Idea to Screen: Developing Your Video Idea

Starting Your Journey in 5 Steps

This is Part 1 of a five-part series on creating your video from the birth of an idea to its digital reveal. The series will cover Development, Pre-Production, Production, Post-Production and Distribution. 

Here’s the best part about creating a message video: You can do just about anything you want, in any style and in any manner.

Now, here’s the downside about creating a video (other than the hard work and necessary skills): You can do just about anything you want, in any style and in any manner.

That means, of course, you’re going to need to narrow your focus down to an idea that is in a certain style and a certain manner of presentation. It’s still wide open, but you’ve got to get your ideas down to something that can fit on a piece of paper. Seems weird, but video still starts with a piece of paper.

“We start by taking ideas and turning them into a script. We have a bunch of ideas in our head that could be films, advertisements, music videos, or art nouveau abstract visualizations of human suffering, and we dive into how to whittle that down into the best idea to portray whatever message is important.,” said Argos Productions Managing Director Jeston Cole Lewis.

That script is your blueprint that everyone involved in the production can focus on. This isn’t a step you can skip. You’re not Robert Altman directing Nashville or M*A*S*H. If you don’t take the time to fully prepare, you end up losing, Jeston says. “You lose time, money, focus. Preparation gives you a structure to work from. You can’t build a house from the outside in, you need a foundation first, and this gives you that foundation.”

STEP 1 — What Are The Questions You Want Answered?

Jeston suggests taking some time to sit down and just think — it’s brainstorm time. And he means ‘storm.’ “Make it a half hour to start. Give yourself only two options: think about questions or do nothing. Don’t use your phone, or your computer. Sit down with a piece of paper and pen and start writing down as many questions you can think of in that thirty minutes. If you don’t do this step, you’ll be left with a minimal number of ideas. This is like conducting interviews for a new position and only having three candidates. You don’t really have an idea of who’s good. Just like you don’t have enough ideas.”

STEP 2 — Select the Best Idea

Now pare down all those ideas and doodles. Some ideas may be good, but not quite right for this project. Save them for another time. Let them grow.

You are now squeezing down your list, or lists, both on paper and in your mind. Jeston likes to mind map his ideas. (He also likes to do his best Leslie Knope impression and put together a good pros and cons list.)

“If I skip this step, I have a difficult time fully realizing my idea into an outline, a script and a film. The depth of the work suffers because I don’t see what’s potentially connected to the core idea. This is where the idea takes root.”

STEP 3 — Outline It

This is the 10,000-foot view of your idea where you can see the whole thing — the beginning, the end, and all things that connect those two points. Your writing will still be very fluid at this point. You may find it helpful to find an outline process that allows for this fluidity. Post-it notes, index cards, a cork board or a dry erase board are all useful tools for putting the right pieces in the right places with the right relationships. “Careful how much red string you use; you don’t want the neighbors thinking you’re a serial killer,” Jeston said.

“This is where you start to commit to your story, to the journey you’re creating for your audience. If you skip this, the story will be listless, it won’t flow, and you’ll probably get a scene or two written, but creating a full experience will be a monumental task.” Again, if you think you’re Robert Altman directing on the fly, you’ll very likely discover you’re more like the person in a strange motel room who keeps looking for ESPN2.

STEP 4 — Write It

The outline was the backbone, but this is the payoff. This is your Pinocchio Moment of the writing stage. This is where your lump of wood takes shape. Put up the ‘CLOSED’ sign, put on some music, turn off the phone, drink some coffee, and whittle away on your first draft — and then your second draft. Jeston says “Inhabit your characters! This is the fun part!”

Without this step, you don’t have a script to shoot. There is no map to follow. The journey to that destination is unclear. “Even if you’re trying to create a completely improvised project, you still need a structure of what you want it to look like. Maybe it doesn’t need to be a full script, but it should at least have some information as to who or what is in the scene, where it’s happening, and how long it’s going to be,” Jeston said.

Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts.

— Stephen King

STEP 5 — Edit It

Even when it’s done, it’s not done. Ask any writer or his or her editor. Your story needs to have the right beat, the right tone and a succinct, clear message. This is absolutely necessary to accurately translate your video vision into something a production crew can create through the tools of audio and video.

The first draft of everything is shit.

– Ernest Hemmingway

“Getting the balance of a story takes time. Editing your story will help hone your message and give your story the polished feel it will need to make audiences believe your tale. If you don’t edit, you skip the best chance to add the shine to your story that will distinguish it from everything else that’s out there.” Editing your script is the part of the process where you smooth out the rough spots, add the details, the bits of dialogue, the camera movements and a hint of saffron.

The difference between good writers and great writers is editing.


“I see half-baked projects all the time. That first idea becomes THE idea. There’s a rush to script and screen without editing your script — without preparation. There’s not a lot of thought as to the question that deserves answering. What is the motive? Why should this story exist? What is the message? Development is where you find the answers to those questions.”

Once you’ve reached this point, your script is ready for the Pre-Production Stage…


Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story –

Neil Gaiman — The Interview I’ve Waited 20 Years To Do –

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