Please explain what just happened.
Just got back from San Diego Comicon. It’s like Woodstock for nerds. Which is why I love it! I did a panel for my new film about artist Drew Struzan titled Drew: The Man Behind the Poster. I was lucky enough to share the stage with my favorite artist Drew Struzan, actor Thomas Jane, producer Charles Ricciardi, cinematographer Greg Boas, editor Jeff Yorkes, Steve Saffel (Titan Books), composer Ryan Shore, and Zach Martin from Skywalker Sound. We had a great time doing it, and it really helped bring attention to the film.
What is your earliest memory?
Okay, this is super nerdy, but my earliest memory is seeing the original Star Wars in the theatre when I was a little kid. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Darth Vader totally scared me. And Han Solo became my hero. I know it’s geeky, but true.
And as a self-described film geek, which I can fully appreciate, what do you know (or even own) that might demonstrate the extent of your film-geekness to the average Joe Moviegoer?
I am a total film geek. I guess my DVD collection would show how into movies I am. I couldn’t even tell you how many DVD’s I own, but I have way more than any human being should own. I love everything from Hollywood hits to the most obscure low-budget films. I know a lot about Grindhouse films and sci-fi films.
Please explain the motivation/inspiration behind Drew: The Man Behind the Poster.
The inspiration is easy — the art of Drew Struzan. I basically made a film I wanted to see because I’m interested in Drew and his work. As a kid I grew up on his posters. Back then posters were done by hand, and they had amazing illustrations that were larger than life. And Drew was my favorite poster artist. I just felt an instant connection to his work. The theater lobby used to be like an art gallery to me.
You interview quite a few film legends in Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, including George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, Michael J. Fox, and Guillermo del Toro. How’d you manage to keep your film geekness in check?
Keeping my film geekness in check around some of the people I interviewed was really difficult. Especially with George Lucas and Harrison Ford. Like I said earlier, Star Wars had such an impact on me as a child that I have to admit I was really overwhelmed to interview them. But I was there to do a job, which was to get the best answers I could to use for the film. We were there to discuss our appreciation for Drew and his artwork. But I have to admit, when you’re interviewing Harrison Ford you can’t help but think, Han Solo is talking to me! Some of the people I interviewed I did get to geek out with. Like Guillermo Del Toro and Frank Darabont. They really love genre films.
Describe a typical workday at the height of filming Drew: The Man Behind the Poster.
I don’t think any of the shooting days were typical. They all involved interviewing the most amazing artists, filmmakers, and actors — people I really admire and learned a lot from.
And now that you’re in post-production what does your typical day look like?
We are pretty much done with post production. Right now we are just taking care of the final touches. We finally have a great screener of the film. So right now we are looking for distribution. People assume with all the great people that are involved with the film that we already have a distributor in place, but we totally don’t. This is a totally independent film made with our own time and money. So right now finding a distributor is our top priority.
There’s a great deal of buzz following your Comicon panel on Drew: The Man Behind the Poster in San Diego this year. What did you come out of that experience with?
It’s amazing how the entire entertainment industry is at San Diego Comicon. This was my second time going, and it is still overwhelming how big it is. And for a film like Drew: The Man Behind the Poster it’s a must to be there. It is the best way to get the word out about a film like this to the fans because the Comicon audience really knows and loves Drew’s artwork. We premiered our new trailer for the film at the panel. And since then the trailer has gotten a lot of attention. So Comicon totally gave us a great boost.
There’s a great line of Struzan’s in the film: “They say I could draw before I could talk.” And what were you doing before you could talk?
Pooping in my pants!
I’ve read that Struzan’s posters for the Indiana Jones films were ones you’d keyed in on as a kid. Their particular appeal?
Well, I loved the films, but I loved the way Drew captured the films. He can capture the essence of a film in one image! His paintings are like a film themselves because they tell a story. And he does more than just paint an image that looks like Indiana Jones. It’s like it is Indiana Jones. His images have such life and movement. His Temple of Doom poster blew me away as a kid. And it still does now.
Say you go back in time to tell your kid self he’ll someday be filming a documentary showcasing Struzan’s work. Your kid-self reaction?
I think the kid me wouldn’t believe it. It would seem to far-fetched. But if I could convince myself that it really was gonna happen, I would totally be over-the-moon excited, which is how I feel now getting to make a movie like this.
And what’s the one piece of advice on the process of filming Drew: The Man Behind the Poster that you would make sure to tell the young you?
It’s going to cost every cent you have and then some. It’s going to take years of your life to make, and it is going to be really, really hard work. But it’s going to be totally worth it.
I love the fact that Struzan’s illustrations are rendered by hand without the aid of technology. I wish more contemporary films themselves could take their cue from that, let alone contemporary posters. What have you learned from the art of Struzan’s work about the art of filmmaking?
