When I started in this business, there were only a handful of trailer companies. Now it seems as if there are dozens of them competing to make trailers for the same movies. Studios often hire several companies to work on a film, and each company uses several writers, so I am just one of many people submitting ideas. I realize most of what I do will never see the light of a projector. Fortunately, I still get paid. I’ve learned to think of my work as scaffolding. I know it’ll probably get torn down, but they couldn’t erect the building without it. Sometimes, though, my work does get used, and if I’m lucky I may even find out about it.
Years ago, I worked on a print campaign for an action movie called The Peacemaker, which starred George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. My client was looking for very conceptual material; this was early in their promotional campaign, and his aim was to pique people’s curiosity and get the title out there. I finished the job, months passed, and one night I went out to the movies. The poster for The Peacemaker was hanging in the lobby, and my line was on it, set against a blue sky. (The line: “How do you get the world’s attention?”) It looked nice in an understated way. The next day, I mentioned this to an L.A. client who’s a good friend. He told me he saw the line every night driving home because it was on a huge billboard overlooking Sunset Blvd. I’m glad we had that chat. D.C. always did look different from L.A., and now I know it’s not just the lack of palm trees, it’s the missing billboards.
I get hired more often for trailers and TV campaigns than for print jobs, but I love working on posters. Since they’re usually looking for a short, catchy line as opposed to a sustained sequence of ideas, I can work on them anywhere—the grocery line, the hairdresser’s, the dentist’s chair. And if I do nail the line, there’s less chance they’re going to meddle with it. It’s like finger-painting; play around with it too long and it all turns to sludge.
I think I know good copy when I hear it or see it. But when it comes to writing it, even after all this time, the process is still somewhat of a mystery. Sometimes, I luck out and ideas come flying out of my head. Other jobs feel like 48-hour root canals. I never know when inspiration will strike, so I’ve got post-its and note pads in my car, by my bed, all over the place. I sometimes wake up in the middle night with an idea and scribble it down. The trouble is, I’ve got lousy handwriting, and half the time I can’t read what I wrote when I wake up the next morning.
But there are times when I think I’m onto something: “If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones.” I had a feeling the people behind Temple of Doom would like that line, and they did. Most of the time, I have no clue what they’ll go for, so I figure it’s best to let it all out and hope they’re not rolling their eyes and deleting my e-mail address while they’re reading what I’ve submitted. I once sent a copy line to a very hip print client for a ghost story that I knew would wind up with state-of-the art special effects. They called me back laughing, but we all knew we’d never get away with it. The line was just two words: “No sheet.” One of my all-time favorite taglines is one I didn’t write for a film I never saw, a B-horror flick called Chopping Mall. The line goes something like: “Everything here costs an arm and a leg.”
Tonight, I’ve just finished work on a trailer for a Christmas comedy. Hope I was funny. I hit the send button and launch my scripts into the virtual world. Whether they’re headed for the screen or the shredder is out of my hands.
It’s been a long day, and I’m zoning out in my office when my son wanders in. I look at my watch. It’s 9 o’clock. He’s 8 years old. We need to get him up by 7 a.m. to make the bus for camp, and he’s not a morning person either, although he’s wide awake now. On top of that, he hasn’t had dessert yet; I promised him s’mores and we’re out of Hershey bars. The hardest and best job I do is still ahead of me.