As a new scriptwriter, it’s hard to know where to start and it’s even harder to know if you’re on the right path (cue an existential crisis).
In this episode, Charles Gibson and I talk about progress signs video scriptwriters can look for so you know you’re improving and on the right track to writing high-converting video scripts.
Read the Transcript
The more you can measure what you’re doing, the closer you are getting to true direct response marketing, which I would maintain is the thing videographers and video scriptwriters ought to be trying to achieve if they want to make good money.
This is the Making of a Video Marketer, a podcast to help you navigate the wild west of marketing videos so your videos are engaging and persuasive.
I’m your host Ame Proietti, a freelance scriptwriter and I take on every burning question about scripting, producing, and promoting marketing videos so can you put out videos that actually get results.
Welcome back, video friends!
Joining me today is my mentor Charles Gibson. Charles has been on the show before, but I massively undersold his experience and expertise. He’s a long-time script writer and copywriter with a background in filmmaking.
In fact, he actually used to teach scriptwriting. We met back in 2020 in a copywriting group where I posted a video script for some feedback.
Most people in the group wrote a comment here or there, but I got paragraphs of feedback from Charles. After reading these paragraphs, I took about two days to recover, and then I reached out to him.
In any kind of scriptwriting, I think the really good ones look back fondly on their tough teachers because they know that what they got told was what they needed to hear and they got right down to business, getting it done.
Even though I had been writing marketing video scripts for about three years when I met Charles, I was definitely still a beginner-level scriptwriter.
If we’re at a mile marker, we need to get to 10, then we’re probably about at 2 right now. We needed you to know that’s about the distance you had yet to go to get where you needed to be.
The Hardest Part of Being a Freelance Scriptwriter
For any freelancer, it’s hard to know when we’re making progress and that’s usually because we work on different projects with different clients all the time, and being a freelance video scriptwriter is even harder because a video has so many different parts.
You write your script, hand it off, and then you have no idea what happens in production or post. Unless you’re with an agency, it’s unlikely you’ll see any data about how the video even performed.
So, in this episode, Charles and I talk about the script writer’s journey and the signs that tell you you’re becoming a competent marketing scriptwriter.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode. You can find me on Twitter @ameproietti and tag me in your comments.
All right, let’s dive in and hear from Charles.
Scriptwriting For Marketing Videos
Okay, let’s back up and define what we’re attempting to do. When we write a marketing video script, we’re trying to communicate to an audience using visuals and sounds, and that’s a language.
And yet, we have to understand and have the skill set of a copywriter or a marketing person who understands the essentials of persuasion and being able to write a copy.
Typically, they’d write it in words, and what you’re having to do in the video is translate those words into visuals and sounds. So there’s a two-step process here.
You have to understand both of them, and you can understand lots about marketing, but never be able to get it into the visual language, so to speak.
And so, I think that’s what makes it challenging for people. You have copywriters who don’t understand the visual language or you have videographers or video directors and things of that nature.
They’re visual artists, so to speak, and they often, to be honest with you, look down their noses at marketing. They want to be all about art, so that’s kind of where I came from to be honest with you.
So, I had to admit that art doesn’t sell very well.
You know, that is something that I’ve picked up on, but we’re all here because we want to make great videos, write great scripts and see great results from those.
My question to you Charles is what did you see most beginning scriptwriters doing that they probably shouldn’t be doing?
Beginner Video Scriptwriters: Where it Starts
So, what most of them are doing is they are writing words that a narrator will say, and they’re handing them back to their client. They’re not contemplating a video.
They’re not contemplating from fade-in, what am I looking at? What am I hearing? They’re just thinking about words like a copywriter, but it just happens to be on video.
Now, that is kind of what a VSL is- a video sales letter, to be honest, is text on the screen and it’s just basically a forced way to make somebody read a sales letter.
That is a kind of scriptwriting and you can do those, and there is a market for that, and you can do that, okay. But that is not all that we’re talking about when we talk about scriptwriting.
