More than words

North by Northwest original poster

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest film directors of all time.

The famous crop-duster scene in North by Northwest is a great example of his work.

Only it wasn’t written by Hitchcock – it was written by screenwriter Ernest Lehman.

In his book, Which Lie Did I Tell, American screenwriter William Goldman describes the genesis of the scene as Hitchcock and Lehman throw ideas between them. Hitchcock suggests the hero is attacked by a tornado… but it is Lehman who comes back with the iconic crop-duster idea.

“Lehman wrote it,” Goldman says in his book. “It is an Ernie Lehman scene, filmed exactly as he wrote it … It feels like such a great Hitchcock scene. And it is. And that is a great tribute to Lehman.”

Great writers are able to think visually even if they use their words to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’. In the more prosaic world of corporate-produced content it means writers who neglect visuals – whether it be suggesting certain images, video or graphics – are short-changing their clients and almost certainly losing readers.

There has been a clear trend in recent years of websites emphasizing visual content – Quartz (qz.com) is a great example. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s 2015 Digital News Report underlines the trend.

While more people are reading news, they’re less likely to look at a simple list of headlines. Instead, they’re finding a range of content via social networks, search, email, and mobile alerts.

“Strong trends towards viral sharing in social networks have helped a range of formats to grow, including individual pieces of content like video, and pictures are becoming more regularly accessed.”

Read the full Reuters report here.

Reuters - news consumption