In putting the August issue of DMAW's Marketing AdVents together, I received an awesome article from Bob James, the Mighty Copywriter.
Bob put together a seriously good wrap-up of what’s going on in the direct marketing copywriting business. He talked to a number of colleagues who described how the profession has changed and the sorts of new projects copywriters are undertaking.
In reading Bob’s piece, I noticed that more than a few of the folks he talked to said they were writing fewer direct mail letters and more video scripts. I was surprised.
I have great respect for my fellow copywriters. Intuitively, though, it seems to be that, in the same way copywriting is a specialty, so is video scripting.
For years, direct marketing copywriters have been saying that “not just anyone” can write direct mail. It’s a special type of writing. I know that’s true. Not all journalists can be feature writers; not all authors can write poetry; not all business writers can be technical writers; certainly not all writers can be editors; and not all copywriters can be scriptwriters.
So, in putting this blog post together, I talked to short-film maker and corporate video consultant, Deryck White (DCW Concepts.) “Can somebody simply switch from copywriting to scriptwriting?” I asked.
“There's no reason a copywriter can't write for video,” Deryck says, “but scriptwriting is a beast of a different nature and writers should be aware of the special considerations inherent in this type of work – and it is work.”
Deryck clarified the differences of which writers should be most aware.
1. Good scriptwriters think visually first, verbally second. Effective copywriters do the opposite.
2. A copywriter spends hours polishing the narrative and picking over colorful words that will speak to the reader. A video/film scriptwriter is crafting a message that will be funneled through one other person – an actor or voiceover narrator, for example – before it reaches the viewer. In short, words that read well on the printed page may translate less well when delivered in speech.
3. Writing low-cost is an art. The story a video/film scriptwriter can afford to tell is limited by what the client can afford – in dollars-- to show on screen. Copywriters are constrained by length too, of course, but the “cost-per-word” calculation in video and film is far higher.
4. A video/film scriptwriter often must write for non-professionals not quite able to deliver the words as written or conceived. These intermediaries (actors, staff) will stand between the writer’s words and the viewer's eye, so the scriptwriter must be able to write for them, too.
5. Scriptwriting has to take into account the capabilities of the performers and also be adaptable to acting/directing/shooting dynamics.
6. Scriptwriters must work with a range of professionals with whom they may be unfamiliar: the director, the actor, the producer, and the film editor. This may be a team of creatives with whom most copywriters have never collaborated.
So, write on, everybody. But write right!
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