Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Why Brands Should Embrace Storytelling

Everyone loves a good story. Whether it’s a fascinating film, a book that you just can’t put down before finishing it, or grandpa’s story of the good ol’ days, people enjoy watching, reading, and hearing stories. Stories entertain us and teach us as we relate to the characters of the story and reflect our own lives through them. Increasingly, brands are embracing storytelling techniques to give their audience what they want, a good story. Storytelling is an extremely compelling marketing tool that engages the audience like no other. But how exactly does storytelling make a difference in marketing communications?

Let’s look at a concrete example and pretend that we run an online store that sells plastic boxes for storing and organizing items at home. The boxes come with a lid that you can easily snap into place, and we offer three different sizes for different storing and organizing purposes. Now, let’s say we want to write a Facebook post to promote the boxes.

“Check out our storage boxes for any home! The boxes have a lid that easily snaps into place and we have three different sizes to accommodate all storing and organizing needs. Visit our online store at www.ouronlineboxstore.com and place an order today!”

How does that post look? All the features of the boxes are listed in the post and we have included a call to action to visit our online store and place an order today. That should do it, right? However, before we post this, let’s try a different approach.

“Allison used to dread having guests. It was not because she didn’t like her family and friends, no. The reason she never invited anyone over was that her house was always so unorganized that it embarrassed her. Socks missing their mate, important documents, and dog toys would all create one big mess that she just didn’t know how to handle! Luckily, she found our boxes with lids that open and close easily, and the three different sizes fit all of her organizational needs perfectly. Now, her home is always ready for guests! Having similar trouble to Allison’s? Visit our online store: www.ouronlineboxstore.com

How is the second post different from the first one? It has all the same information about the product features as the first one, the different sizes and the lid that you can easily open and close. However, while the first post simply stated the facts about the boxes, the second post tells a story. We have a character that our audience can relate to. The character has a problem, and our product helps her resolve it.

Alternatively, we could leave the ending of the story open to make our audience want to learn how it ends:

“Allison used to dread having guests. It was not because she didn’t like her family and friends, no. The reason she never invited anyone over was that her house was always so unorganized that it embarrassed her. Socks missing their mate, important documents, and dog toys would all create one big mess that she just didn’t know how to handle! Sound familiar? Find out how Allison solved her organizational issues: www.ouronlineboxstore.com

Commercials, content marketing campaigns, and websites that tell the audience a story are more engaging than the ones that don’t. Stories activate our emotions, so when the audience can relate to your story, they like you and your products or services more and are more likely to engage with you. Marketing communications that embrace storytelling are also more memorable because people tend to remember stories better than facts. And isn’t that exactly what we want to achieve with marketing? An audience that likes us, engages with us, and remembers us when it’s time to buy.

Do you have any other good examples that prove the power of storytelling? Leave a comment in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if your business has a story that you want to share with the world, go to our website or give us a call at 832-831-7592 and we’ll help you bring it to life.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Don’t Hate, Anticipate

While we animators dream of getting to work on a big budget Disney or Pixar film, many of us find ourselves starting out on smaller scale projects. This can prove discouraging to early animators since the tight budgets and quick turnaround rates constrain us from putting our heart and soul into each and every frame like we did with our college theses. Small-scale character animation projects are rare and when they do arise, we find ourselves having to minimalize poses and cut corners to stay in budget. However, this doesn’t mean we have to throw out the textbook completely. There are ways to incorporate the techniques we were conditioned so well on in order to give even the most simplistic of sequences the heart and feel that we all strive for. The quickest and easiest way that I’ve found to achieve this is through anticipation.

Yes, there’s that word again. The word we animators have heard so many times from tutorials, seminars, books and documentaries. There’s a good reason for that, though, because anticipation (Ah! There it is again!) can immediately boost a sequence’s value. Think about it, if a viewer sees a character anticipating, what are they going to do? Anticipate with it!

But it doesn’t always have to be a big wind up like you’d see in a Warner Brothers cartoon. It can range from a long, exaggerated build-up…
…to just eight or so frames of moving in the opposite direction.
It can even be applied to motion graphics. Again, it doesn’t have to be super elaborate, even the most subtle usage can bring a whole new feel to your work.
Here’s the same sequence without anticipation:
So, while you’re reprioritizing and fast tracking in order to compensate the tight deadlines, don’t be afraid to pull this out of your tool kit. Even if the end user doesn’t see it, they’ll definitely feel it. So if you find yourself working on small scale projects, don’t hate, anticipate.

