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Who decides what's on a movie poster?
June 13, 2009 6:50 PM   Subscribe

Who has the final say when it comes to the content of movie posters and DVD covers? Is the director or writer allowed to protest the advertising for a movie?

The specific movie I'm thinking about is Transamerica: It's ostensibly a trans-friendly kind of film, where the protagonist is not at all confused about her gender presentation. The poster, on the other hand, is embarrassing. She stands outside of men's room and a women's room, unsure of how to proceed.

Who can I blame for this? Is it the producer's fault? An ad agency's?
posted by PM to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's the distributor that does it. (Usually that's the studio.)

As to protest, Steven Spielberg could probably protest and get away with it, but an Alan Smithee can't.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:02 PM on June 13, 2009

Absolutely the distributor.

It's possible that some directors or producers have some input on it. But, when push comes to shove, they almost certainly don't get the final say.

The writer!? HAH! In Hollywood, you sell a script. It's not licensed, it's sold outright. Screenwriters get basically no rights after that point, aside from the right to have your name removed from the credits. The best you can hope for is that you're also hired to do the rewrites--but, frequently, they'll hire somebody else. Writer input on the advertising? Don't be ridiculous. Which is one of the many reasons I dropped out of filmwriting school.
posted by Netzapper at 9:11 PM on June 13, 2009

This article about a movie marketing exec was a pretty great read.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:24 PM on June 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you want to protest, the distributor is where to go. But they probably won't listen to you unless you have a Facebook group with 5000 members or something like that.

The embarrassing aspect is something I can see where you're coming from, but I would respond that the point of a poster is to communicate the content of the film to lure in as many of its potential audience as it can reach. The representation is probably fairly effective at communicating the transgender topic to a mainstream audience. I don't think it really shows confusion unless you're stretching; it does show someone who doesn't fit into the two neat categories we have, and so communicates an outsider aspect as well (a la "Rebel Rebel" music in the trailer). In other words, while the film is trans-friendly, it can't survive on the TG/TS market alone. It needs straights.
posted by dhartung at 9:33 PM on June 13, 2009

Some filmmakers have the power to influence poster design. Paul Thomas Anderson talks about designing the poster for Magnolia on that DVD's extras.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 9:47 PM on June 13, 2009

I hear you, dhartung. The movie certainly needs a wider audience than just trans folk, especially if it aims (as I assume) to erase some negative preconceptions.

But the poster is pretty bad. What bugs me is not that it illustrates how she doesn't fit into the gender binary, but that it doesn't understand that the point of being a transwoman is so that she can live as a woman. I don't think any transperson is confused about which bathroom is theirs: it's the one that matches their presentation.

Minor point: I don't really intend to protest or start a Facebook group or anything. I was more wondering if the artistic force behind the film had any say.

Another minor point: I don't think you mean "straight." Gender presentation isn't directly related to sexual orientation. A transwoman can be straight (in a relationship with a man) or gay (in a relationship with another woman).
posted by PM at 10:31 PM on June 13, 2009

Absolutely, the studio decides every aspect of the marketing campaign. It's their money. I worked at a one-sheet design firm for several years (and was actually involved in Magnolia campaign); studios only involve directors and actors as a courtesy and would prefer not to have their input at all.

The image you link to was actually just a teaser one-sheet - the final poster would have to have a billing block and would certainly show Felicity Huffman's face. (link) I was surprised by the dvd release; they spent a lot of money on lenticular packaging for a film that might be a hard sell to the Walmart audience.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:03 PM on June 13, 2009

i think you are reading too much into that image. what it represents to me is a character in transition. this poster is showing an image-a very complex one of gender change--using simple icons. it tells me that the movie is going to be about people being confronted with issues related to their transformation.

i am not a transvestite, so it would be hard for me to share your outrage. quite frankly, i don't see it. i think you are reading too much into the person's mind, as opposed to absorbing the whole image. it's fine for you to look at that image and think "she's trying to decide what bathroom she to use" whereas i look at it and think "she's confronted by a objective, binary reality of her transformation." don't assume i see the same thing you do.

and as an illustration, it's pretty good. transgender people certainly don't fit neatly into either one of those categories, do they? yet society expects them to. i'm guessing that this is a big point in the movie.
posted by lester at 6:35 AM on June 14, 2009

I'm not trans either, lester. I don't think you need to be trans to be offended by this sort of thing. And I think in a way trans people do fit nit neatly: transwoman is a subset of woman. It only becomes confusing if we're having trouble deciding whether or not to take their self-professed identity seriously.

But I take your point. This image isn't worthy of extreme moral outrage. It's just one of thousands of things to groan at on a daily basis.
posted by PM at 1:00 PM on June 14, 2009

i am not a transvestite, so it would be hard for me to share your outrage. quite frankly, i don't see it. i think you are reading too much into the person's mind, as opposed to absorbing the whole image. it's fine for you to look at that image and think "she's trying to decide what bathroom she to use" whereas i look at it and think "she's confronted by a objective, binary reality of her transformation." don't assume i see the same thing you do.

Not "transvestite", which is a man who wears women's clothing on occasion. But "transsexual", which is a woman who was unfortunately born with a penis; or a man who has a vagina.

And I'm not transsexual either, but I understand the outrage. The issue is that transgender folks do want to fit neatly into a category. And many of them flawlessly do so. In fact, most of the trannies I know passed with me for years before they confided in me their transitional status. And one of them was passing right up until I took his pants off, at which point I was quite surprised and he was like, "Wait, didn't you know?"

Furthermore, the chick in the poster is clearly passing. She's fitting perfectly into the gender binary.

Anyway, I don't know what a better poster would have been--I'm not a graphic artist of any sort. And while I'm not as personally pissed off as the OP, I do understand why they might be.
posted by Netzapper at 1:07 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in the the hooha that came about from the "Zack & Miri Make a Porno" Poster...
From Wikipedia
A poster for the film (pictured right) released in September 2008, which suggests the title characters are performing oral sex on each other, was banned for use in US theaters by the MPAA and The Weinstein Company, such as AMC Theatres and National Amusements.[27] The poster used in the US lampoons the film's explicit subject matter by featuring stick figures, with the explanation in the poster's text this is the only image that can be shown.

Despite this restriction, many media outlets refused to run the poster, or any ad that includes the word "porno" in the title, including a number of newspapers, TV stations, cable channels, and city governments, some of which responded to complaints about the ads at baseball stadiums and city bus stops. Weinstein Company marketing head Gary Faber stated that the ad was accepted in most of the outlets that were offered it, but that the studio would consider variations of the title for outlets that rejected it, including one version of the poster without the title that bears the slogan, "Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks made a movie so outrageous that we can't even tell you the title."

posted by Redmond Cooper at 1:34 PM on June 14, 2009

Some directors not only don't get final say on the marketing materials, they are forced to shoot scenes for the trailers or tv spots which will not be in the final film. (A director I spoke with a few years ago cussed about his particular situation a bit.)
posted by infinitewindow at 5:24 PM on June 14, 2009

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