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Brand Storytelling: Tips For Business From Hollywood And The Screenwriting World

The goals of the Hollywood movie machine are no different than those of most businesses. Find creative ways to engage an audience so you can recoup your investment, sell lots of product and make a ton of money. With these goals in mind, it's here where the world of the entertainment industry and the interests of the business world collide.

Old_film_camera This weekend I attended the Toronto Screenwriting Conference at Ryerson University. The conference featured top Hollywood talent from many realms of the business..writing, producing, directing and consulting. What struck me was the variety of ways in which the business world could benefit from their experience and ideas. As I mentioned above, there are many similarities between the entertainment and business worlds. From a storytelling perspective, it's clear why Hollywood is in a Master class all its own.

Here's a brief synopsis of some of the key speakers and their views on storytelling. Think about the implications of their ideas for business (and brand storytelling) and how the concepts could be used to better sell products and services (Note - The comments have been paraphrased based on notes taken in the seminar sessions):

Sheldon Bull  - Comedy writer extraordinaire (MASH, Coach, Newhart) and author of ELEPHANT BUCKS - An Insider's Guide to Writing for TV Sitcoms - 'People watch sitcoms every week because they have an emotional investment in the characters'; 'Writers need to set it up so the audience will care about the characters and feel that emotional investment'; 'What audiences are yearning for is something they can cling to and love'

Pen Densham -  Award winning writer, producer, director - and teacher/mentor extraordinaire (author of Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing (And Not Getting Eaten) -  'The purpose of a good movie is to demonstrate things dramatically so the audience can learn about themselves'; 'A good actor invests in their biological understanding of humanity'; (on the subject of pitches) 'Find a way to discover what you and the buyer are most in tune with - find the common ground'; 'Find the nugget - there has to be an emotional journey and something at stake'; 'Find out how to get people to care about you'

Kevin Shortt - Scriptwriter and story designer at Ubisoft in Montreal (Avatar: The Game, Lost - The Video Game) - 'Steven Spielberg once said that story (narrative) has to touch on the emotions'; 'Players need a level of interactivity so they own moral conflict and their own moral choices'; 'Great movies are great because of great characters'; 'Be sure the ending/end result stays in tune with the game's vision'

Christopher Vogler - One of Hollywood's leading script consultants and author of the iconic book The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers - 'The idea of story and myth in story has implications outside of the entertainment world'; 'Joseph Campbell compared myth to metaphor - it's a comparison for a mystery that's beyond human comprehension - myth is in the realm of the senses'; 'Every work of art is a metaphor for your own situation'; 'Science can measure that you're in an attuned sense of consciousness when you watch a good movie - you can actually alter the settings and bring people to a different place'; 'Hook the audience and make them want to know what will happen next'; 'Give the hero mistakes/flaws that we all share - people always want to think the movies are about them'

Writing an award-winning ad campaign or pitch isn't much different than writing an award-winning Hollywood script. In both cases, you have to find a way to create a story that engages the audience - and "forces" them to do something or feel something. As Vogler suggests (based on his study of Joseph Campbell) - myth and story are in the realm of the senses. If you can tap into that emotion and primal need for story as a way of helping people discover their place in the world - audiences and consumers will relate these needs and feelings to your product, service or brand. Once they are able to relate and make that connection, chances are high that they will buy too.

Can you think of other ways in which the business world could use concepts developed in Hollywood to create compelling ad campaigns?



Karen Hegmann

Hi Richard

Thanks so much for your comment. Great to know that you've been studying the same things. It's amazing once you look at the similarities between the film and business worlds. Storytelling has implications for both - and businesses could learn a lot by studying the masters of film. I'll definitely take a look at your website. Thanks for the good wishes - and perhaps our paths will cross at some point! Cheers!

Richard Cordiner

Hi Karen,

Great post, thanks for sharing. I had a similar experience attending Robert McKee's screenwriting seminar, as it struck me how beneficial marketers would find the insights into human nature storytelling can yield. I've written pretty extensively on this subject:

Keep up the good work!


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