Appendix 4: Writing for video
Writing is a core skill in most forms of business communications. Effective writing engages an audience, holds attention, and influences as well as informs.
Writing for video is different from writing for print
The moving image swamps the senses and holds audience attention (when well done).
Do not imagine that “script” means solely commentary script. Your script should be a full programme description, with a clear focus on style, approach and visual treatment. Alfred Hitchcock commented that “dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”
For video, that emphasis on showing as well as telling is central to making full use of the potential persuasive power of the medium.
The scriptwriter’s task does not start and end with any dialogue, interview questions or voiceover.
The writer is involved in the very first, crucial decisions about just what kind of video will work best, what will be appropriate for audience and objectives.
News report or documentary? Animation or drama? Game show or music video? Archive images or animated graphics? Talking heads or slow-mo demonstrations? Screen grabs or blue screen? Promo or info? Special effects or video diary ...?
From the long list of possible tools and techniques, what will show the target audience something that grabs and holds their interest, that helps put across the sponsor’s message?
Writing for the screen audience
Audience. Objectives. Desired contents. Style and tone of voice. Consistency - internally, and with other messages. Available resources. All of these will be close to the top of a writer’s mind when taking a brief for a new video - or let’s hope they are.
Let’s start at the very beginning.
An early task is to research audience and objective, check how the video will be distributed, and then find out what else is out there. What has the audience already seen - what do they already know? If they share a predominant set of beliefs, ideas and prejudices, what are they? What kinds of approach have been tried and have succeeded (or failed) in the past? “Expert tips “ on video-based marketing and a view on what makes a compelling corporate video.
Alongside this, the writer will be researching the subject, and connecting with appropriate sources of expert knowledge, from within the sponsor’s organisation or elsewhere
Then the writer has to plot and frame the kind of video to be produced, within the constraints of available time, money and other resources.
Style and content
The writer has to put these programme ideas into words - descriptions of desired visuals and soundtrack. Any dialogue, voice-over or presenter script is just the final polish on the structured, packaged flow that the writer produces. Then the writer has to sell that vision to the producer and to the customer, negotiating the improvements needed to make sure that the finished video will be as the customer wants.
Show more than tell
Try to show your audience your story, rather than just telling them.
Any voice-over or presenter pieces should enhance your story, expanding on and explaining rather that repeating what the visuals clearly show.
Any words or narration have to work with and cut through the visuals, the sound effects and background music. So for the spoken part of your video script, most people think that shorter is better. Even for educated and knowledgeable audiences, sentence fragments rule.
Write how people speak, when they speak well. Rhetoric in the vernacular, if you like. The mumbles, ums, errs, circumlocution and trivia of everyday conversation will usually not make compelling video.
Avoid words that might confuse. Read your text aloud, and listen to it. Is your meaning crystal clear, as you want it, at first hearing? If not, rewrite.
Some further sources: