The Daily Heller: Cut the Action and Hold the Presses

Posted inThe Daily Heller

For those who love movies and pastiche, Matt Stevens combines them into book covers of well-known and lesser-acknowledged films.

Now, the traditional sequence of events usually goes like this: An author writes a book, a producer buys the film rights to it, and a director transforms the narrative into moving images; if the film was born of a screenplay, it is then sometimes adapted by an author into a novel. Matt Stevens turns the whole process upside down. These are not all books made into films, but films made original as imagined books. It’s an interesting twist—and here we talk about Stevens’ work and inspirations.

What prompted this project?
I work with a client who is a longtime collaborator on a lot of different types of work. He owns a production company called Mortal Media and I am asked to do a lot of pitches that rise above the noise of a pretty competitive landscape. Lots of people trying to get ideas made. We often approach our pitches by trying to come up with ways to do something unexpected or out of context. One of the pitches we did was to pitch a modern story, but in the style of an old storybook. I just really enjoyed the process of doing that—the research, trying to take old designs apart and see why they worked or what I responded to. That gave me the idea to do a personal series, and it just took off from there.

In order to accomplish this transformation, you had to interpret the books through the lens of multiple graphic periods, aesthetics and personal styles. How did you determine what was the best approach to each film/book?
It’s really a mixture of things. I’d say it’s often three components that drive it at varying degrees, depending on the cover. The film itself (and it’s perception or my feeling for it), my concept of what I want to communicate about it, and the chosen style. I keep a running list of movies that I want to work on. My only rule is that I have to have a personal connection to it or some degree of affection for it. I won’t do a movie I don’t like, just because it’s popular. I’m constantly doing research and immersing myself in old work and various styles. I keep a Pinterest board of things I like and respond to. Most often it’s the concept that comes first, and I think about that concept in the context of style and the film. What best communicates that idea? Sometimes the style comes first. I will get an itch to try something or am particularly inspired by a piece, and I see what movie it would be fun to execute in that style. The forensics of breaking apart what I love and figuring out why I respond to it is one of my favorite things about the project. It’s also a great exercise in various ways to generate ideas.

This work reveals a decidedly unique sense of design function and stylistic fluency. What is your relationship to design history?
Most of my career has been working for small design/brand shops, so I’ve always needed to be able to do lots of different things. When I went out on my own about 10 years ago, the intention was to pursue more illustration, and I really enjoy working in lots of styles and trying new things. It keeps the work interesting and presents a constant challenge. Sometimes I worry that I don’t have a signature style, but being versatile has kept me very connected and interested in the work I do.

I always sketch digitally on the iPad and sometimes that will evolve into a finished piece in Procreate on the iPad or I will take the sketch or drawing into Illustrator if it’s more appropriate for vector art. I always build the type portion of the covers in Illustrator. I do the final compositing in Photoshop using found textures and scanned paper.

Are there one or two of which you’re most proud?
I think in general the ones that are my favorites are the ones that came easy. I had an idea, felt good about it and it just always felt right. A few of those are Collateral, Nope, Rango.