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Save This Script

CreativeCOW presents Save This Script -- Indie Film & Documentary Tutorial

John Morley and Mark SuszkoJohn Morley and Mark Suszko
Springfield Illinois USA
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Each installment of this series is a scenario in which a writer/producer team is confronted with a problem script. The scenario, written in screenplay format, revolves around a typical client management situation that can lead to a problem script. Join John Morley and Mark Suszko in this first episode as they Save This Script!



Practical applications of ideas from the 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. BOTTOM LINE PLUMBING, PRESIDENT'S OFFICE - DAY
The company president, PHIL, sits across his desk from MARK, who is a principal in Glendower Productions, and sits taking notes.


PHIL
We've been doing radio spots for years, but now want to take it up a notch with a 30-second TV spot.

MARK
Are you targeting a particular type of customer?

PHIL
We know it's the ladies who call. A lot more often than the guys. A lot of it is referrals from happy customers, too.

MARK
And what's most important to the ladies?

PHIL
Speed. They need it fixed the same day.

MARK
You can do that?

PHIL
Whatever it takes. I got stories...

MARK
Is there anything from the radio ads we need to keep; anything that really rings a bell with customers?

PHIL
We want a clean break. It's TV. We can be creative, y'know. So how 'bout this: A lady is telling her friend about us?

MARK
Good. Gives it that third-party endorsement feel, ties in to referrals.
Phil pushes a piece of paper across the desk toward Mark.

PHIL
My wife likes the idea so much she wrote the script for it herself. You might have to jazz it up a little with that special effects stuff you guys use, but since we wrote the script, there should be a break on price, right?



Client-Provided Script


BOTTOM-LINE PLUMBING
"30" seconds TV
(2 WOMEN AT A TABLE,
Client's suggested script)


(MIDGE) "Say, Betty, how are you doing? Haven't seen you here at the book club for a while."

(BETTY) "Oh, Midge, I've been too busy trying to pick a plumber who is both experienced and affordable, and who does the work fast, because I need some repairs done to my bathroom..."

(MIDGE) "Well, you should call 555-5432."

(BETTY) "555-5432?"

(MIDGE) "Yes, 555-5432 is the number for Bottom Line Plumbing"

(BETTY) "Bottom Line Plumbing? You mean the ones located just south of the Olde Tyme Mall on Route 123, corner of 123 and North Ash Tree Street? With convenient off-street parking?"

(MIDGE)"Yes, and did you know, they charge ten percent less on the first Monday of every month, when you show your frequent caller card?"

(BETTY) "Really!"

(MIDGE) "And, Bottom Line has been family-owned and operated for thirty years, with licensed and bonded plumbers who all take a certification from the Plumber's Institute of technology?

(BETTY) "No, I did NOT know THAT! Well, now I know the best place to call for a plumbing repair is Bottom Line, at 555-5432 ! But how did YOU know all of that?"

(MIDGE) "Maybe because I married a plumber!" (BOTH LAUGH)

(NARRATOR/JINGLE) "Great plumbing service in the shortest time, sit tight and call us: Bottom Line".








INT. GLENDOWER OFFICE - DAY
Mark, and another company principal, JOHN, are reviewing the client-provided script.
JOHN
It's meant to be ironic, right?

MARK
Not unless "jazz it up with special effects" is the new code for irony. Who TALKS like THAT!?!?!

JOHN
Wait. That's just the tone people associate with the early days of TV. Retro-chic is cool.

MARK
It's cool when it makes the audience nostalgic for something they think used to be better. This kinda on-the-nose crap never worked. It's more like a catalog of bad examples of clunky writing.

JOHN
It would be asking a lot of our audience to know about early TV stereotypes, get the reference, and get that it's a parody.

MARK
Yeah. My point: They use so many brain cells figuring out the joke that they miss the message. Also, we're using most of the time just setting up the gag, and not selling...

They stare into space.

JOHN
At least he's clear on audience. So, what do ladies really like?

MARK
A Mercedes convertible?

JOHN
Spoken like a guy. How about a wedding?

MARK
We're not selling romance, John.

JOHN
But we are selling grace under pressure and reliability.

MARK
That's a more... elegant way than Phil put it...

JOHN
But they are critical at any event. A wedding is a highly stressful event for the ladies, and your friend Sarah shoots weddings, right?

MARK
You are so non sequitur.

JOHN
And I'm sure she would have a customer who would like to save a few bucks if we could just use their wedding party for extras in a few stills.

MARK
Wherever you are going with this, just have a rewrite ready for us to pitch in our next meeting, and...

