Video Class 2014, Week Two

Video Class 2014, Week Two

As this guy knows, the key to effective storyboarding is a very big board.

Welcome to Week Two of the SciFund Challenge 2014 video training class!

Last week, we focussed on how to convert our science into interesting narratives. This week: how do we turn those narratives into compelling visual stories? To do that, we’ll be using a standard planning tool for film making, known as storyboarding. Also this week: script writing!

This week you’ll be doing the following:

1. Putting together a storyboard and script for your video, which you’ll share to the class Google+ page for comments.

2. Giving comments to the storyboards and scripts for others in the class.

3. Taking part in a one hour group discussion, via Google Hangouts. The more of the class assignment you can get done before your group discussion, the better off you’ll be. At the least though, please get a draft of your script completed before your group discussion

On with the show!

 Story telling with film

The instructions for this week are all about story telling with film, with the instructions having the following four part structure:

  1. Story structure – building a narrative with a beginning, middle, and ending
  2. The language of film – A/B editing-visual storytelling
  3. Script – the best kept secret to making good videos
  4. Storyboard – planning the final layout and what to shoot
Possible story arc through the Message Box.

Filmmakers are story tellers. Look at your science message and break it down into a narrative with a beginning, middle, and ending. In this adaptation of the message box, I have drawn an arrow representing how the narrative of a science video might progress; beginning with the ‘issue’ or ‘so what?’, moving onto discussing the problems and benefits for the middle section, and finally ending on the solutions.

Stories can be made in many different structures so you are free change this order in any way which feels most interesting or compelling.

The important thing to remember is that your audience feels no obligation to finish watching your video on the internet, especially if it fails to hold their attention. A good way to get their attention early on is with a bold statement within the first few seconds of your video. This is called a ‘hook’, and should do the following things;

  • engage your audience’s attention
  • inform your audience to the purpose/topic of your video
  • persuade your audience to find out more and keep watching

In filmmaking terms this is called a premise, something which poses a question or problem which the film then tries to resolve by the end. The ‘Issue’ or ‘so what?’ sections of your message box will be good places for you to figure out what your hook or premise might be. Sometimes, using information in the ‘Issue’ or ‘so what?’ sections of your message box can be too negative to be the first thing to start your video with. You might find more positive beginning in your ‘solutions’ section. You could take a brief statement like ‘honey bees can fight back when we give them a chance, here’s how we can help’ for your hook, then lead into the ‘issues’ or ’so what?’ to complete the beginning of your video.

Example: Breaking Bad

Fans of the series ‘Breaking Bad’ may be familiar with the opening sequences for series 2, showing a charred pink teddy bear floating in a swimming pool. While these cryptic sequences foreshadowed the season finale and its dramatic climax, the pink teddy bear was also used as a motif, connecting characters in the series to that climax and featuring within the episodes. Here is a link to the Breaking Bad Wiki, which describes this idea in more detail.

For this first first video, your premise should probably not be as cryptic, but should serve a similar purpose. While we all hope that you will do enough sustained outreach to make your science as popular as breaking bad, your premise will most likely be a clear, engaging statement about your topic. For a more relevant example see this excellent video from minute physics:


The Language of film

How do we tell our science messages in a visual story? To do that, we are going to use a system called A/B editing. A/B editing is a method of switching between multiple visual elements, in service of the story. We can consider the “A” to be the dominant video shot driving your story. In the case of our videos, the “A” is most likely to be a video shot of someone (probably you, the scientist) talking to the camera.

“B” are all of the other visual elements (photographs, video, figures, animations, etc.) that are also part of your video. “B” shots serve multiple purposes:

  1. To illustrate points that are being made in the “A” roll.
  2. To transition between points of the “A” roll.
  3. To cover editing cuts made in the “A” roll. 

The “A” roll is driving your story. Even when we cut away from the “A” to show “B” visual elements, the voice we hear will still be the person talking from the “A” shot. This is a great video that explains why and how to shoot good B-roll. Notice it also has a good opening that informs us what the video is going to be about and why.

 The secret to good video: audio

You may find it surprising, but the most essential part of your video is your audio – specifically, the voice or voices that you hear speaking through your video. Most likely, the person speaking through your video will be you, the scientist. To see how unviewable a video becomes with a poor audio narrative, check out an example we have posted privately in the google+ community for the class, under Week Two Instructions (it’s private, because we don’t want to publicly embarrass the creator).

