Alien movie poster

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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