Video has become the most effective marketing medium online. You can communicate a lot of information and context in a short clip on your website. But a good video often requires a good script first. Yet, so few marketers know how to write a script. That’s because scriptwriting is hard, at least in the professional sense of the word. Many script tutorials out there focus on the storytelling aspect of a script, but the technical part is as important. A good professional script should be both creative and technical. So today let’s tackle both, and make sure you have all the tools you need to write the perfect script.
What’s a script?
When they hear the word “script”, many people think about a monologue said in front of a camera. But a script is much more than that. It needs to include the actions that happen on screen, as well as the context of each scene. In other words, a professional script doesn’t focus on the actors. It also includes directions for the camera operators, sound engineers, lighting technicians, etc.
And you may think “well I don’t have a giant crew to shoot my video, so why would I need a professional script?” Actually, it’s the other way around: you need a professional script even more if you have one person taking care of everything. Many small video shoots are made of just one videographer who also takes care of lighting and sound. But that means this person has a lot to deal with on shoot day. So giving them detailed directions will make it more likely they’ll do a good job and won’t forget anything.
How do you get started?
Like any creative deliverable, you want to start by defining the goal of your video. And no, the goal shouldn’t be about you or your company. That’s a big mistake many marketers make which often comes back to bite them. If the goal of your video is to sell more products, you’re not going to sell more products. The goal of the video should be from the audience’s point of view. What value will the viewer get out of this video? What do you want them to feel once they’re done watching?
To see a good example of that, watch any of the Nike Commercials:
The script for this video wasn’t created to generate more sales for Nike. It was written to make the viewer get inspired, pumped and motivated. After watching this video, a viewer may decide to make a call they were scared to make. They may feel emboldened and try something new which could bring them joy. In that sense, the video is bringing a lot of value to their life. And of course, as a result they feel inspired by Nike and buy their products. But remember, it wasn’t the main goal of the video. So the first question you want to ask yourself is: what do I want my audience to get out of this video?
Video type and guidelines
Once you know the goal of the video, choosing the type of video you want to make should be straightforward. If your video is teaching something to the viewer, you’ll likely want to use a talking head with some b-roll footage of whatever you are teaching. If it’s telling a fictional story, you’ll want a lifestyle video with actors. If it’s talking about a subject that is abstract, you may prefer an animation. Because the type of video will have a significant impact on the script, make sure to decide early.
Once you know the type of video you want to make, set up guidelines for yourself or your scriptwriter to work with:
- How long should the video be?
- How many characters does it have?
- What are the top 5 emotions your audience should feel when they watch?
- What are 5 key points you want to convey through the video (those can be self-serving, such as product features)?
When all these questions are answered, you’re ready for the real thing.
A professional script follows a specific structure. The title of each scene needs to include at a glance information that the crew can look at on shoot day. So always start with these five elements:
- Scene Number. A “scene” in filmmaking means the literal sense of the word: the environment in which the video is being shot. So “Scene 1” will encompass all the action that happens in the same environment. A scene change happens when there is a “room change,” meaning that the crew needs to change location to shoot what is next in the script. But sometimes, a scene can be long, especially if you are shooting a short product video in a single room. So for short videos, we recommend using letters after the scene number to differentiate between minor changes. For instance, let’s say “Scene 1” of a video is showing a person on their phone in their living room. We’ll call “Scene 1a” an establishing wide shot of the person looking at their phone while sitting on the couch, and “Scene 1b” an over-the-shoulder shot showing what the person is looking at on the phone. This level of details will make it much easier to iterate on the script and refer to it during the shoot.
- Interior / Exterior. This piece of information is crucial to the Key Grip or Grip, the person in charge of lighting. It gives context of the scene and helps them know what type of lighting to bring based on the desired look of the scene. It’s also useful for the organization of the shoot. For example, if the weather is unstable the day of the shoot, you may want to focus on Exterior scenes when it’s not raining outside.
- Location. This determines the location where your scene takes place. If you’re shooting your entire video in one place, you may want to use “location” as a way to differentiate parts of the room. For example, you can use “by the window” or “Against North wall.”
- Day / Night. Like Interior / Exterior, Day / Night is crucial for lighting and your grip or key grip. It’s also useful to organize your shoot day since you’ll want to shoot all your Night scenes, well, at night, and vice versa.
- Scene Run Time. Scripts don’t usually include run times as early on in the pre-production process. But if you’re not a professional scriptwriter, you will likely create scripts that run longer than you want them to be. So we recommend measuring run time during the writing of the script. If your scene includes dialogue, measure the time it takes to read dialogue in your scene. Read at a slow pace and leave plenty of breathing room. If your scene doesn’t have dialogue, measure the time it takes to perform the action described in the scene. Here again, take your time, don’t rush.
Now that we have proper scene titles, let’s dive into the actual script. Start by describing the type of shot, whether it’s a wide shot, close-up shot, or else. You can find a complete list of all possible shots here. Then describe the action in the most precise way possible.
For example, you can say “A wide shot shows 2 young children, Jane and Jack, in the background running together towards camera. In the foreground, a man in his early forties, Jon, is standing with his back turned to the camera, looking in the direction of the children, his arms open.”
Don’t forget to include information such as the name of the characters, what they look like, which direction the action is moving towards and if objects or people are coming in and out of frame. Also include body or object positions if they matter. For instance, in the scene we just described, if the identity of the man shouldn’t be revealed until later in the script, then him turning his back to the camera is important.
Dialogues and On-screen text
Once you’ve described the action, add dialogues. Dialogues can be on camera, as voiceover, or as on-screen text. First state the name of the character, if relevant, the type of dialogue and then what they need to say. Here is an example:
JON (ON CAMERA): Here you are!
JACK (ON CAMERA): Hi dad!
Don’t include emotions or intonations, to leave room for the actors to experiment with the scene based on their understanding of the context and character.
Ok so now we have scene titles, actions and dialogues, but we’re missing the most important part.
Following the technical guidelines of a good script will make for a smooth production process. But it doesn’t remove the need for a good story. Take the goal and guidelines you’ve defined at the beginning of this process, and use them to write a story people will want to watch until the end. Remember to focus on providing value to the viewer, not yourself. Create a story that inspires viewers, amuses them, or sparks their curiosity. But above all, stay true to yourself and your brand.
Writing a script can be a very tedious and, honestly, boring process. Building the story in and of itself is fun, but making sure it is well communicated isn’t. And when it’s not done well, it can have drastic impacts on your production. Save yourself some pain and disappointment by working with one of the scriptwriters on the Gravitr platform. They’ll create a script that conveys a thoughtful story without compromising on the technical side. You’ll get all the tools you need to create a video that creates real value for your audience and for your brand.