JOHN
Budget is an issue. Yeah; yeah.
INT. BOTTOM LINE PLUMBING, PRESIDENT'S OFFICE - DAY
Phil sits across his desk from John and Mark, who are well into their pitch.
JOHN
The ladies love looking at each other's wedding albums, right? So this gives them a logical reason to be talking. Looking down onto the book, we don't need to show the room.

MARK
You just see hands turning the album pages and the photographs full screen.

JOHN
And if your business card is in the album, that would be the strong ending visual saying "happy customer." The graphic leads right into saying the all-important phone number.

PHIL
And all this story in 30 seconds?

MARK
You said "be creative." The images flip by fast, about 8 of them.
John passes a copy of the rewritten script to Phil.






Rewrite of client-provided script

FADE IN:
Photo in a wedding album being leafed through on a coffee table. It shows a typical wedding party group shot, except that it includes a plumber in a Bottom Line uniform proudly displaying a large pipe wrench.
MIDGE: Such a lovely dress... um...there's a plumber in your wedding album.

BETTY: Sure. Turn the page.
Album photo of a doorway framing a harried looking middle-aged father, half-dressed for wedding, pointing back toward the bathroom.
BETTY: That's my dad, on the morning of our reception, in their backyard.
Album photo of ring bearer pointing to a guest bathroom, holding nose.
BETTY: The toilet in the guest bathroom was stopped up.
 
MIDGE: I would freak...
Album photo of slightly grim mother on telephone.
BETTY: Or my cool and collected mom would just call Bottom Line plumbing.
Album photo of Bottom Line plumber working on the toilet, taking all precautions to keep the area clean.
BETTY: And before the first guest even arrived...
Album photo of father, in a tuxedo, doing a test flush of the toilet as a proud Bottom Line plumber looks on.
...everything was fine.
Album photo of plumber eating wedding cake.
BETTY: So of course we invited him for cake.
Album with Bottom Line business card inserted as if it is a photo.
MIDGE: And his business card?
 
BETTY: That Bottom Line plumbing phone number is a wedding memory I need to keep: (555) 555-5555.



JOHN
Let's do a read-through so you'll see how it works. Here's a binder we'll flip as we go, like it's the album...
(After the read through.)

PHIL
So my guy's a hero.

MARK
And we show it rather than just tell it. That's the power of video over radio.

JOHN
It's still a variation on your two-ladies-talking idea. We made it more on-point.

PHIL
So it's still my wife's idea?

MARK
Well... based on her idea, yes...

PHIL
Great. So I get my discount for writing the script for you!

MARK
Tell ya what, we've saved you the cost of sending a video crew out to shoot this, because it's all stills except for the hands turning pages in the book. We can save even MORE if we use your house, draft your family members for the wedding party members. There's no acting or audio needed, and your wife can be a star in the commercial. I'd have two women voice talents record the voice-over, for their timing and clarity. So we are effectively saving you as much in production as a first draft script would cost. With a little editing, we can turn the whole thing around for radio use as well.

PHIL
So my wife can get paid for the script....

MARK
Feel free to pay her just as much as you would like.

JOHN
...And so concludes our "Game of Thrones"...

FADE OUT








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

 


 

John Morley, Creative COW MagazineJohn 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.




Mark Suszko, Creative COW MagazineMark Suszko
Central Illinois, USA


Mark Suszko, a COW member and leader since 2002, describes himself: 25-plus years writing, directing, shooting, editing corporate video, government video, commercials, PSA's, DVD's, music videos, forensics and the occasional wedding. I shoot news, documentaries, and many, many training pieces. I have some minor regional awards. I also rent out the best teleprompter deal in central Illinois within about 100 miles of Springfield. I specialize in champagne looks on a beer budget, also writing great copy with an emphasis on smart humor. My dream is to someday be known as the greatest second-unit director in the history of Hollywood ;-)






Title graphic artwork courtesy: Jane Bucci, Fine Art America


Comments

Re: Save This Script By John Morley and Mark Suszko
by Mark Suszko
Thanks, John.... I used to do a lot of scripts in radio, since back in college... and one of my most anger-producing peeves is about forced dialog that would never happen in real life in a million years.

Nobody walks around in real life talking to a friend or neighbor out of the blue, unmotivated, about some business by spelling out their number and address, and especially not by repeating it. Stilted copy is deathly dull. And saying phone numbers in spots today is I think a waste unless they are mnemonics of some sort.

In the original plumber-supplied script, the ladies talk like Stepford Wives, not real people. Their language is inauthentic to any kind of characterization you'd expect. They are just a "Mary Sue" puppet for whatever the client originally wanted to say by narrator, but he thought a dialog would be more "fun".

Dialog is a reactive, inter-active, evolving process, not just trading memorized speeches back and forth like it's still 1930's radio theatre.