One thing you and I often talk about is how people come into marketing videos from either a filmmaking background or a copywriting background.
So, when you say people write these words that we see on the screen, do you see this happening, regardless of which background someone’s coming from?
Direct Response vs Content Marketing
I think that the people who have a film or video background, as I had, will tend to do the visuals, but they will have zero marketing message. It will all be pretty and artistic, but it won’t probably even have a call to action.
It probably won’t ask the audience to do anything. It’s good for branding. In fact, that’s a lot of what some of the Superbowl commercials and things like that are.
But it’s not direct response marketing, which is more what we’re trying to do when we are working to help a client sell.
That makes a lot of sense, when we say marketing videos that really could mean so many different things, and I think it’s good to distinguish when we’re talking about direct response versus like brand awareness.
So, what would you say would be a good first step for any beginner scriptwriter to start improving their script?
How to Improve Your Scriptwriting
Two things they should do. They should find somebody that can mentor them.
Who knows what to point them to to watch as a good example of what they ought to be trying to emulate.
And then from there, either that person or somehow they learn how to break that apart and look at the components to look at a script and see the parts and to know which part of it is visuals, which part is audio where the sound is being done.
There’s the mechanics and the formatting of it, and that’s not the main thing, but you do need to learn that if you’re going to be working with agencies and places that need scripts.
You ought to learn that because that’s just part of your way of appearing professional, and being able to communicate properly. And so, you have to know how to put it on the page.
But what I think is really good is to take a working video and reverse engineer it to the page. So that when you’re all done, you’ve got a script that emulates what you just saw. There’s probably no better way to learn than doing that.
Working with a Scriptwriting Mentor
On the note of mentorship, I can speak volumes about the benefits of having a mentor, but I’m curious what your perspective is on working with a mentee.
There are people that you can kind of tell just aren’t going to ever quite get it. I’m probably not as hard on them as I am on the ones that I think have potential.
And that’s probably not a fair thing to say, but when I think you have real potential, I tend to like roll up my sleeves and say, okay, let’s see what we can do here.
And oftentimes it’s not really me that’s doing the work. You’re the one doing the work. I’m simply pushing you, pushing your own talent.
I have noticed that when I’ve left some of our calls, I have been thinking like, what am I doing with my life? My freelancing, all of this stuff?
But you just have to take the feedback and learn from it, and then you just keep pushing because that’s the only way that you can get better.
We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
Right and there are things that you don’t know that you don’t know.
And I’m like, once she knows this, then she’s going to know what to do. So, in many cases, it’s simply a matter of just going through the foundational content that everybody has to know, and we just go through it.
When you start talking to scriptwriters about things like audience levels of awareness, let’s just say, you’re delving into things like Gene Schwartz copywriting legend stuff.
And to understand where a customer is on their customer journey and what their level of awareness is as it relates to their problem, the problem you’re trying to solve with the script, and knowing you’ve taken the time to learn it.
What is the right approach?
In fact, what is the unique approach at each level, at any given level, of the various levels that there are from unaware to aware on that whole range.
Creating a Message Market Match in a Video Script
There are no rules that can’t be broken, right? There’s an appropriate way to attack a particular level of awareness, let’s just say. but if you don’t know, you’re going to tend to approach all of them the same.
Even if you know video and video scriptwriting and you know the visual language, you know what to do with your camera and you know what to do with your sound.
And you can imagine it, and you already know persuasion and persuasive tactics and even some psychology like you should as a marketer. And so, if you don’t know those nuances of where to engage the problem in the script, you’re just not going to be able to be as effective.
You know, even if you have wonderful visuals and wonderful concepts in your script, it may not engage.
What we have the problem of doing here is, a message and a medium and a market perfect match is what you’re going for. There are four Ms in there.
You just need to get exposed to the right stuff and have it explained to you in a fairly efficient way, which I’m not always the most efficient teacher to be honest.
