Creative Scriptwriting and Copywriting

There is no Plan B

In scriptwriting, The A Team, writing on January 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm

One of the benefits of a classical education is the ability to call to mind the finest writing at any time. Memorise the works of the greatest poets and playwrights in the English language as a child, and you carry your own internal anthology with you for always. Shakespeare quotations, Bible passages, 18th century verse: a rich resource for everyone, but especially for a writer.

No?

Me neither…

My own mental Kindle is stuffed full with more couch potato poetry:   New Romantic B-sides, comic book dialogue, toothpaste commercials and local radio station jingles. Plus the sort of spoken word introductions to TV programmes that you just don’t hear any more. Get one of these right and it lodges deep inside. I can’t recall much too much Hamlet, but I will have a bash for you now at the title sequence from Hannah Barbera’s early 70s cartoon series Valley of the Dinosaurs.

“Deep at the heart of the Amazon, the Butler family were exploring an undiscovered river canyon.. Suddenly, something something [can’t remember that bit] in a violent whirlpool, they were propelled through an underground cave and flung into a horrible world of giant prehistoric monsters – a land that time forgot…  Befriended by a family of cavemen, each day is a battle for survival in… the Valley of the Dinosaurs”.

(Hmm. 8/10.  Always wondered about “horrible”, actually….)

I loved those verbal blurbs. They were everywhere: Star Trek,(of course), The Six Million Dollar Man, Knight Rider, Battle of the Planets, even Porridge. I guess they fell out of favour for reasons of fashion, and because high-concept TV itself died a death. There was really no need to explain the back-story of Friends every week: “Deep in the heart of New York, six self-obsessed cocks drink coffee and wise-crack for all eternity.”

There’s something satisfying about summing up a concept in as few words as possible. It forces you to focus on what your story is all about. It’s something I always try to put at the top of a TV series or comic book proposal anyway – two or three lines that could fit in the Radio Times description or DVD cover. And thinking about it as a spoken word introduction over your imaginary title sequence is a great way of making sure the language stays taut and vibrant and alive.

Today, high concept TV is back, but the spoken intro, not so much. Maybe it’s just too difficult. Good luck in summing up Lost in seventy-five words or less. (Although there was the self-consciously retro intro of Life on Mars “My name is Sam Tyler. I had an accident and I woke up in 1973. Am I mad? In a  coma? Or back in time? Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet. Now maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get home.”)

And another classic that’s brought the subject to mind for me. The A Team. At last – the movie trailer you can quote back at itself as it plays. Not sure about the addition at the end, though. “There is no Plan B”? I thought that was Marks and Spencer.

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  1. If I become a rich and famous author, I will put it in my will that no student should be forced to read my novels for schoolwork. Shakespeare was cool in his lifetime, which was a long LONG time ago. It is not so cool now.

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