MMP 2016 event

Taglines and Marketing

Julian Friedmann


J: Hello, today we want to discuss Taglines … and then a bit of marketing of co-productions as well.

The opening words were supposed to have been given by Julian Friedmann, our MMP Resident for Literary, but unfortunately today (14 Nov 2017) he has to be in the UK at the funeral of his business partner in Blake Friedmann , Ms. Blake.

He has however sent a passage on Taglines to be read here, so I do so in his stead: 

“It’s better to have loved and died than never to have loved at all” doesn’t tell you much about the unsinkability of large passenger liners, but it does tell you something about yourself. We all want to know whether we have loved or been loved as much as was possible, whether we could do it better, and even whether it is worth dying for.

Only some teenage boys want to know how a huge ship sinks. But the audience who went repeatedly to see Cameron’s film was primarily teenage girls and women, who didn’t care about the ship.

The point of this is that tag lines connect with audiences at an emotional level. The other dramaturgical word for doing that is ‘theme’. It is always useful when selling a film to be able to suggest genre, but theme is the gold dust. Sprinkle it on your listeners when pitching, or on the audience in the cinema, and they will become more interested.

It is up to producers to push writers – if they are not pushing themselves – to make sure that the story has a theme, and that theme permeates almost every part of the film.

The reason is simple: people are interested in themselves and if you can show them something about themselves they will appreciate it. In my opinion the best way to do this is the way that enables the largest audience (old, young, male and female) to connect with your story. The tag line therefore needs a kind of simple universality that ‘anyone’ can connect to.

The underlying theme is different from the description of the narrative: so a TV series might be about the family of a Mafia boss, but the underlying theme is about a man’s sexual inadequacy. It can be about the fact that the most powerful men are sometimes the weakest.

One of the most misquoted lines about a movie is ‘Jaws in space’: it tells you what kind of movie it is. But it does not tell you what it is really about, that is done with the line ‘In space no one can hear you scream’.

If your story can be seen to have depth – and a few words in a tag line can convey that promise – then it will attract audiences. Whether you deliver on that is another matter. Knowing the theme should provide ideas for tag lines BEFORE the script is written; that is likely to ensure that the story does have a universality about it.

So who is responsible for tag lines? I once met a new production company in Hollywood who had put out a call for scripts. When I sat down in their office they admitted that until recently they were a design company, who came up with posters for Studio films and also the tag lines on the posters. While looking for business they made up some posters for imaginary films. One studio liked the poster so much they offered to finance the film.

In other words anyone can come up with tag lines and everyone writing should work out the theme underlying the story they want to tell.

If you have an idea for a story remember that there are many ways to tell the same story. The ones that are successful are usually those that can simply communicate a promise of an emotionally rewarding experience to the widest possible audience.

There is a saying: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Make everyone in the audience identify with one or more of your characters and you will have a hit.

A good tag line can make a sweeping promise that connects almost on a visceral level with almost everyone.

In the early days of the Media Programme and the scramble for European co-productions, there was an interesting tag that is relevant here: ‘local is universal’. Make me experience what happens to your characters who ever and where ever they are, and I will like your movie. “ 

Christo Dermendjiev


J: Well do we agree with that or don’t we? What do you think, Christo?


CHRISTO DERMENJIEV,(A Plus Films, Bulgaria, Distributor/Producer) :

Working with the U.S. majors, the importance of Taglines in my distribution activity has been large. Since it’ s all about pitching a product to the public using taglines on posters.

Taglines that are used inside the profession for projects that are under way are different, and that task is actually more difficult – slogans are usually added to finished images , whereas taglines are words which need to be customized to the persons you are pitching to.

It is very important to be able to say something in just a few seconds that arouses the right interest.

I agree and kind of disagree with the rule of the dozen words which you are trying to impose at MMP – of course its not always possible to stay that short, on the other hand you need to convey a certain message.

I like the example given by Julian Friedmann of the posters created without a film and sales agents do that: they create artwork to show distributors - a way to help finance projects not even in pre-production stage.

For distribution taglines for my home market I usually start with a brainstorming session with a marketing person who knows how to sell. Not necessarily even sell films – just any product. And it’s a good idea to have outside input. Sometimes the people involved in creating the film see it as an investment and not something to sell, and so they lack some perspective.

So when we start working on a distribution campaign we support heavy involvement from marketing people that we know can sell.

J: So basically you are saying that a tagline should be looked for at concept stage and to find that tagline you need to involve any number of people to help you get the right one. This will also help in the search for co-producers.

CD: yes if you imagine the tagline as a shorter version of the synopsis, which is a shorter version of the script.

Rudi Teichmann

J: RUDI (TEICHMANN, B&T Film, Producer, Germany) - as a producer do you agree with that?

RT: Absolutely. In practise if we start when we know what the context is for the content, then at a very early stage we start developing a half or one page synopsis, and once we feel comfortable with that , then we work on the tagline. It’s not only about what the content is but also where it is going.

We brainstorm by writing down short sentences, and then we end up being pretty near to how we finally want to express the project.

 CD: yes sometimes it feel outrageous at first, then you narrow it down to something acceptable. Or perhaps you have several taglines which you can use for different purposes. Our situation also includes going to people who are not even interested in our projects – if you go to a banker for finance for example, you might end up communicating with a person who doesn’t even like films, or doesn’t watch films.

But even so you have to sell the film to people. So you do some research and accommodate the pitch to fit best, which is usually common sense.

J: Rudi, can you come up with an example of a tagline that you’ve used? 

RT: Yes, I will give you 3 examples:

the first is a title I have produced - “Two Lives”. The summary states – “The Berlin Wall crumbles, Katrina the daughter of a Norwegian woman and a German occupation soldier finds her idyllic life disrupted as she refuses to testify at trial against the Norwegian state on behalf of her fellow war children.” Pretty complex.

The tagline from the world sales agent was “She built one life on love, the other on deceit.”

CD: That’s a very good slogan for the poster in fact.

RT: Example no.2, a summary from a project in development just now called “Reset”: “a man reads about his own death, so takes the chance to re-start his life but ends up in his own past. But he tries to change the journey of his life into a happier existence.” 

The tagline there we have so far – and I think it still needs development – is: “Are you ready to change your life?” 

RT: No.3, the title is “Colony” and we are at concept stage – the storyline is: “Setting up their own secret camp outside a big city in Central or South Eastern Europe are around 100 unaccompanied refugee children and teenagers. They create a home for themselves where they can relax from the problems of migration, until conflicts inside and outside the camp force them into having to take sides and tackle their futures. The Tagline so far is “A future needs a home”.

 J: And this seems destined for international co-production.

RT: the Titanic…. What was the tagline? We don’t remember. But for instance “Star Wars” – “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away” – we do remember.

 CD: in the front of the movie actually. Part of the branding. Everybody recognizes straight away.

Kresimir Zubcic

J: And what about taglines in television, Mr. Zubcic?

KRESIMIR ZUBCIC (Buyer, HRT Croatian TV): It would seem totally different as far as TV is concerned. No posters for a start, and we rely on teasers and trailers to develop audience interest. Add the fact that many national TV’s especially are quite old-fashioned – taglines are treated more like trivia. Perhaps I will find out more by the end of this discussion.

 J: I would like to add here that when as a producer you are starting out on a project then look for your tagline inspiration anywhere: it can even be your friend the milkman. Nobody says that as a producer or producer/director you need to be the world’s best tagliner yourself, but a good tagline will always help. Christo?

CD: I just want to add that the producer should have final decisive power together with the best marketing person involved on a project – again we come back to the involvement of the director and other creative forces not necessarily resulting in the best way of selling.

RT: Well sometimes a producer will need to be convinced that he is ending up with the right tagline, but it is absolutely necessary that it is the producer who set up the path to the best idea, yes.

People from PR and Advertising certainly have experience and can help, if you look into company slogans or icons that are different: that’s Apple® , Nike®, “The happiest place on Earth” ,or “Make America Great Again” .

CD: In our experience in arthouse film distribution we have found that the original authors would work against what they saw as a commercialization of their project.

I can give an example: a director might come and say that a poster concept is too colourful for his gloomy film, while the marketing people want a poster that sells the film. So its not that the creators shouldn’t be involved, but the producer should always be properly aware of how to optimize the project’s potential across the sectors. It might be a film on which the director has spent 10 years – the “mother and child” effect and the protective nature of that relationship. Sometimes they can’t let go and look from outside.

