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Documentary vs. Scripted Video Content: Behind The Scenes

Raw and Real -OR- Crafted and Crusty?

For most company videos that involve a person on camera, there’s a critical decision to be made in planning: Do you want the speaker to be scripted or not? There’s pros and cons for both so let’s take a look at the factors and see which route may make sense for your project.


One main goal of scripting is to gain a level of control over what’s being said. This can be very important, say for biotech company with strict legal requirements on what they can say. In these cases, no deviation from a legally approved script is possible.

Scripting can also save lots of time in production. If you know exactly what’s needed to be said, it removes any guesswork, but that comes at a cost.

The drawbacks of this need to stick to the script is that it can be a little dry and it probably puts more heavy lifting on the visuals or performance to keep the engagement up. If your talent is not a proffessional actor but rather a member of your company, this can be very challenging to pull off. For some lay-people staring into a camera is very awkward and uncomfortable.

If your script is difficult for your talent to memorize, you’ll probably need a teleprompter or a script on a laptop or cue cards they can reference. One other method is to have someone off-camera read a line of script out loud to the talent and have them repeat it, not always so easy but it can work.

With any script, shorter tends to be better. The more interesting and colorful language you can use the better. There’s also an adage that ‘if you say it, show it’ so make sure you consider what kind of footage you might be able to use to support what’s in the script and express it visually.


The flip side of the scripted route is to just let the speaker on camera say whatever they come up with and edit it later. This documentary approach can generally yield more authentic content since the person isn’t reading a ‘canned’ script but rather speaking form the heart. There’s a freshness, originality and life to this type of content, but at the cost of control.

In many cases you might be hoping for the interviewee to say something articulate, brief and engaging, but it may not come out that way. You could also just not get to all the topics that you are hoping for.

One way to prepare without actually scripting exactly what’s said is to prepare interview questions that have a "fantasy answer" that you can share with the talent and say that’s basically what you’re looking for, but let them put it in their own words.

You can also ask really loaded questions like: How great is your product? That will lead your talent in the direction you need.

If things aren’t going as well as you’d like you can always change gears and ask them to repeat a few phrases that you spoon-feed them.

What you gain in authenticity with this route you loose control and the ability to shape the message to fit into just the right phrasing. If you have lots of time to just keep at it until you get stuff that feels right, this could be the way to go.

A lot of it obviously has to do with the person you are shooting and the performance they are able to give. For some people, they can fake it pretty well, so well, a script can seem like they just thought it up right then. Sound like magic? Well, maybe it is: those talented people are called actors and the good ones have lots of natural talent, practice and cost good money to hire!


The best advice I can offer is just be honest with yourself about the likelihood of being able to get the type of performance from the people you have to work with. Some people just cant make scripted material convincing but in some cases, if you can’t plan exactly what to say, you’ll miss the mark. The type of video, the message, the industry and audience, it all matters when making your decision.

Hope that helps, good luck!

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