Just when you thought it was safe to ignore the slogan
Friday 05 March 1999
No 56: A Man Who Thinks Up
"WHEN YOUR Best Friend Becomes Your Worst Enemy".
"X Marks The Victim"
"When Love Is Not Enough"
"Would You Buy Secondhand Carnage From This Man?"
"A Man, A Woman - And Her Mother!"
These are just a few of the slogans dreamt up by Joe Kraven to adorn film posters. You may not recognise them. This is partly because we hardly ever read the slogans on film posters. It is also partly because these particular ones have never been used. Joe Kraven makes up many more film slogans than ever get used. In fact, he made these up while waiting to be interviewed, just five minutes ago.
"I eat, sleep and drink these damn things," says Kraven. "I wake up in the middle of the night with them coming out of my ears. In the morning I find I have scribbled them all over my pad."
Why make up so many if they are not going to be used ?
"You don't know much about the film industry, do you?" laughs Kraven. "Nor do the people in the film industry. They know nothing. They don't know what they want or what anyone else wants. They just want something a bit like the last great thing. So when I'm asked for a slogan, I don't just take one along, because I know they'll ask me to rewrite it, however good it is. I take a dozen. Then they have to choose one. And then they ask me to rewrite it!"
And what purpose do they serve?
"Absolutely none!" chortles Kraven. "They are totally useless. I mean, if you bring out a romantic comedy, and I give it a slogan like `Old Enough To Know Better, Young Enough To Be Bad!', nobody is going to see the film on the strength of that, are they? Well, I wouldn't. I might go on the basis of a review, or word of mouth, or the stars, but not the slogan. `Hmm,' I say to myself, `a film about someone who is old enough to know better, but gets into trouble anyway... Must see it!' How likely is that on a scale of one to 10?"
So why are they on film posters at all, these little slogans?
"Well, occasionally it's to please the man who made the film. Remember Blazing Saddles? Of course you do. Remember the slogan? Of course you don't. It was `Never Give A Saga An Even Break'. If that's not Mel Brooks's little private gag, I'll eat my hat. But mostly, I suspect, it's because the film-makers are never happy with the title, so they give it a kind of sub-title as a compensation. Actually, sometimes the slogan would have made a better title. Do you remember the slogan for Alien? `In Space No- one Can Hear You Scream'. Great slogan - great title, way better than Alien. Even though it's nonsensical."
Nonsensical? How come?
"Well, the reason nobody hears you scream in space is there's no air. But by the same token, you can't scream either...
"Of course, in the old days films never had slogans, and nobody cared. They made Some Like It Hot into one of the funniest movies ever, and nobody ever put on the posters `Three Women On A Train - And Two Of Them Are Men!'. But by the time you come to Four Weddings And A Funeral, you find someone adding the slogan `Five Reasons To Stay Single', and you wonder: is it worth it? The other day I saw the video of the French film Les Visiteurs, about the medieval guys who time-trip to the present, and the slogan was `They Weren't Born Yesterday'. And you think: who on earth dreamt that up?"
Was it you, by any chance?
"Could have been. Don't remember now. So many slogans, so few ideas... Hey, that's not bad. I'll write that down."
Do slogans ever survive?
"Survive? I'll tell you something. I had a slogan made into a film once! Sure, I'm not kidding. There was a film about a couple who kept falling in and out of love, and I came up with the slogan, `She Wanted to Have His Child - But His Child Couldn't Stand Her!', which didn't work at all because the guy didn't actually have a child. But the film guys said, `Hey, good idea! Man and woman fall in love on the rebound, but his son can't stand the dame!'. And they made the film!"
And you got the money?
"No," says Joe Kraven affably. "I never thought to copyright my slogans. You'd think I'd know better..."
What are you working on now?
"I'll give you the slogan and see if you can spot the story. `Two men, one island, no women'..."
Some gay extravaganza?
"Nah. Robinson Crusoe!"
And Joe Kraven roars with laughter. Well, at least someone connected with Hollywood seems to enjoy his work.
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