Are you interested in an animation project? Our team is here to assist you. Give us a call at 832-831-7592!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

My Experience at a Screenwriting Workshop

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Literally Short Film Festival, hosted by Literal Magazine here in Houston. For the 3rd consecutive year, this festival allowed filmmakers from all over the world to share their work, with the opportunity to win various prizes and screen their projects in a platform intended to bridge all cultures through artistic expression.

As part of its 3rd year, Literally Short hosted 2-day seminars, including a screenwriting workshop. I looked at this as a GREAT opportunity to not only learn more about the scripting process, but also collaborate and share my experiences with other people in the industry. The workshop was led by Ben Wiggins, a Los Angeles-based producer and screenwriter who originally entered the production world in Houston, while working on commercials and music videos. Some of his work includes co-writing and producing three episodes of Take One with Justin Nichols, and co-writing Devious Maids episode #310: “Whiplash”.

I truly enjoyed learning about his writing process from start to finish, including how to collaborate with a writing partner and the ins and outs of writing for the film and TV business, specifically in LA. We had the chance to ask him many questions regarding his particular workflow and development, and had the opportunity to work on some live scenes with the acting workshop attendees.

Here are some of my highlights and takeaways from the workshop:

The screenwriting process can be divided into four different steps-

1. Story breaking
This is the brainstorming part of the process, designed to come up with and develop the IDEA behind the project (film or TV episode). During this stage, Ben identifies the primary elements of the story:

  • Inciting Incident: an event that throws character out of balance and forces him/her to take action. 
  • Progressive Complication: a sequence of events that obstructs the character’s process and forces him/her to consider other alternatives.
  • Crisis: a specific moment when the character is forced to face a dilemma and make a decision.
  • Climax: events crescendo after character makes that decision.
  • Resolution: end of the character’s journey, where we show how the character has changed and resolved the conflict.

Ben’s story breaking method involves using a magnetic white board and colored index cards, in order to build a grid and visually keep track of these elements. He organizes acts vertically, adding one card per scene, and color codes cards per storyline, character, theme or type of conflict. He also uses a second board for character development, where he includes columns for the character, drive, backstory, and conflict.

2. Drafting
This is when the actual writing begins. Ben recommended a screenwriting software called Final Draft, which is considered the industry standard, despite its recognized limitations.

We also discussed industry standard screenwriting lengths:
  • Screenplay: 100-120 pages
  • TV Pilots: 53-55 pages
  • On-going TV Episodes: 51-52 pages

3. Internal Revisions
After finishing your first draft, also called the “vomit draft”, you enter the revisions stage. This is when you continue to review and re-write your script, while using the boards as a visual map.

Keep in mind:
  • First drafts are almost NEVER good. And it’s okay, remember writing is re-writing, and it never ends!
  • Each scene must serve the story and its characters. And each line of dialogue must serve the scene.
  • Our main character should drive the story- be careful with inactive protagonists.
  • Storylines should follow the primary elements of the story (Step 1), as well as the characters development and overall arc.

4. Feedback & Notes

Once the script is ready to be shared, Ben recommends sharing it with your A-team or closer circle first, before letting out into the world.

After the script is revised and finished (including external feedback and notes), the process can go both ways:
  • In film: the writer hands script to the director and he/she takes it from there.
  • In TV: the writer continues to be involved in the production and post-production process, especially for table reads and on-set revisions.

Besides discussing the steps involved in the scripting process, we also talked about the economy aspect of screenwriting:
  • Specificity is KEY, especially when writing dialogue parentheticals or intentions, which should be no longer than ONE line.
  • When it comes to dialogue and parentheticals, it’s important to have the right balance between giving the actors enough direction, while giving them freedom to develop their characters.
  • Limit dialogue to about FOUR lines. More than that is considered a “speech”.

Finally, Ben recommended the following books on screenwriting and storytelling:
  • Story by Robert McKee.
  • Screenplay by Syd Field -You can also review one of my previous posts about Syd Field’s scripting structure!

So tell me, what’s your favorite part of the scripting process? Do you have a particular workflow or technique that you consider helpful when developing a story? Please let us know your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if you need any help with developing a script and tell your story, our team is happy to assist you! Go to our website or give us a call at 832-831-7592.