24x36_kevin_burkeIt’s 11am on a Sunday and I’m at Austin’s The Highball bar, ordering two beers for myself. While this might seem to some like poor decision making, it’s par for the course for your standard Fantastic Fest’er. We’re already four days deep into a film festival that thrives on non-stop overstimulation, booze and good times – no sense in stopping now.

Seated next to me is Kevin Burke, all-around swell human and director of 24 x 36: A Movie About Movie Posters. The previous day saw the world premiere of Kevin’s film – it’s his first, but if there are any bits of anxiousness or butterflies from the event, they are assuredly not on display. Kevin is as calm and reserved as one can be, seemingly enjoying the rare quiet moment the Highball is providing.

There’s a sense between us that we couldn’t be happier this interview is taking place in this nearly empty bar. Away from the all-day madness, we’re both thanking our lucky stars and chatting like old friends.

Considering we’re sitting here to discuss Kevin’s film, which is in fact all about posters, it only makes since that the first thing we jump into is the poster for the movie itself.

It’s gotta be pretty incredible, being as big of a poster fan as yourself, to now officially have a poster for your own film. 

Yeah, it’s amazing! That’s one of the things, too, that even beyond the movie, ya know, after the movie’s done you’re like, “Ok, I wanna make sure we make the best film possible.” And then you understand what your subject matter is and you’re like, the pressure’s not over yet cause now you need a kick-ass poster. Matt Tobin did the art direction on it and we brought five different artists together. Matt Tobin, Sarah Deck, who is from Hamilton, Ontario, and is just absolutely incredible – Paul Ainsworth as well, who’s one of my favorite artists who’s from just outside of Toronto, Joshua Budich, and of course, Gary Pullin, who’s a good friend and just amazing. They all really delivered.

Absolutely! I feel like, especially after seeing the film, the poster does a perfect job of setting up what the film has in store for the viewer. The idea of taking the films that have had bold, classic movie posters, and having the modern artists tackle it in their own styles. I particularly enjoy that it wasn’t just one person as well.

We really wanted to do something unique. I’ve been collecting screen prints for a while, though this is of course in reference to our one sheet, but I was thinking I hadn’t really seen a large scale collaboration before from a bunch of these artists – so we thought, what better way to roll out a movie about poster art than having a few different poster artists come together and do something unique. The idea behind it was to capture all these different, you know that sense of magic, that all of these older movie posters used to exhibit that is not nearly as predominant as it used to be when we were younger. I think we really came through with it.

24x36_1It’s extremely rare for most modern art to evoke much of anything but sameness, which you go into in detail in the film. Just today I was looking up stuff about The Autopsy of Jane Doe, which Jay Shaw just did an incredible screen print for for it’s premiere here during Fantastic Fest; but you look up the film and it’s just a face with some words and it’s like, “Why aren’t they seemingly even trying?” There’s this exceptional piece of art that makes me want to see the movie versus this other that gives me nothing I haven’t seen a million times before. 

It’s super interesting because there’s sort of a multi-faceted answer to that question of, why are the official one sheets or why is the box art not an amazing Jay Shaw Mondo poster, or one of the amazing festival posters that someone created. There’s a lot of incredible festival posters that never end up making the box art. We explore that [question] in the film and it’s hard to pinpoint; you can’t really blame the distributors 100% for that because they’ve still got to sell the movie, and if those of us who are seeing these films aren’t willing to consider a film, or at least look at the back of the jacket based on some amazing artwork… if we’re gonna continue to be sold with Will Smith’s face, then how can you blame them? You can’t blame the distributors – they want to put good art on the covers, but its like, “What are you gonna do?” Wal-Mart doesn’t want it. If Wal-Mart doesn’t think it will sell as well, then their [distributors’] hands are tied too.

That part of the film was something I’ve naively never really thought about in that how much the stores themselves have a say in how a movie is presented. 

Which in and of itself is pretty crazy to me. That’s…that’s nuts.

It happened to DEATHGASM. It not only has different art specifically for Wal-Mart, it even has a completely different name! It blows my mind thinking they have that much pull that they get their own version of a movie. 

