BIZ TIP TUESDAY:

TAGLINES


The night before jetting off to the Austin Film Festival a few years ago, I saw my 18th film, CROOKED, at a screening on the Warner Bros. lot. This was one of the handful of times I had not been on set for the shoot, and I had no idea what the film would look like. Actually, I had a clue - they had shown me the trailer which had many differences than the screenplay. I expected a few changes...

But never expected that they would have changed everything. They even changed the *concept* of the script! The script (online here, somewhere) is about a pair of homicide detectives who must guard the only person to ever see the mob's #1 hitman and lived. Except in the film she doesn't witness a mob hit, and the mob's #1 hitman isn't part of the story... and the two detectives and witness are nothing like they are in the script - completely different characters! The only thing they didn't change was the tagline I'd put on the title page of the script: "Two Cops. One Witness. One Hundred Hitmen. You Do The Math." That tagline was on the film's poster and on the huge wall-sized banner they had at American Film Market.

It sucks

So when I arrive at Austin and sit on my first panel, the moderator introduces me with a quick bio that ends with his excited reading of the tagline for CROOKED. He thinks it's great, and every time I'm on a panel that he's moderating, he can't wait to say that tagline. In fact, on the last panel he said "This is Bill Martell and the only thing you need to know about his 18th film is: Two Cops. One Witness. One Hundred Hitmen. You Do The Math." That tagline!

So you may be wondering "What is a tagline"? It's not the same as a logline.

A tagline is that sentence on the poster: "In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream". "Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water." It's kind of a slogan - a catchy piece of ad copy designed to sell the film.

The logline is a 1-3 sentence synopsis of your story (usually 1 sentence). Usually when they ask for a logline, they just want to know what the heck your story is about without reading the script. You want your logline to contain the essence of the story *and* trigger the imagination (so that they want to read your script to find out the details of what happens). In Hollywood a script with an interesting, unique, involving idea is gold - so decisions to buy a script are often made on logline alone. They can always hire someone to rewrite a bad script, but a brilliantly written script with a dull idea can't be "fixed". Of course, what you want is a brilliantly written script with a great idea.

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But once they buy the script and make it into a film, the marketing department is going to try to come up with an amazing tagline to put on the poster in order to sell the film. As writers, we can be our own marketing department and use taglines to sell our scripts. For over a decade I've been coming up with taglines for my scripts and putting them on the title pages... and 99% of the time those taglines end up on the movie poster after they make the films!

Eric Swartz at Tagline Guru .com surveyed 500 advertising and marketing professionals with an initial list of 1,500 movie taglines whittled down to 300, and these were voted the Top 100 Movie Taglines of all time.

The Top 100 Movie Taglines:
1. In space no one can hear you scream. - Alien (1979)
2. Houston, we have a problem. - Apollo 13 (1995)
3. They're back. - Poltergeist II (1986)
4. We are not alone. - Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
5. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. - Jaws 2 (1978)
6. Who ya gonna call? - Ghostbusters (1984)
7. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... - Star Wars (1977)
8. Be afraid. Be very afraid. - The Fly (1986)
9. The list is life. - Schindler's List (1993)

