At this critical time when the value of the library is often questioned, libraries and librarians must learn to better promote ourselves to our potential users. Using online promotional video is one good way to achieve that goal. The idea of this Screenwriting for Librarians series of blog posts is to share some screenwriting and storytelling techniques that I think might help fellow librarians who are interested in utilizing this medium to attract more users.
Drama is conflict. A dramatic story contains two essential elements: 1) a protagonist who wants something – a goal, and 2) obstacles that prevent the protagonist from achieving that goal. A typical story is always about someone wanting something but has to overcome obstacles to obtain it. The physical goal of the protagonist is the engine that drives the story forward. But a story is not that interesting or “dramatic” if the protagonist can easily obtain what he or she wants. Therefore, obstacles to make life difficult for the protagonist (which creates conflicts) is essential.
We only have to look at some of the recent Hollywood movies and see that. For example:
- in The King’s Speech, Henry VI has to overcome his stammer (obstacle) to become a worthy king (goal);
- in Black Swan, to play the evil Black Swan (goal), Natalie Portman’s ballerina must fight against descending into madness (obstacle); or
- in The Fighter, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) wants to triumph in the ring (goal), but his domineering mother, crack addict brother, big haired sisters all make life difficult for him (obstacle).
The same principles apply to short videos. Because of the restriction of time, the goal of the protagonist must be clear very early on and the conflict must be simple and easy to see. An example:
As mentioned in my previous post, good commercials tend to focus on delivering just one simple message. This absurdly funny State Farm commercial only wants to convey this simple message: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”. The protagonists’ goal here is to chill and enjoy their burger (just one! ). The obstacle is, well, the “raging” buffalo. And when their goal collides with the obstacle, we have conflict and drama.
And then the story is about them trying to overcome the the obstacle. First they sing the ridiculous State Farm Magic Jingle (which is now firmly lodged in my head. Just to show that this is a successful commercial) to summon the State Farm agent, who in turn comes up with the idea to use the jingle to transport them to his office to escape the attacking buffalo. Problem solved. End of story. Message conveyed.
This video also has a proper story structure: Act I (The Setup) is two dudes enjoying their burger and then getting attacked by a raging buffalo; Act II (The Confrontation) is them summoning the State Farm agent, and work together to confront the problem; and Act III (The Resolution) is where their agent solves the problem by transporting them back to the State Farm office.
Using a story is a good way to captivate viewers, but dramatizing a message is not an easy task, which is why we so often fall back to those dull “present the facts” videos. Hopefully the tips in this post will help you create a engaging story.