AICN Legends: Quint's epic chat with the brilliant poster artist Drew Struzan! Star Wars! Indy! BTTF! And Much More!
Published at: Sept. 15, 2010, 2:22 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I’m humbled and honored to present to you good folks my first contribution to the AICN Legends column. I’ve known Drew Struzan’s name for over half my life, but I’ve known his work for damn near the entirety of it.
When people talk about the magic of early Spielberg, early Lucas and ILM I’m willing to bet most of them include Struzan in there subconsciously. As a movie poster artist he’s set the template to some of your favorite movies and sometimes has made the first impression on these titles.
John Carpenter’s The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China, all three Back to the Futures, all three Indiana Jones films (okay, okay, all four), all three Star Wars films (okay, okay, all six) and so many more all bear his trademark design and nearly photo-real art.
This is a long interview, clocking in at an hour of talking and we cover his entire career, including stories of meeting Harrison Ford after 30 years of painting him, the documentary Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (official website here) and what’s in store for him in the future. Hope you guys dig it.
Thanks to Titan for setting the interview up and for putting out the awesome The Art of Drew Struzan book that is not only a great read, but also the reason the usually shy Mr. Struzan consented to this epic chat.
Quint: Hey, how’s it going?
Drew Struzan: I’m okay.
Quint: Are you ready to do a little talking?
Drew Struzan: (laughs) I’m never ready to talk, but I do what I have to do.
Quint: All right, well I first want to thank you. I have a friend at Paramount and I guess they knew I was a huge fan and when Indy 4 came out they got you to sign a poster for me.
Drew Struzan: Oh cool. They were very generous with that. It was funny; they printed up a bunch of posters and thought “Let’s have a signing.” We have never had a signing at the studio if you believe that. Out of all of those decades they have been around, they have never had a signing, so they said “Let’s have a signing.”
They set up some tables outside and invited anybody in the studios that wanted a signed poster “Come on by and get it.” They thought a couple of people would come by. It closed down the whole studio, everybody in the studio lined up and I sat there for what must have been four or five hours signing autographs. (Laughs)
Quint: That’s incredible. That must have been a good affirmation for you that despite all of the turmoil of the job that your work is really getting out there to people.
Drew Struzan: I don’t know what the motivation was. I don’t know if it was an affirmation, but it was a good time. Everybody was just having a ball. It was really fun. I’m glad you got yours.
Quint: It definitely holds a place of honor. It’s definitely not my favorite of the INDIANA JONES movies, but like I said I am such a massive fan of yours, they could have put your signature on anything and I would have framed it and put it on the wall.
Drew Struzan: Well, that’s awfully generous of you.
Quint: Not at all. As I sit here I have a framed one sheet for THE THING on one wall and I have THE LAST CRUSADE teaser poster on the other.
Drew Struzan: You do?
Quint: Yeah, so this isn’t me blowing smoke, I’m a genuine fan.
Drew Struzan: Well, ain’t it cool!
Quint: Well speaking of THE THING, I was taking a really hard look at your website last night and I think the most important question I have is I saw the original THING poster was still for sale (for a whopping $90,000) and well… Do you have lay-away?
Drew Struzan: (Laughs) No. I always test people’s dedication by saying, “Look, you just save up and when you are ready let me know.”
Quint: That’s awesome. I love that poster. Obviously I bought one and framed it, but I love…
Drew Struzan: It’s so funny that people go back to that one. I can’t tell you how many people feel the same way. They would love to own it and talk about it all of the time, but I still have it. It’s still sitting here.
Quint: I’m surprised Darabont hasn’t bought it. I know he worships that poster, too.
Drew Struzan: It’s one of his favorites. Even in the documentary they were making, Guillermo Del Toro goes “That THING, I would buy that in a second,” but he hasn’t.
Quint: (laughs) You are like “Yay, it’s right there.”
Drew Struzan: Yeah, I don’t know which second he was talking about.
Quint: I love the section in the book where you talk about that poster, because it is such an iconic image to a lot of people, especially of my generation who grew up in the 80’s. There’s something about it. Reading some of the background on it, howyou were crunched for time, you didn’t have any materials from it, so you kind of had to take a minimalist and arty approach to it... Can you talk a little bit about that?
Drew Struzan: Well, you can write it. You’ve read it!
Quint: (laughs) Nobody cares what I have to write; they want to hear you talk.
Drew Struzan: Well, I think it’s very odd that a poster where I had to do it overnight with no input and no materials has become such a classic or a favorite of many people. I wonder why, but I think it was the very circumstance where I was free to do as I pleased and I could just express the feeling. That’s what art is after all, it’s an emotional connection with people’s hearts, it’s not intellectual, it’s not poetry or music or other things, it’s its own particular thing that goes into our eyes and straight down into our hearts and motivates us.
That’s how I painted it and I think that’s why it works for people and I came onto it via phone call. “Hey we’ve got this movie, it’s called THE THING. Remember the movie from the 50’s?” “Yeah” I said, “I remember that.” “Well, that’s what it is. It’s just a remake. We need a comp now and a finished painting by morning if we like it,” so I did… I did one drawing. I faxed it to them in the old days and they said “Fine” and I stayed up my 24 hours and painted the picture.
