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People come to my workshops all the time looking for help with scriptwriting. Often they are videographers and editors who are tasked with managing the entire creative process, from concept through delivery. The classic “one man/woman band”. If that person is you, or you manage that person, this blog post is for you. (Note: If you have hired a pro scriptwriter to work with your team, then you will only need to brainstorm steps 1 and 2, and then share feedback on revisions through the production process.)

  1. Start With Outcomes, Not the Shoot. Don’t worry, it’s a pretty common experience. Folks rush out to shoot some footage, and only later try to figure out how to piece that footage into a story. But unless you are a news crew, this is not the best workflow. Start instead with your Outcomes—what is it that this video should accomplish? Choose not more than three. And ideally just one main outcome. And be as specific as possible. For example, “Our top outcome from this video is to increase sign-ups for our next conference.” That’s pretty good. But even more specific is “Our top outcome from this video is more sign-ups among 35-50 year-olds for our next conference.” That outcome will drive your creative process, including the key elements of your story arc.
  2. Develop a Creative Vision. What’s the look of your piece going to be? What’s the editing style? What kind of music? Is there a graphical theme? Color scheme? Can you link to some videos that have a similar vibe to what you want? (And how much did those cost? Remember that big brand ad campaigns may look deceivingly simple, but actually use complex production techniques or post-production skill sets.) Your creative vision can be represented by a few simple frames on a Powerpoint. Or you can use tools like Storyboarder Plot or the more high-powered Frameforge. But don’t forget that even a crappy sketch can help everyone on the team visualize the look. A tool I’ve just started using for mood boards is Milanote. You can include all the elements discussed in your kick-off meetings, color swatches, fonts, deliverables lists, even links to inspiration videos.

    Milanote project board

  3. Write an Outline. If you have an interview-based production, then whenever possible conduct pre-interviews. I can’t tell you how many people come to me talking about scrubbing through footage looking for soundbites, which is a big waste of time. If you’ve pre-interviewed folks, then you already have a sense of who your primary characters and who your supporting characters will be. You can outline your story, which will help you construct your interview questions (more on that in a future blog post). You will want to consider what the peak of the story arc will be—what is the main heart or turning point of this story? Whether you are talking about a new piece of software or the mission of a nonprofit, you will still need a peak to the story that makes people want to keep watching. The other pieces then fall into place: the backstory or introduction, the resolution and the conclusion or call to action. This doesn’t mean the entire production can’t evolve organically. But if you have a plan for the story arc before you start shooting, you are more likely to shoot the b-roll shots and cutaways you need to cover the story.
  4. Make a B-Roll List. It’s amazing how many video shoots go forward without this simple tool. Make a list of all the shots you might need to bring your story to life. For reality-based stories, consider little moments—I call them “interstitials”—that can help you transition between scenes, but also deliver some important content. For example, if you are interviewing a young mom and dad, shoot a montage of baby bottles and toys. For a business owner, that might be a tracking shot of awards on her office wall. Once you’ve written your outline, dropped in your potential soundbites and b-roll–well, now you’ve written your shooting script!
  5. Get Interviews Transcribed. Once your shoot is over, you have one more step. Going to my earlier point about wasting time scrubbing through footage, you’ll save yourself enormous time and aggravation if you get transcriptions made of all your interviews, and even some b-roll sound if it is important to the story. You can get transcripts back in a day or two using automated services like https://www.speechmatics.com/ , semi-automated systems like https://www.rev.com/ , or human experts like Noble Transcriptions. For $1-2/minute, you’ll have accuracy not provided by the YouTube automated tool, and you can use the transcripts for all kinds of content—pulling quotes for your website and social posts, SEO keywords, and making revisions in the future.
  6. Cut a Paper Script Before Editing. I know, this seems like wasting time. Why not get right to editing? The fact is, if it doesn’t work on paper, it won’t work on the screen. So take a stab at sequencing your soundbites, figuring out what music cuts fit where, and which b-roll or stock images might best support your scenes. This, in fact, is your editing script. Once you build your story arc on paper, then you can hit the edit room. If you are using AVID, you have a built-in tool called ScriptSync that lets you import all your transcripts and conform your edit. Here’s a handy blog post on how that works. In FinalCutPro, you have the built-in tool Lumberjack, which lets you live log on your shoot and tag soundbites in the field, and also set up your top soundbites for editing. For those working in Premiere Pro, the plug-in Transcriptives from Digital Anarchy is a great way to go to simplify the soundbite-tagging-to-editing process. And all three of these systems allow you to speed up your captioning and subtitling workflow.
  7. Make a Final “As Aired” Version. I can’t tell you how often my team goes back to these “final” scripts as we make new versions of our videos. And since we also have all our original interview transcripts, it’s easy to swap out bites if we need to. Always be sure you have a PDF of your final version saved with your editing project files as well as in your desktop files.

Scriptwriting may seem daunting if you didn’t start your career as a writer. But by putting your creative on paper, and then working through soundbites and visual options before hopping into your edit, you’ll be more likely to deliver on stated outcomes. And that will make a stronger ROI for your company’s video investment.

For more nitty gritty tips and tools for video scripting, try my LinkedIn Learning course http://bit.ly/HowtoScript

AmyDirectsTalentSo you want to make a video for your company or nonprofit. You may want to capture a particular event or person on camera. But what’s next? Actually, a lot comes first, before the shoot ever happens. Let’s break it down into all the steps that go into production. Then you can decide which parts you want to manage yourself. And you’ll understand the workflow if you decide you want to team up with a Producer or Production Company to help you.

