September 14

John Carlton Copy Tips: How to Become a Better Storyteller


In this copywriting hotseat John Carlton discloses some simple steps we can take to become better storytellers.

John’s comments:

The secret (to becoming a better storyteller) is reading. I am a reader. The best thing you can do for your kids is to get them reading early. I remember Dick and Jane. It blew me away. I forget what the plot point was…oh, yeah, Spot ran away… “See Spot Run”… “See the car come down the street”… “Oh, Spot!”.

I am a big fan of trashy novels, and am also a great fan of movies. The problem with movies today is that we are in the second generation of guys making movies who are getting all of their references not from real life but from other movies. So, they are referencing another guy who made a movie who referenced another guy who made a movie. There is no life experience, no nothing. That is why, a lot of times, if you have seen a movie in the last ten years, you sit back and say “Come on!”.

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I like old movies. My favorite period of time is the 30’s and the 40’s. I just made my girlfriend sit down and watch King Kong, from ’32, and Casablanca, from ’43(?). Movies like Casablanca are great because there is a lot of stuff written about them. I highly recommend you rent the movie Casablanca. There is a book by Robert McKee that breaks down Casablanca scene by scene, and teaches you how to write screen plays. The other guy is Fields, I think.

The reason I say that is because Casablanca has great plot points, where things happen. What’s interesting about Casablanca is that (just to back up for a second) is that it was written by a committee, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, I think. That belies the myth that the best stories are written by one guy, but there was one vision. While they were shooting, they didn’t know how the movie was going to end. In fact, they didn’t come up with the ending until the night before they shot it. It was a pair of brothers that came up with it. Of course, the line was “I believe this is the beginning of a wonderful friendship”, as they are walking off. That is not the exact line…I don’t remember exactly what it was.

Watch older movies. They were written by guys who were literally chained to their typewriters, on the MGM set. The studio honchos would come by and bang on the door… “I don’t hear any typing!” So, these guys had to go fast. They were pumping out movies like we pump out TV shows today. The average person went to the movie theater 3 times a week and would see 3 movies, so they were sitting there for 5 or 6 hours. It seems weird now, but it is kind of like a lot of people today do with television.
The plot points had to keep them going. They also had serials…one reel movies that ended in a cliff-hanger, and the people had to come back to the theater to see how it ended.

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