Monthly Archives: July 2015

Film Ephemera and its Creators: Bringing Commercial Media to Cinema Art

The Makino Collection, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York

Typical style of American film ephemera. American film program. SABRINA (1954), directed by Billy Wilder

Movie posters appeal to the public and delight the eyes of people who see them; in Japan, they are exhibited everywhere downtown, primarily at train stations and movie theaters. Mostly, since the late 1960’s, the design of film posters has reflected the cover design of film programs and fliers. Not only the design of posters, but also where and how long  they are displayed, reflects how film distributors would like to promote the film, as well as its anticipated audience size and box office numbers. Traditionally, most of the creators remained anonymous.

Since they started to be produced, film posters have continued to be produced by an outside designer within the film studio, or by a designer externally, under the control of film production and distribution companies.

The Makino Collection, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York

Italian/British film flier. BLOWUP (revival, c.1980), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

Initially, the typical designs of film promotion materials were hand-illustrated close-ups of starring actors and actresses. As the design tools and film genres diversified, film ephemera design became more sophisticated; designers were allowed to be more experimental and reflect their creative style, which included characters, minimalist typography, collage, and artistic drawing, among many other elements. Today, some foreign films create a different design to fit unique markets like Japan, while others reproduce the original universal design using the appropriate foreign language. Sometimes copyright issues drive new designs once creations go beyond the border.

The Makino Collection, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York

Artwork by Takashi Ishii. ATG leaflet. Kugatsu no jodan kurabu bando (1982), directed by Shun’ichi Nagasaki

Film ephemera are tools of film promotion, and rules existed to make film promotion a box-office success. For each foreign film, there were certain basic rules; American film posters generally had to feature a close-up of film stars, while European films placed more importance on design itself. However, after Art Theatre Guild (ATG), a radical film distribution company, brought completely innovative types of avant-garde films to the world with their launch in 1961, the trend turned in a completely new direction.

ATG’s posters and fliers exhibited their new experimental views of the film world. As they did with the innovative line-up of their films, ATG adopted unnamed but now famed creators and graphic designers of that time, such as Tadanori Yokoo, Kiyoshi Awazu, and Makoto Wada, in order to boldly bring new forms to the expression of film promotion for their avant-garde cinemas. The creators broke with the conventional concept of film promotion, and they made the border between film, commercial design and art blurry. Continue reading