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10. Earth. It was fun while it lasted. - Armageddon (1998)
11. An epic of miniature proportions. - A Bugs Life (1998)
12. They're here. - Poltergeist (1982)
13. You won't believe your eye. - Mosters, Inc. (2001)
14. Things are about to get a little hairy. - An American Werewolf in Pairs (1997)
15. Love is in the hair. - There's Something About Mary (1998)
16. The horror...the horror. - Apocalypse Now (1979)
17. The ultimate trip. - 2001: A Space Odyssy (1968)
18. An adventure 65 million years in the making. - Jurrasic Park (1993)
19. They're young...they're in love...and they kill people. - Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
20. The classic story about a boy and his mother. - Psycho (1998)
21. The mission is a man. - Saving Private Ryan (1998)
22. You'll believe a man can fly. - Superman (1978)
23. The true story of a real fake. - Catch Me If You Can (2002)
24. Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free. - Shawshank Redemption (1994)
25. Buy the ticket, take the ride. - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
26. The coast is toast. - Volcano (1997)
27. Are you in or out? - Ocean's Eleven (2001)
28. The biggest mother of them all. - Mommie Dearest (1981)
29. One nation under the gun. - Bowling for Columbine (2002)
30. This is the weekend they didn't play golf. - Deliverance (1972)
31. A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood. - A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
32. This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future. - The Graduate (1967)
33. Five good reasons to stay single. - Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
34. Life is like a box of chocolates...you never know what you're gonna get. - Forest Gump (1994)
35. He's having the day of his life...over and over again. - Groundhog Day (1993)
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36. This time, it's personal. - Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
37. This ain't no chick flick. - Chicken Run (2000)
38. Garbo laughs. - Ninotchka (1939)
39. Even a hit man deserves a second shot. - Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
40. Fifty million people watching but no one saw a thing. - Quiz Show (1994)
41. The first casualty of war is innocence. - Platoon (1986)
42. There's something about your first piece. - American Pie (1999)
43. Nice guys finish last. Meet the winners. - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
44. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll hurl. - Wayne's World (1992)
45. Nice planet. We'll take it! - Mars Attacks! (1996)
46. Get a grip of yourself. - Spanking the Monkey (1994)
47. See it with a bud. - Dazed and Confused (1993)
48. Don't get mad. Get everything. - First Wives Club, The (1996)
49. Eight legs, two fangs, and an attitude. - Arachnaphobia (1990)
50. Have a wonderful time, wish I was here. - Postcards from the Edge (1990)
51. Family isn't a word. It's a sentence. - The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
52. Does for rock and roll what "The Sound of Music" did for hills. - This is Spinal Tap (1984)
53. Catch it. - Saturday Night Fever (1977)
54. A comedy from the heart that goes from the throat. - As Good As It Gets (1997)
55. Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas. - Army of Darkness (1992)
56. Meet the Marquis de Sade. The pleasure's all his. - Quills (2000)
57. Eternity is closer than you think. - Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
58. What's eating you? - Jeepers Creepers (2001)
59. No actual Europeans were harmed in the making of this film. - EuroTrip (2004)
60. He's out to prove he's got nothing to prove. - Napolean Dynamite (2004)
61. The bitch is back. - Alien3 (1992)
62. This might hurt a little. - Sicko (2007)
63. His story will touch you, even though he can't. - Edward Scissorhands (1990)
64. These women are serious about their taste in men. - Cannibal Woman of the Avocado Jungle of Death
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65. Yule crack up. - Christmas Vacation (1989)
66. Success didn't go to his head, it went to his neighbor. - Envy (2004)
67. If at first you don't succeed, lower your standards. - Tommy Boy (1995)
68. A man went looking for American and couldn't find it. - Easy Rider (1969)
69. Everyone has one special thing. - Boogie Nights (1997)
70. Every dream has a price. - Wall Street (1987)
71. Great trilogies come in threes. - Scarey Movie 3 (2003)
72. Thank God it's only a motion picture. - Airplane! (1980)
73. From the brother of the director of Ghost. - Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994)
74. ...and remember, the next scream you hear may be your own! - The Birds (1963)
75. Check your soul at the door. - Club Vampire (1998)
76. He's been humiliated, kicked, and spat on...and it's only 10:00 am. - Swimming With Sharks (1994)
77. After a night they can't remember comes a day they'll never forget. - Dude, Where's My Car? (2000)
78. Ding dong. You're dead. - House (1986)
79. Friends are the people who let you be yourself...and never let you forget it. - Waiting to Exhale (1995)
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80. Exorcise your rites. - The Craft (1996)
81. No mercy. No shame. No sequel. - Scarey Movie (2000)
82. Get an Afterlife. - Casper (1995)
83. Nothing is as simple as black and white. - Pleasantville (1998)
84. Part mystery. Part thriller. Part missing. - Lake Placid (1999)
85. Evil has an upgrade. - Jason X (2001)
86. Wanna date? - Frankenhooker (1990)
87. Good girls want him bad. Bad girls want him worse. - Cry-Baby (1990)
88. There is no gene for the human spirit. - Gattaca (1997)
89. Buy a bag, go home in a box. - Popcorn (1991)
90. What's a little sex between friends? - Kate's Addictions (1999)
91. From zero to hero. - The Mask (1994)
92. What the one doesn't have, the other is missing. - Dumb and Dumber (1994)
93. One dream. Four Jamaicans. Twenty below zero. - Cool Runnings (1993)
94. M*A*S*H gives a D*A*M*N - M*A*S*H (1970)
95. Bernie may be dead, but he's still the life of the party! - Weekend at Bernie's (1989)
96. Love Kills. - Sid and Nancy (1986)
97. Vietnam can kill me, but it can't make me care. - Full Metal Jacket (1987)
98. This Christmas, the snow hits the fan. - Santa Clause, The (1994)
99. Sex. Clothes. Popularity. Is there a problem here? - Clueless (1995)
100. He charges $10 but he's willing to negotiate. - Duece Bigalow: Male Gigolo (1999)

Two reasons why you might want to come up with taglines for your scripts:

1) A variation of Know Thy Enemy - if you start to think like a producer, really try to figure out how your story can be advertized and sold to the ticket buyers, you will have a much better idea how to sell your script to producers. We're creative types, and often have trouble thinking like businessmen. The problem is, we won't see our scripts on screen without those businessmen. We need producers! So we need to be able to talk to them, and it helps us if we know how they think. Putting on the "producer's hat" is something I frequently do to make sure my script not only meets my needs as storyteller but the producer's needs as a businessman. I want to write a script that a producer will want to buy and an audience will want to see.

2) I get a little more control over the marketing of the film made from my script... and often help sell my script by showing the producer how they will sell the film. "I don't know how we can sell this script?" "Here's how!" If you provide the answer, you're closing the deal. You're doing some of the work for the producer, but that allows you some control in the way they market your film.

Some of my taglines:
"You can't escape your past... life."
"Man's best friend has just become man's worst enemy."
"He knows where you live... He knows when you're home... He has the keys to your apartment."
"Every family has secrets... This one has teeth."
"Seeing is no longer believing."
"Sometimes the best lie is the truth."
"Four cameras. Four angles. Four different killers?"
"The deeper you dive... the darker it gets."

So, your assignment for today is to write taglines for all of your scripts. Imagine the poster... and imagine what the tagline on that poster says. It may help you to go to imdb.com an read the taglines for some of your favorite movies. Once your script is sold and becomes a movie, how will they sell it? If you don't know the answer (and you created the story) how do you expect some marketing guy at the studio to know?

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