“Television: A medium. So called because it is neither rare nor well done.” Ernie Kovacs
Scriptwriting for corporate, B2C and B2B audiences is often done in-house. Perhaps a marketing intern is given the task. Often it is a product expert or an instructional designer. Sometimes it is even a vice president. At first glance, it may seem as though it is a simple task – right? Anyone with a laptop can crank out a script – right? As an (anonymous) producer once said, “Just go to your desk and type something.”
At Chris Jones & Associates we’ve been writing scripts for a variety of audiences since 1979. Chris Jones has tackled everything from short form (:30 spots) to feature length documentaries and the awards have followed. Whether writing a script from scratch, or rescuing a battered script from certain demolition, there are a few trends which have emerged over time.
Tips from an Award-Winning Scriptwriter
The following insights are gleaned from 35+ years of experience.
- The process is important. Identifying the approvers, the subject matter experts and other key players is critical. Like video production, the process of writing a script is an inverted pyramid. Executives and subject matter experts belong at the beginning of the process, not the end. As the script progresses, fewer and fewer comments should arise. If there are 10 revisions of the script, the scriptwriting is not the problem. The issue at hand is the process. Making a revision at the end of the scriptwriting process is like unknitting a sweater.
- Stick to ONE program objective. A script that attempts to serve many masters will end up serving none of them well. Try not to cram the triangular shaped training objective into an oblong marketing hole. A program planner is a great tool to define the objectives used during scriptwriting and video production.
- A creative treatment is critical. Writing a script without an approved script treatment is like building a house without an approved blueprint. If someone wants to move a door it is much simpler when it is part of a blueprint. When the house is already framed, it could damage the very structure of the building.
- Review live and revise alone. Whether it is a creative treatment or a script draft, a live review meeting is very important. “Live” includes face-to-face, phone conference, GoToMeeting or any other real-time interaction. This allows those with differing opinions to hear/respond to others and come to consensus. This does not mean that the entire group must reword or rewrite sections. It only means the group finds agreement on a direction. The scriptwriter should be the lone revisionist so the tone remains consistent.
- Be prepared to kill your babies. Few viewers of a corporate video ever got to the end of the program and exclaimed, “Gee – I wish it was longer!” A scriptwriter must be prepared to make cuts and kill those wonderful turns of a phrase or hilarious scenes that do not serve to meet the ONE objective of the program. A video should be as short as possible while still meeting its objective.
A Word About Script Writing Format
Donna Matrazo, author of “Corporate Scriptwriting,” reminded her audiences that a script is not narration. If you’re a corporate video producer and are handed a single spaced page of copy, you do not have a script, you have content. A script is not narration.
Donna Matrazo defines a script as “the complex and artful integration of visuals, non-verbal messages, music, sounds and spoken words.”
A PowerPoint presentation is not a script.
“The Road Taken,” a Chris Jones & Associates production, tells the story of the birth of the video production industry. It illustrates the two historical prongs of corporate video. Each of these prongs resulted in a different type of script writing format.
- Silent films dating back to early 1900s were used for training, marketing and sales purposes long before video was invented. The first ‘talkie’ was not “The Jazz Singer,” but was a tour of the Hawthorne Plant produced by General Electric. The master was typically a 16 mm film.
- TV stations and the invention of videotape resulted in Electronic Field Production (EFP) by corporations beginning in the early 1960s. This resulted in videotapes that were shown to large and small audiences. In the 70s these programs were distributed via VHS or Betamax video cassettes. The purposes were largely the same as the silent films: training, sales and marketing. The master was typically a 1” or ¾” videotape.
- Both 16 mm film and videotape cassettes have been replaced by digital video captured on hard drives in a variety of formats.
Screenplay or teleplay format
The silent film format morphed into a screenplay or teleplay format. This type of script is ideal for storytelling, complex imagery and anything with actor or “real person” dialogue. This is the preferred professional scriptwriting format. We use Movie Magic Screenwriter, although Final Draft is another powerful tool. Professional scriptwriting programs also contain production tools that producers find useful such as shot list and prop list generators and other tools.
The EFP video production based on TV news scripts resulted in a 2-column format. This type of script is ideal for so-called talking head programs. This format is often preferred by clients (who can ignore the visual column and focus on the narrative content) and by producers (who can ignore the narration and focus on the visuals). All that is needed for this script writing format is word processing. It is essentially free script writing software.
Contact Us – The Doctor Is In
One of the services offered by Chris Jones & Associates is that of a script doctor. For those who have a script that is limping along, or perhaps gravely wounded, we can do the necessary surgery to get the patient back into fighting shape. Whether it is a tweak or a full re-write, a fresh approach by an experienced eye can be a life-saver. Your revisions will be delivered in a professional script writing format.
Call 612-272-0547 during business hours or contact us via email. Pricing is per project.