“What you’re reading here is meant to be read, not heard. So my words must do all the work. The writing is necessarily complete, formal, and structured like the sentences we diagrammed in grade school. Each sentence has a subject, verb, and object.”
If you read the sentence above aloud, you’ll find that it sounds like a lecture, not a conversation. It’s simply not the way people speak (except maybe your college professor.)
That’s because those words are written for eye, not the ear.
It’s simply the biggest mistake would be scriptwriters make. Because writing involves, well, writing, they write like they’ve been taught to write… as if they were writing a letter, or an essay.
Let’s say that the person writing the script does know how to write for video. They know the end result is not words on a page, or text boxes, or PowerPoint slides. It is an audio-visual melange, made up of visuals, music, graphics and words. And a picture is worth a thousand words, at the very least.
So the writer goes about the task differently. He or she writes “out loud“, visualizing what will be seen, heard, and said. Visualizing what parts of the story can be told purely visually, what parts of the story can rely on music to deliver impact, and what parts of the story need text on the screen, or when necessary, word written to be heard… out loud.
What do we mean by writing out loud?
Simple. Open your mouth and read what you’re putting on the screen. If it sounds convoluted or wordy, it is. If you need oxygen to read it, it’s too long. If it is so convolutedly complete in its coverage of every concept and fact, it’s a guaranteed video fail.
If you’re not sure from looking at the words you’ve put on the page are right for the ear, there’s only one way to tell– read them out loud.
Is your face turning red as you realize the pain the audience will be going through? Good for you– you’ve at least got a sense of self-conciousness, and an ability to feel shame.
Does your reading out loud allow you to hear music where there are no words, and envision picture sequences, sounds, interview voice clips, and animations that become part of the audience experience simply guided or led by the words?
When I started in this business, my job was the words and the soundtrack. I wrote the words, and I cobbled together music, words, sound effects, and interviews on two Sony 2-track recorders. We didn’t have an office, just a one bedroom walkup apartment in Milwaukee. And that bedroom had one closet.
I was just married, and just starting the business, and after I wrote the script, I had to narrate it by reading the words into the tape recorder. I was terribly self-conscious, so for that reason, and for better acoustics (this is Wisconsin– there were plenty of wool coats in the closet) I brought my tape recorder, microphone, a flashlight and words on paper into the closet. Doing my best “annoucer” voice, I began to read.
Within a minute my face was read, and I had stopped the tape.
This didn’t sound like Ed McMahon, Don Pardo, Dick Clark, Betty Furness, Kate Smith, Garry Moore, Durward Kirby, Arthur Godfrey, or any of the other great pitch-people of my father’s generation. It sounded like– like– a bunch of words!
I turned on the TV. I watched Ed McMahon, Arthur Godfrey, and others pitch products. There weren’t a lot of visuals but the product was always prominent, along with simple graphics and the pitchman or woman. The person on screen sometimes did a demonstration, and sometimes just, well, talked., like he or she was leaning over your shoulder as you ironed or folded clothes (this was before two career families became the norm). And the “out-loud” words were succinct, brief, to the point, and not always in complete sentences. Just like a conversation.
If you’re under 40, you may have no idea who Arthur Godfrey was. But he was big. He was a CBS TV and radio personality who defined that term. He was a talker, singer, ukelele player, daily TV and radio variety show host, and pitchman. People paid Arthur big bucks to get behind their products. He was known for ad-libbing a lot of his endorsements, the best known of which, in the fifties, was Lipton soup, which he would slowly savor in front of you from his panel discussion hosting desk on his daily morning tv show.
As daytime variety shows faded, and game shows and soap operas dominated the airwaves, Arthur was still busy, making movie cameos and endorsing products in commercials– although, to his credit, he was selective on which products he would risk his well-earned reputation of trust.
In the late 60′s, he was paid to introduce a new product via a series of commercials– the first laundry ”enzyme pre-soak”– Axion.
His conversation, simple demonstration pitches were classic and sold tons of the stuff. Watch:[pb_vidembed title="Arthur Godfrey Introduces Axion" caption="" url="http://vimeo.com/55230386" type="vem" w="480" h="385"]
His use of conversational language and “you and me” familiarity is phenomenal. “Look,”, “uh-huh”. “Someone got punched in the nose”, “it would take an hour and a half to explain it to you, take it from me it works.”
Hell, his magic logo reveal is pulling a piece of tape off the box!
I’m not proposing minimalistic production values a a solution to communications complexities. I am proposing that the use of human conversational language in a medium partially intended for the ear is a pre-requisite for corporate communications success.
By the way, Godfrey, an environmentalist, eventually stopped doing Axion commercials when he found out that the sponsors had withheld some information fron him: Enzyme action got clothes clean, but made rivers and streams a problem for wildlife.