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Latest Better Letters film launches this weekend

Lettering agency and signwriting contractor, Better Letters, is set to launch its fourth ‘When Better Letters Met’ short film this Saturday (10/04/21) which celebrates Australian showcard and ticket writer, Barbara Enright.

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A Bristol ghost sign painted by the late Cliff Headford. Image: Better Letters

Over the last four years, Better Letters has released three separate short films which document the life and work of veterans of signwriting (or sign painting as it is known in the US).

The series began when Sam Roberts of Better Letters was approached by Karen Gilmore, carer of 96-year-old former sign painter Cliff Headford. Headford had shared stories with Gilmore about his work and she highlighted a ghost sign in Bristol which Headford had painted.

Having a personal interest in ghost signs, Roberts arranged to meet with Headford along with filmmaker Dan Bassett, and the idea for a short film was born.

Bristol-based Cliff Headford was the inspiration for the first ‘When Better Letters Met’ film. Image: Better Letters

Sadly, Headford passed away between the film being documented in 2016 and screened in 2017, but Roberts describes how his surviving family were really happy to hear his voice again and to hear stories that they were familiar with again.

“We did two in a row after that”, Roberts explains. “The first one is about a guy called Joseph Samuel. He’s from Vienna in Austria and he was a fourth-generation sign painter. He still does a bit here and there but is basically retired. When he closed his shop, he kept everything in place and opened it up again as a sign painting museum.”

Joseph Samuel is a fourth-generation sign painter from Vienna. Image: Better Letters

The third in the series features Stan Wilkinson from Wokingham, UK. Roberts describes how one of Wilkinson’s major clients for many years was the Carters Steam Fair. The fair is completely hand painted and Wilkinson, working directly under the fair’s founder John Carter, developed much of the graphic identity of the fair as it is today.

The latest film in the series which features Barbara Enright is the first of the short films to feature a woman. According to Roberts, the signwriting trade is traditionally a male-dominated line of work, but he notes that it is getting “much more equal”.

Roberts continues: “Barbara did sign painting, but her main line of work was show card and ticket writing. This was normally materials that would be point-of-sale or window displays in shops, advertising promotions, and other special offers.

"That was a line of work that had a lot more women working in it because it could be done from home and wasn’t considered the heavy lifting trade side that sign painting is associated with.”

Stan Wilkinson produced much of the sign painting seen today on Carters Steam Fair. Image: Better Letters

Whilst the first film was funded by Better Letters, major outdoor painted advertisement firm Colossal Media and Right Way Signs of Chicago helped to fund the last three films. Each film is filmed, directed, produced, and edited by a different team so each one has a unique feel.

Describing the process involved in producing these films, Roberts says: “We pay the filmmakers, I would guess not their full commercial rate. A lot of them are doing these films because, yes, they get a fee, but it’s more because it’s a subject that intrigues them or interests them in some way and they feel a personal connection.

“The same for my own time, I don’t earn any money from making these films, but I feel that they’re important and something that we can give back to the world of sign painting as Better Letters.”

Australia-based Barbara Enright is a showcard and ticket writer. Image: Better Letters

‘When Better Letters Met Barbara Enright’ was first screened privately last year at a Better Letters 24-hour online event called Lockdown Letterheads. Following this, the film has been entered into a handful of awards and as well as making semi-finalist, two finals, and a special mention, won ‘Best Documentary’ at the Dam Short Film Awards in Colorado.

The film will now be released to the public for the first time on YouTube from 11.15am Saturday 10th April. Alongside the YouTube premiere, a free Zoom event will take place in which Enright will answer questions and demonstrate live sign painting.

Spaces for this virtual event are limited to 100 and you can pre-register via the Better Letters website. The first three films can also be viewed via the Better Letters website.

If you have any news, please email carys@linkpublishing.co.uk or join in with the conversation on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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