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

We explain the benefits

The video process begins with wordsSo you have woken up to the power of video communications and decided you need a corporate video or animation for your business. Great! The first thing to do is find someone with a camera or animation skills 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? 


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 should bear a close resemblance to what is written on the page

That is not to say there can be no variation from the script. For example the Director may allow the Presenter to use their own words to improve 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. 

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

Benefits of writing a script

For the Sponsor 

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

For the Project Manager/Coordinator

  • The online video process should begin and end with wordsBeing able to identify key personnel, locations, props etc in advance enables scheduling and making them, or alternatives, available. 
  • 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

  • People rarely like being ‘thrown in at the deep-end’. 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 team

  • You can ensure your dialogue and/ or titles directly refer to important information that could get overlooked as production pressures increase.  

  • Writing a script for a video that will be published online, means you can be sure to incorporate important, relevant SEO ‘keywords’ 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. 

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.

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, sooner or later someone has to ‘edit’ what they say.

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 the 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 knows better than you what your business wants to say. 

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? 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 workaround 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". 

If you would like more information or to discuss your project please connect with us. 

This article was originally published on OxonDigital Dec 18, 2012