In less than 30 seconds, we have a lot of work to do. We have to create characters and a reasonably believable world for them to inhabit, and a situation for them to deal with. And you can't get away with that old stage trick of starting out the scene by having one of them say "well, here we are in (whatever)...." I have NEVER heard a real person ever say that anywhere. You know where you are, if you're not senile.

You're going to be skeptical, but really, when I work on a spot like this, or even a training video, I'm not happy until I find a way to wedge an abbreviated Campbellian "Hero's Journey" story arc into it.

Some of it might have to be telegraphed by the art direction or other nonverbal visual cues or sound effects and music. You have parallel story-telling tracks going on in any GOOD video: you have the obvious dialog and main character action happening, but also the visuals in the foreground and background, and actions implied just offscreen, all of that working together, the parts leverage each other. That's when you're using ALL the power of the medium to full advantage, not just reading a radio play to a camera.

So when we go to the wedding idea, we've created a legitimate reason for two people who know each other to spontaneously start discussing plumbing in front of us. We have a plot arc right out of Aristotle's "Poetics", with a deadline and an obstacle to overcome, and a catharsis for the people in the story and us the viewers. The incongruity of the plumber in the album is an awesome "hook", and is both humorous and it's an instant puzzle for the curious viewer/listener to decode. You feel rewarded for attention when you "get" the punchline and "solve" the riddle. I feel that aids overall message retention.

We could have also written this as a testimonial from one customer straight to an off-camera interviewer, more documentary style. That would have been my back-up plan if the budget was lower than it already was. But it's that unexpected VISUAL of the plumber in the wedding party photo that is the entire key. Sometimes, you think of that first, and write "backwards" from that to create the conditions that make the ending happen. But you can't bend reality too far just to make the whole timeline work. Then you get the Plumber's "original" script again.
Re: Save This Script By John Morley and Mark Suszko
by John Morley
As Mark indicated, our approach to this column is still a work in progress, and any suggestions are welcome at this point.

What we plan to add going forward is some ending commentary that connects the dots on why and how we were able to "save this script."

For example, these are some thoughts on the wedding video:

Clichés got that way because they work. The cliché in this case is the illusion of a third-party endorsement created by a dramatization of someone providing advice to a friend. The trick is to add a twist to the cliché. The wedding album adds this twist along with a smile.

What works in some situations, such as retro-chic, may not work in other applications. Furthermore, a parody runs the risk of being just as offensive, hokey, or boring as the thing being parodied. So instead of making fun of our client's idea, we took it up a notch to add a richer context and specific reason for Betty to be bragging on her plumber (as opposed to being married to one).

Examples work best. Show it; don’t say it. So this script puts something important to our target audience, the perfect wedding reception. at risk. Then, no adjectives are needed to describe how this level of service saved the day.

Positive associations are also effective. Being the plumber who saved the wedding makes this plumber easy to remember and associate with something good.

--
John Morley
Author of Scriptwriting for High-Impact Videos
John@OriginalVision.com
Re: Save This Script By John Morley and Mark Suszko
by Jeff Breuer
Mark/John, this is great! Thanks for putting it together.
@Jeff Breuer
by Mark Suszko
Jeff, we're interested in any specific problems readers like you want addressed for the next installment. Just leave actual names out of it, but if you have faced a script problem, tell us about it and we might have some suggestions in the next installment.
Re: Save This Script By John Morley and Mark Suszko
by Michael Locke
What?

Writing, directing, and dialog? And here I just thought you were uber-tech broadcast guys. So glad your stomach turns with bad content, and you improve on it, saving you and the project from the president. Nice to see how you danced it in front of them, since the cheapest commercials are often client-concieved and diplomacy is mandatory for any future work.

Keep it coming from the trenches, proud of you guys...
Re: Save This Script By John Morley and Mark Suszko
by Fernando Mol
"Feel free to pay her just as much as you would like."

What an ending!
Re: Save This Script By John Morley and Mark Suszko
by Mark Suszko
The secret project, revealed!

I'm going to have to apologize to Joss for stealing his Opening Weekend thunder now... hope the movie still makes some money...

We plan a series of these, each exploring one area where folks commonly have problems. They are organized over short-form scripts for efficiency's sake, but we might go deeper, later on. Short spot scripts are often microcosms of larger projects anyway, so what you pick up here may still be of use.

John and I have a number of these drafted already, but we appreciate any feedback and suggestions on where you'd like us to go on future script topics and issues. We only ask that you not name true real names of clients or brands or anything, when you post - please keep references kind of generic, so as not to cause people grief at their day jobs, thanks.


Thanks to Tim and Stefani for giving this idea a chance. Let's see what happens.
Re: Save This Script By John Morley and Mark Suszko
by Steve Martin
Brilliant Mark!

Production is fun - but lets not forget: Nobody ever died on the video table!


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