Saul Bass and Stanley Kubrick

Rejected designs for The Shining by Saul Bass & Associates

From Stanley Kubrick: A Biography, Saul Bass reflecting on the poster design process for The Shining:

“It was a hell of an experience. Stanley was obsessive about what he was aiming at. While it drove me nuts, I deeply respected it because that’s the way I treat everybody who works for me. That took a lot of doing. Stanley pushed me very, very hard. I did three hundred drawings. Some of them were terrific. I have the deepest admiration for that process. It’s a process in which I engage when I’m doing my work. I drive myself crazy, I drive people who work for me nuts in the same way that Stanley did it to me. That is the nature of what you have to do if you want to do something good.

I just loved working with him. I love his mode. He is totally in a cocoon and the cocoon is bounded by the studio and there’s another cocoon at the house. Stanley travels from one cocoon to the other through a tiny little tunnel. He lives in a monastic form in his mental attitude and his emotional attitude toward what he’s doing. Stanley will unhesitatingly junk things and do them over because he thinks they can be improved, changed or made better. There may be inner anguish, but he’s cool outside. I admire that absorptive, obsessive, concentrated force field that he builds around himself. He’s an extraordinary guy.”

Rejected designs

A decade of exhibitions featuring material from the Stanley Kubrick Archive have made a few of their exchanges public, shedding light on the process in more detail. First is a letter from Bass introducing the initial presentation of work:

September (#), 1978

Dear Stanley:

Here are the five designs which surfaced out of the work done since I returned. I am excited about all of them, and I could give you many reasons why I think they would be strong and effective identifiers for the film. But the one I think is strongest is No. 1. It’s provocative, scary and emotional. It has size, and promises a picture I haven’t seen before. And it reduces beautifully. The reaction around here, by my associates, is similar. As is that of Sid Ganis, who came by a few days ago to see what was developing. Everybody responded strongly to all of them for different reasons. But interestingly, all zeroed in (without prompting) on this one, for the same reasons.

What do you think?

Best Regards,
Saul (Bass)

PS: Approach No. 5 was conceived in tandem with some copy which would run above the black sky, along the lines of: ‘Help Wanted: Caretaker for resort hotel during off-season. Snowed-in for four months. Nearest neighbor 70 miles away. etc’

Approach No. 5 (with Kubrick’s notes from his Oct 10 response)

After a bit of a delay due to filming, Kubrick responded with a letter broadly addressing the initial presentation, along with handwritten notes that detailed his thoughts on each of the designs specifically:

October 10, 1978

Dear Saul,

Tried to ring you a couple of times without success. Have very little time due to filming. I hope this note will suffice. My reaction to the ads you sent is that they are all beautifully done but I don’t think any of them are right. My specific comments are noted on the stats I’m returning with this note. May I suggest that the way to proceed is to do A GREAT MANY PENCIL ROUGHS so that we can agree on the basic art work idea before you spend a lot more time bringing a very few ideas to a stage pretty close to a finished piece of art. I think this might also get us going a lot sooner. Many editions of the novel are being published which would use our logo, once we agree on it. By the way, what happened to the face version which you showed me in London?

If you want to discuss this, I suggest you phone me in London at 9PM London time, on 9534366.

Best Regards,
Stanley (Kubrick)

CC Andy Fogelson

PS. I would like to suggest it is a film of terror – a must (and the supernatural – if possible)

Finally, the last publicly available letter, handwritten by Bass, below: