Answers to the Q and A…Finally!

Thank you to all who participated in this post asking questions you had about me.

Here are my answers.

Elle Strauss asked a few (I’ll separate to make for easier reading)

I wouldn’t mind hearing more about writing for TV–what is the story structure for that like?

Writing television commercials demands you write incredibly tight and pay special attention to word choice. You have only thirty seconds (sometimes sixty) to convey information about the product/service the client is selling, why it’s better than comparable products out there, why customers should choose your client’s business to purchase said product/service over comparable ones out there, and the business location. Usually a call to action is thrown in for good measure (“Stop in today!”) 

As a result, unnecessary words mean wasted time. Don’t use three when one will do. An exception to this is the commercials that are repetitive on purpose—the ones designed to drill a location, phone number, or name of a product in your head.

Also, extra words and information means the voice talent will have to rush, which rarely sounds good and usually irritates the editor.

There are two main types of commercials, ones that give out information, and ones that give a testimony.

Informational gives tons of information about the product or service. (Extended versions are called infomercials). These are easier to do and usually involve video and description of the product/service.

Testimonial is where past customers talk about how good the product or service has been for them. This type is a favorite of car dealerships and funeral homes.

To create a testimonial you or the client finds customers willing to talk about their experience and put them in front of the camera. If they are articulate just ask them leading questions designed to get the information you want to portray. If they aren’t, you’ll have to write out what you want them to say. If they can memorize this “script” then just roll camera, if they can’t you have to hold up their “script” off camera and have them read it.

*Note, lots of people you see doing testimonials are actually paid actors who’ve never used the product/service.

Both types of commercials are usually ended with an endboard. This is a blank screen (or sometimes a shot of the actual business location…like the outside of a building) to which you add the client’s logo, contact information, and sometimes any specials going on (big sales, new location, etc)

As far as script structure, you have to lay out both the audio and the video on the same page. This is done by taking a paper, dividing it in half vertically, and then putting video shots alongside the accompanying audio.  For reasons I’ve never really understood, the audio is written in allcaps.

I’ll include a script I wrote a few years ago to show this (hiding the name of the restaurant of course). Also, I can’t get the audio to line up properly on this post, but just know that on a “real” script there is a line running down between the audio and video.

VIDEO                                             AUDIO

Exterior shot                               START A NEW FAMILY TRADITION THIS 

Interior shot                                THANKSGIVING WITH ?  RESTAURANT.

 Shots of plates                           CHOOSE FROM THE FINEST              

                                                          SELECTION  OF  TURKEY, HAM,

                                                           STUFFING, AND POTATOES.

 Shot of bar, salads                     BROWSE THE COMPLETE SALAD BAR…

  wait staff/cooks                           FROM TOSSED, CAESAR, AND PASTA 

 will present food                          SALAD… TO FRESH FRUIT…AND

                                                             EVERYTHING IN-BETWEEN…YOU’RE

shot of waitress putting           SURE TO FIND SOMETHING FOR

plates at table, reaction shot   EVERYONE IN YOUR FAMILY.  

 of kid smiling                               

  shots of bakery area               PLUS, CHOOSE FROM THE WIDE

                                                          VARIETY OF FRESH BAKED BREADS AND

                                                          ROLLS…

 shots of pie case/plates         AND DON’T FORGET DESSERT!

 Endboard w/contact info     OPEN 11 TO 5… RESERVATIONS ARE

                                                          RECOMMENDED, CALL ? TODAY.

See the call to action at the end?

I wonder if it could be used for short story writing?

I’m not a short story writer, so I’m not familiar with that storyline structure. I’m sure parts could be applied such as tight writing and making your word choice really deliberate.

What TV show did you write for?

It was a weekly, local realty show that ran on a CBS affiliate in Minnesota. I was the head writer/producer from its inception in 2002 and held that position until I left to have my twins in 2005.

Getting a new show off the ground was one of the hardest times in my television career, but also one of the most rewarding.

Our department (Creative Services) was given a half hour time slot, a list of realtors, and a general idea of what was expected by the client. Oh, and we had about two weeks until it hit air. 

Yep, nothing says stress like creating a show out of thin air. And one that has to satisfy over 40 realtors, the owner of the realty company, and also utilize a simple enough format to be completely pulled apart and put back together week after week, month after month, and hopefully if they like it enough, year after year. Plus, it had to be fluid enough to allow last-minute changes.

