How to find “Hidden Time” in an Explainer Video Script

Why We Need Scripts for Explainer Videos

Every great story in the world has starts with a script. That’s because writing down what happens on screen gives everyone involved on a project clarity and direction for what the piece will look and sound like when its done. Without it, everyone is running around like headless chickens trying to find someone with answers. 

Hopefully, you’re here because you’ve written a script or are thinking of writing one for your product or service and need some help.

Hopefully, we can help.

Tips for Writing Your Script

Here’s a list of things to keep in mind while writing:

  1. Stories are better than direction - think of your product as a solution in someone’s customer journey. Describe the journey to someone else, including how your product fits within that journey.

  2. Keep it short. The longer you write the more money you’ll spend on production. Think of length as a receipt at the register, the longer you write the more items/visuals need to be created, the longer your… you get the idea.

  3. Add suggested visuals whenever you imagine something happening on screen. The more direction you can provide the faster the process will go. Your direction may not be solidified at first, but it will be what you want; it’s our job to figure out how to make those visuals work for you and your brand.

  4. Word choice is crucial to achieving customer understanding. It’s easy for us to want to use jargon or terminology that resonates with our own understanding of the problem; that’s a mistake. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Keep the wording as simple and clear as possible and don’t use fancy language unless absolutely necessary; Or if deemed acceptable as an industry standard term. People want to have more conversations, and less lecturing. It’ll just remind them of the volcano incident from ‘85... that which shall not be named.

The Magical Hidden Time

Who has it? You? Me? Can we make more of it? Psshhh… I wish.

‘If we never have time how can we ever make time?’ -not me

In order to understand the link between your script and time we need to start with getting us all on the same page about the terms (the words) that we use to describe this very problematic situation that you will now be equipped to avoid. 

Script: Words (sentences) on a page that describe a voiceover and/or visual direction.

Voiceover: The dialogue a human will record while saying those words aloud. Almost all explainer videos have them.

Visual Direction: The written description of what the animators will do with the visuals on screen.

These three pieces of information ultimately give us a well-rounded picture of the entire video from start to finish. Once we have these three items we can start to calculate out how much time something will take.

Here’s the rule (not a secret, just a guideline): 166 words, when spoken on average, will convert into 1 minute of dialogue when recorded. That’s it. 

On average, the speed at which English speakers speak, is 166 wpm (words per minute). Don’t believe me? Google.

The other piece of information to know is that animation is usually created at 24fps (frames per second). There are higher frame rates but for the sake of this piece we will ignore those for now. 24fps is pretty standard.

So to recap: 60 seconds is equal to about 166 words and 1440 frames of animation. If I’ve lost you, stop here and re-read the paragraph.

I can wait.

Why does time matter, Will?

Time is important for multiple reasons. It dictates how long an animator has to get your visual idea across to your audience. It dictates how long the voiceover artist will need to record for; important for pricing and quotes for the VO artist. It dictates how long your piece will be in its entirety; super important in terms of your audience and their attention span.

It is NOT important for quoting out the animation/motion in a video! Time does not factor in style, or how many visual things (assets) will need to be created.

The Two Most Common Problems

Let’s start by taking one sentence of real script. Here’s the dialogue (voiceover):

“It’s similar to a thermostat, attempting to gauge the temperature of a room.”

If you said this sentence aloud, you’d spend .08 minutes or ~4.8 seconds. How did you get there you ask? The math is simple; bear with me:

13 words (sentence word length) divided by 166wpm (words per minute) equals .08 minutes. To covert to seconds, we multiply .08 by 60 (seconds in a minute) and you get ~4.8 seconds. This works physically too! If you said the sentence aloud you can time yourself and you’ll get a similar time span.

Give it a try!

The other fact to understand is that visual transitions in animation also take time. Time to get to the screen, reveal themselves and transition away to next idea. These transitions usually take between 1-2 seconds depending on how many elements are visually on screen. So, problems:

Problem 1: Too many words, not enough visual content

Most times what happens is that scripts have long run-on sentences with at least  2 or 3 commas. This usually results in long dialogue times and visual directions that are way too short and your piece results in very long holds where nothing is happening. This might be desirable in certain cases, but often it’s not.

To solve this problem, try splitting the script where there are commas and writing separate visual descriptions for each part of the sentence. This usually results in something often called a “build” where multiple parts, well… build on screen through the long sentence.

Problem 2: Too few words and not enough visual time

Sometimes you’ll have a very short sentence like: 

“Meet Jim.” 

coupled with the visual direction of 

“Jim is sitting at a desk typing. A city builds up behind him and the thermostat clearly blinks that it’s not working.”

The amount of ideas (Jim typing at a desk, the thermostat blinking) and transitions that need to happen (The city building) during the dialogue line length (which is less than 1 second) is not enough time for the viewer to look at anything at all and will most likely be confused by your video.

To solve this challenge, get rid of some of the visual direction or add more dialogue to script to balance out the amount of time spent on Jim. Jim works hard, he deserves more screen time! Think of descriptions as parts of a presentation. You wouldn’t overload a slide with so much data that the idea would get lost, would you? Would you?

We’re Open Pixel

We believe that the dialogue in scripts for animation and their visual directions require a balance of time because the most successful explainer videos make the time to iron out the time before anyone spends the time ...animating. 

Ok, my time here is clearly up.

Thanks for so much for your time. Ok I’m done. 

Until next time…. ha, I got you. Time out.
-OP