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Graphic Design

An interview with Sam Ashby, designer of fantastic, contemporary movie posters

Posted by Liv Siddall,

There are books dedicated to it, there are collectors that go wild for them, and there they are on nearly every street and tube stop in the city. What are they? Film posters, and Sam Ashby has been delighting commuters and subconsciously luring people to the cinema with them for many years now. Working as Sam Ashby Studio, the young and very cool design consultancy dedicated to “distilling a film into a single image,” he has created much loved posters for the sort of indie films that would make it on to your top ten. We asked him a few questions about what it’s like to have a lot of responsibility and a pretty dreamy job.

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Hi Sam, tell us a little about Sam Ashby Studios, how did it begin?

I set up the studio when I left my previous job with Allcity, a small design agency specialising in film posters. I had started there as an intern and left four years later as head designer, so it was a very steep learning curve. I had wanted to explore different kinds of work and also had the idea for Little Joe which, for one reason or another, couldn’t exist until I left and went it alone.

I assume from your studio and Little Joe magazine that you’re a bit of a film buff, am I right?

I’m useful in pub quizzes. I have a big appetite for film but there are still huge, embarrassing gaps. I love that there is still so much I haven’t seen.

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Tell us a little about Little Joe magazine…

Little Joe is essentially the magazine I always wanted to read. It’s all about film but from a queer historical context. It’s a way for me to connect with what I see as a queer past, a murky, unexplored place full of incredible stories. Most film magazines fail to register on a personal level, so Little Joe is an attempt to do that.

What did you do prior to designing movie posters?

I worked in Waterstone’s in Basingstoke and sold countless copies of The DaVinci Code and Being Jordan. It was not a good time. After that I moved to London and took a short course in Illustration at Central St. Martin’s. My tutor saw my potential as a graphic designer and encouraged me to pursue that instead. He is now a great friend and we collaborate on projects together.

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Can you tell us a little about the process of transferring all the qualities of a film into one image?

Distilling a film into a single image is strangely intuitive. While watching the film I will sketch out ideas which often form the basis of the final poster. There will be a moment in the film that I try to recreate or that sparks an idea for a more graphic, symbolic approach. I try to create a sense of the film and be faithful to it through colour, composition and type.

Do you have any design heroes or a specific era that inspires you?

I’m interested in so many eras and try to avoid getting stuck in one style, but generally I am drawn to minimalist design. I like clarity and space and beautiful typography. I tend not to look to specific designers for inspiration, but am constantly amazed by the work of Eric Gill. I use Gill Sans a little too often. 

Is there a film maker or film that you’d particularly like to design a poster for?

I’m still hoping I’ll get to design a poster for a Tilda Swinton film that will get past the concept stage. As for filmmaker, I’d like to have had the opportunity to work with Derek Jarman.

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Posted by Liv Siddall

Liv joined It’s Nice That as an intern in 2011 and is now one of our editors. She oversees itsnicethat.com and has a particular interest in illustration, photography and music videos. She is also a regular guest and sometime host on our Studio Audience podcast.

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