Copywriting & Playwriting secrets

Copywriting & Playwriting: Secrets of Great Writing from the Big Screen

Were you ever in a play? Most of us have tried our hand at acting at some point in our life. For the majority of us, it was in elementary school. Some of us volunteered or auditioned for roles in middle and high school productions. The brave and bold out there, they went to college and took acting classes. Whether we found it fun or nerve wracking, most of us have been in a play at least once.

According to, every stage play has a beat. Actors learn about the beat early on in their careers, and they work with beats on every production they undertake. says a beat is “that moment in a scene when something big happens, when stakes are raised, when characters confront their foes and win. Or lose… It’s a given that a play won’t crackle and keep audiences on their toes unless it has commanding beats.”


Copywriting Secrets: What Play Beats Can Teach Copywriters


Play beats are written by none other than writers who specialize in playwriting and scripts. Every theatrical production is composed of beats, whether it’s a Broadway play or a big Hollywood production. goes on to reveal that a good beat is made up of five specific keys:

  1. Action
  2. Obstacle
  3. Event
  4. Stakes
  5. Strategies

If you dabble in copywriting (or even creative writing), I’m willing to bet your brain is buzzing right now. Don’t these five keys sound just a little familiar? Obviously, they aren’t identical to the primary keys we follow when writing copy. Nonetheless, I’m willing to bet you’re drawing comparisons to the five keys of copywriting:

  1. Grab attention
  2. Overcome objections
  3. Present the benefits
  4. Tell them what they stand to lose (or gain)
  5. Issue a call to action

As you can see, we have the potential to learn a lot from the “tricks” of playwriting and big screen script writing. But before we dive into the parallels and review a few vital secrets, let’s first talk about the biggest swaying point of films, plays, television and writing: the audience.


The TV Audience versus Your Audience

In regards to television, Steve Jobs said, “I think it’s brought the world a lot closer together, and will continue to do that. There are downsides to everything; there are unintended consequences to everything. The most corrosive piece of technology that I’ve ever seen is called television – but then again, television, at its best, is magnificent.”

What makes a television program undeniably magnificent? Not everyone is a fan of Hallmark movie productions. You know what I’m talking about. Those Hallmark feature films, the ones that air on a special night on your local television station, usually right around a holiday. In fact, I know some guys who won’t hesitate to labels these feature films as “sappy chick flicks,” and they do everything in their power to get out of watching them with the girlfriend or wife.

But when they fail to escape a Hallmark movie night, do you know what inevitably seems to happen? They’re usually caught quickly wiping away a tear at some point, pretending it never happened. Why? The program touched them. It reached them. They connected to it, and they felt something. They felt something so strong that it evoked a physical reaction.

Successful television productions, the ones that stand out as award winning material, all have one rudimentary thing in common: they reach out and touch the audience. Successful copywriting projects, the ones that scream awesome and go viral, also have one rudimentary thing in common: they reach out, touch the audience and move them to action.

The primary focus of both industries is the audience. Let’s face it, without the undivided attention and backing of the audience, every production would inevitably be a lost cause. Content is useless if no one wants to read it, just like a play, movie or television program isn’t worth production costs if no one wants to see it.


The Secrets of Great Writing

Steven Spielberg, unarguably one of the greatest movie directors of our time, once said, “It all starts with the script: it’s not worth taking myself away from my family if I don’t have something I’m really passionate about.” It’s amazing what passion can do. It reaches deep down into the depths of our core. It motivates us. It has the power to temper or amplify our reactions. It can be like jet fuel! So, what prodigious secrets does great writing from the big screen reveal?

The first secret we can glean from the big screen is that if it lacks passion, it’s not worth doing. The first key to awesome copywriting is grabbing attention. How do we accomplish this? Like the playwriting beat, we start off with a little action. We infuse a little passion. We take our excitement and transform it into a hooking introduction that cascades down into the headings and paragraphs. The infusion of passion, a strong and basic emotion, is the perfect means of instantly establishing a connection with our all-important audience.

It’s important to point out that just as a beat holds the audience’s attention throughout a theatrical production, the writing of copy needs to likewise hold attention. It can’t start out amazing and then vanish. The audience will vanish right along with it. Steven Spielberg offers another piece of advice that applies, “The public has an appetite for anything about imagination – anything that is as far away from reality as is creatively possible.”

Now, the world of copywriting revolves around content that is usually educational, factual, informative and designed to promote a certain way of thinking or something for sale. How is Spielberg’s advice pertinent? A key means of holding the audience’s attention is through storytelling. Nine times out of ten, you’re relaying a true story, but the mere fact that it’s a narrative story connects the audience through the most motivating mental power known to man: imagination. Don’t underestimate this!

The second secret is all about overcoming. For playwriting, it’s the characters overcoming an obstacle. For copywriters, it’s overcoming the audience’s objections. Don’t be afraid to bluntly present objections and then heroically overcome them. An excellent example from the big screen are the Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. Holmes tackles obstacles with sizzling precision, and leaves our jaw hanging as simple deduction and logic prevail. You can do the same when attacking and conquering the probable objections of your audience.

The third secret revolves around a planned event or presenting the benefits. In the realm of copywriting, benefit presentation is our main event. It’s the moment where our audience sits on the edge of their seat, eager and ready to learn the answer to the all-important question, what’s in it for me? It’s just like that highly anticipated event in any movie where we perch on the edge of the movie theater seat, holding our breath and wondering, what’s going to happen next?

The fourth secret we can glean from playwriting is the stakes. What does the character have to lose? How will the loss affect them? For crying out loud, how will their loss affect us as we’re chomping away on popcorn? When it comes to copywriting, presenting the audience with what they stand to lose by not adopting an idea or purchasing our product or service can be just as devastating. Metaphorically speaking, your goal is make them drop the popcorn in shock and awe, mutter about something in their eye as they wipe away a tear or fly backwards in their seat as they experience that unmistakable “Whoa!” moment.

The fifth and final secret we can take away from the theatrical beat is the implementation of a strategy, or in our case, a call to action. You want a movie that delivered one gripping set of strategies? How about two series of movies to review: James Bond and the Jason Bourne films. You can’t deny that by the end of these films, you walked out of the theater ready for the next installment. And there had better be a next installment in the works! A copywriting call to action is similar. Content should build so much anticipation and excitement that by the end, the audience jumps at the chance to take some sort of action.


Inspiration and Passion = Awesome

Perhaps the most valuable thing we can learn from Oscar winning movies and Tony winning plays is that audiences have an insatiable hunger for inspiring, passionate entertainment. Our job as copywriters is to create an educational and informative piece that also entertains. It stands to reason that by adopting the five keys of creating a beat, merging them with the five keys of killer copywriting and throwing in some inspiration and passion for good measure, we’ll create the perfect recipe—maybe even “The Perfect Storm”—for capturing the minds and souls of our audience. What about sales? That’s one of the main points of our online content, right? Well, it’ll follow as we connect with our audience.



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