Poster Boy: Josh Mintz

According to busterINK Creative Director Josh Mintz, designing key art for film and TV is about marketing with a purpose: ensuring people tune in or show up during major premieres.

You probably wouldn’t recognize Josh Mintz, but he’s been featured in a number of posters and key art for popular film and television projects that you surely would. As a creative director responsible for designing accompanying promotional materials for major companies like HBO, NBC, Oxygen, TBS, and TNT, Mintz’s job often requires him to get creative when there isn’t time to do photo shoots with the celebrity talent. This means a lot of Photoshopping and occasionally even standing in as a body double for actors like Hayden Christensen. His work takes different shapes, crossing print and digital media to undertake projects such as outdoor billboards, print magazines, Facebook apps, and TV promo graphics, but he started out simply designing software manuals for his parents’ company.

In his early career days, Mintz worked at a variety firms, ultimately landing his current role as the creative director of prestigious design firm, busterINK. Mintz has worked on campaigns for movies such as Superman, Happy Feet, and the Harry Potter series, as well as for shows like Army Wives and Falling Skies. He’s organized photo shoots with everyone from the cast of The Glee Project to Lucy Liu. And although he’s been working in Photoshop since the day it was invented, he still finds there are things to learn to push his design work further.

Originally in pursuit of a film degree, Mintz wound up where he is now by rallying colleagues and demanding a new type of degree be created at his school, to get the knowledge he needed to design for film. As one of this niche industry’s established talents, his advice for those enticed by this career path is to lose your opinions, and sometimes even your tastes, to instead design specifically for your client’s brand.

Get In Media: Can you describe the work you do at busterINK?
Josh Mintz: I am a creative director at busterINK, an entertainment ad agency. It’s a startup print division of a successful on-air ad agency called Stun Creative, which has been around for over 12 years. We create the “key art” for TV shows, among other things. The key art is essentially that singular image/graphic used to represent the show across all sorts of advertising: outdoor (billboards, bus sides, subway 2-sheets), print (magazine ads), and even online (banner ads, microsites, Facebook apps, games, etc.). Our clients include many Turner properties like CNN, TNT, TBS (we did Falling Skies, Anderson Cooper 360, etc.), A&E (Duck Dynasty), Oxygen (The Glee Project), FearNet, The Food Network, NBC, Sony, etc.

The challenging thing personally is to try to do something original for yourself, to be proud of it for yourself, but a lot of times, originality is not relevant; it’s all about marketing it with a purpose. You want people to turn up at the premiere date or the opening weekend.

GIM: What are your primary job responsibilities?
JM: My job includes managing the copywriters who write the clever little taglines for our posters. I also write many of these lines, as well. I find it very similar to writing lyrics, so I love it. I also manage the sketch artists, who help us map out ideas for photo shoots that we can present to clients. I art direct many shoots as well, occasionally traveling around the country to work on shoots. That’s definitely one of the fun perks. I flew to Atlanta to shoot Lucy Liu, and South Carolina to shoot Army Wives, for instance.

GIM: Walk us through a typical day on the job for you.
JM: Every day is different, but we usually will get an assignment and get a little creative brief from the client or the network for a new show that they are launching. We’ll then kick off the project with a brainstorming session. Our job in most cases is to distill down what the show is about into a singular image, a singular phrase—the tagline that is going to be on the poster—and we have to think in terms of outdoor advertising, billboards, sides of buses, subways, an ad in a magazine … the kind of key art image that they might take across all the media. They might use it even when it comes out on video or iTunes … the image that sort of describes the show. Sometimes we’ll also have to do what’s called a 360 campaign, where we come up with ideas of how they would do the on-air advertising. They might also do the opening sequence of the show—the title sequence. They might do the little lower third graphic design of the show—the little thing that pops up in the corner while you’re watching TV. We’ll even do digital stuff—Facebook takeovers, Yahoo ads, and all that kind of stuff. It could be anything. It could be super complicated social media stuff or simple banner ads.

GIM: Is it always TV shows that you work on?
JM: We do primarily TV shows. Other places I’ve worked, we’ve done TV shows and movies. I got my start doing just movies.

GIM: How is working on television shows different than on movies and other media?
JM: This is the interesting thing about designing for television is that television networks have a brand. When you’re designing for a movie, each movie becomes a brand of its own. That’s why it has such a long lead-time. When I worked on Happy Feet or Superman or Harry Potter, sometimes we would be on those projects for nearly a year. I remember retouching images of fake penguins for over four months. TV is the exact opposite. The lead-time is very short, sometimes only two months—two months from creative brief to doing the photo shoot to doing the real final stuff. You have to consider the brand of the network that it’s on, though, even more than the show in some cases. In the case of The Glee Project, Oxygen has a brand. Their whole slogan is “Live out loud,” so anything you do for them has to have a super joyous expressiveness that you would never do if you were doing something like Glee from Fox, which is a very different brand.

