Seven Questions for Bill Gold, Master of the Movie Poster

If the Academy doled out little golden men in the category of Best Movie Poster, Bill Gold would have hundreds. The legendary graphic designer (and Pratt Institute alum), who turned 92 last month, created posters for films ranging from Yankee Doodle Dandy (1941) to J. Edgar (2011), which he came out of retirement to design at the request of his old friend Clint Eastwood. The posters for Casablanca, A Clockwork Orange, Alien, The Exorcist? All pure Gold. He recently did his part to celebrate the achievements of another notable nonagenarian: Warner Bros. As part of a 90th anniversary celebration that will span all of 2013, the studio invited Gold to create a poster of posters. You can find it, along with art cards featuring his movie poster designs, in two new megacollections of Warner Bros. films: 100 films on DVD and 50 films on Blu-ray. Gold recently made time between Oscar screeners (he’s a member of the Academy and has watched some sixty films since November) to discuss posters past and present, and some highlights of his seven-decade career.

1. One of your first assignments at Warner Bros. was designing the poster for Casablanca. How did you approach this project, and what did you seek to create/convey with the poster?
I approached this project like I would any other. I was a young art director that was given an assignment. This was one of my first posters. My initial thoughts were to put together a montage showing all the characters depicted in the film. They appeared to be an interesting ensemble of notable characters.

Something was missing, however. And I was asked to add some more ‘excitement’ to the scene. I added the gun in Bogart’s hand, and the poster suddenly came alive with intrigue.

2. If you had to choose a poster of which you are most proud, what would it be?
The Unforgiven teaser poster. Because of the simplicity of the. The setting was appropriately dark, and the image of the gun more than provocative. It wasn’t the typical image that you’d see on a poster.

3. Of the more than 2,000 posters you’ve worked on, which one would you describe as the most challenging to design?
Bird was one of the most challenging posters I worked on–mainly because I was told not to depict it as a “jazz” movie, but rather to emphasize the more human aspects of the life of a musician. The studio was trying to promote the film as more of a ‘family’ movie. So I worked on several comps of Charlie Parker and his wife, along with his kids. But I still felt the story was primarily about this wonderful jazz musician; so I did one comp of him alone playing his sax and we dramatized how he played his whole life in a very dramatic way. As soon as Clint [Eastwood] saw it, he said, “That’s the one!” It went on to win several awards, and is also one of my favorites.

4. What do you think are the ingredients of a successful/memorable movie poster?
The objective is to “sell” the film, to entice an audience to see it through a revealing and striking image and typography. To provoke an interest in the “story” of the film is what I am able to do best.

5. What was the last movie poster (excluding those designed by yourself) you saw that you loved?
There have been several, but the majority of today’s posters seem to have an unexciting design. They just plop a head on top of another and do lots of Photoshop. I’m not fond of that. That’s not the Bill Gold look.

6. What has been your best or most memorable professional encounter?
Working and getting to know Clint Eastwood. Clint and I have become very good friends over the years. I have the highest regard for him. Professionally, he is as good as it gets. He appreciates everything I have done for him, and has wonderful taste and a remarkable eye for art. Of course, there have been a couple of times when he has asked me to “go back to the drawing board” and investigate another direction. But this is part of the working process, and most of the time we are both on the same page.

7. What has been your proudest design moment?
My most recent assignment. I was asked by Warner Home Video to design a poster for WB’s 90th anniversary. All they asked was for me to design a poster with 100 of the designs I created for Warners over the past seven decades! What a dream assignment. It wasn’t easy to pick only 100, but I did and I’m very, very proud of the poster.

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