|The producer's version|
This post has to do with voice, tone and dramatic intent. Specifically how those things get absorbed into the fabric of a film, and, when those things are summarily removed, or even worse "adjusted" even in the smallest of ways, voice, tone and dramatic intent in a film (the "what I meant when I made it" part) get lost at best, and altered to the point of being unrecognizable at worst.
Consider the two posters for a film I made in Iowa in 2009, SMITTY. The original script was written by someone else, it was a god awful mess. I rewrote it, made it sing and made it my own. I intended a classic boy-and-his-dog type story centered around an unruly 13 year-old city-boy with no father sent to live with his old school grandfather on a farm in Iowa for the summer -- there to get his ducks arranged and his attitude adjusted. And even under the profoundly difficult production constraints (SAG MLB budget, 11 days total pre-production, 18 days production, 15 locations, nights and splits, animals, child actors and the daily pumpkin factor) I was relatively satisfied that I achieved what I set out to make.
Even before the shoot, in fact during the writing of the script, I had in mind the exact image in the poster - above left. An elegant, minimalist, clean picture of a boy and his dog looking out across a field considering whatever it is they're considering. Life probably. A crossroads certainly. The point being that the image is evocative, it says something. And more importantly it asks something and it draws a relationship. The boy and his dog. Together looking toward the far horizon, the boy with a simple pair of work gloves in his back pocket, meaning whatever the road ahead contains, whatever life he encounters is going to require hard work. But that's okay, I think the image seems to convey, because I have my best friend, my dog, with me, and he'll always be there to help me through. Once we were on location, my girlfriend (stills photographer Stacey McGillis) set it up and executed it beautifully.
This is what the film is about. What the story has to say, in fact it's vocalized by the character of the grandfather when, in answer to the kid whining about doing chores, he says, "School of life, Ben, and class is in session." Hence the tag line I put in my suggested poster, "The School of Life is in Session."
Make sense? I think it does. Here's the trailer:
Now lets consider the other poster. I like the font in which the title SMITTY is written. But what does this poster tell you? Here's what it tells me: this movie is about a very sad dog (his face is down and lying between his paws - that's what dogs do when they're sad), he's thinking (I'm guessing here) because there's a cartoon bubble over his head which is filled with a cluttered collage of images. Small images. So what does this mean? I have no idea. It could be a couple of things, but the closet I can come is that since we're presumably supposed to be "seeing' inside the dogs head, and there's a bunch of people in the collage, certainly they're attempting to anthropomorphize the dog and one would suspect that this movie is going to have a talking dog in it. Make sense? It does to me when I look at this poster.
And the tag line, "Growing up, everyone needs a friendly paw." If this is supposed to be a play on the saying "Growing up everyone needs a helping hand," it fails miserably. And it reinforces what I guess they're trying to say, and that is that this is a movie about this dog. But the movie is not about the dog. It is not Benji. Benji (all of the Benji movies) were about the dog. Shiloh is a closer match for what we're talking about here, and that poster featured the dog and the title, granted, but it didn't try to sell the movie as something it wasn't. Smitty is a movie about a boy and his dog. And about the boy learning important life lessons. Do you find even the remotest hint of that in this poster? I don't. And we know what that means... right off the bat they're lying to the audience.
And, the most egregious thing about the poster (besides that it reeks of amateur-hour photoshopping) is that the dog is nameless through 99 percent of the movie, he's simply referred to derogatorily by the kid as "Dog." Smitty is a nickname for an older friend of the grandfather's whom the kid works for during his summer in Iowa. This character dies, teaching the kid the life lesson of loss and grief and moving on. He eventually names the dog Smitty in memory of the friend he's lost. Not that that is something necessary to get across in a movie poster, but that sort of dramtic intent is nowhere to be found in the poster. This poster says that this is a family friendly goofy doggy movie (with a dog whose personality comes closer to A. A. Milne's depressed Eyeore than Schulz's happy Snoopy) with a sneaky little hint that the doggy will talk. Or at least "think-talk" like the animals in Disney's "Incredible Journey."
Look, I want you to go and see the movie. I think you'll like it, and I know your kids will. It has something good to say, and still-in-all, it's perhaps 70% of what I intended, just don't let the poster they're using put you off or lead you to expect something that the film is not. The 30% I disavow is mainly the relentless softening of the kid's personality in the editorial process. There was a whole lot of that "filmmaking by committee" stuff going on, which is always married to the specious logic of political correctness (if the kid's line-read is too harsh -- when delivering a harsh piece of dialogue -- it might offend someone. I swear to God) -- and if you're wondering how that can be done, I give you three letters: A.D.R. But then again, I don't have the difficult task of selling the film. Although, I certainly wish I did.
I realize of course that my suggested poster certainly isn't perfect (for starters it's just a mock-up, the other version is the final version of theirs), but it does the two things a movie poster is supposed to do, it makes you want to look at it, and it evokes interest for the story. In other words, in this case, it makes you ask yourself, "I wonder what they're looking at?" But when I presented this to the producers, this, I swear, is what they said, "No, you can't have a poster that shows someone's back." Oh, really?
And my personal favorite comparison:
Thanks for reading and check back soon...