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“I am an alien from outer space. Sell me a Diet Coke.”

That line was what hooked Heather (Wilson) Artis ’94 on advertising. It’s what her professor said on the first day of class in her first advertising course at Illinois State’s College of Business.

Now a vice president for creative advertising at Fox Searchlight Pictures, Artis still thinks back to that alien. What if he just landed? What if he’s never had a soda before? What if he’s never had liquid?

“It comes up to this day,” Artis said. “I have to remind myself that no matter how well I know the product I’m trying to sell, the people I’m selling to may know absolutely nothing about it.”

Artis discovered her passion for advertising in an Illinois State classroom. Twenty years later, she’s now an advertising executive at Fox Searchlight, one of the top studios in Los Angeles. Last year their work included Oscar contenders Wild, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Best Picture winner Birdman.

The marketing alum is responsible for producing all of the trailers, TV commercials, and radio spots for every movie that Fox Searchlight releases. She works with her own team as well as outside creative agencies.

Every movie is a different challenge. For example, how should you sell Birdman, the meta Michael Keaton film about a has-been superhero-movie actor who is directing a play in New York?

“It was a movie that needed a lot of marketing help, because people could’ve easily dismissed it as being too weird, too New York, too arthouse,” she said. “Instead of watering it down, we went the opposite route. We embraced the attitude and boldness and originality of it and were defiant in our advertising.”

This challenge—to creatively solve problems—is a perfect fit for Artis, who grew up in Des Plaines wanting to be a writer. At Illinois State she joined the Chi Omega sorority but admits not being the most studious student. “I got more of a social education, but I really needed it,” she says.

After working some odd jobs after graduation, she took a screenwriter class in Los Angeles and met someone who worked for a company that made movie trailers. She started writing scripts for them part-time. Her first movie was Crossroads, the road trip comedy starring Britney Spears.

Artis loved it, and she eventually got a full-time gig.

“Once I was there, I knew it was exactly where I was supposed to be,” she said.

Artis has been with Fox Searchlight for four years. The studio has multiple ad campaigns going on at any given time, and she’s always working on new films that are gearing up for production or release.

So what goes into making a good trailer? It’s more than eye-rolling puns and cheap gimmicks.

“A film is like a 10,000-piece puzzle, and we’re going through those pieces and trying to find the corners,” she said. “There are always a few moments in the movie where we go, ‘That has to be in the trailer.’

“I basically play creative games all day long,” she said.

Ryan Denham can be reached at