I think the fact that Drew does it by hand is one of the reasons people connect to his work so much. His work has a humanity that you can relate to. When something is done by hand it is one of a kind. It has an individuality that you can’t get from a computer a lot of times. I think computers are overused in a lot of films just like they are overused in film advertising. I don’t think digital sets look as good as a beautiful hand-built set. I also think that traditional make-up effects and models still have a quality that is hard to recreate with a computer. Something shot for real in front of the camera has a reality, a humanity, that CGI doesn’t give you a lot of times. Would E.T. be a better film if the alien was a computer graphic? I really don’t think so. And I have yet to see a futuristic city in a film done by CGI that even compares to how beautiful the city looked in Blade Runner. So I think there is a place for old-school effects just like there is a place for great hand-drawn illustration.
You met Struzan when you’d asked him to do the poster for your film Sexina: Popstar P.I. What was that conversation like?
I felt kind of strange asking a master artist who has done posters for the most popular films of all time to do a poster for a film called Sexina:Popstar PI! It is a really campy, good-hearted comedy. One critic called it “John Waters” lite, which I would agree with. My dream was to one day make a film and have Drew Struzan do the poster. At the time I thought this might be the only film I’d get to direct so I had to get Drew to do the poster. I, of course, begged him and told him what a fan I am, and he was kind enough to make my dream come true by doing it.
Struzan’s particularly good at distilling the key imagery, the key moments, the key mood of a film in his posters. What do you feel he captured of Sexina: Popstar P.I., and what was your reaction to the finished piece?
The poster let people know it is a silly, absurd comedy. It let people know the filmmakers are in on the joke. It is not a sex comedy or T and A flick, which is what most distributors wish it was! But it is an absurd, silly comedy making fun of pop music and pop culture with a silly B-movie sensibility. The movie is about a popstar/private detective that has to stop an evil robot boy band that works for Adam West!
I have to ask you about working with the Adam West on Sexina: Popstar P.I. Anything we might be surprised to learn about him?
I love the old Batman TV series, and since I was making a campy film about a popstar/private detective he was perfect for playing the villain. It was actually Charles Ricciardi, the producer of the film, that brought up his name. Then me and Greg Boas, the D.P. and editor of the film, knew that was perfect casting. He was really great about trying new things on the spot and coming up with absurd, ridiculous things to say. We had breakfast and he was about to take this big green vitamin, and he says to me, “I call this one The Hulk.” Hearing my childhood Batman reference The Hulk was a total geek moment for me. I love that delivery of his.
And the theme song’s by the late, great Davy Jones, which couldn’t be more perfect for the film. One thing that that’ll stick with you about working with Jones?
He was such a great guy and a great talent. I remember watching the re-runs of The Monkees growing up. I always loved the song “Daydream Believer” that Davy sang. When I came up with the idea of doing an original song for the intro to Sexina: Popstar PI we knew we needed an actual popstar to sing it. The film is a comedy about pop music. So Davy was perfect for it. And our composer Domnik Mack wrote great music that was perfect for his voice. Davy was so kind and generous and super funny. He came to a couple of screenings of the film and did press for us. His manager Deborah was also really supportive of the film as well. I got to see Davy live a couple of times and hang with him. He couldn’t have been cooler. He was a true talent and an awesome guy and will be missed.
Three films that inspire you by their example.
The original Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner.
Three films that inspire you by their example of what not to do.
I actually love these movies even though they are considered bad movies: Plan 9 from Outer Space, Hudson Hawk, Cabin Boy.
If you had complete creative license and an unlimited budget, what would your next project be?
Probably something science fiction-related, but retro. I would use totally old-school special effects: models, animatronics, matte paintings, and stop motion. And I would beg Drew to do the poster!
Please explain what will happen.
Hopefully a distributor picks up Drew: The Man Behind The Poster and it comes out soon to a theater near you.
Born and raised in New York City, ERIK SHARKEY got hooked on movies at an early age and got into film the way many independent filmmakers do—with his own Super 8 movies. After winning the National Talent Search competition and receiving a full scholarship to Pratt Institute, he went on to work in film and video production in the NYC area before directing his first feature film, a campy comedy Sexina:Popstar P.I. (2007), featuring Adam West. The film was screened at The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, Big Apple Film Festival, and San Francisco Independent Film Festival and was recently picked up for foreign distribution by Lionsgate films. He’s currently at work finishing his second feature Drew:The Man Behind the Poster, a documentary about the life and work of iconic illustrator Drew Struzan and featuring original interviews with George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Michael J Fox, and many others. Find out more at drewthemovie.com.