Short Ideas: Writing for short form media — online and mobile video

Writing Online Video & Short Format Video

Hello, welcome to this blog and thank you for your visit. Our goal is to take a hard, sustained look at writing online video and what that means in this moment of exploding demand for video production. Writing online video doesn’t just mean one kind of video, it can mean a great many things, from a commercial to a tutorial, and goes far beyond just the “online” that we think about. Videos can be in a store, or in a kiosk, or geo–located. This doesn’t change the form, it changes the distribution, so the process remains largely the same.

Background

“Short Ideas” is the result of my obsession with the development and process of short form creative ideas. As a media industry professional, I’ve worked across most areas of film/video production, in strategy, creative ideation, client management, development, storyboarding, pitching, producing, planning, budgeting, animatics, casting, directing, interviewing, lighting, camera operation, sound recording, acting, data wrangling, assistant editing, offline editing, online editing, visual effects, audio editing, sound design, mixing, colour correction, outputs and delivery. I’ve had the fortune to work with talented and insightful people who have taught me a lot and I’m very grateful for that.

I have specialised in short–format content, whether for brands, broadcasters, corporations, charities, individuals, internal comms or in–store display, and each time that I have looked for a book, blog or website that could offer tips on process, technique or creative guidance, I always turn up empty–handed.

You can stumble on an article with tips for writing a very specific genre of video, or something that considers online video to be a single style that has a single approach that can be explained in 250 words, but this is clearly not the reality, and not very helpful to the professional practitioner. Titles like “How To Write A Great YouTube Script” or “7 Killer Secrets To Writing Online Video Scripts” are missing the point that there is not one kind of video and not one kind of script, and I would argue that the script isn’t the first thing you want to do, anyway — there’s a whole process you should follow before even thinking about it.

There are heaps of books on writing features, television and short–films, but nobody mentions other forms of short content or addresses their particular challenges. You can look through the advertising route, but courses, blogs and books have a vision of the copywriter as someone who can write anything for any purpose without any background in film/video production. Educating yourself this way involves a lot of indirect conversation as you consider billboards, print ads and TV commercials, which can be useful but doesn’t approach the scope of videos we’re dealing with.

So while I do value the lessons available by mining advertising texts, I argue that a writer dedicated to a specific medium will benefit immensely from specialist knowledge in that area — film and video has so many idiosyncrasies to its development and production that I can’t imagine being an effective writer without all of these hard–learned lessons to inform my choices. It is critical to writing to budget, to opportunity, and to navigating the various challenges that crop up during a production.

Our Goal

So I embark here in an attempt to develop a process for the creative writer tasked with writing online video — or to be fair — short form video, regardless of the style, whether for on–air or online distribution. We will (1) develop a taxonomy of video genres that recognises the variety of work in production, (2) identify exemplary executions of these genres for consideration, (3) outline a process and technique for creating and developing ideas, and hopefully (4) engage in meaningful discussion to sharpen these ideas and share the challenges we face in this area of the industry.

To the fellow writers, producers, creatives, directors, students, and anyone else who crosses this path, thank you for joining me. If you’d like to be notified when a new post goes up, please join the mailing list in the column to the left.

Karim Zouak, London, 2016.

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