WHAT'S THE POSTER?Complications Ensue
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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Every now and then I read a screenplay that's a bit weak in the hook department. Another way of telling what the hook for a movie is: what's the poster? What's the catchy slogan, what's the graphic?

If you can't come up with a basic poster idea that could sell the movie, you may not actually have a movie.

Granted, many posters aren't very interesting, they're just the two stars looking serious or happy or whatever. But then there's a catchy slogan that sums it up for you. Predator 2 wasn't that much of a movie, but I loved the slogan: "He's in town with a few days to kill."

Someone coined the expression "like-a-joke" to describe filler jokes in sitcoms that somehow never get replaced by real jokes. They have the timing of jokes: setup, punchline. The laughtrack tells you it's a joke. But it is not, actually, funny.

Some of the screenplays I read are sort of "like-a-movies." They resemble movies in that they have characters, locations, action and dialog. But they're missing any reason for anyone to go see them. Since the point of a movie is for people to go see it, that makes these not-quite-movies.

Samuel Arkoff used to take the posters to his buyers. If they bought the movie based on the poster, he hired someone to figure out what that movie should be, and write the script. Otherwise, he didn't even bother commissioning a script. (This got him in trouble when he made The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes! and forgot to put in anything with a million eyes, but read his autobiography, Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants: From the Man Who Brought You I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Music Beach Party, for that story.) A lot of blockbusters seem to start this way: concept, director, stars, greenlight, then script. Which doesn't leave much time for a good script. But that's also another story.

What's the poster for your movie? Can you come up with anything better than a couple of stars in closeup? Why not?

What's the slogan? What can you say in a sentence or two that draws us to see your movie?

Now granted, I suspect more people go to see movies based on trailers than based on posters. And often the poster doesn't need to do more than tell you Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are in yet another romantic comedy. But it's still a worthwhile exercise. If it helps you crystallize the goods your screenplay needs to deliver, then you're a step ahead...


Now you're talking, Alex. This is the world I live in - poster and concept first, then the script.

I wrote about it here:

By Blogger Cunningham, at 2:39 PM  

Bill and I talked about this just a little bit ago and how D2DVDs get so much (all?) of their shelf appeal from the art on the DVD case.

I rented "Legion of the Dead" just last night for just this reason -- a cool case with hordes of mummies swarming before red-dust shrouded pyramids. Imagine my irritation when there are only 7 mummies in the movie!

By Blogger Steve Peterson, at 2:59 PM  

I don't think poster art has that much of an effect on a lot of people these days. In fact, a lot of the poster art these days is lacking if not downright abysmal, as was, for example, with the last Bond movie "Die Another Day." You would've expected a hell of a lot better than Brosnan and Halle each posing side by side with a gun in hand. What's the movie in that? There isn't any, and there wasn't. Well, maybe in that case the poster art unintentionally reflected some truth. And sure, maybe the Bond people don't need to rely on poster art anymore to sell their product so any old thing will do just fine. But what presently drives most people into films, or away from them, is marketing hype overkill and excessively produced trailers drilled into everyone's head by every means possible. The trailers in particular are the poster art of today. Seriously, very few of today's poster art can be viewed as being anywhere near on a creative par with what regularly came out in the heyday period of the '50s and '60s for poster art, a lot of which back then were unmistakeably designed to incite one into seeing a movie, especially since marketing hype overkill hadn't evolved into the junk skill it has become. Not only that, but poster art is even disappearing from where they have been often published, in newspapers. How often are they seen with any frequency in them? And who buys newspapers today anyway? Not the target 18-34 demo group. So, I think if you're going to write a script, it's not the poster it would have, it's the kind of trailer that it can be that would determine if the movie would be saleable or not. And even then it's all still a crapshoot.

By Blogger Uniquester, at 6:34 PM  

"He's out to prove he's got nothing to prove..."

One of my favorite poster taglines from Napoleon Dynamite.

By Blogger Matthew Reynolds, at 8:13 PM  

Gives new meaning to the term "hat trick."

By Blogger Cunningham, at 11:41 PM  

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