The toughest two minutes of your life
From DIY explainer clips to Oscar-worthy ads, video can captivate audiences and transform fortunes. Our straightforward guide gets you started on your winning script.
Video can do a lot of things in a very short space of time:
Explain a product
Tell a story
Announce some news
Create an emotional connection
But it can also flop. You’ve probably seen countless corporate clips that failed to grab your attention. Most likely they have about 23 views on YouTube. And chances are you forgot what it was about the second you closed it. Take a look at this car crash of a recruitment video:
And that was from a $37,400 contract with an ad agency! One of the main reasons videos like this fail is because of their script – it’s nothing to do with production budget. To give yours a real chance of success, there are just a few simple steps you need to go through. Step 1: Start with something to say
You need to really understand your product if your video is going to work. If you’re not 100% sure what you’re trying to achieve, go back to the drawing board and start again. This Volvo advert is longer than we’d usually recommend, but it’s extremely powerful. It’s worth watching all the way through! Volvo know that probably the biggest selling point of their cars is safety. All three minutes of the video are building up to one key moment that delivers the simple message about automatic braking. Try answering some basic questions to see if you’re ready to begin your script:
Who are we doing this for?
What are we talking about?
Why are we talking about it?
How can people act on what we’ve told them?
If you could quickly answer these without too much effort, move on to step 2. Step 2: Create the big idea
Your video needs a concept. Otherwise it’s just a collection of noises and moving pictures. The idea doesn’t need to be groundbreaking. You’re probably not going to be in the same league as Ridley Scott’s Hovis advert. The central theme could be as simple as a phrase, like “why not?”, or a cheesy visual metaphor, like a big fish swimming around a small pond. Zendesk’s idea is simple but really effective. They’ve used an old couple as a metaphor for a business/client relationship. The video is engaging, touching, and funny – but imagine how boring it could have been without this great idea. Whatever you come up with, a theme will help you focus the script and create a sense of narrative. Step 3: Pare it down to a minimum
If you start with the real basics, your video will be easy to understand and much more powerful. Don’t try to cram in everything you can think of – try to say as little as possible. The CEO of Dollar Shave Club and the video director stripped down their script as much as possible to get straight to the point: it’s a subscription service for cheap, simple razors. The jokes came later, but they never lost sight of the central message. Step 4: Start writing
Begin your draft script. Keep it simple at this stage, and don’t worry too much about editing or nifty effects. Just try to get some thoughts down on the page. When you run out of steam, you can start editing it into a useable format. Scripts usually stick to a standard template, but it’s more important to make it easy to read for the actors or narrator. Make sure each separate piece of text is on a new line, and make it obvious who is speaking, when. If your dialogue is as complicated as this Tripp and Tyler/Zoom video, the clearer you can make it, the better. Step 5: Voiceovers, titles, overlays
Once you’ve got a rough draft, but before it becomes a fully fledged script, work out where each point is most effective – in dialogue, narration, titles, images, or sound. And try not to duplicate content across those different elements.* The narrator doesn’t need to describe something people can see for themselves on screen. Titles can emphasise important words, but don’t need to repeat the audio exactly. The RSA animate series of videos shows how visuals can pick out key moments in a script without repeating too much. In this case, the lecture was already recorded. Your script will (hopefully) have less talking, so you can make the words and images work even better together. *Accessibility features like captions are different. Check https://www.w3.org/ for advice. Step 5: Add the missing touches
Once you’ve created your basic script, you can start to add in more detail or embellishments at the right points. This Slack video has a simple structure – it just charts the progress of one company starting to use the product. But there are lots of finishing touches that make it much more effective:
A b-roll shot of the utility closet meeting adds some humour to help explain the challenge Slack solves
An interviewee mentions integrations while the logos of apps like Hangouts and Jira slide across the screen, making them stand out
Lots of shots feature message bubbles popping up, showing the product actively being used
New “characters” are introduced by name (like in a documentary), making the story more authentic
The finished video packs a lot in, but the embellishments never detract from the story. Step 6: Read it all out Read your script at different speeds, and perhaps even in different voices. Act it out if you can get everyone together at an early stage. You’ll be surprised how often something pops up that you didn’t notice before. Production costs can quickly build up, so don’t waste your budget on avoidable mistakes. Step 7: (probably) Cut more out Chances are your video is too long or too boring. Despite going through step 3, you’ve probably added in a load more content you don’t really need.
Be ruthless with your copy. Try to get it down to one or two sides of A4. Timing wise, if it’s more than two minutes, you’re going to need a damn good story. Start filming! By now, you should be in a good place to begin. Even if your production team is an intern with an iPhone, your carefully crafted script means your video will be clear and compelling. It probably won’t go viral but it will do the job you need it to do. There’s always next year for the Oscars… And just in case you haven’t had enough screen time, we’ll leave you with a great example of some corporate clichés to avoid: