His designs incite bidding wars, Hollywood studios stalk him, and his first solo art show just opened. Meet Olly Moss, the man giving films a creative new edge.
Late last year, Marvel executives Craig Kyle and Kevin Feige wanted to reward the cast and crew of their superhero film Thor for their months of hard work. But gifting Natalie Portman and co. is no simple task. What could an A-lister possibly need? Starved for ideas, Kyle wandered into Gallery 1988 in Melrose, California, where something caught his eye: a print poster depicting Jesse Owens winning the gold medal in the 1936 Olympics. The artist: Olly Moss. Kyle sent Moss an email saying, “Hey, we like your shit,” and before long, was commissioning him to create a poster of the film as a special treat for team Thor.
“I was never much of a traditional artist,” says Oliver Moss, who goes by “Olly.” In just three years, however, the 24-year-old Brit has emerged as the go-to-guy for movie posters, selling them for thousands of dollars on eBay, and taking meetings with major Hollywood studios for a myriad of projects, including work for Sony’s upcoming reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man.
Moss grew up in Winchester, London, and soon developed an obsession with film. The first movie he really loved was 1986’s animated Transformers: The Movie, which he describes as “THE film when I was super young.” When he wasn’t geeking out on movies, Moss, a precocious child, spent his days doodling on his schoolbooks. “I used to remember drawing Sonic the Hedgehog when I was super young,” says Moss. “I would copy him out of magazines and draw him again and again. I was super obsessed.” In the meantime, Moss would also accompany his mother to work at her graphic design agency. Despite neglecting his schoolwork, Moss was able to skate by on his natural smarts, and was accepted into the University of Birmingham. The college had no art program, so he went rogue, doodling ideas for T-shirts and making them with what little money he could scrounge up.
On Easter 2006, Moss fused his love of film and design into Spoilt, a black T-shirt covered with a smorgasbord of red and white graphics depicting twist endings from movies. “It hit the blogosphere and people responded to it in a big way,” says Moss. “That’s where I realized that film is a really cool way to grab people’s attention.” The shirt won Threadless’ Bestee award for Design of the Year (People’s Choice) for 2007, which came with a $10,000 prize—and plenty of exposure.
After graduating in 2008, Moss moved back in with his parents in Winchester. Fraught with post-college malaise, he was browsing online one day and came across Now Showing—an exhibition at the Cosh Gallery in London where classic film posters were recreated by popular artists including Hellovon, Nathan Fox, and James Joyce (not that James Joyce).
A creative spark was born. Moss started doodling around, and the result was a clever poster for The Deer Hunter depicting six circles as revolver chambers, with one of the circles filled with a bullet. The poster took off online, and Moss did eight more with the same color scheme. Networks and studios started calling. His first commissioned poster was of Locke for the viral campaign surrounding the ABC show Lost. It was an homage to the classic poster for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo designed by Saul Bass and garnered a huge online following. He then did a trio of posters for the first three Star Wars films, until he was given his biggest task to date: curate a series of posters for The Rolling Roadshow—a series of outdoor screenings last summer sponsored by The Alamo Drafthouse and Levi’s. “I picked three colors, kept them to a very similar style, and went from there,” says Moss. “The one I was most happy with was Dirty Harry,” which showed the profile of Clint Eastwood’s intense face outlining the inside of a smoking gun. “That’s one of those ideas where you think, ‘I can’t believe no one’s ever done this before,’” says Moss.
Moss enjoys listening to audiobooks while he works—a habit, he says, to make up for all the reading he didn’t do in school. His favorite book on tape: History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr. While he is dabbling more and more in hand-drawing, his posters were made using Photoshop and Illustrator, “because you can look at things from different angles, import things from other images that people have already done, and compare and synthesize different images, rather than working on a piece of paper.” Moss has branched out doing illustrations for The New York Times and The Guardian, and is commissioned by Empire Magazine to design a new movie poster illustration every month, including a “rude” entry for Sex and the City 2 showing a high-heeled shoe and an almost subliminal penis in the heel’s negative space.
What most excites Moss, however, is his first solo art show beginning May 7 at Gallery 1988 in Melrose, California—the same gallery where his work was discovered by the bigwigs over at Marvel. “It’s going to be very, very nerdy,” says Moss, with a chuckle. He describes the exhibition as “very pop-culture-y,” and very movie and video game-related. The gallery will feature 100 unique Moss pieces, including a 3D installation.
“Art for me was always a hobby; it was never a viable career option,” he says. “I just made things based on what I was really interested in, and being a massive nerd, I was really interested in films and video games. People seem to really dig it, so now I’m able to make a career out of it.” The prophecy is true: the geek shall inherit the earth.
Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and has a master's from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial department of Blender magazine, as an editor at Amplifier magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.