Film on Paper is an archive of original film posters featuring the collection of me, Eddie Shannon, an interaction designer, film fan and slave to three cats, currently living in York, UK.
The site came into being because I wanted a way to view my collection without having to continually handle the posters and risk damaging them. I also hoped it might become something of a reference site for fellow collectors as well as designers, illustrators and film fans.
A short history of the collection
The collection began in 1994 after a friend who worked in a local cinema gave me a stash of used posters. Like any teenager, I’d always had art of some kind on my bedroom walls (Athena was one of my favourite shops growing up) and, being a film fan from an early age, the posters were a natural progression.
After several months of getting the posters for free, and thus not having any choice over the titles, I came across a notice in the back of a film magazine advertising posters for sale. After calling the number and speaking to a gruff bloke who reeled off a list of posters he had available, I made my selection and sent off a cheque. Two weeks later I received my first purchase, which was the British poster for Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’.
From then on I was hooked and the obsession was fuelled by visits to specialist film fairs at places like Birmingham’s NEC, which is where I had my first physical encounter with poster dealers. In the early days, when still a student, I contented myself with buying easily affordable titles, but after graduation and my entry into the world of work, I was able to expand my purchases to more desirable, harder-to-find pieces.
There were breaks from serious collecting, whilst I was at university and then a couple of years living and working in Italy, but once I moved back to the UK the obsession returned with a vengeance.
My collection is definitely in the minor leagues as far as film poster collectors go. I’m aware of others that feature several times the number of posters as well as containing single items that are worth more than my entire collection put together.
I don’t believe my collection will ever be complete as, 17 years down the line, there are still many older posters I’m yet to find and still more to be discovered. As many collectors will reluctantly admit, it’s an addiction that cannot be cured.
What is an original film poster?
Quite simply, an original film poster is an item of printed marketing material that was specially commissioned by film studios and distributors to be displayed in and around a cinema (movie theatre) to advertise the release of a given film. The poster is designed either by the marketing team within the studio or, as is often the case, by an external agency that specialises in print design for film. Crucially, these posters have not been meant for sale to the public – that is, they were never intended to be obtainable to buy commercially.
The other point to mention is that these posters were only meant to be used for the short period that they were displayed in the cinema whilst the film was playing. The mere fact that some of them still exist at all is something of a miracle, particularly for some older posters that were only printed in small numbers. The number of copies of a poster depends entirely on how popular a film is and how many cinemas it’s shown in. Today, this means that the latest Hollywood blockbuster may have tens of thousands of posters printed for use in multiple territories, while small independent films may only have a few hundred in total.
Up until the 1960s, film posters typically featured hand-drawn illustrations, almost always focusing on portraits of the principal cast, but the use of photographs and other types of design became more popular as the tools improved, allowing for further experimentation by the poster designers.
Several poster artists who went on to work on a number of classic designs have built up cult-followings (see Designers & Artists below) and are very much in demand by collectors. Today, almost all posters feature photography of some kind and it’s very rare to see a poster in a cinema that features original illustration alone.
90% of the Film on Paper collection consists of original film posters, though I have a few screen prints and a small number of commercial prints that are clearly marked as such.
Today, almost all film posters are available in reprint form from various outlets including eBay, but these reprints are almost always very easy to spot as the print quality is poor, they are notably undersized and the paper they are printed on is incorrect.
Many film posters were also officially licensed by the studio or distributor for mass reproduction, but these reprints are always easy to differentiate through signs such as the size, quality of print detail and addition of copyright notices and other markings not found on the cinema printings.
Over the decades there have been film posters that were more desirable than others and there are instances of these being copied (forged) and reprinted. Most of the time these fakes are fairly straightforward to spot, although there a number of titles that have had very high quality copies made and they can fool both dealers and collectors alike. You will notice that I make specific reference to this on the pages of relevant titles.
The majority of known fakes are USA one sheets, but there are a few British quads and Japanese posters that have had copies made. In general these are very easy to spot.
To the best of my knowledge all of the posters on this site are genuine originals. Of course, it’s perfectly possible that I have inadvertently added a fake to the collection (without being aware of it). I welcome contact from anyone who suspects that one of my posters is not an original, though I would require some kind of proof before I agree to mark it as such or remove the offending item from the site.
