Independent Poster Artist Seeks Help Regarding 'Oldboy' Art Rip-Off
by Alex Billington
November 29, 2013
What do you do if your concept/design work is ripped off without any recognition? Who do you turn to for help? In this day and age, it's the internet. Earlier in the week I received messages pointing me to a post online (an open letter found here) by independent designer Juan Luis Garcia who claims that he did work and pitched Oldboy poster concepts to a design agency, who then took his ideas and created similar work without paying or recognizing his contributions at all. Garcia then tweeted to Oldboy director Spike Lee to gain some extra attention, and the response from the filmmaker was even more disgusting than the rip-off.
In his original open letter to Spike Lee (which has since been removed from his website), Garcia explains "in January I was approached by an ad agency that was hired to design posters for your new film, Oldboy." After working exclusively for two months and submitting a few of his concepts, he was told that "Spike loved a couple of the posters. Yours is going to be the key art." The deal they offered to license his work was very low and he declined, attempting to negotiate but was treated very poorly by the agency, eventually moving on without anything. "The worst part of all this is that I never even got paid the peanuts they owed me," he said. Months later and the real Oldboy posters arrive and guess what - they're very obviously similar to his.
Here's a visual example of one of Juan Luis Garcia's concepts compared to the official Oldboy poster design:
Garcia was the same designer who posted some of his Oldboy examples online in a portfolio this year that ended up spreading around the blogosphere before being redacted/removed entirely by the studios. In his letter, Garcia posted examples of his work compared to the final Oldboy posters that the agency did sell and the concepts are very similar. It's obvious what happened, unfortunately, and now here's an independent artist, a guy working his ass off for the love of movies, getting screwed over. In his final paragraph he wrote:
"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 am a fan of your storytelling and respect your success as a filmmaker, artist, and person. I definitely relate to your passion for the Knicks and competition, just ask my wife and family. I wish you nothing but success with Oldboy and all of your future projects. 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."
A level-headed and humble way to approach a troubling situation. Just an independent artist asking for help the only way he knows how. Garcia then took to twitter, where Spike Lee has been over-active recently, and tweeted directly at him: "@SpikeLee Mr Lee I have written you an open letter regarding the Oldboy key art. Please find it within you to read it." It took a few days, but Spike Lee eventually responded to him. And it's not the response you would expect. Not at all. It's shockingly and surprisingly careless for someone who is also an independent artist. To be frank, it's just disgusting and reprehensible. Here's his tweet about Garcia:
I Never Heard Of This Guy Juan Luis Garcia,If He Has A Beef It's Not With Me.I Did Not Hire Him,Do Not Know Him.Cheap Trick Writing To Me.YO
— Spike Lee (@SpikeLee) November 28, 2013
Many, many film people responded to Spike's tweet with honest replies condemning him and his statement:
@SpikeLee Or it might be the last resort of a desperate man? Could be BS, but surely worth a call or two, given it's your movie?
— Nev Pierce (@nevpierce) November 28, 2013
@SpikeLee whether you wanted it or not, now you know and if you don’t act you are as guilty as that scumbag of agency.
— Guillermo Siliceo (@grillermo) November 28, 2013
Wow. "Cheap trick"? That is ridiculous! It doesn't even make sense, especially if "Spike loved a couple of the posters." Of course the agency didn't tell Spike who made the artwork, and in the end he doesn't even care. Responding to another person on Instagram (via The Guardian), Spike continued showing his true colors: "Why Should I Pay Someone Who I Never Met Nor Had Any Contact With Ever? He Never Made Any Deal With Me. Why Don't You Pay Me For Your Stupid Text On Thanksgiving Day?" (See comments for source.) Unbelievable. It's insane he would respond like this to such a openly emotional and heartfelt plea for help.
So now it's up to us, the rest of us who really do care about artist integrity and treating creative people fairly and appropriately, to spread the word about this. Spike Lee is making things much worse by commenting so rudely to someone being so nice about this. The good news is that Oldboy is being bashed by critics like no other and will probably end up flopping huge this week. Which means that despite all this, despite all the hoopla and hype around the agency being so concerned with their art, it doesn't even matter in the end. But that doesn't mean Garcia should leave empty handed and walk away with nothing but shame and sadness.
The open letter was posted on November 26th this week but the page where it was located now shows up blank. However, a check of the Google Cache version shows that Garcia posted an updated on the 27th: "I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming support. I have read most of your messages and emails and I promise to respond and update as things develop." We haven't heard much since (aside from Spike Lee), but I'm sure all of this attention has escalated this to the top, likely evoking the ire of the agency but at the same time the support of others who believe in Garcia and his plight. Above all, we think it's important to write about this story to shed some light on the troubled design agency culture and abuse of intellectual property.