Great videos start with a great script.
Sometimes, the scripts aren't so great.
We're script doctors; come, watch us operate.
In each installment of this series, a writer/producer team is confronted with a creative challenge. The scenario, written in screenplay format, revolves around a typical client management situation that can lead to a problem script.
The problem script itself can then be read, followed by some
back-and-forth as the creative team rises to the challenge.
Each installment ends with the finished "makeover" script being pitched to the client. Brief commentary then further explores the strategies and insights that drove the script make-over.
INT. Wellington tech, ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES - DAY
Director of Materials Research, WAYNE, sits across his desk from
MARK, who is a principal in Glendower Productions, and sits taking notes.
To raise funds for an institution, TV advertising is
usually considered to be too broad.
But this is a college town.
So it's strictly a local buy?
A gift really. The station owner is a donor.
I imagine some donors aren't local.
Most aren't local. So they see the ad on our website and
YouTube, with an email pushing the link out to them.
Nice. Stressing it's been on broadcast TV strengthens
And it's going to run during every football and basketball
Who do you hope to persuade with this ad?
What's in it for them?
It's the future. Nanotechnology may save your life some day.
Anything more ... immediate?
Breadth of research: In addition to nanotechnology we've
making advances in quantum-state
piezoelectric ceramics, substrate admixtures, and plasma technologies ...
How about right now? What lights up a donor, the minute he or
Well ... When they get a load of the lab, I see some light
bulbs turn on.
You mentioned alumni and placement in sports programming.
School spirit. Sure. Everyone likes to see their alma mater
Any guidelines for your ad?
Wayne hands some paper to Mark.
We're not scriptwriters, but a lot of work has gone into this
background section from grant proposals we've been submitting. We thought it
could be the basis for a script, but we are having trouble shortening it,
without leaving anything out.
Dissolve to the proposal background section.
Wellington Tech has long
sought a new facility to expand the search for meta-materials of discrete and
exciting new capabilities, for use in the fields of advanced computation
integrated circuit device design, and with the generous support of WTI Alumnae,
that search has a new locus of operation, in the recently-christened Eugenia
Flatbush-Hagenbottom Center for Advanced Materials Research. (Hereafter known
as the EFHCAMR)"
"EFHCAMR will, it is hoped,
become what is generally accepted within the materials science community at
large as the pre-eminent facility in the country for research into the
possibilities presented by the class of substances known as "meta-materials",
to include, but not be limited to, such materials as Carbon Nano-tubing and
Quantum-state Piezoelectric ceramics, and perhaps other breakthrough substances
or admixtures, as yet unknown or unrecognized in peer-reviewed journals."
"While the EFHCAMR is
operational and already staffed, there is, it has become self-evident, some
need for additional funding to acquire additional test and measuring equipment
pursuant to specific research goals on projects now being conducted by
Principal Investigators. The costs of these additional mechanisms and devices
is non-trivial, and while the Institute as a whole has every wish for the
success of this program's goals and objectives, additional contributions from
the general fund are not foreseen as becoming available in the near time
frame. As an alternative, we look to the continued generosity of Wellington
Alumnae to appreciate the need for this program and to help us advance these
researches with a commitment of their own financial sponsorship, commensurate
to that financial need. Our Development Office will most gladly entertain any
INT. GLENDOWER OFFICE -- DAY
Mark, and another company principal, JOHN, are reviewing the client-provided
Any telegenic types there?
There is a reason they've chosen to lock themselves in a lab,
away from humanity.
So, a professional voice then. Can we have the pro walk and
talk through the lab?
I don't think so this time. Budget issues. But we can afford
a day to shoot b‑roll, and there's some real visually interesting stuff
So what are we selling?
Be true to your school. It's all about seeing your school's
name in the news and your name associated. Feel like you were smart enough to
buy Apple stock in 1980, if you were alive then.
Our client said all that?
No. He's all mission-focused on the miracles they may
discover some day, and the fact they built an entire lab without a budget to stock
it. Eggheads! But he says donors light up when they see the lab.
