It's a predictably warm late-March Saturday afternoon in Burbank, California, and a call-sheet roster of about a dozen folks have begun filing into Union + Webster design studios: photographers, assistants, hair and makeup artists, wardrobe coordinators.
Among the first to arrive: the star of the show himself, Clark Gregg, who's here to be photographed for the poster for "Trust Me," a new comedy he wrote, directed, and stars in. "I must be in the right place," Gregg says as he's promptly greeted by and exchanges pleasantries with those of us lingering near the entryway.
Union + Webster is as sleek, modern, and cool as you'd expect a 21st century design studio to be, especially one that caters to the sometimes-oversized and unpredictable egos of Hollywood, and specializes in the creation of such a very carefully crafted marketing tool as vital as a film's poster (or in industry terms, "one-sheet"). Hosting the festivities today from Union + Webster are Kevin Bachman, who will serve as the shoot's creative director, and partner-in-crime Christian Struzan, a senior creative director with the firm and whose father is perhaps the most legendary movie poster illustrator of them all, Drew Struzan. (If you're not familiar with Drew Struzan's work, we suggest some homework.)
As would become clear from talking to Bachman, Struzan, and Ricardo Marenco, the photographer, the making of every poster has its own backstory — and yes sometimes those stories will include plenty of vanity, like an actress who refuses to stand upright for the shoot.
[Related: Watch a Clip from 'Trust Me']
Another thing that becomes clear from the get-go: there will be no such airs with Gregg, who within minutes of his arrival is slamming a slice of pizza and cordially chopping it up with his new collaborators on subjects as random and relatable as the 1999 sci-fi comedy "Galaxy Quest."
They will also discuss the intended aesthetics of the poster they're here to shoot. On a nearby table, conceptual examples are laid out, and they include "Knocked Up," "We're the Millers," "Enough Said," and "Election." They're all "face heavy," and they all relay a comedic sensibility.
After Gregg's co-star, the 14-year-old Shaxon Sharbino, arrives, the two make their way to a backroom for makeup and wardrobe. (In "Trust Me," Gregg is a former child star-turned-struggling agent lucks out when his new client, played by Sharbino, turns out to be The Next Big Thing.)
You may know Gregg best as the fan favorite Agent Phil Coulson from the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and its current TV spinoff, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," but the actor has quietly been carving out a parallel persona as an ambassador of the increasingly challenging world of independent film. "Trust Me" marks Gregg's second stint as writer-director following 2008's well-received Chuck Palahniuk adaptation "Choke," starring Sam Rockwell (and which had a very memorable poster, also designed by Union + Webster).
Nearly an hour passes before Gregg returns to the front of the house — now in his character Howard's weathered blazer, button-down and jeans, plus black-eye makeup and a fantastically cheesy Bluetooth earpiece — and the shoot commences.
"It took me right back," Gregg would tell us later on in the day. "The minute I put this stuff on, I'm back in the tragic world of Howard Holloway."
After a first glance at the nearby laptop monitor set up to immediately render Marenco's shots, Gregg declares that Howard's face should appear even more beat up, and he returns to the makeup chair.
"It's fun because we're trying to tell a story just in terms of an image, and give people a little flavor of the movie," Gregg explained later.
"This is a beat-up person. It's about the people who don't quite make it in Hollywood. Those that circle that catfight for years, go into the scrum for a minute, and just get clawed into pieces and thrown out before they put themselves back together and go back in. It just felt right to have him be beat up again."
"Too much?" Gregg asks upon returning some 20 minutes later. (Another thing we'd learn pretty quickly: These shoots do not pass by quickly.) Gregg now has an even more defined purplish red bruise etched on the top right corner of his forehead.
Sharbino ("I Spit on Your Grave"), a rising star who will soon be seen headlining a "Poltergeist" reboot, joins the shoot a short while later, and the two try out various poses (back-to-back, hand on shoulder, etc), props and all.
"Does anyone have a crappy phone," Gregg asks? A moderately crappy, bright purple phone enters the picture.
The crew is eager to spitball and evolve their original treatments. Bachman recounted earlier in the day how in preparing to shoot the now-iconic poster for Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat," he went and picked up that miniature, handheld American flag on nothing short of a whim.
Sometimes they even end up in front of the camera. That's the photographer, Marenco, lying there dead, gun in hand, on the poster for the Jet Li-Aaliyah movie "Romeo Must Die," and packing heat once again in the artwork for 2000's Academy Award-winning ensemble "Traffic." (Speaking of the Oscars, one of Union + Webster's latest triumphs: the visuals for the recent awards campaign of the Best Picture winner "12 Years a Slave.")
At another point during the shoot, Gregg realizes that his young co-star has grown significantly taller since "Trust Me" was filmed well over a year prior (the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2013), so he requests a phone book or "Apple boxes" to stand on to make up the difference. Stacks up of printer paper emerge instead.
Then comes the shoot's ultimate moment of inspiration. "How about I do this?" Gregg offers, extending his hand toward the camera, in a perfectly slimy, used car salesman sort of way that just screams, well, trust me. "That's it," echo Bachman and Marenco.
Marenco's camera would continue clicking, of course; as the Union + Webster crew would explain, you can never be too sure one idea or shot will work, especially with so many levels of approval involved in these kinds of endeavors: the director, producers, distributors, etc.
"A great movie poster invokes an emotion," Bachman said. "Like a piece of art, it should make you feel one way or another." He added: "It's got to have impact, you want to catch the viewer's attention."
Catching a viewer's attention is especially important for a film like "Trust Me," a low-budget Starz release that will play in limited release in theaters and then vie for most of its eyeballs on video on demand, where that poster becomes especially essential in selling itself to channel-surfing viewers with literally thousands of options at their fingertips.
"It's usually just simple, great artwork," Gregg said when asked what makes a good movie poster. "Even if they don't really give you a hint of the story, they give you a sense of the kind of tone, or the sensibility behind the movie."
It'd be four hours from call time until the shoot was a wrap, at which point Gregg and company would leave the remainder of the poster's creation in the hands of proven experts like Bachman and Struzan.
In other words, he'd have to trust them.
The final poster:
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