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From Movies to Messaging: Strategic Storytelling

Making Movies and Creating Messaging People Want to See: The Importance of Strategy in Storytelling and Creative Intentionality

“To make a great film, you need three things: the script, the script, and the script.” –Sir Alfred Hitchcock

Recently, The Cirlot Agency welcomed Oscar®–nominated screenwriter and director, Randall Wallace, to its headquarters for a seminar on thought leadership and creative vision. Wallace, whose most famous works include masterpieces such as Braveheart, We Were Soldiers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and Secretariat, is no stranger to the art of creative storytelling. He has inspired numerous writers and visionaries over the past 30 years, and, during his lecture, shared key strategies and practical wisdom which helped lead to his success in Hollywood. His advice is applicable not only to cinema, but to business, as well.

  • Strategy begins with a feeling. Before successful planning and executions can occur in any creative endeavor, communication must be distilled to one universal awareness that all people share: intrinsic feeling. “I start with the feeling I want to have when I begin a movie,” said Wallace. “If, in the end, other human beings feel what you feel, then your story becomes memorable. There’s an old saying that goes, ‘You won’t remember what you say, you’ll remember a little of what you do, but you’ll never forget how you felt.'”
  • Think unconventionally. “Our eyes notice what’s different; not what’s typical,” Wallace continued. Building on the foundation of a mutual feeling, successful projects demand departure from the expected. Though transcending conventional ideas can be challenging, Wallace compared its benefits to that of an unforeseen victory: “It’s kind of like participating in a fight with someone you didn’t know could hit. It’s more impressive to be taken by surprise.”
  • Find your foil. In dramatic literature, two contrasting characters are often known as “foils,” and are used to drive forward the overarching theme of the story. In his 1996 Academy Award®–winning film, Braveheart, Wallace used this device as the courageous and compassionate William Wallace operated as the foil to King Longshanks, the maniacal tyrant. The single trait shared by the two was that of leadership; and, although strikingly different in motivation, only through their reciprocal roles did they function as the pulse of the story.

    In every business, there, too, must be a cohesive marriage of strategy and creativity: both frameworks exist to serve a specific purpose, but only produce the greatest success when fused together. Perhaps the most famous example of this “foil” in business is found in another pair of filmmakers: the Disney brothers. Walt Disney is the name that we all recognize—the dreamer and innovator; yet, without his brother, Roy, the planner and businessman who made wise financial decisions behind the scenes, the Disney company as we know it would likely have failed within its first decade. Wallace emphasized that although individual strengths may seem diametrically opposed, they must be used for complementing and cultivating—not competing. “The fact that something is a paradox does not make it untrue,” Wallace said. “There is freedom, then there is responsibility. Some things cannot exist without the other.”

  • Appreciate goodness, then achieve greatness. Reflecting on pivotal moments in his life, Wallace explained that ultimate prosperity requires gratitude and determination in spite of failure or tragedy. “After nearly having to have my hand amputated, I woke up every morning thanking God for my hand. Then I took up piano.” Whether in business, arts, or any circumstance, “getting up” is simply not enough. The key to great leadership is “getting up with gratitude,” and consciously deciding to persevere through action.

At a time in the film industry when movie screens are polluted with more and more unnecessary distractions, the business world, too, is experiencing the same kind of excess in messaging. Randall Wallace’s final advice was that the heartbeat of any project—creative or corporate—must be the story. It is through wise, intentional storytelling that audiences are moved beyond the point of mere entertainment, and into a deeper, more universal understanding of humanity, persuading viewers to act.