brazil, Ireland, and The Netherlands.  Amazing!  …and a lot of fun.

GT: Along with gig posters, as you discussed their grip on you, what is it about these posters that grabs people? Beyond just that they seem to capture the films better than most official runs. Do you think it’s their origin as somewhat out of the marketplace and seem of purer birth? Or, is it the anti-establishment bent? Something else? All of the above? They seem timeless to me which makes me think it’s partly that they tap into the childish wonderment of creation when everything seems rich, inspired, of true intent, and never ending.

MC: I think that it’s all of the above.  For the classic and cult films, it’s partially about the artwork, partially about the message, and partially about nostalgia as well.

However, the mega fans (this includes myself), are fairly demanding.  Since they may have seen a film 50 times their expectations in a poster are much, much higher than the average fan.  However, the 100 profiled designers in the book deliver.  They’re the best of the best.  You’ve seen the film 50 times?  They’ve seen it 51 times.

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