Lexicon Late Night: 3 Lessons in Storytelling from The Lord of the Rings Movies

two men speaking about storytelling

David: Hello. Welcome to episode four of Lexicon Late Night. As always, I’m your host, David Norcross, here with my co-host, Justin St-Denis.

Justin: That’s right. I always appreciate the way you attempt the French pronunciation of my last name.

David: Do I get it right?

Justin: Good enough.

David: All right. Excellent.

Justin: St-Denis. Not St-Dennis.

David: Not St-Dennis. Okay. All right. Got it. So today we’re going in a slightly different direction with the storytelling lessons for business people. So previously we’ve looked at comedians, authors. Today, our video production agency in Bangkok is going to look at a movie director and specifically a great trilogy of movies.

Justin: That’s right. The Lord of the Rings, baby. We’re doing it. Yes. Probably, I don’t know if it’s my favorite movie.

David: They were a trilogy. Favorite trilogy?

Justin: 100%. I’m a nerd, right? So I watch it every year, at least once probably. And recently I flew back to Canada and I watched all three of those movies on the plane.

David: On the plane?

Justin: Yeah.

David: Amazing.

Justin: Yeah, it made the trip because it’s an 11 hour flight and there’s 9 hours of those movies. If you watch the extended cut, it’s like 12 hours, but totally worth every minute. They needed to be that long. It’s a masterpiece.

David: Yeah, it’s a masterpiece, but it’s a fantasy world of all sorts of crazy non-human characters. What has any of this got to do with business?

Justin: Yeah, that is a good question, but that is the purpose of this show is where we discuss things that our social media agency in Bangkok would be talking about anyway if the cameras weren’t rolling. And then for your sake out there, for the folks at home, for business leaders watching this, we’ll try to draw some lessons for you that you can apply in your day to day. Well, not day to day lives, but at least in your marketing lives. So for the content that you produce online. So where do we start here?

David: Well, I think one of the things that makes the Lord of the Rings stand out is its use and utilization of the hero’s journey.

Justin: Sure, I’m going to let it slip that ‘use’ and ‘utilization’ are the same thing.

David: I appreciate that.

Justin: Going back to our Orwell lesson: Never use a long word when the short one will do.

David: And don’t use unnecessary words.

Justin: Yes, if you can cut a word out, always cut it out. But I’m being pedantic here. Callbacks.

David: That’s right. So the hero’s journey. It is the hidden structure of almost every great story ever told. Star Wars, The Hunger Games, even the Buddha’s Enlightenment, Gilgamesh, The Lion King, Dick Whittington. Pretty much any movie or book you can think of.

Justin: Even like an episode of South Park or Rick and Morty. The Hero’s Journey framework underpins all of that.

David: Exactly. It’s a tried and true method, and I think very few movies capture it as perfectly as Lord of the Rings because of the the hero and guide interaction.

Justin: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So obviously the hero being Frodo, the guide being Gandalf, and we’ve talked about this countless times ad nauseam, there I am using a big word. But yeah, so as a business leader, you want to be Gandalf. All right. Your client is Frodo, right? So you Gandalf has all the answers. He’s seen everything before. Even though this is a particularly challenging adventure, having to defeat the Dark Lord by destroying the One Ring and all that.

David: So should we give the folks at home a little bit of an overview and haven’t seen?

Justin: In case… If you haven’t seen Lord of the Rings, immediately watch that.

David: We’ve got this little hobbit fella. Yes, he’s living at home in the Hobbit Shire?

Justin: In the Shire, yes. In Hobbiton in the Shire.

David: And he’s living a normal life. He’s not really a hero. He’s just a normal fellow going about his business. But a great evil is taking over Middle Earth and somebody has to save the day.

Justin: That’s right.

David: What happens then?

Justin: So then well he meets or he already knows Gandalf, but Gandalf comes into the picture and calls him to action and gives them that little nudge out the door. Right?

David: They go on an epic journey together with their fellowship. He falls down many times, wants to give up. He resists that desire to quit. Overcomes a monster, saves Middle Earth, and comes back. Now he’s a hero, right?

Justin: He comes back, he pays a heavy price, but comes back. And then there’s a new equilibrium because he’s a different person. He’s been transformed by the experiences.

David: That’s it. And in any of those classic stories, the hero of the story at the start, they’re not a hero yet. Right. So Luke Skywalker is, as we’ve said many times in other videos, he’s just a desert boy. He doesn’t…he’s not heroic in any way.

