August 8, 2021

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 (see the P.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 compelling and thought provoking…but also because I see so many parallels in the ways  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 (that can often feel like a full length documentary).

I don’t want to take this comparison too far…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, dream sequences and the like in his films that don’t translate into a promotion.

Tarantino is a magician with all that.

In addition, lots of non-gratuitous violence is rampant in Tarantino’s films…. well, 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.” 🙂

But note that the equivalent for a direct response copywriter regarding all of the sideshows to the copy in a feature length movie are equally important—things such as expert design, sidebars, B roll on a video, the offer…and more.

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)” (once again, see the P.S for more on how 1940’s cinema is relevant to today’s subject).

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…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…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.

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 or lecture…more on that in a minute. 

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 for “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–and I asked what “copywriting books” each of the A-list writers on the panel recommended to advance their craft (and to educate those they educate on the craft)–they listed as many non-traditional copywriting books as the classics such as Breakthrough Advertising, Triggers, Scientific Advertising and The Ultimate Sales Letter.

Examples of non-traditional copywriting books they cited included, How to Argue and Win Every Time by attorney Gerry Spence (who rarely, if ever, lost a case), Influence by Robert Cialdini and Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by legendary screenwriting mentor, Robert McKee.

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.



P.S.  While in the midst of “COVID Quarantine 2020,” like you (I assume) I caught up on a ton of videos and movies…some new and some all-time favorites…and looking back, I consider that time “screen sucking in sweatpants” as 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) …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 another mother.

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 he added a little more gore. 🙂

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 our deal over Zoom, Ben asked me a question regarding this poster:

“Are you a fan of Frank Capra and not just that one film?”

I said “yes” 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 focused on Capra and 20th century literature instead.

I thought my paper was good…but I was 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 (which I have shared with you before)…where we discussed such things 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.

Enough foreplay!

Below is the video that Ben and I put together. 

I have to say that we were both very proud of it and I hope it’s meaningful to you in some way.

When I sent this initially, I asked that you watch it in-between binging on Netflix…and while you are also avoiding the news…and the rules of engagement with it are still the same a year and a half later. Sigh.

Although if you are vaccinated or masked (or both) you no longer need to remain 6 feet apart if you are not watching it alone.

We’ve made some progress. 

Click on the screenshot below…and enjoy today’s back to the future adventure…from 1946 to 2021…and back again:

P.P.S.  When my friend Casey Stanton, a superb caricature artist (in addition to being an excellent marketer), saw the personalized It’s a Wonderful Life poster on my wall, he couldn’t resist personalizing my Pulp Fiction poster.

I realize I am no Uma Thurman…but I’ll take 80% cacao dark chocolate and a Mets baseball over the cigarette in the “original”…and thankfully, Casey left the gun with me in case I get into a knife/sword/scalpel fight…although that’s not one of the three guns to bring to a knife fight…

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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