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Thursday, April 24, 2008

facts v. ideas

When it comes to writing narration copy for video, why are so many "writers" in love with facts but have such a hard time with ideas? Let's face it, facts are boring. Who cares? Facts sound like they mean something significant, but unless you understand the context and how your fact relates to what came before and what will come later, what's the point? Facts just fill up the spaces. And I like spaces. Spaces give you room to feel, contemplate and understand. Spaces are what it's all about.

Now, I'm not talking about a fact like "this is the tallest building in the world." No, that's a fact that carries it's own context. Namely, that there are scads of other buildings and this one, right here, is the biggest. No, I'm talking about a fact like "this building is 387 feet tall." All I can say to that is, "so what?"

Here's the problem: facts get in the way of understanding. They appear to be important, otherwise why include them? But by themselves they just hang out there, standing in the way of insight and comprehension. They are poor substitutes for concepts and ideas. And, if nothing else, we're in the idea business. That's what we do: create programs that help people understand the issues, what's important and why.

So recently, we took on project for a new client, a trade association, who came to us to do a series of very short pieces honoring their nominees for a prestigious award. Each nominee would get a 25 second video explaining their project. The videos would be shown at the awards ceremony and then they would announce the winners.

I saw the videos that were done in the past and they were fairly typical, with wall to wall narration full of facts and devoid of insight. Not a pretty picture.

We thought, these should really be like memorable campaign spots. You know, "Morning in America" or the famous Daisy Countdown. They should present concepts. Show, not tell.

So we took that approach, writing sparse, open narration filled with ideas. Not a fact to be found. Letting the visuals tell the story. And when it works, you feel like you've taken a little journey, starting one place and ending somewhere else.

You can do a lot in 25 seconds, when you make every word count. And, let's face it, facts are a dime a dozen. Ideas can change the world.

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