It’s pretty wild. Like, that sort of thing never used to exist. It was like, “Here’s the movie that we’re selling. This is the artwork for this movie. If you wanna put in your stores, you wanna put it on your shelves then take it.” That a couple of the retail outlets have become so big and all-encompassing and consume so much of the actual sales directly to the viewers, their power over how these things are sold is amazing and weird.

deathgasm_wal-martI feel like that idea jells nicely with the sentiments shared by artist Tim Doyle, who you interview in the movie. Even though he’s speaking on the debate between licensed and unlicensed art, it’s when he mentions that the artist should be the most important part of the equation, calling the shots. Applied to this situation, the movie studio should be in that position. They should be like, “We made this movie and if you want to carry this movie, it’s on our terms.” His worry that is that when all of these other outside elements are brought in to the situation, who has the real power? Obviously it’s not the studios. 

Exactly, and in that you end up relinquishing and losing control. When Tim’s talking about a poster and when a poster is being created, specifically for fans, that the artist should be the most important person in that equation because it’s their art and they are creating this art for their fans based on their own interpretation of what they want to do. When you start relinquishing control of your cover art to the end-of-the-market line or a retailer, and you let them make the decisions, then where does that end? Do they ultimately end up deciding what the content itself of your movie should be?

They already do! They sometimes get their own edits. They [Wal-Mart] were the first ones to censor CDs. It’s wild!

This is your first feature film and it turned out quite well. I’m particularly fond of the path it builds, from focusing on the original one sheets and artists directly into the steady studio decline, and basically erupting into the modern screen print movement and fandom. Was there a specific moment along the way where it hit you, that this was the specific story that you wanted to tell? 

One thing thing that I absolutely love about the documentary, and one thing I learned while making this film, is that it’s a living, breathing entity throughout the entire production. You’ll think that you have an idea of the story you want to tell and where it’s gonna go, and then you do an interview with somebody and they’ll tell you something that you never thought of or ever imagined. All of a sudden you’re like, “Shit! Now I want to follow that plot thread!” Now I’ve got to book a trip to LA and interview this guy that this other person mentioned and pick his brain about this stuff.

Originally, when we first started out, the film was going to be entirely about the screen print world. As we were moving along I started to notice these other types of fandoms and really try to discover what it is that people truly appreciate about the art. Why do people want to collect these posters? Why do they want to have them on the wall? I started to revisit this feeling that I had when I was a kid and I would go to the video store and look at the marquees and say, “I want that poster!” I would have to put my name on a waiting list.

24x36_4Absolutely! I very much did the exact same.

They would call me and I’d hop on my bike and I’d ride over there and go grab my poster that they were holding for me out of the marquee. Along the way, for over two decades, that feeling disappeared for me. It just didn’t exist until I started getting into screen printing. As we began talking to fans and talking to artists, I started to notice and see a link between those two things. It’s almost as if the screen printed art movement is filling a void for a lot of people that was created when studio key art abandoned illustration. We really wanted to focus on the importance of illustration in movie poster art. The fact that it’s coming back, small steps at a time, I mean…a ton of independent films have illustrated key art. Indie production companies are doing wonders to kind of keep this art alive, whereas larger studios are still kinda staying away from it a bit. They [larger film studios] may have some festival posters or some things for fans but it’s the indie production companies that are right there on the front line saying, “This is what our cover looks like. We hired an illustrator because this is what we wanted it to look like.”

I feel like the boom of the screen print industry is helping that happen as well. So many of the artists that have come out of this community are getting to do those posters. Somebody like Jay Shaw who does… I feel like Jay does everything. Posters, titles, he’s got his non-greasy hands on it. Phantom City Creative have done a number of posters for various films. Several niche home media labels are consistently hiring artists from the screen print world for their cult and obscure releases. The powers that be are clearly taking notice.

There’s just now acknowledging the screen print movement and the popularity of it. Studios, both indies and large ones, they can’t ignore that. It’s impossible. There’s something new coming from Mondo that’s debuted by very reputable news outlets nearly every week.

Exactly. In such a small amount of time, now there’s coverage from Entertainment Weekly and comparable outlets and it’s so crazy to me that it’s reached that level.

I hope that trend continues. I know it’s small steps but I think it will. One thing that I try to make a point of in the film is that we’re not demonizing all photographic-based art or photoshopped art. There’s some incredible graphic designers who do amazing work with photographic- based posters. What it’s more about to me is that there should still be a place for illustrated art, rather than having it completely shoved to the side. I like to see it returning a little bit at a time. My hope is that if we get a good enough distributor and a lot of people are able to see the film and get introduced to this then I hope that there’s a chance that it will become even more popular and that we’ll see more of this art.

24x36_5Sort of heading into that realm of the film world, to me anyways, was seeing that Snowfort Pictures became involved with your film. Snowfort is a personal favorite production company, and have been churning out incredible films one after the other. Cheap Thrills, Starry Eyes, Jodorowsky’s Dune… Travis Stevens and crew seem to have that true Midas touch.

Their track record is just impeccable.

How did their involvement come about and what was the extent of it? 

It’s insane how it happened. I had an early cut of the film and I had been shopping it out to a couple of festivals here and there. Again, it’s my first film – I’m nobody. So, I’ve been sending it out and I forget which festival it was but I was on Reddit in the r/filmmakers subreddit and I was just poking around, seeing if people had been hearing back yet from this particular festival. Someone responded to me and said, “I know this probably isn’t the answer you want to hear but I submitted a film and it got in to the festival so I think you probably would have been notified by now.” So I was a little bit bummed. Then the same guy sends me a private message asking what my film’s about. He just seemed truly interested; super nice guy right off the bat and interested in my film. So I sent him the trailer and he wrote back saying, “Holy shit this is really cool.” He asked if I could send him a screener and that he wanted to take a look at it. So I went and vetted the guy cause I’m not just gonna send a screener to whoever, and it ended up being David Lawson from Snowfort. He watched the screener and then he contacted me and said, “Man, We’re huge fans of illustrated art.” I mean, if you look at tons of the artwork that Snowfort has put out, We Are Still Here has a beautifully illustrated poster. Recently there was one for Trash Fire that was just awesome. On top of that they did Jodorowsky’s Dune, which is one of my favorite docs to come out in years, so to hear him come back and say they were interested in helping me polish this film and get it to a really tight spot was just like, “Holy shit that’s amazing!” They were so helpful and so welcoming and really helped me refine the film and get it to a much tighter narrative and to where it is now. They’re amazing.

For sure. Once I saw you guys had come together I was like, “He’s in good hands.” 

They’ve been nothing but incredible and continue to be super supportive.

Jumping back to the film itself, there are these really cool animated sequences throughout, that take screen printed art and bring them to life. Could you speak a little to the process of creating those, and was their inclusion something you wanted to be in the film from the start, or did they just organically come about?

My full time job is for this marketing company in Toronto called T1. They actually just made me a partner in T1 Motion which is their video branch. We do a lot of commercial and video work. All this to say because I’ve been afforded the opportunity to work day in and day out always working on footage, working on post. Through that I was able to learn after effects animation and graphic design. I kind of taught myself along the way and throughout the process of creating 24 x 36 I thought, “Film is a visual medium and I always feel like the whole point, even of the Ken Burns effect, where photos are zoomed in on, is that film is meant to be a visual medium –  so things should always be moving in some fashion, unless you intentionally plan for them not to, as some sort of emotional trigger. So I thought, “What can we do with these posters to really kind of bring them to life?” So we played around with them a bunch. There’s a good 6 to 10 pieces in the film that were done by a really amazing animator name Danny Ratcliffe. At a certain point I was like. “Ok, I’m having fun with these.” but some of the more complex ones I was very much out of my depth. We needed an absolute pro. So we hired Danny, who also happens to be a big poster fan and collector. He had done a couple of animated pieces for different artists. He did one for Daniel Danger’s Psycho print, and also, the one that brought him to my attention, was one for Killan Eng’s Night of the Living Dead, for Grey Matter Art. When I saw it I said, “Holy shit this is the guy!”. He’s a collector and he loves this stuff. We got together and I had a few picked out that I wanted him to work on, so the really complex ones that you see in the film, that’s all Danny. He crushed it and I filled in the gaps with the rest of them. We definitely wanted to do something unique and special that puts the focus on the posters, but without going so far that you’re dicking around with it so much that it becomes obnoxious. It needs to just be subtle and compliment the art.

24x36_birdsIn that regard I feel like you totally nailed it. The animation for Laurent Durieux’ The Birds print is the one that keeps coming back into my mind. The ways that all the pieces of the print come together the way they do I just can’t stop thinking to myself, “Man, that’s really fucking cool!”

That one was all Danny. He was really excited to work on that one too and he did a great job.

You mentioned previously that you shot over 80 hours of footage for the film which you got down to 99 minutes. With so much footage left out, is there something in the cut bits that you wish could be in there?

So many… I could honestly make a second movie out of the additional footage.

Plan out that boxset!

Seriously, it could be a miniseries. So many wonderful artists that we interviewed who I am a huge fan of that just… when you’re working in post, especially in documentary, post-production can be a little bit of a nightmare. You’re creating you’re whole narrative out of pieces of interviews, where as if you have a narrative film you at least have a script and a structure of where things go. When we started out I think the first cut was about two and a half hours long and I was like, “This is great. I can watch this!” but how many other people are going to have the patience for that sort of thing? We had interviews with Rich Kelly whose work I absolutely love, Midnight Marauder who does amazing, amazing work. Both of them had some extremely poignant things to say, but about ideas that ultimately ended up outside of the main narrative we settled on. Fingers crossed once we release on disc, I’m really hoping to be able to add some additional interviews to the special features. There’s so much more to talk about. We weren’t even able to touch on private commissions and other things of that sort. It’s such a wide world that it’s hard to pack all that stuff in. I don’t know if you noticed but there’s already very little room to breathe in the film cause the facts come at you quick and they just kind of don’t stop. Everything just kind of rolls through because there’s so much information we wanted to be able to provide people with, so I’m definitely hoping to include some of that content in the future.

24x36_2Touching on the film being informative, I truly appreciated that you took some time to show parts of the screen printing process. For me, that’s what brought me into the hobby almost as much as the art itself. I believe it’s Gary [Pullin] who talks about it in the film, where an original painting is going to always be out of most people’s price range, but a screen print of that art provides an affordable and often still limited option. What I love about it is there’s still many levels of artistry to it. It’s not just a photocopy. You can feel the ink and layers. There’s a life to it a simple printed poster lacks.

That process in and of itself is an art form. There are certain screen prints that I look at and I can not believe they were printed one color at a time. I mean, first the illustrator has to design those layers with their transparencies built in. Jason Edmiston talks a little bit about that because he’s a fucking master of it. It is unreal how that guy is able to manage making 9 colors look like a million colors. His, and this is just one example because he’s done so many incredible ones, but his Killer Klowns From Outer Space that he did for Skuzzles just looks like… it looks like it has as many colors as our one-sheet it’s unreal. The screen printer themselves has create the screens and lay them out properly, so that everything comes out looking that way. There’s a lot of shit that can go wrong. So when they come out looking as good as they do, there’s a lot of people that have to be commended for doing such a great job. I absolutely love the process.

Now that the film has premiered and is out there in the ether, what’s the next step for it? Are you looking at more festivals or doing some one-off’s in certain towns?

I hope so. The awesome Stephanie Trepanier from Snowfort is putting together the rollout of where it’s going to play next, with possibly a couple more festivals and some individual screenings at some smaller art house cinemas, which would be really cool. Just to tour it around whenever we can, but we’re still working on that and people will be able to see it for sure.


A million thanks to Kevin for taking the time to speak with me as well as all the wonderful lovelies at Fons PR for setting it up.