By Henry Foenander
I demand a trial by combat.
Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to write. When the dreaded block hits, it’s easy to get annoyed at yourself, then stretch and strain your brain too much, like you’ve overcooked your mind muscles. It can be like your wringing a dry flannel desperate for one drop of creative juice.
I recently found my new favourite technique to dampen the flannel, set the juice loose, and get inspired…
Depending on what you’re working on, there’s always a cracking movie or TV speech on YouTube that fits the tone or genre you need for your copy.
I thought it might be helpful to share some speeches that I’ve found useful, and explain why I think watching them makes me a better writer.
The Great Dictator – Rhythm and power
This is the best movie speech ever made. There’s absolutely no argument. This is a great video to watch to get you pumped up for any copy really, but in particular, it’s the pace and rhythm that sets this apart. Listen to the gentleness at the start, and the crescendo at the end, the ups and downs, short breaths to build tension and long drawn out pauses for emphasis. What’s more, every line is crucial, there’s no fluff. Sure, there’s repetition, but each repeated phrase adds emotion. A sure fire, inspiration soaked, atom bomb of a speech. You’ll get tingles, then those tingles will turn to fire in your belly.
The Newsroom – Factually brilliant (The actual speech starts at around 2:45)
You’ve been white hatting all night and finally you’ve come across the perfect fact. The problem is, facts make you want to blow your brains out. No one has ever fallen in love with a percentage, graphs make people run for the door and charts were invented by Satan. But as this speech proves, there is a way to give facts and figures the zest they need to be heard or read and still enjoyed. The reason the use of facts in this speech is so genius, is because what he’s saying is known by everyone, but no one wants to admit it. It’s almost liberating to hear someone finally throw out all the foggy, lovey dovey stuff and just address the problem in the most brutal way possible. It’s also worth noting that he doesn’t just stop after the facts, he uses them as a base to build something more poetic from. I use this speech when I need a template for getting an important figure into my copy, and don’t want to sound like the Microsoft Paperclip.
Tim Minchin, Tony the fish – Story and Satire
This is a weird one, it’s more of a comedy bit than a speech, but I find it interesting. What the brilliant Tim does in this sketch, is use a completely ridiculous story to get his point across. What’s also interesting is the punchline joke at the end. “God who was created by man, to explain the existence of feet in the absence of the knowledge of the existence of Tony.” This is a great example of a quite complicated sentence, that doesn’t need dumbing down for you to get the idea. You don’t even have to understand or hear exactly what Tim says, but the motion and flow of the words is enough to know that what he said was both smart and funny. What Tim has just done, is be extremely clever by being so clever that we don’t need to hear how clever he is to know that he’s clever. See what I did there…Tim’s clever.
Game of Thrones, Tyrion’s Speech – The power of an endline
“I demand a trial by combat”. When I heard this speech for the first time I let out an audible “oooooh” and said out loud to myself “Sh*t just hit the fan”. The endline is fantastic, it rolls off the tongue and is brilliantly repeatable. Next time Marc tries to kill an idea of mine I may ask for a trial by combat to defend it, and it would be just as epic. But it just goes to show, an endline that’s memorable and sticky can ramp up any ad from forgettable, to ‘stuck-in-your-head-for-the-next-month’ memorable.
Pulp Fiction, Ezekiel 25:17 – Quote me on this
I’m sure Ezekiel wasn’t expecting his gospel to become a cultural cult hit 2000 years after he wrote it. But we have Sam L Jackson to thank for that. This is proof that in copy you can take anything, ANYTHING, and give it the right tone of voice to make it work beautifully. This is a bible quote, the only people who knew it before Pulp Fiction were monks and maybe The Pope. But Tarentino took this harmless, holy verse and turned it into the most vicious death threat of all time, and it works perfectly. Tone is a powerful thing, and if you can use it to flip something’s meaning, your copy is bound to be unexpected.
Even if you don’t find this technique useful, or you’re an art director who won’t be spending much time writing copy, speeches like this are a great source for inspiration. They’ve also become a pleasure to discover for me. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you have any more suggestions, please comment away, and give me some more wordy ammunition.