Every summer, you can’t walk around downtown Royal Oak without noticing the warm, crispy, art posters advertising the Royal Oak Main Art Theater’s midnight movie series. For years, Detroit artist Michael Hanlon has been extracting sentimental details and philosophical strokes from the Main Art’s lineup of cult classics to produce such striking promotional images that a following of collectors developed. Film buffs, art appreciators and design afficianados came in off the street to inquire about purchasing the posters, which the Main now sells for $5 a pop throughout the summer midnight movie season, which runs from early June to just after Labor Day. It took me more than just a quick Facebook search to find out the name of the artist responsible for the posters that I found to be a constant emotional distraction, hanging on every wall and window of every hip shop and bar in my Royal Oak stomping grounds. Hanlon doesn’t sign his name to his work. He prefers “working over networking” and isn’t swept up in the socially-oriented art gallery scene. My dear friend Kim Vaupel, a Main Art insider and die-hard film buff, casually dropped me Hanlon’s name and I was able to meet the artist. A year later, the man behind the movie posters let me do an interview with him:
Jane Fader: Your poster series for the Main Art Theater’s midnight movies have grown a strong fan base. But they are not film posters in the traditional sense (used in film release press packets, for initial advertising, etc.). Do you still classify them as “film posters?” Remakes? Based-on-the-true-story-of’s?
Michael Hanlon: Yeah, you know, I do still kind of classify them as film posters. They’re different aesthetically (and even in utility to a certain degree) but they are still meant to evoke a response in someone who might want to come see the film. With first run features, you have to do everything you can to get people interested in a film they’ve never seen. Well known actor’s faces, cleavage, and explosions do a pretty good job in that arena (or at least you can assume so by looking at the last 30+ years of movie poster art), and that’s what you see on most of those kinds of posters. When I’m doing work for revival screenings or midnight screenings I can use some elements that are unique to that film because 9 times out of 10 the people who come to see the flick have already seen it and love it and will get the references I use.
JF: How did you get involved with the Main?
MH: Film and design are my biggest passions and around 2009 I was looking at some of the great prints that Tyler Stout was putting out with the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. I was like, “Dude, why doesn’t the Main Art do something like this?” Immediately the light went on in my brain and I was like, “Why aren’t I doing something like this WITH the Main Art?” So, I immediately packed up my portfolio, ran down to the theatre, and talked with the manager, Courtney, who at that point I never met. She was super thrilled about the idea and we almost immediately got to work on putting together some concepts. Fast forward 4 years later, and I’ve gotten to do some really great work for them, and I have met so many cool folks there as well.
JF: Are you involved in any art galleries or creative communities in the Detroit area?
MH: You know, I really don’t have much of a relationship with the galleries around town. I did a couple of things at the CAID a few years back, and a vinyl toy show or two once upon a time. But that’s about it. I guess I just kind of spend most of my time working, rather than networking. I make it out to some events once in a while, but I’ve yet to really talk with any of the owners and try to establish a relationship. I guess I kinda always felt like when the time was right, that sort of thing would happen. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m happy where I’m at right now so it doesn’t bother me that I havent hung work in too many shows.
JF: Are there any online galleries or communities where film poster artists exhibit or discuss their work?
MH: Yeah, there are a few places online for people to hook up. Probably the biggest that I’m aware of is gigposters.com. It isn’t specifically for film poster designers, but there’s a bunch of them in there, for sure. Personally, I don’t frequent those kinds of places too much. I prefer to hang out in movie theaters over chat rooms and forums.
JF: Can you talk a little bit about your creative process of designing a revival film poster?
MH: I give the flick a once over in my mind and pull from it either large concepts that I think can be displayed in simple, stylistic ways, or small references that really play well to the theme of the film. Sometimes I really, really want to watch the the movie I’m doing a print for but I don’t let myself do that, only because I want to really enjoy the experience of watching it when it’s exhibited. When the Main Art announced Taxi Driver as a selection for Midnights, I literally hid my DVD copy so I wouldn’t be tempted to watch it before the screening.
JF: What is it about designing film posters that you enjoy so much?
MH: Really, It’s as simple as being able to smash together in a glorious union the two things I love the most: Design and film. Pretty simple really. *
Revival film posters by Michael Hanlon are available for $5 at the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak through the end of the Midnight Madness scheduled season
Jul 27 & 28: Drive
Aug 3 & 4: Serenity
Aug 10 & 11: Rushmore
Aug 17 & 18: American Psycho
Aug 24 & 25: Pulp Fiction
Aug 31 & Sep 1: Labyrinth
Sep 7 & 8: The Crow
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