How do you go from “a bunch of words on paper” to a production-ready video script? By putting all of the pieces together in a coherent fashion. Easier said than done though.
Much to my embarrassment, I fumbled my way through what belonged in a script for almost 3 years. Thinking back on my earlier scripts, no one would have been able to follow what I wrote and make a stellar video.
In this episode, I discuss:
- what elements belong in a production-ready script
- how much detail you need to write
- the existence of math rock
Let’s dive in.
Read the Transcript
Thanks for joining me today. My name is Ame and my burning video question of the day is what elements belong in a video script.
Video Is a Combined Effort
Video is some combination of audio and visual elements. It’s not necessarily the traditional like sound plus moving pictures. What I mean by that is you might have silent videos or text videos, but at the end of the day, there is some kind of audio and some kind of visual element.
Audio Elements of a Script
The audio elements, I think are the easiest to wrap our heads around because I think we’re used to interacting with these elements and knowing that we’re interacting with them.
1. Voice over Narrations or Dialogue
Videos, will have some kind of narration, whether that’s a voiceover narration or dialogue from characters. Now the voiceover narration. This is when someone is speaking, but you can’t see them. And they’re essentially talking about the video content. Dialogue comes from when you have characters on screen that you can see and identify, and they, whatever they say, that’s their dialogue.
Music is another audio element that is very often used in video. Why is it used? Because it’s super powerful. Think of a movie or a video you’ve watched where the characters don’t say anything, but the music in the scene makes you feel something.
A lot of times this will be done with like sad or happy moments. The characters. Don’t have to say anything for you to know that, it’s a sad moment. I was watching Clarice, which is the, not the sequel to silence of the lambs, but the storyline takes place after. In the first episode, there’s a scene where the detectives and the FBI, they find, they find a victim and they’re bringing the victim to shore from the river.
Nothing is said in this scene, but between the way the scene is shot and the music that they’ve used it, it was really somber music, you could tell that this was not a happy moment. So music is really powerful in a video because the goal is not to tell everyone what to think or feel in a video it’s to help them come to that conclusion on their own.
And that is what makes a message powerful. You know, if someone’s telling you now it’s time to be happy, I don’t think anyone’s going to actually feel happy, but if you create an environment that says happiness. People are more likely to feel that and resonate with that. And then they’re going to tie their own life to that.
You know, a graduation, for example, this is something really happy. If a video is narrating graduation services, and it’s saying, you’re so happy in the moments when you get your diploma and whatever , it could do that. That could be fine. Or the video could create this kind of visual message with music to accompany it and create the environment where, you see someone receiving their diploma.
They’re really happy. you see their family members beaming with pride. That combination of the visual and audio elements is going to be much more powerful than just saying people are really happy when they get their diploma. Um, yeah.
Okay. So audio elements, we have voiceover narration. We have dialogue. Music.
3. Sound Effects
One more that’s often used as is sound effects. Sometimes if you read a script, you’ll see this abbreviated as SFX, you know, for sound effects. It took me longer than I’d like to admit, to figure out why SFX was the abbreviation for sound effects. But, hey, every day’s a school day, right? Yes.
Back to sound effects. A sound effect is something like a car door or a cat in the background. It’s just some sort of isolated sound that is important for creating the narrative that you’re going for. Like I said before, I think it’s pretty easy to identify these and know why they’re being used and how they’re being used because we see them and interact with them so often in film and TV.
Why Visuals Are the Hardest Part of Writing a Script
Writing strong visuals that are going to craft a very compelling message is probably the hardest part about writing a good video script. Now, figuring out what elements go where is easier. But I would say we don’t have as much practice identifying the pieces as we do with audio elements.
One thing. I remember my mentor telling me is that we listen to music all the time and we watch movies. Almost everyone can say that they’ve had these experiences, but can you then take your experience and suddenly go write a song or, write a film?
Probably not because we don’t know what goes into making a coherent. You know, piece of music or a feature length film.
For music, we can only identify a rhythm and a melody and we can hear. How there’s patterns in the lyrics, but in order to actually create music, we would have to understand the notes that go into forming a beat. And how instruments will layer together. You know, it’s complex.
