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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Cup of Ambition: Infomercial Scripts Writer

We've all heard it before, at dinner parties, from relatives, from our therapists: "Oh, you write. Does that mean you'll be a teacher?" Fine, fine. We can't make enough money to "eat" or "live" from our poetry. Every MFA graduate knows the horrible feeling that settles into her stomach as graduation approaches. You finished a whole book!, you keep telling people. And still, no prospective employers come a-calling. Here at HFR, we know how you feel. We thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at some jobs we writers and lovers of books might enjoy. Or do enjoy. Or have tried, and regret. This regular post, A Cup of Ambition, will talk to those in-the-know about what the working world is really like.

Meet our fifth guest...

Jaramy Conners, Creative Services Script Writer, InPulse Response Group.

What did you do, exactly?
My job was to create call-center scripts for infomercial products that do not reveal the price in the commercial.

How did you get into infomercial scripts writing?
I never thought it actually happened, but apparently when you make your resume public on, companies actually do call! At first I didn’t think they were serious. A call center calling me for a writing job? But I needed work, so I went to the interview anyway and was surprised to find that 1) they were serious, and 2) it was actually a decent job.

The Good Stuff
The people. I don’t think you can say this for many other call centers, but InPulse worked hard to put together an extremely strong, professional creative team. My boss’s background included a stint writing for television, several years writing commercials and documentaries for Nike, and a Bowflex commercial or two. Most importantly, he understood that creative people work differently from the rest of the world. Occasionally we all needed to step away from the computer and throw a game of darts or listen to one of the hundreds of highly-perverted jokes his friend from Disney would send him.

The Bad Stuff
People who market their products through infomercials are slimy, money-hungry, and self-absorbed. They know they’re ripping you off and they feel good about it.

Surprise Me
There’s a lot of psychology that goes into a good call-center script. We were constantly thinking about not only how the script flowed and how much we revealed about the product, but what sort of emotional reaction we would be generating at every point. Changing something from a “special TV offer” to a “special limited-time offer” can dramatically increase sales.

Spin a Yarn
I once asked a client why his fat-burning pill was better than all the other fat-burning pills on the market. He told me it wasn’t. It was just caffeine like all the others. It probably didn’t even work, but if you follow the diet and exercise routine that comes with it (a one-page, poorly Xeroxed guide) you were bound to lose weight anyway.

What makes a person good at this?
A good sense of humor. Let’s face it, if any of the products you saw on TV were as good as they claimed, you could buy them at Target. You won’t ever feel like you’re changing the world, so it helps to be able to laugh about how high and mighty everyone in the industry thinks they are. The most important skill you can have is a the ability to write well and to study a piece of writing and understand exactly why it works. You’ll be doing a lot of re-hashing of old ideas; it’s important to know which bits to recycle and which bits to pretend never happened.

How do I write scripts for infomercials?
You’ll notice all this is past tense. Script writing doesn’t exactly pay well, and there’s not a huge market for it. I lucked out and had a great team to work with; that’s fairly rare in this business. Personally, if you want to join a creative team, there are a lot better places to do it than the call center world. But if all else fails, it’s not that bad.

Thoughts about this job for writers...
You’ll get a lot of stories out of it. Slimy businessman. Stressed out project managers. An operator who tried to hire a hitman to take out her boyfriend because he had another girls picture on his Myspace page (yeah, she worked for my company…we were all very proud).

Jaramy Conners now spends his days working as a technical writer for LifeLock--but that's a whole other post--while his nights are spent writing young adult novels, waiting anxiously for his agent to call with good news, or watching movies with his fiancé and their two cats. For more on his writing, check out his website.

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