What News People Can Learn From Movies

By Doug Drew 

One of the movies nominated for numerous Academy Awards last week was George Clooney’s “Up in the Air.” It was a huge success at the box office for adult audiences. Critics say one of the reasons for it’s success was that it dealt with current reality; a down economy with thousands of people fired, laid off, out of work. People could relate to the topic because they “felt it.” Most everyone is affected somehow by the country’s current economic condition.

Throughout the movie, audiences hear from real people who have lost their jobs. “Up In the Air” Writer-Director Jason Reitman says he sought out these people because they added realism in today’s workplace to the film. Reitman says, “The greatest way to achieve authenticity is to use the real people who are everywhere right now.”

Finding real people is what we talk about daily in story meetings in every newsroom across the country. Find someone to center the story around. Viewers enjoy watching stories about people. Viewers can identify with ordinary people and their experiences.

Many movies are about interesting people
The HBO series “Band of Brothers” was about WWII, but the storyline focused around Major Dick Winters and the soldiers he commanded and how they had to rely on each other to stay alive.

The movie “Pearl Harbor” was about the Japanese attack on Hawaii, but the story line was focused around the love triangle of characters played by Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsdale.

Want to get a female to watch the movie “Titanic”? Don’t tell her it’s a movie about a ship sinking, tell her it’s a movie that stars Leonardo DiCaprio and his love affair with Kate Winslet.

Was “The Sopranos” about the mob, or was it a story about Tony Soprano and his family?

People like watching stories about other people. The movie makers figured this out a long time ago. Same thing in news. It’s all about people. It’s essential that you find interesting people upon which to focus your stories. This must be discussed each day in your editorial meetings.

Real people in new stories
Want your viewers to be interested in your story about education budget cuts? Find a family whose child loves to play the trumpet, but the school is cutting out band classes.

Want viewers to watch your story about efforts to raise the minimum wage? Find someone who cleans hotel rooms in the morning and works at a fast food restaurant in the evenings to make ends meet.

How about a story on the mayor’s decision to cut the street repair budget which means fewer potholes will get filled? Find someone who has to drive on them all day long (taxi driver, delivery person, police officer, etc.) or someone who spends all day repairing the potholes.

Make the extra effort
It’s much easier not to find “common people.” It’s easy to interview officials, do a standup, shoot some cover, and come back to the station.

Finding real people takes more time, but it’s worth the effort.

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist with 602 Communications. He can be reached at ddrew@602communications.com