Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Your Video Script – How To Write It And Why It’s Essential To Producing A Good Video

We began last week by covering my 9 essential tools to producing a video and started with why it’s so important to have an overall plan first before you do any work on your video. I continue today along those lines. If you are serious about making money selling your videos, you also have to think in terms of scripts, story boards, or shot lists.

Your Video Script

Before I begin any project, I like to make up an outline, then do all three; a script, shot list and storyboard. (If you go to Shoot-To-Sell.com, you will find templates for all of these under the Chapter 10 resources.)

Random shots aren’t easy to edit into a story or project unless you think in advance how they will fit together. Shooting video isn’t like shooting still photos. Every still photo should be able to stand on it’s own. Video requires more planning, so it’s best to have a plan even if you are only just following the action. Your video will be so much better. We also call that “being nice to your editor,” who is usually you!

For example, say you are doing a video about dog tricks. You could shoot one take of a dog catching a ball and call it good. Simple enough and probably would do the trick. But if you planned on shooting at least 20 seconds of three angles or shot types (like a wide shot, medium shot and a close up) for editing later, you’d come up with something much more interesting and more useful. I also like to shoot some cutaways too – just in case. In the video business we call that coverage.  

As you can see, this would only add a few minutes more to the shot (and of course more time editing) but would give your viewer a better experience, and make your editor happy.

This holds true even if you’re only making screen capture videos. I find it very important to have what I want to say written down before you start the screen capture software. It not only takes far less time, but I find I don’t stumble around and make my viewer suffer through my hems and haws.

Getting Started – The Audio Video Script

Use your outline as the foundation upon which the script is built. With it as a guide you can start visualizing what the viewer will be seeing on the screen and what they will be hearing.

We like to use a simple audio/video script format, commonly referred to as an AV script, that lists the audio and video components together to tell the “story” or explain a process. Here’s a simple example of an AV script format.

Shot # Video Image Audio/Narration
7 Closeup of kitten’s face This kitten is only a few hours old. You can see that her eyes have not opened yet.
8 Mother licking kitten Her mother is giving her her first bath.


The AV script format is well suited to special interest videos and especially to instructional programs. It is typically set up in tables with three columns, as opposed to the one column format used for dramatic feature films. There is script template for you to download at Shoot-To-Sell.com.

The first column is for numbering your shots. Think of this as numbering each paragraph in an article. You create a new sequential number each time you change shots, camera angles, location or speaking roles. Numbering each shot of your script will make it easier when you are grouping shots together in your shot list.

Column 2 is for a description of the shot. This is how you pre-visualize what the viewer will see as she listens to the audio. Describe in as much detail as necessary what the viewer will be seeing or what the camera will be doing. These can be written descriptions of the shot and/or simple drawings. We usually just use written descriptions because drawing out each pre-visualized scene is too time consuming and we’re already familiar with the content, but for tricky camera moves or complex scenes we may make drawings or develop a formal storyboard. If you are presenting your script to a potential funding source or client, drawings may help sell the concept.

Column 3 is for the narration and any other types of audio cues, like music or sound effects.

You may also want to add a column for notes as you’re shooting.

There are scriptwriting computer programs available such as Scripped Writer or one we’ve used, Final Draft. Final Draft even has a special version, Final Draft AV, for writing AV style scripts. However, for the types of videos we produce, we’ve found these programs to be overkill and an unnecessary expense. We use Microsoft Word or OpenOffice. You can also use other word processing programs or even a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel. GoogleDocs is free and has a spreadsheet program that is fine for AV scripts. It’s also a great way to share your work online with an associate as you develop the script.

Get really detailed when writing your narration in the audio column because this is what your actors or narrator will say. It should sound natural, as if someone is talking to you, not like someone reading out of a textbook. You want to create natural transitions between frames and between “chapters” in the video. You may do this with the spoken words or with graphic transitions.

Be equally specific about your shot description or camera direction. The more specific you are, the easier it will be on your cast and crew when you start production. Camera direction encompasses camera angles, lens effects, lighting, graphics or illustrations.

Even if your production consists of simply turning on your camera and talking to your audience, planning what you want to say in advance will make a big difference in your delivery and will help relieve nervousness in front of the camera. If you aren’t using a teleprompter, taping a bulleted list of topics that must be covered below the camera lens, like a cue card, will help make sure your narrator or speaker doesn’t miss any important points.

Depending on the style of video you choose, you may or may not need to complete your script before you start shooting. For example, a how-to video with an off camera narrator, such as the one we did on cacti, will have dialogue that should be written prior to any filming. In a case like that we were shooting to the script but didn’t record the narration until we had all the footage assembled.

In our succulent video, we edited to what is called a “scratch track.” This is a recording of the script but without trying to get it perfect.That way we could alter the dialog to better fit circumstances we encountered during shooting, such as specific plant specimens we obtained. When we were happy with the script alterations we recorded the final narration.

Documentaries or videos taken at an event won’t need to be all written out in advance but the content should be transcribed and added to the final version of your script, technically called a post-shoot script, after the shooting.

Even though it may take more work, make your post-shoot script comprehensive and include the interviews, unscripted lectures, events, etc. that you shot in the script. These final scripts are basically transcriptions of your final video and are needed in the closed captioning and subtitling process. We encourage you to do this also because many organizations that may buy your video require it to be closed captioned and having your script in a document form will make that a lot easier to do and may save you substantial money if you send it out. Additionally, your script can be made into an ebook or PDF file for sale or it can be included to add value to your video.

Next up…storyboards and shot lists and how they are used and how they add to your video script.

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2 Responses to “Your Video Script – How To Write It And Why It’s Essential To Producing A Good Video”
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