The Art of Schlock
A conversation with 'Shock Festival' art director Tim Bradstreet
Austin Chronicle: How did you get involved with Shock Festival?
Tim Bradstreet: I had met Stephen when I was in Austin back in 2000 or so. Guillermo del Toro had a print of Phantom of the Paradise that he screened at the Alamo Drafthouse, and Stephen showed up, kind of out of the blue. The funny thing was, here was this guy, Stephen, who obviously loved horror films and genre films, and he barely even said a word to Guillermo and instead went straight to me. So, clearly, he knew my work and mentioned that he had this project in mind that he'd like me to work on someday. After that, we kept in touch through e-mail, but I was pretty booked up until about a year ago, which is when he started sending me his ideas for the book.
AC: So you two worked entirely via e-mail?
TB: Right. It turned into a much bigger project than I think Stephen originally envisioned. Things came to a head when he sent me this sample copy of the book, and it all boiled down to the fact that there was no way I wanted to miss out on getting involved with this book. I knew I wasn't going to get paid for the work, but I loved the idea so much that I knew I could find the time to dedicate to doing some of the art and to help out in any way I could.
AC: You were originally going do the cover, right?
TB: Right. The idea that Stephen had for the cover was something along the lines of a movie theatre with a marquee that would read "Shock Festival" with posters displayed out front and a very gritty, urban, fucked-up feel to it. And I told him, you know, I work from life, and this kind of cover is going to take a [photo] shoot, and that would require actually going out and finding a place that would work – or to find a reference of some place that would work, that we could just use – and that was a real stumbling block for me to do it. As it ended up, he got [storyboard artist and graphic designer] Dave Allcock [Terry Pratchett's Hogfather] to do the eyeball-in-the-popcorn-box cover, which worked out great.
AC: What was it that sold you on the project, specifically?
TB: It played to all my passions. It's the kind of thing that I conceivably could have cooked up myself and probably have, actually, thought about doing at some point, just not to the extent that Stephen did. Certainly, my version would have been more action-oriented, because all my sensibilities and my loves and my inspirations [are] the classic, iconic hero flicks like Escape From New York, The Road Warrior [Mad Max 2], and things like that. That whole vision and sensibility is what launched me into doing what I love to do.
AC: Did you have any exploitation film posters in mind when you began working on Shock Festival? And do you collect film posters?
TB: I collect posters to an extent, but it's nowhere near the amount that Stephen collects them. I have a Belgian poster for Pale Rider that's just stunning, and I have a style B poster for Near Dark, which is the black-and-white, stretched image. I have The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and For a Few Dollars More and an 8-foot The Outlaw Josey Wales classic. I have 40 or 50 posters, whereas Stephen probably has 4,000. I collected the ones that I had to have, but I'm not a student of the game like Stephen. As far as poster artists go, Bob Peak [Rollerball, Apocalypse Now, The Missouri Breaks] is a favorite. He uses this gorgeous, watercolor-wash style. He was an artist, as opposed to a designer. He was a precursor to Drew Struzan.
AC: Tell me a little about the specific posters you did for Shock Festival.
TB: I did Black Man's Curve, starring Leon Curve. We were doing the blaxploitation films, and originally I had it as something like Dead Man's Curve, but Stephen pointed out that there was already a Jan & Dean made-for-TV movie. I did Dead Heat in Cold Blood. That poster is completely inspired by the poster for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – which is completely before the era of films we cover in the book but not so much that it sticks out like a sore thumb. With the posters that I did, they weren't schlock, necessarily. I was taking kind of classic compositions and classic ideas from movie posters and attempting to show this exploitation stuff through the lens of a more professional eye, you know? Not everything in the book can be considered total exploitation, either. But you think about Roger Corman and many of the others who made films like this, and they always tried to strive for some legitimacy. They tried to bring in that A-list audience in the movie, and a lot of that spilled over into their marketing. The most exploitation-style poster I did was probably Riding Shotgun. I tried to amp up the colors – and Stephen rightfully killed a lot of that – but the whole idea behind the book was that these were movie posters that had been lying around getting moldy in somebody's basement or that had been hanging in the sun, fading. Hot colors weren't what was appropriate to that idea.
AC: So Stephen handled the degradation of your artwork, so to speak?
TB: Right. I'd send him this very slick stuff, and he'd give it the shock treatment. He'd add the folds, and make them look like honest-to-God film posters. That whole thing he did with the aging of the artwork sells the book's credibility to a huge extent. It really does.
For more about Tim Bradstreet, see www.timbradstreet.typepad.com.