“My Posters Are Basically My Emotions”: Interview with Film Poster Designer Maks Bereski

”Le mépris” (1963) film poster design by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 
 
The audience involvement with the film should really begin with the first frame, said Saul Bass, referring to the title sequences. I would say that the audience involvement really begins with the film poster. Because the film poster is the first that creates “a climate for the story that is about to unfold.” I am sure Saul Bass would agree, or at least would acknowledge each has its role in setting up the subtext of the film, each is a gateway to the story. After all, he created both sequence titles and film posters that were visionary, unconventional, iconic and lasting, out-of-the-box.

When I saw Maks Bereski’s Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood film poster reimagined around Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), I had already seen the film three times. And yet, that film poster is so different than all the other posters released that I loved it on the spot. It’s out-of-the-box. And it made me think about the film again. And it made me watch it again. Because it is about the film at its core. And it is about that great fable-ish ending. And it does speak of that time period, of the true story and of the film all at once. It sets the mood, it creates an atmosphere and a metaphor for what the film is about. It’s what a good film poster does.

Maks Bereski studied Fine Arts at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland. Referred to as a continuation of the Polish School of Posters, Maks describes himself as “a cinema enthusiast, a film addict who combines his passion for design with his love for the moving picture.” His body of work, branded under the name Plakiat, is very versatile, with a style that is not confined visually and aesthetically superficial but open to communicate in different ways, each poster created so that it is true to the film and its intent and, at the same time, true to the artist’s own feelings towards it. It’s a very personal approach, and it’s each and every film that counts and dictates the style of design. It’s a visual expression that only enriches the ever fascinating world of cinema.

In our interview, Maks and I talk about all things movies, poster design and why the cinema experience is still special.

 

”Burke and Hare”, 2010, film poster design by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 

When I saw Pociag (Night Train) last year, I was thrilled to discover a noirish psychological story that reveals a microcosm of human experiences. An entire universe unfolding in a confined setting, with an element of suspense hovering over, that unequivocally reminded me of Rear Window. Your film poster for Jerzy Kawalerowicz‘s 1959 film captures that exact feeling described above. What makes a good movie poster?

Really good example of good ol’days Polish Cinema with mesmerising role from Cybulski. The poster was committed to me by the Polish Filmmakers Association for a movie re-release. It’s a tricky question & we should first define ‘good’ – as a Plakiat brand, I’m trying to get to the very essence of the film, show the metaphor submerge with symbolism and intellectual approach with hints of the Polish Poster School movement, instead of just hollow aesthetics that is common nowadays. A poster should speak to the viewer, making him/her wonder. The most important thing is the thinking part. Thinking and emotions born during that process. Artistic skills are important, too, but the idea should be planted first (very Nolan-esque, isn’t it?). Each poster I’ve made is authorial – the idea and the art techniques always come from me.
 

”Pociag” (“Night Train”), 1959, poster and cover art by Maks Bereski for SFP & Magazun Filmowy © Plakiat

 
 

“I drew a lot, read a lot, art was my way of expressing myself.
I‘m an only-child, so imagination was something what I made
use of. About the Polish Poster School I found out when I was a
Fine Arts student. If I hadn’t been in art school back then, I would
probably have gone to film school.”

 
 
If you could choose one classic film to make the official poster art for back in the day, which one would it be?

The thing is each poster I’m making is my brand’s official product. So even when I’m making, let’s say Nosferatu, I’m not racking my brain that ‘Oh, it’s not for the distributors’. It makes absolutely no difference in the artistic process – I want each of my posters to be made as good as I can as a movie poster artist who has spent his life, art education and career for that moment: making the film poster for The Viewer. It’s the same when it comes to how much time it takes for the poster to be made. In the past one poster was made in 7-10 days. Now it’s around/less than 7 days. When I put my eyes on something I’m interested in making, I’m going to make it. Really often movie crew/cast members see my works or buy them in my shop. I’ve been a poster artist for 13 years, during which time those dream projects of mine have been coming to life regularly. Still, there are many posters ahead of me.
 

”The Maltese Falcon” (1941) film poster design by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 
The Polish film school is world-renowned and Polish posters are widely acknowledged in the film world. Movie lovers and film poster illustrators and designers alike appreciate their boldness, simplicity and creativity. Were they an early influence in your work, too?

