Suppose I asked you to graph your attention level while viewing a very interesting film. For a good show, people often answer that their attention level is high throughout — a flat line in the upper quadrants of the graph.
Not so. Even while watching the most engaging of stories, your interest typically waxes and wanes — kind of like a roller coaster in shape.
How do you keep a viewer’s attention?
As you watch a video — a good video — the action, words, sounds, and music spark memories and associations that feed into your experience of the video. In a well-done video, that’s a good thing. Hooking a reader’s personal emotions can do a lot of work for you.
Also, most people don’t focus steadily in a passive activity such as watching a video. The mind typically wanders during any presentation, whether it’s a feature film, a play, or a YouTube clip. Full attention returns when you create a new turning point — a plot change or new information, for instance.
So, when you craft a video presentation of any length, you want to be mindful of these “mental breaks” that will occur. And, if you’re good, you learn to manage them by carefully doling out important data in a time-release fashion, building on each “release” to a final climax. It’s really very much like how a feature film is carefully crafted.
For instance, at the beginning of a video you have just a few seconds to keep viewers who aren’t a captive audience. (Some say the attrition begins in the first second). So the beginning needs to be bold, surprising, unique, or otherwise attention getting. After that, you create peaks and valleys to continually reward your viewer for staying with you. Each peak builds on the last, and each valley provides supportive information for its peak, or the next one, if you will.
Plus, everything I’ve just said about keeping someone’s attention is exponentially more challenging every day, as you and everyone you know encounters hundreds of media messages every day. We want our information, and we want it fast.
USA Today hit on a novel idea back in the 70s by releasing bite-sized news, and received a lot of flak for it. But they were right. And today, as other newspapers flag and fail, USA Today still circulates more newsprint than any other newspaper in the United States.
Video is a lot like USA Today. You want to introduce memorable information and keep your audience’s attention throughout. In a well-composed video, you can do just that by thinking through your turning points. More on how to figure those out in another blog!
What is screenwriting?
Scriptwriting and screenwriting are not the same thing. Sure, in Hollywood they are. But not for the rest of the United States.
Screenwriting is writing done for the Big Screen. It makes beaucoup bucks, at least ideally.
Also, screenwriters write screenplays.
What is scriptwriting?
Scriptwriting is writing done for just about any venue other than the Big Screen — television, radio, web, corporate, educational, museum, training, industrial. You name it. And there’s a lot of it.
What’s the big deal? Most people aren’t even aware there are scripts for other presentations. They think an editor just makes them.
However, there are far more dollars spent every year on non-broadcast videos than there are dollars spent for Hollywood films. I’d like to give a citation here, but I can’t find it right now. Check back.
And so, for those of us who don’t write a lot of drama, we’d like a place in history! “I am a scriptwriter, and my name is Susan …..”
But when have writers ever been celebrated in their day? And when have behind-the-scenes writers (and I don’t mean the Hollywood kind) ever been singled out at all? It’s a rare trade competition that even recognizes scriptwriters (or writers of any kind for that matter) on a par with producers, directors, and print designers. Even though, without a scriptwriter (and a GOOD scriptwriter) there would be no story to tell.
So today, when you’re out there being bombarded by the 129 audio and video messages you’ll receive from commercials, YouTube videos, and Discovery programming, think of the writer. The person who makes it all make sense, who takes (or thinks up) all of the visuals and words that will make you buy, feel, know, or do something.
Thank a scriptwriter today!
Every year I have the chance to review dramatic films, documentaries, nonfiction videos, and commercials. Yesterday was one of my big days. (I want to mention that the judging is at the Gaylord National Harbor this year, brand new and amazing.)
One of the most promising documentaries began with credits over a blue sky, with a calm, tranquil landscape beneath. The picture nearly perfectly followed the “golden rule” of thirds as it pertains to filmmaking – the landscape took up about a third of the frame. (This theory of pleasing composition probably goes back to Da Vinci, and is much more complex than I’m describing it.)
Suddenly, an oil tanker screams out of the sky and explodes on the ground before us. We all sat up. Certainly something New and Different is a great way to attract and keep attention.
But what happened next? A convoluted and one-sided political attack on those who have squandered our nation’s resources. Only there were no facts. Maybe they were saved for later in the 2-hour doc?
I must disclaim that I am not allowed to name this film until the competition is over and results announced, sometime in November. So I will not give away any identifying characteristics. And I do want to say that there were those who disagreed with me. For a while.
