About this project
Imagine designing and printing a brochure—without a computer. How would you set the type—making sure it fit your layout? How would you crop the images? How would you place those images alongside your text? And what would you hand over to the offset printer when you were done?
Up until just 30 years ago when the desktop computer debuted, this whole process would have been primarily done by hand, and with the aide of fascinating machines that used a variety of ways to get type and image on to the printed page.
Mad Men gives us viewers small glimpses into this detail-oriented, time-consuming process—but working as a commercial/graphic artist in the pre-desktop computer era entailed a lot more than marker comps for client meetings. Graphic Means will explore these methods and the skilled people who used them.
I’m Briar Levit, the director of Graphic Means, and also a graphic designer and assistant professor. I came up as a designer in the late 90s. This was when the page layout program QuarkXPress reigned supreme, and Adobe was on version 4.0 for Photoshop. While I’ve been designing on a computer since the start, the remnants of the pre-computer era were around me at school, and in my early design jobs. From the quasi-paste-up formats my teachers required us to turn final work in, to various tools that lingered around production areas in my first jobs.
I thought I knew how things worked before the desktop computer. It wasn't until I started collecting obsolete design production manuals on my regular Goodwill treasure hunts, that I realized that I actually didn’t understand the level of skill, process, and various technologies that predate the computer.
I would pore over the manuals, admiring the tools and trying to imagine myself executing the projects demonstrated—from calculating the number of words that would fit in a brochure design to preparing layout mechanicals to go to print—all by hand! I was mesmerized. And certainly if I had such limited understanding, my students had even less.
And so I set out to tell this tale. This film will allow designers of my generation and after, to learn about how it all worked before computers, and it will serve to honor the folks who made that transition from hand to digital, for their experience and skills that most designers and illustrators will never know again.
Paul Brainerd: Co-founder of Aldus (producers of Pagemaker)
Lou Brooks: illustrator, curator of The Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies
Art Chantry: graphic designer
James Craig: author and educator
Cece Cutsforth: designer, educator
Joe Erceg: designer
Carolina de Bartolo: designer, educator, author, and publisher
Ellen Lupton: designer, author, educator
Gene Gable: designer, writer, consultant
Walter Graham: author, paste-up expert
Steven Heller: designer and design critic
Frank Romano: design historian, author, educator
Jonathan Seybold: Son + collaborator of father of digital typesetting, John Seybold
Adrian Shaughnessy: designer, writer, publisher
and more to come!
We have great incentives aimed at designers and design-o-philes! Please note these are mock-ups and the designs could change slightly.
Crew (all women—a rarity in the filmmaking world!)
Briar Levit (Director + Producer), is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Portland State University and graphic designer with a focus in publication and nonprofit design.
Dawn Jones-Redstone's (Director of Photography), work has appeared around the country in commercials, film festivals, in the news and more. She's a teacher, a Neighborhood Emergency Team volunteer, a writer, a journey-level carpenter, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, a consultant, a gay latina and a speaker of Spanish.
Leah Brown (Editor), edits, directs, and shoots film and video. Her work experience includes: short documentaries, commercials, music videos, fashion editorials, and experimental films.
Emily Dekovich (Motion Designer), is an enthusiastic freelance motion designer, illustrator and midwest refugee. Her interests lie within narrative storytelling, character animation and bright vivid colors. She enjoys exploring all that Portland, OR has to offer and is happiest with her cats.
Lauren Bratslavsky (Researcher), is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at Illinois State University.
Ashley Haight (Production Assistant + Grip) is a feminist folklorist from Florida who likes alliteration. She is happiest on a set collaborating with other creative women telling liminal stories.
How Kickstarter Works
Kickstarter gives creative folks a place to crowd fund their projects. A key aspect of the Kickstarter model is that a project is only funded if it makes it's established goal—otherwise, it gets nothing. If you can't donate, you can still help by spreading the word online and off!
You probably already know this, but making movies costs a lot of money. A diverse set of talent and expertise goes into the making. Below is the projected budget for Graphic Means. We will apply for grants in addition to this Kickstarter, but you, our audience, are probably our best bet—grants for documentaries about the arts are simply harder to get these days.
While the director of this film won’t take any payment, the production and post-production crew must be paid for their incredible skills. In order to make a movie that’s a delight to watch, both in terms of content and visuals, we need to make sure these folks are paid for their craft.
The director and director of photography need to travel to meet nearly all folks featured in this film. We will hit California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, and London to capture these stories of studio life and process of the last century. We'll stay with friends/family and combine travel with other work wherever possible.
10 archival films about print and typesetting donated to our friend Doug Wilson at printingfilms.com by the Carl Schlesinger Archive (see a still below) are waiting to be digitized and shared with the world!
In order to use music truly of the era, we’ve worked with the BBC to license tracks created by John Baker, member of their historic, Radiophonic Workshop.
It’s critical that we make DVDs in order to enter it into film festivals, and to allow for screenings.
Risks and challenges
Independent filmmaking is a risky endeavor. It takes time to get funding to shoot footage, edit it, and then process it so it’s ready for a larger audience to enjoy. While the internet has blown the roof off who can make films, and where they get seen, it’s also important to remember that the traditional funders of documentary film are fewer now. In addition to being fewer, they simply aren’t funding very many arts-focused documentaries these days. So while this is a risk, it’s also a reminder that crowdfunding is at the heart of documentary filmmaking now, and we need your help to make this happen.
Ultimately, I aim to make this film regardless of these risks—but backers should know that it may take some time to get the total funding needed to get the film to the point in which it’s ready for release.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Support this project
- (30 days)