Save This Script!

Save This Script, Episode 2

Great videos start with great scripts. What you’re going to present to your audience should speak to them in a language they can connect with. Writing a PSA to get kids up and moving? Don’t say, “Calisthenics are fun!” Watch John and Mark transform this script into one that a kid would actually listen to – and take notes for your own script-writing. Join John Morley and Mark Suszko in this second episode as they Save This Script!

Great videos start with a great script.

Sometimes, the scripts are not 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.



President of the county health department, RANDALL, sits across his desk from MARK, who is a principal in Glendower Productions, and sits taking notes.

The national campaign is providing a budget to develop our own communications, and we want to run a PSA.

Does the money come with any guidelines or restrictions?

Just to support the goal of reducing obesity and improving the health of our kids.

Any central theme or positioning language from them?

We have to use their slogan: “Be fit. Don't quit.”

And they want some local angle?

Yes, and I've got it. You know that this county's softball crazy.

Sure, I go to the games myself.

So you know the name Delbert Yazmanski?

I win bar bets ‘cause I can even spell it.

Well, we've GOT him! He'll say anything we want and we can video tape him anywhere we want.

Great! And you have clearance for him to be on screen in his Warriors uniform?

Um... well... The league's going through some... reorganization. He may not be in a Warriors uniform by the time our PSA gets on the TV. But he's a local boy, so the kids are going to know him as a hero wherever he's playing.

Hm, well... A blank slate can be a good thing... sometimes. So, would you like a proposal for both the print and TV work? It's more effective when the campaigns are unified....

Our regular ad agency is doing the print.

Anything provided by your ad agency, or your national office? A consistent message is stronger.

Well, national sent a bunch of free video clips of kids riding bikes and just goofing off outdoors, but really, Delbert's the way to go, he's a winner and he wants the kids to be winners.

Hm. So, has Delbert weighed in on what he wants to say?

No, but the ad agency sketched out what you might have him say.

RANDALL hands MARK a printed page, and Mark begins to scan.



(DELBERT): “Hi. I’m Delbert Yazmanski, the softball star. I play outfield. When I get up every day, I think about how great it is to practice my skills and work out with a routine of calisthenics. You should, too. It’s good for you and it is F–U–N, FUN! Take it from ME! Gym class is just as important as your other school work, and a healthy body and a healthy mind are a great winning combination. There is no magic potion that makes you a great ball player like me, just hard work, every day. So stay in school and stay FIT in school, because you never know when you might get to become a professional sports player, just like me. So stay fit, and don’t quit!”


Mark, and another company principal, JOHN, are reviewing the client-provided script.

JOHN When the words “calisthenics are fun” pass his lips, credibility with this audience is just gone.

MARK Too many words ... smothered in cliché sauce. And this "winning team" thing is just tired.

JOHN Even more basic; they said the audience is the couch potato kids.

MARK And wouldn't they love to be on a winning team for a change?

JOHN These are the last kids to get to picked for any game on the playground. Any association they have with actually playing sports is probably negative.

MARK Well... the stuff from their national office isn't classic sports either. It's really Randall's vision of how to use the player that's driving the approach.

JOHN You've got a clue there, in the stuff from the national office.

Thinks for a beat, nods

MARK Right. Their message isn't: “hit a homer,” it's just to get off your butt and do anything that's not sitting in front of some screen all day.

JOHN So it's low effort and high fun. Who wouldn't love that?

MARK (Frowning) Our client, who expects this to all be wrapped around his big shot ball player.

They stare into space.

JOHN Ball players like having fun too.

MARK And that means...?

JOHN You'll just have to read my script.

MARK Whatever, just have a rewrite ready for us to pitch in our next meeting and...

JOHN Budget is an issue. Yeah; yeah.


Randall sits across his desk from John and Mark, who are well into their pitch.

JOHN What specific examples has your national office given of what kids can do to stay fit?

RANDALL They talk a lot about just walking, or throwing a Frisbee, or just playing on the swings. Stuff like that.

JOHN<br>So the focus isn't so much on organized sports, but on being active.

RANDALL But we've got Delbert, and the kids love him...

MARK No question, everybody loves Delbert. It's still about Delbert.

