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What goes into a commercial script

What's it for?

A commercial script serves two purposes:

  • To set expectations and create agreement before shooting starts
  • Acts at the framework during a shoot, for example transferred to a telepromter

Expectations and Agreement

When a customer engages a production company for a video they may have many ideas about how they want it to look, what the messages are, how long and of course the budget.

A commercial script is created from the initial briefings. It will contain sections like:

  • Scene Title
  • Scene Set-Up: Distant, Close-up, CGI, Screen Shot, Title etc
  • Action: "We see a typical workshop with a pressing machine", "We see a couple arriving at a country hotel"
  • Dialogue: "Today we'll fabricate a steel manifold using the latest techniques", "Wow, I hope the food is as good as the garden looks ..."

Script Excerpt:

fragment of commercial script

There'll be sections like this all the way through to the end. So for you, the customer you get a feel for what each scene involves. This is important to your product or service, it lets you know all the product, people and props you might need to provide. Additionally the script notes might provide some budget/effort guidance. Taking the above example you might have get access to a customer's workshop or source a suitable car for the couple to arrive in.

Although its not explicit in the script, you'll soon get a feel of where the budget is being deployed. Of course this lets you see how much is in the set-up and how much is in the message.

Frame from scene realised by commercial script

Iterating the script

Any commerical script will be subject to iterations. This is where expectations and agreements are set, for example:

  • Idea: "I thought a shot that goes over the front of the hotel, into the rear grounds, turns and goes through the window of the kitchens to where the chefs is preparing his signature dish" Setting Expectation: "OK, that'll need good weather a hexacopter, one pilot, two observers and hotel guests will need to be kept at least 50 metres away. The Hex won't go through the window so we'll pass it though on a stabiliser, that needs a least two crew to make it work" Budget: "It'll take a crew of three or four half a day to get that to work at production quality"
  • Alternative: "How about we do it in three shots, crane at the front, Hexacopter for the ground and a slide through the window of the kitchen - achieves the same goals but with a crew of two."

At this point the commercial script can be changed, for either the ambitious or the pragmatic - the point is the production team and customer are in sync about what is going to happen.

Dialogue

This can be quite a challenge. Quite often what looks right on the page doesn't sound right when spoken, and this can depend on who's saying the lines.

It can take some effort to get this right, particularly when lines are delivered by company professionals rather than professional actors. Mostly, if the message is technical, someone from your company is the right person to deliver it. However they have their voice and their phrases. Its really important to get people to read their lines aloud - it'll save a lot of time later.

Some professionals are great at presenting, these people don't need a scripted dialog. They'll be happier with a list of bullet points to structure their words around.

Working Script

The commercial script morphs into the working script once it is agreed. The working script is the commercial script populated with extra notes which are mostly directed to the production crew. The most likely additions are timings, transitions and lists of kit. Outside work is weather dependant, so there may be notes like: "Windspeed needs to be below 12 knots" or "Early evening sun" etc.


We hope that this article has given you some idea of what happens in the production of a commercial script and how it helps to meet expectations within budget!

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WbAV productions a Berkshire based video productions house, Newbury, Berkshire, RG18 9JE