The fakes issue is something that any new collector should be aware of, particularly since there are so few guides available online that detail these fakes.
Some that exist include:
Movie Poster Authenticating is a blog that features some decent guides but hasn’t been updated for a while.
The focus of the collection
When I started out, my collection consisted solely of British posters, but after venturing to film fairs and later onto eBay, I began to add posters from the USA, Australia, Germany, Turkey and Japan. Some were folded, leaving creases and lines across the design but others were rolled as they were when fresh off the printing press.
In 2003 I made the decision to limit further purchases to three countries (USA, UK and Japan) and five sizes. Crucially, I also resolved that I would only collect rolled posters. This meant that any poster I added to the collection had to never have been folded, either by machine or hand. This is easy for posters from 1990 onwards, but titles before then were typically folded, either at the printers or later on during use as they were passed around cinemas with the print of the film (many were actually folded and stashed inside the metal cans).
Finding rolled examples of certain titles is nigh on impossible, particularly if the poster was released prior to the 1980s. Some rolled posters from the 1960s and 70s do exist, but they are hard to find and rarely show up for sale. Finding these items is part of what makes collecting exciting for me.
With a few exceptions, I no longer buy posters from other countries, although I have kept the original purchases in my collection to remind me of the early days.
One thing to say is that all of the posters were bought because of my liking for the design or artwork and none were added to the collection as an investment. In my opinion, you should collect something because you enjoy the items, not because you see it as a way of making money in the future.
Wikipedia has a good description of all the various poster sizes, but these are the ones I’ve fixed my collection on:
USA / UK
One sheets – the standard size for film posters that is commonly used today in several countries, including the USA, Germany, China and here in the UK. Before the end of the 1980s they typically measured around 27″ x 41″ and were standardized at 27″ x 40″ around this time. All modern one sheets measure close to this size.
Up until the 1990s this format was fairly uncommon in the UK and there are a relatively small number of films from the 60s, 70s and 80s that have a one sheet as well as a quad. Today one sheets are significantly more common, although not used for every film release. Typically, films with larger budgets have both, with the one sheet being called the ‘international’ version, which is used in various English-speaking countries. Before the 1990s, UK one sheets almost always measured close to 27″ x 40″.
30×40 – these portrait-oriented posters were uniquely found in the USA, printed on heavier card stock and were typically used at larger cinemas (theaters) and drive-in locations. They almost always feature the same art as found on the one sheet. Their use was discontinued sometime in the 1980s.
Quad – a landscape format poster size unique to the UK and one that has been in use for several decades. Always measures close to 30″ x 40″. Very occasionally found in portrait format as well (I have none of this kind in the collection).
B2 (“Hansai”) – The standard Japanese poster format and a size unique to the country, the B2 could be considered the equivalent to the USA one sheet. It usually measures close to 20″ x 28.5″.
B1 (“B-Zen”) – This format is much less common than the standard B2 and has only been in use since the 1970s. They normally mirror the artwork found on the B2 format, but occasionally feature a unique design. They are largely designed in portrait format though landscape versions do exist and always feature unique artwork. Many films do not have a poster printed in this size and it is a hard to find format for collectors. It is often said that many of these posters were, and still are, thrown away after use because Japanese dealers and collectors have no space to store them. They typically measure close to 29″ x 40.5″.
Other poster types
Part of the collection consists of screen prints (AKA silkscreens) and giclee prints, the majority of which I bought post 2005. Many of these originate from the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas, and all feature original artwork not found elsewhere. I don’t consider these as original film posters since most are for films released years before and many weren’t even created for specific film screenings.
I have a few American posters that are known as Wildings. These were printed to be used ‘in the wild’ on billboards, fly posting spots and so on. Technically, these aren’t theatrical posters, but I still consider them to be original marketing material as they were printed in limited quantities and were not intended for sale.
The rest of the collection consists of a small amount of various sizes, including one American 40×60, three Australian Daybills, a couple of German A1s and a few random special sizes.
Posters by Killian
The collection also contains a few posters that were designed and released by Killian Enterprises, a now defunct independent printing company run by Jeff Killian. They are posters created with official licences from the relevant studios, typically for anniversary releases and always featured original, newly commissioned artwork.
