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01/08/2002 - 30 Second Movies
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30 Second Movies

My Fellow Writers,

January can be a slow time - I've already said that I hope folks out there are working on spec scripts. I myself was doing just that, until I had the opportunity to write a few commercials for a commercial production company owned by a college buddy. The chance to write, and perhaps even direct, a 30-second spot was too good to pass up, for many reasons - not the least of which being that, since last year, I've become increasingly interested in directing.

When I took this short-term commercial assignment, I must admit that I was somewhat skeptical. I mean, I knew I could do it, but I guess I was being a little bit of a snob. But it turns out that I had no idea how much I'd learn from it. This educational side was nearly the best part - second only to the many laughs and good times I've had working with this extremely talented team of producers over the past week or two. In fact, it has reminded me very much of my experience in working on a series, but in a very manageable dose. It was quite striking to go through the writing process when the final product is only supposed to be 30 seconds long. Not only must one think of every single frame of the visuals, but every syllable and sound as well. It's like a microcosm of a film or television script, and that's what makes it a perfect learning ground. I never saw clearly why commercial directors were given a shot at features all the time -- now at least it makes a little more sense to me. It's the same process -- although most commercial directors I've seen have a trouble with their attention span and overall story sense.

Two important lessons stick out in my mind. The first is that writing is a painful process that starts with bad drafts, which, over time, hopefully get better and better. Doing drafts for 30-second scripts showed me a much shorter and faster version of what happens with my longer scripts. All of the same things are there. A troubled first draft with some inspirations. Rewrites that, one way or another, get closer to the best possible version of the script. Losing a lot of great material because it's not central to the idea. And finally, coming out with a terrific script that makes an excellent little commercial. It's the same notion - high-quality material has a certain ring to it.

The second lesson I was reminded of was to write with editing in mind. I mean, don't worry too much about it in the first draft, or in the brainstorming section of the writing, but when it gets down to revisions, you really must explain the visuals and the dialogue in a way that it can't be misinterpreted by anyone else. You might think it strange that I found such lessons in the commercial form - but trust me when I say that these were very narrative commercials - some of which went well beyond simple sloganeering. Not exactly through any talent or plan of mine, but by the sheer effort of the group for whom I was working.

So I guess part of a third lesson is again, to try to shoot movies, even if you've only got a cheap old video camera. Because no matter how good your story ideas are, if you don't know how to express them visually - and to think like an editor - you're not going to be able to speak the filmic language necessary to communicate those ideas to others in the industry. Please trust me on this - I spent a couple of years denying this, only to find how true it was when I got my first couple of decent jobs in the industry.

I've got another commercial or two in me. Then I've got to get back to that spec. But when I return, I promise you I'll be taking some of the lessons commercials I learned in commercials with me.

Ad man pro tem,

Grady

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