Posted by Susan Doll on August 30, 2010
Earlier this week, I found myself leafing through the sellsheets for those outrageous productions that straight-to-DVD companies market to Facets, hoping that we will carry them for our online rent-by-mail service or in our videotheque. I like to poke through these sheets every so often, because they are truly good for a laugh. Either the films themselves are unbelievably bad, or the sell copy is so poorly written, it was surely spit out by a committee of marketing illiterates. Since, I like sharing a good chuckle, I thought I would let my readers in on the fun.
My new favorite bad movie, which I probably will never watch, but I am amused that it even exists, is a horror film called Squeal. From what I can gather from the sellsheet, which is short on storyline but heavy with taglines, it’s a monster movie about a man-pig whose face has porcine features, including a snout for a nose. For all those women who have dating histories similar to mine, a plethora of jokes are probably running through your head, as they did for me. But, I won’t go there; just know that I can relate. Anyway, the tagline at the top of the sellsheet blares, “Terror Has a New Face,” while the tagline on the actual DVD case reads, “Meat Is Murder.” The sellsheet swears that this film is not just any bad horror flick, because it has credentials. After all, it was the official selection for the Severed Head Film Festival.
Vondie Curtis Hall, Illeana Douglas, and Lara Flynn Boyle were all highly touted film or television actors at one time. Sadly, they are now costarring in a slice-of-ghetto-life called Life Is Hot in Cracktown, which emulates Crash in its intertwining stories that all come together at the end. The filmmakers could afford only four intertwining stories in their production, but one of them is about a pre-op transsexual prostitute who is working on her relationship with her lover, a small-time burglar. I thought that plotline was worth at least two of those found in Crash, and besides Life Is Hot in Cracktown is based on a “best-selling” novel. At least, that’s what the sellsheet claims. The tagline suggests: “Be Cool. Life is Cool. You’re so Cool in Cracktown.” Good advice, no matter where you live.
If you are looking for a “Comedy that Scores!,” look no further than The Puck Hogs, a “laugh riot” that chronicles a men’s recreational hockey team. The writers of the sell copy swear that it’s in the tradition of This Is Spinal Tap, so they have dubbed their movie a “hock-u-mentary.” However, the sellsheet describes it as a fictional narrative with no reference to satirizing documentary conventions or characteristics, which made Spinal Tap so funny. According to the marketing crew at Peace Arch Entertainment, The Puck Hogs is a “hock-u-mentary comedy about ice-prone boys turning into real-life men, and stick handling the puck over the goal line of life.” Perhaps the writers just wanted to use the new word they made up—“hock-u-mentary,” like Spinal Tap was dubbed a mockumentary. Judging by the sellsheet and the poster (see left), the marketing team was way too excited about their blonde model and sexual puns to be concerned with what the film was actually about.
There is an art to crafting a good tagline or headline, and I will admit that I am not very good at it. But, I am the Hemingway of taglines compared to some I have read over the years. The sellsheet by Cinema Guild for the recent DVD release of CineVardaPhoto, three films by the wonderful Agnes Varda, does not do justice to this legendary French New Wave director. A burst promises this release to be “The First DVD from Agnes Varda Since the Incredibly Popular The Beaches of Agnes.” The tagline implies that it has been a long time since Beaches was issued on DVD, when it was actually just last year. Also the three films in CineVardaPhoto were actually shot by Varda in 1962, 1982, and 2004. Because the home-viewing market detests old material, the marketers were trying to deflect attention from the release dates by using a tagline to imply that CineVardaPhoto was her follow-up film to The Beaches of Agnes. I would have crafted a headline that touted Varda’s identity as a seminal figure in the French New Wave while recognizing that she is still delivering fresh, new perspectives on the cinema. But, then again, at Facets, we don’t have a problem with material that is “old.”
Occasionally, marketers of straight-to-video DVDs seem to recognize that their movies are junk produced for bottom-of-the-barrel markets, and their taglines seem almost tongue-in-cheek. I wonder if most marketers are that self-aware, or if I am giving them too much credit. For Terror Inside, a thriller starring Corey Feldman about a virus causing bloody mutilations in his hometown, the marketers came up with: “If You Lived Here . . . You’d Be Dead by Now.” Often, copy writers will deliberately rip-off recent or familiar taglines from Hollywood blockbusters. If “Dragons Will Battle” sounds familiar, it is probably because you heard or saw “Titans Will Clash” a few months ago when Clash of the Titans was in the theaters. By the way, “Dragons Will Battle” is supposed to compel you to add the “visually spectacular, fantasy adventure” Fire & Ice: The Battle Begins to your Netflix queue.
I have a love-hate relationship with badly written sellsheets. On the one hand, they make me laugh out loud; on the other, they are a sad reflection on the educational system in our country. Did these writers go to college? If so, why don’t they have a basic command of grammar and punctuation? I suspect most sell-copy writers come from a marketing or business background; if that is true, business schools or university marketing departments need to re-evaluate their programs. A good example of what I am talking about is a press release from the sales department of Virgil Films and Entertainment for a horror film directed by actor Michael Imperioli, costar of The Sopranos, Life on Mars, and most recently, Detroit 187. The press release announces, “Off of its Theatrical Release Virgil Films is releasing THE HUNGRY GHOSTS, this November 2nd. . . This movie tells the story of 5 people of different ages, races, and backgrounds with each searching for sensual, emotional, and spiritual fulfillment. SEX, LOVE, DRUGS, GOD: What are your hungry for? Welcome to THE HUNGRY GHOSTS.” I quoted from the release word for word: In those two sentences, there was a double preposition at the very beginning, a misplaced modifier, the use of the words “releasing” and “release” in the same sentence, the incorrect capping of “Theatrical Release,” the unnecessary inclusion of the “nd” after November 2, and missing commas.
Rarely missing from a sellsheet, however, is the ever-popular exclamation point. It remains the punctuation of choice for promotional copy everywhere!!!!!!!!!!
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