I won’t be wrong if I say that screenwriting is the most important part of pre-production.
It doesn’t matter how small your video production is; without a planned and written script, there’s a chance of your project getting chaotic in its production stage.
Filmmaking is an art that can be perfected by practice and learning. There are numerous filmmaking and screenwriting courses on Udemy and Coursera available nowadays or you can learn it through film schools and university programs.
Similarly, screenwriting is also an art that plays the principal role in the imagination of a film or any kind of video.
Screenwriting, as the name suggests, is the process of writing about the events on a screen. It differs in many ways from writing a novel.
Some writers do prefer the same software tools for writing novels and movie scripts though.
In this article, you will get a fair idea about what screenwriting is and how to successfully write an acceptable video script for a TV or a YouTube commercial.
You will also come across the various elements of storytelling that make up the screenwriting process.
As a screenwriter, I have written several scripts for video commercials, and here I present you an ad I have written, as an example to help you understand better.
Before we move further, let’s quickly take a look at the significant points that sum up this entire article.
Things you will learn in the article:
- What is a Script or a Screenplay?
- Five Reasons to Write Scripts Before Filming
- Four Important Steps While Writing
- How to Write a TV or a video (YouTube) Commercial
- An Example of a TV Commercial Script
- Analyzing a Famous TV Commercial
- 3 Best Screenwriting Software Tools
1. What is a Script or a Screenplay?
Before initiating the vast discussion on scripts and screenplays, let us dive into the dictionary meaning and difference between a script and a screenplay.
In the literary world, a “Script” is a written text of a play, film, broadcast or speech. In the practical world, it has a broader meaning.
A diverse range of methods is used for the formatting of a script. The indentations and font styles differ in many ways from that of a screenplay. A script can be anything from a just text document for a voice-over to an entire film typed out in detail.
A “Screenplay” is the text for a film, which includes the words to be spoken by the actors, instructions for the cameraperson, and director’s notes. A simple way to define a screenplay is a “script with many additions to it”.
A screenplay always follows a specific format that is universal in nature. It is adapted for movies and television.
To sum up, a screenplay is always a script, but a script is not always a screenplay. It is a writer’s liberty to call it a script or a screenplay. Many prefer the word script for commercials or advertisements & screenplay for movies.
A TV Commercial script is also known as a “Spec”.
And let me tell you that screenwriting books don’t cover the format for writing a commercial.
5 Reasons to Write Scripts Before Filming a TV or a YouTube Commercial
The filming process can get seriously chaotic if one doesn’t have a chronological listing of the scenes and shots.
A properly written document makes it easier for an entire film crew to set up scenes and shots hassle-free.
If you think of a nice concept for an ad, it’s always a good practice to quickly jot down that idea using a note taking app.
Here are 5 important reasons to write scripts before filming.
1. It makes Directing Easier
When you put your thoughts on paper very clearly, you create a documented timeline of the video.
This helps you to imagine each scene before you begin shooting the video. This further helps when you edit the different takes.
2. Better Production Management
The production team will know beforehand what camera needs to be placed where for a particular scene.
Whether it is a close-up or an extreme long shot, the production team will have the made set up as the director arrives.
If the video has an aerial shot, and the script mentions the words “Aerial Shot”, then the production team will be ready with a drone camera to capture that shot.
3. Safety Measures
If the script demands the actors and cameras to be underwater for some shots, the producer and director will be responsible for arranging paramedics at the set for emergency purposes.
The actors are well prepared mentally before reaching the location. This is understood if the script is well written with all these camera angles.
4. Budget Allocation
When a script goes to a producer, the first thing that comes to mind is the money that will be required to make the commercial.
If the script does not have locations and camera angles, the producer won’t be able to determine the total cost involved in shooting it.
Remember, he also has to pay the cast involved in it and decide the shoot budget.
5. Saves Time While Editing
The different takes go to the editor, along with the script. It’s easier for the editor to put together various shots if the script is in front of him/her.
After going through various takes of the same scene, a script makes it easier to select a perfect shot out of them and add effects to it further.
However, as I said earlier, there is an official format for writing TV commercials, and it is followed worldwide. From a 15-second commercial to a 5-minute product launch advertisement, it’s all scripted right down in detail.
So, let’s dive deeper into the basics of scripting a commercial.
Four Important Points Before Starting to Write a TV or a YouTube Commercial
Using the right tools for filming and the words in the advertisement, attract an audience and compel them to buy it.
However, to write such an ad, you also need to know what the product is and who it is meant for.
So, here are 4 important points to consider before you start writing an advertisement.
- Goal of the Ad
- Target Audience
- Tag line
So, let’s dive into these points one by one.
1. Goal of the Ad:
There can be two main goals for airing a commercial on TV.
The Ad can be aired to make people aware of a product or service and get people excited about it.
According to the manual concepts, one needs to design the commercial that serves the ad’s purpose.
For example, an ad on the conservation of nature has to be emotional to persuade the audience of its importance.
