One of the most important skills a video producer or anyone looking to create a video should learn is how to create an audio/video script. This is not a screenplay. A screenplay has very specific formatting and is designed for directing actors in dialogue and calling out screen direction, location changes, etc.
If your video project has interviews, a host speaking directly to the camera, deals with training or advertising, uses graphics, narration and music, you’ll want to design the project using an A/V script.
Creating an audio/video script is like creating blueprints for new home construction.
No one in their right mind would build a house without having an architect create blueprints. Blueprints give skilled contractors the ability to fabricate the components of the home they are responsible for. Electricians can decipher what they need to buy, the labor hours needed, and any special tools they’ll need to get the job done. Masons can read the prints and know the width and height of the foundation wall. Framing contractors will know how many 2×6’s they’ll need to order.
If everyone builds to spec and the blueprints are detailed and accurate, everyone can work without asking the architect (the director) thousands of questions.
You won’t have an architect to make your blueprints, so here’s a guide to creating an A/V script.
1. Create a table with columns
Every audio/video script contains at least two columns: one for audio and one for video. The number of additional columns you create depends on how complex the project or the approval process is going to be. If you’re working with a lot of layers, being held to a strict budget or have numerous people weighing in on details, creating extra columns will help you pre-visualize and track component relationships. This detailed mapping of your project will keep production on-track and prevent post-production from becoming a nightmare.
2. Visualize exactly what you see and hear
Describe what you see in the video column. Don’t skip the details. Write enough and in a way that an average person will also see what you see. Use a separate cell for each major location and subject matter change.
3. Determine what the narrative audio track of the video will be
In some cases, there won’t be one. Usually this column includes narration or interview sound bites. If it’s narration, you should include the portion of the narration in an audio cell that corresponds to the listed video. Don’t place all of the narration in one cell, instead break it into segments. These can be either talking points or complete thoughts.
If the narrative is coming from interviews, then insert the question and make up a sound bite you’d like to hear. This will seem strange for some of you, but it’s a helpful way to think through the final edit and the interviews before shooting them. You’ll never get the exact sound bite you’ve written and you may decide to go in a different direction, but using this process and bringing the interviews to life prior to shooting them will pay off – I promise.
4. Fill in any additional columns
Text or Graphics
While this column is usually labeled TXT or GFX, it can actually be labeled anything you want as long as you and those you’re working with understand what it means. Most projects will have some text. This includes titles for on-camera interview subjects (lower thirds) or impact text (words that tell the story and/or highlight what’s being inferred). Impact text can be used as the video’s narrative. If a project has a lot of text and a lot of graphics, you’ll want to create two columns and change your page set up to landscape. If you add enough columns, you may need to utilize legal size.
Music and Sound Effects
If you’re planning to have frequent music transitions and/or sound effects representing separate sections, you’ll want to add this column. The more detailed you are now, the fewer headaches you’ll have later.
These days I’m frequently approached to help people make their own business videos. They almost always want to jump straight into shooting and when I show them this process they seem to get very sad, very fast. They don’t want to do it, because it seems like a waste of time to the “get it done” type. Yes, it’s work, but it’s likely the best way a business can save money or a new video producer can make money producing a video product.
You can pay a small price today or a bigger price tomorrow. Sound familiar?
I’ve included a few examples of scripts from some of the projects I’ve worked on. You’ll notice they’re all a little different, but my team and my client can read it, and the team knows what and when something will happen. I often use these as a “blueprint approval” for a client’s sign-off. The client first agrees that this is what is going to be made and that changes are subject to charges. They confirm this understanding by signing an agreement.
You’ll notice the Zumba A/V script has columns RT and ST. RT stands for real time and ST stands for segment time. Real time always begins at zero and increases according to the “real time that passes” as the video is played from the beginning. Segment time refers to the length of that particular segment. This reference can help establish pacing and confirm that each segment’s length is long enough to read the on-screen text.
More than once I’ve discovered the allocated time for the impact text segment needed to be longer. Unfortunately increasing each of these would in turn make the video’s TRT (total running time) longer. Is this a problem?
It’s better and cheaper to ask questions during the writing stage.
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