Monday, 30 September 2013

A Guide to the Amazing World of Screenwriting

Among all the audiovisual roles that I love and enjoy, like producing, editing and operating cameras, I also have found passion in the mysterious area of Screenwriting. Whether you have an idea for a short film or even a feature film, you need to go through the whole process of developing a script. It might seem easy, but there are a lot details about structure, format, and of course, storytelling, that you need to be aware of. 

For all those writers at heart, here are some screenwriting recommendations that you might find helpful when writing a screenplay, that may also apply to different script formats as well:

Every great movie out there started with just an IDEA, no longer than a sentence or two. The secret here is to try to make it simple: What do you want to write about? 


Let's say you want to write a story about zombies (because you're a huge fan of The Walking Dead and you think you can write an amazing zombie short film that will blow minds). So, are you writing about a massive group of zombies or just one? What does this zombie accomplish or try to accomplish? What's his goal? You have to ask yourself as many questions as possible, to really develop a simple, direct and strong idea. For example: "A young male zombie travels in time to try to stop the apocalypse".

If you feel comfortable and confident with your idea, then it's time to go to the next step: Synopsis. Here you have to write a summary about your story, expand your idea a little bit to get into some details. How does this story start? Why does this zombie want to travel in time? What happens when he does it? In this stage you have to ask yourself even more questions than before, getting deeper enough to have a full abstract about your film, but still keeping it precise and simple at the same time. 

There are different types of synopsis:
By length:
-Short Synopsis: 1 paragraph or 2 maximum.
-Long Synopsis: 1 page maximum. 
By content:
-Project Synopsis: similar as the ones you can read about the "coming soon" movies, it gives you a sneak peak about the story, but it doesn't clarify spoiler details. This synopsis could also be used to pitch a project, because they are written specially to make the reader want to know more about the movie.
-Script Synopsis: a regular summary of the story, not written to attract viewers but to give the writer and the film team an idea of what this story is going to be about, details included.  

My recommendation would be: choose the one you feel comfortable with, but keep in mind that it is always good to have your project synopsis in case you want to pitch this idea to a company or a producer.

Here is where it gets interesting. After you feel you have a strong summary about your story, grab a piece of paper and prepare yourself to doodle. You are going to develop your film arch or 3 act structure, created by the great Syd Field. 

ACT I: Setup. Here you have to introduce your character(s), establish them, their context, and their relationship with their world. 
*INCITING INCIDENT: An event, accident or situation that will motivate an action into the main character. This confrontation will lead him to a turning point or dramatic situation, known as PLOT POINT #1.
*PLOT POINT #1: This point will mark the difference in your main character from now on, giving him a goal or a purpose to achieve. It will also be the end of ACT I.

ACT II: Confrontation. This whole act is about the main character fighting and struggling to achieve his goal, getting in more trouble while doing it. 
*MIDPOINT: Another turning point for the main character right in the middle of the script, more subtle and internal. It could be a devastating discovery that will change the course of the story.
*PLOT POINT #2: A more dramatic turning point, it is usually when the main character realizes he has to confront his problem or antagonist. It will mark the end of ACT II. 

ACT III: Resolution. This act consists in resolving every detail of the story. 
*CLIMAX: The main character finally confronts his antagonist or his grand problem, trying to accomplish his goal.
At the end, the main character's goal can be accomplished, leading to a happy ending; or not, leading to a tragic/more dramatic ending.

*NOTE: as you may have noticed, not every script follows this structure (Tarantino's films, for example), but this is a good way to line up your film and then play around with the structure a little bit more, if you feel like it. For more information, you can browse Field's theory on the web or find one of his fabulous books, which are definitely a MUST.

After finishing your synopsis and your 3 act structure diagram, go ahead and create a new document for your Treatment. This would be as specific as your story will get. The treatment is a document of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or as many pages as you need (no longer than 10, because it might end up becoming a nightmare), where you are going to tell every detail of your story, from start to end. You are basically going to specifically explain what happens in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd act of your story, ending included.

After those prior steps, you should have a pretty good idea about your main character and your secondary characters, including your antagonist (if you have one). Sit down and develop a document for each one of those characters, including but not limited to:

-Professional, Personal & Private Dimension
-Point of view
-Motivation, Goal & Action
-Conflict or Dramatic Need
-Transformation Arch

This is just one way to develop three dimensional characters, the ones that will make your story deeper and real. Remember, the more details you can write about, the more you will get to know these people. 

You're almost there! Now that you are familiar not only with your story, but with the characters that will live through those pages, you're ready to start your script. First, start with your ACT I, SCENE 1. Look at the example:

CARL, a young and attractive zombie, wakes up in a dumpster. (…)

Remember I told you there are specific formats in screenwriting? Well, there it is. Every scene should start with its number and a header, indicating if its INTERIOR or EXTERIOR - LOCATION (bar, bedroom, park) - and the DAYTIME. Then, every time a character appears on a scene, you should write its name with CAPS. Some say this should be the case only the first time it appears on a script. Just pick an easy and comfortable way to recognize every time a character appears in your story, and your producer will thank you for that. 

