From Script To Screen: How To Prepare Your Script
GOING FROM SCRIPT TO SCREEN
Going from script to screen is perhaps the most critical stage in the life-cycle of your production. Whilst the cost of a production can vary from project-to-project, there are two things which are guaranteed to improve the overall quality of your finished videos:
1. hire a first rate production team and 2. spend as long as you can afford developing your ideas before entering into production.
Regrettably, the time required to develop a project properly is often overlooked. Numerous business have come to us looking to fix problems (usually in post-production) which could have easily been addressed if only more time was spent preparing both the creative and logistical aspects ahead of the actual photography.
The aim of this blog is to equip you with a set of tools so you can begin thinking about the fundamentals of your video content. The idea is that you would then hand your version of the script over to your creative partner who will in-turn interpret your message and turn it into a winning piece of video for your business.
In 1959, American movie producer Fred F. Finklehoffe was famously quoted as saying, ‘if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage’. The advantage when the client creates an early draft of the script is that you will not only benefit from increased creative ownership, but you will also begin considering many of the key elements which need to be contained within your video. This way nothing gets missed!
THE PRINCIPLES OF YOUR SCRIPT
KNOW YOUR BUDGET
Before you begin any creative thinking on your project, try to commit yourself to a budget range. This will enforce some creative restrictions and begin to focus your creativity. Hiring locations and enlisting the services of professional actors all cost money. If your budget is under £5k this will leave you very little wriggle room to finance your production so you should try and keep these to a minimum. If your budget is low, you should attempt to call on friends who can provide you a location for free and if you know any budding actors, try seeking their help by featuring them within your film.
KNOW THE MESSAGE OF YOUR VIDEO?
Once you know what you’re want to say in your video, you can start to hang values on what you’re looking to communicate. Positive values nearly always trump negative values. Before you write your script make a list of all the benefits that will need to be featured in your video and write down how these add value for your customer.
KNOW YOUR OUTCOME
The best videos will feature a compelling call to action at the end of your film. When you write your script it is important to break your script down into sections or chapters. Each section should contribute to the end goal of asking your audience to engage with your call to action. Eg if you want your viewer to call your business, within each section you should include a line which promotes the benefit the viewer will receive from reaching out to your business. It sounds obvious but it is surprising how many scripts we receive which overlook this fundamental point.
DO YOU NEED ACTORS OR WILL A VOICE OVER SUFFICE?
A professional actor will bring a lot of value to a production. Crucially, a professional actor should be accustomed to taking direction which means when directed properly, they should be able to deliver a variety of performances designed to give you options in the edit. If you feel your production does require actors it is important to keep the language natural. If you’re concerned about how much to write, a good guideline is one page equals one minute of screen time. For a five minute film your script should be around the five page mark.
A voice over can be cheaper than hiring an actor but isn’t as visually interesting… remember video is a visual medium so a voice over should only be chosen when the visuals are strong enough to support it. If you do decide to go down the actor route try thinking about some of the ways your actor or actors could interact with the environment in which your film will take place.
SHOW DON’T TELL
Video is a visual medium. Compiling a list of the objects, items and other things which are absolutely essential to the success of your video can be really helpful especially when combined with actors as the talent can interact with these items. It is very important when producing your script, try to show as much as possible and don’t let the dialogue do too much of the work.
WHAT LOCATIONS DO I NEED?
Again, if you’re dealing with a limited budget try to deal with a fixed number of locations within close proximity of each other. The more locations you have in your script the more time is spent moving the cast and crew between locations.
END ON THE STRONGEST MOMENT
A good video should have a general momentum which leads to it’s most engaging moment, just before the call to action. This should be reflected in the script too. Look through your notes and identify which visual or written elements are the most likely to resonate with your audience and try to feature these at the climax of your film. The Hollywood system has refined the format of storytelling since … Take a look at any Hollywood movie and you will see that they withhold the most exciting moment to the end of the film. You should employ the same principle to your film
THE SCRIPTING FORMAT
Don’t be too daunted by the script writing process. There is no right or wrong way to write your script, simply pick the format which works for you. Below are some of the commonly used script formats:
The treatment is usually the first draft of the script writing process and is a step-by-step walk through of the video. A Treatment is a general set of guidelines which cover the tone of your project, the techniques used to deliver it and any other ancillary information which you may feel important for the production team to do their work.
The centre column format is the classic script writing format of Hollywood films however it is only really necessary to follow this approach when the dialogue needs to be followed precisely. One of the advantages of the centre column approach is that it can remain open to creative interpretation by the creative team whilst leaving a large section of the document free for annotations etc.
The full page format lends itself very well to dramatic projects and is preferentially to instructional formats such as the two-column format because it naturally flows from one scene to the next. Like in the Treatment format, each scene has a number and vividly details the sights and sounds contained within the video. It does not tell the creative team how to gather these sights and sounds.
The two column format is commonly used when producing TV commercials or documentaries. When working with a professional production company it is usually a good idea to let the production team come up with the shot list as often these can be decided on the spot (based on things like available lighting, actors height etc).
GLOSSARY OF KEY SCRIPT WRITING TERMS
Close up (CU) -A close view of an actor or object.
Cut – An instant transition from one scene to the next.
Dialogue – The spoken phrases among actors.
Dissolve – A transition in which one scene fades into another.
Documentary – An essay-style video that provides commentary on its subject matter.
Establishing shot – An opening, wide-angle view that shows the overall setting of a scene.
Mid Shot – When a character is framed from the waist upwards.
Music Bed or Music Under – Low-volume music that accompanies voiceover or dialogue.
Narration – Spoken information that sets up the mood or context of a scene.
Narrative – The story being told.
Pan – The left-to-right or right-to-left motion of a camera in a stationary position.
Scene – A portion of a script which occurs in one location or accomplishes a single dramatic purpose.
Script – The written blueprint of your film.
Setting – The when and where in which a scene takes place.
Shot – A single, continuous run of recorded footage from an individual camera.
Sound Effects (SFX) – Special sound enhancements to the audio track which do not occur in the live recording.
Talent – The people who either appear on the screen or narrate your production.
Tilt – The up-and-down motion of a stationary camera.
Track – When a camera moves sideways, usually accomplished with the aid of a dolly.
Voice Over (VO) – a voice heard without the speaker appearing on screen.
Wide Angle or Wide Shot- A shot in which the main subject is a small part of a larger setting.
Zoom In – To move the camera’s viewpoint from a wide-angle to a close-up shot.
Zoom Out – To move the camera’s viewpoint from a mid-shot or close-up to a wide-angle shot.
Creating a script is an essential part of producing your film. Without a script it is akin to building a house without a schematic. The best solution is to have your production partner take the full reins and develop your script from start to finish however this isn’t always possible or practical, meaning you will need to create the script for yourself.
The advantage of writing your own script is you will have greater creative ownership and you can be confident that everything that must be included is. Using this framework you should be able to choose the correct format for your script. Writing a Treatment is the simplest option for writing your script however the other formats from centre column, full page and two-columns each have their advantages. When writing your script try to remember that video is a visual medium…it’s usually best to show your audience your message than to tell them.