In the morning a delivery boy came, picked it up and that’s the last I saw of it. It was just because I was free, I think, and there’s nothing like freedom to create power and happiness and creativity and it speaks well. People ought to realize that and quite trying to control everything and give people a little freedom to be who they are.
Quint: You hear a lot about people, especially very creative people, who are actually spurned on to some of their best work by such limitations, but were using their creative brain to figure out a way around it. I think it definitely made a poster that had an impact on me. I think the funniest detail in the piece that I loved while now looking at the poster was that you said that the paint was so fresh that whenever they layed it under glass to photograph it, that a lot of the snow just blotched.
Drew Struzan: It stuck to it. Well, the funny thing was is I live so far away from Hollywood that even on the drive it didn’t dry quick enough for them to get it shot, which is pretty funny. I agree with your other comment about a lot of people can be very creative under circumstances of people forcing them to do things they hadn’t ordinarily done. That’s a good expression for the way it works in Hollywood, because there’s always so many people involved, not just in the production of the movie, but in the production of the poster that you are pushed beyond your limits and I’ve always said I’m grateful to have been an illustrator, because I had to paint for people and they give you immediate input and tell you what they really think, so it made you really learn or it made me really learn how to make people happy, how to listen to them and know what they needed and know what they wanted and to produce it.
It does push your limitations, but then on the other hand I always find that the best works that people really like the most are the ones where I had the most freedom. I guess it goes both ways.
Quint: You worked with Carpenter again; I assume you had a little bit more time on BIG TROUBLE LITTLE IN LITTLE CHINA.
Drew Struzan: Yeah. Lord knows everybody wanted to get their two cents in. (laughs)
Quint: Was Carpenter himself very much involved with that particular poster?
Drew Struzan: I don’t know that I ever talked to him or ever met him. There are times when I get to talk to the directors and producers and all of that stuff, but this was commissioned through a design studio as I recall, so I just talked to the people who were hired to do the job and they hired me, so sometimes I’m the third one down he line.
That’s how that one got done. I’d do it for the Art Director, then he would take it in and show it to the main guys and then they give their opinions and then he’d come back and interprets their opinions and his own to me. So, I think we all get that when we are in the hierarchy situation. So, you really don’t know what they really wanted, because there are so many opinions that come to you, so you’ve got to try and please everybody.
Quint: Well backing up a little, I would like to talk a little bit about what art had an impact on you growing up. It doesn’t have to be movie poster art, but I know speaking on my behalf movie poster art was a little bit of a gateway drug to the classic artists.
Drew Struzan: As a kid… it wasn’t a very rich childhood, my parents didn’t have much, so I didn’t have much, so I didn’t really know about movies. The closest I ever got to movies was probably watching them in black and white on TV when that happened. Of course, back when they invented TV I was still… (Laughs) I was there when it first came out, quite different than your experience, but I just like the art of it and that’s still who I am today.
It wasn’t that I was inspired by movies or any other particular form of art, it was just art itself even as a child. I would just got to the library and check out art books and copy the pictures in the books. When I went to school I got educated with a very formal education on how to draw and compose and paint and the history of art and so when I became an illustrator I wasn’t seeking to work in the movie industry or do anything in particular, I just wanted to make art. That’s all I wanted to do. “Okay, I’m educated. I know how to paint, does anybody want someone to paint for them?” It’s because I was in LA and I worked in the music industry for a number of years and eventually the movies saw what I was doing and they just called and asked if I wanted to work on movie posters. So I fell into it by being asked to do the work, not that I was particularly motivated to be in the movie industry.
Quint: I guess it’s a little bit like being a classical composer. These days it seems like there are few outlets to actually get your work out there. I guess now even fewer in your industry with the invention of Photoshop and the hiring of dumbasses in suits who have no idea what they are doing.
Drew Struzan: Art has always needed patrons to stay alive. You can’t just sit at home and paint; you’ve got to have someone that wants to buy what you do or commissioned you to do something to stay alive. That’s why I became an illustrator in the first place; I needed to make a living for the family.
Yes, you are right that the opportunity for it is quite diminished by the new technology. There’s no question about it, that’s partially why I don’t do it anymore, the work just isn’t there anymore. I got into it for the love of the art and you have it there in your studio, because you just like it. You saw the movie, but you still like the art and that’s what I always hope for.
In fact, you talked about Paramount and one of the Art Directors from Paramount wrote me a letter of “Thank you for the Indy piece.” She said “Once again you have made art out of advertising” and that was always my goal. I just wanted to make the art and I think that’s what made it a little bit different. I wasn’t trying to make a movie poster; I was trying to make a piece of art.
Quint: The best movie posters… I mean, the reason why I have THE THING up and the reason why your TEMPLE OF DOOM poster is my favorite poster of any of the INDIANA JONES movies…
Drew Struzan: Well, that’s one where I had a whole lot of freedom to do what I wanted, because they needed it really quick! (laughs)
Quint: There’s the secret! You have to get in at the last minute on all of these posters so they don’t have a choice.
