December 28, 2011 \ Geoff Birmingham
Scriptwriting for Video Production

A question we get with some regularity is, “Do you guys do scriptwriting?”  It’s not always clear what people are hoping for when they ask, but it might be a concern that if they don’t have a “script” for the folks on camera, the result will be something like the interview excerpt above – a rather incoherent mess.

But here’s a little secret about video production and editing that shouldn’t be much of a surprise in this world of digital manipulation: sometimes what you hear in a video is not what was spoken on camera.  In other words, it’s not hard, during the editing of a video, to perform a little sleight of hand and transform a nervous, stuttering person into someone who sounds surprisingly articulate.

Or, in some cases, we can even make them say something quite different than what they actually said in person.  In a situation like this, of course, the interviewee’s words might be changed around a bit to serve the purpose of the video, but his or her idea always remains the same.

This is part of the fun and challenge of editing – figuring out a way to massage a mediocre sound bite into a compelling one.  After tackling the above sound bite, I was rather pleased with myself.   I moved his words around a bit, removed all the “likes” and “ums”, and shortened it from about 45 seconds to about 20 to give it more punch.  The result, I would suggest, is significantly better:


“Okay,” you might say, “so what?”  The takeaway is just that creating a script for interviewees is usually not necessary.  We, in fact, tell clients that allowing folks to stutter through a response is often going to give you better content than something that’s scripted.  The reason is simply because it will sound more authentic.    The thought or feeling behind the words will be theirs, rather than someone else’s.


One important caveat: if you are going to rely on the skill of your editor to make your interviews shine, he or she has to have good visual material (broll) to make it work.  Because I had at my disposal plenty of shots of dormitory life and of local students with international students, I was easily able to hide all the slicing and dicing that I did with the interview.