Justin: Just a desert, boy. Sorry, that was an unnecessary outburst. All right. Thank you. All right. Because ‘Just a good ol’ boy’. This was some country song.

David: All right, Fantastic. So he’s just a desert boy. I just thought of Star Wars.

Justin: Yeah, you’re doing it, too.

David: There we go. Just as Aladdin at the start Aladdin is just a street rat street boy. All of them have that same shared commonality that they’re just normal people, like any of us, which is why it’s so relatable. And then something magical happens to them. They get called to adventure as we all secretly wish we could.

Justin: Yeah, absolutely. So how can business leaders apply the hero’s journey to their content?

David: I thought you’d never ask. Yes, it’s a great question. So just like with the hero’s journey, we and this episode, now we’re being guides. We have the empathy of understanding that our audience has questions about marketing, and our social media agency in Thailand has the authority of having guided so many other companies to success using storytelling. And the same is true with anybody out there. They, whatever industry they’re in, are knowledgeable, authoritative experts in their field, and their job is to guide their potential customer, take them on a journey. They’re not the hero of their story. The hero is the end user. So, the hero of your story is your customer, not you, your Frodo. Exactly. You are Gandalf. You’ve got to find your Frodo. Take them on a journey and overcome Sauron.

Justin: Yes, Sauron being whatever their pain points are. Exactly. So for instance, if you work in the B2B sphere, people, the businesses that you serve will have concerns. Maybe. Maybe they have staffing retention issues.

David: Maybe. I think the easiest example was during COVID. Yes, during COVID. Every company had the same, every person in the world had the same pain point: how do we survive COVID? So if you’re selling fitness equipment, it’s how do you stay fit during COVID? If you’re an accounting firm, it’s how do you keep your money in shape during COVID? So it was very easy for the guides during COVID to understand the hero, and most of it was COVID related. I think as we leave the COVID period, people need to get a bit more, need to really understand their audience again.

Justin: Yeah, absolutely. They need to kind of go back to the drawing board, figure out who their audience is. Figure out what their pain points are. Figure out who they are as a brand, what their tone of voice is. And then from that, you know, do some audience research, do some competitor research, figure out what story you want to tell. Figure out your messaging and then figure out content pillars and how to execute that in the most effective way possible to speak to that audience. Right. And so how do you do that?

David: Hero’s journey. Absolutely. You need to show them what success looks like. And Lord of the Rings, it’s they throw the ring into Mount Doom. Middle-earth is saved. Rejoice in Hobbitsville.

Justin: Yes, in Hobbiton in the Shire. Yeah, that’s it. So that point on strategy actually brings us to our second point about why the Lord of the Rings movies were so successful. They really put in the work, right. So I don’t know how many years of pre-production went into this, but it’s got to be a long time. And that’s why these movies have stood the test of time. The CGI, like I was watching it on the plane, the CGI of Gollum especially, still holds up today, even though this was almost 20 years ago now, or more about 20 years ago. Helm’s Deep, too. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And the orcs with because that’s all just makeup and prosthetics. None of that is CGI and it still today just looks so cool. Then go beyond that. And the actors, the performances, the world-building, it’s such an immersive experience. And then that’s why it stood the test of time.

David: All of it was just professionally done. The scripts. The direction. One of the things that people don’t understand, I think, when it comes to marketing is pre-production. It’s the most important part of the process. Yes. If it’s a video, you’ve got to get the script right first, get the concept right. You’ve got to understand the location you’re shooting in, you’ve got to decide the art direction. You can’t do anything good until you’ve figured that out. If the client just says, let’s start tomorrow, the project is not going to go well, it’s impossible. You have to put the time in to understand what you’re going to do if you want to get a good result.

Justin: Right.

David: And the same as you said with marketing strategy from a social media agency in Bangkok. If you have a client who says, Oh, I want to do Facebook and I want to post tomorrow, we wouldn’t work with that client, right? Because they don’t have a long-term vision, and it’s not going to work anyway. A true partnership with a client, you’ve got to sit down with them and you’ve got to help them understand what they’re looking for. We need to understand their brand, their audience. We need to help them develop their big ideas, their content pillars. They want to start making podcasts like this. They probably should, because these are awesome.

Justin: Absolutely. But this is part of a larger strategy, and this is just one content pillar within that larger strategy.