Drew Struzan: They already had a poster and it released with someone else’s poster and a week in they said, “Let’s try something different” and they said “Show us a comp of what you would do.” I did one comp and they said “Fine, paint it” and that was it.
Quint: And it’s great. I love the likeness of Harrison. I love the whole design of the poster. I just love all of the detail in that piece and you look at that regular poster… I have it, because I’m an INDIANA JONES fiend, but that teaser poster lacks a spark. It’s not boring, I like the use of color in it, but there’s just something about your TEMPLE OF DOOM poster, which just seems right. I see that poster and I immediately feel all of my emotions about the movie and I think some of the best posters can do it and that’s why I like hanging movie posters around my house.
Drew Struzan: It’s like you said, “You know.” I do know and that’s exactly what I was trying to do and it’s grand to hear that it actually worked! I’m not a complete fool, I actually did something right.
Quint: When they sent over the book, I was really in it just to do the interview, because I had a million questions before the book came. So I’m like “Okay, well I will get the art book and I will flip through it, but I know most of his work” and I actually had no idea that it was really going to shed some light on the process. I thought it was going to be a collection of your finished posters, but it shows somebody like me the process from the comprehensives to the finished. You shed a lot of light on your collaboration or lack of collaboration on certain projects.
Drew Struzan: That was the idea, you know, because I had done two other books that were collections of the artwork, but I wanted to do more. I said, “Well there’s a lot that people have never seen” and the process produces a lot of art that never makes it out into the public, so I thought that would be a great chance to show them things as well as like you said, not just to see what they hadn’t seen before, but to explain a bit about what is the life in the industry like? What is the life of an artist like? What does it take to make these things that you hang on your walls and enjoy? They do come from somewhere and they come from people doing a lot of hard work.
Quint: I’m fascinated by that whole process. I even recently bought a good 30 pieces of comprehensives at an auction. They are not the originals of course, but it was a Universal thing and some of your HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS pieces are in there. I love that. There were other THING posters that they, thank God, didn’t use… I love that. I love seeing almost like an alternate history or a slice of time during the development of a project. It really does kind of make us movie geeks feel like we are involved a little bit.
Drew Struzan: Well, you are. Pictures are painted for you, you know. They are not painted for me, they are painted to connect with other people and when I hear that they do… That’s what fills my life, “Oh, I really connected. We are all on the same page here.” That’s really neat and we are connecting in a neat way. It’s an emotional way, so nobody can criticize it, it’s just “We are having a good time and we are being inspired or being enlightened, how nice.”
We all have a different vision, like you were saying you have seen all different kinds of paintings for THE THING. Look at how it affects different people in different ways. There’s no one truth in that, it’s just our ways are just fine for each one of us. That’s really cool that you are having a good time with it.
Quint: Can you walk us a little bit through your average poster creation? I now that a lot of people that I was talking to about this were particularly interested in hearing a little bit of detail on how you are contacted, how long it takes, etc. It’s obvious from your book that your posters are very meticulously designed and thought up.
Drew Struzan: Yeah, well a lot are under the impression that artists are like they are in the movies, standing their in their dark attic and they say “Ah THE THING, I would love to paint a picture of THE THING,” so they paint it and then somehow they get it to the studios and they go “I love that, let’s make it a poster!” It doesn’t happen like that. (Laughs)
I’m here, I’m a working man, a blue collar guy that pays his taxes and I’m hoping that somebody will call me and give me a job and every once in a while a movie studio or an art design studio or a boutique for making posters calls and says “We have this job, would you like to get involved?” I think “Sure.” Usually I have three questions, “When do you need it?” “What is it?” and “How much are you going to pay?” I make that decision and say “Okay” and so it can be one of many things. It can be a director that has called. It could be a producer. It could be a movie studio or a design studio.
We get together and again, it’s a variety of things, sometimes I get to see the movie, other times it’s dailies or rough cuts, other times it’s a script I have to read and most of the time the way that I work is because when a movie is made the last thing that’s done is the movie poster, so the directors and actors move onto to other projects. They don’t look the same anymore or they are not into it anymore, so what I work from is what is called stills. They are just 35mm photographs of everything that happened on the set during the filming, so I have available to me most of the time all of these photographs and stills, so that’s what I draw from and that’s what I work from.
Most of the time, that’s where I come to understand what the movie was about, because you can see the color, you can see the costumes, you can see the arrangements of things, you can see what the actors looked like and you start to feel the spirit of the movie.
So I do that and then sometimes the art directors or the movie producers or the directors have a concept of what they would like to see, other times they don’t, other times they say “I want to see some of your ideas, here are some of our ideas. Go do some drawings and make some compositions and change our feelings into real pictures.” I will do that for a week or two. I’ll bring them back in, they will look at them and say “I like this that and the other and we have some other ideas, go do some more.” So we go through this… Sometimes, like when I worked on HOOK we did this for six months and I was working directly with Steven Spielberg you know.
The pressure is so high on this stuff that people want to see everything, so that they know they’ve covered every base. So I just got through all of that, I do black and whites and when it gets closer to an idea, I’ll do color paintings until eventually they will say “Okay I think we’ve got it. Do the painting” and then you think “Okay, after all of that work I’ve done it!” Then you show them the painting and they go “Well, we changed our minds!” (Laughs) And then I’ll have to change the painting itself, sometimes a number of times. So it goes through many, many changes and variations to try and find what they would think would be the best thing. It’s a very cooperative affair, but they were always dependent upon an artist to give life to what is generally a vague idea.
That was kind of my job and that’s what’s changed of late. With the computer they can kind of tell people to push buttons and they don’t have to find an artist to go “You compose it. You figure it out. You figure out what a good image is. You figure out how to color it and arrange it and render it. Give it some life.” They don’t do that anymore, so they don’t have to address somebody else to do the work, they can pretty much point their finger and tell people what to do.
Quint: Why deal with an artist when you can just have giant floating heads on posters?
Drew Struzan: Well, that’s why you’ve got it! You see in the book that process is depicted mostly by looking at a number of the different drawing and there’s some explanation in there too about how it works. It was different every time.
One of the last ones in the book is for HELLBOY 2. I met with Guillermo Del Toro for lunch and he says “I have this new movie, it’s another HELLBOY, I want you to do the paintings.” He pulled an envelope out of his satchel and took a pen and drew this little sketch. It’s right there in the book and he says “This is what I want,” so that was the only comp and the only reference I had. I went directly from his little drawing and did the painting and it was as simple as that as compared to the other thing like HOOK that took six months to come up with the concept.
Quint: So, it would be deceptive to say “When I sat down to paint the poster that you know, that only took me two days… or a day,” because usually a lot more goes into getting to that moment
Drew Struzan: Well okay, THE THING I did overnight, but most of these take two weeks at least and I’m fast compared to most artists, so yeah it’s a lot of labor as well as all of the work with the people themselves. Yeah, there’s a lot that goes into these to make them the thing that you fall in love with.
Quint: One of my favorite things that I saw on your site last night was the ET piece that you did before anybody was cast or they had even designed the alien. You are typically not brought on that early in the process, yeah?
Drew Struzan: ET was a long time ago. That’s when both Steven and I were young men (laughs). And that piece you are speaking of was sometimes they would advertise in like Hollywood Reporter and stuff with movies coming up looking for interests in production money or whatever, so he invited me in, because he had seen other work apparently, so we just hung out and talked and played pinball and “Here’s my idea for my movie, what can we do for a trade ad?” That’s what I came up with, so there was no creature design, nobody was cast for it yet, so it was just trying to get that feeling that something magical was going to happen.
Quint: Was this after you did the RAIDERS poster or was this before?
Drew Struzan: Oh jeeze, you see that’s where I fall short. I couldn’t tell you which movie came first RAIDERS or ET. I believe ET was before that, but I…
Quint: Because the RAIDERS was a re-released poster, wasn’t it?
Drew Struzan: No, RAIDERS… What that was is there are two markets in the world for movies, there’s the domestic market which is called America, and there’s the foreign market which is called the rest of the world. (laughs)
(Richard) Amsel was commissioned to do the poster for the domestic market, I was commissioned to do the poster for the foreign market, so my RAIDERS piece was seen by more people around the world obviously than the American market was. The Americans mostly are familiar with Amsel’s piece, but no mine was day in date with the release of the film, but it was just seen in the rest of the world.
Quint: I collect a lot of foreign art. It seems like the rest of the world has more of an acceptance of the illustrated poster.
Drew Struzan: Well, it’s the whole industry thing. America will have its American poster an when the movies went to other countries a lot of times they would do their own posters for the movie because their mentality was “We have a different spirit in this country and what you did doesn’t really fit our people,” so they would do their own posters.
However a lot of my work would always stay in the same form it was created because it somehow connected with the rest of the world and I think the reason it is, like what we were saying earlier, I was interested in making it into art. You go to France or Poland or Japan or something and they understand the arts, so they always kept it.
Then you have somebody like George Lucas like when I did EPISODE 1, I did that painting and George just takes it by the reigns and he goes “This is the poster. No matter where it goes, into what country, it will look just like this.” If you go on the DVD and play it at the end, they have the special features, it says “Here’s the posters for all of the different countries in the world” and it’s like the image doesn’t change, the only thing that’s changing is the language of the title. The picture never changes! He controlled it, because he knew that’s what happens. He said “This is the image” and so it went around the world like that.
Quint: And another piece in your book that I loved was the KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL pencil or the test that you did of him standing him front of the mushroom cloud, which you said Lucas later regretted not making the teaser.
Drew Struzan: That was his concept. He apparently loved that scene in the movie and I thought it was really cool, too, but Paramount didn’t want to divulge at the time the explosion in the posters, so they didn’t want to use it. He still loved it so much that even after the movie he said “Could you paint it for me anyway?” So I did, which was really nice.
