Art Snob: A Chat with Erik Sharkey, Director of DREW: THE MAN BEHIND THE POSTER
by Matt Cohen on August 22, 2013
Talk about movie poster art to anyone in the know, and the first name that’s going to come up in conversation is a certain Mr. Drew Struzan.
If you don’t know the man, you surely know his work (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Thing, Mallrats, Back to the Future, Hellboy, and, literally, pretty much every great movie poster in the last 30 or so years), and if you don’t know his work, you’re on the wrong blog.
Drew Struzan has long been a legend in the industry, and now filmmaker Erik Sharkey is shining a light on that legend in the new feature length documentary, Drew: The Man Behind the Poster.
Being a massive Struzan fan, I jumped at the chance to chat with Erik about the new film, and the work of Drew in general.
Matt Cohen: Hey, Erik! Thanks for taking the time to talk about your film. When did you first become aware of the work of Drew Struzan?
Erik Sharkey: When I was a kid; I was born in 1972, so I was the perfect age for that big wave of Drew Struzan posters in the early ’80s. The first one I saw that really had an amazing effect on me was his teaser for what at that time was Revenge of the Jedi.
MC: Yeah, I know the poster. (laughs)
ES: (laughs) Yeah, that one had a huge impact on me.
MC: I was born in ’84, and for some reason, there was a Revenge of the Jedi poster that always hung in a movie theater in my town, and by far was my favorite movie poster of all time.
ES: Yeah, that image just stuck out at me. It’s like a dark poster, man. (laughs) I love the way he captured Darth Vader. So that one had a big effect on me. I didn’t realize who Drew was until I saw that Temple of Doom poster. That one had had his signature in the corner, and that was the first where I went, “Oh, my God, I love this artist. I love this whole style. I love the technique. I love the way he captures a whole movie in one image. I love the way he represents Indiana Jones; it’s way more than just a painting of Indiana Jones, it’s like he encapsulates the whole character of Indiana Jones.”
MC: Was poster art something you were aware of, or had been a fan of, before you’d seen the work of Drew Struzan?
ES: To be honest, I always loved illustrations. I was one of those kids, I grew up in New York City, so I’d be at the Met on a school trip, and I’d be in the corner reading a comic book or Mad Magazine or something like that. So I always felt an affection for illustration, and I love other artists from that period. For some reason, Drew was the one who always spoke out to me the most, and because he had so many posters at that time, the theater lobby became like an art gallery for me. It literally seemed like every week, or every two weeks, there was a new Drew Struzan poster that I fell in love with; Back to the Future, The Goonies, Big Trouble in Little China. The Thing was one that really stood out, too. The whole wave of them that came just at the right time for me as a kid, and I always connected to Drew the most.
MC: However many decades and possibly hundreds of posters later, how did you get the idea to film this documentary about the man?
ES: I made my last feature film; I made this campy comedy called Sexina: Popstar P.I, and Adam West played the villain in it, that’s how campy it was. I wanted that classic sort-of Drew Struzan style poster for it, so I thought foolishly, maybe I could actually talk Drew Struzan into doing it. To my shock, I contacted him and he actually wound up doing the poster for my first movie. So all of a sudden, I had this small independent film, and I had a Drew Struzan poster to go along with it. That’s how I met him, and we worked together on the poster and everything, but it was after that that I realized I would love to see a movie about my favorite artist. The idea actually came about because I was looking for a documentary about him; I just assumed somebody had probably already made one. When I saw that no one had made a feature film about him and his work, that’s when I said, “Oh, well, I want to make it; because I want to learn about Drew. I want to learn about his process and about his career.” Luckily, he agreed.
MC: How does Drew see his own legacy? Is he aware of his impact in the industry and this fanbase?
ES: Yeah, he’s becoming aware of it because of the internet, and he’s also becoming aware of it because of things like San Diego Comic-Con. I think for a long time he was in his studio, doing this work, and he knew it was getting out there because they would be in theater lobbies, and they were being used in the papers and everything. Before the internet, he didn’t really know what kind of effect his work was having, or how many fans he had.
One of the things that’s cool about the movie, that I’m really pleased Drew is happy with, is with all these interviews with like, George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg and Harrison Ford; he gets to hear them talk at length about his work, why they love his work, what his work means to them. They hire him; he knows they like his work, because they keep hiring him, but this film was a chance for him to really hear in specific ways what they love about his work. Because of places like San Diego Comic Con — when he does signings, there’s lines around the block. He’s starting to really realize the impact his work has had, and how many fans there are.
MC: Now you’ve mentioned some of the “Celebrity Drew supporters” you have in the film, who range from Guillermo Del Toro to Stephen Spielberg, to Frank Darabont, to everyone who’s ever been involved in anything we all love. How hard was is it get them involved, or was it a matter of just mentioning Drew’s name?
ES: We were very fortunate that Drew reached out to George Lucas; he was actually the first person we interviewed, so the first day of shooting was literally George Lucas (laughs). Pretty much when Drew reached out to Lucas and Speilberg and they were on board, the dominoes starting falling after that. A lot of people started coming on board. Frank Darabont and Guillermo Del Toro are actually friends of Drew’s, so they came on board early. I’d say the hardest interview to get was Harrison Ford, but we did eventually get him and he’s great in the movie; he really has a deep appreciation for Drew and those paintings that he’s done for him over the years.
MC: The documentary is in theaters now; what can fans of Drew’s work expect to see in the film?
ES: First off, they can expect to see a lot of amazing art. Drew personally gave us all the art, so we have super high-res scans of it. He approved the way the art is used in the movie, and he even would give us direction on composition. There’s so many posters, it’s amazing how much output came out of one person. You’re also going to hear, like you just said, we’ve got George Lucas, Guillermo Del Toro, Michael J. Fox; all these people give the most amazing interviews. I have to be honest, Guillermo Del Toro and Michael J. Fox are real highlights, because they are extremely funny and animated. They not only have detailed answers about Drew’s work, they’re just clearly so passionate about it, and you get insight into the behind the scenes of a lot of those posters. Drew talks about the making of the posters, what it’s like to work in the industry, what it’s like to work on these franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
We also get into his life; there’s a great human story in the film, about an artist who literally was a starving artist; who had to work hard to make it. We also get into how the industry has changed as well, about how illustration for posters is really something that’s gone away for the most part — everything is done on Photoshop now. We get many aspects of Drew’s life, art, and all these amazing people that he’s worked with, people we all grew up loving, and we get to see a different side of them, instead of talking about what they’ve done, they’re talking about what Drew has done.
MC: What is your favorite Struzan poster of all time?
ES: That’s a hard one because I love all of them, but I think the one that I definitely have the most personal connection to is Temple of Doom; because that was my gateway into the world of Drew Struzan. I saw that signature and started looking out for paintings from him, and I was blown away by every one, but yeah; Temple of Doom is definitely the stand-out for me.
MC: Where and how can folks see the film?
ES: We’re in a limited theatrical now, so it’s starting this Friday (8/23) at the Texas Theatre in Dallas, Texas, and we’re gonna be rolling out more cities pretty soon. We have our DVD/Blu-ray release in November. This is an independent film, even though we have all these big stars in it; I financed most of it out of my pocket, along with my partners Charles Ricciard and Greg Boas. It’s a movie made by fans, for fans, so we could really use people to come out to the theater and support us, because the more people who come out the better chance we have at a wider theatrical release.
MC: And people can keep up with all the screenings at DrewStruzanDocumentary.com?