"...And Make It Real Creative!": You Won’t Feel a Thing: The Cost of Misinterpretation

and-make-it-real-creative-logo-3By Trent Rentsch

It’s not that I’m afraid of going to the dentist, mind you. I only ask for gas because I don’t like pain. Sure, you may be of more rugged stock, but as far as I’m concerned, that 98 pound Hygienist has the capacity to inflict more pain with a roll of floss than an army of ninjas with a mile of barbed wire.

Yes, I said Hygienist. Yes, I get gas when I’m “only getting my teeth cleaned.” Sue me. Not only does it curb the agony, but I find it rather entertaining. Even at my most coherent, I find the damndest things funny, but you add nitrous to the mix and, well, even mouthwash can make me giggle like a 4 year-old. My last visit, I had most of the office laughing along with me, even though I couldn’t tell them why, what with a mouth full of fingers and pointy things (for the record, someone walking by had used the word “squinty.” Yes, they gas me up real good).

The office I go to has equipped each room with a TV, and they’re very committed to making sure that it’s on the channel “I want” before they start. I’m insistent that the hygienist turn it to whatever SHE wants; first, because I know I’m going to be yukking it up with the Care Bears and not paying much attention anyway, and second, because I want the wielder of the plaque scraper to be happy. Since I go first thing in the morning (so I don’t have a chance to talk myself out of it), the choice is usually one of the talking head morning news shows, and my last visit was no exception. What was an exception was that I actually learned something of value from a talking head morning news show… and it wasn’t just the gas talking.

About the time that she was digging around waaaaaaaaaaaay in back, behind one of my wisdom teeth (yeah, I know I should have them out. Don’t start...), I tuned back in enough to notice some newscaster, sing-songing her way through a few stories. At first, her words were almost hypnotic… like waves on the ocean, as her cadence rolled up and down and up and down and up and… and that’s when it hit me. Her inflection had nothing to do with the stories she was reading… she was simply READING. Emphasis had nothing to do with the importance of the words, it was simply where her cadence happened to be at that time… like an auctioneer on, well, nitrous. It was wrong, so wrong that it wasn’t funny. Of course, under the circumstances, it WAS funny, so, cue the giggle box…

I’m surprised that it stuck with me, but when I came back down to earth (forking out that co-pay sobers me up fast), I realized how frustrated I would be if I had written those news stories, only to hear the words spewed out as if they had no importance, no weight. I’ve always preached that “it all starts with the words,” but if the delivery of those words is wrong, it doesn’t matter how perfectly constructed a script is.

In a perfect world, at least as far as interpretation goes, the copy writer would also be the producer, voice talent and director. Of course, for the most part, that’s neither practical nor possible. The next best thing would be to have a producer who “gets it,” directing the voice talent, but even that’s rare these days, between insane workloads and talents who not only don’t work in the building, but might actually be half way around the world. So, how does the intent of the words get into the head, and eventually out of the mouth of the talent? No, really, I’m asking you, because I have yet to find a fool-proof system.

Because I don’t write copy in “all caps,” I sometimes do capitalize the words I want to emphasize, or use bold type, or underline… but honestly, none of that guarantees that I’ll get what’s in my head from a voice talent, and frankly, I’m lucky enough to be working with some of the best in the business. There are times when I do have to jump on the phone and direct them, not because they aren’t gifted at what they do, but because something just didn’t come out right.

Nothing can destroy the power of a script, a sentence, even a single word, more than bad interpretation. So I continue to look for better ways of communicating my intent to my talents. Because I’d rather get another root canal than hear one of my scripts misread. OK, maybe not, but you get my meaning…

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