GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Friday, March 7, 2014

Action/ReAction: Book cover as movie poster

Creating posters for my films is something I've enjoyed doing over the years. I've long been fascinated by film posters and I began collecting them before they could be purchased in film memorabilia shops or online. In those days when I saw a poster I wanted to add to my collection, I would have to go to the theater on a Wednesday night when they would be taking down the old one-sheets and putting up the new ones for the incoming film. My timing had to be good or I would miss my opportunity. Sometimes I could make an arrangement with the theater manager to set one aside for me but this was unreliable because a separate company was in charge of delivering and installing the new posters and removing and returning the old ones.

My first poster find was from the film The Last Run starring George C. Scott. It was a clean, elegant presentation with a photograph of Scott sitting at a table in front of an open window in a hotel room in Portugal. He is seen cleaning his .45 automatic and on the table is a bottle of whiskey and a pack of Marlboros. So much in this photo conveyed masculine adventure and danger and my first thought was this film would be the sort of story Hemingway might have written. Only then did I notice the log line "In the tradition of Hemingway and Bogart"--but the photograph spoke first.

Creating a book cover is much like designing a movie poster. The idea is to make a visual statement that conveys the essence and, perhaps the theme, of the offering. When it came time for me to create the design for Action/ReAction, I was at a loss for I didn't have a clue as to how the book should look. I considered the classic theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy but quickly rejected the idea as I felt they referred to theater more than cinema and my  technique addresses both. My next thought was to use a selection of Venetian masquerade masks but after looking through quite a few of them, I realized they all suggested masquerade balls rather than performance.

I was discussing this with writer, actor, photographer Tom Gurnee who began showing me photos he had taken in Basel, Switzerland during the Fasnacht festival. They were very colorful and expressive. Each mask seemed to have a distinct emotion and one could even intuit the unspoken thoughts the masks conveyed. They were a perfect expression of the Action/ReAction technique. Then we stumbled upon a photo Tom had taken of several masks lined up on a counter. It was a great arrangement and I began to visualize how the cover would be presented.

I needed a context that would be a visual presentation of the technique and since the technique relies heavily on the dictates and discipline of music, I had the idea of positioning the masks on a musical stanza as though they were the notes of a song. Tom played with the spacing and arrangement of the masks we had selected through a process of trial and elimination and came up with the presentation that became the cover art.

I then turned to my friend Kevin Courtright who wrote the book Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music for a discussion of music. Action/ReAction is a complex technique with many layers of nuance applicable to both male and female registers and so we decided on a treble clef. We turned our attention to the time signature that would be indicated on the stanza. I wanted it to convey that the technique was sophisticated and felt a 4/4 notation would send the wrong signal to those who understood music. We decided on 7/8 time signature. The sharps will remain an unexplained inside joke.

We now had what I felt was an adequate visual statement of the technique even if some of the 'code' could only be understood by those with musical training. The final element was a one sentence quote from me that summarized the technique and put into words the illustration we had created for the cover art. This was the result: "Think of yourself as a singer/dancer and know that the rules of those two disciplines also apply to acting."

This was an interesting exercise in visual, nonverbal communication and coded, subliminal expression--like my seeing 'Hemingway' in the photo of George C. Scott before seeing it in the log line on the poster. My thanks go to Tom Gurnee and Kevin Courtright without whose help and expertise, this cover would not have been.

Action/ReAction is available on Amazon and I was notified today that it will be carried by Book Soup on the Sunset Strip, a short distance from where we have our Elysée Wednesday gatherings.

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