Gary Hustwit | Guest Lecture

Recently, independent film maker and photographer Gary Hustwit held a lecture at University. This was very exciting because I knew of Gary from his popular documentary films Helvetica and Objectified.

Gary Hustwit is  based in New York and London. All together, he has produced eight feature documentaries, including his first film and the award-winning “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” about the band Wilco. My first thought about Gary’s lecture was “why would he come all the way to Huddersfield?”. It turns out, that interestingly, Gary has family from Yorkshire- Husthwaite.

When in education, Gary explained that he wasn’t the best student. In the 1980’s, he was very much into punk rock- along with his friends, and would travel playing gigs under the label SST Records. From doing this he went onto writing a book called “Releasing an Independent Record”- which sold 50,000 copies. Gary then ran an independent book publishing house during the 90’s called Incommunicado Press. From doing this, it built his interest in typography and he would play around on the early versions on Macintosh computers.

In NYC, Gary bought a book shop, but soon became obsessed with the popular demand of DVD’s. Gary thought about how there wasn’t any independent film labels and asked himself why? This led onto him creating Plexifilm in 2001. Since then, Gary has been included in supporting and producing a range of films.

In 2007, he made his directorial debut with Helvetica- a documentary about Graphic Design and Typography. The film marked the beginning of a design film trilogy, with Objectified, about industrial design and product design following in 2009, and Urbanized, about the design of cities, in 2011. The films have been broadcast on PBS, BBC, HBO and television outlets in 20 countries, and have been screened in over 300 cities worldwide.


Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type.

Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day. The film was shot in high-definition on location in the United States, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium.

When creating Helvetica, Gary had never directed a film before. From producing, he knew the general procedure, however required help and support to get him going. Gary would learn the tricks of the trade, and since has moved on to creating other films such as Objectified. Now, Gary can’t watch Helvetica, because all he sees is the mistakes made or how it could better it.

Interestingly, Gary never set out to be a film-maker; the thought had never crossed his mind, but yet to this day, he is well known within the film and design industry. Gary explained that if he studied film-making, he wouldn’t be the man he is today and have gone on to creating films such as Helvetica and Objectified. Currently, Gary admitted that he is obsessed with photography- therefore his next project might be related.

During the questions and answers, Gary was asked how did he prepare himself for taking that risk of directing a film without any directing experience. To which advised; “Gage the interest in what you’re doing before you commit to it”. This is quite rewarding advice and can be applied to anything. When interviewing, Gary explained that he rarely writes down questions, and instead jots general topics. This is because he wants to conversation to seem more realistic than staged and for the communication to just flow naturally.

Overall, I found this lecture very interesting, and was glad that I took participation. Although I am not interested in film-making; it was great to hear about Gary’s career and how he got to where he is today. As well as this, I am a big fan of the film Helvetica, so when talking about that I was entirely engaged.