During the most recent Titans Mastermind meeting, copywriting superstar Parris Lampropoulos talked about how he uses comedy writing and music composition to teach his “copy cubs” about direct response copywriting.
It’s far from a farfetched notion…and one that spurned a lively discussion…and inspired me to share my thoughts with you (again) about another form of entertainment used to teach copywriting and marketing.
I wrote a blog post last year titled “Pulp (non) fiction” that supports Parris’ notion that copywriting (and marketing) training can come from anywhere.
For Parris, it is comedy and music; for me, it’s the films (and screenplays) from two of my favorite directors, Quentin Tarantino and Frank Capra.
Whether you are familiar with them or not, I wanted to send that blog post again today (with additional context…it’s pasted in at the end) …and with a special added bonus, a video that was sent to me from a generous member of my online family after he received “Pulp (non) fiction.”
The video is 17 minutes long and it is a master class on how writing compelling dialogue is a talent that will help you with any writing you ever do…with the films of Quentin Tarantino as a backdrop.
Tarantino doesn’t just write scenes…he builds them…brick by brick (i.e., sentence by sentence) using his version of a sales hook to create intense curiosity leading to a state of exalted attention (through dialogue).
Which leads to what the narrator of the video defines as “The Pledge.”
It takes the term “hook” to an entirely new level of attention grabbing.
He also builds tension, excitement, fear, anticipation into every scene, creating an atmosphere where you have no other choice than to be riveted with every bone in your body.
Isn’t that what we want to accomplish with the “scenes” inside our sales letters, videos, emails and landing pages?
Whether you are a writer or a marketer…or anything else for that matter…this breakdown of some of Tarantino’s most captivating scenes from his films Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight, Inglorious Bastards, will be instructive in anything you write or communicate going forward.
Please watch it when you’ve got 17 minutes to enhance your education.
Click here to watch what I will call “The Pledge.”
And read the comments on the page for even more color commentary from an astute group of some experienced writers and observers.
As far as my post from last year, “Pulp (non) fiction),” I’ve pasted that in below with some new insights for those of you who missed it…and it also gives you some additional background on why I love Tarantino as a professor of copywriting…and hopefully I can make that case to you.
The second part of that post (also pasted in below) contains an interview I did with the top email copywriter in the world, Ben Settle, where we talk about how another filmmaker–from the 1940’s (Frank Capra) –will influence you as a copywriter and marketer as much as Tarantino.
Tarantino and Capra are strange bedfellows for sure…but much like Parris uses techniques from stand-up comics and singer-songwriters to teach copywriting, these two film directors do the same.
Let me know if any of the “copywriting courses disguised as entertainment” inside this post do anything for you. 🙂
Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know about my love of cinema…and that includes films across all eras…from the 1940’s…through all of the decades since…and into the present.
My favorite contemporary filmmaker/screenwriter is Quentin Tarantino…not only because his films are gripping and thought provoking…but also because of how he crafts a screenplay (with cinematography as good as anyone directing today) which is analogous to how the best copywriters do the same as they weave a story into a 32-page magalog…or a script into a 45-minute video sales letter (VSL)…or whatever the copywriter wants to produce.
I don’t want to take this comparison too far because there is a lot less bloodshed in most magalogs and VSL’s than in a Tarantino film (understatement).
And most copywriters don’t need to sweat the details that Tarantino sweats with supporting music and extravagant flashbacks, and dream sequences in his films that don’t translate into a promotion (although good design is a requirement in all formats).
On second thought, copywriters should sweat those details in the form of sidebars, headlines, leads, sound, quality of video and more.
Tarantino is a magician with all that as are the top gun copywriters and designers.
Admittedly there is a lot of non-gratuitous violence rampant in Tarantino’s films…although that depends on your definition of what violence is gratuitous or not…but I’m a fan of how he incorporates violence in his movies.
I affectionately (and euphemistically) call it “stylistic violence.”
Telling copywriters all these years to “Be like Gary (Bencivenga)” or “Be like Gene (Schwartz)” is (almost) equivalent to telling them to “Be like Quentin (Tarantino)” or “Be like Frank (Capra)” (see below for more on how 1940’s cinema is relevant to today’s subject as well).
What’s my point?
Writing is writing…storytelling is storytelling…whether it’s cinematic fiction or sales copy in the form of non-fiction.
I guess some sales copy can also be fiction…but I am not including that brand of copy here (e.g., inflated or untrue claims) …that’s for a blog post on what not to do with your sales copy. 🙂
To prove to you how much I value Tarantino as a copywriter, “exhibit #1” is this poster, which sits behind me as I stare into my computer screen every day…and it shows up in every podcast and every video I appear in:
I realize that with any controversial filmmaker, Tarantino is an acquired taste (which I have acquired in a big way) …. but not all of my readers or listeners have…and that’s OK.
It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of his or not…but I implore you to be a fan of someone…there are writers of all shapes and sizes…who fit with your own sensibilities and style.
My point nor my mission is not to convince you that Tarantino is the be-all-and-end-all for everyone who writes…. but I encourage you to seek out writers of all kinds…in film, literature, news, business…and of course direct response copywriting…who you relate to profoundly…with the goal of emulating them (i.e., stealing smart from them) in some way.
But if you watch the aforementioned 17-minute video chock full of “Tarantino forensics,” you will see the genius of Tarantino and how he just might be a screenwriter for you to learn from after all.
All I can say is that if you find those writers who speak to you like Tarantino speaks to me, I guarantee that in itself will improve your writing…which includes emails, email campaigns, sales funnels, full length promotions, sales letters, webinar scripts…and even filling out greeting cards to your loved ones.
