At some point in your communications career, you will be faced with writing a video script. It comes with the territory. How you respond to this distraught pleasure will say a lot about you and your understanding of visual media.
What makes writing an av script hard is not knowing how easy it can be. By the very nature of the written word for a visual medium, the key to success is less, not more.
For one thing, you’re writing to be heard, not seen. For another, the medium is a visual one, which means it prefers the visuals to do the talking. Finally, a script for video needs a lot more than just words. It must provide visual direction, audio direction, and the essential creative blueprint that leads to the success of the project.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that your goal is to write a short script about a new software program that helps people track their spending. Let’s call it “Fast Money”.
It’s a simple, easy to use program which can help people budget, save, an ultimately have the money they need to fulfill their dreams.
The goal of all video productions is to engage the audience by appealing to their desires. You could talk about how “Fast Money” has been written by coders certified in C++, how it is delightful in its use of a user-friendly GUI, and how it automatically sends back error messages to “Fast Money” HQ so that the program can be constantly improved.
But you’d be talking to yourself, because the potential buyer doesn’t care about any of that. They care about money. Their money. Their life. Their future.
SO you need to create a hook. A way to start the script that talks right to them and their needs.
SO you begin writing:
ANNOUNCER: You want to make Money! VISUAL: Picture of Dollar Bill. SOUND EFFECT: Ka-Ching. MUSIC: Money, by Pink Floyd.
Well, it’s a start, if you want to hit your audience with a sledgehammer.
Hitting audiences with sledgehammers doesn’t create intrigue. But this is often the approach an unseasoned writer will take– they’ll cover all the bases.
The good news is, luckily, you don’t need to know or present all those technical facts. What you need is a way to engage the audience on their terms.
Instead, try writing without using words– ie, skip the narrator for now and create a scene instead.
SCENE: Slow zoom in on man working at kitchen table, He has a yellow legal pad, a checkbook, and a calculator. He looks worried and is wiping imaginary sweat from his brow. A woman, his wife, walks in behind him and looks over his shoulder.
HE: It doesn’t look good.
ANNOUNCER: Too familiar? It’s hard to save a buck these days.
VISUAL: Alternating close-ups of the couples faces, cutaway to their checkbook showing small negative balance, cutaway to pile of bills.
Now, that was fun! Instead of a litany of facts and figures, suitable only for the engineer that developed the product, we’ve now created an emotional scenario almost anyone running a household can identify with. They’re ready to hear more.
And we didn’t use corny music, jangling cash registers, overblown prose, or dollars marching off a cliff.
Now you’re on your way to being a scriptwriter. Yes, you should know the facts. But no, the audience doesn’t need all of them. They need reasons to care. And you’ve just given that to them.
Now, they’ll listen to more– even if there are a few facts thrown in.
For more than a decade, my Aunt Virginia Lee ran the Prudential Theatre in New Canaan, Connecticut, called the New Canaan Playhouse. My father’s family lived in Norwalk, Connecticut, and New Canaan back then was about a half-hour ride down a two lane highway. So I, my brother and my sister alternated taking “vacations” with the Lees of Stevens Street. My grandparents, being grandparents, and having worked in the hat factory most of their lives, would on occasion persuade “Aunt Ginny” to take the visiting minikid to the theater with her, to give aging Ma and Pop Lee a few hours off.
This was the best thing that ever happened to me. Starting at age 7, and ending at age 15, I spent a few weeks, then a few months every summer at the theater. The last two summers, I was employed as an usher and learned how to walk backwards with a flashlight (when theaters were still truly dark). And a saw a lot of movies. In those days the Playhouse was a single screen theater, there were two or three shows a day: 7pm and 9:30pm, and on Tuesdays and Saturdays, a Matinee as well. My grandfather worked the matinees as the ticket taker, resplendent in his starched shirt and bow-tie.
Of course, as I spent more and more time at the theater, I got to see some great movies, as many as 16 times in a row. Some of the those films really affected me, and I’m here to list the top five and why.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
This is now regarded as one of the great science fiction films of the fifties. It uses an all-electronic score, even for the opening credits, which were credited as “tonalities” not music.
It is the story of a spaceship from our planet (led by square-jawed pre-Airplane Leslie Nielsen) going to a remote planet to retrieve a scientist who is the sole survivor of an exploratory crew sent 20 years before. Leslie falls in love with his daughter (miniskirted Anne Francis), the doctor has strange mental powers, there are weird howls and images of large lions jumping through the air It’s all because of some left-behind technology by a prior civilization, who built a giant underground machine to pump up their intelligence.
For a 7 year old, it was frightening. Sitting in the tenth row, I actually called out repeatedly to my aunt when one of the monsters showed up on the screen. She wasn’t happy.
But this wasn’t a creature from outer space movie. It was actually a take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and very thought provoking, even for a seven year old. Repeated viewings much later via dvd and vhs proved that to me.
Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
Kirk Douglas is a cowboy lost in a modern (the 1960’s) world. He’s the last of a breed, and wanted by the law. The film is a study of a man trying to adapt to a new world, one which he has ignored most of his life in favor of the “old ways”. But modern police methods, big city traffic, new attitudes and the pace of a new world are seemingly too much for a man on a horse. I only saw this one once, and I don;t remember the ending. But the empathy you feel for Kirk and his own view of the world are very real, and you root for him to elude capture (if I remember, he doesn’t but I may be mixing it up with “Cool Hand Luke”).
Irma La Douce (1963)
Well, if I hadn’t already reached puberty, this would have done the trick… Shirley MacLaine as a Paris prostitute. This was a Billy Wilder film with all of his typical humor, and features Jack Lemmon as a naive cop. Shirley teaches him a few tricks. It also features Lou Jacobi in the role that really made him, but that’s another story. Great music track, basically studio shot (I know Paris streets can be small but not that small). I only saw this a few times, so I don’t remember the whole thing, but took a look at a few minutes on Amazon the other night and got reacquainted with my Catholic guilt.
A Shot in The Dark (1964)
Now we start the summer where I worked for three straight months, and these are the films I saw 16 times each. Let’s start with a “Shot in the Dark”, the second Pink Panther film and this time I fell in love with Elke Sommer, the femme fatale of the movie. Peter Sellers is in his prime as police detective Inspector Clouseau, and Herbert Lom is his long suffering commander his first appearance in the series). George Sanders is the perfectly oily villain, setting up Elke Sommer to take the fall for a murder. And speaking of falls, there are plenty, from the tumbles in the suprise practice judo attacks of manservant Cato, and all kinds of pratfalls , both dry and wet, by Sellars. Also, in this film he began using the exaggerated French accent that he would use for the rest of the series.The main theme by Henry Mancini uses an early synthesizer as the lead instrument, and is perfectly paced for the cartoon vignettes that used to populate the credits in comedies like this. I can stil laugh at this film!
The Carpetbaggers (1964)
Was a fifteen year old boy ready for this film? No, but I loved it. “This is the story of Jonas McCord”….so begins the narration, and so begins this story, really, of Howard Hughes, as Hollywood would see it. There is sex, big time fights (Jonas and Alan Ladd as Nevada Smith– his last role), more sex, an unrequited love, crazy airplane daredevilry, and lots of alcohol. The music by Elmer Bernstein is incredible– pulsating western motives, in a big movie large orchestra style. Get the soundtrack on CD if you can. I never stole any f this music for my early slide shows but I should have.
EXTRA: A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
My Aunt told Headquarters she would have nothing to do with it! So I went to see it that summer in Pleasantville, New York with my friend Dave English. I would have preferred seeing it 16 times at the New Canaan Playhouse.
The New Canaan Playhouse was a single screen theater back then, and the last time I was there (begging to be let in for a looksee) it had been split into two theaters. It is now run by BowTie Cinemas, which is a good sign.
During my run as an usher, I broke up two lovemaking sessions in the balcony, ate a lot of candy working at the candystand, read and collected a lot of press kits (where I was introduced to the world of blatant PR), and spent an inordinate amount of time in the projection booth with Jimmy, the potbellied old man who I had to assume worked there forever. I also learned to drink gallons of coffee in paper cups from the variety store next door.
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This is the most popular form of “first time” video use in the corporate world. I say “first time” because everytime a new marketing manager or multimedia corporate manager is hired, this is their first video, even though it may have been produced by others dozens of times. But time marches on, and the basic “Corporate Overview” is never out of style. Humble beginnings, incredible growth, state-of-the-art products, remarkable people, and of course, god-like management who can see the future– these are the basic story points. And as for the future– we’ll be there.
Our Country, Our Company: We Grew Up Together!
If your companyhistory is boring, this is the way to jazz it up. Dress up your company’s minor accomplishments by surrounding them with parallel happenings from history. To open a meeting for a boiler company whose product hadn’t changed much in 45 years, we did just that– did a decade by decade rundown of world wars, pop culture events, moon landings, wars, and, oh yes, the one or two acquisitions the company had made and pictures of their aging sales agents along with a dash of “Aren’t We Great”. It was an unbelievable success. The company’s current sales malaise? We blamed it on the hippies.
New for The (Insert your decade here)!
When your decade gets past the five year mark, it’s time to start talking about the next decade and how much greater the company will be then. New technologies, new ideas, new products, new marketing– it’s all around the corner. Couple this with flying 3D text and psychedelic motion backgrounds, and you’ve just made it past another sales meeting.
You’re Not the Slug You Think You Are!
Getting more out the company’s people is the job of the Human Resources Department. Every so often, it comes time to remind the employees that they are an important part of something REALLY BIG (and it’s time to get their collective asses in gear)! So you come up with a theme for some posters and then decide to do a video based around that theme– Let’s call it “Dare to Be Great!” Now it’s time to toss around phrases like “Exceeding Expectations” and “Paradigm Shift” and “Core Competencies” and blend them with employee interviews with scared, shell shocked (those lights are bright) employees trying to say something positive about the company. You’ll save it at the end with a nice, motivational montage of workers waving at the camera.
The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread! (Alternate: Even Better than Before!)
It’s time to roll out the new products. (If your product is actually a first of its kind, skip to the next section). Next year’s model has…uh… a NEW logo, an incredible 1% increased efficiency in the deeblewopper, and a new model number. This calls for sexy slow pans across the product, every damn inch of it. Big music tells the audience this is important, and, if this is at meeting, maybe impress the audience with a 10X scale model of the Dominator 3000 (always use next century in your model numbers). And, oh, yeah, dry ice all over the damn place for that foggy glow.
He’s 75 Years Old, Let’s Give him a Tribute Before It’s Too Late!
Someone at corporate has just discovered Willard S. Smocks, a store manager in Staten Island, is 75 years old and has been with the company for 50 years. Time for a nice tribute. Send a crew out to get shots of him at work, record nice words from his fellow workers, and gather old pictures if there are any. Make sure you get the passing of the plaque from the regional assistant director (that’s all the company can muster) to Willard surrounded by his loving co-workers. At the shoot, you discover he’s camera-shy, kind of grumpy (he never made it to corporate), and his co-workers are hanging on for his oft-threatened retirement to vie for the store manager position. Fix it in post with a freeze frame of his half-smile and the words “Congratulations, Willard” underneath.