If you can just get exposed to it and not waste your time doing the wrong things, then it really wouldn’t take that much time to get somebody on pretty good at the solid ground.
Wouldn’t you agree with that?
Resources for Scriptwriters
I would, yeah. I think the best resources that you’ve directed me to have been Storytelling Made Easy by Michael Hague and StoryBrand by Donald Miller. Another good one has been Copywriting Secrets by Jim Edwards.
Storytelling Made Easy and StoryBrand were both useful because they focus on what’s almost like a formula you need to have to have an effective story. And it’s not your story, it’s the customer’s story. And then Copywriting secrets, this has focused more on copy than on the video, but it’s got some very strong copywriting principles.
So, Michael Hague comes from basically Hollywood screenwriting. He discovered that some of the things that he taught applied to the corporate world and selling. And so, he adapted his expertise from Hollywood storytelling over into corporate video marketing.
And then Donald Miller came at it from a novel I think he might’ve done, he’d done a screenplay, also Blue Light Jazz, I believe, and he’d done the novel before that, but it was made into a movie.
So, he comes from that Hollywood also kind of background, but then he brought the archetypal model over into business marketing, let’s just say, and built his StoryBrand around that, and helping companies come up with clear messaging.
So, his focus is on clear messaging from a very kind high-level standpoint, and he delves into customer journeys as well, or the hero’s journey.
And then I mentioned Jim Edwards, or you did, and that is pure copywriting there. That is just like meat and potatoes copywriting that if you learned it and then adapted it to video, you would do well.
You would have some really good meat and potatoes videos. It might not be the most creative in the world, but it would still move the product and that’s what you’re trying to do most of the time.
After a short break, Charles and I talk about leveling up your scriptwriting.
Script Tips Newsletter
Hey friends, I just want to share a fun announcement with you in this quick break. I recently launched my newsletter script tips.
Script tips is a collection of tips to help you write engaging and persuasive video scripts. Every Thursday, I send you one tip that you can use immediately in your script. Each tip reads in five minutes or less. If you also want to get these script tips, go ahead and sign up for my newsletter. I’ll put the link in the show notes.
Welcome back to my conversation with Charles before the break.
Charles and I talked about some resources script writers can learn from. He shared how Michael Hague and Donald Miller both focus on clear messaging at a high level. Well, Jim Edwards has some great fundamental copywriting prints. I was curious if these fundamental meat and potatoes principles were enough though.
Continuing the Scriptwriter’s Journey
I would just say that this is an ongoing learning process where you just keep pulling back layers of the onion in terms of what it is that makes people buy.
And you’d be surprised it’s not always going deeper, but it’s uncovering that dominant need that’s just there that’s keeping them up at night.
That’s kind of a trite way or cliché way to say it, but it’s, it’s the thing that’s keeping them, makes them feel like if I could just fix this one thing, then I’d be.
I could be successful and try to uncover what that is. So, if I could just learn how to write a video script, then I could make a lot of money doing it as a scriptwriter.
What is that one thing you’re missing? So, I would find a way to identify what that was and try to distill it down to its essential concept.
There was a script I wrote last year, and I think that was the script where I started to get that idea that it’s not just any old problem.
It’s about, as you said, that need that keeps people up at night. For me, this is where I felt I had graduated from the beginner level into a more competent scriptwriter.
I remember I was struggling with the message at first, but we basically ran it through the PASTOR formula and it was like seeing the matrix.
The PASTOR Formula in Video
That’s Ray Edwards, a formula that I learned from him.
Yes, and I love that formula. I use it all the time, especially when I write website copy. But even in the video, I think it’s highly applicable.
I was watching this ad from the Harmon brothers; they used this formula and it’s brilliant in video.
Well, what it does is, it moves the person along from identifying the problem to agitating the problem, engaging them in a story, which then introduces the solution.
I’m going through the PASTOR formula right now as we speak, okay.
And so, what it’s doing is doing things in the right order, in the right psychological order.