However, if it is a dull script, no one will care to watch the ad further than 10 seconds. Thus, you must use your storytelling skills and dialogs to catch hold of the viewers throughout the ad.
The Ad can urge the audience to take action, such as go to the website or a physical store and buy the product or at least enquire about it.
For example, a commercial about a cellphone has to end in a way that people will flock to enquire about it.
2. Target Audience:
Who is going to see and buy the product on-air; plays a vital role in revenue conversion. If the product is meant for kids, then the dialogues will be different.
If the ad is written for diapers, then the audience will be young parents.
If the Ad is about sport shoes, it will be for people mostly aged 16–50. If it is a brand manufacturing all types of shoes, it’ll have a vast audience and a different marketing strategy.
There is a chance that a magnificent script will be rejected because the production cost is too high. As a writer, the cost of making the commercial is of utmost importance while penning the script.
The location of the scenes in the script, different camera angles from a helicopter or a fast car being blown up can cast a hole in the pocket of a producer.
The budget includes the cost of actors for the commercial. Most of the budget is allocated for casting and pre-production.
Agencies and directors prefer a known actor or use well-known casting websites to hire actors.
Remember, a new concept always has a risk of failure. Clients might decide to divide the same budget allocated and make 4 more commercials out of it.
4. Tag line:
“Just do it”.
I bet Nike came to your mind in a second.
“Have a break..Have a Kit Kat”.
I don’t need to tell you which brand this is.
Once you hear them on TV along with the music and narration, the product has the maximum chances of staying in the minds of viewers for years to come.
That is why; various corporations pay thousands of dollars to writers for a simple but catchy line. The commercial cannot end without it. And if it does, then it’s just a video, not a commercial.
The tagline should convey what the product or service really offers. Most writers tend to focus on the product rather than the brand.
Taglines or slogans should be written thinking about the numerous similar products a small company might launch later on over the years.
It might take days to write it. Let it be. But it has to be perfect.
How to Write A TV or a Video (YouTube) Commercial
As we have already analyzed a TV commercial script, let’s dive into the details of the format and learn how to put images on paper.
Font: The font to be used is ‘Courier New’. Font Size is ‘12’. These are not mandatory for a TV commercial script, as they are for a Movie Screenplay. You can use Calibri size 12 or Arial size 12, or Verdana size 11.
Title: It should contain the name of the product.
Length: The length of the Commercial has to be mentioned. It is generally 1 minute for a one-page script. However, it can be 30 seconds or 45 seconds long.
Writer: The writer of the script has to put his/her name in this tab.
In the Coke commercial script’s screenshot in the previous chapter, we could see the Director’s names and the location. This is not a necessity, as the location might change depending on the budget.
No of Words: There’s no such thing as a specific number of words for a Youtube commercial of 30 or 60 seconds. The number of words for a commercial can be anywhere between 60 to 200. Sometimes there can be only music.
Margins: The Margins should be one inch from the edge of each page. You can extend the script to a few more lines on the next page.
Camera Shots: Dialogues for performers are written in sentence case letters. This helps actors and other readers to distinguish between the dialogues and camera angles quickly.
Columns: There are two columns Video on the left and Audio on the right. They have a dividing line in the middle for aligning the columns.
Video & Audio Column: Each shot should be described in this column. It is generally a practice to capitalize words used for camera angles in the video column and sound effects in the Audio column.
Camera movements like CLOSE UP, CUT TO, and ZOOM, etc, have to be explained clearly. Visual effects like FIRE, RAIN, and LIGHTNING, etc, make it easier for the crew and director to understand the script.
In the Audio column, there are Characters, Dialogs, Sound effects, and Music. The sound, dialogues, etc, should be aligned along with the description of the shots and camera movements.
The dialogues spoken can be represented by SFX, which is Sound Effects or SOF, which is Sound on Film. SFX or SOF should be in parentheses or brackets.
Capitalization of text apart from the dialogue is not always mandatory. There are many examples of scripts where writers have not written such shots in capital letters. However, it is essential while writing a movie script.
For example, if the camera is on a guy named Jack, who’s talking to a lady. It can be written as:
‘CLOSE UP: Jack talking to a lady’ or
‘CLOSE UP on Jack talking to a lady.’
‘Close up: Jack talking to a lady.’
Instead, you can also use CUT TO, ZOOM IN.
Spacing: The description of the next shot should be on the next line after a spacing of 1 line.
The basics of writing a TV Commercial are covered, with an example in the previous chapter. Now, let us move over to an example of a script I have written.
An Example of a TV Commercial Script
Here is the screenshot of a “Mobile Phone Commercial”.
Font: The font I have used here is Verdana size 11.
Title: I have deliberately edited the name of the product here. You can write the name in the “Brand Name” section.
Length: The length of the commercial will be 30 seconds after editing.
Writer: I have put my name “Sarang Padhye” in this tab.
Margins: They are 1 inch from each page however, it’s not possible to show it here.
Camera Shots: The names of the shots are capitalized. This will clearly help in understanding & differentiating between camera movements and descriptions of shots.
Video & Audio Column: The camera angles in the video column & dialogues in the Audio column are clearly aligned with the respective scenes.
Spacing: The spacing between two shots is of one line.
Here is the remaining part of the script below:
In this script, there are just 5 dialogues, including the chorus by the family.
The TV commercial is based on different locations, camera movements, different characters and their perception of using a mobile phone.
With the use of soft background music & perfect editing techniques, it becomes a wonderful yet simple TV commercial.
The script gives you the importance of the product in daily life, the phone’s various features.
Happiness is what the product eventually gives you. That’s why I also included the line “Bringing happiness to life”.
Analyzing a Famous TV Commercial
Let’s take a look at the screenshot below of the famous Coke Commercial Script of the ‘70s directed by Ron Winderman with the renowned footballer Joe Greene.
As this was an old commercial, I have re-written it in the format usually used for writing ads. But you can read the original video script here.
You can click the link to see the commercial on YouTube here: https://www.Youtube.com/watch?v=xffOCZYX6F8
As you can see at the top, the shooting location is mentioned along with the Director’s name and the Cast involved. The usual script length is 1 page for a 60-second commercial.
There are two columns. The left column always has Video, and the right always has Audio.
The Video Column has various angles of the camera and a description of the scene with the actors and the background.
In the script, the words “Mean Joe Greene” are meant to be imposed on the screen when Joe is limping on screen. However, they have not added to those words in the ad.
The camera then moves on to the kid, describing his age, location, and coke in hand. This is to show the director what to focus on while shooting.
The age is described deliberately to let the casting director understand that they need a boy, not in his teens and not too small either. Otherwise, “a kid” can be any boy aged 5 to 15.
Precisely opposite to the words in this scene, in the Audio Column, we can see the dialogue the Kid is saying.
The Audio column only contains the dialogues and background score. Dialogues are represented by SOF (Sound on Film). There are several other terms that we will learn further.
From the above screenshot, we can clearly understand the emotional state of the actors in play.
Joe is frustrated & the Kid, who’s desperately trying to cheer him up and wants to share his feelings for his icon.
Now let’s look further at the screenshot of the rest of the script.
In the above example, Joe’s pain in his leg is clearly described by the word ‘grimace’. Usually, minimum sentences are used to describe the emotions of actors. This gives a clear idea to the director about the length of the commercial (more or less than 30 seconds).
As the Kid offers the Coke, Joe drinks it in one go while the Kid is waiting for his autograph. Now, at the same time, you can hear music playing while he’s drinking the Coke.
Here, the writer makes his vision clear to the director by emphasizing the critical elements of the scene.
Joe is fully energized from the drink and hands him his own jersey.
Supers are the superimposed text in TV Commercials. In this case, words.
The words “Have a Coke and a Smile” and “Coke Adds Life” filling the screen were Coke’s taglines in the ’70s.
Here, Coke has clearly touched the sentiments of consumers by illustrating that Coke cheers you up in the saddest of days.
What does this Coke Commercial teach us?
This commercial ultimately shows us the importance of establishing the relationship between a tagline or a slogan with the actual product.
This is a perfect example of scriptwriting and direction, without any graphics which Coke could have afforded at the time.
This commercial started the trend of signing sports stars as ambassadors for various brands.
3 Best Screenwriting Software Tools
Now that you have understood how to write a script, we’ll dwell on the vast world of programs and applications used to write these scripts. Because that is where it actually starts, right?
Now you might think, is it necessary to write it by using a tool?
Trust me, it makes a HUGE difference!
Of course, you can write a TV Spec in MS Word or Google Docs; however, I’d recommend using software to understand camera angles that go into it.
You can read my article on the best screenwriting software tools for an in-depth review of both the Free and Paid ones.
However, here are 3 of my favorite paid screenwriting tools below:
This is the first software I preferred when I started writing 10 years ago. And guess why I chose it? Because it was free to download.
Well, now it is on the cloud, and it is built by the creators of Mozilla Firefox.
It can be used by amateur writers as it is extremely user-friendly.
2. Final Draft
This is not for the faint-hearted. But if you are pro and serious about making a career in screenwriting, this is the one I would gravely recommend along with Celtx.
It has a free 30-day trial too.
It is the “Big Daddy” of screenwriting and used by the best in the movie industry.
3. Fade In: Free Demo
It has a fully functional demo version for download. I haven’t tried it; however, I would recommend trying it out.
Most of these software tools do have apps for Android and Mac OS. Still, I prefer writing on my laptop for the ease of typing.
And I conclude by saying that..
Screenwriting is not a simple task. Technically it is one of the defining factors of a perfectly made video commercial or a film.
But passion drives a soul. If you want to achieve success in the screenwriting industry, you’ll have to start making connections and take on any project that comes your way.
It goes unsaid that nothing can be achieved without hard work.
I hope this was a helpful guide for writing scripts for TV commercials.