Many people are thinking that that was the starting point – the fascination with the Polish Poster School (Polska Szkoła Plakatu) – the spark itself. But no – it was popular during the 20s-90s. Since then, times have changed, the politics have changed, the Hollywood-approach came and ruined everything in terms of preparation of promotional materials. The photography-Photoshop era came. Today I’m frequently called the continuator of the Polish Poster School and I consciously and repeatedly use the principles of this movement, their way of thinking in my works. I was born in 1989, I’m 33. I was the-90s-kid and, during the 90s, there was a huge Americanisation of popular culture in Poland. I watched Cartoon Network, Teenage Ninja-Turtles, Toy Story, Space Jam, Disney classics, every Christmas there was Home Alone on TV, I read Donald Duck, drank Cherry Coke and ate Pringles, played the first video games and went to the cinema A LOT. I was (& still am) a film and animation buff. When I was a teenager, I read Empire magazine and found out that movie posters can be different than this commercial blob with too much of everything on it we can see today – there was a special in every issue with one minimalistic poster. After that, I was fascinated by the District 9 minimalistic teaser poster I saw in cinemas, captivated by the retro stylisations of Bioshock and Fallout propaganda posters I saw during playing.

I have always had tendencies towards minimalism. I have always painted, from the beginning, I was constantly creating something. I drew a lot, read a lot, art was my way of expressing myself. I‘m an only-child, so imagination was something what I made use of. About the Polish Poster School I found out when I was a Fine Arts student. If I hadn’t been in art school back then, I would probably have gone to film school – have always been excited about creating visual stories (when I watched the behind the scenes documentaries from PIXAR animations, it struck me every time that I sounded like Lasseter when he talked about cartoons, with the enthusiasm of a child).
 

We are all mad here.
“Alice in Wonderland” (1933) film poster design by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 


“Koniki Na Biegunach” (“The Rocking Horses”), 2022, documentary poster commission for Studio Munka & Marvin Liesz
“The Mask” (1994) film poster design by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 

What sparked your interest in cinema?

My first movie screenings – so, my parents I guess. I have always been more interested in fictional imaginary worlds than realism. When I was 3, I saw Snow White re-release in 1992. Sitting there was like discovering home, my personal Hogwarts. I started to be a regular viewer. And when my childhood was over, I also read movie press, behind the scenes materials, interviews – before the Internet era. Cinema is the most beautiful of all arts, it combines visuals, audio experiences, writing and imagination – complete immersion.
 
 

“My posters are basically my emotions – kind of a journal,
my interpretation of the movie is nessesary to make it authorial.”

 
 
I’m right there with you. Cinema is the most beautiful of all arts. Can you share a special cinematic experience, a film that made you truly feel the immersive power of cinema?

First experiences are always the most rememberable. I have always felt connected to Robin Williams and his movies. Some of the screenings were unforgettable – I remember seeing New Hope when I was 4 (theatre re-release) and the Phantom Menace premiere when I was 10. The Space Jam premiere from row three. The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules. The original The Lion King. The Toy Story premiere, of course, one of my best movies of all time, I believed that toys can feel and move around. Jackson’s Return of the King as a goodbye to Middle Earth. I was lucky enough to grow up during an absolutely amazing time when it comes to filmmaking. For example, 2001, that year gave us The Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter and Shrek franchises. I also remember fondly those old movies I watched with my mum on TV when I was little, for example the Louis de Funès ones. When I grew older, I saw all the Woody Allen movies. Manhattan is a masterpiece.
 

”Annie Hall” (1977) film poster design by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 

You probably get this question a lot and I understand if you are reluctant to talk too much about your creative process. Does it differ much from project to project? Where does it begin? Do you watch the film and try to understand the rhythm, structure, mood? Do you settle on an image or on an idea and bring your own self and imagination into the world of the film?

Every numbered Plakiat Poster is different – it’s the core of my activity, my own rule to make it each time contrasting. Every film is different: the subject, the crew, themes, symbols… I really can’t understand those who make each poster the same way – after a while, if you put them together, you’re just staring at the same image, it’s not creative, it’s not expanding your skills. I also don’t get it how can you make a poster with other people’s idea on it. [laughing] That’s why many people thinks Plakiat is a project created by many artists. But it’s not – it’s all me, a one-man-job. It can begin in a variety of ways, it depends on what I’m willing to say to the audience. My posters are basically my emotions – kind of a journal, my interpretation of the movie is nessesary to make it authorial. Even if it’s an official movie poster for producers, distributors, directors, etc, those who are regularly giving me poster commissions. Before the finish product, they don’t see what I have created, because I don’t present them poster versions, sketches, unfinished stuff – the trusting part is essential. I love to read their first reactions full of kind words with exclamation marks when I capture the essence the way they wanted.

All that you mention in your question is also true – in most cases, I watch the movie, try to focus, be patient and interpret it using my way of seeing things (that’s why I have my eye in round glasses in Plakiat’s logo). During watching, I’m trying to observe it as an audience member, film geek, but also a painter, graphic designer. Sometimes when the film isn’t edited yet – when it’s still in post-production – I read a script or watch promotional materials or anything available to understand the motifs, the message of a film, the visuals. Making that many posters that fast is related to being extremely self-disciplined and self-aware, but also being a perfectionist (sometimes it doesn’t make things easier, but it’s worthwhile).
 

”Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” (2019) film poster design by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 

I would like to single out a few of your posters. Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood is one of them. There are so many reasons why I loved this film, delirious, funny, shocking, exhilarating, beautifully crafted around movie lore and history, blending fiction with reality. And one of those reasons is Tarantino’s way of paying homage to Sharon Tate. A way in which he depicts her, through scarce dialogue and infused with optimism, joy and a luminous aura that conveys an angelic, surreal creature, looming over the entire film. I like how your poster focuses on her character. Why did you choose this approach?

Thank you – before the movie premiere (I made that poster for a movie magazine long before the movie hit theaters), I read a book about Manson, to understand the themes, the 70s Hippie-California-Polański-Hollywood period of time. I listened to 70s records, observed the fashions, old ads – I did my research. This movie is an homage to Sharon – kind of straightening the history line, the same way Inglorious Basterds makes its revenge in an alternate timeline. As an audience, we meet Leo and Brad, get to know their lives (absolutely brilliant production & costume design), but the quintessence of that story – the reason Quentin wrote that film and book – was the last scene, the attempted murder ‘cause we all know how it happened. This movie was also important in Poland because of Polański and his role. I wanted to honour Tate (and Margot), a Flower Child of that era, lost in the air, torn out like a flower, but make it as gentle, ethereal as I could. I’ve had strong emotions for that, thought it was moving. I also wanted to make it very 70s-ish, with hippie fonts, autumn colours, very Twiggy-ish. Generally I’m noticing those touching scenes in many movies – when you see the heart of the story, the emotions and inspirations are there.
 

As I said, I think your poster beautifully captures the essence of the film. When you watch that ending, you can’t stop thinking: “What if? What if Sharon Tate’s fate had been different?” when you hear the “enchanting, fable-ish”, as Quentin himself describes it, ending credits music, Miss Lily Langtry, by Maurice Jarre. And I would like to ask: How challenging is it to create a poster before watching the film? Do you ever think you would have approached the idea differently if you had watched the film first? I know film poster designers are brought onto a film project at different stages, sometimes even before the shooting starts, but do you ever feel you want to make another version when you watch the movie, or when you watch the movie again?

No. The research and emotions put into a project are so strong that I don’t think about changing anything. For example, I made the Mary Magdalene and Cruella posters before the movies came out. After I saw the premiere screenings, I thought: ‘Today I’d make it the very same way I did back then’. Intuition is really important. When you spend your days in your head, intuition and observations are a common thing for you.
 

”Fahrenheit 451” (1966) | “Blonde” (2022) film poster designs by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 

Your poster for Andrew Dominik’s Blonde is another one that comes to mind. The film premiered in Venice last week. What was the main inspiration for your poster?

I wanted to show an utterly opposite thing to Andy Warhol’s Monroe painting – make her sad while leaving the famous square frame (she is half sitting, half standing). Her life was not pin-upy 50’s happy, despite the women sugary portrayals of that era. So in the times of Me Too, I wanted to give her justice. She was a Hollywood icon. And after my Warholesque stylisation, the NETFLIX marketing team gave the audience their materials, based on other famous photographs but with Ana, all that after my June 1st poster release (the poster was quite popular on Plakiat). Funny story: I have been attached to this poster idea since Blonde was promoted as a Naomi Watts picture back in 2013. I have waited almost 10 years for making it.

 

When you think about the future, how do you imagine it will be?
”C’mon C’mon” (2021) film poster design by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 

Scenes from a Marriage and C’mon C’mon are two posters that are very different in style, but each effortlessly captures the essence of the respective series and film. Could you tell me a few words about each of them?

I loved making those two. I admire A24, so during making C’mon C’mon I was really happy to work for the Polish distributor of that movie, GutekFilm. Black and white to capture the colour palette, watercolour to make it from a standpoint of Woody, his film character (Woody was chuffed by that poster, he put it on his Instagram a few times in his Instastories). I’m a fan of Joaquin Phoenix, as you could probably tell – I have made a few poster titles with him in credits. I wanted it to start a dialogue with photography based on the international poster and smuggle all that Polish Poster School handmade look. I laughted with GutekFilm that he will be my Santa Claus, because we premiered with it December 25 as the Official Polish Artistic Poster.

Scenes from a Marriage – what a great piece of filmmaking that is. Cinematography, acting, directing… I contacted the director, cinematographer, OST composer and told them that I loved it. Oscar and Jessica should get the… well, the Oscars. Three colours representing three stadiums of rotting Autumn leaves as a metaphor of marriage decay during time periods. Sihouettes making those scenes emotional, with key-positions to understand each scene message. I took that tv-series very personally, I was shattered after every episode. Retro stylisation to make it more Bergman-like, vintage. I wanted to have that title in my Plakiat Archives, show it to my audience.
 

