The latest work of the famous Filipino filmmaker, which won awards at the Metro Manila Film Festival, has captured the hearts of many people, including me. Although the film’s plot focuses on the Philippines and touches on fan culture and celebrity life, many of the film’s messages and themes are universal. The film has been in production for about six or seven years, and the film’s poster has also taken on a life of its own in various versions.
We spoke with artist and designer Carl Castro, designer of striking movie posters, about the evolution of his way of telling stories with a single image.
I suppose we should start by asking how you got the chance to design a poster for Fanatka?
Antoinette Giadaone is one of my students at the Film Academy of the Philippines. We have worked together on many projects. She regularly consults me on her scripts, and I’ve had the opportunity to design the posters for some of her films.
Fan Girl is very special to me because it is a co-production of Antoinette 8 Projects and Epicmedia, directed by my partner Bianca Balbuena. This project was very interesting and lasted several years. Before designing the poster, I consulted on the script and watched it develop from a graceful and thoughtful commentary on Filipino showbiz and the cult of celebrity to its later extension into feminist machinations and political critique.
Can you explain the development process of the poster?
When I design a poster, I have to know the movie first. I always ask you to read the script and, if possible, the last available edit of the film. I think it has to do with my experience as a book designer. When I make books, I try to read the text as often as possible. The synopsis only gives you the basics, but it is only by reading the text itself that you can understand the mood, the subtext, the literary approach and peripheral imagery, the nuances and minor points that may be less obvious, but are in fact far more important in informing the draft.
After all, most good book covers don’t show the obvious, partly because you don’t want to say too much on the cover. It’s just a teaser, an introduction, a showcase in the material. The same goes for the film’s poster.
Before Fan Girl, I was very familiar with the film as a friend and consultant on the script. My first instinct was to get involved in designing print materials for the fans. Growing up, I was exposed to all those showbiz glosses, all those celebrity sneezeballs, and so on. There are so many ephemera dedicated to fandom, and even though the story is set in the modern digital age, I feel like the logic of these materials was the most promising form to work with.
I also chose pink because I know the film is based on a coming-of-age story, and I wanted a color that could represent both the youthful obsession of a young girl and the strength of a strong young woman. Plus, of course, it’s a progressive color, and when used properly, it’s very attractive and memorable.
The other design was a sticker, which was quite relevant. This stems from my observation that stickers (both digital and physical) are a very modern medium for fandom. You see them in messaging apps, as GIF responses, or as overlays in TikTok videos. It was actually one of my first favorites, and I still really like it. I think the repetition of Paulo Avelino’s face is a balancing act between what a fan would actually do, but at the same time it disturbingly evokes the dark side of idol domination.
Of course, it didn’t stop there, and although she immediately appreciated the learning, Antoinette encouraged me to go in other directions. I had to come up with many other alternative ideas to see if they were really the best. Maybe it was also a way to test my creative powers. Antoinette is very collaborative, she also asks for feedback from the team and some trusted friends, so she is very involved in the design.
Therefore, it could be admitted to the final approval stage. As you can imagine, a big marketing piece like a movie poster has to go through a lot of hoops, and designers like me tend to disagree. We need someone to promote this work, and I’m thankful for directors like Antoinette who do.
What setbacks or problems did you experience during the design process?
One of the biggest problems was working with limited images. We had no posters, so I had to work with photos and screenshots, as well as existing promotional portraits of Paulo. Normally, that’s not a big problem, but in the case of this film, the scenes either say too much or don’t convey the overall mood very well.
The others, of course, have undergone much research and change. Antoinette and Bianca can attest to the fact that this film went through many changes up until the last minute. But that’s normal, I guess. Nothing good comes easy, but complexity is no guarantee of greatness either.
There are a few more versions of the poster before the final version is chosen. Can you tell us about these versions and what you were trying to show?
One interesting story is the choice of poster for the world premiere of Fan Girl at the 33rd annual festival. Tokyo International Film Festival last year. The choices were a pink fanzine poster and a close-up of an intimate scene. The more voices there were, the wider the throat became. I voted for the purple one myself because I thought it was bolder. It was a tricky scene, not the most flattering image for a beautiful matinee idol, and the composition reduced all the usual elements in favor of a haunting Charlie Dizon look; as a designer, I always want to go as far as possible.
