Put It on Paper First

Putit0Is it a dream or a nightmare? You finally have it made-full production facilities for your project.

The crew is looking at you expectantly, the talent is standing around waiting for direction, and behind you is a producer looking at all these expensive people and demanding to know what you are going to do. This is no time to be considering your alternatives.

Perhaps your vision is less grand. You turn on your camcorder in a room full of tenth-reunion college chums and realize that you have no idea what you should shoot.

Whether you're a professional working against a fast-running meter or you make video for fun, everything goes a lot easier when you figure out what you're going to do ahead of time. The two best tools for this are the script and the storyboard. It's true, some people can make videos with only a few notes written on the back of an envelope; but the more detail you have, the faster and easier production will go.

There are good reasons why success­ful videographers use these tools. First, they help you to organize and clarify your thoughts. Then they allow you to transmit your ideas to the other people who will be involved with the production. If you're going to edit in-camera, you'll know exactly what to shoot and how much. Finally, when you're on the set and everybody is looking at you, it allows you to take charge and look good.

A good script describes everything that the viewer will see and hear in the order it will be seen and heard. A script consists of words; videos consist of pictures. To visu­alize what they will shoot, many people use a storyboard. A storyboard consists of a picture that shows what the camera will see along with words that describe the shot.
Putit1Types of Scripts

The script is the primary document that the videographer uses to create all the video and audio raw material and keep it organi­zed. This last point is important, since it is sometimes not possible to shoot a video in the order in which the viewer will see it. For instance, it is easier to shoot every­thing that takes place in one location at the same time. You then put all the shots in their proper sequence when you edit­again, using the script to help you keep everything straight.

For our purposes, we can break videos down into two general categories: dra­matic and informational. The purposes and techniques of each are different, and so are the script formats that have been developed for them. See the accompany­ing sample scripts for a look at how these simple rules can help you create effective documents.

The Dramatic Video

Dramatic videos are stories told by action and dialog for the audience's entertain­ment, such as feature films and television shows. The film format script is preferred in Hollywood for dramatic film and tele­vision productions. In this format, the writer sets the location of each scene, describes the actions and interactions that take place, and writes out the dialog. This kind of script does not indicate individual camera shots or moves. The basic format is as follows:

* Type scene descriptions, camera direc­tions, stage directions, etc. from margin to margin.

* Place dialog and narration in a three­inch wide column down the center of the page.

* Type the name of the speaker in all­caps and center it just above his or her speech. Place delivery instructions in parentheses, on a separate line, and indented within the column of the speech.

* Single-space material such as: dialog, scene descriptions, camera directions and stage directions.

* Separate blocks of material with a blank line between. For example, separate:

* Lines by different characters.

* Dialog and scene descriptions or stage directions.

* Location information and scene descriptions.

* Adjacent shot descriptions.

* Transitions (such as "DISSOLVE TO").

* Type everything in upper and lower case except the following, which are all-caps:
   **Location descriptions.
   **Camera directions.
   **Characters' names (when indicating their lines and the first time they appear in scene descriptions).

The Informational Video

Documentaries and other informational videos, such as the college reunion memo­rial, consist of scenes that may or may not include actors. Such shows usually have little or no dialog and often have a voice-over narration. The camcorder documentarian frequently performs dou­ble duty as the narrator. The two-column video format script serves the informa­tional video production. The left (video) column contains descriptions of the shots and the right (audio) column contains the words spoken by actors or narrator as well as descriptions of music and sound effects.

While you can use it for dramatic mate­rial, this format is especially well adapted for videos and television shows that con­sist of a variety of shots with narration overlaid. It's easy to see the relationship of words and pictures; the words come at the same time that you see the pictures that are immediately to their left. Create this format as follows:

* Place video descriptions in the left col­umn, single-spaced.

* Place accompanying audio descriptions in the right column, double-spaced.

* Type video descriptions and spoken lines in upper- and lower-case.

* Type the following in all-caps:
**Location descriptions.
   **Camera directions (i.e., PAN, ZOOM).
   **Music and sound effects.
   **Type the speaker identification in all­caps and underline. Place directions for delivery in parentheses.

There is one other script format that you may want to consider. The corporate tele­play format combines elements of the two preceding formats. Most of the script is written in film format, but any off-screen narration goes into a narrow column on the right side of the page.


PutIt2To visualize scenes, you might consider making a storyboard in which a drawing of the expected visual represents each shot. Written remarks amplify the draw­ings: dialog or narration, camera moves and so forth. The storyboard helps make it cheaper and easier to solve your visual problems on paper before you ever break out the camera.

Some storyboards are works of art in themselves, with beautiful watercolor or computer-art pictures. But this is not neces­sary (unless you have an ample budget or budding artist in the family). Simple sketches with stick figures or nose-on­an-egg faces are fine. Feel free to include arrows to indicate movement. A long pan may consist of two pictures, showing the beginning and end of the pan, with an arrow connecting them, showing the direc­tion of the pan.

Since each shot requires one or more drawings, you don't usually see storyboards for long projects. They are common in the development of high-end commercials but are too time-consuming and expensive for lengthy productions. However, you might want to use a few storyboard scenes to work out something that is difficult to envision or to explain to another crew member.

The time you spend creating a script or a storyboard is recaptured when you're under the pressure of shooting. You have already solved your creative problems and can con­centrate on technical details. So next time you're on the set or at an event and every­body is looking to you to tell them what will happen next, you can whip out your trusty script or storyboard and take charge.