Unlike other artists, Justin Besana doesn’t sign his works and often sees his pieces displayed alongside others’. Not that Besana feels any bitterness or resentment—as a movie poster artist for almost six years, he is nothing if not humble and quietly diligent, simply happy that he gets to do this sort of work.
It’s a profession Besana didn’t see coming. His discovered his skill while he was an advertising coordinator for Star Cinema, and he’s been in the film poster game ever since—holding the distinction of being the only artist tasked with creating posters for the ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project.
Revisiting the classics of Filipino cinema has allowed Besana to create arguably his best and most high-profile work to date, but he knows that he has to remain just as involved with the industry if he wants to advance his craft. Besana makes time to gain as much experience as he can—taking on projects from movie outfits Quantum Films, Regal Films, and Reality Entertainment, among others, and constantly honing his skills in graphic design, illustration, and photography.
The Salesman: More than just a job, it has become Justin Besana’s responsibility to draw interest to local movies through his poster designs.
Still, even with so much at his disposal, Besana acknowledges that his mission stays the same from project to project. “Ang poster should have the soul of the movie,” he says. “So kailangan magke-kuwento ka and at the same time mabenta mo ‘yung pelikula.”
It’s a delicate balancing act that grants Besana a generous amount of creative freedom. While he’s not always able to watch the complete film before starting on a poster, information in the form of still pictures, a movie script, and discussions with the filmmaker is enough to get him started and inspired. “Mostly script talaga ‘yung binabasa ko,” Besana explains. “Mas enjoy ko ‘yung script kasi madetalye. Meron doon na hindi mo napapansin sa mismong final edit [ng pelikula].”
And so, while the easy approach would involve creating a collage of the featured actors’ heads via Photoshop, Besana prefers to set the mood through other visual touches. For instance, instead of featuring Pokwang and Bret Jackson on the poster of Jason Paul Laxamana’s Mercury Is Mine, the story of a cook about to give up her eatery in rural Pampanga, the artist zeroed in on the film’s quirky dark comedy, resulting in an overhead illustration of a fried frog jabbed with a fork.
Restored films, on the other hand, are less open to wild interpretation, given the limited amount of reference material and Besana’s goal to attract both new audiences and longtime fans. The results have proven to be successful, with him finding ways to manipulate old stills to reflect modern aesthetics—from the glossy key art for Olivia Lamasan’s Sana Maulit Muli, to the subtly menacing poster for Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (one of the artist’s personal favorites).
While a collage of actors’ faces is the easy approach, Besana sets the mood through other visual touches
Even if Besana admits that he gets more out of working on restored classics and independent films, he also sees the importance of his role in mainstream projects. He remembers the positive reception he received for his poster of Cathy Garcia-Molina’s Unofficially Yours, and how it helped him understand the deeper value of his work. “I’m not just doing a job,” he reflects. “Naging responsibility din siya sa industry.” It’s a surprising testimony from someone who works so far behind the scenes—occasionally overworked due to the dearth of artists in the business, and occasionally dissatisfied with the lack of training offered to artists. But like the stars in the posters he makes, Besana is compelled to move others with his art.
“‘Pag nakita [ng mga tao] ‘yung poster sa mall, mai-inspire sila to do better at work at matapos agad, kasi gusto [nilang] manood ng pelikula after work,” Besana states. “You do it for the people, the audience.”
This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of Rogue.