Many industrial films ask you to do something, and the call to action can take many forms. Join the navy. Visit this country. Support this museum. Make yourself into a superwoman this way. Learn automobile repair that way. Your first job is to discuss corporation policy, objectives, and what the management really wants the film to do. After that, your task as a writer is to search out the arguments that will support the film's message and then find the best way of putting them over in the script.
Recruitment. Let's say you have landed a nice fifteen-minute film whose basic message is "Join the marines." Your first job, after research, is to marshal all the arguments you can to support that action. They might include the following:
• Good sports facilities
• Learning a trade
• Seeing the world for free
• Serving your country
You then build your film entertainingly around these points. You might, for example, follow an eighteen-year-old recruit through his first year, but there are all sorts of possibilities. The film has to be realistic, and it has to be plausible. Thus, you can say, for example, in the recruitment film, "Yes, it's a hard life"; this point might appear in the recruit's letter home. Of course, the inverse message is that the recruit is proud to be a "real man."
Sometimes the recruiting message may be disguised. Some years ago, for instance, British Airways put out a good corporate image film. You saw a flight crew in training, all the backup service of the company, the concern and attention given to passengers, and the crew visiting different parts of the world. The core of the film, however, was provided by watching a young pilot learning to fly, handling propeller planes, going onto jets, and, finally, mastering the giant 747. The film was very well done and if shown in schools would probably have induced a rush of recruitment letters to British Air.
Product or service. In product or service films, your task is, once more, that of a salesperson. With luck, the products or services you are selling can be absolutely fascinating and the task of filmmaking extremely enjoyable. A friend of mine, for instance, was asked to make a film for a world hotel chain. His research took him to Hong Kong, South America, and France, and he stayed at the best hotels. Another friend did a film to boost sales of pure malt Scotch whiskey. Not only did he get to see and sample the best Highland distilleries, but he had a tremendous holiday in the bargain.
While doing the research, you will ask the sponsor various questions. What does the product do? How does it work? How does it differ from its rivals? What are its main advantages? The answers to these questions will underpin the script.
Corporate image. One of the most profitable areas of industrial filming is the making of corporate image films. These too are sales films, but on a slightly broader basis. Sometimes the image is that of a company, such as American Express or Bank of America; sometimes that of a profession, such as architecture or dentistry. The message of the corporate image film is not necessarily to buy something or do something immediately; rather, such films tell us that the company or profession is looking after your best interests.
Sometimes the film is made to sustain an image. The British stock market put out a film in the mid-1990s showing how the stock exchange arose and what fun it was to buy stocks today. This was before the crash of dot-com stocks in 2000. The film itself was screened daily by anyone who came to visit the stock exchange.
In 1992, Union Carbide felt that its image had suffered as a result of the Bhopal disaster in India, when acid gas spewed into the atmosphere from one of its plants. Consequently, it commissioned a film to show that it was, in fact, a company that was highly attentive to safety and that the gas escape was not its fault.
Teaching and training. Teaching and training films are another category of films that are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in health and sport. One of the most popular videos ever was Jane Fonda's exercise tape. But that was just the beginning. Now, no matter what you want to learn—how to repair a car, become a tennis champion, practice yoga, bring up your baby the right way, or fix up your house—there's a tape for it.
Factories, schools, businesses, and hospitals are also big users of the training film or tape, which is an excellent demonstration tool. You can easily take someone through a process, showing the right way of doing things. You can demonstrate new machines, and you can reach your sales force in different towns and countries.
One of the things that the teaching film does very well is to demonstrate safety techniques or provide a warning. Here, the minidrama is often used. A few years ago, Film Australia was asked to make a film illustrating the dangers of smoking in hospitals. Their idea was to stage a docudrama of a fire. A patient ignores the safety warnings in a hospital and smokes in bed. Within five film minutes the whole hospital is ablaze, with eight fire engines in attendance outside and dozens of patients being carried to safety. It was an expensive film to make, but it put across its point.
Public service. Public service films lie somewhere between normal documentaries and the sponsored corporate film. Again, they can use any technique, but their usual object is to benefit the public as a whole rather than to publicize a specific factory, business, hospital, or university. Government agencies are one of the main sponsors of public service films, and their subjects vary little from country to country; public health and fighting racism are two of their main concerns. Sometimes the public service film will be sponsored by a private corporation or a special interest group. Some of the best public service films of recent years have been sponsored by Amnesty International and various church-affiliated human rights organizations.
The public service field is wide open and is often a good entry path for the beginning filmmaker. Earlier, I suggested a film to help young children overcome their fear of hospitals. That would be a typical public service film, and also one that might appeal to a number of sponsors.
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