Step 1. Define the Goal. Wasn’t it Yogi Berra who famously said “if you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t get there”? So knowing what you want to shoot is great, but if you don’t know WHY, and what kind of outcome you want for your production, you might miss your mark. Do people need to learn a key skill from this video? Do they need to get motivated to take action on a social or political cause? Do they need to feel good about their new company? Buy something? Attend your big event? Knowing your goal here is essential to how you design the video, but also how you measure success afterwards.

Step 2. Define the Audience. Success will rely partly on knowing your target audience. And please don’t say “everyone.” Have you noticed how many cable channels there are? And how about YouTube channels? We don’t live in a one size fits all world. Take advantage of that, and determine who you want to reach—age, demographics, viewing habits, and what information they bring to your subject matter. You might end up shooting 3 different versions of your show for those different audience segments.

Step 3. Consider the Viewing Environment. Are folks going to watch this video on their laptops? In a busy office environment? At a training session? At a purchase counter? On a noisy trade show floor? Gathered together with thousands of other activists for your cause? The viewing environment—the “envelope” as I like to call it—matters a lot. It helps determine length, emotional content, style, sound design, and many other factors. In addition to thinking about where people will view your video, this step is vital in determining your output specs. And output specs will influence your shooting specs. If I know something needs to be very high quality, on a big screen, I might shoot it in 4K or higher. If it could air on broadcast, we need to shoot interlace. If it will never be seen on anything other than the web, I might acquire footage in 1080p. All of these decisions need to be made up front by you, typically with the Director and Producer, in consultation with the Editor.

Step 4. Hire the Production Team. Pulling together the right team—for writing, directing, shooting, sound, editing, graphics design, sound design—is a key step. You might decide to do all of this coordination and management work yourself, or hire and direct a crew and editor you’ve worked with before. Or you may hire a Video Producer. She has a rolodex of folks she’s worked with, or perhaps a production company, who work as a team every day.

Step 5. Define Creative Concept and Budget. OK, Now that you know Why, Who and Where, you can start thinking about How and How Much. How will you best connect with this audience? Does this need to be fast-paced? Funny? Dramatic? Documentary style? Will the end product need to be less than 90 seconds long, for web viewing? Can it be longer–more like a brief news package (2-3 mins)—for group viewing? You’ll want to develop a creative treatment and maybe a few storyboards, so you have a sense of how things will look, and how much they will cost. You’ll also need these documents for internal approvals before moving forward with production. Here’s where a Scriptwriter and Creative Director can be helpful to your project. They have loads of experience developing concepts that are creative, but also achievable. Cost drivers will include schedule (is this a rush project?), how many shooting and editing days, and complexity of the concept.

So how about cost? People used to define video budgets in terms of “cost per finished minute.” I think it’s more useful to consider cost-per-impression. If your video costs $10,000 and reaches 20,000 people live and online, that’s 50 cents per impression. If those people go out and raise $4 million for your cause because the video helped inspire them, that’s a pretty cost-effective outcome. If your video costs $40,000 and reaches 2,500 people worldwide in online training sessions, that’s a cost of $16 per person. If you would normally spend $150 per person to send trainers to multiple locations, then you have saved yourself a bundle. So you need to know from Step 1 what the goal is, and whether this cost is justified. There is also a direct relationship between cost and quality, there’s no getting around that. Some situations do not merit a full-scale production. You may be able to get away with recording someone with an iPhone. That’s another cost-benefit analysis you need to make when weighing your options.

Step 6. Plan the Shoot. The shoot takes 10% of the time spent a given production, but it’s the part everyone thinks about most. Typically, the Director will work with the Producer and the Writer to develop a shot list. These could be very scripted scenes, or more documentary style “we hope to get this” kind of scenes. If it’s the latter type of shoot, be aware that you won’t get everything you dreamed of. But you might get some cool stuff you didn’t even imagine. If you think you might need footage for multiple platforms or purposes, it’s a good idea to bake this into your shoot plan and schedule. It will take more time and money, but save substantially on the back end.

Step 7. Tag and Digitize Footage. This step is usually done by the Producer with the Editor. It’s a time-consuming but vital process for reviewing, prioritizing and organizing all your content–footage, photographs, logos, audio, music–in a digital Nonlinear Editing System so that you can use it now and in the future. Make sure the tags are something that would make sense to someone not intimately involved in the project. So don’t label a shot “MS w JJ.” Label it “Marilyn Smith CEO _ Jarvis Jackson CFO”.

Step 8. Editing. Footage editing typically goes through several rounds. The first round—the rough-cut—might be done with only temporary or “scratch” VO and music. Later rounds will include professionally recorded voiceover, if that’s the style of piece you’ve planned, plus music that the Producer needs to license for your specific usage. Even stock music has a license, and YouTube will pull your video down if you can’t demonstrate that you have it. I tend to go through about 4 rounds of edit drafts: a rough cut for only internal folks to comment on, a finer rough cut for their bosses or decision makers to comment on, and then two rounds of final refinements for graphics, audio, narration and music. A sub-step of editing is graphics—whether simple text or more complex animation. If you have a million shots from various sources, you’re also going to need a color-correction step so it looks like a unified piece. The same goes for audio—an audio mixing session will help even out interviews or other audio from multiple sources.

Step 9. Compressions. In the world we live in, there are many platforms and many output specs. Hopefully you already figured out what you needed in Step 3.  My clients usually need several different compressions for projects—one version for Vimeo, another for YouTube, and another for a live event projection system.

Step 10. Future Proofing. Be sure you archive all your edit media—you’d be surprised how often you’ll need to go back for shots and use them in another production. Back up your project files. And be sure you also output one master file, at the highest possible resolution such as ProRes 4444, as well as a version with separated audio tracks, so that you can always go back in and reversion as needed in the future.