“Linotype: The Film” - 10 Years On

Ten years after the premiere of the film, I tell a few stories from behind the scenes

Published: 3 Feb 2022

Topics: Film, Linotype, Life

TL;DR: We made a film about an old machine and surprisingly, people liked it…

A Film About a More than Just a Machine

Exactly 10 years ago today, Linotype: The Film premiered at the School of Visual Arts Theatre in New York City. In some ways, I remember it like it was yesterday — in other ways, it feels like another lifetime ago.

Here is the story behind what made that night so special.

Seeing our film’s name in lights on the exterior of the SVA Theatre in NYC was a personal thrill

Taking a Big Personal Risk

As with everything in the production of the film, we put together the world premiere all on our own. Choosing to premiere the film in NYC seemed like a stretch, but isn’t that what big-time films did? And besides: the Linotype was manufactured in New York and it felt right to showcase the film in the city of where it was built.

Some of our dearest friends and family traveled from Missouri, Oregon, and Pennsylvania for the premiere

We put our own money up to rent the SVA theatre — choosing the bigger of the two screening theatres on a hunch that people would come. It was thousands of dollars that I put on my company credit card and I took a big gulp before signing the contract. “I sure hope people show up…” I thought as I also purchased $2,000,000 of liability insurance as required by the theatre.

Somehow, against all odds; people started buying tickets. As we watched the names of people buying tickets, I saw people that I highly admired and could barely believe they wanted to watch our film. I can still clearly remember the day that we sold the ticket that broke us even on the theatre rental and the wave of relief that washed over me as I realized that we wouldn’t lose money on the premiere.

Almost 400 people (!) attended the film premiere

Steven Heller - Emcee Extraordinaire

As we were planning for the premiere, I emailed the esteemed Steven Heller. I knew that he had worked as an art director at the New York Times and had written practically all of the graphic design books that I read during college. He taught at SVA and I hoped that he might be interested in the film premiere.

Author, teacher, and design legend Steven Heller introducing the film

I nervously asked if he would emcee the night and do a question & answer session with us after the film. He graciously agreed and when I offered to send him a preview of the film so he could see it before the event, he refused and said he wanted to see it for the first time along with the audience. NO PRESSURE DOUG.

Anwsering questions on the SVA stage with Brandon, Jess, and Steven

I’ll never forget the words he said to us at the end of the film, just before we went on stage for the Q&A session: “That was surprisingly good! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but you did a great job.” Hearing those words from a leader in my professional field was astonishing and humbling in equal measure.

Getting to answer audience questions was always fun and there was a healthy discussion after the premiere

Take Some Deep Breaths

You have to remember: I was just a graphic designer, a few years out of college that made a strange little documentary film about an obsolete typesetting machine with two of my best friends — and here we were in a theatre with almost 400 people and the show was about to begin.

We sold merchandise and pre-orders for the DVD which would be released several months later

I was a ball of nerves as the lights dimmed and the first frames of the film started playing. I was so nervous that there would be some sort of technical glitch with the Blu-ray disc or the projector that I couldn’t calm down. I felt that we had made a fun film, but what if the audience thought it was boring?

As the audience started laughing at the first few jokes that we had kept in the edit, it dawned on me: What we thought was funny in the editing process was actually funny and the audience wanted to laugh. What an amazing feeling. A second huge wave of relief washed over me as the end credits started rolling — no technical errors and the audience seemed to enjoy it!

One of the more popular merch items was a custom Linotype slug

“Thank You” Doesn’t Feel Like Enough

There are so many people that helped make Linotype: The Film what it became and I won’t attempt to list them all here. But here are a few groups of people that believed in us:

  • The 639 people who backed us on Kickstarter
  • The thousands of people who came to one of our 95+ screenings around the world
  • The 60+ people that we interviewed and that allowed us into their homes and lives — especially Frank Romano, Carl Schlesinger, and Tim Trower
  • The post production team of Jess, Brandon, Adam, Dax, Dana, Toshi, Jeff, Matt, and Andre
  • Allison, Kelly, and Morgan (our wives who allowed us to be away from home to follow this crazy idea)
Previewing the audio mix with Dana Dominguez in early January 2012

I am proud of so many things in making the film, but what I’m most proud of is the fact that Jess, Brandon, and myself are still good friends. A stressful, two-year endeavor like this could have driven a wedge in our friendship, but we kept our egos in check in service of telling a story we thought other people might enjoy.

Jess, myself, and Brandon - Just three fresh-faced friends who thought we could make a movie

In fact, I texted them photos of the premiere this morning and we all agreed we wished we could be 10 years younger and have the energy we had in our late twenties, but I suppose that time marches on.

The End of an Era

I’ll end this post with a screen shot from the film Farewell: etaoin shrdlu that film participant Carl Schlesinger made in 1977 when the New York Times stopped using Linotype machines in the production of the newspaper.

“The end of an era. It was good while it lasted. Crying won’t help.”

Truer words have never been written on a chalk board…

These words — written on a chalkboard in the composing room on the final night of hot-metal composition — are in the background while people give a humble toast to the Linotype and Linotype operators. I’ve since said this phrase many times; partially as a joke and partially as a sentiment of the passing of something special.

It still rings true to me today.

Further Reading & Writing