It’s about time I wrote about Caspar Newbolt, a designer who for the past ten years has been stealthily creating some of the most adventurous, expressive, and unusual film posters out there. I first came across Newbolt’s work when his poster for Tim Sutton’s Memphis was one of my favorite posters of 2014. Sutton has been one of Newbolt’s most consistent clients in the eight years since then (his poster for Sutton’s The Last Son was also one of my runners-up of 2021). Newbolt tends to work in the indie sphere (in both film and music) and has made many posters for short films as well as theatrically released features. He has also recently worked with designer Charlotte Gosch on a redesign of Filmmaker Magazine.
Newbolt’s brand new poster for The Act of Coming Out—a beautiful, heartbreaking eleven-minute hybrid documentary directed by Alexandra Stergiou and produced for The New Yorker—is extraordinary: a gorgeous piece of near-abstract art that nevertheless functions as an effective piece of graphic design, communicating something ineffable that might otherwise be impossible to encapsulate in an image. In the film a group of LGBTQ+ actors are asked to reenact or imagine coming out about their sexuality to their parents or loved ones. (You can watch the film here.)
I was so taken with this poster that I had to interview Newbolt about it—but I also wanted to have a look back at some of the remarkable work he has been doing over the past decade and so I have selected my ten favorite Caspar Newbolt posters (nine in addition to The Act of Coming Out) which follow the interview.
NOTEBOOK: On your website you mention Seurat, Matisse, and Warhol as influences on the Act of Coming Out poster. Were there any movie posters that influenced the design? I was reminded of Kellerhouse’s polka dot design for The Girlfriend Experience and also the Taiwanese poster for Edward Yang’s A Confucian Confusion.
CASPAR NEWBOLT: Yes, there was one film poster that Alexandra [Stergiou, the film’s director] and I looked at in the process. It was the poster for Antonioni’s Blow-Up by Waldemar Świerzy. I don’t usually include film posters when I present my ideas, but this was delicate, important subject matter and I was suggesting a pretty “out there” treatment of it. Therefore I needed some solid, foundational proof that the idea I had would work well as a film poster overall.
This Blow-Up poster is clearly something I took a lead from in terms of layout and type treatment. You can also see the color dot idea here, but it’s much more of a “color half-tone” treatment of it; the actual size and spacing of the dots being the factor that defines the tone of the image. Conversely in my version it’s closer to impressionist painting; it’s about the color values themselves and using these color values to define tone.
I know the Kellerhouse The Girlfriend Experience poster, of course, and I’m sure that somewhere in the back of my head that was lingering, and perhaps encouraged me to present this idea. Otherwise I had never seen the poster for Confucian Confusion before. Thank you for showing me that—it’s great.
NOTEBOOK: As with A Confucian Confusion, your poster feels as if you should be able to step back from it and a face will start to appear, but only a very vague sense of a face forms. Is there an actual face in there or is it a multitude of faces mashed together?
NEWBOLT: There is an actual face there but much like standing very close to a large painting by Seurat, when you are close to the poster you end up seeing only a cloud of colors and thus having the vaguest sense of a face or a multitude of faces as a result. That said if you squint your eyes, even close up, you’ll see the face much more clearly.
It will perhaps remind people of that famous scene in John Hughes’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) where they visit Chicago’s Art Institute and Cameron Frye ends up transfixed in front of Seurat’s painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1886). The picture was painted exactly 100 years before the Hughes film came out, and this particular scene in the film hit me very hard when I first saw it.
I am the son of two painters and grew up in museums and art galleries around the world. I knew every word of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by heart by the time I was 14, inspired largely I’m sure by this moment Cameron has with the Seurat. I myself had stared in just such a way at just so many paintings as a kid. I love that in the director’s commentary for the film John Hughes describes Seurat’s pointillistic painting style as being like filmmaking, in that: “You’re very very close to it. You don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it.” (You can see the scene and hear Hughes’ commentary here.)
It was important to Alexandra and I that, because of the film’s narrative, you could not clearly tell the gender or ethnicity of the person in the poster. The film presents a series of queer and trans actors of various ethnicities exploring what Alexandra describes as “the never ending process of coming out,” and if you look at the LGBTQ flag you can better appreciate the color field we created for the poster. We strove therefore to create an image of a person with a visage comprised of these many shifting colors.
NOTEBOOK: The poster has a very tactile 3-dimensional feel to it, as if there is a layer beneath the first layer. I assume that is created entirely digitally but tell me if I’m wrong.
NEWBOLT: Yes, the final aspect of realizing the poster’s design concept was making it clear that the holes were cut into the picture surface, and that the dots were moving around behind it trying to “come out” in some way or form. It was our hope that the 3D feel created the illusion that some of the dots were fitting through holes in the grid and some shifting between those holes in a “non-binary” fashion.
The poster is indeed entirely digital, as it would have taken me far too long to create the entire thing well enough by hand. The fact that it’s not done by hand still haunts me a little bit, but I’m comfortable knowing that doing it digitally allowed me a greater level of nuance and accuracy on various levels.
NOTEBOOK: Were there any other designs you considered for this project that we could see?
NEWBOLT: There actually aren’t any other comps to share. I presented a series of ideas in text and reference image format. Alexandra and I then discussed them all and she chose this particular idea. I then went and made the poster. Give or take small facial dot movements, sizing, and layout adjustments that Alexandra asked me to make when I showed her the work, there’s not much else to see. I do have some earlier saved files of the poster as I was starting to put it together, but they’re just half-done versions of the final so I don’t think they’d offer much insight.
NOTEBOOK: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the poster or the process of making it?
NEWBOLT: Yes, I was dealing with a subject matter and a film aesthetic here that was/is sensitive and hard to translate into a single image and thanks to Alexandra’s continued belief and encouragement I was able to push forward. Whether the result speaks to people or not is beyond our control, but I am very thankful to have been able to give it a shot.
I also could not have made the poster without my parents’ help. Their understanding of color theory and the work of the various painters I was looking at during the process helped me find a color palette and consequent tonal treatment for the poster that felt appropriate.
NOTEBOOK: Finally, I’ve wondered for a while whether your company Version Industries is mainly just you or do you have a whole team of designers?
NEWBOLT: In terms of art, design, or creative direction or whatever you want to call it, Version Industries is just me. Often times I’ll work collaboratively with a certain photographer, painter, motion graphics artist, editor, cinematographer, or film director on a project, but that will change from project to project. There are regular collaborators but no one is constantly involved because different projects simply demand different things. I never want to do the same work twice.
That said, I have a regular studio manager (Giulia Bertolino) and an intern (Liza Evseeva) at the moment. Giulia in particular has been vital to my work in the last couple of years. Without her council, particularly through the pandemic lockdown, I would surely have been a disorganized mess. She talks me through every poster or record cover I make without holding back on any criticism, and was a large and vital part of launching our online print shop too.
Below are some of my favorites of Caspar’s poster designs:
Make sure to also check out the motion version of the We’re All Going to the World’s Fair poster—in which his design literally comes to life—on the Version Industries website where you can see all of Caspar’s work. You can also purchase many of the posters seen here, including The Act of Coming Out, in their online print shop. And be sure to watch The Act of Coming Out. Many thanks to Caspar and to Alexandra.