A/V Two Column Script and Shot List
About this entry
There is a metric poop-ton of information on the internet about how to make good video. From a paragraph to months long courses. What's here is a brief synopsis of the process and links to a few templates to get you started. If you want to explore further, do a search for "two-column script format", "video production planning", "Shot list template", and "creative brief for video". Lots and lots of good links from those searches. Read several and find what works for you. A resource that I like is studiobinder.com Yes, it's a software company trying to sell you software. But they also have a surprising number of well-written and helpful articles.
Before you write the first line of your script, draw your first storyboard, or format your first memory card, you should have your production planned out in the greatest detail that you can manage. Many things will change once you start your process: the more you have planned, the more you can be flexible with confidence. I'll say it again: the more details you have planned out, the easier it is to throw any of them away when necessary. Even a seemingly simple piece can go completely sideways if it's under-planned.
There are many different planning tools available to the media producer. In time you will no doubt find or create one that is best suited to your style. For the purposes of this wiki article, I'm going to point you to this one. It's pretty basic stuff, but just the act of writing stuff down can help cement things in your mind, and reveal problems or inconsistencies you might not have otherwise been aware of.
The two column, or A/V script format is designed for non-narrative productions. Instructional, corporate, documentary, etc. It lists what the viewer will see and hear in parallel columns, in a linear style that is easy to read and understand. Unlike the Hollywood narrative script format, this format is designed to be a working document that all crew can reference on set. A Hollywood script is meant to give a director infinite space to interpret and be creative. The A/V script should almost be the opposite. The A/V script should be a 1:1 description of exactly what the viewer will see and hear. If anyone reads your A/V production script and is confused: you're doing it wrong. Here's a template for a two-column script. You could just as easily create your own in whatever word processing or spreadsheet software you prefer.
The Shot List
Many producers may find it useful to create a shot list document separate from the script. This is particularly true if the audio and video portions are not tightly bound together, as in the case of primarily voice over or narrated videos. A shot list is simply a numbered list of the shots necessary to tell the story, whether that's narrative, documentary, or instructional. A script may use broad descriptions to allow the reader to use their imagination to set the scene. A shot list should do no such thing. A shot list should be as detailed and specific as possible. Including as much detail as possible will speed operations on set, and reduce the potential for errors or omissions that might necessitate re-shoots or other costly and time-consuming correction.
The shot list also allows for more efficient shooting out of script order. The script presents images in the order that makes sense for story arc or ease of learning. Script order is very rarely the most efficient shooting order. Let's say you're making an instructional video about a camera lens. Your script might read:
- Open with a shot of a presenter describing the video that is about to be viewed.
- Cut to close ups of the lens.
- Cut to presenter talking about lens details
- Cut to someone in the field using the lens.
- Dissolve to close ups of lens details.
- Cut back to the presenter to finish.
If you shot that in script order, you'd be wasting all your time moving back and forth between locations and setups, re-setting someplace you'd already been! Your poor presenter would be sitting around doing nothing while you were busy shooting shots 2,4 and 5. Better to put all of the shots in one location together. So your shooting order might look like this:
- Someone in the field using the lens.
- Close ups of lens details.
- Close ups of the lens.
- Cut to presenter talking about lens details
- Shot of a presenter describing the video that is about to be viewed.
- Presenter to finish.
That order groups locations and people for much more efficient use of resources.
The shot list would also take a script item like "Close ups of lens elements" and detail it out like:
- Close of rear cap, showing how it engages.
- Close of aperture ring, showing index mark.
- Close of stabilization switch, show operation.
- Close of threading on and removing a filter.
A shot list template that I like is here. Note that this format also includes a block at the top for crew info. This can work like a mini call sheet, providing important report time info for crew.
So- a few documents and some careful consideration can go a looooooong way toward paving the way to success for your shoot. It really can't be stressed enough that 30 minutes spent in pre-production can save you many hours of pain in production and then post production. When done correctly, media production should be a very front-loaded endeavor. A fun, exciting shoot is the reward you get for proper planning!