At some point in your communications career, you will be faced with writing a video script. It comes with the territory. How you respond to this distraught pleasure will say a lot about you and your understanding of visual media.
What makes writing a video script hard is not knowing how easy it can be. By the very nature of the written word for a visual medium, the key to success is less, not more.
For one thing, you’re writing to be heard, not seen. For another, the medium is a visual one, which means it prefers the visuals to do the talking. Finally, a script for video needs a lot more than just words. It must provide visual direction, audio direction, and the essential creative blueprint that leads to the success of the project.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that your goal is to write a short script about a new software program that helps people track their spending. Let’s call it “Fast Money”.
It’s a simple, easy to use program which can help people budget, save, an ultimately have the money they need to fulfill their dreams.
The goal of all video productions is to engage the audience by appealing to their desires. You could talk about how “Fast Money” has been written by coders certified in C++, how it is delightful in its use of a user-friendly GUI, and how it automatically sends back error messages to “Fast Money” HQ so that the program can be constantly improved.
But you’d be talking to yourself, because the potential buyer doesn’t care about any of that. They care about money. Their money. Their life. Their future.
SO you need to create a hook. A way to start the script that talks right to them and their needs.
SO you begin writing:
ANNOUNCER: You want to make Money! VISUAL: Picture of Dollar Bill. SOUND EFFECT: Ka-Ching. MUSIC: Money, by Pink Floyd.
Well, it’s a start, if you want to hit your audience with a sledgehammer.
Hitting audiences with sledgehammers doesn’t create intrigue. But this is often the approach an unseasoned writer will take– they’ll cover all the bases.
The good news is, luckily, you don’t need to know or present all those technical facts. What you need is a way to engage the audience on their terms.
Instead, try writing without using words– ie, skip the narrator for now and create a scene instead.
SCENE: Slow zoom in on man working at kitchen table, He has a yellow legal pad, a checkbook, and a calculator. He looks worried and is wiping imaginary sweat from his brow. A woman, his wife, walks in behind him and looks over his shoulder.
HE: It doesn’t look good.
ANNOUNCER: Too familiar? It’s hard to save a buck these days.
VISUAL: Alternating close-ups of the couples faces, cutaway to their checkbook showing small negative balance, cutaway to pile of bills.
Now, that was fun! Instead of a litany of facts and figures, suitable only for the engineer that developed the product, we’ve now created an emotional scenario almost anyone running a household can identify with. They’re ready to hear more.
And we didn’t use corny music, jangling cash registers, overblown prose, or dollars marching off a cliff.
Now you’re on your way to being a scriptwriter. Yes, you should know the facts. But no, the audience doesn’t need all of them. They need reasons to care. And you’ve just given that to them.
Now, they’ll listen to more– even if there are a few facts thrown in.