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.
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.
70 is just a number. But in terms of mortality, it’s a decent number. I’d rather be younger, but I’m happy to be here. And at 6:25 this evening (2-27) I will be, in fact, 70.
At a family birthday party last weekend, my son Matt asked me what inspired my move from multi-image slideshows into video production as the primary medium for “audio-visual communications”.
We were waiting in the car for his bus back to NYC. Just as I was about to start spewing whatever popped into my head, his bus rolled up. As we said our goodbyes, I remember that I had written something about that move way back when. It was for the magazine “Multi-Images”, which was published by AMI, the Association for Multi-Image, the trade group for those in the multiple slide projector show business.
I found the article, scanned it, and sent the PDF to him the next day. It was written five years after I left my first business to start a second business on my own, bringing some staffers from the first business with me. Date of publication was 1987 or so. What I wrote was basically honest, although I simplified the motivations for starting over somewhat. Anyway, the PDF is below, and if you’re up for a magazine article sized read, you’re welcome to indulge and comment.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran a series of articles detailing a number of trends in corporate communications.
One trend they sighted was the increased reliance on something called “Corporate Storytellers”. These are folks who work with companies to unearth their past, often after years of conglomeration, buyouts, downsizing, and more. The story emphasizes the use of live narratives, even original songs, to help reinstate a sense of heritage, purpose and belonging.
Another trend they focused on some time back was the “Tribute” video—a life story on video or slides of an accomplished person, living or deceased, who has impacted a company, a group, or even a family.
Well, we all know trends come and go, and we also know (those of us that have been around a bit) that trends are cyclical. One thing that seems to be a steady interest? People to want to rediscover their roots.
That’s a healthy thing—at home, and especially in business. And telling the true stories of companies and their people is a great way to rekindle a company’s purpose and passion.
People Want to Belong
People want to belong. People want to believe. People want to work for the common good. Ignore these needs, and you have people that will substitute these needs with personal agendas, or even worse, counter-corporate agendas. They have to fill the vacuum!
We believe there is no more powerful tool than the well crafted, well documented, well produced, honest and entertaining…. VideoStory.
That’s the name of my production company. Why? We succeed most when we tell the stories of our clients in ways that make that material motivating, accessible, believable, and purposeful. People want to believe in people. They need heroes, role models and road signs. You can provide them that with the right kinds of stories.
We helped a mushrooming corporation bring its various acquisitions worldwide together in a common belief system, when we pointed out that the company’s growth could be liked to the growth of a tree. Why a tree? The company started in wooden products, developed forests, moved into paper, and moved beyond paper into products that provided many of the same functions. The company still owned and nurtured forests. A foreman in a Washington State location took us (and our cameras) on a tour, and we were able to build in logical departures that helped bring together the diverse divisions, their people, and even their local communities into an understanding of the company’s heritage and values, and the part they could play in its future.
One of the Country’s leading Marine engine manufacturers celebrated a major anniversary. Having gone from being owned and operated by the engineer that developed the company’s engines, to a division of a major international corporation, there was a disconnect between the company’s family heritage and perceived issues about the nature of corporate owners. The story of the founder, his genius, his quirks, his marketing techniques, the struggles to grow, the need for funding and the acquisition, and the public’s ongoing devotion to the product and company helped that anniversary become a true celebration—of the company’s past, it’s future, and the dedication of the current owners.
And many times, we’ve had the opportunity to show that the philosophies of the founder of a large drug store chain have been the framework for the company’s ongoing success over the course of 100 years, through new merchandising trends, health care changes, and even in the wake of amazing growth. We’ve produced documentaries, original songs, and video communications both silly and sublime to help keep the ship on course.
Learning From The Past
We learn from the lessons of the past. But those lessons must be recorded, codified, visualized, and made entertaining AND meaningful. And they must be told with consistency.
That’s why we produce VideoStories. We know of no better way to convey the essence of a company, its foundations, its new directions, and the role its people play than through VideoStories distributed on DVD, CD-ROM, tape, TV, the Web, or within PowerPoint presentations. Send them in an email. Send them a DVD. Tell your dealers or your employees the story, so they get onboard and sale with their captain.
As you consider your future in video storytelling, and as you read our book, remember that it’s the people that count the most. It’s attitude, dedication, teamwork and just rewards. If a company can tell this story, I hope you get to tell it.
You don’t have to have giant budgets or big crews when the story and existing resources are good. This video was produced on a modest budget, but did wonders for the company’s image and sales. A chocolate company sourcing its beans from The Republic of Ghana in Western Africa had such a story.
Omanhene cocoa products are custom-designed for the specialty coffee industry and are available on a wholesale basis to the trade. We service coffee roasters, cafés, coffee supply distributorships, restaurants, stores and offices.
About the video, owner Steve Wallace said, “I give Brien and his firm my highest recommendation without reservation. They executed a short video 3-5 minutes on time, on budget and with great narrative effect on a short time frame. Great experience in the field which works to the client’s advantage. Understands that video must work for the client — not just for their own creative portfolio. A pleasure to work with — high integrity.”
It’s still the way of the world: Young beats old, new triumphs over the status quo. I know. I was young once, and part of a generation that was taught to not trust anyone over thirty.
Okay, 40 MAY be the new 30. but the attitudes still prevail, and moreover, we live in a world where youth is celebrated, envied, targeted, ogled, modeled, OMG’d and TMZ’d.
There is a begrudging nod toward the “classic” or “Old Skool” (sp), but this is usually when some idea that transcends time is adopted and “mashed”.
I have a career because my partner and I though we could bring something new to the communications game, something beyond the traditional. We adopted new media, refreshing visual techniques, snazzy soundtracks, and incorporated a new style of writing.
But eschew classic forms? No way.
All of us came from journalism and communications colleges. We studied film, documentaries, and in radio production techniques. We learned what worked. Then we added our style to it.
And told a story.
The proliferation of videos on the web is proof that video cameras are reaching typewriter (ok, make that word processor) status– various uses, techniques, styles prevail, from simplistic POV to eye-bending storytelling. From screen-capture training to dramatic time lapse. From 6 second Vines to 2 hour dramas.
Short videos prevail, but these are mostly informational or slice of life, camera tricks or just plain look at the camera rants.
But a recent New York Times article pointed out that videos on the web are actually getting longer. Longer doesn’t mean better, but it does provide more room for storytelling
Perhaps today’s hyper-connected people have discovered the joys of the explorations of thought and emotional catharsis longer forms can provide.