One thing I’ve noticed about documentaries. Over time, it actually has become more likely that a scriptwriter isn’t actively involved in the production, unless that production is done by National Geographic or another proven documentary machine. Why does this happen? Because most people believe they can write. Whether they’ve ever written or even read a script for any kind of production, people generally believe that their choice of words and sentences will work. Increasingly, directors believe they can write. But, as talented as they may be, generally they don’t understand the turning points of a successful story. Maybe it’s because they’re so concerned about the topic that they can’t be that objective observer that’s required in a writer in order to give an audience what IT needs.
I can say, practically without reservation, that non-writers writing is never successful. It’s like someone who wants to run a marathon. You’re not going to do that on the first day out, or perhaps even in the first year. It takes a lot of practice and discipline. (How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.) In the case of scriptwriting, it also takes a lot of watching – all kinds of things: television, movies, nonfiction, documentaries, museum shorts, and so forth. I don’t want to discourage any fledgling writers, or those who keep journals, from working on their writing. But if you haven’t written professionally, likely it will take you a while to become superlative at your craft.
Naturally, scriptwriting, like any other writing, takes a lot of, well, writing. You must keep up with the culture and speak its language. Not stiff, formal language. Colloquial language. Scriptwriting may not be rocket science, but it is the careful distillation of complex information, and the magical gelling of a constellation of idea, picture, word, and audio that makes a moving picture a success.
So, the story I watched yesterday cost at least $300,000-$500,000 to produce. The person who submitted this piece did not reveal the budget, but based on the lush aerial shooting and the number of locations … not to mention narration by A Famous Actor whom most of us cannot afford … this was not a cheap story to make. Plus, it involved a famous senator’s son.
What happened? We all agreed that something funky had happened with the script. The scriptwriter went away, or there wasn’t one. Or there wasn’t a trained scriptwriter. The story just wasn’t there. We disagreed on how good the result was, but I stuck to my guns and eventually prevailed.
The film was a cut above that abomination by Al Gore that was called a documentary, but was really a glorified PowerPoint. But a cut above in visual only. It tried to be a successful Michael Moore film (and I do not think that most MM films are successful), but fell on its face, like the oil tanker that blew up within the first minute (we never did find out what the point of that was).
After watching 10 minutes of the piece, none of us had any idea where the story was going. Sure, we knew it was about the environment. And quite possibly a steppingstone for the famous senator’s son (as Al Gore’s “film,” An Inconvenient Truth, was for that politcian). But there were no building blocks leading to a greater truth, inconvenient or not.
I did some digging and discovered that I may be one of a handful of people who have even seen this film, because it’s caught up in a maelstrom of egos and personalities. And the costly piece may forever escape the Big Screen.
Turns out the personalities involve, as mentioned, a famous senator’s son, the filmmaker who grew up with him (and who is also the stepson of a household name of a TV journalist), a newspaper heiress, and a wealthy Republican producer who bankrolled most of the picture. Some or all of them are not getting along.
The problem? The filmmaker took the heiress’s script and threw it out, coming up with his own. The producer and the senator’s son don’t like the result. The heiress hasn’t seen it, but she also coughed up a lot of the money to make the picture.
The filmmaker says he owns the film, even though he didn’t put up any of the money to make it. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Was there a contract? Hello?
But, again, my point (and I do have one) is this: a really good script is necessary to make a successful story. A good script must be done by a good or even a great writer. All of the fancy shooting and editing in the world can’t create Story. And every successful feature film and documentary, not to mention corporate and museum videos, has a Successful Story.
NOTE: Apparently you can download this lost documentary now. Your thoughts?
Sneak Preview of “Crimes Against Nature” at Aspen Film Fest
The current state license plate design, modified since its introduction in 1991. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The other day, on my way to D.C., I drove behind a car with Idaho plates. The Idaho license plate is quite beautiful really. A kind of red and white sky, and blue mountains and pine trees at the bottom. The slogan – “Famous Potatoes.”
Famous potatoes indeed. (more…)
Giant Sequoia ring
When you think of giant sequoias, you may be at first impressed by their grandeur. Sequoias can stand hundreds of feet tall, with trunks up to 25 feet thick. They can live for 2,000 years.
Sequoias are a big deal in this country. National park rangers wear the image of a sequoia tree on their hatbands and belt buckles. Smokey Bear frequently appeared with sequoias to tell us that only we could prevent forest fires. But, until recently, we didn’t know something important that makes this American icon really different from other trees. (more…)