I don’t know how many people remember or realize it, but George wanted to be an illustrator when he was a young man, so he really loves his art and he collects all kinds of art. He’s very well known for his collection.
Quint: Have you had that before? That incident where a filmmaker or anybody came to you and said “We really should have gone with your idea!”
Drew Struzan: Oh yeah. (Laughs) That’s hard to… I don’t want to be cruel to some other artists, but when Frank Darabont was doing the ten year anniversary for SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION or he did it also on THE GREEN MILE, he says “I wish I would have had you do my poster when the movie came out,” because he liked what I did for his DVDs much better than the original posters. I got a chance to do it anyways, even though I didn’t get to do the poster when the movie came out.
Directors are generally artists you know? So many of them were artists before they began and still love and collect art and that’s what kept me alive for many years was just their appreciation of the art itself. It’s like Guillermo when I did HELLBOY, he says “Look, I know they are not going to use it,” because after the first one we did and they didn’t use it. With the second one he was like “They probably wont use it, but I want it anyway.” Of course, the same thing happened, but he still got his art. (laughs)
Quint: Didn’t Lucas prefer your special edition posters as well to the previous posters?
Drew Struzan: Oh yeah, those became his favorite images for his films.
Quint: I have… I think you worked on the “Style D” Star Wars poster, is that right? The wanted poster looking one?
Drew Struzan: Yeah, they call that the “circus poster,” because it looks like it’s wild posted.
Quint: I love that poster.
Drew Struzan: You are right with George, that was his favorite poster for many, many years until I did the special edition work, so your tastes and his are the same.
Quint: I don’t know, I looked at both the RADIOLAND MURDERS stuff in the book and then the HOWARD THE DUCK stuff on your site, which again are all awesome pieces. My favorite of the RADIOLAND MURDERS was is a simple piece… I guess I can see why they wouldn’t use it for a final poster, but for a teaser poster I love the microphone piece, the one with the dead guy and the empty stage. I love that piece. It’s such a great teaser image.
Drew Struzan: I thought it was funny and the movie was a comedy. It’s kind of like THE THING, you know, it epitomizes what the movie is about without giving it away. There’s the radio mic and there’s the dead guy, “Well what’s it called?” “RADIOLAND MURDERS!” That’s what the comps are about, it’s to test all of the different ideas and directions and you never know what the take is going to be on it, so you’ve got to run them all by them.
Quint: There’s two spots where Lucas and I differ. I would have fought for one of those if I were in his shoes, but…
Drew Struzan: Well, I never know who is in control, either. It’s like I often have to say I never really was “in” the movie industry, I just run alongside of it. I do these things, but I can’t tell you why they choose what they choose and why they do what they do because I’m not privy to that information. I’m sitting here, I do the painting, I deliver it and wait for an answer. If I don’t get an answer I guess it was “No thanks.” (Laughs) So, don’t ask me why they did what they did.
Quint: That’s got to be frustrating though for you as an artist. You do this stuff ultimately because you want your work seen. What’s been the most frustrating passover for you, the one that you are just like “I can’t believe that they didn’t use it…”
Drew Struzan: I don’t know which one would be the most. I have a tendency to just move on to the next project and not dwell on the past and be angry about the whole thing. I think one that stands out that I was happy to be able to put into the book was WATERWORLD. There’s that one in there that I included with…. It’s the first and water one where Kevin (Costner) is standing there in a wave with the fire burning in the water. For me it really worked. It was powerful. It was iconic. It said that this movie is huge, it’s big, this great hero with these elements of fire and water. I was extremely disappointed they didn’t go with it.
Quint: The publishers gave me that image to debut to promote the book and on our site we have talkback, which is essentially a forum where the readers can throw in their thought and talkbackers are kind of well-known for being… let’s say “harsh” critics.
Drew Struzan: That’s why I don’t read reviews. (Laughs)
Quint: But when that piece went up, that talkback was filled with nothing but love for you and for that image. They were just like “How in the hell do you have that and then go with your photo poster?” That image was striking a chord with people.
Drew Struzan: Well that’s nice to hear.
Quint: So if you are ever feeling down, just Google search the WATERWORLD thing and read those talkbacks, then you will be like “Yeah, that’s right I am awesome. Screw everybody.”
Drew Struzan: Well, I don’t know about that. (laughs) I like the idea that it really did reach people and it’s good to know that I’m not completely out of my mind that what I was thinking was a good idea. You’ve got to test yourself, as an artist you just paint out of your head hoping that it makes sense because it I’m nuts, then I’m wasting my time. To know that it really reached other people is just affirming. That’s really nice.
Quint: What’s the hardest piece, the hardest poster that you have ever worked on? The one that just took forever to nail down in your own mind?
Drew Struzan: (Pauses) When I do the comps, I never do a comp that I wouldn’t want to take to finish, because it would be terrible to show them something you though was stupid and then have them go “I love it, I love it!”
I don’t remember anything being a sad or angry job or anything, but the one I always remember that was kind of difficult was HOOK as we were talking about. That poster everybody seems to love the finished product, but I worked on it for six months. I did drawings I can’t even count how many I must have done for it and we worked and worked on it and I was working directly with Steven Spielberg. This was Sony’s first major production when they came to America and they got the biggest director, the biggest movie stars, they had the biggest movie sets…
I got to go on the sets and play on the boat and in Captain Hook’s cabin and talk to all of the people working on the film and I finally got this painting on the picture after all of those comps and I did it and they loved it and Robin Williams loved it. Then Dustin Hoffman goes “I love the portrait, but I don’t feel that’s capturing my character,” so I said “Well what do you think he should look like?” He says “Come on over to my house and I’ll show you.”
So I went to Brentwood and pulled up to his fancy house in my poor little old car, went up to the door and Dustin answers the door. He’s standing there in his bathrobe eating a gallon of ice cream.
Drew Struzan: He goes “Come in!” So we talked and had a good time and you know he’s an actor, so he starts making these faces of what he thinks Hook’s character should look like, so I had to take that feeling and go home and paint out half of that painting after I had done it and redraw it and repaint it, but he was very pleased.
The same thing happened with Julia Roberts, she wanted to be the same size as Peter Pan and Captain Hook. I says “You are a little fairy girl, I can’t make you the same size.”
Quint: “You’re Tinkerbell!”
Drew Struzan: Yeah, “Come on!” So I must have done a hundreds drawings of her looking for her approval and changed the finished painting at least seven or eight times. I had to paint her out and paint her back in seven times, so that was very frustrating, because I had gone through so much work for six months, finally got approval and then had to change the painting so many times and then guess what, they changed it so much and I worked on it so long that they missed the opening of the film. They had to use the advance poster for the opening of the film. (laughs)
Sometimes it gets a little nuts. I remember that, just because it went a little bit crazy. The situation was wonderful, to meet everybody and work with Steven and work with the actors and stuff. It was really great, but the circumstances that would happen were just outrageous.
Quint: You typically don’t get a chance to work with the actors, even though you have painted them a good dozen times, you hadn’t gotten to meet Harrison Ford until somewhat recently, right?
Drew Struzan: Yeah, this year. After what? Thirty years of painting him? Yeah, I only just met him this year.
Quint: That’s insane.
Drew Struzan: Yeah and he was the coolest guy ever. It was like meeting Indiana Jones or Han Solo. That is Harrison Ford.
Quint: I got to meet him just a couple of months ago when I went to visit COWBOYS AND ALIENS and I felt the same way when Jon Favreau…
Drew Struzan: Yeah, I know Jon.
Quint: Oh, yeah. You did that great ZATHURA poster. But when Favreau took me over to meet Harrison I felt the same way. “Holy shit, I’m standing in front of Indiana Jones!”
Drew Struzan: It’s such a delight when you finally meet them, when they really prove to be what you think they are and Harrison was one of those guys. It was like “Yeah, that’s you alright.” I had talked to him on the phone a couple of times; he has always been so kind to me and very generous. To finally meet him in person was just a great delight for me.
Quint: I’ve got to imagine that the actors have to be your biggest fan because you are literally giving them their image. You are solidifying in the movie-goers’ minds who these people are. You have so much power. Like if you draw their eye wrong or you paint the wrong shade on their face you could totally make them sweat, but time and time again you just do them right.
Drew Struzan: Have you seen the trailer for the documentary?
Quint: No, I haven’t yet.
Drew Struzan: That’s almost exactly what Harrison says about himself.
Quint: (Laughs) Oh really?
Drew Struzan: That’s exactly how he feels about it.
Quint: So apparently I’m on the same wavelength as George Lucas and Harrison Ford.
Drew Struzan: Yeah. (laughs)
Quint: (laughs) Who would have thought?
Drew Struzan: See I’ve never really met hardly any of the guys and they are making that documentary now and that’s what they are doing. They are going around shooting interview with all of these people and I’ve seen some of them. They’ve shot something like 300 hours of interviews, but there are all of these people that I have painted giving their opinion of what I have done and I absolutely had no idea they even took note of what had happened.
There’s everybody from Harrison to Steve Guttenberg to Michael J. Fox… They are all giving their opinions and their feelings and they are all are really into the art, not unlike you or I or most of us, they are just people and they happen to really love the art.
Quint: That’s really cool. It’s such a great idea for a documentary and I’m sure you are going to be very humble about it, but to people like me who grew up obsessed with movies it’s like… A lot of people in my circle hold you in the same esteem as we hold some of our favorite directors.
Drew Struzan: Well, let go. (laughs)
Quint: But you know what I mean. Do you know when they are going to start showing the doc? Do you know when they are going to wrap and be finished with it?
Drew Struzan: Well, they are independent filmmakers, so you know they work during the daylight hours and follow their passion at night. They’ve been working on it for a couple of years and they are at the point where they want to start doing the finished edited now, so they’ve got to find some financing to do that and then obviously look for distribution. Everybody that sees it seems to be just completely taken with it.
