'Oldboy' Poster Artist Gets Screwed, Asks Spike Lee For Help

Sometimes we'll post concept art for posters, and sometimes that art gets pulled, or doesn't get used in favor of more bland compositions. People always wonder why, and while the answer is often complicated we're rarely flush with all the details.

Here's a case where we now know a lot, thanks to the artist in question. You may remember that early this year poster designs for Spike Lee's Oldboy hit the internet. They were great — very striking, very violent, and very strange. They were pulled, and the official art was, in the end, a lot more tame.

Here's where it gets messy. The artist, Juan Luis Garcia, claims that he was never paid for his work. So why is Garcia writing to Spike Lee? Because this week, Lee posted some of Garcia's designs — the ones he was never paid for — to his own FaceBook page, with a note on each saying "C 2013 Spike Lee."

There's an open letter on Garcia's site that explains his side of the story. (And from which the header image originates.) The summation is as follows:

  • Garcia is approached by ad agency to design posters for the film. He's told the budget is small, but accepts based on (a) interest in Spike Lee and (b) the fact that he would be paid a small fee for doing the comp work, and then have a bigger deal come if any designs were chosen.
  • (The agency isn't named, but some of the language in Garcia's letter suggests it could be Spike DDB, which Lee founded. That would make this even more interesting.)
  • Garcia does a bunch of designs, and is told "Spike loved a couple of the posters. Yours is going to be the key art."
  • The licensing fee offer given to Garcia is "insultingly low." He says no. Agency is angry, but there's no contract locking anyone in to a deal.
  • That small initial fee never comes through.
  • The final key art for the film bears a striking resemblance to one of Garcia's design.
  • Agency had originally told Garcia he could publish his designs in his portfolio, which he does. They are discovered, and go wide very fast, because they are good.
  • Garcia tells agency the designs were taken from his portfolio without permission; agency threatens legal action.
  • Then, just this week, the artist saw that Lee had posted some of his designs — the ones he never even got the initial promised pittance fee for — to Facebook. So Garcia has written the following to Lee:

    I couldn't believe that you had been using and claiming copyright on three of those very same posters I designed. I just couldn't believe it. I perceive you as an advocate of the arts and artists and have a sinking feeling that you are as much of a victim in this as I am... I need you to know the truth. Some of the posters you are using were stolen from me. I tried my hardest to resolve this amicably but the agency just blatantly refused... I hope we can resolve this between us because the agency refuses to work with me and they have tormented me and my family enough. Please feel free contact me at your convenience.

    There may be more to this story — there often is. (Edit: Garcia has added a note to his site explaining why he didn't name the agency, saying that's because Spike knows exactly who he's talking about. Which pretty much locks this as Lee's own agency.) But I hear stories like this all the time, where artists provide work based on the promise of future deals and payments, which never come through.

    Bottom line: there's nothing more important than a contract for an independent artist/designer/creative. We all learn this. I've been screwed for work without a contract, and nearly everyone I know has, too. Get your stuff sorted in writing, first thing. If one party in a deal is unwilling to do that, there's a reason, and it probably isn't a good one for the other party.

    We hope this situation can be resolved amicably, and we look forward to seeing more work from Garcia, whose Oldboy work should have been the face of the film.