Strand Releasing’s Marcus Hu on the Story of the ‘Uncle Boonmee’ Poster

Detail of artist Chris Ware’s ‘Uncle Boonmee’ poster illustration

Marcus Hu

Strand Releasing was formed in 1989, and its goal has been to fuse quality art films with commercial product. They have produced ten feature films including Gregg Araki’s The Living End, Grief, Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, Psycho Beach Party, and more. They have distributed the works of such renowned international artists, and they have a vibrant home media library with over 300 titles from their 22 years in business.

Foreign films and marketing—how do you approach it?

Marketing a foreign film has always been a challenge in the U.S. Often, distributors hide the foreign aspect of the film by creating campaigns that appeal to more mainstream tastes in order to capture audiences that might fear subtitles. When you have a contemporary auteur such as François Ozon, Ang Lee, Claire Denis, or Fatih Akin, you’re banking on the cinephiles to come. But when you don’t have that luxury, you really have to bank on selling the content of your film. Just recently, we worked on the last two films of Catherine Breillat. She was thrilled with our work and loved our campaigns, which are so different from how they were handled in France. Ms. Breillat’s sensibilities seemed to match ours, so we both came away happy.

How crucial are posters in marketing?

Since the campaign is the first connection a prospective viewer sees, it’s important that it sells the film and is as dynamic as possible. That campaign then gets repurposed into ads, thumbnails, web banners, and other digital media. In a very crowded marketplace it really has to have that “hook.” We really like to engage the filmmakers into the process of designing the campaign whenever possible.

Often a filmmaker has really great ideas. Whenever we work with director Gregg Araki, we know his design ideas for a campaign will generally trump the ideas you would hire an agency for. Araki’s early campaigns for his films The Living End, Doom Generation, and Totally F***ed Up have that great sense of urgency and Ray-Gun inspired design, which I adore. But there are other times when a filmmaker really should defer to the distributor to help devise the campaign.

What made you reach out to artist Chris Ware?

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is such a visual film—one that gives such a unique experience for viewers that we wanted to choose a similar artistic vision to match the film’s themes. Chris Ware’s art has that detailed visual flair that we thought would capture the sensibility of Apichatpong’s work. When I chatted with Chris; it all made sense. He really had a grasp for the work and understood the film.

Describe the nuts and bolts of the process for hiring Chris (and revealing financials if possible)?

I contacted my friend, producer Ted Hope, who had worked with Chris Ware on the campaign for Tamara Jenkins’s The Savages (Ted previously had Daniel Clowes do the amazing poster for Happiness, which we ended up handling the nontheatrical for years ago).

Ted connected Chris and I. I explained what we wanted a really unique poster that really captured the spirit of the film. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the director/writer of Uncle Boonmee had also gone to school in Chicago, where Chris resides, and was receptive to the idea.

After two weeks, Chris came up with the campaign that we then showed to Apichatpong, who loved it. We had a couple of fine tunings to make it easy for the eye to read as a film poster. In the end, the poster has some really fine details that can only be seen upon staring a few inches away from the printed piece, but still as a film poster viewed from a distance, it works terrifically.

In terms of a business venture for Chris, let’s say he did it for his admiration of a fellow artist! The artwork has been featured on numerous websites and has had a really amazing response in terms of another tool for grass roots marketing. The artwork has appealed to Chris Ware fans, Apichatpong fans and cinephiles. I think the poster’s artwork has generated as many fans as there are for the film.

There’s a movement of cinephile artists out there who do amazing interpretations of film campaigns (from the past) and having been gaining fans across the globe. We’re hoping to work with other graphic and visual artists to create unique designs for posters. We are just beginning to work on filmmaker/artist Braden King’s film, Here, which had its premiere at Sundance this year and will hopefully have as unique and a striking campaign as Uncle Boonmee.

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