Improvisation doesn’t lead to good videos. Filmmaking is a craft that requires far too much forethought for the entire process to be made up on the spot during filming day. Certainly, there are many good moments in both films and short videos where the actors’ dialogue is improvised to impressive effect, but even these unplanned moments have to occur within a set structure. That’s just how it goes, or everything will fall apart.
The structure of most videos come down to the script. More often we hear the specific phrase ‘screenplay’, but depending on the length and type of the video that is being filmed, the script can be much simpler or more complex. This will also cover some basic info on story boards.
The Script Should Fit the Video
There are rules for structuring a screenplay but they absolutely don’t matter if we don’t want them to. If we’re filming a short that contains absolutely no dialogue and is action-oriented, then we can ditch the standard script layout. The standard layout is something akin to a script for a play, very intense on lines and potentially some notes about movements.
For a short that focuses on nothing but action, a simple plan can be written up to give us a clear idea of what to expect. Not only will this keep the filming day(s) moving smoothly, it will give the video editor an invaluable tool later on.
With any video that has a lot of action planned out, it’s always worthwhile to draw out a few short storyboards. These are short panels, similar to a comic strip, where specific parts of scenes are shown from the camera’s point of view. They don’t have to be very detailed, and there doesn’t have to be very many. Without a dedicated person or team for story boards, they can end up as last-minute sketches for only a few select moments in the video, but they are always worthwhile.
Director’s Script: Number Your Cuts
No matter the chosen format and complexity of the script, the biggest recommendation I have is to number your cuts. Even if the video doesn’t have a ton of action, and the idea of storyboards is a waste of time, numbering your cuts throughout the script helps keep everything ordered nicely.
- Numbering helps massively with editing
- Numbering gives the director a sense of how long the video will be before filming
- Numbering makes it very difficult to miss a shot by accident
- Numbering can very easily be the link between script and shot list
If the video in question involves just a handful of people, it’s probably possible to get away with having a single script. Otherwise, for longer projects especially, everyone involved will need a copy. The director, cinematographer, and anyone else involved behind the camera should get a copy with numbered cuts, while the actors don’t need such distractions mixed in with their lines.
Some people prefer to have separated lines throughout the layout of the script for each cut, but personally I just throw my numbers in the middle of everything and make sure that they stand out.
Typically with numbered cuts comes the shot list. This is more variable than numbering our cuts, as depending on the nature of the video the script might describe each cut well enough on its own. Basically the shot list is a companion script tied into the numbered cuts. A shot list is a numbered listing of all the cuts in the video, with a brief explanation for each one. It doesn’t need to be excessively detailed, but rather simply highlight the filming style for each cut and any extra information that is needed.
Make a Filming Code
To save time with writing and reading our shot list, a shorthand filming code comes in handy. Most people come down to filming their own style of cuts, regardless of the video. This can come down to each line of the shot list becoming ‘still tripod close shot of (subject)’, or it can be cut down to something much simpler. I have an index card on my desk with the translation for my own filming code, which is just a short collection of letters that stand for full words. It makes my shot lists a jumbled mess to anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, but it clears up space and saves time.
These are just a few tools that I find useful in my own scripts. None are required, although I cannot stress enough how helpful numbered cuts are along with a shot list. In the end, the script should fit the video.