JOHN<br>At the same time, is the overweight kid who's never caught a ball in his life going to think we're talking to him, with a message about making the team and hitting a homer?

RANDALL (defensive) It could be his fantasy?

JOHN Fantasy is good. At the same time, we're hearing from you and your national office that you just want kids to be active”- any kind of active.

MARK So we focus on what your target audience CAN do right now, unstructured.

JOHN And show they will have fun doing it.

RANDALL (Skeptical) I'm hearing less and less Delbert, though...

MARK It's all about Delbert, but the message isn't hard work and sweat, Delbert's message to these couch spuds is they can be having fun and making friends, getting healthy without drudgery.

JOHN<br>We show it's also what Delbert himself does on his own time. And what the kids who hang with him do.

MARK If it leads to being an athlete ... all the better. But the message is “just try any kind of physical activity for now.” Because it's easy and fun.

JOHN Here, we can give you an example of what we mean; we'll just step you through it.

MARK I'll read Delbert's lines, and we'll both trade off sound bites.

John & Mark's script:
Delbert Yazmanski in a generic ball uniform with a local diamond’s backstop in the background.

DELBERT: Hi, I’m Delbert Yazmanski.

Delbert working out seriously, doing drills or calisthenics

For the team, I work out hard.

Delbert walking through the park with a bunch of boys and girls.

DELBERT: But on my OWN time, I stay fit by having FUN, just like my young friends here.

Quick cuts of kids on bikes.

DELBERT VOICE-OVER: Riding a bike can make going anywhere an adventure.

Quick cuts of kids walking.

DELBERT VOICE-OVER: Walking’s easy.And you can talk with friends on the way.

Quick cuts of kids in the park, skateboarding, playing tag, flying kites, and otherwise staying on the move.

DELBERT VOICE-OVER: I love spending time in a park, as much as I like being in a stadium.


So come on; join us…

Group shot of kids and Delbert.


Ending wide shot of Delbert and kids talking a walk in the park, past cameras, room over their heads for graphics.
Mark and John look at Randall when finishing their read.

So it's NOT just Delbert talking to the camera?

We were concerned that would do more to put an audience of impatient kids to sleep. It doesn't come off sounding natural; it doesn't sound sincere.

This approach draws kids in. Instead of a lecture, it's an invitation to enter Delbert's world; get to know what he likes and do what he does.

And it's real kids on screen who your audience can identify with, modeling the behavior Delbert's telling˜'em to do.

But the “be fit; don’t quit.”

It works great in this context.

Being fit just means being healthy. You can be fit without being specifically athletic.

And "don't quit " means don't quit having fun. Just like the kids on screen.

Now there's the problem: We don't have the budget to have you chasing lots of kids around with a camera.

Your national office took care of that. They gave you all the b-roll we need of active kids.

Along with a broad hint of what they really want your message to be.

The script says a bunch of kids are there with Delbert, shouting this slogan...

This is easy to do, and we can make it happen for free; Your office is already organizing events. Design one event around "fitness for kids..."

Something like a “fun walk in the park.”

...and announce Delbert there as a guest for the hour of taping he has already agreed to.

It's a more relaxed atmosphere than staging a formal video shoot. And the kids and parents see it as a treat, rather than something they might expect to be paid for.

And the price of admission is that the accompanying guardian signs a photo release, so we can use their kid's image in a PSA.

And as for your tag line on the end...yelling in unison is one of the things kids love to do most.

What about Delbert saying those exact words?

They might not be those exact words.

We get him off to the side. Away from the kids. Let him know what we need, then I start interviewing him. So it's more of a natural conversation.

Mark's good at that: asking leading questions, getting him worked up about the topic; so it comes across as enthusiastic and sincere.

Because it IS sincere; it's his own words. There's a lot of technique and logistics behind the camera, but on screen, it's just a bunch of kids having fun and their ballpark hero cheering˜'em on to “don't quit” moving your bodies.

We structured this script to have a longer useful life: the end is formed into what we call a “donut”: In that last shot of Delbert and the kids walking, we can update the graphics and a voice-over announcer any time in the future, without having to re-do the entire spot. So it can become a promo for a specific appearance event, like a walk-a-thon, or a card-signing appearance, fitness day at the stadium, or whatever comes up.

So one spot could work all year, if I want it to?

