The movie poster is a lost art. The legendary ingenuity of Saul Bass and Drew Struzan is nowhere to be found in the Photoshopped movie posters that populate our local cinemas. However, the Austin-based “Mondo” has sought to resurrect this once great art form, one poster at a time. Their concept is simple: unite some of the greatest working artists to create stunning alternative posters for modern blockbusters, cult classics, and established cinematic masterpieces.Through the utilization of fine art techniques, such as limited runs and high-quality screen-printing, Mondo has taken the art community by storm. Their new releases sell out in a matter of seconds, and their older works regularly sell for thousands of dollars on the after market. However, Mondo’s financial success is matched only by their nearly universal critical acclaim. In fact, the Academy of Arts and Sciences began archiving their work in 2011 to “ensure that their contribution to the art of movie posters will be around for future generations to appreciate.”
I had the pleasure of speaking with Mondo’s COO, Jessica Olsen, about Mondo’s rise to power and the process they go through in creating their stunning movie posters.
How did you come to work for Mondo?
Through our parent company, the Alamo Drafthouse. Tim League approached me to act as the Production Coordinator for the 2010 Rolling Roadshow, which is a cross-country event where we show 35mm screenings of movies out of a box truck on a blow-up screen. We screened JACKIE BROWN outside of LAX, DIRTY HARRY in Washington Square Park, and ROCKY on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum among others. It’s awesome because it’s a super small team putting on massive events. We had about 2,000 people show up to DIRTY HARRY. It was on that trip that I met Justin Ishmael, the Creative Director and now CEO of Mondo. After the Roadshow wrapped up, Tim asked if I’d like full-time employment within the company and I pinpointed a position within Mondo as my first choice.
Did your passion for art and cinema play a role in your decision to work for Mondo?
For sure. I was in Los Angeles working in film production before I started with Alamo/Mondo. I love movies. One of the things I love the most about working for Mondo is that we celebrate all kinds of movies. Box office hits and underground cult favorites. It’s also been important to me to help nurture and support artists, which is a big part of our mission.
Can you walk us through the licensing process for your posters?
Sure. Essentially, once the creative team decides there’s a property that would make a strong Mondo poster, I reach out to the studio to attempt to secure the license. We pay an upfront guarantee and a royalty on all posters sold under the license. Typically studios require we choose several titles from their catalogue to make it worth the time to draw up the contract.
Historically, have you always secured licenses when commissioning artwork? If not, have you had to take any measures after the fact?
Early on our posters were created to advertise screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse. Once we decided to sell posters online, we made the decision to secure licenses. Sometimes having the license means limitations on things like likenesses or crediting artists on the design, which can be a bummer; but working within those restrictions is worth being able to sleep at night knowing that we’re playing by the book.
Do you consult legal counsel when negotiating and procuring licenses and artist contacts?
When we’re working with a new long-form contract, we’ll have someone take a look at the agreement to make sure there’s nothing in it that raises a red flag for our business. It’s important to our brand and to our relationships with our artists that the designs we are creating aren’t reproduced without our consent, which is sometimes challenging to negotiate.
I know some licenses have required studio approval. Can you speak about this process of collaboration?
All of our licenses require the studio’s approval. Typically this is coming from a friendly group of people who are just making sure that there’s nothing on the poster that could get them in trouble – the likeness of an actor or missing logos or copyright lines, stuff like that. Sometimes those restrictions lead to incredibly clever concepts like Laurent’s JAWS. There are also times that we’ve felt so strongly that a likeness is needed or a name should be credited that I track down contact information for that person and reach out to them directly for their permission.
Currently, a lot of galleries are producing unlicensed artwork without significant legal consequences, has your team weighed the possibility of relying on the transformative nature of your art instead of purchasing licenses?
I’m not a copyright lawyer, but I don’t think a lot of what’s being produced is really permissible. I think it’s just not being done on a scale that warrants studios going after them. But yeah, we discuss it all of the time – it would definitely be a lot easier and a lot more fun if we just did what we wanted to do and crossed our fingers. I sleep easier doing it by the book though. And to be honest, I kind of enjoy the challenge of the hunt – tracking down who owns the rights to a property or finding the contact information for a director or actor. I also think it makes what we do more special. There’s something cool about knowing that it’s “official”.
Can you speak about the process of finding new artists for your upcoming projects?
They come from all over. Justin is a big comic book fan, so he is always looking for talented up-and-coming artists in that world. Along with Justin, Mitch Putnam and Rob Jones make up our chief creative team. Mitch runs a blog featuring poster art, so he always has his finger on the pulse of that world. And Rob is an artist himself, so he has a great eye for up-and-coming talent. We like to work with people who have experience creating screen prints, but its not 100% necessary.
Do you have any advice for artists that are trying to break into the movie poster scene?
Surround yourself with inspiring people and produce a lot of personal work. And put it online. Look for design inspiration in places other than movie posters, like book or album covers.
After success with both posters and vinyl, can fans expect Mondo to expand into another medium any time soon?
There’s MondoCon, which I’m really passionate about. It’s an idea we had after hosting a dinner at ComicCon with all the artists we work with. It was so much fun having everyone and seeing people who’d never met in person all in one place, that we felt like it would be amazing to expand on the idea and make it an actual event. There are a couple of other avenues we’re already knees deep into. More announcements to come in 2014, for sure.
To learn more about Mondo please visit mondotees.com. Their website has an amazing archive of all the work they have produced thus far. Finally, I would like to personally thank Jessica for speaking with us, and providing a rare insight into how Mondo creates their jaw dropping works of art.