My favorite example of how complex music can get is math rock. This was something I learned about a few months ago. I was not aware that math rock was a real thing. I actually thought my friend was joking when he mentioned this, but no math rock really exists. And you know what. Rock on .
Bad joke. I know. Okay. Moving on. So math rock.
Instead of the standard four beats, they will take. Like, you know, eight beats or something and they’ll divide it up in a different way. So instead of 1, 2, 3, 4, they’ll do like 1, 2, 3, and then 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I’m pretty sure youtube or the internet can offer a much better explanation of math rock than I can but that’s the general gist from my understanding.
When I was younger, I used to poorly play the flute and I studied a little bit of music. And i definitely would not be able to create any good song .Thank you for indulging me on this tangent, and back to script writing we go.
Visual Elements of a Script
So the visual elements, what are they? You have your scene headings, you have your scene descriptions and your character descriptions.
Scene headings, what these do is they signal the start of a scene and a scene.
I guess you can think of it as like an environment. Anytime you’re going to change the overall environment, you’re changing scenes and that’s when you would need to have a scene heading What does a scene heading look like in text? Well, it’s going to have some kind of description about where it is.
So it’s either interior or exterior, and this will be abbreviated as INT. For interior and EXT for exterior. Then you have the location a description of whether this is day or night. Let’s say for example, I’m writing a scene that takes place during the day in a restaurant.
My scene heading, we’ll say interior INT. Restaurant day, because I want this scene to take place inside of a restaurant during the day.
After the scene heading comes the scene description. And this is a description of what’s going on in the scene in the present tense. I’m not a hundred percent sure why the present tense is used. I’m guessing it’s because you’re reading this in real time.
But you could also use the present progressive I don’t know, that’s my best guess. Anyway, you’re supposed to write the scene descriptions in the present tense. Using my restaurant example. It’s inside of a restaurant during the day, and maybe I want to have a character sitting in the restaurant, ordering food.
So my scene description will sound something like I’m going to call my character, man, because I can’t think of a name off the top of my head. Man sits in back corner booth by himself. He quickly scans over the menu.
Then he swings his hand up to call waitress over.
So this scene description tells me who is doing what, where they’re doing it and how they’re doing.
Depending on the type of marketing video that you’re making, you could include character descriptions. It really just depends on whether you have characters or not. If I do have a character, then I want to have a character description, and this is embedded in the scene description. With the example I just gave, man.
My main character, I would give a description of what he looks like.
What does man look like? Man is, let’s say he’s in his thirties has a well-worn face like he’s been in the sun for most of his life and he’s wearing a day labor’s uniform. I just want to give a description of what he looks like, so that, if I’m handing the script off to someone , they know what I have in mind for that character.
Or if this is going to be an animated video, the animator knows what kind of character to draw. The level of detail you give will depend on how important those details are for the character. You know, if you need to have a character who is short, you want to write short , maybe even give a description like five to, for example, if it doesn’t really matter their height, you don’t have to put it.
There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Detail
Speaking of detail, how much detail do you need to put in your script?
My mentor has another excellent one liner. Film is a collaborative effort and the script writer is just one part of that collaboration. As the script writer, you are the first person to create the story. You were the first stop in the journey through the video.
The script writer is a very important role because what is written on that script is the foundation for the rest of production. But you need to balance the amount of detail that you have in with not micromanaging the rest of the production. If some kind of detail is really important, it needs to be in the script, but you shouldn’t be putting it in things just because you want to put them in.
An excellent example of this is camera angles.
The director is going to go through the script and decide which shot is going to be best for a specific scene based on their interpretation.
The Role of The Scriptwriter
The scriptwriter usually doesn’t put that kind of detail into the script because that’s more on the micromanaging side. But a script writer will write it in if it’s important for the story. If something has to be shown close up, no, one’s going to know that unless it’s in the script. So the script writer will put that, but you do not want to be telling other people how to do their job.
What I’ve noticed when I read the scripts for some of my favorite movies is that the film produced is very different from the script in a lot of ways. For example, entire chunks of dialogue will be cut out. Characters will look different and sometimes entire scenes are dropped.
