In this episode, the Script Doctors’ “patient” is a :30 TV spot intended to raise funds for an academic institution. The diagnosis is obesity, caused by passive language and lack of focus. So John and Mark trim the fat to yield a lean and healthy sales message, by applying techniques and idea-starters from John’s book, Scriptwriting for High-Impact Videos.
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.
FADE IN: 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. MARK To raise funds for an institution, TV advertising is usually considered to be too broad. WAYNE But this is a college town. MARK So it's strictly a local buy? WAYNE A gift really. The station owner is a donor. MARK I imagine some donors aren't local. WAYNE Most aren't local. So they see the ad on our website and YouTube, with an email pushing the link out to them. MARK Nice. Stressing it's been on broadcast TV strengthens credibility. WAYNE And it's going to run during every football and basketball game. MARK Who do you hope to persuade with this ad? WAYNE Largely alumni. MARK What's in it for them? WAYNE It's the future. Nanotechnology may save your life some day. MARK Anything more ... immediate? WAYNE Breadth of research: In addition to nanotechnology we've making advances in quantum-state piezoelectric ceramics, substrate admixtures, and plasma technologies ... MARK How about right now? What lights up a donor, the minute he or she gives? WAYNE Well ... When they get a load of the lab, I see some light bulbs turn on. MARK You mentioned alumni and placement in sports programming. WAYNE School spirit. Sure. Everyone likes to see their alma mater win recognition. MARK Any guidelines for your ad? Wayne hands some paper to Mark. WAYNE 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 such offering.
INT. GLENDOWER OFFICE -- DAY
Mark, and another company principal, JOHN, are reviewing the client-provided source material.
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 there.
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 out.
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 they throw.
John hands a script to Wayne.
This should work then. And Mark's the one with the golden throat.
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 multi-window montage.||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.||next-generation computing,|
|Prototype products being tested.||job-creating opportunities. Even entire new industries. Invented HERE.|
|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 in.||Wellington: inventing a better future, together.|
Mark and John look at Wayne after Mark finishes his read. WAYNE A little light on what we're accomplishing. MARK That comes through strongly in the visuals. JOHN And that's critical. Donors need to feel the mission. MARK But what really drives the decision to make a significant donation is what's in it for me. JOHN 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. WAYNE Pay to play. MARK 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. WAYNE So where am I on camera? MARK (smiles) Just be sure you wear a logo lab smock the day we shoot, and I'll make sure the lens finds you. FADE OUT
Emotions 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.
In 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.
One 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.
We 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.
To 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.
Getting 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.
High-level 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 the donation.
Low-level 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.
Often 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.
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.
Title graphic artwork courtesy: Jane Bucci, Fine Art America