As the audio track is so important, you will probably want to write a script. Here is the key thing though: written language and spoken language are very different. The biggest difference is that spoken language is generally much simpler than written language. Very frequently, people don’t even speak in complete sentences. Because you are writing your script for the ear, and not the eye, you want to emulate how people speak. Simple, simple language! Note though, you can still tell a complex, rich story with simple language. We all do it everyday when we talk to each other.

Here is a good example from NPR:

Notice in this NPR example how simple the language is, particularly when people are speaking in interviews. Notice also how people use fantastic imagery and analogies in their descriptions.

How many words should you be aiming for in your script? A lot less than you might think. Next time you listen to or watch a news broadcast on the radio or television, pay attention to just how slow the newscasters are actually speaking – it is actually much slower than normal human speech. They speak slower for a reason: it makes their arguments easier to follow.

So what does this mean for you? Last night, Jai put on his best radio voice and we counted about 150 words per minute, which means we’re looking at a word count of about 450 for a 3 minute video (not very much). This means you really need to cut a lot of non- essential stuff out of your script. Pairing down like this will also help clarify your message and make it more engaging.


How do I plan what my video is going to look like and how do I know what I need to shoot? Now we know that we can cut away from our main, narrative driving shot, to other illustrative images. We have also learnt that we can describe those elements in our story as either ‘A’ or ‘B’, we can begin to create a storyboard. A storyboard is a copy of your script with annotations or pictures alongside, that describe what the accompanying visual element will be at that point in the story. Take a look at this video which does a really good job of describing what a storyboard is.

This is the first major creative opportunity in making your video. The type of visual elements you choose to use and at which points in your story will have an impact on the final style and mood of your video. The storyboard is also the place where any idea is possible. If you start the creative process with the technology, it will only constrain you. Start thinking big and then let practicalities like technology, time, and budget rein in those ideas. If you approach the process in this order, you can sometimes find creative ways to overcome some of these constraints.


Script:insects as pollinators are critical to the survival of humans on this planet Visual Element:A-roll – myself sitting at lab bench, honey comb and ant farm behind

In this example, the story has a bold, impacting statement, so perhaps the visual element should be of the scientist talking to camera. The first time we write ‘A-roll’ on our storyboard, we should briefly describe what the A-roll consists of. People like watching people, which is why it is important for scientists to engage directly in their videos, talking to the camera whenever you need your audience to empathize with your cause. 

Script:I study the effects of pesticides on honey bees by going out and collecting bees directly from their hives and at crop sites. Visual Element:B-roll – me in bee keepers outfit removing honeycomb. Use photos if I don’t have time/access to go shoot that video.B-roll – me catching bees with net at orchard. Also use photos if video not possible.

 In this case, maybe you should show visual elements of you collecting insects in the field. We would write B-roll, and add a description. Unlike A-roll, we would always describe (or even sketch) what type of B-roll it is (because B-roll could be any type of visual element). While the shot of you talking to camera may draw a more emotional response from your audience, B-roll serves an important role in relaying, emphasizing, and illustrating information quickly. The viewer learns that you use a special outfit and a net to collect bees, and that bees pollinate apple trees. These are details that aren’t in the script, or have been removed so that the video runs quicker and is more succinct. B-roll does a good job of putting that information in, without slowing the video down. If you have cut something out of your script to get the word count down, but it was useful information, then think about how you can show it visually. The point is to get creative so that there is a purpose to your message being on video.

Class assignment

1.Write out your script. Remember to write it in spoken english, not written english. Using your iPhone (and microphone, if it has arrived), make an audio recording of you speaking your script. Remember that you are aiming to speak a little slower than you usually speak.

How to make audio recordings on the iPhone and transfer them to a computer:

2. Plan out your storyboard. To give you an example of what you are aiming for, we have posted an example storyboard to the Google+ page for the class, under Week Two Instructions (here’s the link).

3. Using iMovie, make a video of your storyboard. Import your recorded script, then using text, copy the visual elements from your storyboard over your audio. You can also add images if you like. See example and instructional videos below.

Example Storyboard video: The Truth about Crowfunding

How to complete assignment in iMovie:

4. Upload your video to Youtube and post your video to class page on Google+ (make sure to give your post the tag Week Two). Forgotten how to upload or share your video? You remind yourself how to do it on the instructions for week one of this class.

5. Give comments to at least three other storyboards that are posted.

6. Let’s chat in a one-hour discussion about our storyboards via Google Hangout.

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