Why do I need a script for my video or film?

Dec 18, 2012 by

This entry was written by , one of the OxonDigital members. The author's views below are entirely their own and may not reflect the views of OxonDigital.
Why do I need a script for my video or film?

So your boss has finally woken up to the power of online video and instructed you to get a film for your organisation’s website. Great! The first thing to do is find someone with a camera or animation software right? Well, no actually. The first thing is to gain consensus around what the purpose of the video is (by writing a brief), and the second is to write a script. Sometimes inexperienced people bypass these first vital steps. Why is this a mistake?

If your boss didn’t specify why you need a video and what to cover, and in turn you didn’t tell the filmmaker, can you really expect a smooth process and a great result?

No, of course not. We are talking about the business of communication, so any project that begins by failing to communicate clearly, to all stakeholders at the outset, is destined to be problematic, during or after production – or both.

Remember your 7 Ps? (Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents *** Poor Performance)

So let’s assume you’ve gained consensus, with all parties, on a clear and concise brief. How does a script help?

But first of all – what is a script?

According to Oxford dictionaries the definition of a script in this context is quite simply:

“The written text of a play, film, or broadcast.”

In other words, what is finally seen and heard is, or bears close resemblance to, what is written on the page.

That is not to say there can be no variation from the script, for example by the Director allowing the Presenter to use their own words to improve a performance. However, there is a big difference between ‘Ad-libbing’ and ‘rambling’ and the latter has little tolerance in the commercial constraints of corporate communication.

In the old adage that… ‘A film is made three times: when you write it, when you shoot it, and when you edit it'; we start with the written word.


Benefits of writing a script

For the Sponsor and Communications officer…

  1. By producing a script you can gain top-level approval, control what gets covered in the programme, run it past stakeholders…the legal team – maybe even avoid a global PR disaster.

For the Project Manager/Coordinator…

  1. Being able to identify in advance key personnel, locations, props etc. enables scheduling and making them, or alternatives, available.
  2. Steering the film toward meeting expectations – being more likely to deliver the what, where, when and how – within time and budget.

For the Technicians and Talent:

  1. People rarely like being ‘thrown in at the deep-end’ and this applies to professionals too (they are less naive about potential pitfalls). Whether it’s the Director of Photography who needs to bring the right gear or the Broadcast Presenter who wants to preview the wording, they can respond better if they are prepared. Also, if you give them the ‘heads-up’ they often share a lot of practical advice, that will help you plan.

For the digital marketing executive…

  1. You can ensure your dialogue and or titles directly refer to important information that could get overlooked as production pressures increase.
  2. If you intend to distribute your video on the internet, writing a script means you can be sure to incorporate important, relevant ‘keywords’ in your script/dialogue that can be picked up by speech recognition systems. These are employed by search engines to index content, which may improve your natural search results. (Youtube’s built-in transcription ‘automatic captions’ may not always be 100% accurate, so we recommend you upload your own transcript in the Video Manager section of  your channel). Whichever method you choose captions can make your video more visible to search engines and more accessible to people.

    Youtube screenshot

    The online video process should begin and end with words


So the benefit of writing a script before shooting/animating is not just that you are “on message” from the start, but you also have a more precise transcript ready to post with your upload (regardless of any music, ambient sound or language issues that may be inherent in your audio file).


Common objections to writing a script

“We don’t need one, our interviewees are speakers with expert knowledge in their field”

They might give good ‘waffle’ but does it sit well with your corporate message? Even if, you have absolutely no curricular, commercial, religious or political agenda and want to truly document their responses verbatim, even if they aren’t interested in knowing what topic they are to speak on, for how long, or what sort of questions they will be asked…sooner or later someone has to ‘edit’ what they say. Even if it’s just ‘start with the greeting and end with the goodbye’ – and what are the chances of that happening within your preferred duration if you don’t define the scope of the content?

High-calibre individuals rarely submit articles or present keynotes without writing/rehearsing them first. Would you really want to do less preparation for a video that might go into the public domain, permanently?

I don’t know how to write a script!”

You don’t have to be Quentin Tarantino – you just need to know what you want to convey…

If you are doing a web-cam or screen-cast recording of yourself all you really need is some cue-points including key references to keep you on track. Usually the written word differs from the spoken word anyway, so if you read anything too word-dense it may sound monotonous.

If you are out-sourcing to a Production Company you could expand this to a typed-up outline of what you want to cover. This is usually sufficient for their Producer to come back with a first draft for your approval. If you really can’t manage that relevant reference material, such as brochures, manuals and previous examples can help – but remember, the more preliminary work you do internally, the more budget you can save for areas outside your expertise.

If you do hire professionals, don’t fall into the trap of assuming that they are experts in your own field who will automatically know everything about your project. They can guide you but no one outside your organisation knows better than you, what your organisation wants to say. And if you don’t know what you want to say – how can they?

The main difference between an experienced Producer and a Camera Operator is their ability to help you develop a successful script that can be made feasibly – within your limits. If they have the talent, the finished film may also convey your intended message with more impact, because the forward-planning enabled bandwidth for creativity.

“I don’t have the time/money to write a script!”

Don’t kid yourself that you don’t have the time or budget to write a script. Not doing so is invariably a false economy. With the exception of things like live-events and music videos (which use their script-equivalents of running orders and lyrics) no matter how quickly you need to turn around a film, spending time working on the script can pay significant dividends down the line. ‘Thinking time’ costs nothing and in pre-production meetings it leads to ‘joined-up’ thinking which is good for efficiency and successful campaigns – especially in the digital realm.

How will writing a script save time or money?

A good script will save you time or money or both because what doesn’t get scripted may not get scoped or ‘shot-listed’. If it’s not recorded, it can’t be ‘edited’. If a vital dialogue reference to a product or benefit is missing it can have a ‘domino effect’ on the post-production schedule. If it’s noticed before it’s published, a work-around can be sought – but it may still result in a re-shoot (if talent, location, crew, props etc. are still available).

The net result is the same with animation, in either scenario the project could be jeopardised by a lack of planning. That is an embarrassing situation to be in if your boss has heard that other old adage:

“The script is king.”

Andy Hall began his career in Film and TV in 1995 and as digital video emerged, retrained in new media. Since then he has worked at digital studios, production companies, branding and advertising agencies. His editing and animation work has been transmitted on the BBC and ITV. After ten years in London he returned to Oxfordshire where he helped launch and run an internet TV studio publishing hundreds of business videos. He specialises in producing online marketing films featuring graphics and animation.

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