Shepard Fairey’s OBEY Origins Made Into a Movie: Meet the 22-Year-Old Director

Twenty years on, Andre the Giant still Has a Posse, and now the subversive sticker campaign that ignited Shepard Fairey‘s worldwide propaganda delivery system gets its cinematic due in Obey the Giant, a narrative film that makes it online debut today (watch it above). Director Julian Marshall is fresh out of the Rhode Island School of Design, Fairey’s alma mater and the setting for the 23-minute film. Based on the true story of Fairey’s first act of street art, Obey the Giant is something of a portrait of the artist as a young skate punk–challenging a big-city mayor (the oleaginous Buddy Cianci, played by Keith Jochim) and the powers that be at art school.

“We moved heaven and earth to make this film,” Marshall (pictured below) told us of the ambitious project, for which he raised $65,000 through Kickstarter last spring. “Pre-production was about six weeks. We had to build an army of people, elaborate sets, a 27,000-pound billboard, and pull together an insane amount of props from the 1990s. It was an amazing time though. My crew and I truly became a family.” The Washington, D.C. native, now based in NYC and at the helm of his own film production company, told us more about how Obey the Giant came to be and the hot-button issue he’s planning to tackle next.

How and when did you first encounter Shepard Fairey’s work?
I first encountered Shep’s work on my first skateboard back in the 90s. I had just bought a World Industries deck and the shop owner slapped an “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker on it.

What compelled you to make a film about him?
One morning, I was lying in bed, staring at the OBEY icon poster on my wall that Shep had given me when I interned for him, and I thought: Well, what better story to tell as a RISD student than a story of a RISD student? I had the connection to Shep having worked for him, so I emailed his wife, Amanda, pitched her the project, and a week later I heard back and she said, “Okay, Shepard’s really excited about the project, come out to L.A. and let’s talk about it.”

How did you decide on the format of this project, in terms of making it a narrative film rather than a documentary?
Documentaries don’t particularly interest me from a directorial standpoint. I love the intensity and edginess of the process of making motion pictures. So naturally, when I first thought of this story, I conceived of it in narrative terms.

What aspects of this film/story do you think will most surprise viewers?
I think that there are two surprising elements to this film. One element is that the notorious mayor of Providence, Buddy Cianci, managed to commit a long list of political crimes but retained the love and support of his city. The second element is that Shepard Fairey had very humble beginnings. This isn’t the story of the global OBEY GIANT street art campaign as we know it today. This is the story of the first billboard Shepard ever bombed.

Finally, what’s next for you? Any projects in the works that you can tell us about?
The gun control debate in this country is reaching a perilous climax. I am currently writing a story that deals with these themes.