It’s so neat to see these guys, like you said we hold them in this fantasy because of the movies and growing up with them and then to see them talking about their passion instead of them trying to sell something like “You’ve got to come see my new movie.” They are saying “You know what really turns me on? You know what I really like?”
So it gives you a whole different kind of fun connected spirit with these people and with the movies and with our childhoods, our fantasies I think. Hopefully it will be really fun for people, because I had no idea. I saw that little piece and I was just shocked at how well it was made and the things people were saying shocked me, so I don’t know if it did that for the people at the Comic-Con where they showed it and there was 500 people in the room and they were all just really happy with the film. It surprised me.
Quint: That’s awesome. Now you had gotten to meet Michael J. Fox before seeing his interview for the documentary, right?
Drew Struzan: Yeah, when I was working on BACK TO THE FUTURE.
Quint: It was while working on one of the sequels wasn’t it?
Drew Struzan: Yeah on two and three. Both times… Once we finally figured out what to do for the poster, they were just more than happy to participate, both Michael and Chris(topher Lloyd) posed for me in costume on the set and we took pictures of them that I could paint from, so they made it one of the easiest jobs. I didn’t have to fake anything, it was just all there. It was wonderful.
I don’t know if I put that circumstance in the book or not, I don’t recall, but when I was shooting pictures of Michael and Chris to do the painting from, I was kind of directing the photographer and the lighting guy and saying “Do this, do that,” and telling Michael how to stand and what to do and right in the middle of it he throws up his hands, he says “Hold everything…” I say “ Oh God! What have I done? I’ve pissed off the actors and I’m just this stupid little artist, I’m in trouble…” He starts walking over, gets right up nose to nose with me and goes… Because everybody is going “Drew, what do you want here? Drew what do you want there? Drew, what should I do?” He goes “Are you ‘the’ Drew?” I go “Uh… I’m Drew…” and he goes “Oh, I’m your greatest fan,” so he was as sweet as could be.
Quint: As he should be. That first BACK TO THE FUTURE poster is… I bet you anything you could put that in the top twenty most recognizable poster images of all time.
Drew Struzan: I loved doing them and I had a great time working on all of their stuff. That’s one of the worlds hardest jobs I think, because you have to please so many bosses. On the other hand, the rewards are just as equal to the hard work, so it was a great place to be and it was a great time to be doing that.
Quint: We’ve talked a lot about posters that you have done that everybody knows, but there’s also a little sly mention in your book about how some of the movies that you would must like to do you just never got a chance because you weren’t around working when they came out. I saw that you go to do a poster for Creature From the Black Lagoon, which looked great… That’s one of my favorites of the designs of the Universal Monsters. I think my favorite Universal monster movie is THE WOLF MAN, but I love the look of The Creature.
Drew Struzan: The Creature is a beautiful design, yeah.
Quint: What would you have liked to have done? If you could go back in time and you could get a job on any movie, what would it have been?
Drew Struzan: Well, you name your favorite movies! Wouldn’t I love to have done… I don’t know, THE MALTESE FALCON? Of course I would. You name any of those; I mean everything from Laurel and Hardy to… All of the great actors and every Bogart movie, wouldn’t you have loved doing that? As well as the modern ones where I couldn’t do everything that came out. Of course, I would have loved to have done THE GODFATHER or something, but you know there’s a lot of people and we all need the work, so I didn’t want to or can’t do everything, so I was glad to do what I did.
Quint: And while it’s super iconic image and I would never want to do away with it, but my favorite movie is JAWS and I would kill to see what your JAWS poster would look like.
Drew Struzan: (Laughs) That’d be a little hard to out do that. That whole concept was so perfect for the movie.
Quint: Yeah, but we are talking like the cool “everybody has seen the movie, so you can throw anything form any scene in the movie up there you wanted to.” “Go crazy.”
Drew Struzan: It’d be fun.
Quint: So whenever I hit the lottery, I’m going to be calling you and commissioning that.
Drew Struzan: Okay, well I’m here! (laughs) One of these interviews… They were going to ask me some questions, so I didn’t know what the answer was so I looked it up on like IMDB and looked for the list of the Hundred Greatest American Movies made and I was surprised to find out how many I had done the posters for. I was so shocked.
So talking about what movies would I like to have done, I got to do BACK TO THE FUTURE. I got to do INDIANA JONES. I got to do STAR WARS. It just goes on and on, movies that have become some of the best movies ever made and most wonderfully accepted I actually did get to work on, so what the hell more could I want?
Quint: I know the Mondo Poster guys really well and I know that they had talked to you about something. Do you know if that’s ever going to work out between you guys? Mondo is doing some awesome work right now.
Drew Struzan: I saw their stuff, it’s beautiful. They are doing some great stuff. You know I kind of had to look at it from the standpoint that I did it for forty years and I retired and they were asking me to kind of step back and go back and do it again. They said “What would you like to have done if you had the chance?” The more I thought about it, it was like “You know, I did my time. I did my thing. I’m happy to have done it and I don’t want to look back. I want to look forward, so I want to just keep painting what I want to paint now. It’s my chance before I’m too old and too blind.” (laughs) I paint pictures of my grandchildren and I paint the pretty ladies and I’m just…
Quint: So what happens then when you are approached by somebody like Frank [Darabont] for THE WALKING DEAD or something, is that a complete 100% just commission piece for him that he can in turn make prints of?