Do they have open-house days for donors?
Yep. I even saw some of the "welcome donors" signs they put
Is there a high‑roller we can feature; who could be
there when we shoot b‑roll?
A Mrs. Eugenia Flatbush‑Hagenbottom has been
generous enough that her name is now on one of their buildings. She's a
socialite in town and has her following.
Let's make this work.
INT. Wellington Tech, ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES - DAY
Wayne sits across his desk from John and Mark, who are well
into their pitch.
I understand you have some "oh wow" visuals we can shoot.
We put on quite a show for a donor appreciation day, we can
write their name on a chip the size of a virus!
I saw the writing thing, very cool. And I believe you said
Ms. Flatbush‑Hagenbottom would agree to be on camera the day we have
scheduled for shooting?
When it comes to extolling her namesake research center, you
can't keep her away from a camera or a microphone.
Any other donors?
We have a core group who really understand the importance of
our mission. We're just having trouble activating them so soon after
fundraising for the building itself.
And any that aren't shy of a camera?
Shy? They hire their own photogs to document every potluck
John hands a script to Wayne.
This should work then. And Mark's the one with the golden
Mark reads the voiceover.
John & Mark's script:
Wellington University emblem on a lab smock, driving
techy music underneath.
Voiceover: The pride of Wellington Tech.
Dramatic shots of researchers working in the lab, in
It grows in the Alumni Lab for metamaterials
research. Advances like nanotech research
Hero shot of a medical device.
may lead to medical break throughs,
Computer chips and animated visualizations.
Prototype products being tested.
job-creating opportunities. Even entire new industries.
Hero shots of researchers now add to the montage.
Wellington pride drives a dedicated team,
Signage for donor appreciation day.
including our donors
Plaque shows the Flatbush‑Hagenbottom
Research Center name.
whose contributions fund our new discoveries.
Mrs. Flatbush‑Hagenbottom talking with
researchers, pointing out devices, as other donors gather around in a
congratulatory manner, a club of science patrons.
Now you can be part of that vision.
Computer screen frames up the website address as a
robotic device writes the Wellington logo on metal or silicon. Web address
remains thru end of spot.
Go to our website, See the lab, contribute any
amount, to join the Wellington metamaterials team.
Researcher looking up from work to talk with Ms. Flatbush‑Hagenbottom
and other donors, finally falling into a pose in slow motion almost like
astronauts or future Nobel laureates. They look into camera to invite us all
Wellington: inventing a better future, together.
Mark and John look at Wayne after Mark finishes his read.
A little light on what we're accomplishing.
That comes through strongly in the visuals.
And that's critical. Donors need to feel the mission.
But what really drives the decision to make a significant
donation is what's in it for me.
It's aspirational. We show the in‑crowd your target
audience would love to be part of. Hanging with the genius types AND the city's
social upper crust.
Pay to play.
You got it. We'll want to adjust the web site to dovetail
with this piece, have a link to the donation interface right there on the page
next to the video. If they are on board, you want to satisfy that impulse
directly. Hit the button to join the cause. The web site will ask for both
large and token donations. From "buy a microscope" to "buy a brick". Get your
name on a piece of the future.
So where am I on camera?
Just be sure you wear a logo lab smock the day we shoot, and
I'll make sure the lens finds you.
drive the decision to contribute. And emotion is created by personal experience
or the anticipation of personal experience. One of the strongest emotions is
the pride of membership. It fills sports arenas and loosens purse strings. If
the cause is noble, with a promise of greater good, the emotions and the
message are all the stronger.
this script, while the voiceover makes clear the benefit to the audience of
being welcomed into a group they respect, the visual tells a personal story of
a major donor who has already achieved recognition. Our target audience will
want to meet her ... will want to be her.
of the initial problems with the copy the client provided was that they come
from an academic background, where a tendency to extreme accuracy as well as
passive language dominates. Every statement made references a source, or has
some other qualifying language in it. Every clear thought is obscured by
weasel-words. This can't work for good ad copy, where the need is for an active
voice. Good copy uses active voice and makes a definitive statement.
