Real Emotion and Visual Power: Interview with Matt Needle

Film poster design by Matt Needle for “Casino Royale”, 2006, directed by Martin Campbell

 
Art is about living. Not in fear and uncertainty, but in hope and with all our being. Trusting real emotion and giving free reign to imagination and artistic creativity are the best formula for communication. We need art more than ever.

Movies are one of the most accessible ways for people to experience art. The movie poster (a good movie poster, that is), an art in its own right, is the gateway to the bigger picture, and part of the movie experience. Not only does it go to the very heart of the story, simple, elegant, witty, through a revealing and striking image and typography, but it captures the mood of the times. It holds you in the thrall of that distinct story and, later on, whenever you see the poster, of that distinct memory.

This kind of artistic sensibility doesn’t come too often nowadays, but it is exactly what sets the work of graphic designer and illustrator Matt Needle apart. Just one look at his Bond movies posters series, completed this week, in the run-up to the release of No Time to Die, a daunting yet impeccably pulled off personal task, and I instinctively knew that this is how the Bond movie posters should always have looked like. And I guess that comes from the fact that the greatest impact on Matt’s art is his instinctive feeling to create. He is true to his work. Real emotions seep through into his art and further reach the audience. And I am once again convinced that movies are an extension of oneself, of the one making them, of the one watching them.

In our interview, Matt and I are talking favourite Bond films, Bond girl Vesper Lynd, design process and influences, and what cinema is truly about.

 

Film poster design by Matt Needle for “Dr. No”, 1962, directed by Terence Young

 

I would like to start with your poster for Casino Royale. Not just because it is one of my favourite Bond films and because it features the best Bond girl (I love how your artwork spotlights Eva Green), but because your poster is brilliant and such a class act in itself. I was looking at the official poster for the film when it was released and felt very disappointed. And that is because when seeing your posters I realised that this is how I have always wanted the posters for the Bond movies to be and that something has been missing from the Bond experience, at least from the Bond experience of the last two decades. Why do you think there is still this reluctance in approaching the official Bond poster design more creatively, to engage the viewer rather than serve as name placement for the actors starring? Does the audience of the Bond movies, which are so well established, still need to be sold the films this way?

Firstly, thank you for such high praise and kind words about my work. This project has been such a great creative outlet for me to distract from the horrific 2020 we’ve all been living through. I started the project right as the pandemic hit and it kept me sane and creatively enthused when potential projects were put on hold or cancelled all together.

From the outset, I knew I wanted to work on something that focused on my favourite film series (James Bond) to coincide with the release of the 25th film (No Time To Die) and that I wanted to created a modern, fresh, yet simultaneously vintage feeling alternative to the existing key marketing art that’s out there.

The newer key art pieces from the past few decades have fit the modern constraints of film advertisement and marketing, which is to stay a clean crisp, star and name driven photographic pieces that can be chopped and cropped into various formats, mostly consumed on a screen at a small size/resolution. Whilst I respect that (and work on a lot of it for my day job), it doesn’t always excite me personally, but I don’t need to be sold or persuaded to check out a new Bond film, I’m a life-long fan and these types of posters are aimed at the mass public.

The problem is the new posters lack the energy/action of the instantly iconic painted pieces by McGinnis, Gouzee et al. and that’s something I wanted to address. My main objective with the project was to create a free flowing, abstract series of artworks, that harkens back to the vintage routes and played on nostalgia, whilst also being modern, fresh and contemporary. Each piece was to be a different creative expression and exploration of style and technique whilst being instantly recognisable as Bond and also part of a series even though they are all vastly different and stand alone at the same time.

The Casino Royale piece in particular needed to feel elegant and classic, and as Vesper Lynd is one of the most iconic and strongest Bond girls in the series and the catalyst for a lot of the Daniel Craig era films direction, there was no doubt she needed to take centre stage. The film is essentially all about her.

Movies come to us, so why go to the movies? Never has this idea loomed larger than in the last few months. Do you think artistic film poster design, the kind that goes beyond “photographic pieces that can be chopped and cropped into various formats, mostly consumed on a screen at a small size/resolution” will face new challenges in the current environment?

To be honest, thanks to the power of social media and the rise of fan art, I think studios are looking into it as an additional online marketing tool more and more. In the past few years, I’ve worked on many projects for Disney/Marvel/Pixar and other studios such as 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures that have adopted this method, and although the pieces are not always printed out, the reach of the channels this art is posted and shared on is great for both the film they are marketing and, if correctly credited, the artist as well. Hopefully, this is a trend that continues as it allows you to see a different side of the film, supports and grows a creative community and the fan base.
 