Drew Struzan: No. I don’t have many quotes of my own, so let me quote Frank. When he did his interview for the documentary, he said, “He’s only retired as far as his friends will let him retire.” It proved true, because he’s worked on THE WALKING DEAD and he called up and says “Okay, I want you to do my poster” and he’d talked with AMC and they had said “Yeah, go ahead. Hire him to do it.”
I can’t turn down a friend who gave me so much good work and is so kind to me, so yeah I had to do it for him, because he’s a friend. If Guillermo calls, I’ll do it for him. If Steven calls, I’ll do it for him. They are good people and were good to me for forty years. I’m not going to stop being their friends, just because I’m retired.
Quint: Spielberg did this small gathering of people during the filming of INDIANA JONES 4 and we went to Amblin to have a chat with him. They opened it up to questions and the first question I had was “Are you going to bring Drew in to do the 4th poster?” He just laughed and was just like “How can I not? It’s not an INDIANA JONES movie without Drew.”
Drew Struzan: So that was you!
Drew Struzan: I’ve read that quote. That was you!
Quint: Yeah, that was my question.
Drew Struzan: Hey, we’re buds and I didn’t even know it! (laughs)
Quint: So if he does get the next INDIANA JONES movie off the ground, would you then return to the series? So far everything that your friends have asked you for are more like convention or limited edition posters…
Drew Struzan: Well THE WALKING DEAD was… That’s…
Quint: Are they using that as key art?
Drew Struzan: Yeah, that’s their thing.
Quint: That’s awesome.
Drew Struzan: Yeah, it’s going to be on everything. The show hasn’t come out yet, but when it comes out it’s going to be on everything. They did posters. They are selling them online on the AMC site doing limited editions, doing press kits, and doing everything and they are using that art for everything.
Quint: Congratulations man, that’s awesome.
Drew Struzan: They are in love with it.
Quint: So if they do another INDIANA JONES, provided that you are still excited about the series, you would answer that call?
Drew Struzan: Well if it were for Steven I sure would. No, I couldn’t help it you know. There’s a list of guys, the people that made my life, like George. For over thirty years he was loyal to me, he gave me every job and every book cover and everything and he collects every one of them. Anything he wants is his. If I have it, it’s his. The same with Steven or Frank or Guillermo or… so many of these guys… I wouldn’t have had a life but for their kindness and their loyalty. They are good people and if I ain’t allowed to do good for good people, what am I doing here anyway? So yeah, I’ll be there for them.
Quint: Well, we totally miss you and any time we see a poster release… and I speak “we” as the collective movie geek I guess, but we miss the touch that you put on it.
Drew Struzan: Well don’t miss it. It hasn’t gone anywhere. They are still there.
Quint: Has there been anything recently that you have seen, just design-wise, any recent posters that you can think of that struck you where you are like “Okay, well that’s good.”
Drew Struzan: Well I just kind of sit in my studio alone and have these crazy things come into my head and I paint them and I don’t… How do I usually put it? When I was young and in school I looked at everything and wanted to learn everything and gather all of the information I possibly could from history and from other great artists that were doing things and then as I grow, I’m so influenced by the beauty that other people create, I have to kind of cut myself off from them or I’m so busy being influenced by them I don’t know who I am. So I’ve kind of stopped looking at other people’s work and just pay attention to my own now because I’ve gathered it for all of those decades and now I just want to spew out the way I feel about things.
So no, I don’t check out the new stuff coming out anymore ‘cause I’ll just go “I want to do that too!” and then I’ll be back working again.
Quint: So, we need to start sending you some images. We’ve got to force you out there.
Drew Struzan: Don’t do that. Please no! (laughs) No, I don’t want to do that anymore thank you.
Quint: No worries. Thank you so much for talking the time to speak with me.
Drew Struzan: It was my delight to hear from you and to talk with you. Thank you for all of the kind things you have always said.
Quint: Like I said, this isn’t any undue flattery in my book. You were a big part of my formation as a movie geek.
Drew Struzan: Well, I just utterly thank you and I really appreciate your kindness.
Quint: Excellent, well you have a good day and I wish you all the best with the book. I think it’s a great read and I think people will love it.
Drew Struzan: Well, I hope to talk to you again some time.
Quint: Absolutely, man.
Doing a little search I saw Merrick posted the trailer for Drew: The Man Behind the Poster last month. I don’t know how I overlooked it. If you missed it:
I can’t wait to see the full documentary, but as I clearly illustrated in the above chat I’m a giant Drew Struzan fanboy. The filmmakers are pretty much making this for me and my ilk.
Hope you guys enjoyed the chat. I’m working on trying to lock in a few more icons for further AICN LEGENDS chats.
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