GIM: What is one of the more recent campaigns that you worked on?The Glee Project, source: IMDb
JM: The biggest all-around campaign that we did recently was The Glee Project for the Oxygen Network. It’s the reality show of the auditions for the kids that are trying to be on Glee. Our big challenge was to hang on to the Glee brand that people like, but we really had to make a point that it was not on Fox; it was on Oxygen, and it’s a reality show. It’s a competition, so it has all these high stakes. You win a role on Glee if you win the show, so it’s a big deal to these people. We had about 45 deliverables—different shapes and sizes: subways, sides of buses, billboards, magazines, Emmy Magazine wraps … it was a really huge campaign!

GIM: What parts of it were you the most involved in?
JM: Everything, pretty much, from the original concepts to sketch presentations and then the photo shoot and art direction. I designed the campaign that went to print, and then when it became such a big campaign with 45 pieces, we had a whole team helping. At that point, I’d oversee things as a creative director is supposed to do. You make sure that it all keeps that branding that you’ve established.

GIM: What did you do for the photo shoot?
JM: We tried to capture the joyful moment of them singing. Everybody had their mouths open and had these crazy expressions. We shot them all one at a time, and we took each character through the motions.

GIM: When did you begin doing work as a graphic designer?
JM: I got my start working with my parents’ company, designing software manuals and stuff like that. When I went away to art school, I was actually a film major, but I had to pay my way through art school by working in the computer lab. The only people in art school that were using the computer lab were graphic design majors, so I basically learned graphic design by helping them use the computer. They were all computer illiterate, and I was a computer nerd my whole life.

GIM: Where did you go to school?
JM: I went to the Rhode Island School of Design, and I had to leave there after two years and went to UC San Diego. I stopped being a film major at UC San Diego and me and like six other students invented the Computing in the Arts major. At that point, I was so into computer graphics, but there weren’t any classes.

GIM: So, you guys created a demand for it?
JM: Yes, and we did the first-ever computer graphics art exhibit, and then, as soon as I was out of there, I stayed on the extensions program and was a Photoshop instructor at night. I did years and years of action sports—surf graphics, T-shirts, clothing catalogs. It was with this world famous surf photographer named Aaron Chang. He would take his photos and put them onto clothing, and over the years, they got really high tech and would dissimulate it into the fabrics, and so it had no feel, and it would literally become patterns in the clothing. They started a bikini line, and I would take his photos and make tiling textures out of that. Then, the whole MP3 craze happened, and I worked at a dot-com in San Diego. I didn’t stay there very long because I got the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and [do] creative direction at a DJ culture magazine called BPM from 2000-2004, and then I got a job at Quicksilver headquarters, and I redesigned their website. Then, I got into movie posters, and I kept moving around in the entertainment design world.

GIM: What have you worked on recently?
JM: We just worked on American Horror Story Season 2. We didn’t exactly, what you call “get the finish,” which is an interesting aspect of our job. We pitch a lot, and some people call it a “bake sale.” They’ll have multiple agencies pitch at them, and they might pay you a nominal pitch fee. That was a really fun one to dive into because it’s so detailed, and it’s so weird and so surreal. So projects like that, you kind of jump at, even though you’ll lose a lot of money on it if you don’t get the finish—which means you take it all the way to the final print. So, they went with two companies for various reasons.

We also did the whole Falling Skies campaign recently, which was this huge epic scene of 40 or 50 characters walking towards the camera. That whole show is about an alien invasion, so all the main characters are walking towards the camera looking a little beat up and a little dirty. There are explosions, and you can see the alien mothership in the background with fire coming off of it. That was a really cool thing, and we actually shot all the body double stuff in our kitchen. Everyone in it is a coworker because we just shot everyone that worked there. “All right, you put on a bandage and some dirty jeans, and I’m going to shoot you with this gun in your hand.”

GIM: Do you end up in a lot of the shoots?
JM: Yeah, I do because I’m kind of an average-sized guy. I remember at one of my jobs, I was in the shoots all the time. I’m the person in the poster for that movie Jumper. He’s standing there with a leather jacket on, and it’s whipping around to the side. It’s me with his head on it. I’m in a lot of those kinds of things.

