Film Review: Drew: The Man Behind the Poster

This star-studded documentary about poster artist Drew Struzan would never play as fiction: His rags-to-riches journey from poverty to Hollywood acclaim is straight out a ’30s movie.

"My parents didn't love me," Drew Struzan says of his childhood in Oregon City, Oregon. "They didn't like me…for some screwy reason." But he loved drawing, and moved to California right after high school "to go learn something. When I left home…I didn't pack my bags; I didn't have anything. I just went."

Cut to: Struzan enrolled at the Art Center College of Design, majoring in illustration rather than fine arts because illustrators got paid for their work. Struzan managed his tuition by skipping meals and sneaked into classes when he ran short. He got married and became a father within a year, graduated and took a job at a studio that specialized in album covers.

Cut to the big breakthrough: Struzan was hired to do a movie by an adman impressed by his cover for Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare. The movie was The Black Bird (1975), a disastrous comedy sequel to 1941's The Maltese Falcon.

Cut to: The work came rolling in, including a little science-fiction movie called Star Wars. Struzan was one of two artists, the job was a rush, they forgot to leave space for the credit block and had to improvise a fix, but George Lucas loved it. Struzan went on to work extensively with Lucas and Steven Spielberg (the Indiana Jones series; E.T.) He did Rambo, John Carpenter's The Thing (overnight), the Back to the Future trilogy, the Police Academy series, Big Trouble in Little China, the reissue of Blade Runner and the Muppet movies—Jim Henson loved that he brought the puppets to life, while photos made it clear that they were just things.

The primary takeaway is that Struzen is very talented, a great collaborator and a really nice guy who managed to not only survive but thrive in the shark tank of Hollywood. The surprising one is that Thomas Jane (who played a Struzen-inspired painter in Frank Darabont's The Mist) and Michael J. Fox are genuinely perceptive and articulate on the subject of what makes a movie poster great. And the sad one is that the art of painted posters has been supplanted by design by committee—"Two big heads," says Darabont—and computer-manipulated images.