“What you working on, Phil?” asks Barbara as she brings a cup of lapsang to her husband.
He doesn’t look up, seemingly absorbed by the image of a large chicken egg he’s drawn in the middle of the A3 sheet of paper in front of him.
“What is it, Philip?”
She sees him jump as he finally notices she’s stood behind him, peering over his shoulder.
As he turns to take the tea, he smiles, apologizes and explains it’s a new poster the studio has asked him to put together.
It’s for some sci-fi film, set in space. A horror.
“A horror?” wonders Barbara. “What’s so horrifying about a hen’s egg?”
He’s going to make it green.
It’s supposed to be an alien egg.
In the film, apparently, the aliens hatch out of what are essentially oversized hard boilers.
The plan is to do a black background with a single glowing green egg and then a tag line.
Trouble is, the studio isn’t sure on the tag line.
Barbara looks at the egg her husband has sketched out. She thinks for a moment.
“I suppose it’s scary if an alien is getting you in space because no one can hear you shouting for help. You’re all alone up there. How about that, I wonder? In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Phil looks at her with the look of admiration she’s come to take some pride in over the years.
That’s it, he declares. Brilliant, Barbara. Brilliant.
He puts down the lapsang, takes up his pen and scribbles out the line across the poster, just beneath his drawing of the ominous green ovum.
You’ve probably guessed…
We’re talking here about Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece, Alien.
You know the tag line, of course. It’s perhaps the most famous of its kind.
But you’re probably less aware it was written by a very smart woman called Barbara Gips, a copywriter who happened to be married to Philip Gips, the go-to guy for poster designs in Hollywood at the time.
As with most – if not all – female copywriters of the time, sadly Barbara is much less known today than her husband is.
But now you know, which is good.
And wow, did she nail it with that line, right?
P.S. I came across this little nugget of copy history researching for my next book, which I’m working on at the moment. It’ll be a little while before it’s cooked yet, but you can still pick up a copy of my first book here.