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Designing for the Film Industry: A Chat With Go Media’s Jeff Finley

by Grant Friedman

on October 1, 2009

in Interviews

This week I had the opportunity to chat a bit more with Go Media’s Jeff Finley (@jeff_finley). You may remember back in May when Jeff and I spoke a little about his company and his experience as a graphic artist. This time Jeff updated me on what he’s been up to since then as well as his experience designing graphics for the film industry. This interview is great if you’re looking for information on how to diversify your portfolio and market your company. Check it out!

Q: In our last interview we spoke a lot about how your company Go Media grew and how your blog contributed to its success. Can you start off by telling us a little about what you and Go Media have been up to over the last several months?

A: A lot has been going on the last several months.  Go Media is going through a bit of a transition period right now.

  1. We also held a staff meeting regarding Go Media’s current branding and how it’s affected by the popularity of the Arsenal and GoMediaZine.  The past 2 years we saw the Arsenal and Zine reach a very large audience, yet despite growing from 6-14 staff members, Go Media has not seen a noticeable increase in design service revenue. Design services and consulting with brands has been Go Media’s driving force since day one.  However, with so much focus and attention pointed at the Arsenal and Zine, the services side of our business has been overshadowed. We’re refocusing on working with brands to establish their identity in their marketplace and give them forward-thinking solutions for print and web.  We’re also trying to build a solid portfolio for film industry work. We’re well-known for the work we’ve done for bands and fashion brands, but the film industry is harder to break into.  But we’ve made a few cracks so to speak by working with Cleveland Cinemas – the umbrella brand that covers the best and most well known indie movie theaters in Northeast Ohio.  I’ve personally worked with some independent filmmakers on some poster and packaging designs and we’re also establishing a relationship with a well known poster company in the UK that could yield some future work.
  2. One of those steps is to rebrand the Arsenal and strengthen its position in the design community.  We want to change the way people view stock art and redesign it to help reflect our current beliefs and values.  The Arsenal is not about us anymore.  It’s not the clichéd “kick ass” art that Go Media designers create to let other people use.  It’s more about all design resources and helping out your fellow designer.  We’re just about ready to dive into programming the new Arsenal 3.0, which my colleague Adam Wagner has been working almost exclusively on for the past 3 months.  We’re excited to see it come to life.
  3. And lastly, we hired George Coghill as editor of the GoMediaZine.  The quality and quantity of the zine wasn’t keeping up with the demand. As Go Media’s internal priorities shifted back to working with brands, our time to write articles declined.  As anyone knows, you can’t do everything all the time.  George was a stand-up guy who impressed me with his thoughtful comments on our site and his desire to help the community.  He understood what it takes to manage a blog the size of the zine and he fit right in.  He’s actually been assigning Go Media staff to write quick tips and tutorials.  As well as scouting for talented freelance writers.  So far so good!

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Q: Whoa! You guys have been busy! It seems like you guys have some exciting things planned for the future. You mentioned that you felt that the Arsenal and Zine were beginning to overshadow the design services side of the company. How has hiring a full-time editor of the Zine helped you to improve the design-side of the business? Do you find that you now have more time to work with clients and pursue new leads?

A: It has helped because Adam and I no longer have to worry about what content will be posted on the zine.  We no longer have to spend time editing other people’s posts or having that sinking feeling when we get busy and let the zine fall behind.

It’s only been about two months, but we’ve already seen the difference.  Our design sales are up for sure.  There are other factors of course, but hiring an editor has certainly given us more time.

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Q: Earlier you mentioned that you were attempting to build a solid portfolio for the film industry. Can you tell us a little about your experience working with the film industry? Who have you worked with so far? Why did you decide that this was the type of work that you wanted to do?

A: I’ve been trying to work for films because I’m actually super passionate about movies.  I follow directors just like I do bands.  I could go on and on about why I love film and who my favorite directors are.  If you wanna chat directors, get at me on twitter .  There’s no reason I shouldn’t be designing for film.  It’s just a matter of getting the clients.

How to break into the film industry? It’s definitely not as easy as the music industry.  The music industry is readily hiring freelancers and it’s easy to find bands to work with.  From my experience, there are dozens of companies in Hollywood that do most of the posters, key art, and packaging for mainstream feature films.  I freelanced for Cimarron Group back in 2006 before I started at Go Media, but it was my first year freelancing and my web skills were not up to par.  I eventually did a very small static web site for a local filmmaker for a site that’s no longer online.  That was actually the last film job I had for a long time.

A few years go by and I see my portfolio of apparel designs, band work, and fashion brand work grow and grow.  Ironically, the jobs keep coming in. My best work has been for apparel and bands, so it’s no wonder I keep getting the work. But I’m bound and determined to get loads of film design work in 2010.