As you introduce and engage them about their needs, and they become like, yeah, oh, you’re talking to me.
And then you agitate that need is like this, isn’t it? Right. And they’re like, yeah, that’s exactly how it is. Well, let me tell you this story. This is what I did when I had that problem, and you tell the story. Okay.
And they’re like, okay, you know, and now they’re like but, but there’s always the buts. And so, you’re anticipating what are the objections?
So, then you need some testimonials and some credibility in there. That’s what the T is the testimony, and those testimonials are saying, look, these people got this result and this person got this result.
If they can get this result, then you can get that result too. That’s the implication.
Beginner to Intermediate: Progress Sign
So, what would you say is a noticeable sign that someone is doing this and reaching a more competent or intermediate level of scriptwriting?
When you know what the bones are of the persuasion logic from beginning to end, and you can implement that so that when I look at the script and I see that being executed; I’d say you’ve arrived at that level.
And it has nothing to do with visuals or audio. So, I would probably need to say that you have some handle, some ability to know what goes on the soundtrack and what goes on the visual side.
What to call for, and that you have found a good visual way–this is where the big idea comes in– to execute the concept, to accomplish those things that you are trying to do at the persuasion level.
Now, I think a lot of people, myself included when they write a script, probably think it’s great. I know I’ve certainly written some things thinking they were great, then, I’ve either shown them to you or a client. And after I got the feedback, I realized it wasn’t as great as I had thought.
What do you think are the best ways for someone to know and be confident that they’re doing the things that you mentioned?
How to Know Your Scriptwriting is Improving
I just think that you need to be learning to do the right things.
And the only way you can do that is to practice. So, you first have to know what the right things are and you understand them. And then it’s simply a matter of practicing.
One of the ways you can practice though is not necessarily writing it yourself. But I have said this before to look at things that are working out in the real world and diagnose them, reverse engineer them back to you.
How to Reverse Engineer a Video into a Script
It’s easy to do once you start learning how to do that. It’s not hard. I mean, the words are right there. If you go on a YouTube video, the transcript is probably right there. Just copy and paste the transcript onto a page. Now you’ve got words, right?
And most of those words are going to go in the audio column. Now, you can go back and just describe what the visuals are. You need to know how to do that in terms of some formatting and things of that nature.
But you know what a fade-in is, you know what transitions are, you know what animation is or live video or words on the screen, text on the screen.
Those are all visuals. And so, you look at scripts to see and see how they are. Put that on the paper and you can log in to some different places that have samples and read them.
You know, one of the best ways to learn how to do screenwriting is to read screenplays. That’s 50% of what you should do.
The problem is in corporate video, we don’t have access to a lot of those scripts. They just don’t seem to be out there very much, and they’re hard to find.
So, the next best thing is just to go to YouTube or Vimeo or wherever you can find videos that are working and do it yourself.
Branding vs Direct Response Videos: Using the Right Examples
Do you have any recommendations on which videos people should be looking at?
I guess, part of the process is to try to narrow down the kind of thing you’re wanting to do and do for clients, and then just find the best of those. Now, how do you know that it’s best?
First of all, this gets into the issue of branding versus direct response marketing.
It shouldn’t be an either or, they’re not mutually exclusive for newer companies that need videos that will move product, and create cash flow, and that they can document what their ROI is on that, which means their needs could be a clear call to action that somebody can measure.
Did somebody click, did somebody not click?
Now, comments on videos are also useful, like comments on YouTube videos. If people respond and they’re engaging with you, then that’s also a kind of feedback.
Measure What You’re Doing
So, there’s not a clear-cut way to say, what is a correct response and what is good feedback and what is measurable, but the more you can measure what you’re doing, the more you are getting closer to true direct response marketing, which I would maintain is the thing that videographers and video scriptwriters ought to be trying to achieve if they want to make good money.
Because if you can do that well, you can get paid well to do it.
That’s as opposed to like in copywriting, we have direct response copywriters for selling purposes, and we also have what we call copywriters that are more of content writers, bloggers, articles writers, and things like that. But they’re not asking anybody to do anything.
They’re more information-oriented and you can’t measure what the value of that is to the client. And so, you can do videos like that too.
And if somebody wants to pay you to do those great things, but you probably are not going to make a lot of money doing those kinds of videos because it’s too hard to measure what the ROI is.
So, that’s why I tend to push toward the direct response style, even though it might not be quite as artistic, it can be artistic.
I think that’s where the real opportunity is, to make it both artistic and still be a solidly direct response, moving the audience to take an action.
The Harmon Brothers-A Gold Standard
Of direct response videos, I think it’s clear for anyone in scriptwriting that they should be looking at the Harmon brothers’ ads because they’ve measured their data with Squatty potty, Purple Mattress, and probably a couple of others.
And these people move products as I’ve never seen in video before.
Yeah. I would agree with that and there, and they’re fairly artistic too.
Okay, so, we’ve covered the journey of being a scriptwriter from the very early painful beginning stages into becoming more practiced and more knowledgeable, and essentially more competent. How would someone know if they’ve got the potential to become a very competent scriptwriter?
Like what are the characteristics of people who have reached this level?
Signs You Have What it Takes to Be a Scriptwriter
Not everybody’s suited for it. A lot of people start out and just realize this isn’t me.
But if you tend to be visually oriented, if you are attracted towards even screenwriting, like storytelling and screenwriting, that’s always a good indicator to me.
But if you also are willing to not only embrace the artistic part, the kind of fantasy romantic idea of being this storyteller, but you’re also willing to be a little more pragmatic and reach over to the marketing side and become, I don’t want to say willing to sell your soul, because it might seem like that, but willing to understand entrepreneurial needs.
And bring storytelling to that.
So that you can help someone, that someone being your client, someone being an entrepreneur, who you want to help tell their story to the world about how they can help someone with what they have to offer, whether it’s a product or service, and you feel like helping them do that with your ability to tell a story.
To me, that’s the heartbeat of it. If that sounds interesting to you or even compelling to you, then you could be a scriptwriter in the making.
I’m always enjoying curious young scriptwriters in the making because there are not a lot of us out there.
There are three main things I take from this conversation with Charles about becoming a competent scriptwriter.
#1 Curiosity and Practice
The first, be curious, practice, and trying things out like reverse engineering scripts.
A lot of the work that I’ve done with Charles has been about how to apply different resources that Charles has pointed me to. The reverse engineering of scripts is something that I have personally done, and I have found it so helpful.
#2 Master the Market Message Match
The second thing that I take away from this conversation is that a competent script writer needs to master the market message match.
You can’t create demand for something that people don’t want, and you have to have the right message to attract people to things they do want.
#3 Master the Foundation and Nuances of a Persuasive Message
And the third thing, master the backbone of a persuasive message and also dive into the nuances that make people want to buy something. That is how you get an engaging and persuasive message.
If you want to learn more about Charles, you can connect with him on LinkedIn. I’ll link his profile in the show notes.
And if you’re looking for one-to-one mentorship that will guide you through the process of scriptwriting, Charles is your person.
As I said, I’ve been working with him for the past two years and I’ve seen so much progress in my scriptwriting, and I would not have been able to do it in such a short period if I didn’t have Charles’s guidance.
I want to say thanks to Charles for being on the show and thanks to Igor for mixing the show and making me sound amazing.
Also, thanks to Hide-Ho-man for leaving a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. Hide-Ho-man says, “I’m so glad I added this podcast! Simple and easy to follow. I didn’t know much about scriptwriting for marketing videos, but this one-stop-shop gave me the tools I needed to start. I thought the information was easily digestible.”
Thank you Hide-Ho-man, you’re a star!
Please tweet me @ameproietti and let me know if you liked this episode and if you leave a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, I appreciate it. It helps a lot.
Thanks again for listening and happy trails.
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