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Lasting images

For more than three decades, the Key Art Awards have honored the art behind the business of movie marketing.

(This article was originally published in the 2006 Key Art Awards catalog, June 16, 2006)

The Hollywood Reporter Key Art Awards probably were referred to informally as "the Academy Awards for movie marketing" long before they came to share a venue with the town's other big night in 2004, but the late arrival to that stature never dampened the spirit behind the industry's premier movie-marketing awards competition.

In announcing the new awards in May 1972, then-publisher Tichi Wilkerson Miles laid out their mission statement: "The Hollywood Reporter proposes to honor an unsung group of artists, the talented men and women responsible for the conception and creation of the two-dimensional graphics which sell motion pictures and television programs."

The first six Key Art Award finalists were unveiled on the front page of the July 17, 1972 edition. It was a good day for Bill Gold, who created four of the posters named: "A Clockwork Orange," "Dorian Gray," "The Night Visitor" and "There Was a Crooked Man." That group was joined by "Kotch" and "Johnny Got His Gun," the latter of which was named the first best-of-show winner for creator Don Record.

The creation of the Key Art Awards coincided with changes in the movie-marketing business during the early 1970s. During the late 1960s, movie-marketing operations were based at studio offices in New York, with trailers distributed to theaters by a company called National Screen Service. Following a few pioneers, independent marketing agencies began to spring up to service the studios; those firms then made their way to Los Angeles, where an industry of dozens of companies became established.

Throughout their history, the Key Art Awards have evolved to reflect changes in the business, adding and removing categories to reflect work being done.

The program honored only North American posters in its first year then slowly added print categories for subsequent editions. Not until 1986 did the Key Art Awards formally honor trailer work.

But even during an age of trailers and the Internet, good poster art is crucial -- and it remains a mainstay of the competition.

"That print key art image is still a critical part of the face of a movie, particularly in a globalized and multitiered world," veteran film marketer Mike Kaiser says. "It's as close to branding as you get in the film business if you have a great image that stays with a movie."

Kaiser is a second-generation movie marketer whose father, Sam, was the copywriter on the 1975 Key Art best-of-show poster honoree, "The Abdication," and was honored in 2000 as one of the industry's pioneers.

In its second year, the program added an international poster category, with "La Bataille d'Angleterre" as its first winner, and 1976 saw the section split into European and Oriental poster groups. The name of the latter would morph to Asian in 1987 and Far Eastern in '88, and a Latin American category was added in 1980. The geographic divisions were dropped in 1992.

In contrast to today's international category, which is dominated by overseas releases of Hollywood films, many of the entries during those early years were for films produced overseas, and they were distinct in their preference for illustrated and painted designs. Posters created by Film Polski were an early mover, sweeping foreign-section honors in 1975 and '77 and still winning awards in 1990.

1975 saw the first submission of a poster advertising a television program -- CBS' "M*A*S*H" -- and the contest would continue to include such program marketing until 1989. In 1978, a Special Programming category was added to honor film-festival and retrospective campaigns; two years later, an Electronic Exhibition category was added to honor movie ads on radio and television. According to a note in the 1980 catalog, "The television people said it was about time."

Judging during the first decade of the Key Art Awards was done by a small panel of participants, mostly art academicians and museum representatives such as Otis Art Institute dean James Soudon and UCLA art department faculty member Jan Stussy. Staff members and designers from The Hollywood Reporter also participated in the judging, which one catalog described as taking place in a "garden party" setting. A key player in the judging process from 1977-90 was Pacific Theatres executive Robert Selig, who frequently chaired the proceedings. Other judging names of note included designer Saul Bass, who served from 1986-89 and became the first Key Art lifetime achievement honoree in 1991.

If the Key Art competition's scale and judging process were somewhat modest in those days, then so was the annual show. While the first ceremony was held at the home of then-publisher Tichi Wilkerson Miles, by 1977 the program had settled into a decadelong home at the California Museum of Science and Industry in downtown Los Angeles, where winning posters were displayed for patrons for several months each year and later displayed at the ShoWest convention.

By 1986, the awards were ready to include trailers, which, especially on television, were becoming a dominant component of movie marketing as the major studios moved to increasingly larger national releases. Their style also was changing, influenced by evolving production technology and MTV.

"We did (the 1984 theatrical release) 'Footloose,' (1983's) 'Flashdance' and (1980's) 'Fame' all right around the beginning of MTV," trailer veteran Gary Kanew says. "Suddenly, rock 'n' roll music became a key ingredient, cutting to music became a prominent style, and where trailers used to be dialogue-oriented and talky, music became the star."

Among nine nominated trailers in 1986, Michael Shapiro's entry for "The Jewel of the Nile" -- the product of a special shoot that features Danny DeVito on a sand dune, arguing with Michael Douglas over a telephone -- was named the first Key Art Awards trailer winner.

