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Telling Stories is at the Heart of What We Do.

So I’m reading a pretty good book right now, just came out. Called “The Idea Writers: Copywriting in  New Media and marketing Era.”

The 3rd chapter’s called “The Storytellers.” And as you might guess, in this chapter she spends a lot of time discussing one of the FEW things that has not changed here in the digital era — the need for agencies to tell stories about their clients or on their behalf.

“For copywriters, storytelling — in whatever format or media — is key to creating a meaningful brand identity.” She then gets into “Transmedia Storytelling” a subject covered nicely in a recent Idea U meeting (in the “theeeee-ater”) where Digital Domain discussed their work on behalf of the movie “Tron Legacy.”  Transmedia storytelling is basically a  fancy word for putting a single narrative out there on different platforms, in different media.

In any case, I’m digging the book big time and recommend it. Some of it may be remedial for a few of you, most of it, I’m guessing, not. Am particularly looking forward to the two long interviews in the appendix, one with Lee Clow, one with Jeff Goodby.
Okay, here’s where I make a hard left turn and attempt to stretch a razor-thin segue to a small bit of storytelling I’ve done in my own life. Most of us advertising people grew up in love with telling stories, stories of any kind. Like many kids, I loved telling stories by making movies. In 1963, I commandeered my Dad’s old Brownie movie camera and made many stupid movies, one of which is described and included below in a short essay from an unpublished work.

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Watching the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night gave us the idea of making our own funny movies. They were all victim comedies and we called them “The Ridiculous Films.” They were shot with an old 8mm movie camera that Dad had given up on and if they had a theme it was “Fourth Graders Getting Killed.”

Their structure was classic.

We open on our protagonist, a fourth grader with buck teeth (that would be me) strolling along in front of the Millstone. In Act II, the antagonist is introduced with swift and economic story telling – brother Jeff comes around the corner with a baseball bat and beats the crap out of me. (A pillow hidden in the victim’s coat allows for the delivery of many cinematically robust and satisfying blows.) The fourth-grader collapses on the driveway.

Had the film ended here critics might have rightly argued the work lacked finality; that the entire piece was ambiguous and left the audience asking, “What, ultimately, happened here?” But Act III ties up the storylines in a tidy denouement. Thanks to a cleverly wardrobed body double, when the camera rolls again we see Jeff driving Dad’s car over the crumpled form of our Fourth Grader. Fade to black. (Cut, actually; there’s no fading with a Brownie movie camera.)

Audience test scores were off the chart. Squeals of delight filled the living room when the little 50-foot reel premiered on Dad’s projector. “More blood,” demanded the audience and a sequel was released the following month (after we talked Mom into getting us a new roll of film).

What might now be called “Dead Fourth Graders II” built on the original’s success and used the same opening: fourth-grader stands in front of Millstone. But this time it is brother Dan who enters screen right, grabs the victim and throws him into the house through the open door. The camera, still running, tilts seamlessly up to third-story window where a stuffed body double suffers the indignities of defenestration and thuds on the pavement below.

Luke’s 4th grade acting debut

So, “where’s this going?” a savvy audience might ask. Will the narrative clarify the victim’s back-story? Who is he, really? What issues in his past led him to this development? Act III, while answering none of these questions does address the test audience’s earlier suggestion for “more blood.” A crowd encircles the protagonist, now lying unconscious on the concrete. They’re lining up to pay Dan a quarter. But for what, dammit, what?

Ah, it’s the rental fee for the baseball bat, making its second appearance in the Ridiculous Films. As the curtain falls on Act III, the brothers pound the bejesus out of me.

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That was 1964, when the medium of film had finally been packaged for consumers – aka, my Dad’s Brownie camera ­– and we took it and made it our own and told stories with it. And while it has all changed once again, exponentially even, it seems the ability to tell stories is still at the heart of it.

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