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"From the streets of Quito to the heart of Hollywood."
That could very well be the tagline of James Verdesoto's biopic poster.
He migrated with his family from native Ecuador to the U.S. at the tender age of 5, in pursuit of the American Dream. Little did he know his knack for drawing would make it happen for him in a big way, to the point of becoming a hot ticket for top Hollywood movie studios that quickly recognized his natural talent when it came to creating powerful graphic campaigns to promote films.
He has worked in the movie industry for almost 30 years now, but the road to success was not always a walk in the park.
Verdesoto, 50, not only found it hard to get attention from his parents in a family with five kids, but also struggled to blend in as a Hispanic teenager living at the Bronx in 1970s New York.
"The city was a big melting pot at the time and when we moved to the Bronx all of our neighbors were mostly foreigners," he said. "In our school, everyone spoke English. Being exotic was not an asset for me. Being like everyone else and adapting was the only way of surviving."
As a way of releasing the pressure, he started to draw at a very early age.
"I was always tracing from magazines and photos. I enjoyed duplicating what I was seeing around me," said Verdesoto. "I was the youngest of the boys in my family and I was quite shy. I used my drawing skills to become popular at school and got a lot of notice for my talent. I was always entering talent contests and winning them."
By the late '70s, when it was time to pick a career, the choice was crystal clear: He wanted to become a graphic designer. He enrolled at prestigious Parsons School of Design and got his BFA degree on Communication Design in 1982.
There he won some contests and his talent drew attention from Miramax Studios. They hired him to start their in-house design department, and from 1988 to 1994 Verdesoto created iconic movie posters for such films as Pulp Fiction, The Crying Game, and The Piano.
"The 'Pulp Fiction' poster has been hailed by many, actually, as one on the best posters of past 20 years," Verdesoto said. "But that’s for others to decide, not for me. I’m certainly appreciative when people appreciate my work though."
As head of Indika Entertainment Advertising, the company he created along with partner Vivek Mathur in 1991, and while still working for Miramax – for the studio to allow him to do so was "a nice gift," acknowledged Verdesoto, the Ecuadorian has produced creative campaigns for titles like 'The English Patient,' 'Y Tu Mamá También,' 'The Last Samurai,' and 'Ocean's 11,' dubbed by Entertainment Weekly as "the perfect poster" and recipient of the Key Art Awards, which are "the equivalent of winning an Oscar in the industry," he said.
Verdesoto explained the process of capturing the essence of a movie in a single image requires many steps. First he watches the film, then reads the script and reviews all still photography taken on the set.
Then he discusses the pro's and the con's of the film with the client, along with his team of creative artists.
"After that we produce an exploration of 10-25 concepts that help sell the movie to its broadest audience. Representing it and packaging it. That is the most challenging part of designing a poster," he said.
Asked whether he finds it tough having to “sell” films regardless of their actual quality, Verdesoto said: "I think some of our best and most fun projects have been when the poster turns out better than the movie."
He's lost count of how many posters he has worked on, but said 'The Last Samurai' is by far the most challenging of all because "it was a tent pole project for a Hollywood studio, that means that the whole studio was banking on its success for the year.
It also starred Tom Cruise, the biggest star in the world at the time.
"We had both our Los Angeles office and New York office working on it for many months and it was a great collaboration from every one on the team. I think it represents some of our best work. A perfect commercial and artistic balancing act."
His favorite director to work with is Steven Soderbergh. "I think he has an amazing body of work and I'm a big fan of his. Working on his movies has been a highlight in my career," said Verdesoto.
But Verdesoto is preparing for yet another important highlight in his career: being a member of the jury of the 2011 Key Art Awards next October.
"It is a great honor for me to be part of that group of professionals. I’m excited about the dialogue that will take place."
Elisa Sicouret Lynch is a freelance writer based in Ecuador.