Welcome to Talk Nerdy to Me!
A series of fireside Slack-Chats where Pound & Grain’s creative geniuses and smarty-pants explain their practices to a writer. This time, we’ve got Creative Director Grant Fraggalosch here to tell us all about his role at P&G as well as his extensive screenwriting experience.
KAT: Hey, Grant! Thanks for taking the time to chat about screenwriting, storytelling and your role as one of Pound & Grain’s Creative Directors. My first question is, how did you get into screenwriting?
GRANT: Screenwriting just evolved from a lifelong love of writing in all sorts of different formats. In the 2010’s I produced a number of unscripted TV series and that sparked an interest in scripted storytelling as well.
KAT: What’s the main difference between writing for a TV series and writing for TV ads?
GRANT: Well there’s the obvious engagement difference in that an advertising audience will only engage with your ad for a few seconds. So you need to communicate your message in a very quick, arresting way. Because while a TV audience is proactively tuning into your show because they want to see it, an ad audience is not looking for your ad – on the contrary!
The other big difference is the idea of selling a product or service, whereas in TV you’re really trying to entertain. Entertainment is obviously a goal of a lot of our ad work as well, but we’re also trying to compel the audience to take an action. So they’re both different in really interesting ways!
KAT: Could you share some secret tips for creating a good story?
GRANT: As the writer David Mamet says, there are no rules to storytelling but there is one law: never be boring! And in many ways that applies to ad writing even more so because you have so little time to engage an audience. As you know, in our work at P&G we’re always looking for those special insights that allow us to connect with a consumer in a meaningful and relatable way. Fortunately, we have great strategists and researchers that help us uncover those nuggets. And that kind of connection and relatability is gold in any form of storytelling really.
KAT: Couldn’t agree more! What techniques or methods from traditional screenwriting can be brought over to writing ads?
GRANT: The idea of going on a journey is always relevant. In screenwriting, the protagonist typically goes on the classic hero’s journey. There is something that he or she wants, and on the way to achieving it they experience highs and lows, twists and turns, moments of discovery and conflict, and finally a satisfying resolution. In advertising, we can depict those journeys (in a greatly abbreviated form of course!) and we can also take our audience on a journey too, wherein they experience curiosity, emotion and a resolution as well.
I think of the “OMG” TV spot we created for BC Lotteries. In that spot, the Father (protagonist) had a mission – he needed to find out why his wife and family kept saying “OMG!”. And, for that matter, so did the audience – we knew as little as he did. So, his – and our – curiosity is peaked, and he/we want a resolution. He goes on a bit of a journey from curiosity to confusion to frustration as he tries to decipher just what’s going on. And when all is finally revealed to him, it’s revealed to the audience as well.
KAT: That’s such a great way of showing how important audiences are for advertising. Storytelling has evolved tremendously over the years, particularly within the advertising industry. How has that reflected your copywriting style?
GRANT: Well the fun thing about storytelling in advertising now is the sheer diversity to it. We’re telling stories not only in traditional TV ads and billboards etc but in 15 sec online videos, 6 sec YouTube pre-roll videos, GIFs, not to mention VR and AR. And audiences engage in each in very different ways. So it means you have to be really nimble and not just force one execution into those various formats, but step back and look at the big idea, and then consider how to best express it in each format or platform. Also, audiences are dealing with a lot of distractions so you need to grab their interest very quickly and stop them from scrolling or hitting that “Skip Ad” button!
For more on this topic though, check out the latest episode of P&G’s Version Control podcast!
KAT: What’s your favourite piece of content that you’ve written?
GRANT: I think that Lotto 6/49 “OMG” spot that we produced at the very end of 2019 is still a fave.
KAT: I love that spot too! When it comes to pitching digital advertising concepts, is it like pitching movies and shows?
GRANT: In some ways, it’s very similar because your goal is to get either the client or the network excited about an idea. So it’s important that the concept or the hook be very very clear. Of course in screenwriting, you’re pitching an idea from your own mind and heart – it’s completely your thing, whereas in advertising it’s much more or collaboration with the client from the get-go since whatever you’re pitching was born out of a brief or a business challenge that they presented you with. So you’re starting from very different places. In advertising, the client is invested in the work right off the bat. But I can tell you that pitching advertising is a great training ground to pitch anything. I was often complimented on my pitching in the TV business and I owe that skill entirely to learning pitching in advertising.
