Promo Workshop

Here’s a very simple tip to improve and build expectation in promo scripts for almost any show:

Use future tense.

(At least, as much as possible.)

It’s common for Promo writers to watch a show or movie and take for granted that the audience have yet to see it.

You can tell this is happening when their scripts are all (or mostly) in past tense.

Why is use of past tense a problem? It’s because TV shows and movies– at least the good ones– immerse the viewer. They have the ability of drawing the audience into the world of the story. The viewer becomes oblivious to the time of day and the physical living room or cinema they are sitting in.

In other words: the events, time and place of the story become the viewer’s reality.

The audience love this experience. It’s part of the fun of watching a show. Over use of past tense in a promo can subtly ruin the effect.

All you have to remember is this:
“TV doesn’t happen until you watch it.”

So, rather than talking about events in the past, as already having happened… see what words in your script you can flip over to the future tense. Simply look for any verbs that end in “-ed”

Therefore, the script:
“a plane crash devastated Wisteria Lane”

“a plane crash will devastate Wisteria Lane”

Many movie trailers will have a brief section at the beginning that is in past tense. This is usually some kind of premise or situation that they are setting up. They usually quickly flip over to future tense; often with the clichéd use of: “Now!”

Whatever tense you decide to use: past, present or future… just make sure you keep everything in the same tense. If you use a combination, make sure you keep your tenses strictly grouped together; and keep the “direction” past > future.

By the way: This same tip can also apply to your edit. Rather than actually showing the plane devastating Wisteria Lane, just show it getting menacingly close. Or dip to black and just let the sound effects do the job.

Once again, the craft deals in the realms of the unconscious mind. It’s not what people consciously think that matters… it’s what they unconsciously feel. And future tense speaks to the feelings of anticipation and expectation.


Charley Holland is a content creator with 30 years experience in the TV industry. He is reasonably underwhelmed by social media, which is why you can find him on Facebook; LinkedIn; Twitter; Google+

©2013 The Charley Holland Agency