Scripting Stereotypes

In a feature film script, you work at character development and the story arc. The audience gets to see facets and shades over the course of the narration. In an advertising commercial script with characters, you are limited to stereotypes. The frugal parents. The underworld don. The nerdy loverboy. The dumb secretary. The jaywalker. The six pack hulk. The college head turner. You have to use visual shorthand that people recognise right away. It’s like caricature art where character points have to be drawn in sharp relief so that the narrative doesn’t meander and the audience is drawn in with no room for ambiguity. And come to think of it telling a story in 30 seconds is no mean feat. But it does not stop with that. The product has to be introduced, the audience involved and the brand imprinted so that there is recall at the point of purchase.

Commercials are climaxes. You deduce what has happened as soon as the first scene opens. Then, you are in the thick of the action and before you know it, you have reached the denouement. This is repeated over and over and over in the fond hope that it will be memorable. That’s the tired formula that plays out on television screens across the world all through the year. In extremely rare cases, you are surprised with a sliver of insight that shines with its articulation. Great commercials, like gems, are to be treasured – because they are so tough to find. The Indian Railways captured the magic of childhood and journeys without a single train shot. The range of visual delights in Madhya Pradesh was depicted with enchanting eye movements.

Stereotypes allow for brevity. They can be fitted into containers and swapped with impunity. Put the frugal parents against freedom loving son and a new idea can evolve. Or take the underworld Don and have him confront an impish head turner and there could be magic. The small shopkeeper, the thief and the cops combination have been done several times. But this execution still entertains.