GIM: Do you do that a lot where you put someone’s head on someone else’s body?
JM: Yeah, you rarely actually get to use the actor. If it’s a really high budget project, then they can really map things out ahead of time, then you can go shoot the person, but a lot of times it’s like, “Oh no. We have to get this done in two weeks.” Then you’ll literally shoot the body and put their head on it. Sometimes, they give you a bunch of photos, or sometimes they give you four. That’s why some movie posters look so strange. Look at that whole Matrix series of posters. None of those are your bodies, and they all look totally strange.

I’ve done a ton of shows for Lifetime. I did the Army Wives whole campaign. I’ve done several seasons of Tori & Dean shows. I did that cool Michael Douglas movie called King of California. We do a lot for History Channel, Lifetime.

GIM: What are some of the most challenging aspects of your job?
JM: Just always coming up with new ideas and trying not to repeat yourself. For American Horror Story, for example, I think we pitched 80 different things to them, and that was just for one season of one show. A lot of those ideas just don’t go anywhere. The challenging thing personally is to try to do something original for yourself, to be proud of it for yourself, but a lot of times, originality is not relevant; it’s all about marketing it with a purpose. You want people to turn up at the premiere date or the opening weekend.

GIM: And the best part of your job?The Break-Up movie poster, source: IMDb
JM: One of the greatest thing about my job is I get to watch TV shows or read scripts, but after I watch it, I may think, “Oh, I totally get how I would market this show.” Then, I might read the creative brief and think, “Oh ,they think this is a romantic comedy?” and I’ll be like, “but it’s super sad, and at the end, I’m all depressed.” My favorite example of that whole thing is The Break-Up with Jennifer Aniston. If you watch that movie, it’s a depressing relationship drama, but they were like, “Let’s market this as a hilarious romantic comedy.” One of my bosses came up with the idea for the poster and the cover, where they are sitting in bed with that tape dividing them. It makes you think the movie is so fun and happy, and you watch it, and it’s not. That was early on in my career, and I failed miserably in that project because every idea I kept coming up with was a depressing drama, and that’s not what they wanted.

GIM: What would your advice be to somebody who was looking to pursue a career in entertainment graphic design?
JM: What we do is such a small niche corner of the graphic design world that in a lot of ways, it isn’t graphic design. You could go to school for graphic design, but even just a degree in art in general will help. I was an art history minor, so I was very familiar with art through the ages, which was very helpful. Visit museums a lot. If you want to get into entertainment graphics, take a look at what’s out there. Interning is good. Job-shadow someone doing it. We are so fast-paced and stressed out half the time that a big part of being successful in this is to have a personality type where you can’t be bothered by little things. You also really need to learn Photoshop. You have to be so good in Photoshop that you don’t even have to think twice. I have literally used Photoshop since the day it was invented. I thought I was the world’s best Photoshop person and even taught it at UCSD for years. I was super-comfortable in Photoshop, and then I got a job in this agency, and suddenly, I was thrown into this space with 17 Photoshop experts in one room, and suddenly, I was very average.

GIM: What personality type would you say works best for this job?
JM: You have to be creative and be able to work super fast, but you have to be able to allow yourself not to be super attached. It seems like two contradictory things because artists tend to get very attached and get passionate and come up with ideas. You’ll think, “This will be a great way to market this show,” and then the client will be like, “Oh this is great, but just change this and that” and everything you loved about it. You have to be able to make those changes and let go, without killing your coworkers. I had a hard time with at first, but then I realized that this industry pays triple what typical graphic design pays, so it would probably be worth it to get over it. You have to also be able to not get stressed out and have to be able to handle a chaotic environment and a lot of revisions.

GIM: What’s the hierarchy in the office at busterINK?
JM: You’d start as an intern or junior designer, and then you can move up the ranks. Then, there would be: graphic designer, art director, senior art director, associate creative director, creative director, and executive creative director. Different agencies care more about job titles. At my agency, a lot of the people are freelancers, and we don’t care as much about job titles.

GIM: What do you do in your free time, if your job allows for it, that is?
JM: I just like to do creative stuff all around. I like to write and make music and do visual art, so sometimes I combine it all. I’ve been doing the band thing for about seven years now. My band is called Friend Slash Lover, and it’s an indie rock band. It began as an art project and morphed into being an indie rock band. I love writing songs and performing songs and recording. I love messing with the songs in Pro Tools during the recordings, and making music videos and designing the whole career path of it all. The whole thing is fun. I would love to write songs for other people and get my songs onto movies and TV shows. Our main goal right now is the placements and licensing.

GIM: What are your career aspirations for down the line?
JM: There are two halves to what we do—the agencies pitching the ideas and then the client that works at the television network that you’re pitching to. Sometimes, I think I might want to go over to the client side. It might be like starting over again, which would be interesting. They are very different. Another option would be for me to open my own agency, where I would do very niche things with my specific type of look. 

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