A poster is probably the most crucial element for selling a film to its audience (not to mention potential distributors). It’s also one of the easiest things for an indie filmmaker to overlook.
But for non-Hollywood films that don’t have the luxury of trailers widely shared across all media – they’re crucial. Before even a second of your film has been watched, your film has been judged. And it’s the poster that is setting the tone.
With all this in mind, it’s essential to be aware of what’s out there. Before you (or your designer) start work on your film’s poster, make a Pinterest board. Collect together images of posters for movies similar to yours and observe the trends. Ask questions: What kind of colour palettes do they use? What kind of images do they lead with? What fonts do they use?
Then it’s time to get cracking…
Know your Genre
Consider the Visuals
Whichever genre your film belongs to, there will be visual elements typically associated with it. You can use this to your advantage to communicate what your film is offering your audience. Colour palettes are a great example of this – for instance, sci-fi films often use blue and green tones because they have a futuristic, high tech feel. Think about older sci-fi films like The Matrix, Minority Report and Inception – then look at the examples below to see how they’re using the same visual language.
Examples of sci-fi colour palettes
Think about fonts – certain fonts are associated with certain genres. Don’t try to be clever with these, embrace the conventions and don’t underestimate the subconscious messages they send. Think about how superhero films always make use of bold, confident sans serif fonts that match the heroics of the characters, or how horror films often use thin, gothic-feeling serif fonts to suggest a creepy atmosphere or ancient setting.
Examples of the types of fonts typically featured in horror posters
Taglines can help focus and reinforce what type of film you are selling. Less is always more. Think about some of the greatest film taglines, and how they convey so much about the film with only a few lines:
- Alien – ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’
- Highlander – ‘There can be only one’
- Jaws 2 – ‘Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water’
Know Your Selling Points
The Single Image
Your poster should give a feel for your movie, not necessarily depict a literal scene from it. Make the most of what you have – if your film features a haunted house, you’ll probably want this to feature prominently on the poster. If it’s an action film with a heist, you might want to show armed men with masks, or suggestions of a high-speed getaway even if these scenes don’t literally happen in the way presented.
If you’ve got any known actors in your film – even if they only have a small role and are only on set for a day – make sure you get decent pictures of them. Don’t waste the opportunity to put a well-known actor front and centre on your poster – your film will instantly jump ahead of the competition in terms of credibility and marketability.
Get High Quality Assets
Make things easy for yourself or your designer. Get photos of the cast. Photography can often be overlooked in all the planning around shooting a film, but you’ll really regret not having good photos when it comes to marketing it.
It is possible to work around not having these assets, but you’ll limit your options dramatically and why would you want to do that? Before the shoot, have a chat with your on-set photographer and bear these points in mind:
- Try to shoot against a neutral background with good light – this will make it easier for the designer to cut out when they’re compositing your poster. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can rely on screen grabs from the film – these will never be as high quality as stills shot on a DSLR.
- Get shots of your actors in character – capture key poses that give us an idea of their personality and/or the film’s scenario.
- Use dynamic poses and facial expressions to make sure your characters look exciting. Look at the Avengers Endgame poster below – you can see how each character is posed in mid-action, or is standing heroically. Every pose gives a feel for that character’s role in the movie.
Examples of dynamic character portraits
Always be open to different interpretations of your film, and try not to get too attached to any one particular idea. If it’s a project very close to you, you may not be the best person to think objectively about the best way to sell it, so talk through your ideas with a designer or a producer and see what they suggest. You never know what they might come up with!