There are a lot of great reasons to start a new video project for your company. But while video as a medium is one of the most naturally engaging forms of content you can produce, a poorly planned project will cost you time and money, not to mention wasted effort. That’s why you need a great script before you get in front of a camera.
Whenever you sit down with this kind of project, you tend to produce more ideas than you expected. Organizing disparate insights can be difficult, especially if writing isn’t your strong suit.
Even still, writing a script isn’t like writing a blog post or a technical document. A script is like the bones of a body that are meant to give it structure. Much like your skeleton isn’t meant to be seen, your script isn’t meant to be read by your audience. Instead, your script is a means to an end, intended to inform the larger project. The real product will be a fully fleshed out version of what you have on the page.
If that sounds like a lot to handle, don’t worry. We’re here to guide you through the basics of script writing step by step. We’ll even throw in a free template that you can use as a guide and provide some tips for what we believe the most excellent scripts have in common.
The Importance of A Script
If you’re still wondering why you need a video script in the first place, imagine turning the camera on yourself right now. Do you think you could create your video in one, or even two takes?
With the exception of live videos, almost all professional video projects start with at least a basic script. If you want to compete with the rest of the video content out there, writing a script is an essential step.
A script functions like an outline. It allows the video to take the proper shape by organizing ideas into an effective format. It also keeps a video from being long-winded or disjointed.
A good script will also save time. If you try to jump into your video project and figure it out as you go, you will end up scratching out a lot of mistakes and wasting time trying to figure out what to do next. No matter what budget you are working with, this will surely put strain on it as being unproductive often requires more money over time.
Planning the exact words you want to say beforehand can help you be more direct with how you present your message.
Lastly, a script allows you to be much more precise with your language. If you simply pick a topic and start talking, you might get your point across if you’re a good speaker with enough time on your hands. In reality, you only have a narrow window of time to capture a viewer’s attention. You don’t want to spend those crucial moments floundering for words or just saying introductory fluff. Planning the exact words you want to say beforehand can help you be more direct with how you present your message.
Parts of a Script
As with the body, there are many parts to any effective script. In order to write a script yourself, you need to know what pieces of information to include and why they are important to the function of the script as a whole.
The first thing to consider is which format you will use to write your script. Depending on the type of video, one format may be better suited to your project than another. That said, most video creators use one of two formats for their scripts.
Traditional Screenplay Format
Traditional format is what you see in a screenplay for a movie. The advantage to this type of script is that it allows for a more dynamic structure and depiction of what you want your video to be. That’s why this format is standard for complex Hollywood productions and many other professional settings.
Always written in the present tense, traditional screenplay format has strict formatting rules as well. However, these rules are not just a formality. When used correctly, one page of script should equal one minute of video. While manually formatting a traditional script is time-consuming, there are programs like Celtx that handle the formatting for you.
Alternatively, you may choose the two-column format. Start by creating one column for visual elements. Then, create a second column for auditory elements. Visual elements on one side should correspond to auditory elements on the other side. You can then divide the scenes of moments of the video with a horizontal line as you move down the columns.
This works well because it is simple. By illustrating how each piece works together, it makes it easier for your whole team to conceptualize the video.
These are the actors, characters, or narrators who will be appearing and/or speaking in your video. It’s important to name each of these players beforehand so that you are able to quickly distinguish between who is speaking for each line. For example, “Bob” and “Jim” are much easier to remember than “Man # 1” and “Man # 2.”
Keep in mind that you will also need to introduce each character when they first appear in the script. For example, let’s say your first scene is a blank white backdrop. At the moment that Jim walks onto the screen, you want to indicate that on the script with a sentence like “ENTER JIM.” This way, everyone knows when Jim is supposed to enter the shot.
Lines are the actual words being spoken by the actors or narrators. This is where you will write out the words (in full sentences) that each person says. Usually, there will be a name listed above each line to denote whose turn it is to speak.
Tone of Words
You will also want to include notes about how the lines are said. This helps actors understand emotional cues or other nonverbal ways of presenting the message that may not have otherwise been apparent in the words themselves. This includes things like [YELLING], [SOFTLY], or [SARCASTIC]. You should also include other directions like [OFF SCREEN] or [VOICEOVER] to indicate when the speaker is not visible.
In traditional screenplay format, actions make up the other larger chunks of text aside from lines. They are usually written in semi-paragraph form, sometimes omitting smaller words like “the” for the sake of brevity. When looking at a script, think of actions as anything that happens in the video that is not a person speaking or a change in scenery.
This includes movement of people, movement of objects, and any planned B-roll footage. More specifically, you might see an action described as “car explodes” or “Jim walks to desk and sits on top of it.” However, this can also include any specific music you want to play in the background or any graphics or special effects that should appear on screen during the edit.