I recommend you write your whole script with descriptions only for your first round. This is what we call the "ESCALETA" in Spanish, breakdown of your scenes with no dialogue. After you are done with that, second round will consist of adding dialogue to every scene. Remember, every character has its own voice. Try to make this dialogue perfect and unique for each one of those three dimensional characters. That's one of the reasons you needed to know them so well. 

Now the script is done!… Ha! JUST KIDDING! The only rule about scriptwriting that you should never forget: "Scripts are never done". You will always be revising it, adjusting it, moving things around, changing dialogue, a character's name, etc. This is completely normal. But at least now you have a FIRST DRAFT! Hurray!

I hope this has been helpful for your screenwriting adventure. Now tell me, what other steps, tricks, techniques or recommendations will you add about screenwriting? Have you done anything similar to these? Please post your comments below or share your thoughts with us on Twitter @Swagger_Media.

And remember! If you need any help creating and developing your script, please reach out to us. We'd love to collaborate with you on your next project!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Our Work: 1919 Wine & Mixology

Client: Corner Entertainment's 1919 Wine & Mixology, a Prohibition-era craft cocktail bar with a distinctive style and expert mixologists.

Objective: Create a web video highlighting the atmosphere and clientele of 1919's Mixology room.

Monday, 23 September 2013

File Organization, Level: OCD

A large part of my job at Swagger is trying to organize our massive library of footage, photos, music, and media into some sort of intuitive system that allows us to easily find the files we’re looking for inside of our 60TB (and growing) database. This is no easy task, and if I didn’t find such satisfaction in seeing nice, neat file structure fall into place I’m not sure I’d still have my sanity.

Despite the daunting nature that is file organization, staying organized in a chaotic work environment is arguably the most important thing one can do to make sure their workflow and efficiency are interrupted as little as possible.

Imagine a scenario in which a client has asked for a video update because their video is becoming dated and you now need to locate the project file in order to swap out the old assets with new assets. In a perfect world you’d open up that project file that hasn’t been touched since 2011 and every clip, graphic, sound bite, and photo would all still be connected; no re-linking required. Unfortunately, you probably don’t live in that perfect world. Best case scenario you can reconnect most of the files in one go, worst case you’re looking at a sea of “Media Offline” graphics that may even have been deleted.

My hope is that I can help you avoid this disaster. While my examples will be relative mostly to video, you can apply these type of tips to any sort of organization. There are a few simple, if not slightly monotonous, tricks that can help you make sure that whether you’re revisiting a project next month or next year all the files will be right where you left them.

First and foremost is some sort of file structure or hierarchy. To create this simply think of what kind of files you usually encounter when working on a project: Do you handle a lot of RAW or transcoded footage?  How often do you use VO or stock music? Stock photos? Do you often have a lot of client assets such as logos? Do you create your own graphics? All of these things could warrant their own folders or subfolders if they’re used often enough. The trick here is balance: too few folders and you’re not effectively separating the different elements, but too many folders and the project can become cluttered and difficult to navigate. More than ten sub folders in any given folder is probably pushing the limits of effective organization.

You may be thinking that this isn’t necessary as long as you know where and how the project is saved. While this is slightly true, you’d be better off creating a file management template that was standard in your workplace and that is universal, so that anyone could open up the project, find that dated graphic, and replace it with the new one. After all, you never know when a client might need that update, you could be on vacation or out sick, possibly delaying the client’s needs and maybe even losing their business if the situation cannot be resolved.

Probably just as important is file naming. A folder full of files named ‘fnapd937.jpg’ or ‘’ is about as useful as [insert clever metaphor here]. Even worse is a folder full of ‘Tom_Robbins_LT_FIXED’ and ‘Tom_Robbins_LT_FIXED-2’ or even ‘Tom_Robbins_LT_FIXED-UPDATED’. Even this paragraph is becoming a nightmare! Naming can be handled in the same way that file structure is. For graphics, consider something like ‘Client_Name_Subject_Name_LT_Rev1’ with each subsequent revision of that lower third being called ‘Rev2’, ‘Rev3’, and so on. While these file names are still long only one character will change with each revision, allowing for easy identification of which file is the most recent.

The priority with this type of system is making sure that when you move a project file to a different location all the files associated with that project also move. Like all rules, however, this can certainly be broken at times. Perhaps you use a lot of stock content in your work and it’s not advantageous to have it all spread out over your client files. In this instance it would probably be better to create a stock content folder and then link to it from inside of your editing software. This allows you to organize all of your stock content while also making sure it’s easily accessible. And added bonus is that this cuts down on storage as well, since you won’t have to make duplicates of the content to store in each project it’s used for.