But that’s okay. When you’re making a movie, for example, I don’t have any experience making movies, but what I can see from my experience producing marketing videos is that you have a script and, it’s a great guide, but sometimes you get a really great idea in production or, something on the script doesn’t quite work with the program that you’re using. I have this happen a lot in Vyond when I make videos. As the video producer or the video maker, you need a certain level of flexibility and creativity to make what’s supposed to happen in the script happen in the video.
Most of the time. I’ll write scripts and then I’ll produce the video as well, but sometimes I’ll just make the video based on someone else’s script. And I remember one project I was working on the script and I, this is where I really understood the role of the script writer because when I write my own scripts and then make the video, if I’m missing something in the script, I just fill it in later.
And if I need to change something, I can cause I’m the one who’s doing both of these roles.
The Scriptwriting/Production Line
In this case, it’s very easy for me to transition between script writer and video producer. Because I don’t have to hand my script off to another person and then they have to interpret what I was thinking. I know what I was thinking, and I can just do whatever I need to in production. But if I’m making the video based on someone else’s script. I don’t have that luxury. I need to have detailed visuals so that I know what to produce.
So for the project that I’ve been mentioning, I got the script and it had no scene descriptions at all. I gave it back to the person I was working with. I was actually subcontracted on this project. Um, I gave it back because, I can make assumptions based on what the dialogue says, but ultimately it’s not my place as the video producer to make assumptions about what the script writer was thinking, they need to write the scene descriptions.
The Biggest Mistake in Scriptwriting
One of the biggest mistakes I see with script writing is people do just focus on the audio and they completely neglect to write any sort of visual description. A script is a verbal and visual message combined.
That project actually went through quite a number of revisions that could have been avoided with the right detail in the script. And as the video producer, I can ask questions about what’s there, but I can’t ask about things that I don’t know are supposed to be there.
One scene, I remember in particular, the character had an amputated leg, but they weren’t wearing their prosthetic leg. The scene description just said, this person was sitting in their wheelchair. So I made the scene with a person sitting in their wheelchair, without their prosthetic leg on. And then one of the revisions that came back later was, oh, their leg is supposed to be propped up on a stump board that’s attached to the wheelchair. That’s something that I would have no way of knowing unless it was put into the script.
Writing the right amount of detail in the script saves everyone a lot of revisions down the road.
And another thing about details and script writing is when you write the script, it’s important to know how the video will be produced because you do need to adapt your script to the video making methods. If that makes sense.
I make a lot of my videos in Vyond and while it’s got some great capabilities, there are some serious limitations in terms of what the characters can do. And I have to do a lot of, I call it Vyond hacking. To give the illusion that something is happening.
Managing Expectations is Minimizing Headaches
So for this this project, as I was reading through the description, my first thought was this video needs to be a custom animation video. These things cannot be produced in Vyond and yeah, there had to be some back and forth to essentially renegotiate what the scenes had to look like, because Vyond just, couldn’t do some of the things that the script writer was asking for. And then the client didn’t like how some of the scenes were adopted so they could be produced in Vyond.
And there were a few times where I had interpreted something one way, because there wasn’t detail to tell me otherwise. Again, if that had been. Written into the script initially we wouldn’t have to go through those rounds of revisions.
This is why managing client expectations is important because if they’re expecting one thing and you’re giving them something else, there are going to be problems. This situation was a bit more complicated because. Like I said before I was subcontracted onto this project and my client understood what Vyond was capable of, but I don’t know if their client really understood.
But we were eventually able to get the video to a point where the client was pleased with it. And I think I really stretched my creative ability.
Okay. That was a really long example to basically say write enough detail that everyone can follow your vision. and understand the message. Without micromanaging other roles. Give them enough room to apply their expertise and creativity so that they can bring the script alive.
Alrighty. So to summarize , a video script needs to have audio and visual elements, and both are important for creating a coherent cohesive message. Audio elements include narrations like voiceover narrations dialogue from characters, sound effects and music. The visual elements include scene headings, scene descriptions, and character descriptions.
When you’re writing a video script, put in enough information that any production team could follow the script and make a video don’t put in unnecessary direction.