While I was photographing the posters I also took the opportunity to measure them so I could add this detail onto the site. The measurements of a given poster are often cited as a good way to identify reprints/fakes. Measuring a large piece of paper accurately is not as easy as it sounds, but I took care to be as precise as possible, particularly with those posters that have known copies in existence. It may be that the measurements I have added to each poster page mark out some of my posters as reprints, but it’s worth noting that certain posters are known to have been printed undersized or oversized and I make mention of this on every relevant page. I reserve the right to have been a maximum of 1/16th of an inch out on a measurement.
Single Sided or Double Sided (SS or DS)
At the end of the 1980s certain film posters began to be printed double sided, meaning that the image is mirrored on the reverse of the poster. The intention here was to enable them to be placed in advertising light boxes outside cinemas, allowing light to shine through the poster and illuminate the colours of the design. This worked better if the back of the poster wasn’t all white (and therefore more likely to reflect the light back into the box). Today, the vast majority of posters printed are double sided, but there are still many exceptions and there are certain countries that have never printed double sided posters. Certain poster designers have been more creative than others in utilising the idea of a light box and I have highlighted this on the relevant pages.
National Screen Service
The National Screen Service (hereafter NSS) was a hugely important company which controlled the distribution of huge amounts of film-based marketing material from the 1940s to the end of the 1990s. They signed deals with all of the major Hollywood studios and were responsible for controlling most movie marketing material in the whole of the United States for several decades.
For the posters themselves this meant the addition of NSS markings, including an identifying number and copyright information.
“As part of its efforts, NSS created and issued “NSS Numbers”, allowing NSS to more easily track its inventory of movie advertising material. NSS numbers consisted of from two to four components: a two-digit number representing the year of release, possibly a slash, then a one-to-four digit number designating the release order of the movie in that particular year. If the numbers are preceded by the letter “R”, then the poster is from a re-release of the film. One good example is Star Wars; its original release number is “77/21”, meaning it was released in the year 1977 and was the 21st movie released that year. Movie posters typically had the number in two places: stamped on the back by NSS, and printed in the lower-right corner. With the demise of National Screen Service in late 2000, movies no longer receive NSS numbers.”
The part above about the numbers being stamped on the back applies mainly to posters printed before the 1970s. I have one or two posters that have this stamp on the back.
Every single photo on this site (and there are currently just over 12,000 of them) was captured by me, unless clearly marked otherwise. Photographing the collection took me close to two years since I could only do this during the daytime (meaning weekends and days off work) and when I wasn’t otherwise busy. I decided to take multiple photos of each poster so I could capture as much detail as possible.
Many of the photos were taken using a Canon Powershot G9 and, as of September 2012, all subsequent additions are captured using a Panasonic Lumix G3. It took me a while to find the perfect conditions and in the end I blacked out a lot of the room in which I was photographing as well as purchasing a set of soft boxes to ensure I had a minimum amount of light. You may notice that many of the photos are from 2011; I decided to retake many of the posters after becoming unhappy with the amount of reflections and poor light quality that were detrimental to the original versions.
I’m happy with the result, although you could argue it would have been wise to invest in a decent Digital SLR camera. I decided to prioritise new posters over investing in more expensive camera gear, but that may change in the future.
The silver dots in each corner of a poster are the magnets used to hold it to the board because they were photographed in a vertical position.
I have ensured there are multiple images of every poster, particularly of the small details such as artist signatures and copyright markings.
I used Adobe Lightroom to prepare the images for the web, only correcting things like lens distortion, under exposure, black levels, and other tweaks. I purposefully haven’t removed blemishes or damage from posters and these should be readily obvious in the photographs.
I do intentionally show the edges of each poster in the larger images and the magnets that I used since I didn’t want my images to look like any stock digital image found on the web. In many cases there will be ‘better’ images of the poster available online, but my photograph is of the actual printed artefact.
There are also a small handful of photos that are out of focus, almost all of which are of small, up-close details. I’ll clearly mark these on each page and I intend to take new photographs of them in due course.
It’s important to state that the copyright of the actual posters still belongs to the respective studios (including 20th Century Fox, Disney Studios, Paramount, Universal, Danjaq Ltd, Columbia Tristar, Alamo Drafthouse and others).
