Intro to Scriptwriting Chapter from Sweetow’s Book


Here are the first few pages from the scriptwriting chapter from Stu Sweetow’s book:

Larry: “Slap a happy ending on it, and the script will write itself.”

Griffin: “I was thinking what an interesting concept it is . . . to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we can get rid of the actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something.”

—From Robert Altman’s The Player


In an effort to reduce video expenditures, sometimes the scriptwriting budget is eliminated, or this creative endeavor is relegated to an overworked copywriter. Corporate scriptwriters can charge thousands of dollars for a carefully researched and well-written script. At times the video manager or producer will write the script. This can work well if he or she doesn’t have myriad other tasks on the proverbial plate. The video manager or the executive producer needs to allocate appropriate resources to scriptwriting, and sometimes this even means convincing upper management that the budget for a proposed video needs to be increased.

The script serves as the blueprint for the construction of the company video. It is the document that determines whether the video will be a sensational success or merely mediocre. Since the video literally reflects the image of the corporation, expect that the script will need to be approved by upper management, if not the CEO.

Determining Objectives

Generally, a department manager or project manager contacts the video producer to request the production. The producer either writes the script or hires a scriptwriter. Then the scriptwriter and the content specialist meet to start the planning process. The producer or video manager can operate more efficiently if only a single person acts as the content specialist; decision by committee usually slows down the process. As the scriptwriter submits treatments and script drafts, expect that the content specialist (or specialists) will need approvals from higher up. The producer will need to decide if it’s best to have management attend early planning meetings.

At the initial meeting, the scriptwriter might want to play devil’s advocate and ask why the company wants a video at all. What is the problem that the video might solve? How would that problem be solved without a video? For example, if management wants to produce a video to train supervisors to be sensitive to cultural differences among employees, it might have been due to an employee taking legal action against the company. Averting a million-dollar lawsuit can be the objective—one that can also help secure the video department’s value during budgeting season.

In this case there was a clear behavioral objective: altering the behavior of supervisors so employees won’t sue the company. Other examples of behavioral objectives could be employees properly using the computer network, customers purchasing a particular product, or stock brokers encouraging their clients to purchase shares in the company. If the objectives of the video are particular actions that you want your viewers to take, you are well on your way to clear sailing during the scriptwriting process. Likewise, providing a way to measure these actions—the results of the changed behaviors—increases your worth as a producer.

In addition to behavioral objectives, the video may be designed to fulfill cognitive objectives. These refer to concepts and ideas that you want the viewers to know after watching the video. Cognitive objectives include teaching employees about the history of the corporation or educating them on the products or services the company provides. With the objectives in mind—both behavioral and cognitive—you will be better able to begin the scriptwriting process. Achieving these objectives is the foundation for writing the script for your video. But before you can determine the shots and the words, you need to develop ideas for the concepts that will become the scenes that make up the script.

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