How to land a design job in the film industry? It’s not possible to quit Go Media and get a day job in Hollywood.  The goal is to bring film jobs into Go Media.  Here are some things that I’m doing – and you should too, if you want to get film poster design work.

  1. For starters, get your work seen by film people.  Right now, it’s mostly other designers checking my portfolio.  Network and be friendly on the net with people who are already doing this kind of work.  Show anyone and everyone your portfolio.
  2. Do fake movie posters for your portfolio.  Clients want to see that you understand their business.  Even if you do, it should be apparent on your site.  Also, I put a call to action button requesting film poster design work specifically.  That will help even more if I can get traffic from film people.
  3. I am establishing solid relationships with indie filmmakers that I know like Jason LaRay Keener from Alabama who makes hauntingly beautiful films.  You can see an influence from Harmony Korine or Werner Herzog in those experimental shorts.  I did the illustration and package design for their debut  “film EP” that you can buy on their site Reining Nails.  Also, I’m working on key art for a new documentary called Pinned about high school wrestling by director Pat Norman.  Think “Spellbound” but with wrestling.  The movie will be submitted to all the major festivals in the US including Sundance.   That could be great exposure if it makes it that far.  Besides, I really, really love working individually with the directors to get their vision onto a poster.  It’s also fun to meet them personally and chat about what inspires them.
  4. I’ve found that the more noise I make about doing film design work, the more attention it brings.  People need to know you’re out there!  This past year I’ve done work for Fright Rags – a horror themed clothing brand that gets inspiration from cult films.  I designed t-shirts for Eraserhead and Phenomena, two of my favorites.
  5. Work with an established poster design outfit. If you have a style that is new or different, you’ll likely get some overflow work.  We have been building a solid relationship with the poster design studio All City Media in the UK.  We did some pitches for the film Amores Perros last year and we’re participating in their gallery opening in the fall.  I’ll be doing a poster for Old Joy and a few other designers are going to do posters for Funny Games and American Splendor.  There is no brief or pay involved, but it’s a chance to express our ideas about a film and have them be printed and shown in a gallery.  Perfect opportunity here.
  6. Work with local theaters! We’ve done a couple pro bono film projects and worked out trades with Cleveland’s premiere indie movie theater company Cleveland Cinemas.  We worked on an Alfred Hitchcock directors series and did a few posters for their summertime Cult Film Series.  Our relationship has been evolving and we’re now doing the grand opening poster for the new Capitol Theatre opening on Cleveland’s west side. You never know what could happen!

Those are ways to get more film jobs.  I still have a long way to go, but it’s a start!

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Q: When most people think of working in the film industry the first thing that comes to mind are the movies. The film industry is more than just movies and independent films. You can also find work in the television industry as well. Would you guys be interested in working with the television industry as well?

A: You’re right, the TV industry is closely related.  There is certainly an interest in doing this kind of work, as we’ve actually already been involved to some extent.  We developed the logo and various motion pieces the A&E reality show Tattoo Highway (video) and we’re starting to get involved with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lake Erie Monsters for some animation work.  We’re stoked on that!

I think it’d be stellar to do work for HBO, MTV, etc.  In fact, a lot of those networks including Comedy Central, FOX, and A&E have purchased Arsenal stock resources in the past, so we’re heading in that direction.

TV is also hard to break into.  I can’t really explain an easy way to tell people how to get involved.  The Tattoo Highway show resulted from an inquiry from their production company Juma Entertainment about some of the motion packs we created.  In the end, they wanted a custom title sequence.  We worked back and forth on ideas for the opener and spent a lot of time in After Effects.  In the end, the approved opener that aired was more of the traditional “cold open” that you see on the show now.

I don’t know of any independent TV producers.  In fact, I’m not even aware of an underground TV industry – partly because I never looked for it, but I’m sure it’s there.  A lot of this content from DIY producers is ending up on the web as it’s not easy to get your show aired on actual television.  There is probably plenty of art and design work that can be done for indie TV producers.  You just have to find them!

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Q: One thing that I think a lot of people forget about it is just how big the film industry is and how much work typically goes into producing a film. While movie posters and on-screen graphics are probably the most visible and well-known aspects of graphic design for the film industry there is also a lot of design that goes into creating the props for a show. For instance, if a movie depicts a fake corporation; some one has to do the branding or make a sign for it. Have you ever thought of doing this sort of work for the film industry or are you mainly interested in designing posters and motion graphics?

A: That’s very true.  I’ve really focused on doing the key art for films, but set related graphic design work would still be a welcome project.  That’s something that would likely result after getting more exposure and experience with the directors and production studios, not so much the marketing agencies.  We could model ourselves after a company like Art Machine who does an amazing job at providing a full gamut of design and interactive media to the film industry.  We’re not there yet, but it’s something to look forward to.

