How to prepare a screenplay for a video?

Feb. 17, 2018, 11:44 a.m.

A great brand video starts with a great video script. Voiceover, music, visuals—these devices enhance your story, but that story needs to be on paper first.

For that reason, there’s a great deal of responsibility at this stage of the video production process. The good news is that you can write an exceptional script easily, as long as you follow the right steps. Next time you need tackle a video script, here’s what to do to make sure it’s a success. 


1) Outline Your Goals

An outline is a useful framework, but to build that, you need to know exactly what your goals are. Before you write, identify the elements that will influence your story. This exercise will help ensure that your narrative doesn’t stray too far from your goals. 

Initial questions to answer:

• Why do I want to tell this story?

• What’s my angle?

• Who is my audience?

• Why will my audience care?

• What value will this provide?

• What should my audience take away from this?

From there, you can compile a bulleted list of what you plan to cover (aka the information you need to include in your video script). This is a bare-bones compilation of needs—not wants. Once you have these you can start to flesh out your narrative.


2) Craft a Narrative Arc

Lack of story is the number one problem we see with brand videos. Stating one point after another makes a great outline for your video script—not a great story. While your brand video is meant to help you achieve a goal, it can only do that if you are engaging your audience. 

(Note: If you’re producing an explainer video or product spotlight, which takes a slightly different approach.)

Focus on building a narrative arc in your script that builds interest and satiates the human need to know what happens next.

Hook them from the start: Start off on the right foot with an emotional hook, which can be introduced through a powerful story, interesting anecdote, different perspective, surprising stat, etc. The important thing is to give your audience a reason to care right off the bat.

Focus on a single message: This is why your outline is so important to work with. Don’t confuse the reader by trying to put too much in. Choose a single story and use every aspect of the video visuals to reinforce it through imagery, animation, data, etc.

Provide context: This is especially important for complex ideas or data. Statistics alone won’t land with your audience. They’re utility, not entirety. Your viewers require context to understand how such observations or data points play out in the real world. Don’t assume that they’ll know why that matters. Connect the dots and provide insight where necessary.

Setup and payoff: This is the core of why stories are so satisfying. We want to know what happens and where the story goes next. There should be a strong takeaway so that your audience can feel invested.  


3) Nail Your Call to Action

It’s tough enough to write the perfect intro to your video script, but it hurts more if you can’t find the right outro. If you can’t “close” correctly, the force you’ve cultivated ultimately dissipates, along with the impact you’ve been working toward.

A good ending is really a good CTA. But that doesn’t mean you just flash your logo and URL. (In fact, sometimes that comes off far too salesy and interrupts the narrative build.) Your ending should be influenced by what you want your audience to do or walk away with.

Do you want them to…

Share the video?
Sign up for a demo?
Subscribe to your newsletter?
Download a report?
Your narrative should build toward this ending.

A note here: Not all stories have to end with a buttoned-up, full-circle resolution. You can also use suspense or intrigue to propel action.


4) Cut, Cut, Cut

Once you have the first draft of your video script, grab your hatchet.

Using more words than necessary not only drags out the video’s length but inherently weakens your argument. Memorable lines are bold and profound, not a meandering explanation with fluff. You want to make each sentence count.

Go through your script multiple times, and keep whittling it down until every single word serves the story. Keep an eye out for:

• Long words: Keep it short and sharp. You have limited time. If there’s a way to say it simply, reword it.

• Extraneous information: Good video scripts pack a punch. Remove anything that doesn’t absolutely need to be there.

Good editing is not just about cutting word count; it’s about condensing to preserve what really matters.


5) Rewrite For Your Audience

Once you have your core story, it’s time to flip the script (literally) and review it from your audience’s perspective. Even though the underlying goal of your video is to promote your brand—whether as a company or as a nonprofit—its success relies on whether or not your audience connects to it.

Take a pass and review your script through their lense.

• Will they understand the concepts presented?Write to your audience’s level of knowledge. This may be more elementary or more sophisticated, but it’s important to make sure your script addresses them properly. You don’t want to insult their intelligence or alienate them.

• Is this relevant to them? If your subject is already interesting to your audience, you have an advantage. If it’s not, it’s time to flex your storytelling skills and rely on that emotional hook to make them care.

• Is the vocabulary appropriate? Often there are industry terms or phrases that you’re familiar with but your audience isn’t used to hearing. Look for any words that may need to be replaced.


6) Choose the Right Tone

Tone is a huge part of your video script. It conveys the emotion behind the story and communicates who you are and how your audience should feel about what you’re talking about.

But your tone doesn’t necessarily have to be prescriptive. A serious subject doesn’t always have to be serious. It can be refreshing to take an opposite tonal approach to play with the audience expectations—if it’s appropriate for your brand.

That said, because many viral videos are “funny” or “quirky,” we notice many brands trying to force humor and whimsy into every video. Like all things, just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Also, as humor is subjective, there are a lot of variables at play. You have to be 100% that the jokes are going to land.

Certainly, well-executed humor can prop up your brand message. Other times, however, it may work against the strength of your products or services or erode your credibility.

It’s a fine line, so tread carefully.


7) Read it out loud

Some scripts have no spoken dialogue, relying on kinetic text only, such as the Apple motion graphic featured above. But if any of your words will be spoken, you need to read them aloud to see if they work. (Consider that there are a lot of good lines in novels that don’t necessarily work in films. The brain can breeze through sentences that the mouth cannot.)

You need to be aware of how the voiceover is going to sound. A few tips to test this:

• Don’t just read through; record yourself speaking the dialogue and listen back.

• Read your script aloud in one take. This helps you catch anything that causes even a momentary stumble. Until you can read smoothly in one take, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite.

• Run your script through a program to check its voiceover read time. When you’re familiar with the content, you tend to speed up while reading. Professional voice over actors know how to maintain a steady rhythm.


8) Get Feedback

Whether you go through your script twice or a dozen times, it’s still only been you at the helm. That surely allows for mistakes. You need fresh eyes on your script, whether it’s to proof or punch up. 

A good exercise here is to make the pitch to a colleague, friend, or member of your target audience who can provide valuable feedback. 

Handing off your script to someone else will either reinforce your confidence or reinforce your narrative with outside perspective. It’s a win-win.



Ultimately, the best way to write a great video script is to write a lot of them. The stronger your scripts, the more creative your production team can get—and that’s what really elevates your end product.

If you need a little help creating your videos, make sure you have the right creative partner.


Related Links: what are the things to be considered before making a video?



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How to prepare a screenplay for a video?

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