It came to you in a dream. You thought of it in the shower. Better yet, something a customer said sparked your idea. Regardless of where it came from, you’ve come up with the perfect video ad.
So, grab the camera and let’s get shooting. Right? If you want to get it right, you’re not ready to do that yet.
You are going through all the effort to create a commercial for your business because you want to grow. Maybe you could handle the entire commercial production on your own, with no script and a plan tucked neatly in your head.
But eventually you’ll need others—a crew, a cast, editors, graphic designers—and they will need your direction. If you want a professional-looking ad, then start with the same steps as the professionals. It’s time to write your script.
Are you uncomfortable writing? Then change your mindset and think of a script as a plan. You make business plans for your other projects. Creating a video ad shouldn’t be any different.
In this article, we will discuss preparation, content, format and the process of turning your idea into a script. Taking these steps now will help make your production run smoothly.
If you already have your idea, your first step is complete. If not, it’s time to come up with what you want to convey to your audience and the best way to present it. The most important piece of advice I can offer at this stage—don’t limit any of your ideas! Write your dream commercial no matter how impossible you think it seems.
Would your idea work best from the top of the Eiffel Tower? Put it in the script. Would your customers respond well if you demonstrated your product on the moon? Write it down.
Don’t worry about how to get these shots with a low budget. With the right crew and today’s technology, almost anything is possible, even on the smallest budget. You’ll do yourself a favor by not limiting your idea from the start, otherwise, you may never know what is possible.
It’s time to broaden what you know about scripts. Your script is not only a written version of your final commercial. It is also an outline for your cast and crew to follow when you start shooting.
What information and descriptions do I need to include in my script? The three primary items to consider are visuals, action, and audio.
Visuals and action go hand in hand. This is what you want your audience to see on the screen. You need to be descriptive enough to record your picture on the page.
But, don’t go overboard describing every detail. If a costume or prop is vital to your commercial’s message, by all means, include these descriptions in your script. If it doesn’t matter whether the actor wears a suit or sweater, you can skip it.
You also want to be specific about any action occurring on-screen. Are your actors walking or should they be running or skipping? Is anything happening in the background that will help convey your message? You must consider these things now so you remember to include them during the shoot.
Audio includes on-screen dialogue, voice-overs, music, and sound effects. Dialogue and voice-overs can be the most difficult to get right in your script. Writing natural-sounding speaking parts can take practice. Even dialogue from the best writers is often reworked during script read-throughs or on set.
Here are a couple of tips to help you write your best dialogue.
- Write the way normal people speak. Don’t worry about being grammatically correct as you would in an essay or report because most of us don’t speak that way. Use common words, phrases, and even slang, when appropriate.
Unless your audience is a bunch of English professors, odds are you will get a better response if your audience hears the language they use every day.
If you must use industry terminology or jargon, make sure you define those terms in language everyone can understand the first time you use them.
- Test your dialogue by reading it aloud. Even better, record yourself or your friends reading the dialog. When you listen back, dialogue that looked good on paper may not sound like how people speak in real life.
Music and sound effects can also help get your message across. Having a good sense of when you need audio cues in your ad is important to figure out during the writing phase. You may have important dialogue you need the audience to hear, so the music should cut out. Then, if you want to accentuate the point you made, the music should rise .
Does a phone need to ring? Should you hear the vibrant sounds of an urban environment? Whether recorded during the shoot or added in editing, sound effects make your ad real.
Music and sound can play as much of an impact on your message as the words and actions. As you describe the scenes, take time to consider the sounds you want your audience to hear.
Putting together a detailed script with visuals, action, and audio will only make shooting and recording that much easier.
You have plenty of flexibility in the formatting of your script to create a structure that works for you and your team. To get started there are some good templates online in Word and PDF formats that can be customized to fit your needs.
A commercial script is divided into three sections – general information, video, and audio.
General information appears at the top of the first page. You should include a list of locations, important cast and crew, and any important information about the commercial.
The video and audio sections are structured in a two-column format. Each video description corresponds to the audio description in the same row. This can be tricky to set up in a Word or other word processors using a multi-column layout.
I recommend setting this up as a table making it much easier to align the video and audio entries. Using a spreadsheet, such as Excel, may be a better option to ensure both columns are properly aligned.
The video column includes descriptions of the visuals and actions taking place on the screen. Such as,
- Camera moves: “Camera pans to reveal the actor”, “Camera dollies while actor walks”
- Graphic elements: “Title fades in”, “Web address text slides up from the bottom”
- Changes in visuals: “Cut to computer screen”, “Fade to child sleeping”
- Other important action: “Actress throws a football”, “Actor runs for elevator and misses it”
The Audio column includes any dialog, music and sound effects. Such as,
- Dialogue: “Character Name: We can help. Call us today.”
- Music: “Music rises.”, “Music fades out.”
- Sound Effects: “Phone rings.”, “Traffic noise”
Some of these items can be very difficult to put into words. Your goal here is to communicate your ideas as best as possible so your cast and crew can picture the final commercial, too.
Putting It All Together
Finally, it’s time to write. Now that you know how to write a script, you can develop a process that works for you as an individual. Here are some ideas on how to work through a scriptwriting process from beginning to end.
- Jot down the message you want your commercial to convey.
- Write out your entire commercial idea in one sentence.
- Picture the commercial and record what you see and hear. Following the formatting above, put the video descriptions in the left column and dialogue, music cues and sound effects on the right.
- Re-read what you wrote in steps 1 and 2 then read through your script with these in mind. Did you convey the original message and idea? Does the dialogue sound natural? You won’t get it perfect on your first draft, so, like we all do, it’s time to re-write.
- When you are happy with your draft share it with trusted friends or colleagues. Was there anything confusing or that they did not understand? Ask them what message you were trying to convey? If you’ve done it right they should get pretty close to your message from step 1.
- Repeat steps 3 – 5 until you are happy with the finished script.
Congratulations! With a great idea and good preparation, you’ve finished your first script. Using a new understanding of content and format, you’ve built a business plan for your commercial.
This plan will help guide you and your crew through the shoot. Following this process, your completed video ad can stand toe to toe with the professionals.