As all filmmakers know, there’s the standard 3-act paradigm for writing feature film scripts. Corporate video scripts also have a standard paradigm structure, but it doesn’t work in acts.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating for a moment that you dispense with the 3-act structure when you’re working in corporate videos. It still has its place, especially when you’re using dramatic reconstruction to get your point across.
However, the vast majority of corporate videos are informational or factually based, rather than dramatic, so a different tool, the “thematic paradigm”, is really helpful to know and apply.
As the figure shows, the thematic structure begins and ends with a ‘main message’, such as “Acme widgets are great”. You then have 3 supporting points which feed into and back up your main message. For example, “Acme widgets are great because they are well made, they’re available everywhere and they are fantastic value for money. And that’s why Acme widgets are the best.”
You now have 3 “theme headings” that you can go ahead and expand upon by telling a story to back up your claims. So, in the same way as developing a logline helps you to work out the story of your feature script, this thematic statement helps you to structure your corporate video.
The script and shooting plan now effectively write themselves. You instantly know that your first theme means you need footage of your COO or CEO talking about how well made the widgets are, plus footage of workers on the assembly line doing their thing. The second theme tells you that you need an interview with the sales manager talking about her distribution network, plus you need footage of the forklift loading the lorries. The third theme dictates that you have to find a customer to talk on camera about how they saved tons of money by buying Acme widgets. Script done in 30 seconds.
“Making order out of chaos”
As you can see, this really helps when you’re forward planning a video. But it really comes into its own when you’ve got masses of unstructured footage and you’re trying to make a story out of it.
A couple of years ago, I was called in to help on a feature length documentary about a financial institution. The company owner gave us a list of about 20 people he said we needed to speak to. We recorded 45 hours of interviews! But despite this, at the end of the shoot, we had absolutely no idea what the overall story was. We had no script and no structure.
There was nothing for it, but for me to sit through all of the footage hour by hour, writing down what key themes I could spot in the material. After about 2 days, I had watched and logged all of the interviews. Remarkably, there were only about 5 major themes that ran through the footage.
Very quickly, I was able to pick the principal 3 themes and then use them to formulate a main message. I wrote out my main message and 3 supporting points and then used that as a guide to create a 100-minute cut of the film in about 5 days. When we presented the film to the client, he loved it and signed off on it immediately.
This paradigm works. Moreover, its real strength is that it is so flexible and scalable. Each one of the theme headings can be unpacked as much or as little as you like, so it works for a really short 30-second video or a much longer one, such as a feature-length documentary.