Film poster design by Matt Needle for “No Time to Die”, 2020, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

 

Will you go to the cinema to watch No Time to Die?

No, unfortunately I won’t be venturing back into the cinema. I have a small child, so I barely get the time to go much anymore, plus I just don’t feel safe in the current climate. I would’ve loved to have seen both this and Tenet, but I’ll just have to be patient and wait for home rental/streaming.

With the No Time to Die poster, released this week, you’ve arrived at your 25th James Bond poster. How intimidating was it to create a whole series on the James Bond films?

As mentioned above, I’ve been a huge Bond fan from a very young age, I remember catching a re-run of Goldfinger on TV when I was probably around 5 or 6 and from then I was hooked, I would video tape (remember them?) every film in the series when it was shown on tv and rewatch them over and over again. I even watched the terrible James Bond Jr. Cartoon and collected a fan magazine. It’s fair to say I was obsessed.

I’ve been designing film art and alternative posters for the last 15 years, ever since I was at college, I created side projects for myself to keep busy and experiment with styles and techniques whilst honouring my favourite films. I’ve wanted to do something Bond-based for years, but never really known how or when to approach it. Being a now 25 film series, it’s such a sprawling/daunting task, but the pandemic has actually paved way to giving me a little more time to work on some personal projects, due to my day to day design jobs being put on hold.
 

Film poster design by Matt Needle for “Spectre”, 2015, directed by Sam Mendez, and for “Goldfinger”, 1964, directed by Guy Hamilton

 

Do you have a favourite Bond film?

It’s a tough choice. It’s either Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Goldeneye though. I love all three for different reasons. As mentioned, Goldfinger was the first Bond I saw, and Goldeneye was the first I saw at a cinema. And On Her Majesty’s Secret Service just feels so different but integral to the series to creatively move the franchise forward.

What other movies from your childhood stand out as having had an important impact on you?

So many it’s hard to list, but here are a few… Everything from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Goonies, ET, Back to the Future. I was also obsessed with reruns of 60s/70s tv shows like The Avengers, Prisoner, Twilight Zone, Mission Impossible.
 
 
 

”That is a project that is completely by me and for me.
I made them as a love letter to Bond and something to
keep me creatively occupied during the global pandemic.”

 
 
 
Licence to Kill is another favourite of mine, less fun and far-fetched, grittier, and introducing a tougher, darker, more serious, and, in my opinion, a damn good Bond played by Timothy Dalton. I like your take on the poster. Different (as each poster in the series is different from the rest). And I would like to ask: What is your design process like?

I love the Dalton films as well. They feel more gritty and grown up and very 80s. Those posters feel quite close in style compared to the rest of the series. But my process for all the posters was informed by the themes/story elements of the films as well as the time period that the film was from, so the older films feel more classic compared to the more modern films posters. For each piece, I rewatched the movie, jotted down some notes, quick sketches and come up with some strong concepts which I would then play around with stylistically (for example, the Dalton films posters needed to feel moody/gritty, hence the chosen colour scheme for Living Daylights).
 

Film poster design by Matt Needle for “Licence to Kill”, 1989, directed by John Glen

 

Your film poster design style taps into an earlier age of graphic design. Both simple and complex, in a pared-down palette, unearthing new thoughts and ideas, attracting and holding instead of overwhelming the viewers’ interest and eye with subtle yet effective details. How would you describe your style and were there any early influences on your work?

For years I kind of got pigeonholed in a certain vector minimalist style, as that’s the style of work I kind of broke through with, fresh out of university in 2009. As mentioned, I was creating alternative poster art which was being circulated online through WordPress/Tumblr/Twitter/ Pinterest. That work was heavily inspired by the work of Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, amongst others. That style was fun to work in and I dip into it now and again for certain elements, but my heart has always been in strong experimental/abstract collage/montage work.

This is the work I always used to produce and I’ve been shifting back towards this style for the past 5 years or so. As well as film posters, I also work pretty heavily in editorial illustration (recent clients include The Economist, GQ, Total Film) and this style works so well across all of the mediums/outlets in which I work.

I’d say my work nowadays is inspired by Bill Gold, Andy Warhol, Hans Hillman, Richard Hamilton, Polish Film Poster design movement, Dada Art Movements, Pop Art, and many more.
 
 
 

”I had no idea what this film was, but I knew I needed
to see it based purely upon that iconic/mysterious artwork.”

 
 
 

Does this style of illustration make it less challenging for you as an artist to relate your personal, freelance work to your commissioned work?

