Press > Escape From New York > Exclusive Interviews > Stan Watts (Poster Artist) 


How did you end up being an artist and a poster artist?

Well, I wasn't really a poster artist. Freelance meant you did a lot of everything for anybody.. From label art for toilet bowl cleaners, to the coolest rock covers and big name portraits. I was interested in making money to pay bills and took on any project I could, and did so for 35 years. Not too many of my contemporaries made it that far. The onset of the computer wiped out most and then just killed me at a slower rate of time. Most posters were a nightmare, but they paid great, and you just put up with the sometimes poor concepts ENDLESS and MEANINGLESS changes. The deadlines were ALWAYS unrealistic, and the quality ALWAYS suffered. They were never my favorite assignment (except for The Howling) but they were lucrative and I always said yes to Hollywood. As far as them being used: there are a couple of thoughts. Sometimes, after doing a piece of art that HAD to be done over the weekend.. you would then spend the next week and a half doing bullshit changes. By then, you didn't care if it went to print or not, you just wanted to get paid. The joy and pleasure of a movie poster was stripped away early on in the process. I much more preferred to do comps. They paid great, they were little mini posters, and there was generally a little more freedom there. That's how The Howling was created. They looked for images for months and couldn't find one, I was asked to do a comp that I just experimented with and did. Turned out to be the one. Those were the fun ones.

How did you get the assignment to do an Escape From New York poster?

Art work was commissioned through Craig Butler Design.

How was the poster conceived and did you have any other ideas or drawings prior to the final one?

Well, there isn't a lot to talk about, when it comes to that particular image. The concept was comped out, and I just did the finish. It wasn't one that I had much creative ownership to.

How long did it take to make the poster art and what reactions did you get from it?

As I eluded to, there was never enough time to do a project with care and attention, and as I recall, this was no exception. My average time on any project, was 5 to 7 days. That included gathering photo reference, props, models, etc. and approval times. Actual rendering time, was usually 3 days.

Is it true that you were told that you had the poster for the whole campaign only at the very last moment being aced out to Barry E. Jackson's one?

The B. Jackson piece was the kind of crap they would always land on. Not that it was a bad concept, but it was a dated piece the minute the paint dried. Somehow, loosing out to a piece like that made sense in a weird way... As standard procedure, they always chose a couple of comps to go to finish, so you never knew who was doing what for whom.. they must of had mountains of money in those days. A comp could pay 2.5k to 5k.. the finish 10k, 15k, 20k. So, you can see why the 'dance with the movie industry' was a bitter sweet arrangement.

Were you disappointed that your poster wasn't used except for film festivals which I believe it was and do you have any recollection why another artist called Ben Bensen did the portraits on it?

As far as EFNY, I didn't have any input on the image. I like K Russell, and was somewhat hopeful about the image. The K Russell image I was SICK about loosing out at the last minute to a really CRAPPY image was The Thing. I did this sophisticated image of a steel door, in a sub arctic setting, being smashed into from the outside, bright iridescent light coming in through a breach in the door... loved the movie, loved the image. It just wasn't meant to be...

Here's the deal, as far as the inset illustrations (portraits).. I barely had enough time to do the poster.. they always 'subbed' things out that way. As far as them making sections to use it or not, it was a industry standard, happened all the time. Like I said, usually didn't care what they did with it, as long as they paid. Hey, and as an industry, they sometimes tried NOT to...

Are there any other anecdotes you'd like to share with us about the poster?

I think I still retain the art.

What do you think of the movie

As far as the movie. I wasn't a fan. It was a caricature of a film, to me anyway. My fav K Russell films will always be Big Trouble in Little China, and The Thing. Met him once at a dinner party, a nice man.

What are you currently doing and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Well, as far as my career, the computer killed me, slowly. I was convinced that I needed to convert, which I did, and began the slow spiral down. As more and more people piled on Photoshop, respect for the media plummeted. It was just a push button approach to illustration, and very few of the younger art directors actually had a background, or understood real illustration. Prices dropped, deadlines diminished, and the ability to show new work to new ADs became impossible. My last portfolio showing was with a local Austin agency. It was a Monday morning.. showed my slides, and when the house lights came on, half of the 'twenty something's' ADs were asleep. I didn't say a word, just loaded up, and left. Humiliating. That was it for me. I had seen older illustrators when I was a young illustrator at art shows in LA, and I would always say to myself 'what the fuck are you doing here?' Well, I came full circle, and it was now my time to gracefully take stage left. It was traumatic for a number of years, a few straggler jobs came in from NY, which I would KILL myself doing, shitty budgets, shitty art direction, only to have a ho-hum reaction to the finish. Tough. So, I quit in midstream of a series of illustrations for a Japanese video game, character development thing. So not me to do that... and I knew then, I had no business in illustration any longer. I don't sketch, cartoon (my first love) or have any appreciation for art, fine or otherwise any longer. It stole 30 plus years of my life, spent hunched over a desk, 7 am to 2 am, every day, even holidays. I will give it no more of myself.

I retrained on a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) program, and work for a traffic control company, designing highways/streets, and doing traffic control for major utilities like PG&E and AT&T. I love doing it. It's mentally demanding, still involves building something from start to finish, and I'm not dealing with anyone's egos, including my own. Well, there it is. More than I talked art in a decade at least. Not sure if this is what you wanted to hear, you were probably looking for something flashy and upbeat. That's just not my reality.

Thank you for your time, Stan.