Posts Tagged ‘Leo Burnett’

Using advertising as a stepping stone to screenwriting has been going on for decades. Basically all writers need time to develop their craft, pay the bills, and meet people.  The five years that John Hughes spent in advertising hit all those goals. And according to Robert Nolan who hired him at Leo Burnett, Hughes didn’t slack off on the advertising work at hand and he even picked up a few presentation skills that would help him in dealing with studio executives once he began working in movies.

“John never looked down his nose at the job. He took on every assignment with gusto and an off-kilter sense of humor. He was tireless and prolific — a committed workaholic. Every time he had a success on one project, he’d take on two more. When he finished those two, he’d go for four more. He was a whirlwind, banging away on his typewriter from morning till night. I think it was a discipline that never left him.

…Years later, when he was a successful screenwriter, he told me that the presentation skills he learned at Burnett helped him in presenting to the studio executives. He always remembered two things: first, to tell them what the idea was in one sentence before going into the details; second, to make some self-deprecating remark or a joke about the studio executive’s tie in order to break the ice and make everyone relax.”
Robert Nolan
The Early Ferris Bueller: Remembering John Hughes in Advertising


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I have no idea how many advertising copywriters have become produced screenwriters, but I have an idea how many would like to make that leap—about 100%. One of the great modern day success stories of an ad writer turning screenwriter was John Hughes.

Just found an article on John Hughes by Robert Nolan who hired Hughes at a well known advertising agency back in the mid-70s. (The Early Ferris Bueller: Remembering John Hughes in Advertising.) He writes that Hughes didn’t have much of a writing portfolio at the time he hired him but that it was Hughes’ hysterical jokes that he had sold to comedians for $5. that got him the job.

“One of the last times I saw John Hughes, he was sitting across my desk at Leo Burnett in Chicago and telling me he was quitting. It was early 1979 and he said he was leaving advertising to write screenplays. His first assignment, he said, was to write a script for a prospective National Lampoon movie called Jaws -3, People- 0. Selfishly, I told him that he was making a big mistake. That he’d never make it as a screenwriter. That he shouldn’t quit his day job. I felt so strongly about this that at the end of his last day at Burnett, I drove him all the way home trying to talk him out of it. But John was unmoved. His mind was made up.”
Robert Nolan

Hughes proved his old boss wrong and went on to write Mr. Mom, The Breakfast Club, Home Alone ,Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and around three dozen more filmsHughes, who passed away earlier this year, would have been 29 in 1979.

Scott W. Smith

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