Pavlina Jeleva


J: And of course there is the question in multi-territory co-production that what works in Country A might not be optimal in country B. And the tagline needs to be different – another aspect of the mother and child. Pavlina?

PAVLINA JELEVA (Geopoly Film, Producer, Bulgaria): I can say that I often had differences with my co-production partners concerning the tagline.

What actually happens when I am working as minority co-producer with a foreign director, say Greek or Turkish for example, I will almost always use a different tagline for my country. It can also be a different tag-line for my selection (funding) committee, and another tagline for my cultural or media environment. I will always look for the right approach to my financing. My colleagues in other countries tell me that the wrong tagline can mislead a committee, also because sometimes some members of such a committee read just the tagline. So in such extreme cases this short sentence that introduces the subject will be of vital importance to motivate and create the desire to reading the synopsis and the script. It helps create the dramaturgy of the file itself.

But the cultural differences for co-production remain – it is often difficult to take over a tagline -just as it might be difficult to force your own tagline on a foreign partner, or even stop them from using the wrong one…

Stanislav Donchev

J: Is Stanislav Donchev (Producer/Director from Bulgaria, Project: Letters from Antarctica) here? (No, he made a holiday trip to Heidelberg instead.) There has been a problem with his project: half the people who have read his Outline have said “a nice arthouse movie” and half said “oh just another boring formula tv movie”. Donchev has directed Bulgaria’s most successful box-office hits and this project is to be a first venture into arthouse.

Donchev’s tagline was : “A mother sends letters to her 8-year old son, on behalf of his dead father”.

For me, the tagline does not do enough for the arthouse aspect of the project. It is too much like writing a micro-logline.

Pavo Marinkovic

PAVO MARINKOVIC (director “Ministry of Love”, Croatia) So I think it should be different whether it is for marketing or commission purposes.

RD: I don’t agree. Because even for a selection committee that is marketing as well. You need to sell what you have so you have to bring it down to one individual content.

PJ: But sometimes for a committee it has to be a little less vulgar (in the sense of common or populist). A little bit less than selling. For a commission you need to seduce in a way that is a bit more sophisticated – give them the impression they are a bit more special. It is unbelievably difficult and two projects are never the same.

 (Note: Donchev’s tagline was in fact revised later with the help of Virgilio Iafrate. MMP’s 2016 Tagline Resident.)

J: “Yurt” is a project from Turkey (producer Suzan Guverte) about a boy sent to a religious Muslim dormitory and his existence there. The tagline is “Above all there is Fear of God. This dormitory world is one shaped by fear”.

In fact, to sum up, everything we do in co-production is self-marketing in one way or another, even taglines.

An aspect of public funding in Europe is that no funds are allocated to budgets for marketing. Rudi, do you want to say something there.

RT: Frankly there is not much to say on the subject – there is no funding for marketing or PR and that’s it. You can agree with your co-producers to put it in the budget and skim the money from somewhere else.

 We are producing too many films with budgets that are too small, so little can be “extracted” for marketing materials.

J: Can you elaborate please? Where can the money that is in fact spent be taken from in a co-production? Eurimages , tv pre-sales?

RT: to be honest I don’t care. Whatever you can agree to shift around in your budget. If for example you have a co-production between France and Germany you will need marketing at both ends, so it’s up to each partner to find how they are going to fund their marketing.

CD: By marketing do you mean the creative marketing or the actual marketing spend, or both? Probably both? The first is crucial otherwise you don’t have a profile for the product. For the second some expense can be avoided through use of the Internet,

RT: Yes, we are not talking about classic P&A.

CD: Branding in fact.

Leo Wurm

LEO WURM (Producer, Berlin): Basically you mean people need to pad their budgets so as to move that money out into a marketing campaign without it coming through official allocation from public funders. So how does one attack the creation of a fan base of hopefully some thousand via Ínternet in the pre-completion phase?

PJ: There is no real attack. During the phase of building a co-production with European partners, at least in my experience, nobody’s thinking about marketing.