Shapiro recalls that he attended the ceremony that year, "more out of curiosity than anything else. 'Hmmm, they're going to give an award for a trailer? I never heard of such a thing; let's go see what that's about.' To my enormous surprise, I won the thing." During show, he adds, "the projector was in the room with us; it was a rented projector, and you had a hard time hearing the trailers."

Recalls Kanew of his first trip from the East Coast to attend the Key Art ceremony in 1989 for his trailer for "Dangerous Liaisons," which won first prize, "It was a much smaller venue, (inside) the Roosevelt Hotel. It was in this one little room, and the presentation got all screwed up. They were kind of feeling their way at that point."

As the show neared its second decade, it reached a turning point in the eyes of some in the community. What moved the Key Art Awards forward, it turned out, was an embrace by the creatives they was formed to honor.

"It felt like something that was done for us that didn't really include us -- it didn't really reflect the culture of the community," says Bob Israel, chairman emeritus of the Aspect Group of Companies, who has produced the ceremony for the past six years. "The real turning point was when Joel Wayne sat down with Bob Dowling and said to him, 'This show really can be and should be something more meaningful to this community.'"

Adds Wayne, a longtime executive vp creative advertising at Warner Bros. Pictures: "I went to Bob Dowling, and I said: 'There's no really big, classy marketing awards show that recognizes everything we do in marketing movies. If you want to put on a classy show, I (will) work with you on it and try to round up good guys, get people from around the business to participate' -- and that's exactly what we did."

The first Key Art Awards Advisory Board was empaneled in 1989 and included Wayne, Tony Seiniger, B.D. Fox & Friends' Brian Fox and Kaleidoscope's Steve Panama. Its role would be to help the competition and ceremony better reflect the business and spirit of the marketing community.

For the show's 19th edition in 1990, festivities were moved to Directors Guild of America headquarters in Los Angeles -- a step up in prestige for all involved -- and industry members expanded their involvement in production of the ceremony.

"There was wine and hors d'oeuvres, and it became a night you wanted to be a part of -- you wanted to be a part of the club," Israel says. "It was headed in the right direction." The Key Art Awards would spend nine years at the DGA.

The 1990 competition also saw the addition of a distinct category for TV spots, with entries for "Batman," "Glory" and "The War of the Roses" taking honors that year and the latter winning the best of show trailer laurel.

By 1993, the judging process also was being transformed. Gone was a small group drawn from inside and outside the business; going forward, judging would be done by a panel drawn exclusively from within the marketing industry -- a true jury of peers. The 1993 panel included 35 preliminary and 12 final judges; that total has grown to more than 300 for this year's program.

"Every year, the goal was that particular year," then-editor-in-chief and publisher Robert J. Dowling says of the work of the advisory board and those participating in the show. "I never said to myself, 'Fifteen years from now, this is going to be significant.' The board, every time we met, talked about the validity, the efficacy (of it). When we talked about judging, it had to be the right people; it was all about the seriousness and the validity of what those people did."

As the first wave of the home-video revolution rolled over Hollywood during the late 1980s, the Key Art Awards took note by adding a Video Point of Sale category in 1989 and an award for video packaging the following year. After briefly being removed from the competition, video returned in 2003 with categories for posters, spots and packaging.

"That was a big broadening of the base of the community because it brought in a whole other group of studio executives and creative boutiques that specialized in that sort of advertising," Kaiser says.

The program has been tuned further during recent years. An Internet category was added in 1999 (Sony's "The Mask of Zorro" site was the first winner), and co-branded print and audiovisual categories were added in 2004, as were special-recognition sections for the crafts of trailer motion graphics and copywriting.

Looking toward the industry's future, the Key Art Awards established an annual student competition in 2002 to reach out to design and marketing students who might wish to enter the field. Under the guidance of Jeffrey Bacon, the competition has attracted entries from a growing list of schools.

In reaching out to the next generation of marketers, honoring the industry's pioneers and working hand in hand with those in the industry today, the Key Art Awards for 35 years have sought to shine a light on the art and craft of movie marketing.

"Through The Reporter's sponsorship and attention to it and the efforts of a lot of people in the community, it turned into something that had a lot of cachet and became a major event in the calendar year for everybody that does it," Kaiser says.

Now ensconced at the Kodak Theatre and enjoying the benefits of increased exposure for the community, the Key Art Awards look to the future.

"As we celebrate the 35-year anniversary of the Key Art Awards, we also celebrate 35 years of extraordinary movie marketing," says Tony L. Uphoff, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter. "Movie marketing has become a massive global industry unto itself that also has a huge impact on popular culture. As we look forward, the Key Art Awards will continue to acknowledge excellence in the creative art of movie marketing and serve as the environment for nurturing and serving the extraordinary creative community that creates it."