The issue of whether or not photographs of these posters are breaking copyright law is a bit tricky and there are multiple articles online that cover the issue. My understanding is that:
A) It differs by country
B) It depends on whether the photograph is an exact copy of the original artwork
C) It depends whether the use of the photograph could be covered by the notion of Fair Use (this policy has different names depending on the country)
‘10 big myths about copyright explained’ is an excellent piece and can be found here.
FirstSiteGuide has an excellent, well-designed beginners guide to trademark and copyright, which can be read here.
Ultimately, it may be that my photographs are breaking the copyrights of the original owners/creators of the posters (studios, designers, artists), but my hope is that they will see that I’m not trying to make any monetary gain from them in the sense that I’m not selling the images and nor are they of sufficient size or resolution for people to print copies of the images. This site is intended as an archive and gallery and nothing more. Film on Paper is a celebration of the excellent design and artwork created for these posters over the years.
As for the photographs themselves, the UK website Law on the Web has some details as to how this works in the UK. The ‘Photographing Artwork’ section is as follows:
“In the UK there has been no clear cut case determining whether a photograph of an original work will gain its own copyright.
From what UK law stipulates to be original however, one can assume that photographs of original works will not gain their own copyright as the majority of the new work will simply show the work and execution of the original artist despite the fact that the photographer would have been required to use their skill and labour in order to make the reproduction.”
Please get in touch if you have any more information regarding this issue.
Designers and artists
I’ve purposefully steered my collection towards posters that feature designs that aren’t just photographic images of the main stars, although I do have a few of this style of poster. Most of my favourites feature original illustrated artwork by the likes of Drew Struzan, John Alvin and Bob Peak. I’m also a fan of modern posters that break away from the cliché of the ‘floating head’ and I hope I have enough of these to convince naysayers that decent film posters are still being designed today.
On each page I have identified the designer of the poster, as well as the artist if the poster features an illustration. The designer’s role is typically to plan the layout, suggest what the poster will feature in terms of artwork or photographs and decide on the placement of relevant text (and press quotes). I have many posters where I was unable to identify the designer and/or artist, even after researching online and off, and I have marked these as such. I would very much appreciate any information that will help me to identify these missing details and I encourage you to contact me should you be able to help in the identification.
I wanted to differentiate between designers and artists since many posters have been designed by an individual (or team) and then an illustrator/artist has been commissioned to create the necessary artwork. Sometimes the artwork can cover the entire poster; sometimes it may just be a small section or even one lone element.
Some artists illustrated so many famous film posters that they continue to have a cult following, even if illustrated posters are very uncommon today. Many are retired and others are no longer with us, yet their great work lives on.
Some of my favourite American artists include:
Some great international artists include:
My favourite Japanese artists are:
There are also some notable poster designers at work today, including:
and many other design firms who focus on creating artwork for film and TV.
I hope my site will go some way to highlighting the work of these people/companies and my intention is to interview some of them in the future.
The creation of the site wouldn’t have been possible without the generous input of four people:
Tom Hartsorn – a good friend and designer who helped me get the site off the ground and leant me the services of …
Chris Bews – built the site and put up with endless questions and requests from me during the production. I can’t thank him enough.
Pete Howe – another friend and a graphic designer. Pete helped me create the logo and define the design direction and layout for the site.
Ultimately, the completion of the site wouldn’t have happened without the patience and love of my wife, Amy, who somehow put up with all the photographing and screen staring during its creation (hours every week for close to two years). I owe her more than words can possibly say.
Thanks to Flis for help with the About page.
The following sites proved invaluable in the creation of the site:
IMDb – without question the best movie database on the web, this site proved invaluable when it came to tracking down film data such as year of release, stars and film origin.
Learn About Movie Posters (LAMP) – Run by Ed and Sue who have been collecting film posters for almost 40 years and have also been dealers, wholesalers and store owners at certain points. This site is an excellent resource for anyone looking to get into the hobby and continues to be useful for long-term collectors. They have images for over 90,000 posters, which gives you an idea of the scale of the site. With the greatest of respect to Ed and Sue, don’t be put off by the fact that the site design is a somewhat dated – it really is a great resource.