As long as we plan for it now.

All good. But if every third kid in town gets to be on camera, what about me?


If you can find a catcher's mask and pads that fit, maybe I can put you in the frame with Delbert for one shot. It can be your "Hitchcock cameo".

      (To JOHN)
“Oh, he's good, isn't he?”


John’s Observations:

This script makeover revolves around the issues of knowing your audience and modeling behavior. Sports heroes have been the typical default role model for the kidsters, for generations. It’s a reliable premise, but in this case, the conclusion was a bit off. Having the role model drive a message of “you can hit homers too” breaks down when the audience knows they aren’t up to it and they probably are not even interested in trying.

As the client, along with this sponsoring national organization, makes clear, the target audience is overweight kids who don’t get exercise. They may love stuffing their faces while watching sports, but actually working up a sweat themselves simply isn’t what they do. This sedentary approach to life probably means they don’t look good in shorts, aren’t good at sports, and may have been ridiculed the few times they tried. In short, at the first hint of organized sports, working out, or anything that involves being athletic, they tune out.

Life looks better on TV. When audiences see happy people having fun, they want to be those people. Pictures of happy kids on bicycles, swings, and just goofing around say more to an audience than thousands of words of explanation. They see it. It looks good. They try it.

Again, the behavior modeled needs to resonate. Assuming this audience has negative associations with participating in sports, the last thing we want to show is a bunch of little league all stars who the audience is likely to recognize as the smug little jerks who ridiculed them for striking out and dropping balls.

Instead, we show a relaxed atmosphere: no coaches yelling to step it up; no sneers from the kids who always get picked for a team. The kids on camera being a bit soft and round would be good. They laugh and joke about missing a basket or dropping a ball. But mostly they are just enjoying being active with friends rather than being isolated and ridiculed because they “suck at sports.”

Mark’s Observations:

What we had in this situation is a decision-maker in love with one particular aspect of a celebrity “get”, because it allows them some personal access to some idol of theirs that they wouldn’t otherwise have. And it kind of blinds them to the best way to actually put their “get” into use for the campaign.

I’m usually highly skeptical about using sports stars as spokespeople for anything outside of what they are famous for. I can believe a ballplayer saying he likes a particular pair of cleated shoes, or a brand of bat. He shoulknow that stuff. But you will very often hear or see local spots for something like used cars, or roofing repair or the like, using a beloved (usually retired) local sports star as the pitchman. I always wonder, when hearing these, what a defensive tackle knows about laying a roof, or what a superstar point guard, used to getting a new sports car every year, knows about buying used cars. Why should I base a purchase decision on that? The farther away the context of the spot is from the star’s area of competence or relevance, the more chances you’re taking, and the more willful suspension of disbelief you’re asking from your audience.

Sports celebs also run the risk of a short “shelf life” that’s out of your control: by the time the spot airs, they might have been traded, hit a bad slump, suffered a season-ending injury, or even gotten into some PR trouble, in some cases.

In our case study, we had to gently pry the client away from the model he already had built-up in his head, which was based on every commercial misuse of a sports celeb he’d ever seen. He just hadn’t seen any better way to use the talent. We had to find a way to play to the celeb’s strengths, while still serving the needs of the spot.

Some years back, Arnold Swarzenegger was involved with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. In his publicity tours for fitness during that time, he didn’t stress bodybuilding and weight training, the things that led to his personal success and fame, but instead, Arnold’s people held local “fun run” events, where he would espouse the value of ANY kind of activity, specifically walking and running regularly. Arnold would give the very short, positive pep talk, then he’d jog along with crowds of kids for the cameras for a half-mile or so, which everybody found thrilling, everybody wanted to be photographed running with Arnold, and I thought this was a very clever leveraging of Arnold’s fame and physicality, without asking kids to try to specifically *BE* Arnold themselves, or try to match his body-building.It also made jogging seem more cool, because Arnold did it too. One of the keys was to model the behavior, as John says, and not just lecture about it.

Our thanks to John Morley and Mark Suszko for collaborating on this training session for “Save This Script.”

Save This Script! Episode 1

Save This Script! Episode 3

Save This Script! Episode 4

John Morley
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.

Title graphic artwork courtesy: Jane Bucci, Fine Art America


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