Instead of dialling 911, Lou videotapes the blood trails, bullet holes, and bodies of a family mass murdered in their home just seconds ago.
And he’s going to flog his footage to the morning news.
Lou’s a ‘stringer’. A freelance video journalist so bloodthirsty for success, he stops at nothing to suck the most shocking images into his camera every night.
If the crime scene isn’t dramatic enough, he tweaks it – maybe drags the body into position for a better shot.
Jake Gyllenhaal got a Golden Globe nomination for playing Lou in the 2014 movie Nightcrawler. But prior to getting the gig, he had nothing in common with the character. And needed a way to become him.
He imagined Lou as a coyote – hungry, roaming the streets at night, stopping at nothing to sink his teeth into another meal.
To empathise with the creature, Gyllenhaal switched to a kale diet, ran a 10-mile loop at night, and only filmed when the sun was down.
When anybody came to me in a scene and tried to challenge me, I knew what I was doing and how hungry I was. I mean, again, literally and figuratively.
“There were moments, three-quarters of the way through, where I remember desperately not wanting the sun to come up, not only as a producer on the movie but really as the character, kind of getting sad as I knew daytime would arrive.” ~ Jake Gyllenhaal
To empathise with stringers, he spent weeks with Howard Raishbrook – a real-life version of Lou (with a healthier moral compass). This was ESSENTIAL for the movie’s authenticity, too.
How to Empathise with Stringers and Write Your Best Copy
So far in my copywriting career, I’ve tried method acting just once – for a high profile gym chain, launching their first ever blog platform.
As a junior, I woulda Googled some stuff hoping for the best (not uncommon copywriting practice, even today).
But this was a turning point.
The sports and nutrition science had to be 100% accurate – and double-sourced.
The tone of voice had to be 100% recent – and troll-proof.
The empathy notch had to be turned HIGH – for bodybuilders, athletes, regular gym members, and newcomers alike.
— Note: In case we haven’t met yet, let me just tell you that I weigh 11 stone. I’m skinnier than Lou (without the kale diet and 10 mile runs). I go the gym twice a week. But before this job, I was terrified of the free-weights area … like most people my size. —
To feel the feelings of these readers, I needed to become them. And so my usual shortcuts into empathy wouldn’t work.
I had to physically enter their world, so I:
- Switched to a high-protein diet
- Studied Paleo
- Identified the line between fact and what the audience call ‘bro science’
- Joined fan groups of the most radical fitness ‘gurus’ in the world (like Mark Sisson)
- Started lifting heavier things in the gym
…. I soon found out how expensive that lifestyle can be, if you’re not careful.
It’s time-sapping, too. You gotta prepare meals in advance. Wash a lot more dishes. Swap PlayStation time for healthier sleep.
It hurts. ‘Leg day’ can leave you limping for a week. But don’t expect any sympathy from your other half – she’s still annoyed you skipped JungleJim with the kids because you were deadlifting that afternoon.
It’s addictive. Once you start noticing new muscle, you can’t help but be that guy in the mirror. And if you’re forced to miss the gym for even a day due to illness, it prods you into depression.
There’s A LOT MORE to this (like how you physically feel after months of strength training and zero cardio). But you get the point.
— Note: To write the content, it still needed to be 100% authentic (and useful). So, I worked with the personal trainers themselves and got ‘em to fact-check the copy.
Best two questions you can ask a client:
Who is your best guy?
What’s his phone number? —
The sad part of the story is those blogs are still unpublished. There’s about 30 of them 100% complete and signed-off by the trainers. But the brand ain’t launched the platform yet.
So, here I am telling you HOW IT’S DONE … with no results from this exercise to back me up.
You’re just gonna have to take my word that I’ve never written better copy.
Or if you prefer, draw your own interpretations from Jake Gyllenhaal’s insights here: :
I love his take on ‘venturing off into a piece of the unexplored mind’.
And I reckon if we master this method acting technique, it doesn’t matter if we’re creating blog posts, Snapchat ads, or whatever the kids care about in 20 years – we can always bring a rare level of empathy to the table as marketers.
Have you tried it yet?
When you’re not empathising with people you already understand, how far would you go to join the conversation in a stranger’s gut? Would you change your whole lifestyle to become a twisted soul like Lou?
Share your methods in the comments (and if you’ve got results too, please, flex away).
— By the way, this post now forms the intro for our 15-page ebook on empathy. Click the link to get your free copy. —