What Does Quentin Tarantino Teach Us About Key Messages in Films for Business?

Whether you like it or not, there are some undeniable takeaways from Quentin Tarantino’s film, the culturally nostalgic ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his last film in 2019. The movie signifies the end of an era. It has been dubbed one of his most ‘personal films’ yet. 

As usual with a Tarantino film, it has provoked arguments. I went to see it a few weeks after its release. Some of my friends had said how much they loved it and some had been keen to tell me how much they hated it.  

Tarantino’s films not only provoke such instances but are also a vast loving dramatisation of the power that certain actors, in combination with writers-producers-directors and an entire system of production, deliver. 

I am not going to review the film here. What I would like to talk about is the messages that the lovers and haters agree on. What are the undeniable points about the film? The reason I am interested in this from a films-for-business point of view is that you cannot please all people all of the time. 

Sometimes people will not like the video you have made. ‘Twas ever thus and will not change; we all have our subjective responses to any creative offering. That’s a great thing; it’s partly what makes creative pursuits endlessly fascinating.

So, whether we like it or not, what are these statements we can all agree on about ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’?

1. Tarantino still makes use of popular culture references, dark humour and extreme violence.

2 The film courts controversy with the use of the Sharon Tate storyline.

3 Tarantino’s stock remains very high among high-profile actors who remain keen to work with him.

“The good ideas will survive” – QT

Tarantino’s Approach – Key Messages + Visual Appeal

Tarantino uses multiple storytelling techniques such as a series of iconic moments that leap out of the film, historical references, artistic ambitions, multiple stunts and special effects, modern critical receptivity and vulnerabilities, intense experiences, apt dialogue, excitement and amusement, all which grab the viewers’ attention.

This makes sense for a 2-hour 40-minute movie. For a shorter film for your business, as trite as it may sound - less is more. 

Bringing this point home, when investing time, money and reputation in making a video for your business, certainties are a useful thing to be dealing with. From a client’s point of view, key messages are the basis of any film. A creative approach should articulate and enhance these messages.

Everything that happens in a video needs to point to and support the key messages; anything else is a waste of time.  Hopefully, most of your audience will enjoy watching the video/film but for those for whom it is not their cup of tea, at least it made the key messages clear. That is what is ultimately important.

We’re not saying you should use the same style or approaches as Tarantino, but we are suggesting you use a similar ideology. What gives your film its pulse? What do you want to say? Get to the point, and keep it consistent, and support it with visual techniques. 

Think about how you’re going to drive the key messages home, and what would be of interest to your audience, not you.

“I like it when somebody tells me a story, and I actually really feel that that's becoming like a lost art in…cinema” - QT

Your Approach - People Love Stories

When discerning the key messages in your film, many companies often want to squeeze in as much information as possible within 2 minutes, leaving your audience feeling overwhelmed and perplexed. 

They think they should include a message about, for example, how they’re the tech leaders, and how they are one of the fastest growing companies in their sector and show their footage inside an office and a factory and a store, and add their full range of software, and throw in different interviews with different members of staff all at the same time…they throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at their audience.

This is not necessarily a bad idea, but it results in a boring sales-focused company film. This is information overload. Don’t get distracted by too many things. The focus should be on the story you are telling – because people do love a good story. Your investors, customers and decision-makers are these people. 

Once you’ve realised your story, then build all your footage and key messages around it. Break it down into sizable chunks - there needs to be a beginning, middle and end, and not just random facts about your organisation.

“If there is something magic about the collaborations I have with actors it's because I put the character first” - QT

It’s Not About You – It’s Always About Them

One approach is to get other people to talk about your company/product/service, rather than talking about it yourselves. It’s a more genuine approach.

When we talk about ourselves and what we are good at, frankly speaking, it’s easy to sound false or arrogant – not sincere. But when other people talk about it, it is easier to believe them.

If you can get a customer or client in a higher position to talk about your company, the more impressive the message would be. 

  • Know what your aim is
  • Choose about 3 key messages (this can depend on the length of the film).
  • Out of those be mindful of the one that is the most imperative
  • Let this one message be the main theme your story revolves around
  • Be creative - find ways to show your message, rather than just talking about it
  • If your film has a voice-over artist, build your script around the key messages 
  • Can you turn your messages into questions? For example, if your message is: “our film agency creates innovative and thought-provoking promotional films for your business”, turn this into “What is your company’s vision? What challenges are you working on? What’s the main message you want your customers to know about your company?” Try different variants.

Picking and choosing clear key messages and elaborating on these in an interesting and watchable way might mean the viewer remembers more about the company and comes away with a more memorable impression.

The important thing is to make the viewing experience as pleasurable and useful as possible. The viewer wants to feel that their 90 seconds or 2 minutes or however long , has been usefully spent. (Going back to Tarantino, whether you like his films or not, when you walk out of the cinema, it’s all you’ll want to talk about).

This creates a good initial feeling and is a positive start to the relationship. If what they see is interesting, relevant to them and well presented, a good film will motivate them to find out the details elsewhere: on the website or in conversations. Save other particulars for then.

“A writer should have this little voice inside of you saying, Tell the truth. Reveal a few secrets here.”- QT

Wrapping Up - Principles Don’t Change

Before the start of any project, we have the initial conversation to find out more about the client, their pain points, their story and their message. In many cases, they give us multiple options in their answers which we can experiment with. 

The exercise of getting them to distil the messages for their business’s identity film involves a reappraisal of elements of their business and to realise and define what it is that currently makes their business unique from an outside perspective. This is a side effect that helps in other areas of progressing their work aside from the production of the video.

Ultimately, whatever new trends that are emerging, the principles of video marketing will remain the same. Namely, delivering key messages in a way that interests and informs audiences. 

Storytelling remains at the heart of this. New techniques and trends are always subservient to the unfolding action within a video. Companies will continue to search for their own stories to tell and production companies will still need to shape the narrative and deliver the story as dynamically as possible. 

Amid the hurly-burly of all the new and exciting existing and new trends, it is the authentic and well-told stories that will continue to deliver genuine cut-through. 

Take a lesson from Quentin Tarantino: give your viewers something to think about.

See how we do it: send us an email to hello@shortstories.media if you would like to discuss your next film project.

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