My quickest script writing session ever!

A few weeks ago, I was approached by a colleague to collaborate on a quickie corporate video. Even before the first meeting with the client, we could feel the deadline approaching like a tropical storm. So speed was key. But we couldn’t compromise production values.

Initial client meetings can be nebulous. You listen to what the client wants from the video, you ask questions to narrow the options and focus the goals, but you often leave that meeting with a yellow pad full of vague possible approaches, to be sorted through later. We couldn’t afford that.

By the time this gathering was drawing to a close, we had defined the audience and purpose: it would be shown internally to employees around the world and would introduce them to the company’s commitment to philanthropy. We knew the length—no more than two and a half minutes—and some of the key elements. It was Friday. We agreed that I would start writing the script on Monday.

And then the scriptwriting muse whispered in my ear: “No, write a draft now, immediately, before leaving the building.” “Seriously?” I answered, “I’ve never done that. I need time to contemplate.” “No, you don’t. No thinking needed … just write.”

Giving the muse the benefit of the doubt (which you should almost always do) I asked one member of the client’s team to stay, because she knew the content and I sure didn’t. Luckily for me, she agreed. I took a script template from a handy folder on my MacBook Pro and jumped right in. She was on the other side of the conference room table, so we started a Skype screen sharing session to be on the same page—literally.

BTW, if you’d like to download my tried-and-true script template to use on your own videos, right-click here. One of the options that pop up should allow you to download the file.

We’d agreed that there should be about 45 seconds of narration in this video. The rest of the time would be filled with pre-existing interview bites from philanthropic projects around the world. We didn’t know yet what these would be, so as the client and I crafted voiceover copy line by line, we simply filled in a bunch of scenes with the words “[insert sound bite(s)]”

The point is that after only a half hour or forty-five minutes we had a complete first draft script, albeit with holes for interview bites. The client had contributed facts and company messages, and I had contributed script-writing experience and savvy.  The cool thing was that the client could take this instant script and distribute it to her colleagues right away for comments and approvals.

Amazingly, the narration in the final script turned out to be really close to the draft we had cobbled together in well under an hour.

If you’d like to look at that first draft, right-click here. One of the options that pop up should allow you to download the file. (I’ve changed names and identifying features, so that you won’t be able to tell who the client was.)

Oh, I almost forgot to mention: knocking out the first draft this way was really fun!

Launching my “Seeing Your Story” blog. Champagne, please!

If you make videos to be seen online, “Seeing Your Story” is meant for you. My aim is to help you make better videos by seeing the story you want to tell before you pick up your camera. The pros know that the most important part of filmmaking often takes place before you ever push the red “Record” button.

“Seeing Your Story” is for people who want to increase their company’s profits … or promote their worthy charitable cause … or make a video of their kid’s first birthday that’ll bust the YouTube charts.

Today, anybody with a camera can upload videos to YouTube in a couple of minutes. In fact, YouTube offers a “Record from webcam” option. Check out this 14-second video I made without getting up from my chair:

The only problem is, it’s a pretty crummy video. Aside from low-rent production values, there’s no story. It didn’t even make a point, because I’d already written that YouTube has a “Record from webcam” option.

Not all online videos are created equal. Some are brilliant, some dull but informative, some truly yawn-worthy. What makes the difference? Sometimes it’s dumb luck: Your camera was running when your nephew tripped and dove face-first into the birthday cake. But more often it’s a mixture of talent and good practices. I probably can’t give you talent, but I can show you some good practices.

Making entertaining videos can be an awful lot of fun, but it can take work, thought, planning! Here’s a fragment of the script for a Discovery Channel program I produced:

Fragment of a script about building a giant mining excavator

This was for the “tease” of a show about giant mining excavators. Even for our experienced team, it took a lot of time to craft about 45 seconds of copy–because we were doing everything we could to grab an audience and keep it glued to Discovery Channel. It meant we had to see this mini-story (of a bunch of guys trying to beat the odds and save the mine) in our minds and then bring it to life. Here’s the result:

UPDATE 5/20: Cliff Pollan, CEO of VisibleGains, told me that the above description of how we created the tease was “a turnoff.” He explained that if an “experienced team” has to work hard just to craft 45 seconds of copy, what chance do non-professionals have to create good stories? Well, making most online videos isn’t nearly as demanding as fine-tuning a tease for a cable network show. I believe non-professionals can make terrific online videos. I want to be clear that this blog is meant to encourage you to go for it!

In writing this blog, I’m thinking of myself as a “story seer.” You can become a story seer, too. I intend to keep posting insights and tips gathered over many years in TV and corporate video. Soon, it’ll become second nature for you to incorporate what you’ve learned–from this blog, from other reading, from watching lots of videos and thinking about what makes them soar or crash–into your own videos.

What this blog is not: “Seeing Your Story” is not about the technology of making online videos, except as it contributes to good storytelling. I won’t be scribbling how-to’s about using your new camera or editing program. Others are doing a great job explaining the world of technology. For starters, there’s Steve Garfield’s excellent book called Get Seen, which you can order through his website. You can even learn a lot by following him on Twitter.

“Seeing Your Story” is about good visual storytelling–making videos that your intended audience will be dying to watch.

A couple of acknowledgements as we launch:

  • to David Meerman Scott, marketing guru for the Internet age. He told me there’s a need for “Seeing Your Story” (though he adds that people don’t yet know there’s a need!). Check out his blog, where he also lists books he’s written.
  • to Steve Garfield (see above), whose advice and encouragement helped shape this blog.
  • to Cliff Pollan, Founder, President and CEO of VisibleGains, a company that makes it easy to create interactive video for marketing. Working with Cliff and his great staff made me rethink my assumptions about the ingredients for a watchable video.
  • to Judy Levin, my delightful wife. Psychologist,  potter and interlocutor extraordinaire. You can close this browser window and be done with me; she can’t.

Your questions and your ideas for future “Seeing Your Story” posts are most welcome. Contact me at seeingyourstory [at] gmail [dot] com.