didn't try to use the awkward name for the facility in the spot, or even the
ungainly acronym for it. Sometimes you catch a break and get acronyms that can
work well in ad copy, because they rhyme or evoke useful images. Usually you
don't, and explaining a long name like EFHCAMR in thirty seconds leaves no time
for the real message. You keep that kind of stuff in graphics and lower-third
text overlays, while the actual message is going on.
get the kind of shots we want, this type of spot should be heavily storyboarded
so we're sure we have the precise B-roll to go with our copy. The more text
descriptions and "shopping lists" of specific items to shoot for the spot's
director, the better, since you can't use what you didn't shoot.
enough shots of the donors or "suits" into the spot is a challenge for the
director and editor. If I were making this spot I'd trend towards multiple
Picture-In-Picture (PIP) windows with parallel action going on, which
lets you put more images into the same run time. This also makes a spot
watchable more than once, since you can look at a different part of the
montaged windows on each viewing to find something new.
giving is really a purchase, an exchange of money for publicity, and community
goodwill. Donors are "buying" membership in something that reflects well on
them and that will give their name longevity and weight in their community.
Imagery and language that implies becoming part of a legacy, of history, of
possessing a vision, is what you use to communicate the significance of
giving can be just as important; when you can get thousands to each contribute
a small amount, it can bring in more than the handful of "whales" who get their
name on the building. This is why "buy-a-brick" fundraisers are effective: you
get to share in the fame of the building, and showing you had the vision to
support it from the beginning, but at an affordable cost. I like that in the script,
John leaves the door open to the smaller donor-investor. It really could become
a separate campaign, if the budget were there. Since we're constrained to make
a one-shot piece here, at least it gets a mention.
this isn't built into the script, but you need to give consideration to how
your service that call to action after you've made it and the viewer wants to
answer. Don't make it hard or arcane to take the action step. Make it very
plain what the viewer is asked to do if they agree: go to a web page, make a
call, show up at a time and place, tell a friend, whatever it happens to be.
Leverage your multimedia: the video should feed a web site and they should look
"of a piece", unified in design aesthetics, so the audience feels a
continuation of their experience as you guide them to contribute. Don't leave
them feeling like they've been handed off to an impersonal boiler room, but
rather shown the secret door to the VIP lounge. You do that by making the
language, visuals, colors, fonts, and emotions the same, not just in the promo
script, but across the web site landing page as well.
Our thanks to John Morley and Mark Suszko for collaborating on this training session for "Save This Script."
Los Angeles, California USA
John Morley is a seasoned veteran. Over 20 years of writing for a living has taken him from Gainesville Florida, to Atlanta and on to Los Angeles. In addition to writing for corporate events, print and Web sites, over 300 of his video scripts have been produced, by clients including Home Box Office, Georgia Pacific, CitiBank, Mattel, Pioneer Electronics, and most of the Asian car companies, including Toyota, Lexus and Nissan.
He has conducted seminars on scriptwriting at numerous industry events, and he taught informational scriptwriting at California State University, Northridge. His script-formatting software, Script Werx, is used around the world by writers working for corporations, government agencies, non-profits and television shows, including Saturday Night Live.
Please visit John Morley's website, Original Vision, for more information about his contribution to the industry and his new book, Scriptwriting for High-Impact Videos.
Central Illinois, USA
Mark Suszko, a COW member and leader since 2002, describes himself: 25-plus years writing, directing, shooting, editing corporate video, government video, commercials, PSA's, DVD's, music videos, forensics and the occasional wedding.
I shoot news, documentaries, and many, many training pieces. I have some minor regional awards. I also rent out the best teleprompter deal in central Illinois within about 100 miles of Springfield.
I specialize in champagne looks on a beer budget, also writing great copy with an emphasis on smart humor.
My dream is to someday be known as the greatest second-unit director in the history of Hollywood ;-)
Title graphic artwork courtesy: Jane Bucci, Fine Art America