KAT: It’s all about the hook. We’ve been WFH for the last six months; has that impacted any productions you’ve worked on?
GRANT: Well, at P&G we had our biggest project of the year ready to go into production in the spring and of course that got postponed as all production was shut down. But as soon as the province cleared us to go into production again this summer we were on set and the protocols and crews were great – we all felt safe and produced some really fun work which is just rolling out now.
As far as the screenwriting world goes, on one hand, it was a blessing as it gave writers a nice chunk of time to just hunker down and write without looming deadlines etc. Given that extra time to create, I think we’re going to see some fantastic new movies and shows coming out in 2021 and 2022!
KAT: I’m looking forward to a wide variety of creative projects that will come from this. My next question is, how does an agency bring an idea on paper, to a script, to production and eventually to the screen?
GRANT: We often start by brainstorming scenarios that could work out. If a scenario feels like it has potential we’ll write scripts and of course, we’re working with the Strategy and Producer team to ensure that we’re hitting the brief, the target, the right messaging etc. When we have a handful of directions that we’re excited about we’ll present to the client, and at this point, we’ll add some imagery to help communicate the vibe, tone etc.
Once we have an approved script, we invite a handful of directors to pitch their vision for how to execute it. This is a really fun part of the process because directors are bursting with creativity and often bring you ideas that you’d never have thought of and you know can take the script to a whole other level. We’ll share a couple of directors and their treatments with the client, and once a director is approved we go into pre-production.
In pre-production, we continue to work with the director who is now storyboarding the script and providing their own reference for look and tone. New ideas often emerge here that we’ll happily share with the client and incorporate into the script. We’re also casting at this point, which can also be quite exciting when you see an actor do something completely unexpected that you know will be great. They may adlib dialogue that then gets added to the script. So, while the script is approved at this point, we’re always looking for ways to keep kicking it up a notch. Locations, wardrobe etc are also happening during prepro.
Next thing you know you’re in production and it’s always a thrill to see how a few words on a page have suddenly resulted in all these people on set working to bring it to life. That never gets old.
A lot of writers think of post-production as your final chance to rewrite the script, and it’s really true. You can do a lot in the edit and a great editor will bring a lot to the table in terms of performance selection and pacing. You realize here how many different ways there are of telling the story. This is probably my favourite part of the whole process.
KAT: Gotta love editing. Now I’d love to know, what’s your favourite thing about working at P&G?
GRANT: What’s great about working in an agency that really embraces digital is the diversity of formats and platforms that you get to tell stories in. And so much of it is video-related these days, so that really plays into my interests and TV background as well.
KAT: From a quick glance at your IMDB, I can see you’ve created some great reality and factual television series such as The Real Housewives of Vancouver and Peak Season. What made you get into this genre?
GRANT: Peak Season was my first show – I created it while I was working in advertising, pitched it to MTV and was lucky that they and CTV were into it and wanted to make the series. The docu-drama format was just emerging at the time (eg: The Hills on MTV) and I thought that given the unscripted nature of it, it would be an interesting storytelling challenge. Which it was! A couple of years later the Housewives franchises were ruling the docu-drama genre, so that proved to be a good fit for me and my experience from Peak Season. Also, being an ad guy, I couldn’t resist working on one of the biggest and most successful TV brands there is!
KAT: The Housewives are so entertaining! What have you been watching lately?
GRANT: It’s funny, I recently watched and really enjoyed two series (both on Amazon Prime) that would normally be way out of my lane. I don’t watch superhero movies but got a kick out of The Boys – a unique spin on superheroes and a fair bit of mayhem to go along with it. The other was The Great – the story of Catherine the Great arriving in Russia. I’m not a viewer of historical dramas, but this is told in a really modern, funny and edgy way – and of course, has incredible locations and production value. I thought the writing was really special in that one and it kept me coming back.
KAT: I’ll be sure to check those out! Thank you so much for taking the time to take us through your role as Creative Director and give us some insights on what makes a great story for a variety of formats.