I pride myself being a fairly adaptable person, but I do prefer working in this style purely because it’s more of a creative journey and an experimental process which is way more exciting as a creative person.
 

Film poster design by Matt Needle for “1917”, 2019, directed by Sam Mendes

 
What makes a good movie poster?

Something that is instantly recognisable, iconic and lasting. A lot of studio output is kind of slick but disposable nowadays, whilst a lot of people still fondly remember the iconic work of someone like Bill Gold or Saul Bass from 40-50 years ago.

I also like a poster that makes people think, so that when the film begins the viewer has a resonance with it. Do you remember when it was the first time that a film poster made you want to watch a film you had’t yet viewed?

I totally agree. That’s why I try to work in some easter eggs/subtle references into each of my designs. As for the first poster that made me want to watch a film I hadn’t seen was when I stumbled upon Drew Struzan’s poster for John Carpenter’s The Thing as a kid. I had no idea what this film was, but I knew I needed to see it based purely upon that iconic/mysterious artwork.

Drew Struzan once said that his work is an expression of him, and that “the filmmaker has his story but I cannot do more than have my understanding of that, my feelings for it.”

Totally agree. That is the essence of my approach on almost every project, I try to process my own emotional response to the source material and apply an effective method for visually conveying that and the key story points as well.
 

Film poster design by Matt Needle for “Thelma & Louise”, 1991, directed by Ridley Scott

 

I would bring into discussion so many posters of yours, but I first want to mention Thelma & Louise. I love that you captured the ending, that ending that Ridley Scott insisted on, a symbolic ending, focusing on the women, on their keeping driving on in the air and then the cutting off from view mid-air. “I wanted it to be a happy ending… It’s noble… a touch of class.” I know that this was a project for Scott Free, Ridley Scott’s production company. How much of a collaborative idea was your design approach?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with Scott Free on a few projects and the process is always a smooth collaborative one. They give me a free reign to come up with some ideas and then we discuss the strongest one and develop from that point. We all knew that the ending needed to factor into the piece as it’s so iconic. The final piece is actually pretty much the rough draft that I pitched, only with a few minor artist tweaks.
 

Film poster design by Matt Needle for “Roma”, 2018, directed by Alfonso Cuarón

 

Your Roma poster really captures the feeling of the film. With a clean design but specific and beautiful texture, you once again provoke an interest in the story of the film, a film that brings you into a different life and time. Can you say a few words about your work here?

Roma was an absolute masterpiece, a beautiful piece of visual poetry, which evoked a few of my favourites from cinema history (from the movies of Fellini to The 400 Blows by François Truffaut). The idea behind my poster was to take a fairly mundane scene from the film and use this to focus upon “Cleo” in her day to day work and almost iconise the image, the use of strong textures, muted colour pallete and font inspired by Italian typography from 1950s-70s, all of this came together fairly quickly as the poster was pretty much how I envisioned it when I was watching the movie.
 

Film poster design by Matt Needle for “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”, 2019, directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

“It is probably my most personal. I think of it like my memory piece. Alfonso [Cuarón] had Roma and Mexico City, 1970. I had L.A. and 1969. This is the year that formed me. I was six years old then. This is my world. And this is my love letter to L.A.,” Tarantino said about Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino is one of the last purveyors of movie making. He loves cinema. He shows that artistic freedom is still possible, that you can still think in terms of making movies just for yourself, that he puts every thought and every sense and every emotion into making a film, that, yes, he can do what he likes and say what he likes – it’s his story. But behind the black comedy crazy bravura and auteurist excursion, he showed restraint, too, in the way he depicted Sharon Tate, her image looming over the entire film. And, with your poster, you carry that feeling on, knowing how to trust real emotion and its power – I believe that’s a good summation of cinema.

That is the perfect summation of cinema and when a director is firing on all cylinders like Tarantino was with OUATIH, that is exactly what I bring to my work as well. It’s a sense that why should there be too many rules, why can’t we just make stuff that pleases us and is accessible for all at the same time?

Circling back to my Bond posters, that is a project that is completely by me and for me. I wouldn’t really care if no one else liked them. I made them as a love letter to Bond and, as I mentioned, something to keep me creatively occupied during the global pandemic. But it turns out a lot of people have resonated with the series of work through my personal vision/twist on some iconic movies.

A limited edition of Bond movie alternative posters are available for sale on Matt’s online store: needledesign.bigcartel.com

 

Website: mattneedle.co.uk | Instagram: @needledesign
 
 

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