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The Copywriter

Alien movie poster

Alien movie poster

“In Hollywood, No One Can Hear the Copywriter Scream.”

A sometimes thankless job in a niche industry, the film advertising copywriter is employed to hone a film’s creative direction into a phrase or sentence, known as a copyline or tagline. Copylines appear in movie posters, film trailers, and other material used to market a motion picture. A well thought out piece of copy can help deliver that extra edge a studio executive is looking for in the film marketing sweepstakes.

The most famous and well-known copyline would have to be:

“In space, no one can hear you scream.”

The tagline appeared on posters for the Ridley Scott sci-fi horror touchstone Alien, and was written by copywriter Barbara Gips for 20th Century Fox. The line does exactly what it was designed to do: advertise the fact the film combines the two genres of horror and science fiction.

A copywriter, often working on a freelance basis, can be called on to generate hundreds of taglines over the course of a film poster’s design/revision process, which can last anywhere from a few months to over a year. You’d be surprised how much work it takes to get to a single line, even when it ends up being a quote taken from the film itself, such as the famous tagline “They’re here.” from the film Poltergeist.

For film trailers, the copywriter is given a few sentences to summarize a film’s plot in conjunction with the appropriate trailer imagery. (The shorthand for trailer copy seems to be: “In a world…” [setup film’s plot] “…but now…” [setup film’s conflict]. Regardless, the trailer voiceover copy will sound better coming from “the voice of God” Don LaFontaine. Trailers get a better explanation in an “entry” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

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4 Comments

  1. Andrew Tonkin, a writerApril 27, 2005 at 6:03 AMReply

    More on this copy thing: A Variety article someone reprinted and
    left available, even though they probably shouldn’t have.

    The pay in the $25,000 – $50,000 per project range (plus bonus) is not something I’ve encountered. I must find out who’s paying that and speak with them!

  2. filmgoerjuanApril 27, 2005 at 11:30 PMReply

    One of my favourite taglines is for Deliverance: “This is the weekend they didn’t play golf”.

  3. nkwoodwardApril 29, 2005 at 6:32 AMReply

    My website includes a Tagline Quiz: test your knowledge of the famous and infamous, the funniest, and most groan-inducing taglines Hollywood ever wrote.
    http://users.rcn.com/nkwoodward/ephemera/taglines.htm

  4. Matthew PattinsonJanuary 4, 2011 at 5:32 PMReply

    Top post – always good to read discussion on what has to be one of the greatest movie taglines penned to date. As a copywriter who specialises in tagline design and a movie freak to boot, it’s always good to join the conversation. The Alien tagline not only boasts emotional impact, it also subtly alludes to the fact that the movie is a horror, sci-fi hybrid.

    Recently wrote a post analysing the ‘In space no one can hear you scream’ tagline, so hope on over to http://creativepen.co.uk/2010/12/01/tagline-design-analysis-alien-movie-poster-tagline/

    to check it out.

    thanks again for the post!!

    Matt

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