David: Exactly. And this is very on-brand for us. It’s storytelling, it’s creative, it’s professional. These are our core values represented in this form. And every client has a way for them to represent their core values and their mission. But it doesn’t happen overnight. So just like with Lord of the Rings, you’ve got to spend the time in pre-production figuring out what you’re trying to do. And if you do, the actual production goes very smoothly.

Justin: Yeah, yeah. And then it makes post-production so much easier, although I’m sure they had to make, I mean, you could see what the extended cuts they had to make so many editing decisions. And I actually think one of the rare cases where – because I’ve read the books – and I think the movies are better than the books because there are plenty of little side quests that don’t really push the overall narrative forward that they cut out from the movies. So there’s early on, there’s Tom Bombadil that they meet and there’s all this weird stuff that happens with him and then actually in the books when they get back to the Shire, there’s all these ruffians that are running the place and they’re being led by this shady character. I forgot his name, but it turns out it’s Saruman. So I mean not to go off on too much of a tangent here, but there are some points in the story that kind of bug me.

David: There’s some fat.

Justin: Yeah, there’s some fat. But also like at one point Gandalf says, Oh, he has no power when they’ve already defeated Saruman after the battle of Helm’s Deep. Gandalf says he has no power anymore, but then later on he’s corrupting the Shire and he’s obviously not at the same level that he used to be in terms of an evil guy. But he’s still causing trouble. So like why not kill him when you had the chance? Like there’s so many people dying and they’re killing millions of orcs. Meanwhile, this guy who started the whole thing, you’re going to show him mercy. That didn’t make sense to me. Oh, well, yeah. And another tangent.

All right.

David: This one might be longer. This is going to be like the Lord of the Rings of Lexicon Late Night.

Justin: Ok this can be the extended edition. So the reason that the Black Riders know that the ring is in the shire is because they captured Gollum and tortured him. And then between his screams of agony, he utters two words: Shire and Baggins. And then that kicks off the whole thing.

David: The Black Riders are the Ring Wraiths?

Justin: Yes, that’s right. Yeah. So they start and then they call it they, they are the Nazgul, but in the Fellowship of the Ring they’re on horseback, whereas later they’re on those evil dragon-looking things. But so then Sauron, who is the embodiment of pure evil, when he’s done torturing Gollum, he just lets them go and then Gollum ends up guiding Frodo and Sam to Mordor. It’s just it seems. Why, if you’re unlimited evil, why would you not just kill him?

David: I don’t think it’s going to make it as a snippet.

Justin: I don’t know if this is going to make it as a snippet but in the extended cut.

David: It can be in the extended cut. So thank you for tuning into the extended cut. This is what you don’t get on LinkedIn. Yeah, it’s extra bits.

Justin: No, there’s no way we’re putting that on LinkedIn. While we’re doing stuff that we’re not putting on LinkedIn, I want to do this part. Okay. My favorite scene. That’s the other reason why this movie – it’s so long – but there are these iconic moments that stand out and there’s moments of levity and humor as well. But yeah, the scene in the Two Towers where the Uruk-Hai are taking the hobbits to Isengard. Right. So they’ve captured Mary and Pippin and they think that they have the ring. So they’re bringing them to Saruman. Right. And then there’s the whole scene where they’re being chased by Aragorn and Gimli and Legolas, and they’re complaining about their food situation.

As soon as they find out we don’t, we’re dead. Just a mouthful. A bit off the flank.

Looks like meat’s back on the menu boys!

I love that scene, but I have some questions like, why are the orcs? Why are they cockney? Like orcs apparently are just working class English blokes. And secondly, how do they know what a menu is? Like you’re telling me they have restaurants and Mordor? I wonder how the service would be at those restaurants.

David: Probably a lot of hot soup.

Justin: Yeah, a lot of meat. Yeah. Fellow orc. I don’t know. But it implies that there’s a whole other society happening that they don’t really show us in the movies.

David: Two of the things I want to do on this is the extended cut. Yeah. Enjoy.

Justin: Before you do that, though. This is the whole point of me setting this up as I’m plugging one of my jokes here. Could you imagine three orcs going to a fancy restaurant like Wine Connection or something like this? And the waitress would be like, “All right, gentlemen, are we ready to order?” And a guy would be all, “Yeah, I’ll have a glass of zinfandel, the salad Nicoise and the artisanal cheese platter.” And the other guy would be all…

David: This is definitely not getting into the full version.

Justin: “Yeah, I’ll have the quesadillas.” Right.