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Q: Art Machine’s client list is quite impressive! Do you think it’s possible for a small or mid-sized studio to compete on that level? What steps is Go Media taking to get there?

A: To be perfectly honest, I don’t think it’s possible for a small to mid-sized studio to compete on that level.  Not yet.  If you want to do a marketing campaign for a major Hollywood release, you’ve got a snowballs chance in hell of landing the project over a company like Art Machine.  However, certain studios will look for “boutique” firms like us for work on more independent projects.  In my limited experience, big blockbusters are like big corporate brands.  They do not trust their millions of dollars in the hands of a smaller studio.  It’s too much of a risk.  Companies like Art Machine have been around for decades and are equipped to handle the large scale of such projects.  Companies like Go Media are better suited to handle indie projects with smaller budgets on a much smaller scale. Our best chance to work on Hollywood films is to become a freelance partner with a big agency like Art Machine. We’d be hired because of our different approach, skill set, and our knowledge of the counter cultural underground.  We’d be responsible for some of the creative and technical decisions, but Art Machine would be responsible for carrying out the campaign.  Right now, Hollywood is a little out of reach for the small to mid-sized studio.  I believe that will change in the next 10-20 years as independent film becomes more profitable and studios are willing to take more risks.

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Q: I think you just dashed the hopes of thousands of my readers who would some day love to work on a campaign for a blockbuster film. So if it’s not possible for a small to medium-sized firm to head up a marketing campaign for a big Hollywood release, then can you recommend any steps that a small firm could take to land a freelance partnership deal with a larger, more established company?

A: Haha, my apologies for dashing your readers’ hopes!  Let my skepticism be your motivation!  I’m willing to be proven wrong in this case, as I’d love for us small to mid-sized firms to have more of a role in the marketing for feature films.  Like you said, if you DO want to work on a blockbuster film campaign, you’re best chance is to get a job with a company like Art Machine, Cimarron Group, BLT, or any of those.  They mostly do work in-house, but I know they hire freelancers from time to time.  Here are steps you can take to increase your chances of getting a job or freelance project from those studios.

  1. Load up your portfolio site with posters and film related art. This quote from onesheetdesign.com says “Create poster concepts on your own, using whatever source materials you can find. Showing film posters in your portfolio, whether you’ve done work in the industry or not, will make a good impression. A rule about portfolios: Show what you WANT to be doing, not necessarily what you have been doing.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
  2. On a related note, you need to write about what you want to be doing.  On my site, am pretty explicit that I want to do film posters.  I will be writing on my site a lot more about the films I see and what moves me in that regard.
  3. Email, cold-call, and mail in your portfolio to all the studios.
  4. Communicate and network with people who work at those companies on Facebook, Twitter, Linked in.  Some of them have blogs – subscribe, follow them, comment and participate.  But don’t be creepy or a leech.  Don’t be desperate, but be proactive and involved and offer sound advice.  Remember, they might not be looking to hire and those companies are not charities.  They aren’t just giving jobs away.  But it helps to stay in their line of sight.
  5. Sometimes you might be “lucky” and get asked to do some free work.  From my experience, these companies like to “test the waters” by throwing you a pro bono job on a pitch or unimportant side project they have going.  They just want to see how you work.   Half the battle is being reliable.  Don’t be a flakey artist and flake out. You need to stand out and be professional.  Obviously, you need to have the skills – but these studios also want to see that you are smart and serious.

If none of that works, make your own films!  Seriously.  Make your own films and design the marketing materials for them.  Find friends who dabble in filmmaking and get them to make movies too.  Then do the posters for their films.  Start a DIY film collective! One great example is Red Bucket Films.  A group of post-college kids making movies outside the mainstream.  Yet they’re doing the festival thing and getting noticed.  Josh Safdie’s film The Pleasure of Being Robbed premiered at SXSW and then later went on to the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes.  Their branding for their film collective is outstanding.  It’s my guess they have complete control over it and do it their way.  That could be you and your friends!

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Q: You’ve certainly provided us with a ton of information regarding graphic design for the film industry. I only have 1 more question for you. Can you recommend any websites where my readers can go to find inspiration for their next movie or film poster so that they can start adding items to their portfolio?

A: To find inspiration for your next movie poster, definitely check out the IMP Awards.  Other sites worth looking are Wrong Side of the ArtPosterWire, and of course FFFFound.  Thanks Grant, I appreciate your inquisitiveness!!

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To learn more about Jeff Finley you can visit his personal website, follow him on Twitter, or visit his company’s website.

About Grant Friedman

Grant Friedman is a graphic design, blogger, and author. In addition to being the founder of this website, Grant is also the editor of Psdtuts, one of the world's most popular tutorial websites.