Settings are the backdrop for each scene. A script will describe the setting in three ways. First, you should note whether it is an interior (INT) or exterior (EXT) location. Second, you should describe the setting in 1-2 words. Third, you should say whether it happens during daytime or nighttime.
For example, you may start a scene with “INT. OFFICE – DAY.” This states that the first setting is inside an office building during the day. Beyond that, we don’t need to have setting details in the script unless you are dealing with two different office settings, or something about the setting has changed since a previous scene. You may then want to distinguish between them somehow.
Each time you transition to a new setting, you will want to note that in your script before anyone else speaks a line. Let’s say your second scene is outside on the roof of the office after hours. You would then start the next scene with “EXT. ROOFTOP – NIGHT.”
Transitions may seem insignificant for shooting day, but they will be very important for conveying the right mood in the editing room later on. Transitions note two things. First, they state the fact that one scene or shot is over and a new one is beginning. Second, they describe how that change occurs.
Transitions note two things. First, they state the fact that one scene or shot is over and a new one is beginning. Second, they describe how that change occurs.
Transitions are usually two-word phrases at the end of each scene. Immediately following a transition, you usually find the top of a new scene (which should have a setting tag).
Looking at the previous example, you might have a transition at the end of your “INT. OFFICE – DAY” scene that says “FADE TO:”. Immediately following that transition is your next scene that completes the sentence with “EXT. ROOFTOP – NIGHT.” This lets the editing team know that when they are putting these two shots together, they should transition with a fade.
Other times, you might have transitions like “CUT TO:”, “DISSOLVE TO:”, or “MATCH CUT:”. Each one of these conveys a certain mood and accomplishes something visually specific.
5 Steps to Writing A Script
Now that you know the parts of a script and how they all function, you’re ready to start writing it. Let’s break down the process from start to finish in five steps.
Step 1: Set Goals
Any successful project will start with a clear goal. A video project is no different. Before you start making any creative decisions, write out your goals for the video overall.
You will want to ask yourself and your team why you are making this video. As we said before, there are plenty of great reasons to start a video project, and you probably already have a few reasons in mind. Still, it’s a good practice to write down main objectives with your team to keep the project oriented.
That said, videos for businesses usually fall into one of three categories: marketing, educational, and training.
- Marketing videos aim to convince the audience of the brand’s value and to become a customer themselves. This is perhaps the most common objective.
- Educational videos are about teaching your customer how to use a certain product or feature while also convincing them once again that your product has value. This is about retaining customers and delighting them after a purchase.
- Training videos are usually internal and geared toward teaching and engaging employees so that they retain valuable information about their jobs.
During this phase of setting goals, be sure to briefly discuss how you will measure the success of the project, depending on your objective. This makes the goal tangibly achievable and will inform some of your decisions with your script.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Once you have a basic goal, have a meeting to get the creative ideas flowing about the video itself. Sometimes, getting more people involved in this process can help you achieve more creative insight.
Ask yourself questions to better understand what you want to create. What is the video about? What are some things you want to say with it and within it? What are some unique ideas that come to mind for this project? What can each person’s creative abilities bring to the table for this video?
Write down a mission statement that describes the theme or spirit of the project overall. In this, you should also consider your desired video aesthetic.
To solidify the thoughts you produce in this process, be sure to write down some notes. It may even be a good idea to write down a mission statement that describes the theme or spirit of the project overall. In this, you should also consider your desired video aesthetic. This will influence the tone you use when telling your unique story and inform many of your design choices.
Step 3: Create an Outline or Use a Template
Create an outline by asking what type of video you are making. Some common types of videos include live action scenarios, presentations, animated videos, and screencast videos.
Each one of these types will have a slightly different structure. For instance, a presentation will almost certainly need a more direct introduction from the speaker on camera. On the other hand, a screencast (usually used for software demos) will require a lot more explanation than other types of videos. You can move past some of the initial friction of writing your outline by using a template.
Depending on the project, you may consider creating a storyboard to help visualize your video before you write the script. A storyboard is like a script, but instead of listing outlines in full, it simply shows a series of blocks that represent the shots in your video. Doing a storyboard beforehand can help you focus on the visual flow of your project before you dive into the verbal elements.
Step 4: Write a Rough Draft
When writing a rough draft of your script, be sure to turn off your inner critic. Start by saying what needs to be said as completely as you can say it. Don’t worry about length, repetitive words, or boring language just yet.
You also want to focus on how you (or your brand) would say it. Lay the foundation by using the right tone of voice. Unlike a blog post, you want your lines to be written in a conversational tone that sounds natural for a person to say in real life. Usually, you can achieve this by writing in the second person, addressing the viewers as “you.”
