A few years ago, as I stood in line at a Hero Complex Gallery show celebrating the legendary Joe Dante and Roger Corman, I overheard someone behind me discussing a documentary project they were working on about the art of movie posters. Fast forward to September 2016 and that documentary, 24x36: A Movie About Movie Posters, was enjoying its world premiere during the 2016 Fantastic Fest, and I was incredibly interested in seeing it due to my own personal love for movie art, as well as the fact that this project has been on my radar for quite some time.
While at Fantastic Fest, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Kevin Burke, the documentarian and first-time filmmaker behind 24x36, to hear more about the process of putting together the project, what inspired him to tackle this topic in particular, and more.
Great to speak with you today, Kevin, and great job on the documentary, too. I’d love to hear how this all started and what inspired you to explore this realm of commercial art in the first place.
Kevin Burke: It’s been about a three-year process for me, so it feels good to be here today. We started with a Kickstarter campaign. Originally, the film was going to be a much smaller film. Not that it's a massive movie or anything, but originally it was going to be something much smaller. Then, as we started to progress and started to film, we found out that there was so much more interest.
We started defining the narrative as something that was more about the evolution and the changes in illustration specifically in movie poster art and the trends, rather than just hero worship of one aspect of it, like the screen print aspect. We wanted to explore how these trends moved, why illustration disappeared from key art, and is it possible that it could see a resurgence due to the popularity of the screen print?
Was there a poster in particular that always stood out to you that made you think, "This is something I'd love to explore," in terms of the history of everything? Or perhaps, was there something recently that you received that you fell in love with?
Kevin Burke: Actually, I'm glad you brought that up. One of the things that really kicked off the idea for this film was the first screen print that I ever got. My fiancée bought it for me. It was There Will Be Blood by Olly Moss. It was a great Mondo print as part of one of the Rolling Roadshow series. When I opened it, took it out of the tube, ran my hand over the ink, I just fell in love with it.
There was a feeling there that was recognizable to me that I had forgotten for a long time. It was from when I collected movie posters as a kid. I used to go to the locally owned video stores and I would look at the posters in the marquee and I would say, "Can I please have this when it comes down off the wall?" They would put my name on a waiting list. That's how popular the posters were. All the kids in town wanted them.
Your name would go on a waiting list and then they would call your house and your mom would say, "Kevin, your poster is ready." I'd hop on my bike and go down to the video store and pick it up. I had forgotten that feeling. It had been a long time since I had been collecting posters.
Then, when I saw that Olly Moss print, it all came rushing back to me. Now our house is just jam-packed with screen prints and one-sheets again. Some of the favorite ones that I used to have as a kid, I went and sought out again and picked them up. That was a really big catalyst in terms of how this whole thing kicked off.
Do you feel like there's a reason or a catalyst for why this art form is starting to have a resurgence in popularity?
Kevin Burke: Honestly, whether they recognize it consciously or not, there are probably a lot of people who have had the same experience that I've described. This poster art fills a void that's been around for a couple of decades.
When you go to a large multiplex theater and you see the posters in the marquees, they're not really even close to the way that they used to be when the poster was the primary marketing tool. It had to sell you on something that was an amazing adventure or something incredible. They would hire an illustrator and get this amazing, beautiful painted piece of art.
You don't see that in the cinemas anymore. You don't see it on the cover art anymore with the exception, again, of indie distributors and indie studios who I think are doing an awesome job of representing with illustrated covers. I hope they continue to do that. You don't see it as frequently as you used to, and I don't think that people necessarily think about it. I don't think it's at the front of their minds.
Then, when they see an amazing illustrated poster that Mondo puts out, or Grey Matter Art or Skuzzles or one of the individual artists, it triggers that feeling in them. It's like, "Wow, here's an amazing illustrated piece for a film that I'm excited about and that I'd love to put up on my wall."
I loved that you involved Joe Dante in this project. Did you know going into it how big of a fan he was, or was that something you discovered through the interview process?
Kevin Burke: That's something I discovered in chatting with him. What triggered the Joe Dante interview, first and foremost, I'm a huge fan. I love his movies. I love the posters for his films. John Alvin did the original Gremlins teaser poster with Gizmo's hand coming out of the box. I loved that. I wanted to ask Joe about that because we knew that we were going to be discussing and exploring John Alvin's work.
Ultimately, the discussion on that particular piece didn't make it into the film, but the Hero Complex show that was happening at the time—the Joe Dante and Roger Corman show—I thought it would be a really good opportunity to get a notable director to discuss not only one-sheet movie posters of the past in general, whether they be for his own films or for films that he grew up with, but also what he thought of the new screen-printed poster art resurgence or the alternative movie poster resurgence for which he was being honored at this Hero Complex Show.
We ended up having a really great chat. It was a dream come true for me because I'm such a huge fan of Joe Dante's. He was just absolutely pleasant and totally into it. He loved being at the Hero Complex Gallery interacting with fans. He's a big fan of the artwork that was produced.
You just mentioned that certain things didn't make it into the documentary. When you guys have the home release, are you going to put some of that stuff on the side? Even the history stuff, I could've watched three more hours of that because I'm just such a geek for it.
Kevin Burke: So could I. I certainly hope so. We have a ton of additional footage that I'd love to include. We have interviews with several artists who, just because of what the finished narrative ultimately became, we didn't end up having time or the space to put in. They might not have been discussing that specific topic or this specific topic. We have a ton of additional interviews. I even animated a bunch of other posters that never ended up making the cut.
Over the course of three years, did you expect, going into this project, that this was going to end up being such a huge labor of love?
Kevin Burke: To be honest, I did a little bit. I had a feeling that it was going to take a long time. My day job, I work for a really wonderful marketing company T1 Motion. I do all their video content. Seeing as you work during the day and you work your job, your time to actually produce a feature-length film is now limited to weekends, vacation time, and evenings.
When you don't necessarily have the freedom to say, "I'm just going to block off three months and go into production on this, with all of my flights from one place to another and all of my interviews back-to-back-to-back," you know that things have to be spread out. You have to collect and gather things as you go. It was a surreal experience. It took three years. It could've taken 15, and I still would've loved every day of it.