Graphic designer Jeremy Saunders speaks to SBS about the art of creating great movie posters.
8 Jun 2010 - 9:56 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 12:30 PM

Q: What is the secret to a good film poster?

A: According to Sydney-based graphic designer Jeremy Saunders the answer is tone.

In all likeliness you have seen Jeremy Saunders' work without knowing it. Have you seen posters for the Australian films Balibo, Candy, Dying Breed, Suburban Mayhem, Samson and Delilah, for example? Or the international films Good Night and Good Luck, The Motorcycle Diaries and Antichrist (for which he's been nominated for a Hollywood Reporter Key Art Award)?

Yes, Jeremy Saunders' art is everywhere and the film industry is better off for it.

Saunders arrived in Australia from the U.K in 2000 after spending “ten years flunking art-college”. In what sounds like a comparatively tedious process, Saunders had spent years creating photobased collages via a photocopier. He “discovered Photoshop” in 1999 and with it, the technology he needed to take flight. He made his first film poster in 2002 for Rachel Griffith's short film Roundabout and from there word spread. As he tells it, “the film industry is small and everybody is closely interconnected. As soon as you do something good, and I'm sure as soon as you do something bad, everybody has found out about it. Things snowballed from there really.”

For Saunders, a poster for a film is about preparing an audience. For him, “trying to get a handle on what the story is, to prepare an audience and get their expectations tonally right before they walk in, is my job.” I ask him about his posters for David Michôd's Animal Kingdom—a unique case in point. The pair are friends and Saunders had been kept in the loop from the get-go, seeing the film “at an early stage and across all the cuts.”

For the poster of Animal Kingdom, Saunders tried to focus on the character of Joshua 'J' Cody (played by newcomer James Frecheville), the youngest of the clan, but found himself caught between competing demands. He says, “I was trying to focus on James because he is our guide through the underworld but of course from a marketing perspective, and this is where the tension comes in with the posters, people want to see Guy Pearce's face on the poster.” Of the overall process for the design Saunders wanted to emphasise what he calls the “operatic” feel of the film. He cites the painters Caravaggio or a Rembrandt as references to create the “sense of drama and the self conscious pose that elevates it.”

While creating the poster for Animal Kingdom was an extended process involving multiple versions, other posters are created quickly. The poster for Lars von Trier's Antichrist took Saunders “an hour and a half” while Richard J. Frankland's Indigenous road movie Stone Bros. “took an afternoon.” For Saunders, “both jobs were fun. You get thrown into it and have to explode with ideas.” Usually Saunders is approached “just before the picture is locked off” which gives him three months to work on the image. On occasion Saunders is given the script before shooting starts. In some cases, productions even ask the designer what days he'd like the stills photographer to come on set in case there are particular scenes he feels would be good for the poster.

I mention Saunders' poster for Jonathan Caouette's documentary Tarnation, an image that for me is inextricable from the film. Saunders tells me of an email he received from Caouette telling him that he'd “got it!” For Saunders, “it was really lovely. It was really nice that he'd understood that I got it. That was really special."

To view all of Jeremy's work visit