At this stage the attention is all about how we are going to get the financing. Of course this is a problem. I am reassured, as a Central European producer, that this non-funding of marketing is a problem in Western Europe too, because I once thought it is only a problem at home. 

In post-communist Bulgaria it would be publicly considered shameful if a fund gave you money to spend on marketing …

CD: it would also be considered as a cover for stealing money!

PJ: The next phase after putting together the financing is the festival phase – which venues to place the film in. The effects of that activity then bring the profile and popularity for the film, or even some commercial results.

But I stress that I am talking about co-productions with smaller European film economies – not necessarily much larger projects with France or Germany, for example.

PM: I have some fresh experiences this year with my film “Ministry of Love”. Television is always something. In our co-production we used the third instalment of Eurimages with the lead producer waiving some of his fee, it was not much but always something.

In fact every time every project is a different improvisation.

CD: Work with the distributor is key, I have found. AS a distributor I have been working even on co-productions and I always was ready to help if I was involved in an early stage. A distributor can help with the branding and local marketing . They have their own marketing budget so they might agree to spend some of it a little earlier. 

Rasa Miskinyte

RASA MISKINYTE (documentary Producer, Lithuania): My own experience with feature film was to crowdfund a teaser. The crowdfunding was successful, unfortunately the film was never made. It’s really a lot of work, but it brings you closer to the interested audience that Leo was mentioning.

RT: Can you tell us what it cost?

RM: The cost was mostly time. If you are going for 45 or 60 days of crowdfunding, you ate there fully all the time. And before that you have to prepare, and you need more than one person for that. And we really saw difference when we started to work with a person with knowledge of social marketing.

RT: Can you explain when you went for the crowdfunding?

 RM: Well, when we had our development money and we had the second draft of the script finished we knew now we had to try it out. And it worked in two parts, but we were also getting a marketing advantage. The teaser/trailer was a success.

Xavier Henry-Rashid

XAVIER HENRY-RASHID (Film Republic, Sales Agent, London) : I wanted to pick up on a point you made, Rudi, about a tagline being the same for the public as for the industry. I disagree with that. For the arthouse films that I distribute, I use very specific taglines that I make up each time such as “Winter Sleep meets Rams” or something else that has been big in festivals. That won’t mean much to the general public because I deal with super-niche product, sometimes only for specific territories.

Secondly, to address Christo’s point on working with distributors to develop a brand and good marketing, I see a contradiction because you said that especially for smaller films you need to start work earlier, but the irony is that such films won’t pre-sell, and distributors for such films often will say we will only distribute if you give us the (sometimes full and ready) artwork.

CD: My point was that the co-producers work with the distributors in their home countries – usually that will work to a degree, at local level, especially in the smaller markets. I understand in the larger markets competition makes for tougher positions.

Ognen Antov

OGNEN ANTOV (Producer, Macedonia): Let’s say that in every co-production we are allocating money from somewhere –and the earlier such allocation is put to use the better. We have the experience with domestic projects in the Balkans/Central Europe that such projects can often become big hits.

Even if you have to sometimes convince the director that he needs to kill some of the babies in his script to leave more money for marketing – obviously with the right project.

 And if it is possible that marketing cost can be split between the co-producers, at least there is some security that there can be at least some chance of an audience.

J: We seem not to have mentioned that many funds request a local distributor relationship before granting funds.

CD: Well, it seems that many producers are unhappy about starting cooperation with a distributor at at an early stage, I don’t know why. Perhaps they are scared of interference in the project or something like that. But sometimes it can work to advantage: some years ago there was a film with 4 different endings that had been shot and no decision as to which one to use. We finally suggested a 5th ending which they shot and used – the film was successful. So a producer shouldn’t be afraid to listen. 

Elaine Niessner

ELAINE NIESSNER (East End Film, Producer, Stuttgart, MMP project “Roxy”) : In our case we were lucky we had development funding from our fund, the MFG in Stuttgart, so we were even able to do some marketing before going fully into the financing stage. It was seen as necessary to getting financing on board. So we produced two teasers: 3 mins and 9 mins. The material was shot in one day, and I think we were lucky that the 9 minute version (which was not planned that way) tells a lot about the rhythm of the film, and we did try to work on the teaser as a part of the finished film.

Then, since not everyone has time to watch 9 minutes of something, we had a shortened version as well. 

We have a very bankable domestic star (Devid Striesow) interested who agreed to make the teaser.

Funding for the shoot was provided by our local MFG Fund as a repayable loan from production funding.

J: Freddy? 

Freddy Olsson

FREDDY OLSON (Bokomtiv, Producer, Sweden) At the moment we are going into for us virgin territory in Japan with a co-production and we are aware how difficult the arthouse climate is there. But we are really going after a distributor that can make a decent release.

In Sweden by the way, distribution support can be up to 60,000 euros for a film, if the distributor comes up with the same amount. As producer, in that case we get our amount funded by the Swedish Film Institute.

ELIZABETH YAKE (True West Films, Producer, Canada): As lead producer on my recent two co-productions (1 with the U.K., 1 with Germany) I find that sometimes the lead producer has to make a decision as to which territory will be most important for a release. With the U.K. co-production we knew that a theatrical release wouldn’t happen, so concentration was on Canada.

Elizabeth Yake

We experimented even before the distributor came on board. The previous producer of the project, who left, had made a trailer which didn’t appeal to me at all. So I ignored it totally because having a bad trailer is really bad for presentation.

Then unfortunately I was not too convinced that the distributor was using the right approach, so when it came up to release I bought Facebook ads using money from my producer fee. This continued over the 7-8 months of screenings across the country. I spent $120 a week for these ads before each screening, arriving at just over $1000 Canadian in total.

These ads taught me a huge amount about audience - I could never get that information elsewhere.

So this gave me 120,000 geographically specific impressions, all within a 20 km radius of each screening venue in Canada and one or 2 nearby US markets such as Seattle or Portland.

I point out I have probably never seen a distributor be able to spend money that wisely.

The demographics were age-specific, genre specific (docu-drama), locality-fixed, and people could click straight through to the box office and buy tickets.

I could track what’s happening every day and every hour, and we could also experiment with images and , yes, taglines. 

Also the film had tags for a mystery element & eco-terrorism. We could check each time if the web-layout was working or not,also by comparing markets, and if something was not working we could change it within an hour.

On my latest documentary co-production (with MMP regular producer Sven Schnell) we have set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, Instagram, a home web-site , a teaser has been made, so basically we have been laying our groundwork before we go to a crowdfunding campaign – and then on to regular financing. This also helps me get a close relationship and understanding of my movie by the time financing starts.

In this case my Executive Producer is also my sales agent and distributor, so we are advancing in understanding our audience even before we finish shooting the film.

 For every project I make I always shoot a teaser, not only to serve as a tagline, but show tone, pacing and theme. People don’t read, so I need to substitute for that. Commissions have a lot of material that is often poorly written to wade through.

I just made the experience of going back to a TV station with images that changed a “no” to a presentation into a possible “yes”.

But time is the factor: social media does take up a lot of it. And on Kickstarter the range is between $25,000 and $75,000 just to help you figure out how to get to an audience.

RT: Elizabeth, what is the relationship between the total budget of your movie and the marketing spend?

EY: The budget for such projects is around one million Canadian. 

I can’t stress enough how important theme is to my projects – if you can’t determine your theme you can’t begin to understand your demographics – is it men, women, urban, and so on.

J: Final Question: has anyone present ever had a situation in a co-production project where one distributor for one co-producer was working together with another from another co-producer?

RT: Well, on “2 Lives” the first release was in Norway. It was a sort of disaster. Then the German distributor changed the poster, the taglines, the profile, and so yes they learnt from the other. Then the French release came with a third campaign, which was very clearly the best one.

Even though every territory and audience is different, you can see how the campaign was mounted, what was good what was not so good, and then you can decide.

PJ: The posters for the different co-producers are much the same as the taglines. If it won’t work., then don’t, and do your own.

EY: What we had in the US and Canada once was a campaign in the US that was far superior. So we bought the US materials and that worked. There were different resources and much more experience going for the US, so since then I will try to repeat that in similar cases, since the fee paid can be advantageous in the end. One difference in the end was that the Canadian materials had a Marijuana leaf – that couldn’t work in the States.