How Francis Ford Coppola Should Inspire Your Business

In Leadership, Purpose, Mission & Values, Brand Goals

Have you ever walked out of a movie theater in exasperation, having given up entirely on the film you paid to see? When I have, it’s almost always been because of one glaringly obvious failing … one all brand leaders should be careful not to repeat.

The work of cinema is the bringing together multiple creative disciplines – writers, directors, cinematographers, actors, set designers, costume designers – to tell a story. And that’s the challenge: how to get all of these different people, with different ideas and different skill sets to tell the same story? In an interview with the creative blog 99u, Francis Ford Coppola described the one thing filmmakers should keep in mind:

“When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In ‘The Godfather,’ it was succession. In ‘The Conversation,’ it was privacy. In ‘Apocalypse,’ it was morality. The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.”

In business, your theme is your brand … the essence of the story you are telling. When a brand leader (the director) knows the brand’s purpose and mission he has the tools to make the right decisions and – perhaps even more importantly – to empower each of his leaders (the cinematographer, the costume designer, the set designer) to make their own independent decisions, knowing that the end result will be one cohesive story.

When a business leader doesn’t know the brand’s story, and hasn’t told it consistently, compellingly and effectively so the team meant to execute on it truly understands, then the cohesion of the story breaks down. Just like the in movies. The actors are all wrong for the characters, the dialog doesn’t fit, the editing is off and the dramatic arch looks more like a cliff. The musical is shot like film noir. The soundtrack in major key, when it should be minor. When the storytellers are all telling different stories in the same movie, what’s an audience to do?

But when all the creative minds are working together in unison to tell the same story, magic happens. Anything is possible, even when the path may seem unclear. As Coppola says, “knowing the theme will help you when you are not sure which way to go.” In the end, the question is not “What would the director do?” but “What movie are we making? What would the brand do?” Make sure in your business that everyone knows the brand – your theme – and works together to tell the same story.

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Haley Boehning is a principal at Storyforge. Building on 20+ years driving change and creating alignment for Fortune 500 clients, non-profits and start-ups, Haley has developed a pragmatic approach to change through storytelling, developing relevant, consistent and emotionally compelling messages and targeted communications strategies that help brand and culture triumph in times of great change.