Be sure to write out your lines in complete sentences. While public speaking allows speakers to use bullet points, a recorded video does not have the presence of a live audience that you can speak to directly as you go. Instead, think of it like sending a text message. You want to say a complete thought that can be replayed at the viewer’s convenience. This will also ensure that your actors are clear on what they are supposed to say and prevent them from botching your specific message.
Step 5: Edit
Before you consider it done, take some time to edit your script both for errors and effectiveness. The best way to start this is to first read through it by yourself. Fix anything that you see needs to be cut or changed right away.
Once you have taken it as far as you can on your own, do a table read with your actors and the rest of your creative team. Reading the lines out loud (especially hearing it from another person) can help you catch a lot more errors than you thought. It also makes awkward phrasing much more obvious so that you can revise your lines.
At the end of the table read, be sure to ask those involved for any feedback they have. This feedback should be aimed at making the script more effective toward accomplishing the goal of the project, more entertaining, less awkward, and so on.
During the final edit, you focus hard on trimming the script down. The goal for editing is to make the script simple, short, and precise.
- Simple – No video you make for your business should be anywhere near as complex as a short film. Stick to one idea and say it in simple words.
- Short – The best videos are also shorter and consumable all at once. Especially for marketing videos, cap your video’s length at two minutes.
- Precise – Review your lines for precision of language. This means avoiding fluffy words and vague descriptions. Say what you need to say with both power and efficiency.
Tips for A Successful Script
With the guidance above, anyone starting out can get by and create a solid script. Even just knowing the basics will do a lot for you. To accomplish its purpose, all a script has to do is direct the actors, the editors, and the rest of the creative team through creating the video.
But what makes a winning script stand out from one that just does it’s job? If you want to lay the groundwork for a final product that will really impact your viewers, here are a few aspects to consider as you go about writing your script.
Although you might not realize it, the best videos will always tell some sort of story. Even if there aren’t any words or you don’t find a fully developed plot, you can usually find some element of storytelling.
All stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Storytelling elements that you include in your video will follow this, even if these stages are accomplished within a few minutes or seconds.
Stories are also about characters and the dramatic events that happen to those characters. Look for ways that you can create conflict in your story and resolve it by the end. Even if this conflict is someone trying to buy a better cup of coffee, bringing that event into the dramatic world of a character’s life will make your video more impactful.
This is because stories are emotionally engaging. Convey a narrative that engages your audience’s emotions and you will surely stick in their memories.
Focus on the Visuals
While storytelling is important, you don’t always have to accomplish this through voiceover narration or even on-screen dialogue. Most of your impactful storytelling will be done through the visual elements of your video. Since many videos play without sound by default on social media, it’s tremendously important to have your videos be visually effective before you focus on the verbal components.
The Sequence of Your Message
As you create the overall message for your marketing video, you can structure it in a variety of ways. However, the most effective videos focus on an order of events that speaks to the journey the buyer makes from being a stranger to becoming a customer. In its most basic form, there are four stages: The Hook, The Problem, The Solution, and The Call to Action.
- The Hook – Within the first few seconds of your video, you want to grab the viewer’s attention. Don’t rely on cheap tricks to accomplish this. Instead, say something that intrigues the viewer or even just introduces the presenter. The hook should be clear enough to state the topic but broad enough to make your viewer say, “Please continue.”
- The Problem – Every viewer who is watching a marketing or educational video has a problem they need to solve. It may be very small, but it is there. It’s your job when creating a marketing video to state that problem outright. This will help your viewer feel like you understand them, and this makes them want to keep watching.
- The Solution – Once you have truly painted a picture of the problem, bring out your product or service as the best solution. This segment is where you frame whatever you are offering in the video as “the answer.”
- The Call to Action – Once you have convinced your viewers that your company has the answer, you have to show them how to obtain access to it or at least take the next step toward that. No video is complete without a call to action. Even with a training video, your call to action may ask someone to take the ideas or techniques with them as they work. Be specific and include relevant links or directions in your CTA.
Know Your Audience
In order to accomplish many of the aspects that make for a winning script, you will need to first understand your target audience. This means knowing the general age range and culture of the people who will be watching your video, as well as their interests, challenges, and concerns.
To pull this all together into something tangible, you can create personas for some of your target audience members. Knowing this information will be the key to emotionally engaging your viewers, as it’s often easier to write to a single character that you can picture in your mind’s eye.
Writing a script can be difficult, but it is perhaps the most important part of creating a high quality video. By staying focused on engaging your audience through this visual medium, you will be on the way to creating something truly worth watching.
Still, starting from scratch is a heavy task, especially if it is your first time. To get you started, download our free template today to start writing with a direction in mind.