The Interview Series // 36

When the Bogusky of Crispin Porter + Bogusky famously exited (http://alexbogusky NULL.posterous NULL.com/filling-in-the-blanks) the industry in August, he made a special mention of a few copywriters that he regarded as some of the most super, extra talented that he’d ever worked with. Among them was Bill Wright – CP+B Vice-President, and Creative Director on the agency’s Burger King account. Just imagine thinking about all of those Whoppers and fries all day! Anyway, we hear that he’s responsible for some of the tightest work to come out of the agency. We managed to hold Bill hostage in his office and get the goods on how not to suck at writing.

Junior: Can you tell us a little about how you started off in advertising?

Bill Wright: I pretty much grew up in front of the TV and I was fascinated by the ads. They were probably my favorite part of television. And, I always enjoyed writing. I knew I was better at it than anybody else in my school when I was growing up. So, my dream was to someday be able to write, come up with ideas, be creative — and get paid for it.

Jr: How did being schooled at such a top notch Journalism school help you in the advertising industry?

B: I went to the Missouri School of Journalism (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Missouri_School_of_Journalism) with the intent of going through the news/editorial sequence and ultimately landing a job as a reporter. However, my advisor, Jim Albright steered me into the advertising sequence. He was an amazing mentor who did a lot of great work for Doritos, Exxon and Frito-Lay back in the 70’s — I owe him a tremendous amount of credit for any success I’ve had. Missouri J-School is incredibly hard and demanding and you can’t graduate from there without being a very disciplined writer, who understands the craft.

Jr: An awesome piece of advice that we’ve once heard from you was “Don’t write funny; write about things that are funny”. Can you talk about that a little more? What’s the separation between the two in your mind?

B: Hopefully this is self-explanatory. But it means to find a premise, a situation that is inherently humorous and write a script about it. And not to write a script that is just a bunch of jokes or one-liners you strung together. That piece of advice was handed to me by Alex Bogusky, and I try to pass it along whenever I can.

Jr: A bad print ad just gets ignored. A bad TV spot, however, is up there on the screen for thirty seconds or longer, embarrassing everyone. There are just so many more things you need to get right in a TVC. Dialog, character, product messaging, establishing and resolving a story arc within 25 seconds. Would you say TV is one of the toughest mediums to write for?

B: I always thought radio was harder than TV, because in TV you at least have the visual part to do the half the lifting for you. A 60 second radio is hard; a 30 second radio ad is sort of impossible.

Jr: You showed us earlier a great memo (http://www NULL.movieline NULL.com/2010/03/david-mamets-memo-to-the-writers-of-the-unit NULL.php) that playwright David Mamet gave to his TV writing team. He discusses the need for drama in every scene (What do the characters want? What’s the conflict?); the fact that a flat script can’t be saved by great directing; and he has a great quote “If you pretend the characters can’t speak, and write a silent movie, you will be writing great drama”. All these principles seemed to be summed up perfectly in this great scene from The Wire (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=nAZZdL1qhk8). McNulty wants info on the perp, Pearlman wants to save her future shot at joining The Bar Association, and Levy wants to keep his shit on the down low. Can you break it down for us?

B: 1.  “Any time two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of shit”.  – David Mamet

2.  Drama is the quest of our hero to overcome those things that prevent him from achieving his goal.

3.  Setup. Conflict. Resolution.  That’s your story arc. Always follow it.

Jr: What’s next for advertising writing? Where do you see the next big opportunities are for creativity?

B: I wish I had the answer for this.  But people will always hunger for great storytelling. Learn to tell great stories.

Jr: Do you get to work on any writing or creative projects outside of your day job?

B: Not at the moment. Someday I want to write a book about the Crispin experience.

Jr: Are there any other tips you can think of that would be useful for juniors to steal?

B: Think of an idea. Then do the exact opposite idea. Incredibly, this really works.

For example, here’s an idea for Burger King: Let’s give a free Whopper to every man, woman and child in America. Here’s a better idea: Let’s stop selling the Whopper.

Interview by: Pete Majarich (http://petermajarich NULL.com NULL.au/)

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 27/10/2010