DIY video-ers: why proper video scripts save time and money – and don’t bite

Further to my article a while back in which I promised to show you how to write a video script, here we are and here it is in the form of a short(ish) tutorial. If you haven’t seen one of these animals before panic not: they are very friendly and never have been known to bite anyone…

DIY video-ers - why proper video scripts save time and money, and don't bite

And it’s intensely helpful. Why? Because the script allows you to plan out your video – even if it’s only 3 minutes long – so when you come to shoot and edit it everything falls into place and you get a far better result than you would by randomly shooting this and that and hoping you can pull it all together in the edit.

The video script allows you to experiment with different approaches and content very quickly and cheaply – using words on a screen or piece of paper – and end up with a video that achieves its objectives before you even start shooting it. Not only does this make for a more powerful message, but also it makes the shooting and editing a lot simpler and faster because everyone knows exactly what to do and there’s no wastage of time or bandwidth.

What the video script has to do

The script has to lay out, in viewing order, everything that is to happen both in terms of visuals and audio, from one end of the video to the other.

Even in the simplest of short YouTube or website vids you’re likely to include the basics of someone speaking to camera and/or to a seen or unseen interviewer, some cutaways to product/service shots or graphics with a narrator’s voice over, and perhaps some “fly-on-the-wall” footage of a process that involves eaves-dropping on a (not too rehearsed and therefore phony – please!) customer or process conversation.

All of the above need to be mapped out and positioned in the script so everyone knows where each section goes, how it works with the rest of the content and how it’s to be produced and directed.

How writing out the speech element cuts out any nasty surprises in the video script

If you write your voice over narration, sections for in-vision presenters if you use one, and carefully structure (but DO NOT WRITE) any interviews, you will end up with a fairly accurate number of words of speech to be included in your video. This gives you a rough idea of the overall running time, using the following incredibly complex and rocket science calculation (!!) ..

Average speed of narration and in-vision speech = 125 words per minute
1,000 words of anticipated speech = 8 minutes’ running time
500 words of anticipated speech = 4 minutes’ running time
…and so on.
Always allow a little breathing space for gaps, music stings, etc. – wall-to-wall words in a video soundtrack become monotonous very quickly.
So, let’s say 800-900 words of anticipated speech = 8 minutes’ running time
350-400 words of anticipated speech = 4 minutes’ running time
…and so-on.

How writing out the visual element of the video script gives you a blueprint for filming

Many production companies move straight on to a storyboard when planning a video and that’s fine, but normally the storyboard focuses harder on the visual element than it does on the audio part, unless it’s for a 30 second commercial in which you’re limited to around 60-90 words max. You don’t need a lot of paper or on-screen space for them.

However, in my own experience shooting and editing videos have always worked out better if you produce a written script first, and move on to a storyboard as the next stage. That’s especially true if you need to agree the content with a client who is not accustomed to reading or interpreting storyboards.

The script, being in words only, usually is easy for a non-literate client to understand, especially if you ensure that you avoid video jargon and write it in plain English.

Getting the client’s approval early on: common sense

Given that your client (or you!) can understand what the script details, it’s very easy at this point for not only the script, but also the entire video production, to be fine-tuned and perfected before any substantial expense is incurred.

Using a script also allows the client to consider and approve the video production at more stages than if you just use a storyboard and work to a post-production edit script or shot list.

Within business video, adding approval stages to the production – especially the front end, where the script sits – ensures that everyone is happy and confident to move through the ensuing stages with less need to re-examine criteria over their shoulders.

What does the video script do for post-production and beyond?

Simples … it provides the video editors with a blueprint which makes their lives much easier and makes their charges rather less than if you just throw some footage at them and hope they make something out of it, as I shared from my friend who is a broadcast TV editor in that earlier article.

And if we’re going to be a bit sniffy here, the script also allows everyone involved to track the whole video making process and measure each stage of that process against an established game plan.

Obviously, videos aren’t exactly pieces of actuarial data and so can be flexible as things go along. But given that a script provides everyone with a reasonably structured pathway, it usually does earn its keep … whether you’re producing a remake of War and Peace or a 2 minute promotional video for your latest SME business enterprise.

How should a video script be laid out?

There are quite a few variants depending on the producer’s and/or director’s (or your own) preferences, but narrowing the choices down there are two to consider.

One is the side-by-side layout so favoured by directors in the 20th century and cursed violently by anyone who had to type them up. They show visual instructions in the left column – and audio instructions in the right column including narration, dialogue, music, sound effects etc.

Preferred for obvious reasons is the linear format which shows visual instructions in full width, with sound/voice instructions indented, immediately below. Sometimes this order is reversed, i.e. visual instructions indented and sound/voice instructions full width. Whichever way is selected, these are by far the easier choice if you have to write them.

Here is an example, which I have brazenly stolen from WikiHow.com and for which I thank them sincerely:

DIY video-ers - why proper video scripts save time and money, and don't bite

A classic linear format written video scipt

If you think this example looks complex, don’t worry; for the average how-to or introduction video your script can be much simpler than this one, which involves dramatisation. All you need to achieve with it is to lay out, in order, what happens throughout every minute of the finished video.

And soon, I will write about what content you can use in short videos … how to make even a simple production shot on an IPhone and edited on a laptop work a lot harder for its keep than you would imagine is possible. Stay tuned!

Good luck with your video scripts – and enjoy the professional image and easy pathway they offer

If you have any questions on how to make a video script work for you, just jot them down in the comments below and I will answer them if I can. And if I can’t I will direct you to someone else who can.

Let’s hear from you!

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