NAB Recap: Writing Compelling Scripts

Abba Shapiro is an industry expert who has spent time in both news and in corporate video. He is an author, speaker, instructor, writer, producer and director with years of video production experience. If you conduct a quick Google search on his name you will find links to a number of his works, including his Lynda.com tutorials page. I attended his NAB class on Writing Compelling Scripts.

He introduced the class with the famous adage, "The art of writing is rewriting," which led into his point about getting things down on paper. But, somewhat counterintuitively, he encouraged the class not to start putting pen to paper right away.

When first assigned a writing project, let it "gel" for a little while first. Just think about it, without writing anything down. Sometimes ideas can spring out during an every day routine, like showering, exercising, or driving.

Once your mind has had the chance to digest the subject, then start jotting your ideas on paper. At this point, these ideas don't have to be full sentences. They don't have to have any kind of structure. They can be keywords, cues, visual ideas, etc. But it's important to always remember the following things throughout the writing process:

Know Your Objective

What do you want you audience to think, feel, or do? What is the call to action?

Know your target audience

There is a popular web series on YouTube called "Video Game High Score." The show has a very loyal following among teenagers, but those outisde that demographic probably have never heard of the series. That's because the creators know exactly who they are trying to reach. They don't mind if others aren't familiar with the show, because they understand exactly who they are trying to reach. People are your audience, so get to know people.

Know your content

Writing for a technical piece is very different from a personal interest story. You need to budget enough time in the writing process to learn about your subject. For a technical assignment, you will need time to research the subject matter; to talk with experts; etc.

Very rarely will people rewind what they're watching, so you need to write in a clear, concise manner (especially for technical subjects) so your audience will get it on the first viewing.

Research

Talk with an expert ahead of time. Find out what they know. Jot down bullet points. That way when you get to the on-camera interview you can know what sound bites to look for.

If you are producing a person's life story, or a slice-of-life non-fiction piece, do a pre-interview to build repoire with your interview subject and to prepare him/her for what will happen. From that conversation, make bullet points that you would like to hit when it comes time to shoot the interview. When conducting the interview on-set, never think of it as an interview. Think of it as a conversation.

Establish & Maintain a Clear Voice

  • In a well-written script your narrator and/or each character has his own speech patterns
  • Some ramble; some utter grunts; some use flowery language; others are coarse. If they all sound alike, none seem genuine.
  • Create a timing or mood effect that enhances the writing
  • Listen to how people talk (rhythms, syntax, interactions with others). From these observations, give each character on the page a specific voice. 

 Other Considerations

Always be thinking about your audience. What do people relate to? What engages them? You might have 10 seconds to grab your audience. Use personal stories as a thread throughout your piece to capture your audience, even if the subject matter seems technical and straightforward. Find the human interest element. 

Finally, remember that you are writing for the ear and the eye. Show don't tell.