Antoinette preferred pink, as the color and treatment would contrast better with the festival’s predominantly photographic posters. I agreed, and I also thought that this color scheme would translate more easily to other media and give the film a clearer visual identity.
When the film finally screened at the Metro Manila Film Festival, the team decided that there should be some sort of mainstream poster, something that shows Charlie and Paulo on equal footing with the couple. I was busy with other projects at the time and honestly wasn’t interested in finding a solution to this problem. The new official festival posters were created by a marketing team that used the same visual elements as the pink poster. Finally, other unpublished posters were distributed. Of all my previous film projects, I would remember Fan Girl as the one with the most official posters that were not character or teaser posters.
Why do you think the official poster was chosen and what aspects really sum up the film?
It depends which one you consider the official poster, as there were several films at the screening.
The pink poster, as I described, had a visually appealing palette that was effective in the context of marketing objectives. But beyond that, I think it’s the tension the poster shows that makes it very effective. Usually the beautiful facade features cute, smiling pictures of the idols; this one features Charlie (a relatively new and unknown face at the time) with a rather pained expression. (Is she injured? Treatment reduces confidence). Paulo’s swirling faces also create a dizzying effect. So, despite the bright colors, you have the unsettling feeling that all is not well.
The purple poster is almost intoxicating in its intimacy, pulling the viewer into the middle of a very voyeuristic moment. As close to the desired idol as the moth to the flame. The predominance of leather in the visual space, even if not in a literal sense, is nevertheless suggestive, especially in light of Twitter’s title itself.
I think both posters show the thoughtful, maybe even subversive side of the film. Personally, I think those are the most valuable facets, and I’m glad the posters were able to capture that.
What is a good poster for you?
A good poster conveys a lot without saying much. A good poster captures the feeling without necessarily illustrating it. This is meant to raise questions and encourage the viewer to dig deeper. Technically, it can also make us see or interpret things differently. And it will stand the test of time. A good poster continues to captivate long after the novelty of the film has faded, the aesthetic tendencies have faded, the audience has developed a sensitivity. This conceptual elegance, this simultaneous exploration of the themes of past, present and future is something I have always strived for. Of course, only time will tell if I am successful in this regard.
What is the role/time of film posters?
The posters are the gateway to the film. This raises expectations. This is an early decision point: If the poster is bad, half the battle is already lost. With a weak poster, it’s much harder to convince people that the film is worth their time and resources.
Movie posters are memorable, iconic, more trailer than trailer. And even after you’ve seen the movie, you keep looking at the poster in a corner of your mind.
Can you tell us about your favourite film poster and why?
This is a tough question because there are so many!
Right now, I’m saying Rosemary’s Baby. Designed by Philip Gips and Stephen Frankfurth, it has many of the qualities I admire in a movie poster: it doesn’t show the scene of the movie, it creates the atmosphere, it uses typography and text in a very thoughtful way. And of course the graphic design is very eloquent, though restrained. It’s the same duo that made the Downhill Racer poster, another poster I admire. Both posters are master classes in orchestrating elements for visual and emotional communication.
I have to ask, what is your favorite part of FanGirl?
I love that FanGirl still has her time, even when all the theaters were closed. In the pre-pandemic era, such a film, with its sensitive subjects and language, could never have been shown at the family and office-oriented Manila Film Festival.
I also appreciate that she was able to ask questions about idolatry and misogyny at a time when the Philippines is struggling with authoritarianism based largely on these values. I deeply appreciate that this work not only addresses the issue of women’s empowerment, but also reflects this in its work ethic; it was written, authorized, directed and produced by women. Not that women’s issues should be left to women alone, but the more opportunities we have to promote equality of opportunity and representation, the better.
What can we expect from Carl Castro?
Nothing. Just kidding. This is a difficult time. I think I’m about to start a new chapter in my creative life. I’ve been thinking about it lately: I want to give up everything, the book drafts, the film projects, the YouTube series I’ve been trying to start for maybe two years.