It’s easy to work on a project and not keep track of organization, telling yourself the whole way that you’ll take care of it eventually. That’s the problem though: you will eventually have to take care of it. Whether it’s today or in a year is up to you, but try to remember that the longer you wait the more unfamiliar you’ll be with the project when you finally do revisit it. I hope that these few tips help you keep your files a little more organized than they previously were.

What kind of organization do you use in your workflow? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you ran into an organization nightmare? What’s a common organization technique that your feel is underutilized or overrated?

Friday, 20 September 2013

Our Work: Swagger Demo Reel

We did it! We put together a brand-new demo reel for your viewing pleasure!

Over the last few years we've put together a body of work that we're very proud of. From production to post-production and animation, we hope you enjoy these highlights, and we hope that the next time you're thinking about a video project, you think of Swagger!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Our Work: Service First Automotive, "All Grown Up"

Client: Service First Automotive, an oil change and automotive repair specialist serving the Spring and Champions areas.

Goal: Develop and produce a :60 commercial video spot highlighting Service First's exceptional customer service and family-friendly amenities (including the iPad bar and Starbucks coffee).

Spot: "All Grown Up"

Check out our Behind the Scenes video from our other Service First spot, 'The Perfect Mom'!

Monday, 16 September 2013

3 Key Components in Finding a Good Video Production Company

I get asked frequently if Swagger Media is a ‘good’ video production company, and what sets it apart from other companies in the Houston area. There are many components that you have to take into consideration when defining ‘good’ in the video marketing industry. Does ‘good’ mean that we hold ourselves to the highest possible technology standards? Does ‘good’ mean that there are household names that we could effortlessly name-drop as our clients? Does ‘good’ mean that we are, quite simply, the BEST VIDEOGRAPHERS EVER TO BE SEEN IN HOUSTON?

My favorite shot from Swagger's SETMA Cares marketing video, 2011

Comparatively speaking, Houston has one of the better economies in the US right now and naturally there are plenty of video production companies Houston business owners can choose from. How do you go about choosing the best video production company for your marketing goals?

To really find out for yourself, you’ll have to take a look at your marketing goals, your marketing budget, and most importantly, what’s ‘good’ in your opinion. Here is my take on the 3 key components in finding a good video production company for you.

The first step in selecting a video production company is deciding what kind of videos you are looking for and how you’ll incorporate them to meet your marketing goals. Are you looking for a video production company that can offer each and every service that goes into videography from start to finish, including concepts, scripts, casting, location scouting, filming, lights & sound, editing, and final deliverables? Or do you already have some concepts in mind, and you’re looking for a company to simply assist in getting everything set up? 


The next step is quality – obviously an important factor when deciding on a video production company. Take a look at potential companies and their demo reel. Because ‘good’ is subjective, seeing companies’ past work can help you determine the ratio of good to bad in your opinion. To start with, are their projects shot with HD video? Is the editing seamless? Is original music incorporated in their videos?
Good and bad video ideas are subjective. Take a look at companies’ past work and see what you like, and what you don’t. Look at the Likes vs Dislikes. Comments. See if the video was talked about or mentioned on Houston or local blogs, Mashable or Buzzfeed. 
Zero Dislikes after three weeks? Not too shabby, my friends.

Next, look into what type of equipment is being used. Houston may not be LA, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t access to the best equipment available! Many video production companies have their equipment listed on their website, which will help you to answer a lot of questions. 

Swagger On Set with a RED Camera for one of our
commercial spots shot this summer.

Remember: don’t use a video production company just because their website lists the ‘best equipment’ out there (especially if they phrase it like that - I mean come on...). Watch their demo reel, view their work, and determine if they are utilizing their equipment in the best possible way. 

The last way to find out which video production company is the right one for you is to see if their style is compatible to yours. If you are looking for a commercial that has a cinematic quality with beautiful shots and imagery, you're not going to want to go with a video production company that specializes in viral videos which look like they were filmed on an iPhone. Make sure that you take a good look at their demo reel and past work so you can determine if your style matches theirs. 

Last Thoughts:
Before I even started working at Swagger, I knew that I liked what I saw from their website
I mentioned that 'style' is a key component in determining the best video production company, and from watching most of Swagger's work I knew that we had a very similar style - we both have a passion for storytelling

No matter what business you are in, or what your marketing goals are, you have a story. We all have a story to tell, and Swagger has a wonderful way of telling each client's story in a different and unique way. 

"Does ‘good’ mean that we are, quite simply, the BEST VIDEOGRAPHERS EVER TO BE SEEN IN HOUSTON?"

I certainly think so. 

What are the components of a good video production company to you? What is your story to tell? Give us a comment below or give us a shout on Twitter @swagger_media!