I’ve always felt that the script is the crucial foundation of any video, the four legs upon which the whole production stands. So if you’re thinking about creating a video for your nonprofit or organization, how do you develop a good script? Writing has always been somewhat of an unsung art, especially in an increasingly visual culture. But good writing, even for highly visual media, is more important than ever. It can make the difference between a video that’s beautiful but directionless (and therefore quickly forgotten), and a video that’s beautiful and effective.
Over at Planet Nutshell, we actually don’t let clients write their own scripts and submit them to us for production. We feel that scriptwriting is the most important thing a client hires us for. Of course, we work closely with clients to research and conceptualize those scripts. But we strongly believe in making the whole enchilada, from script to production.
Whether your organization is producing a video in-house or hiring someone to do it, you should know how to identify a good script, and how to coax one out of your team or contractor.
In a nutshell, it’s all about narrative structure. Stories — all memorable and effective stories at least — have a beginning, middle, and end. So what does that mean for a short video about your nonprofit or organization?
How to Begin
In many cases, a good beginning starts with a problem, something that needs solving. This creates tension: How will this problem be solved? Often, a good beginning also hints at the solution, but doesn’t fully describe it. This motivates people to keep watching to see how the resolution will arrive. The best beginnings summarize the stakes — perhaps with statistics or facts, suggest there’s a solution, and provide an introduction to the next phase of the story.
How to Middle
A lot of scripts get in trouble in the middle. It’s easy to get off track here, especially when you need to compress an issue into two minutes or less. The middle of a good story is about development. Say you’re creating a video about hunger in America. In the middle of this story, you could zoom in on specific families, specific experiences that develop the problem of hunger. Storytelling is often about helping viewers empathize with the experiences of others. But you have to keep things in check. A good rule of thumb here is to follow the rule of threes — identify three things to zoom in on.
For example, in the case of a story about hunger you might zoom in on the difficulty a hungry child has paying attention in class, health-related and developmental problems for the child, and the problems the mother faces when seeking food assistance. People respond to concrete details, but you have to limit them in number. That’s why the rule of threes can help you focus.
How to End
Endings are about resolution of tension. They’re about solutions, and in the case of your nonprofit, they’re likely about involving viewers in the solution. In our hunger awareness example, the viewer should discover how the nonprofit is working to change and improve the conditions you’ve outlined in the middle of the video. An ending addresses every one of the problems you’ve developed, and then pivots towards inviting the viewer to become involved, whether through direct action or donation on the part of the viewer.
Understanding what makes a good script is the first, and perhaps most important, step to understanding what makes an effective video. That’s important to know before you kick things off on your next video project.
Of course, what I’ve outlined here are just some basic guidelines that I’ve adopted over the years. Rules are made to be broken!
I invite you to submit videos for good that you think are really effective. Let’s discuss them!