Internet Movie Poster Awards (IMPAwards) – features a massive amount of film poster images as well as an annual award for the best overall poster (as well as other categories). This site also helped me with research into the poster designers.
All Poster Forum – a relatively new forum, but one that’s very much alive, with a large amount of the vocal poster-collecting community currently active there. Has several sub forums covering a variety of topics.
Film Posters of the 60s – 90s + Horror + Sci-Fi – a series of books released by the Reel Poster Gallery in London, sadly all currently out of print, but featuring images of some great and very hard to find posters. Most collectors will likely have these books on their shelves. They can easily be found second-hand on eBay and elsewhere.
Translating Hollywood: The World of Movie Posters – created by Sam Sarowitz, the owner of New York City’s Posteritati gallery, this excellent book features comparisons between posters from multiple countries and shows how the films were interpreted when marketed in a particular area of the globe. Well worth picking up.
The Art of the Modern Movie Poster: International Postwar Style and Design – a chunky tome with thousands of images of some utterly incredible film posters, divided by country and featuring specific artist sections.
British Film Posters: An illustrated history – published by the BFI and written by Sim Branaghan, a British collector and film poster expert who is lucky enough to have met many of the celebrated British artists behind some of the most memorable UK posters.
During the countless hours of photography and research I listened to hours of podcasts, audio commentaries and other film-related aural goodness. Here are some of the highlights:
Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film show podcast – the weekly radio show in podcast form, featuring the legendary critic and veteran broadcaster bouncing off each other as they review the latest film releases.
Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcast – Even if you’re not a screenwriter yourself you should ignore the title and take a look at some of the interviewees on offer in this excellent podcast series, which appears to be sadly now defunct since regular host Jeff Goldsmith left to pursue his own thing. There is nevertheless an excellent archive to wade through.
The Tobolowsky Files – Featuring notable character actor Stephen Tobolowsky (Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day, among many other roles) telling stories from his life, this is a must-listen for many reasons. New episodes continue to be released. Just try one episode and I can guarantee that you’ll be back for more.
Plus, many film audio commentaries; highlights of which include:
– Anything with John Carpenter (The Thing, BTILC, EFNY etc).
– Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs The World – each disc has multiple commentaries, all worth a listen.
– Criterion Collection commentaries including Walkabout, Che, Videodrome, Cronos, Rushmore, Darjeeling Limited and more.
– Suspiria (UK blu-ray) a great commentary featuring Argento expert and critic Alan Jones and horror expert and critic Kim Newman.
– Tarantino’s commentary on True Romance is excellent.
– Alien/Aliens/Alien3 – all commentaries are must-listens for fans of the series (I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the Resurrection one)
Film poster resources
Learn About Movie Posters (LAMP) - an excellent resource site with a huge archive of images. Ignore the outdated look and check out the various guides as well as the extensive database.
All Poster Forum - a fairly new forum, but one that's very much alive, with a large amount of the vocal poster-collecting community currently active there. Has several sub forums covering a variety of topics.
NSFGE - an alternative poster forum with an eclectic mix of participants.
Filmfan.com (MOPO) - the grandaddy of film poster communities online, this features an email-based discussion forum for collectors of all kinds of movie memorabilia.
Expresso Beans - discussion board focused on art prints, including Alamo Drafthouse posters
Movie Poster Authenticating - hasn't been updated for a while, but features some worthwhile authentication guides.
Internet Movie Poster Awards (IMPAwards) - features a massive amount of film poster images as well as an annual award for the best overall poster (as well as other categories).
StarWarsMoviePoster.com An excellent, comprehensive guide to Star Wars movie posters from all over the world.
Reelizer An excellent showcase of re-imagined film poster designs, which is updated regularly and has a Twitter feed worth following. A nicely designed site and logo too.
Bond Posters An ever-expanding photographic archive of James Bond posters, featuring many rare gems.
Other film poster collections
Eatbrie.com - Thierry’s collection featuring over 13000 items (as of June 2017) from many different countries. His site is updated regularly and features multiple sub-collections, including one for Brigitte Bardot, film series such as Star Wars, and without question the most impressive Spielberg poster collection anywhere.
DLH collections - Danny has a staggering collection featuring a large amount of James Bond posters.