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When do you stop writing?

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Sareesh Sudhakaran
When do you stop writing?
on Feb 21, 2013 at 11:14:24 am

I've been writing fictional scripts for fifteen years (both short and feature length).

This year, I'm getting into 2-5 minute corporate videos. I've been shooting these videos but have never had to deal with clients directly for the stories or scripts.

My problem is that I can get too creative for my own good. I know from experience that I can write a 5-minute script in a day (the labor part). And I also know that I can look at thousands of work available online to copy ideas or whatever.

Questions:

At what point should one stop writing a first draft for a 5 minute corporate video? How much time and effort do you put aside for this aspect of the business?

How do you deal with script nuances and inexperienced clients? E.g., if a client asks you to clarify a certain section of the script, how do you go about it without sounding like a textbook on calculus?

If these questions have been answered already, I will really appreciate links. Thanks for the help!

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Mark Suszko
Re: When do you stop writing?
on Feb 21, 2013 at 2:19:18 pm

You stop when you think its as good as you can make it, or you run out of time, whichever comes first.

Then you edit it and edit it again. That's the more important part I think. Its okay to start with too much and then whittle it down.


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: When do you stop writing?
on Feb 22, 2013 at 2:37:37 am

Thanks, Mark! It's the time factor that confuses me. How much time do you give yourself for a 5 minute video?

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Mark Suszko
Re: When do you stop writing?
on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:44:33 am

That's tricky to answer, because it's very situational. I have written 30-minute scripts in an hour, 30-second PSA's in a handful of minutes (once I've had the creative brief and thought out the concept in my head for an undetermined amount of time) but I'm also working on some documentary stuff that was unscripted and I'm essentially "writing" it as I edit, (not my preferred way, but that was forced by the clients), and a ten-minute piece I'm working on like that, collapsed down from about ten hours of material, which I have estimated will take about six days, though it might go faster. An NLE makes a crappy word processor, but that's how they are making me work.

I don't think this is a commodity process you can put a stopwatch on: it's a craft, the script is a wrought thing, like a fashioned piece of metal from a forge. You start with a general plan (the treatment), and a list of restrictions, and you start beating the raw metal into the final form, editing as you go. It's by turns an additive and subtractive process: you write it the way it just comes to you, then you go back and start shaving away the bits that are clumsy or off-point. New ideas suggest themselves, you try one and maybe it works or maybe its a blind alley or maybe it gets recycled later. It is an iterative process, and you stop when you are satisfied or when the clock runs out, pencils down.

The more time you put in, the shorter and better you can make it. That's the heart of the joke that the mathematician Blaise Pascal is said to have put at the end of a letter:

"I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn't have enough time".


I think Pascal has it exactly right concerning your problem. It is not about how many words per minute you type, or for how long: only idiots would use that for a metric. It is what you ended up with after the writing and re-writing. Is it good? That's the goal. Nobody pays money or gives awards for a script that is cr@p, but "... was typed in an efficient amount of time".


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: When do you stop writing?
on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:42:48 am

Thank you so much, Mark. You've given me a lot to think about.

Loved the quote!

By the way, while searching on this forum I came across the 'Save my Script' series you put together. Brilliant stuff. Is there one single place where I can read the whole series? I read the one about the Plumber.

A question: I've primarily trained myself on the Final Draft system (1 page = 1 minute, which has never failed me), but I see you've used a column system (which I've seen many friends use). Are there any distinct advantages to this system?

Thanks again for taking out the time to reply. Appreciate it.

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Mark Suszko
Re: When do you stop writing?
on Feb 26, 2013 at 2:24:26 pm

You can find the first three here (scroll a little):

http://magazine.creativecow.net/search?q=save+this+script

Got another one in the works, longest one yet, coming out in the next few weeks. It will have a twist you may like.


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Mark Suszko
Re: When do you stop writing?
on Feb 26, 2013 at 2:34:19 pm

You can find the first three here (scroll a little):

http://magazine.creativecow.net/search?q=save+this+script

Got another one in the works. It has a twist you may like.


As to the formatting, in "Save This Script!" we use two formats to help distinguish between the actual scripts and the dramatic conceit of our conversing about the scripts as if we're being filmed. I chose this as a way of making our articles stand out from more conventional ones, and to be a little entertaining while delivering the information.

I was brought up doing nothing but short form and 2-column was what they taught in junior high, high school, and college in my day, and how you wrote news copy. It works great for 30-second spots, IMO. For long-form work, it tends to get unwieldy, particularly when you need to make changes. So for something longer than five minutes, I'd go with a screenplay format.

When you are presenting to clients, base the formatting on what's easy for them to read and grasp. There is also a 3-column format that would include tiny storyboard frames, which is good when your clients just can't visualize on their own. (Why else did they hire you?). or you do regular storyboards, with a paragraph of copy under each key frame. Whatever it takes.


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: When do you stop writing?
on Feb 27, 2013 at 3:08:27 pm

Thanks! I love twists!

The tip of using 2/3 column for under 5 minutes makes perfect senses.

Last question if I may: In your experience what kind of storyboards do clients prefer the most: the Frameforge kind, hand-drawn or digimatics?

I've used all three at some point or another, but never under duress to actually use it as a sales tool.

Off to read your series. Please keep them coming.

Get the Free Comprehensive Guide to Rigging ANY Camera - one guide to rig them all - DSLRs to Reds to the Arri Alexa.


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Mark Suszko
Re: When do you stop writing?
on Feb 27, 2013 at 6:41:24 pm

I think a full animated storyboard, like frameforge makes, is appropriate for something that is going to have a lot of motion and be visually complex, like a car chase or action movie sequence. Previz programs where the camera lens is accurate and all the proportions are accurate, that's great help to the production team, but sometimes overkill for a client.

And along with all that animation comes the "uncanny valley" effect, where the less imaginative client can't see past the cartoon-ness of it and the actor expressions, etc.

For less intense projects, IMO, where its just people talking, simple stills with maybe some slight motion applied should be more than enough to get the flavor without over-doing it.

And don't forget that boards alone are not the whole thing: what you want to do is *perform* your script for them when you can. You best understand the timings, inflections, etc. of your script, so a table read or the like can really help bring it to life for a prospective client. Notice when John and I pitch a script in our articles, we never just let them read it cold, we perform it. That's because the final audience doesn't read the script, they watch it performed.


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: When do you stop writing?
on Feb 28, 2013 at 4:31:03 am

Thanks a ton!

Yes, I've noticed how you both 'read' for the client. It also happens to be the cheapest way!

Your series is exactly what I was looking for. I was imagining this to be a dull and boring thing, but you have shown me how it can be creative and exciting. Can't thank you enough.

Get the Free Comprehensive Guide to Rigging ANY Camera - one guide to rig them all - DSLRs to Reds to the Arri Alexa.


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