– “Excellent choices, gentlemen. And what about you, sir?”

– “Well, I wanted to have the steak, but it says here on the menu that it’s sold.”

– “Actually, sir, that’s a mistake on our menu. We do indeed have steak available.”

– “Nice. Looks like meat’s back on the menu boys!”

Worth it.

David: Totally worth it. Extended cut. Absolutely. So, you know, we’re in episode four now. We’ve got some loyal fans, I hope, thank you for sticking around. There is a third point to come. We’ve made our point about pre-production here. This is Lexicon Late Night, not Bangkok Thought Leaders. So we just finished work. Been working all day. Let us relax a bit, you know, take it easy.

Justin: So thank you. I appreciate you giving me this platform.

David: I think Aragorn is my favorite character of any movie ever.

Justin: Yeah, Really? Why is that?

David: I don’t know. He’s just so, so pure. He’s noble, he’s handsome, he’s wise, he’s rugged. It’s just like. He’s kind of like something to aspire to be, you know? Is it the best of all men?

Justin: So you kind of have, like, a bro crush?

That was the tangent? He kind of teases that that girl there in Roan, I forget her name.

David: Yeah, but she turns out to be a great character too though.

Justin: She does, yeah. “No man can kill me.”

David: Yeah. My favorite line in the whole movie. But yeah, like we were saying, it’s all about creating a winning strategy, sticking to it, putting in the work before you actually produce anything. So this goes especially for video stuff. If you want it to turn out the right way, you’ve got to do the pre-production stuff, you’ve got to get the script, you’ve got to make sure everybody’s aligned and then when you shoot it, it’ll go so much easier. But even then, the work is not done. But if you put in the work, you’ll get a great product. I have a callback to Point 1.

Justin Sure.

David: This must be the longest point we’ve ever made. A good guide in any of these movies: Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Genie. They’re always very funny. They’re very silly. They’re very relaxed. Often they drink too much. Yeah, because a good guide has just been there and done it all before. They have no fear about the journey. They don’t have any doubt. They know what they’re doing and they’re going to get there. Even if they go off tangents and get lost. They know how to come back because they’re expert guides. That’s what you just did. Justin, you’re an expert guide.

Justin: Thank you. Yes. Wow, that was really well done putting us back on track. Thank you. So those movies are great. And then what came after was The Hobbit series, which I did … Not good. Not good at all. So we’re talking about Peter Jackson here, who was the director. He was tasked with making The Hobbit movies. If you would have just stuck to the source material and kept it as a movie, it probably would have worked.

David: But all the lessons from the previous two bits we just spoke about, none of them get followed here, right? So it’s a tiny book. Rather than cutting it down, they had to bump it up with all sorts of random stuff. The pre-production process was terrible. It was supposed to be Guillermo del Toro as the director. He dropped out late because the pre-production wasn’t going anywhere. I know obviously we’re here in this beautiful late night studio, but pretty much the whole movie was shot here on the green screen. It wasn’t the live action stuff. It wasn’t the beautiful design swords and set pieces. It was all rushed, which is why it’s terrible.

Justin: And The Hobbit movies are more recent than the Lord of the Rings movies, but the orcs look so much cooler in the Lord of the Rings movies where it’s all makeup and prosthetics. And then this is just they just went overboard on the CGI. And then there’s so many other little things, like the fight scenes where the elf is like running up the ice as the ice is falling. And I was like, this just defies the laws of physics. So that’s just really that’s the type of stuff that just bugs viewers when they’re watching it.

David: It’s not immersive.

Justin: Exactly. So it takes you out of it. And it’s frankly, it was just a cash grab like we were talking about in The Lord of the Rings movies, they had to cut fat. And even though it’s over 9 hours, there’s not there’s no fat on those movies. The Hobbit movies could have been an hour and a half movie, and it would have been great.

David: Lord of the Rings is such a good example of storytelling because it’s a great story. You suspend disbelief, you lose yourself in the narrative, in the reverie of the moment you get lost in the world that they create. And it’s very easy to do in a book, but often in a movie, they lose you when they break their own internal consistency. That first trilogy, it’s so immersive as we discussed already, that you never get lost in it. But the Hobbit trilogy, it’s just so bad that you can’t stop but think, oh, I’m watching a movie. Yes, and it’s a shitty movie. I think we can say that, right?

Justin: Sure. It’s funny, our first swear word on Lexicon Late Night. And it’s when it comes to discussing The Hobbit.

