Monday, June 16, 2008

Inklings Feature: Beth Mart, Creative Director and Writer

This month's INKLINGS feature is an interview with Beth Mart - Creative Director and Writer

Inklings: What's the difference in writing a television commercial versus a television sitcom?

Beth: The most obvious is that a television commercial is usually thirty or sixty seconds long.
A sitcom is thirty minutes. When writing a television commercial you still have to tell a story within that time frame. It still needs a beginning, middle and an end. And a television commercial is actually only about twenty-eight and a half seconds. You need a second and a half to fade in and out. So you need to literally know how to write in seconds and how that translates to film. Because your script will be broken down into a storyboard and each frame is timed. Writing television commercials are a true discipline. You have to be able to write in a very concise manner. No extra words at all. So you learn how to self edit. You also have many layers of people giving you revisions and you will also get back legal comments. So you need to also be able to solve problems and still have your story hold together. You are constantly solving a puzzle while trying to hold on to your integrity and vision you started out with. There are many styles of writing you do when writing a commercial. You can be writing dialogue or a monologue for a spokesperson. Sometimes you are given a big block of legal copy and you need to be able to write a story and have that legal block be part of it and still make sense. You also have to know your target. Writing to teens is very different than writing to a mom. Writing copy to sell a car is usually all image copy. A rule of thumb for me is that my copy always has to ring true and feel real. I try to touch an emotional cord whether it is through humor or a human truth. So writing a television commercial is complex and no two assignments are ever the same. You also write the television commercial alone. You collaborate with an art director about the idea and vision but you go off on your own and write it. And re-write it. A lot.

When you write for a television sitcom it is a very collaborative effort. It’s always broken down into scenes and timing but in minutes not seconds. When you write for existing characters your script has to ring true for that character, whether he or she would actually say that or do that. You have to know your characters intimately and how that character fits in with the rest of the characters. So you live with these characters and you evolve them. But you do not do this alone. You usually work with other writers who will contribute to your writing or re-write what you have written. So it’s about what is best for that character and the scene in total. Again you need a beginning, middle and end but usually there is more than one story going on within one half hour and they all need to weave together and all need to be resolved by the end of the show. Again you have to respond to many comments and revisions and again you try and hang on to your vision and integrity. As much as you can.

Inklings: Where do the creative ideas come from for TV ads?

Beth: They can actually come from anywhere. Before you start any writing you are given what is called a Creative Brief. This is a key document. It gives you the information about who your target is. Who you are Advertising for. What are the key benefits of this product. What supports these benefits and what are the mandates. These are your guidelines. You also have to know what the competition is doing so you don’t copy or sound like them. So you need to study the competition. Then you brainstorm with your partner and that would be your Art Director. You always work in a team so you have one vision. And then you start thinking about concepts for the product. You figure out where the opportunities are in the category. What hasn’t been done before and how you say it is also very important. From those concepts is when I would start writing scripts. An idea may come from the latest movie that just came out or a new song. It may come from something you’ve experienced or something someone in a focus group blurted out. Or something your partner might have said that will trigger something in you to add to that or put a twist on it. I get a lot of my ideas in the shower. I don’t know why. Again, because I’ve been doing this for so long it is also a discipline and a part of your brain that is just used to thinking this way.
It’s also knowing how to talk to your audience so they know you know them and what they would like.

Inklings: What advice do you offer writers trying to break into TV writing and writing for Hollywood?

Beth: Writers who want to write for advertising need a portfolio. Samples of work. Within your portfolio you can have actual ads you’ve created for a client or concepts. This is your introduction to show people how you think conceptually and how you write. Again, advertising thinking is a very different beast. I like looking at portfolios that either makes me say, "I wish I wrote that", Or makes me think differently about a product. I’d rather see a portfolio that has a range of ideas because I can work with this person and reel them in if they have gone too far versus someone who has a portfolio that has a limited style or vision. Because I don’t know if this person has range. Or can be pushed.
You need to show that you can write for television, print and internet. If you have a specialty like Pharmaceutical experience that should also be part of your portfolio. When I started you actually carried your portfolio around with paper and film examples of your work. Today everyone wants to see your work on your website. But if you are just starting out I would say a portfolio you can carry is fine.

Writing for Hollywood is very different. Again you need samples of your work. Usually full scripts you have written. And if you want to write for Seinfeld you need to show a script that wasn’t for Seinfeld. They don’t want you to solicit their show with ideas, that’s why they have teams of writers. So you may show a Two and a Half Men concept script you wrote.
I went through an agent that was able to send my script around. Hollywood is a very hard nut to crack when you are first starting off. You need to be able to hang in there because everyone wants to write on a sit-com and a lot of the writers do come from other shows they have written on. Another way to break in is to have a unique idea for a show and try to pitch it to a network. Try and show them something they haven’t seen before. Sit-com writers are also part of the Writers Guild union. So you can also try and make connections through the union as well.

About Beth Mart: Creative Director-Writer

Beth has been at DDB NY since July, 2006 and has been working on many Pharma Accounts as well as New Business.

Prior to DDB, Beth was at Grey Worldwide for three years and worked on the Slim-Fast account as well as Olive Garden. I guess you can say Beth likes a challenge. Throughout her 20 plus yr career, she is known for a real, honest and humorous approach to advertising.

Beth spent 7 years at the UniWorld Group as Creative Director on Ford, launching the New Focus in 2000 along with creating breakthrough advertising for the Explorer, Expedition, T-Bird and Mustang and Burger King Accounts. The advertising campaigns were specifically targeted to the African American market. Many of the campaigns were so successful they became the General Market’s campaigns as well.

Her career began at Benton & Bowles and then DMB&B. There she worked on everything from Procter & Gamble; Crest, Fixodent, Charmin, Dash, Pampers, Dawn, Scope to General Foods Cool Whip and Brim. She also had some experience on the Upjohn, Hardee’s and Schlitz Malt Liquor accounts as well as New Business.

Early in Beth’s career a client responded to some of her fresh thinking by saying, ‘Beth, the last thing I want to do is provoke thinking.’ Since that day, she’s never stopped provoking.

Besides advertising, Beth has also written for Off-Broadway, comedy and even a considered script for Seinfeld. She also has a short story about to be published in a collected essay book about ‘Mothers and daughters and their Shopping experiences.”

Beth lives in Manhattan with her husband David, a brilliant composer and their 4 year old Goldendoodle Dixe. Also brilliant.



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