They won't buy the milk if they can get the cow for free, right? But they also won't buy the milk if all you do is show them a blank carton with the word "Milk" written on it.
Give them enough information that they know what they're walking into, but not so much that they know how it's gonna end.
The point of a movie trailer, a flyer for your show, an introduction, a logline, or a first date, is to entice the other person. And to "entice" means to "lead on by exciting hope or desire." If on a first date you ask him to choose his favorite china pattern, you tell him he needs to help more with the kids while you go back to school for your masters, and then you have a fight about his parents coming to visit too much, he probably won't go out with you again.
However, if you stay quiet during the dinner, and pass him a note that informs him of your good sense of humor, your generosity, your kindness, and your financially viability, you probably won’t have a second date then either.
Mystery is good, but at least open the shades and let them see into the house.
Years ago, I had to create the poster for a play I produced. I designed an image that I thought incapsulated the story. In hindsight, however, I realize my choice only worked if you had already seen the play.
Good movie posters usually give you an idea of what you’re going to get.
My least favorite movie poster in a very long time is the one for "Where the Crawdads Sing." I have the unfortunate experience of frequently driving by its billboard on the Henry Hudson Parkway. I can tell it's not a comedy. I can tell it has a pretty girl in it. But that's about it. Based on the poster, I am not "enticed." However, if it was just Bill Murray’s face on the poster, as in "Lost in Translation," I would assume from his past movies that I would probably enjoy it regardless of what it's about, but that’s the exception.
I decided this week's blog post topic when this movie poster appeared on my Facebook feed:
It's a Christmas movie, obvs.
It's not for children. Clearly.
It's some dark shit. Absolutely.
But the candy cane? It probably has some funny in it too.
I'll see "Violent Night." The marketing team gave me enough information that I have a rough idea of how the movie will make me feel. It's a subject matter that intrigues me: something seemingly good which exposes its dark underbelly. But it doesn't give so much information that I'm confused or overwhelmed by details, or told to care about someone I'm not yet invested in. I'm not going to pick out a china pattern with you unless I'm actually ready to marry you, see?
I often hear loglines that read something like this: "A man who’s down on his luck finds a magical charm which brings mayhem, destruction, and losing the only thing he ever loved." The beginning interests me, but the rest is so vague and abstract, that I don’t even know what I’m looking at.
When they say “mayhem” do they mean a horde of people on Black Friday?
“Destruction” like the earth caving in?
“The only thing he ever loved” like his wife? His child? His pet alien, Frankie?
I don’t even know if it’s a comedy, a thriller, or sci fi. Try this instead: "
A man who’s down on his luck is given a magical charm by the devil himself, a surprisingly disheveled and overweight redneck named Steve, who offers him everything he’s ever dreamed of, in exchange for the only thing he’s ever loved- his mother."
Here's a logline for "The Godfather":
The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
What if, instead, it read:
The head of an organized crime family gives control of the business to his son who is just back from the war.
This doesn't tell me anything about the son's conflict. It doesn't tell me that this business is old and far-reaching like that of a dynasty. It also doesn't give me an idea of the feeling of the movie as the words "patriarch," "clandestine," and "reluctant" imply.
But what if the logline read like this:
The Godfather "Don" Vito Corleone is the head of the Corleone mafia family in New York. His son Michael seems to be uninterested in being a part of the family business. At Vito's daughter's wedding, Johnny Fontane, a popular singer, seeks Vito's help in securing a movie role. Vito dispatches his consigliere, Tom Hagen, to persuade studio head Jack Woltz to give Johnny the part by leaving the severed head of his prized stallion in his bed. After Vito dies of a heart attack, Tessio asks Michael to meet with Barzini, signaling his betrayal. The meeting is set for the same day as the baptism of Connie's baby. While Michael stands at the altar as the child's godfather, his hitmen murder the dons of the Five Families and Greene, and Tessio is executed for his treachery. Michael is now considered "Don Corleone" just like his father.
I'm confused. I'm overwhelmed. And because I haven't gotten to know any of these characters yet, I don't care.
While writing this post beside my 7-year-old daughter, who was glued to the game she was playing on my iPhone, she stopped to ask me, "Why do they show me these ads where they let me play a little bit of a new game and then make me stop?" I told her, "Because they want you to want the game enough that you'll buy it."
But they're also not letting her play the whole game.
Studio folks, agents, production companies, and first date partners don't owe you anything. And in you submitting your logline, your poster, or your pitch, or yourself, you're not asking them for a favor. You're offering them something to be enticed by, so they'll want to know more. Give them something to chew on, so they'll ask for the menu.
But whatever you do, don't tell them their mother visits too often.