Corporate storytelling

What “New Hollywood” Can Teach Business Storytellers

Book cover for Easy Riders, Raging Bulls
In Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, author Peter Biskind talks about the risks and rewards of filmmaking in the 1970s. Film buffs and business storytellers alike will appreciate the peek behind the curtain.

The 1970s gave us some of the most memorable films ever made, including The Godfather, Network, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. These films and many others inspired generations of creativity in fashion, music, and literature.

They also offer numerous lessons for today’s brand and business storytellers. Let’s take a look at the characters and narratives of an unequivocally dark decade and see how we can use what they conveyed in order to tell better stories.

What is “New Hollywood”?

New Hollywood is a term that broadly encapsulates a filmmaking movement that spanned the late 1960s to the early 1980s, when young filmmakers departed from the filmmaking style and cultural mores of Old Hollywood. In short, out with The Sound of Music, in with “The Sound of Silence.”

The movies that typify New Hollywood are darker, grittier, and more realistic than the melodramas and musicals of the preceding decades. They struck a chord with audiences. Here are some reasons why.

Sometimes smaller is better

The action in Dog Day Afternoon, the Sidney Lumet classic about a thwarted bank heist, takes place in a single day, but the thematic significance is huge. The movie studies the conflicts between rebellion and authority, love and loyalty, empathy and self-interest. It also tackles the gray areas in defining victimhood and gender.

The lesson here? You can tell a big, rich, complex story through a microscope. The story can involve just a few characters against a sweeping backdrop, or a lot of characters in just a snapshot. The beginning, middle, and end don’t have to follow a classic fairy-tale formula.

People respond to what’s real

In Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, the main characters come of age in 1950s Texas, and it isn’t pretty. They fight bitterly, and use and deceive one another. Innocent people die.

Previous films about teenagers such as Blue Denim and Where the Boys Are sugar-coated growing pains and somehow arrived at happy endings. Audiences, then and now, know that real life isn’t so simple. The movie was a huge success, winning eight Oscar nominations and grossing $29.1 million at the box office.

Honesty isn’t revolutionary, but sometimes it’s difficult to embrace when we want people to see the best in us and in our business story. Remember that nobody got to where they are today through magic and perfection and happy endings. To be honest about your shortcomings and challenges is to be real and relatable.

 Make what’s old new again

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” This line embodied a measure of anger and frustration with authority that anyone could relate to (even if it did come from the mouth of Howard Beale, a white cisgender male).

The 1976 satire Network – which raked in awards and is rated “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the National Film Registry – calls out the callousness and hypocrisy of media conglomerates and their profit-at-any-cost business strategy.

The topic wasn’t anything new in the 1970s, but dark and pessimistic approach was. The threat of suicide looms over the entire film, and the underlying plea for humanity is swallowed whole amid growing evidence that the commodification of human events will prevail.

Don’t be afraid to tackle an old topic in a new way. Inspiration is not emulation: It’s putting your own unique twist on something people might already know, or might think they understand. A new approach from business storytellers can surprise and delight people – and invite them to come back for more.

The underdog is inspiring

The eponymous protagonist of Rocky is a small-time boxer with the chance to fight a heavyweight champion.

In The Goodbye Girl, Marsha Mason plays the quintessential Ms. Lonelyhearts.

Vanishing Point’s Kowalski races the clock and outruns the cops to try to win a bet.

John Travolta plays Tony Manero, an aimless Brooklynite whose only gift and pleasure in life is dancing.

In Cabaret, Sally Bowles has little talent but a lot of personality.

Moviegoers love these characters. Not because they eventually “win” or “succeed” (and movies of this era offer ambiguous endings at best) but because they came from nothing or nowhere and overcame great odds to change their lives.

It’s not difficult to see the parallels between beloved characters and hungry entrepreneurs.

Tell a story about your business journey to win the same kind of affection that audiences have for Rocky or Tony. Own the moments that aren’t glamorous or pretty. Focus on a turning point in your history. Look at an old theme in a new way. Be honest.

Consummate Prose is dedicated to helping business storytellers share their stories in a way that’s honest and real. Contact us today to get started.

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