Exhibit #2 in my homage to Tarantino is one of my prized possessions…a signed script from the set of Pulp Fiction from one of its stars, John Travolta:
I don’t know if John has learned anything about copywriting from Quentin…although it’s clear he didn’t learn much about penmanship.
All I can say is that it’s a brilliant script, one that that taught me as much about copywriting as any book, course or seminar.
Enough about my movie memorabilia for today…but there was a point to all of this…and I want to leave you with this:
Learning from anyone who writes as part of their vocation or avocation including masters of film, television, literature, science, culture, news–fiction, non-fiction and pulp fiction (the term OR the movie)–to hone our writing talent to advance “commerce”–is not only advantageous, but dare I say a requirement.
I recall that when I hosted the “Mount Rushmore Copywriting Panel” at The Titans of Direct Response event in 2014–I asked the four all-stars on that panel what copywriting books each of them read and recommend for themselves, their peers and their students.
Not surprisingly, they listed the classics such as Breakthrough Advertising, Triggers, Scientific Advertising and The Ultimate Sales Letter.
Surprisingly they also cited books, with even more enthusiasm, that have nothing to do with traditional copywriting, such as:
- How to Argue and Win Every Time by attorney Gerry Spence (who rarely, if ever, lost a case)
- Influence by Robert Cialdini
- Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by legendary screenwriting mentor, Robert McKee (and I guess the screenplays of Tarantino would qualify)
See…I didn’t make this up.
I’m simply going to the sources of copywriting excellence (and education) to get the real scoop.
And that’s more fact than fiction.
While in the midst of “COVID Quarantine 2020,” I caught up on a ton of videos and movies…some new and some all-time favorites.
Maybe you did the same thing? 🙂
I consider that period of my life, “screen sucking in sweatpants.”
It was more positive and productive than I thought at the time–during what was a dreary and somewhat dark time for many of us.
And of course, when I wasn’t watching TV, I was watching stuff on my computer (YouTube, funny commercials, music videos) …and I was also initiating enough Zoom meetings and calls to last me for many years to come.
I was on one Zoom call with Ben Settle, the king of email marketing, devising some evil plans to conquer the world (through email of course) when he asked about another movie poster which also hangs on the wall behind me while I am “on screen” (in addition to Pulp Fiction).
That film, It’s a Wonderful Life, a classic from 1946, was directed by Frank Capra (who, on the surface, is the polar opposite of Quentin Tarantino).
But on closer inspection, I maintain that Capra and Tarantino might be brothers from separate mothers.
And…since Tarantino is such a student of his craft in the way he honors and emulates what came before him (as all the best filmmakers and writers are…and dare I say marketers, doctors and lawyers too), he has learned from Capra in a big way.
Although with a little more blood and gore…and not in black and white.
Capra is a different cat than Tarantino…but there are similarities too.
It’s a Wonderful Life is on my all-time list of best films for many of the same reasons as Pulp Fiction…for lessons in writing and crafting a compelling story…and teaching us what’s essential to everything we write.
Good copy is good copy and compelling stories always stand the test of time…whether you are selling anything or not.
And to be brutally honest, aren’t we always selling something?
On this poster of It’s a Wonderful Life, it was personalized for me with my face photoshopped on Jimmy Stewart’s (or better yet, the character he plays, George Bailey) …and it was a gift to me from one of my early mentors in direct marketing which makes it even more special:
After we consummated whatever we were consummating over Zoom, Ben asked me a question regarding this poster:
“Are you a fan of Frank Capra or just the film?”
I responded, “Both”…and proceeded to tell him about my college thesis which I wrote about in “Anxious vs. Eager”, a post about how I tried to buck the system—unsuccessfully–by not doing my thesis on Milton or Chaucer and instead writing about Capra and 20th century literature.
I thought my paper was good…but I was in a majority of one.
But that does not take away from Capra’s genius.
Ben and I continued our discussion about Capra—he told me that he read his autobiography, as I have, The Name Above the Title which you can buy in paperback for $20 or so (but take a look at all the used copies in hardcover for a lot less).
Then we started talking about Capra and how his filmmaking style is a prescription for copywriters and marketers today…much like Tarantino…and we decided to produce a video…where we discussed Capra-isms such as:
- What interests people most is people
- There are no rules to filmmaking, only sins…and the cardinal sin is dullness
- Entertainment is an amazing tool for rallying people against the “bad guys”
- Too many filmmakers get their ideas from other films (i.e., formulaic story lines) and not from life
- Creating vision can literally win world wars
Hmmm. I’ve heard similar things in regard to sales copy…things like “no sales letter can be too long or too short—only too boring” and “creating a villain—person, institution etc.—is critical to creating cutting edge copy.”
And we talked about so much more in this video…including some history on Frank Capra which you will find interesting:
- Why he lamented making his best film (NOT It’s a Wonderful Life in his opinion) in the same year as Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights, Stagecoach, Ninotchka, Dark Victory and Goodbye Mr. Chips.
- How he came up with a series of films to unite the country to rally during the outset and throughout World War II–with enthusiasm—by molding his cinematic vision mentioned above into a war effort.
- How he became a master at using laughter as a disarmer and a “friend maker” …leading to his audiences accepting almost anything.
Below is the video that Ben and I put together.
I have to say that we are both very proud of it and I hope what we discuss can be put into practice in your business.
Click on the screenshot below…and enjoy today’s back to the future adventure…from 1946 to 2022…and back again: