A24, the American entertainment company responsible for the likes of Moonlight, Spring Breakers, Ex Machina, Room and The Witch is making its first foray into publishing. With a total of 25 Academy Award nominations under its belt, the New York-based company has recently turned three of its most celebrated titles into books: Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and Robert Eggers’ The Witch. Each of the chosen titles is notable for their visionary writer-directors and the beautifully designed publications by Actual Source, showcase the creators’ innovation in bringing these films to life.
Each book is like a shrine to its respective film, including a screenplay and a visual section titled 24 Frames – a curation of full-colour stills that are particularly meaningful to the director. The books also feature unique forwards by Frank Ocean and Carmen Maria Machado for Moonlight and The Witch respectively, not to mention a number of work in progress insights, from production sketches to concept art. Though each film is distinctive for its enduring cultural relevance today, for JP Haynie and Davis Ngarupe of Actual Source, the task of designing the books was no mean feat.
First off, the graphic designers had to consider the alternative format of a screenplay. Instead of large chunks of body copy that can be typeset in a variety of manners, Actual Source had to find a complementary way to set the conversational dialogue that is broken up regularly into intervals. “The dialogue has a tendency to create short line lengths and it can make some ugly shapes,” creative director JP tells us. “So we just tried to find a good balance.”
Designing a book from a film also has its advantages, however. “There is a lot to draw from visually,” adds Davis, “and we can use the atmosphere that was created for each film to inform the tone, materiality and structure of each book.” An example of this, the designers reveal to It’s Nice That, can be seen in the choice of type in The Witch’s book. Set in New England in 1630, the film takes place at least a decade before the first printing press was established in America.
“We decided to use Dutch typefaces dating back to 1571 that may have been used in England in the early 17th Century and could have made their way to America later on,” JP says on the typography. Selecting Flamande from 1571, a blackletter typeface used with Roman capitals alongside Gros Canon from 1573, Actual Source’s thoughtful attention to referencing the past also saw them commissioning original woodcuts for the book’s design; a printing technique specific to the era in question.
Successfully translating the multifaceted dimensions of film into static print, one design trick utilised by Actual Source to channel the feeling of moving image into a publication was to align stills with their timestamps. “In the 24 Frames section, we show 24 stills in order of appearance with their corresponding timestamps,” says Davis. “So as you turn the pages, the timestamps move across the book as if you were scrubbing through the film.” Combining Davis and JP’s accomplished skills in design with A24’s artistic inventiveness, these three new books represent what the A24 brand is, and can be. Working out a visual language that feels distinctly A24 but flexible enough to accommodate the individual characteristics of each film, let’s hope that this is the first of many A24 reproductions.