Copy Talk

Interview with a Writer: Jason Siciliano

Jason Siciliano is not only a modern copywriter, he’s the Modern Copywriter.

Since 2009, he’s run the beloved blog Modern Copywriter, featuring the portfolios of working writers all over the world. He frequently posits that comedians, surfers and drummers make excellent writers. I love this blog and so should you.

When not running Modern Copywriter, Jason works as a creative director in San Francisco. If you’re wondering if he’s ever won any awards for his ad work, he leaves you this image on his website:

Copywriting awards of Jason Siciliano, Modern Copywriter

Does Modern Copywriter have any awards? UM HELLO HE HAS A BOX FULL OF THEM.

So, he’s not a trophy polish kind of writer. Jason took some time to tell me what kind of writer he is and offer up some “boring” advice for other writers.

BR: What kind of writer are you?

JS: I’m a 13-year-old boy trapped in the body of an old-school advertising copywriter. Help!

BR: How did you get wherever you are now?

JS: Slow and steady, which is unusual for a copywriter. I graduated from the University of Oregon School of Journalism in 1993. I worked at ad agencies in San Francisco and Minneapolis until 2008, when I went in-house at Target in Minneapolis as a Creative Manager. In 2010, I joined Yahoo! as Creative Director, and then in 2012 became the first Creative Director of SquareTrade in San Francisco. On the side, I also run ModernCopywriter.com.

BR: What advice would you give to someone trying to improve their writing?

JS: This is going to be such a boring answer, apologies. There’s no secret to it. Practice, like anything else. Write lots and lots. Surround yourself with great writers. Read as much as you can, watch movies, listen to music, travel as much as possible, meet people, observe and absorb, give yourself something to write about. Then write and write and write.

BR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve worked on?

JS: OMG where to start? This is an impossible question.

Once, for a phone company’s introduction of new area codes, I was asked to write a script in a campaign that featured a real elephant “not forgetting” its new phone number. My art director and I had always wanted to do something with an orangutan, so we wrote a spot that featured an orangutan forgetting and his elephant friend remembering for him. As it turns out, orangutans don’t like sitting next to elephants because they’re so big (normally, they’re in trees above elephants). So, we had to train the orangutan to sit next to the elephant. That took a month. Then, they FedEx’d the elephant—FedEx has a special elephant plane—to the studio in Los Angeles, while the orangutan drove in a truck across the country with its orangutan family. The shoot was amazing, but took forever because the elephant had to go outside every 40 minutes to poop. Also, I remember them telling us NOT to bring any kind of food or beverage on the set, as the orangutan might accidentally rip our arms off to take it from us. So awesome.

What’s something you’d like to work on in the future?
I’d like to sell a script, for any product, that requires a two-week shoot on a tropical beach. Every time I see a commercial/video set on a beach, I think to myself, “Hurray for that copywriter! She did it! She sold a beach script!”

This post is part of Interview with a Writer, a series trying to figure out what being a writer today looks like. Want to suggest a writer for me to feature? Is that writer you? Get in touch.

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