Welcome to the final instalment of our promotional video mini-series. We’ve covered everything from the equipment and practicalities of shooting and sharing promos, to gaining market share and taking 9 lessons from a master. But this week we’re going right the way back to the beginning of the process – scriptwriting.
Long, long before there are any lights, cameras and action, there needs to be a script. This is as true in the video marketing world as it is in Hollywood – despite what some over-eager fans may want to tell us about their favourite actors’ on-set improvisations.
While it is of course true that some of the best (and probably worst) dramatic artists in the movie industry have made their names by ‘bringing their own experiences’ to the script by adding, altering and deleting lines as they go along, this is, once again, a process that happens long, long before the cameras are rolling and the director calls ‘Action!’.
Indeed, it is actually during the rehearsal processes that any improvisations and indeed rewrites of the script take place, as legendary screenwriter Paul Schrader points out very clearly in Elena Oumano’s Cinema Today: A Conversation With Thirty-nine Filmmakers From Around The World:
“The script always changes. It changes during pre-production, especially during rehearsals, so you leave yourself a few hours every day during rehearsals to do rewrites. The whole script gets rewritten before production because there is little improvisation in movies. What people tend to think of as improvisation actually happens during rehearsals.”
Now, admittedly, when you come to start making your promotional video, the process won’t be as long, complicated and expensive as making a feature-length Hollywood movie. Nor indeed are you likely to have one of the greatest scriptwriters American cinema has ever produced working for you – but that doesn’t mean that your film’s creation should be taken any less seriously.
Begin At The Beginning
The idea of making your very own promotional video will probably seem like great fun – and it is! But where a lot of first-timers go wrong is in thinking that all they need to do is hit the lights, roll the camera, and let the action unfold. This sort of ‘improvised’ approach very rarely works, and the lack of planning, structure and concept nearly always shines through in the end.
Take a look at this little beauty from USA Water Polo for example:
I think I speak for us all when I say (in an aptly flat monotone), Yowza.
Obviously no script was written for this promotional video, and we can also be pretty certain that it wasn’t rehearsed either. In fact, it almost seems like the narrator hadn’t even visited the site before.
The key advice from this promo:
“Um, and you can just go online to look at all this stuff.”
Which is only rivalled by:
“Um. Looks like you can even buy a DVD – ‘s kinda cool.”
I say again – Yowza.
Top 5 Tips For Scripting Promotional Videos That Convert
Ok, so the USA Water Polo promo is a rather extreme example, and I’m sure that you would never be so careless as to actually post something so excruciating live on the internet yourself. But it does highlight how bad things can actually be if you don’t script your videos. Sure, writing for some people may not be as fun and exciting as choosing the soundtrack or shooting the visuals – but a well-written script is absolutely vital to your promo’s success, and I refer you to our previous post ‘9 Elements Of A Great Promotional Video’ for a brilliant example.
So let’s now get stuck in with 5 great screenwriting tips for scripting promotional videos that convert.
#1. Your Creative Brief
Before you even start drafting, you need to create a starter document that you will be able to use as a checklist as you write your script. The best way to do this is to write a list of questions and then answer them succinctly. Once you’re happy you’ve got your answers, you can then refer to this list at any point of the filmmaking process to make sure you’re hitting every single point.
The questions may include:
- What’s the 20-second elevator pitch?
- Who is the target audience?
- What tone am I trying to strike?
- What visual style am I aspiring to? Find 5 comparable examples.
- What specific problem does my product solve?
- What are the main benefits of my product? List the top 3.
- How do viewers sign up/make a purchase?
- What’s the call to action?
- What’s the tagline?
#2. Your First Draft
Now you’ve got your list of points to hit, you need to write the first draft of your script. And when you do, keep this very fact in mind: This is my first draft.
First drafts are great. They are where all of your ideas are going to find a home. Just write everything down that you think you want to include – and I do mean everything. First drafts are essential to the process of writing – so long as you don’t try and write the perfect script first time.