But, as is common in times of extreme stress, our department all pulled together to get this puppy going.

Once the host segments were written, myself and the cameraman spent the entire day shooting said host segments. I should note here that these segments should have taken only around 2 hours, but the host thought himself a bit of a comedian and would blow takes on purpose just to get a joke in. Then, I finally figured out he hadn’t memorized the script so I had to write out what he was supposed to say in big-ass letters and hold it to the side of the camera.

Thankfully most shots were inside the house, but a few had to be outside. In the middle of a Minnesota winter. My cameraman’s hands got so cold they actually turned blue. (He had to operate various buttons on the camera so he needed his fingers free) Yet, the host/fake comedian kept screwing around.

Yep, after that day I believe I had some drinks after work. Same for when we had to reshoot for second season. Repeat for third.

Then once the host segments were done, I worked with over 40 agents, figuring out what each one wanted to accomplish with their time slot (they could feature a house or themselves). I wrote scripts for each and then sat in an edit bay for days on end, double checking every single last detail.

Because there was plenty of possibilities for error.

And if there was an error it was my ass on the line.

So, I listened as voice talent voiced my scripts, fed graphics info and picture order to the editor, communicated our progress with the sales department, and watched the entire show get dubbed to tape—stopping everything when I needed to make corrections. Then I would watch from home on pins and needles every single week, panicked that somehow, somewhere, something would go wrong.

Every single thing had to be perfect because there is no “do overs” once a show hits the air.

In summary, producing a show is fun sometimes. Sometimes it’s not.

But it’s always interesting. And you definitely don’t sit at a desk, bored off your you know what, watching the clock :).

Ramblings from the Left asked…

What was the inspiration for your first book? 

Great question!  I was on a very long road trip (driving from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Seattle, Washington) with dear hubby. Around the middle of Montana I started whining about how long the trip was taking, why couldn’t it go faster, blah blah blah, when suddenly it hit me…it used to take travelers two days to go as far as we were going in one hour.  Then I started thinking about how everything they owned went with them, either by horseback or wagon.

So, I whipped out my notebook (of course I had a notebook!) and wrote this…

“Fantastic idea just occurred to me in light of this journey we are taking. Write a book about a young woman who experiences growing up under a prairie lifestyle. Start with her standing at the doorway of the home they are about to leave—with the wind blowing in her skirts. She travels with another family (which includes an older, single man). She wants to head West, for the better opportunities out there for farming.”

I then turned the page and did complete character descriptions of both the female and male lead. The next pages I laid out my tentative storyline. The next page I started writing Chapter One.

And that is how my first novel was born.

The novels that followed were much more organized during the planning phase, but I have to say this one has remained my favorite for how the idea just came to me.

A. Grey asked the following…

Have you ever seen a waterlogged donkey?

No, but it sounds amazing and if you have I’d love to see pictures :).

Now that you’ve written a historically based book, are you settled in that genre? Would you/are you writing anything else is any other genre?

I’ve always loved history, and really enjoy going back in time and inserting my characters into real life.

I’ve written two novels based in that time frame (1840’s Oregon), and I have an outline for a novel taking place in Oregon in the late 1800’s, after the trail closes and people are fighting for land.

I also have a detailed outline for a novel based in both Virginia and England in the 1820’s-30’s.

Plus, I’ve got a storyline roaming around my head that takes place during the time of the Underground Railroad.

Do you think that an as-of-yet-unpublished author should restrict themselves to only one genre? Or is it okay to explore whatever feels right? 

I would say go for it! After all, trying new things is how you learn and grow as a writer, and as a person.

Thank you all for asking such great questions!

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3 thoughts on “Answers to the Q and A…Finally!

  1. Thanks, Christi. I love that you are writing historical novels. I think it is probably a perfect genre for someone who has the experience you have in research.

    Your answers to all of our questions were fascinating, especially the info about TV writing. The one discipline you will never need to learn is meeting a deadline. When you are working with an editor, they will love that quality about you.

    Interesting post. I was happy to participate. 🙂

  2. please can you explain to me in details what ENDBOARD is in a TV commercial and how to make one.
    thanks
    NIYI

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