By now, you have probably heard the news that Roger Ebert — famed movie critic, prolific writer and fearless, modern-day philosopher — died at the age of 70 yesterday. Just a day before, he had blogged that he would be taking “a leave of presence” due to a recurrence of cancer. Right until the end, he was weaving words in ways that surprised and inspired.
Every writer has their icons … the ones who inspired them to type in the first place. For me, Roger Ebert is among the upper echelon of wordcraft heros. Hemingway, Rushdie, Yates, Ebert. No shit. In fact, I didn’t realize it until yesterday, but his writing was as influential to me as anyone, and here is why.
At age 15 — just as I was getting intoxicated on the Lost Generation in American Lit class — I bought one of Ebert’s voluminous books, filled with his movie reviews. For the next few months, I compulsively watched scores of his four-star-rated flicks on weekends with my buddy Matt.
The summer before, I was keen to watch Dumb and Dumber, Speed and Blown Away. By fall, Ebert had me watching The Three Colours trilogy, Unforgiven, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter and even Saturday Night Fever.
It is no accident that at the same time I was diving into film studies with Ebert’s book, I was becoming a creative writer, which lead me on a path toward becoming an English major, a writing tutor, a publication editor, a marketing copywriter, and finally a content strategist.
It was Ebert who revealed to me the potential of a good story line, that characters are everything, and that a tack-sharp, five-word sentence can be so much more powerful than a 34-word diatribe. Even when I take photos, Ebert-like questions run through my mind: What’s the story of this scene? Why should we care?
There’s an odd parallel between a movie critic and a content strategist. Both of us are scathing in our assessments, but we’re scathing because we want things to be better. Ebert famously quipped “no good film is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” In our world, if you are presenting something compelling and authentic, quantity of content won’t be your problem. If you are mediocre, it will be. Perhaps its no mistake that in his later years, Ebert was becoming as well known for his blogging as he was for his film criticism. And its no mistake that he was also an early believer in Google and the fledgling power of the internet.
I can’t pretend that what we do as marketers is anywhere near as noble as producing a thought-provoking film, or crafting a beautiful blog post on life itself. But it all comes back to “why should we care?” In storytelling — whether you are writing a screenplay or publishing a blog to connect with consumers — it’s a question we should be asking more than we do.