Designing a Brand To Capture a City Alive With Film

Designing a brand identity system for Sydney Film Festival

I loved working on the Sydney Film Festival — an organisation which celebrates the communal experience of watching films together in the dark. In the last two years alone, Sydney Film Festival has introduced me to beautiful, moving, dramatic films like Mountain, Foxtrot, 1% — all films that challenged me in different ways. I think creative work is best when it comes from a place of belief, and what I believe about film is that it is something special that gives us the power to escape, ponder, walk in someone else’s shoes, laugh, cry, travel, and return home again — all from the comfort of an air-conditioned theatre. I’m really proud of the work the team did on this project. I hope you enjoy it — and the festival — too.

What is the Sydney Film Festival?

So what is SFF’s agenda? Film festivals have different agendas. Breaking out at Sundance can launch an a low budget independent film into the international spotlight, while snagging the Palme d’Or at Cannes pretty much guarantees global distribution. Sydney Film Festival is a festival founded and driven by the community — which was also its challenge. The role for the brand needed to speak to die-hard festival goers who book 10 passes and chuck sickies to catch matinees but also to the first-time festival goer.

The Brief

What is the Sydney Film Festival experience?

One interviewee described ‘the audience effect’ — the physiological and psychological effect on people watching things together — it’s a weird kind of group mind phenomenon. We laugh more when other people are laughing. The festival is like a flavour enhancer. It’s the MSG of films.

The strategy: flipping the perspective from audience to silver screen

Previous years of the festival program.

So, we focused on the screen. And we found GOLD. Or, more specifically, we found the golden age of the silver screen. We loved the quirks of old movie houses advertising, of opening credits, and intermission directives. The logos of production studios. We wanted to give people that dark cinema, titles rolling, popcorn-smell anticipation feel!

Our reference was old-school — starting from the Golden Age of film.

Expression: A City Alive with Film

Once we had established the role for the brand — to give Sydney the cinematic treatment — everything else fell into place easily. Sydney Film Festival’s communications became the opening titles for the festival itself. We treated the city as the backdrop for the latest, greatest show around — the Sydney Film Festival. Where ‘Coming soon’ posters transformed bus shelters into mini screening rooms, ‘intermission’ ads turned a moment in the toilets into a moment of anticipating the Sydney Film Festival, and clever placements helped a viewer imagine a train station adverts as a preview to a feature…or a double feature.

Our language and tone became the voice of a movie trailer narrator: pithy, descriptive, guiding viewers towards the things they’ll find interesting at the festivals. Our colour palette reflected film teasers and credits — colour on a dark backdrop.

There are universal film cues that we all know — that take us back to cool, air-conditioned theatres on hot summer days, or matinees shared with mates on drizzly winter afternoons. We referenced things that you’d see right before a film — the opening titles — which gave our comms the feeling of anticipation — what you see on screen, the sounds, and colours that signal: film is coming.

Referencing that just-before-the-movies magic with a set of made up Sydney Film Festival production companies.

An essay by Durga Chew-Bose articulates this better than I can.

“The moment the lights dim and the studio logos run, I encounter a mix of my past swimming up inside of me as well as the true pleasure I derive from anticipation. Disney’s “Wish Upon a Star”; MGM’s roar; Universal’s un-apology, it’s trumpet and sun-eclipsing planet Earth; Warner Bros’ nostalgic piano and it’s gilded back lot and superhero lettering; Paramount’s snow-peaked mountain; Columbia’s Torch Lady, and so on and so on. These logos move me.”

With bringing the city alive with film as our north star, we knew this identity couldn’t be static: it had to live in motion. Working with our friends at Never Sit Still was SUPER fun on this — we wanted to reference that feeling you get when the lights are low, the film’s about to start, and you’re watching the opening titles, and we leaned heavily on the animation and sounds of yesteryear to re-imagine this effect for Sydney Film Festival.

The motion element of this brand was one of my favourite executions. How fun!

Creating a feeling

What’s next?

sydney via seattle. believer. growth @futuresuper. ex strategy @forthepeopleau. experimenting with writing.

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