Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lessons From '60 Minutes'

Lessons for all videojournalists from 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley:

1. On finding a subject:

"We emphasize the telling of a story as opposed to an issue. Once in a while, a producer will come to the door and say, 'Clean coal.' And I'll say, 'That's an issue. Go find a story.' Steven Spielberg did not do a movie called The Holocaust. He did a movie called Schindler's List. It completely encompassed the entire issue, but it's about this guy and his story.... (60 Minutes creator) Don Hewitt used to tell us, 'Find people who can tell the story better than we can.'"

2. On writing your script:

"The writing process is very collaborative, and there's no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting. We probably cut a piece four or five times before we think it's ready to see. We'll write the perfect script on the first draft, go into the edit booth, cut the thing, and it's awful. We do another pass, it's still bad but some things are beginning to work. Third, fourth pass, it's starting to look like a 60 Minutes piece, but it's 18 minutes long, has to be 12. Another pass, it's 12:30, looking like a piece ready to show to (the executive editor and executive producer). Sometimes they eviscerate it."

3. On structuring your story:

"I often think of 60 Minutes stories as three-act plays. In classic newspaper writing, the story peters out by the end. At 60 Minutes, you want the arc to build, the piece to become more fascinating with every passing minute as it crescendos somewhere in that third act. It builds and builds and builds. It needs to ring like a bell at the end."

-- 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, quoted in Written By (Dec. 2008), the magazine of the Writers Guild of America.

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