How to Write a Video Script… (or, “words only when necessary”)

How to Write a Video Script… (or, “words only when necessary”)

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 an av 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.

SHE: Well?

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.

The Corporate Storyteller

The Corporate Storyteller

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a series of articles detailing a number of trends in corporate communications.

One trend they sighted was the increased reliance on something called “Corporate Storytellers”. These are folks who work with companies to unearth their past, often after years of conglomeration, buyouts, downsizing, and more. The story emphasizes the use of live narratives, even original songs, to help reinstate a sense of heritage, purpose and belonging.

Trends

Another trend they focused on some time back was the “Tribute” video—a life story on video or slides of an accomplished person, living or deceased, who has impacted a company, a group, or even a family.

Well, we all know trends come and go, and we also know (those of us that have been around a bit) that trends are cyclical. One thing that seems to be a steady interest?  People to want to rediscover their roots.

That’s a healthy thing—at home, and especially in business. And telling the true stories of companies and their people is a great way to rekindle a company’s purpose and passion.

People Want to Belong

People want to belong. People want to believe. People want to work for the common good. Ignore these needs, and you have people that will substitute these needs with personal agendas, or even worse, counter-corporate agendas. They have to fill the vacuum!

We believe there is no more powerful tool than the well crafted, well documented, well produced, honest and entertaining…. VideoStory.

That’s the name of my production company. Why? We succeed most when we tell the stories of our clients in ways that make that material motivating, accessible, believable, and purposeful. People want to believe in people. They need heroes, role models and road signs. You can provide them that with the right kinds of stories.

Case Histories

We helped a mushrooming corporation bring its various acquisitions worldwide together in a common belief system, when we pointed out that the company’s growth could be liked to the growth of a tree. Why a tree? The company started in wooden products, developed forests, moved into paper, and moved beyond paper into products that provided many of the same functions. The company still owned and nurtured forests. A foreman in a Washington State location took us (and our cameras) on a tour, and we were able to build in logical departures that helped bring together the diverse divisions, their people, and even their local communities into an understanding of the company’s heritage and values, and the part they could play in its future.

One of the Country’s leading Marine engine manufacturers celebrated a major anniversary. Having gone from being owned and operated by the engineer that developed the company’s engines, to a division of a major international corporation, there was a disconnect between the company’s family heritage and perceived issues about the nature of corporate owners. The story of the founder, his genius, his quirks, his marketing techniques, the struggles to grow, the need for funding and the acquisition, and the public’s ongoing devotion to the product and company helped that anniversary become a true celebration—of the company’s past, it’s future, and the dedication of the current owners.

And many times, we’ve had the opportunity to show that the philosophies of the founder of a large drug store chain have been the framework for the company’s ongoing success over the course of 100 years, through new merchandising trends, health care changes, and even in the wake of amazing growth. We’ve produced documentaries, original songs, and video communications both silly and sublime to help keep the ship on course.

Learning From The Past

We learn from the lessons of the past. But those lessons must be recorded, codified, visualized, and made entertaining AND meaningful. And they must be told with consistency.

That’s why we produce VideoStories. We know of no better way to convey the essence of a company, its foundations, its new directions, and the role its people play than through VideoStories distributed on DVD, CD-ROM, tape, TV, the Web, or within PowerPoint presentations. Send them in an email. Send them a DVD. Tell your dealers or your employees the story, so they get onboard and sale with their captain.

As you consider your future in video storytelling, and as you read our book, remember that it’s the people that count the most. It’s attitude, dedication, teamwork and just rewards. If a company can tell this story, I hope you get to tell it.

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