The upcoming documentary film “Limited Partnership” chronicles the decades-long struggle of two gay men, Richard Adams and Australian-citizen Tony Sullivan, who despite being legally married in 1975 faced a lifetime of government intervention and the ongoing threat of Tony’s deportation. Producer/Director Thomas G. Miller approached CommonGround Creative to assist with Limited Partnership’s brand identity and style guide, as well as the creation of elements used in the film and its advertising campaign.
Our Creative Director, Aaron Harvey, was excited to take on the project. Previously he and I created a poster entitled “Defend Equality” to be used in opposition to California’s Proposition 8, a state measure designed to ban gay marriage in the state forever. The final poster got caught up in the zeitgeist and became a huge success, ultimately teaching us a lot about using strong imagery and emotion to convey abstract concepts about social issues.
Defining the Brand
We therefore began the brand identity work by asking a simple question: what were the ideas behind Limited Partnership? At its core, the film is about the love and commitment that the protagonists share for one another. Their desire to express these through marriage, an institution enjoyed by millions of heterosexual Americans, was obstructed by bigotry under the guise of innocuous bureaucracy. At its core, Limited Partnership is about love despite bigotry, and commitment despite bureaucracy.
Once we’d defined this, we examined how we might convey Limited Partnership’s themes graphically. Aaron began with logo treatments, which is probably one of his favorite elements to design.
Designing the Logo
In the film, Richard and Tony are constantly receiving typed correspondence from the various government agencies, mostly negative, and some if it astonishingly bigoted. These letter become a constant theme throughout the film, so Aaron felt that a retro, typewriter font worked perfectly for the logotype, with red and black lettering conveying both bureaucracy and rejection.
For an icon, he chose to create a graphic of two silhouetted men in suits holding hands, forming an abstract letter M. This is used in lieu of the letter in the word “Limited.” This was a very simple yet powerful graphic, conveying the love and resolve of the two men. The formal wear and way the two men are conjoined at the hand also conveyed the idea of partnership and marriage. Placing the icon within the logotype, we felt, thematically leaves our protagonists “penned in” by the bureaucracy, represented by the letters surrounding the icon.
The final logo is exactly what a logo should be – simple and memorable. Our final product is the powerful image of two men uniting against the obstructing forces of bureaucracy and the status quo.
Creating the Film Poster
With the logo designed, we moved on to one of the most important pieces of the project – the film poster. Perhaps more than any other commercial product, movies are defined, remembered and celebrated for this essential component of their advertising campaigns. Long after film ad campaigns have come and gone, a good poster will remain proudly displayed in homes across America. This speaks to the power of this particular advertising piece – a good poster will help a viewer identify with the movie, establishing an emotional connection. A bad poster is forgettable.
Understanding this, we wanted to design a piece that was graphic, effective and memorable – something that would draw attention and pique interest, but also something relevant to the film’s story. And although the protagonists face a lifetime of adversity, they also share a lifetime of love and devotion, so we wanted the poster to be more positive than negative.
Moving into the design phase, we returned again to a core concept in the movie: marriage. The power of the story of Limited Partnership is that Richard and Tony only want one thing, really. They want to spend a life together, left alone to love one another as they see fit. The path to this, particularly because of citizenship issues, is marriage.
We began playing with imagery that connotes marriage. A lot of it was a little “Valentine’s Day,” and if used incorrectly would make the film appear to be a romantic comedy. Still, marriage was the defining concept of the movie, so we really wanted a viewer to look at the poster and know that this film was largely about same-sex marriage.
Aaron began exploring concepts using a wedding cake to represent marriage. His first draft included a flat-design cake with his couple silhouette serving as cake-topper. It was a nice image, but a little too “Rom-Com.” He considered ditching the concept, but I remember mentioning that I liked it because it was a very triumphant image that did tie into the film’s story very nicely. The movie is about these two men, united in love, who draw strength from their union and overcome adversity because of it. This is the protagonists’ journey, and having the poster visually indicate that they are successful felt right.
This comment got us to thinking about how we might use the imagery of the poster to not only indicate this triumph, but to represent the entire epic journey that these two men undertake together. Richard and Tony aren’t just two boyfriends who met last fall and would like to get married (which is also totally legitimate), they’re two men who shared and sacrificed throughout decades in order to stay together, navigating a constantly shifting political climate and changing social ideals.
Aaron began toying with his cake design and developed it into a brilliant concept – he could use icons relevant to Richard and Tony’s experiences and bring them together to form a wedding cake. It was a lot of work, but he pulled it off quite adroitly, creating a “faux cake” comprised of the couple’s experiences covered in the film, the two men still united at the pinnacle.
This resulted in a draft that we knew was on the right track. It was memorable, eye-catching and relevant. And it was positive, which we wanted. But we considered that it was perhaps a little too positive. The two men do share a wonderful life together, but they’re still hindered by these obnoxious on-going issues with the Department of Immigration. We wanted the poster to also convey this adversity, and so Aaron designed an additional graphic – a stylized Department of Immigration “denied” stamp, which he placed prominently over the icon cake. This perfectly balanced the piece – there’s still triumph, but it’s also clear that something stands in the way of this success, namely the U.S. Government.
The final movie poster was approved by the filmmakers, and immediately included in their indiegogo fundraising campaign. It’s great work on Aaron’s part – simple, eye-catching, memorable and relevant.
An Awesome Project
Limited Partnership is a movie over a decade in the making, and as such is a product of dedication and love on the part of its filmmakers. CommonGround Creative was proud to play a small part in the making of this film, and we truly enjoyed assisting with the branding, advertising pieces, graphics and other aspects we worked on. We believe that the movie is relevant not only for today’s audiences, but will stand as a historical document detailing social views shifting over the decades, and how this affected those living through these times.