David: Yes, it’s appropriate.

Justin: No, I totally agree. I felt insulted as a fan of the book, because honestly, I think The Hobbit as a book, you can’t get a better version of the hero’s journey like we were talking about at the beginning. It’s even more following the perfect hero’s journey format than the Lord of the Rings stories. And so I’m a big fan of the book, and I watched the movie and I just felt like I felt they don’t respect my intelligence here. And so I think that’s another lesson that business leaders can draw from the failure of The Hobbit, but also the success of The Lord of the Rings is respect your audience. Respect their intelligence and deliver them a product that’s worthy of their attention. Otherwise, they’re going to feel betrayed. And I think we’d be remiss to not mention the new Rings of Power series. Obviously, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding that and a lot of it is stupid. But you haven’t seen any of it, right?

David: Not Yet.

Justin: Yeah, it’s bad. It’s bad. It’s boring. They overuse the CGI, all of the problems that The Hobbit have had, the Rings of Power series has as well. It’s just Amazon threw a ton of money at it. It’s the most expensive show of all time. And it to me clearly just seems like a cash grab, the same as the Hobbit movies were. So yeah, don’t don’t, don’t insult your audience.

David: It’s a good lesson.

Justin: Yes.

David: I would never do it.

Justin: No, no, of course not. I don’t know. Maybe this extended cut of Lexicon Late Night people are going to be like, all right, with your meat’s back on the menu junk.

David: This one’s for the purists.

Justin: Yeah, for the real fans out there. You know who you are.

David: Absolutely. I think we were talking before production about, kind of jokingly, about the importance of a fellowship. Obviously here right now, we’ve got we’re surrounded by talented people from our video production agency in Thailand. We have a fellowship. Why is that so important?

Justin: Yeah, so a good point. So aside from the lessons in storytelling, the actual story itself does have some good lessons about how to create a good team in a business. Fellowship in the workplace. So good company culture obviously is important. So the Fellowship of the Ring had had their company culture. They didn’t really have outings where they would play cards and beer pong and stuff like that, but they had some times in the taverns and so on. They had some fun together, some moments of levity. But there’s yeah, so many, so the importance of getting together a team with different skill sets. So every member of the team has a different talent and then those complement each other. So just like we have here at Lexicon, we have some people that are very much word people. They’re writers, they’re creatives. There’s other people that are very much into data and analytics. There’s other people that are organizers and planners. There’s other people that are visuals. So like illustrators, motion graphics, animators, these guys behind the cameras here, editors, it takes all of those skills to make a really successful team.

David: Absolutely. And Gandalf wasn’t able to take the ring.

Justin: Yes.

David: Because the power was too corrupting.

Justin: Yes, of course.

David: So, even as guides like you or I may be, we’re very focused on wizard-y stuff. So we need those Hobbit types, the juniors, people who are incorruptible, new to the world, fresh thoughts, fresh ideas that give us new perspectives on how to do things.

Justin: So that brings in a good point. So senior staff like Gandalf.

David: He had a senior staff.

Justin: He had a senior staff, the senior citizen staff. But I mean, like your senior people, Gandalf, I would say, is probably like the CEO of the operation, but he was a very good mentor to the juniors and he saw potential and he made good hiring decisions.

David: He did.

Justin: Perhaps not Boromir, who considered quitting at one point or at least betraying the company secrets. This analogy is going. We’re getting a lot out of this.

David: Yeah. So is it possible that Gandalf is the Chairman?

Justin: Yeah, probably Aragorn. That is a good point. So Gandalf is the Chairman? Aragorn, absolutely CEO.

David: Are the Hobbits messengers?

Justin: I would say they’re just like they’re just junior writers or something. Social media manager. But that goes to show that heroism can come from anywhere. And it’s the same in your company too. So don’t don’t sleep on your juniors. Let them speak up in the meetings, elicit their opinions. You never know when they’re going to save your company and save the world.

David: Well, on that note, I think we can wrap up today’s episode 4 extended cut of Lexicon Late Night featuring Lord of the Rings and many wonderful lessons from my colleague, Justin.

Justin: Yeah, Thank you, David. This is a lot of fun.

David: Thanks for watching.


About the Author

David Norcross is an award-winning B2B marketing expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry. He’s the founder and CEO of Lexicon as well as the Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce, Digital Marketing committee.

Lexicon is an award-winning brand storytelling agency focusing on telling impactful stories for clients based in Thailand and South East Asia.


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