”Scenes from a Marriage” series (2021) film poster design by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 

What is the latest good film you’ve watched?

I’m trying to watch a movie every day, streaming services are not a good idea, because those productions are not movies anymore, it’s a content for targeted audiences and checkbox lists. I have always been a fan of Charlie Kaufman. It’s a vast question – you mean latest 2022 cinematic releases? Nitram, The Northman, The Batman, A24 movies, Scenes From a Marriage series… Quality is getting worse when mega corporations are trying to sell us politics, not a screenplay and good character writing. Now I’m waiting for Killers of the Flower Moon, The Banshees of Inisherin, Bardo, The Whale, The Fabelmans, Oppenheimer, Blonde… There are many movies I consider classics, like Synecdoche, New York.
 
 

“Big screens were first, movies were meant to be seen in theaters.
For me, every movie should be watched at the cinema.
It’s cinematic passion – that’s why my work isn’t just ‘work’,
it’s a way of life.”

 
 
I am so glad you’ve brought up the streaming productions. I can barely watch those, because, as you said, their only purpose is to check certain boxes, be politically correct and shape up an audience the way they want it. So I guess my question should be refrained. It could be about any film from any decade. I also try to watch a movie every day and always watch classic or older films on DVD (I watch new films almost exclusively at cinema), so my latest good film I have watched could be a noir from the 1940s, or Play Misty for Me, which I have rewatched this summer and it’s still as great as the first time I watched it.

Noir cinema is very stylish, I love black and white stuff, so I get it. To quote Nick Cage from The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, you can’t just pick one. Besides those I have mentioned, I adore Stanley Kubrick, early PIXAR, 1984, Tim Burton’s short Vincent and Sweeney Todd, Lars von Trier movies (Melancholia!), Lost in Translation, Perfume, Everything is Illuminated, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, Donnie Darko, Ghost Story, many Spielberg movies (Schindler’s List), sci-fi classics (like Carpenter’s The Thing or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner), Never Let Me Go, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Road, Sorrentino’s Youth, The Killing of Sacred Deer by Yorgos Lanthimos, Goodfellas without a doubt, some Kieślowski’s Dekalog episodes and his documentary movies, Iñárritu films, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Hannah and Her Sisters, Fiddler on the Roof, Amélie, The Seven Year Itch, The Pianist, a few blockbusters (300, Watchmen), Joker, A Serious Man, Taxi Driver, Godfather, Raging Bull, The Mission, Sound of Music, Where the Wild Things Are… There are many more movies I could recall. I’m not a fan of those shared ‘universes’ with many movies within ‘cinematic universe’.
 

”Roma” (2018) for Ekrany magazine and “No Time to Die” (2021) film poster designs by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 

Do you ever watch a film just for relaxation?

Yes, movie-watching experiences are definietely relaxing (well, few exeptions here and there). I prefer going to the cinema, I hope the movie industry will not focus only on streaming. It’s cinematic passion – that’s why my work isn’t just ‘work’, it’s a way of life.
 

Movies come to us, so why go to the movies? Never has this idea loomed larger than in the last years. But fortunately there are filmmakers whose films are made to be seen on the big screen. What does the movie theater experience mean to you? Why do movies still need cinemas?

From a technical point of view, cinemas have bigger screens, the image is more detailed, it overwhelms the viewer who feels like a participant to the story. It’s like a ritual, pitch-black separate room, a dreamland – Gordon-Lewitt explained this in the Inception Blu-ray extras. No compression, no social media checking in the background. Also, big screens were first, movies were meant to be seen in theaters. For me, every movie should be watched at the cinema. From a humane-emotional point of view, the atmosphere, the emotions are more impactful ‘cause of all that going-out-shenanigans. And the sentiment. It’s like the grain vs. sterile digital film dispute (the Side by Side documentary). Many viewers, not so attentive to the movie-making, prefer to watch it on mobile phones, handheld devices or during a sunny day in their living room. Martin Scorsese immediately comes to mind, when he said it’s horrendous if someone without full focus can see a movie on a microscopic mobile screen or when it’s not dark. I share that opinion, the movie is ruined. The same thing with posters – in every Plakiat post, I give the viewer the zooming option, to look without compression on a monitor full screen. With all social media compression, it’s an abomination that compression is still there. Every poster I make is one meter long – b1 format (100×70 cm). So imagine how many details fade away when you see it on Facebook or Instagram.

I share your point of view 100%, Maks. Thanks you for this great talk about movies and film poster design.
 
 

Website: plakiat.com | Instagram: @plakiat
Facebook: @PlakiatDesign | Behance: @Plakiat

 
 

”Seven Samurai” (1954) film poster design by Maks Bereski © Plakiat

 

 

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