Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The end of talking pictures.

         "Nice language" my boss said about my script for my first TV commercial for Mr. Clean. It took me the better part of a month to figure out how devastating that comment was.

         Television commercials are about pictures, not words, and it took me a long time to learn to think visually. I had finally figured out print advertising, by forcing myself to study all those ads in the New York Art Directors Club annuals, and making myself come up with a "writer's rough" --- including the image --- for every ad I wrote.

         I learned how the headline and picture go together in print.  Not by both saying the same thing, but by completing each other. The headline should make little sense without the visual, and vice versa. (Think of the famous Volkswagen beetle ad: a picture of the car with the caption, "lemon". What a way to introduce the story of a small scratch on the glove compartment frame in a car the inspectors pulled off the line.)

         I also learned that if the picture is nice and the headline is nice, the ad is boring. And if the picture is tough and the headline is tough, the reader will be upset and turn the page. But if the picture is nice and the headline is tough, you've got 'em.

         But writing for TV didn't come easily to me at first. I seemed to be creating radio commercials with pictures. I would do the "audio" section of the script first, and then scramble to think up pictures to go with the words. My art-director partners never knew how to handle this.

        Next,  I went on to creating the visuals first and then writing the words. That was better, but usually my visuals were never long enough. An art director had to bail me out.

        Finally, I learned that I should start with the idea, neither copy nor visuals. Just the idea. A television commercial doesn't have to tell you everything in 30 seconds. Then taking that simple idea and telling a story about it. Finding a way to dramatize it, symbolize it, argue about it, create a metaphor for it, or demonstrate it. Then letting the visuals tell the story, with the words helping it along and making the selling idea memorable.

       After a while, you'll probably be able to do a tv commercial with no words at all. Voila! You've just invented silent movies.

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