Perfecting a script is a process. No one – not even Paul Schrader – gets everything right the first time pen gets put to paper. But the important thing is to get all of your ideas down in a drafted script. For some of these ideas, this will be the end of the line – they seemed good in your head, but on paper they expose themselves as clangers. Others will undergo a transformation and will end up in the second draft. And still more might even be absolutely spot on and will end up being shot just as you originally wrote them – but don’t be disappointed if your whole first draft doesn’t brim with these golden nuggets of inspiration. That’s what first drafts are for.
#3. Refine Your Idea And Draft Again
With your first draft you took all the ideas that were buzzing around your head and vomited them all over a piece of paper. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the result isn’t quite as appetising as you first thought. All that humour that you believed was appropriate actually isn’t – in fact it’s not even that funny. Your 20-second elevator pitch is more like 120 seconds, and you can only list 2 benefits of your product.
All of this is absolutely fine. In fact it’s expected, and the more you create videos, the more you will learn this.
What’s important now is that you move onto writing your next draft, this time cutting the fat and tenderising the lean. Try and focus on a structure that looks something like this:
- The problem – Address the pain your customers are having (0:00-0:20)
- The solution – Introduce your product or service as the answer (0:20-0:25)
- How it works – Briefly describe how it works or how to get started (0:25-0:50)
- A call to action – Tell people what to do next (0:50-0:60)
At this refining stage, there are some things that you need to bear in mind:
- Keep it short and simple. 150-200 words maximum is the optimum length for a promo video. It can’t be too long, as you’ll lose your users. In fact, when it comes to online advertising, the shorter you can make your video the better.
- Focus on benefits, not features. Benefits matter to consumers, not features. You might argue that these are one and the same thing. Be that as it may, you need to word your script so that it’s the benefits that are emphasised, not all the technical lingo that only professionals will understand.
- Remember to entertain. Video needs to be engaging, which means that you need to make your audience smile. People love to be entertained, so include a surprise, some humour, or something completely out of the ordinary – just grab our attention emotionally.
- Set the tone with music. Just like visuals, music can tell a story in itself and evoke all types of emotions. The wrong music can put people off – the right music can literally convert all on its own. So, when you’re scripting, think about the type of music that you think would best bring your product to life, and then try and match that with the words that you write.
#4. Repeat Stages 2 and 3 Again (and Again!)
Your first draft isn’t set in stone, and neither is your second or third draft. And, just as you shouldn’t expect your first efforts to be perfect, neither should you your second or third.
Writing is a process, no matter what the medium. What you’re aiming for in your finished script is a blueprint of exactly how your video is going to look, feel, sound, convince and convert. And it will pay to refine it as much as possible right up to the moment you shout ‘Action!’.
#5. Rehearse And Refine Some More
Mr Schrader gave us some great insight and great advice at the top of this post, and now we need to take heed of it. Even when you think you’ve got your final version of the script absolutely nailed, you’re not going to know what it looks like until, naturally enough, you’ve seen it in action.
So, rehearse your script with all of your actors – and not just the once, but over and over and over. The point of the repetition is firstly so that everyone involved can feel comfortable with the script, and hopefully get it memorised. But also because it will encourage your ‘actors’ (I place the word in inverted commas because it’s quite likely that your ‘actors’ will in fact be your colleagues who may not have treaded the boards since the Christmas play at primary school’) to start to improvise, and that’s when magical moments may start being created.
Improvisation doesn’t happen when the cameras are rolling, they happen in dress rehearsals, which indeed can become rather boring if you’re all going over the same stuff again and again and again and again. Out of this boredom, the mischievous side of human nature emerges, and all of a sudden Jerry from IT is reading his lines in a different accent, Monica from upstairs is trying out some interesting new body language during her silent scenes, and all of a sudden your script has got whole new life to it that it didn’t have before.
So, anything that works needs to get written down in the script, and then rehearsed again and again. Only then is it time to shout ‘Action!’
Got any more great tips on scriptwriting promos? Let us know in the comments below.