Cosplay Music Videos: PART TWO – Scripting

by ignotae

PART 2 – Scripting

This will be based partly in previous projects, but also in the ones I’m working on now because through trial, error, and experimentation I THINK I’ve got a process that works well for me. You might do things differently somewhere along the way, but there are some things I think EVERY CMV SCRIPTER/DIRECTOR NEEDS, which are explained.

My reasoning is as follows: as a group you NEED an organized plan, or things tend to fall apart and get fuzzy and you wind up with inadequate content, content that doesn’t fit with your vision, or worse: missing content. Out of respect for the cast and crew, who inherently have a limited window of time on shoot day to get the best video footage, you ought to have a plan set up in advance. I favour a very highly structured script with lots of detail and story; you may come up with something looser, more casual, or less structured. However, as will be covered in detail you should have the following: A cast, concept, and song; a detailed list of all clips you need to shoot; a timeline for the videographer to reference in terms of editing; and a shooting schedule including all necessary aspects for film day (including what order to shoot things in).

Okay! Here we go!

Things you need to start:

  1. A CastWhich characters do you HAVE involved?Which characters do you WANT involved? If you start knowing what your cast is like, and you have a concept, the song can come later.
    • Recruitment after you’ve already got a story and song picked can be really annoying in my opinion.
    • All cast members should be allowed to critique the script and have input into the concept, if not directly assist with writing it.
    • Smaller casts tend to work better for conceptual and story-based videos; I’ve noticed large casts are most effective for lipdubs and showcases.
    • You NEED to have committed cast members; availability on the day of shooting is CRITICAL.
    • I recommend filming with friends : )
  2. A Concept – what do you want to happen in the video?You don’t need to have a huge sprawling story from the outset; an idea is good enough.
    • For example: “I want to have a shipping video for my OTP using Inkys song” or “I want to show the kids reuniting and the diminishing role of Vriska”.
  3. A Song – Should be reflective of the subject matter, or enhance it in some way through the lyrics, instrumentals, overall mood. I like songs with clearly audible lyrics, but you don’t need this!

Once you’ve got a cast picked, a song selected, and a concept or idea to build off of, the fun part comes. You get to script!

Here’s a quick summary of everything. Then I wall-of-text explain them later.

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Make a timeline for your song
  3. Flesh out your concepts
  4. Create a rough, untimed script draft
  5. Modify the draft with your group and through your own editing
  6. Plot each shot, then each clip (shots = one location or set of actions, clips = switches in camera angle or motion)
  7. Insert clips onto timeline, with notations
  8. Evaluate the length for each scene/clip; simplify if possible
  9. Finalize timeline and Masterlist. Compile prop / location list.
  10. Finalize locations and permissions.
  11. Create shoot schedule.

Please note, these are how I use certain terms:

SCENES – Refers to actions that take place IN THE SAME LOCATION

CLIPS – are what make up each scene. A new clip is added each time you change the camera shot. In other words, every time you change the distance from your subject and/or the angle you’re shooting at.

I start with


I usually listen to the song as I brainstorm, and work off the imagery that’s conjured in my head.

  • What lines make me think of which characters?
  • Am I able to think of a storyline for what they’re doing?
  • Are they alone or with others?
  • What kind of structure do I want the video to have: if characters are interacting, should they interact in blocks (one in the first verse, one in the second, one in the third verse, compilation of clips in the choruses? Or should they all appear from the outset in different clips?)
  • Is there only one storyline from start to finish, or multiple “Strands” that tie together? If multiple, what happens in each?

At this point I’m still working on paper because I can’t focus on the computer, and because I can scribble ideas down as they come. I try to get a plot worked out.

After initial brainstorming, I…

2      Make a TIMELINE* of the song

This part is pretty time consuming, and to be honest, boring. It involves listening to the song REALLY closely and mapping out:

  • Where each distinct line in the lyrics starts
  • Where major instrumental portions are after lyrics finish (notable in slower songs that have lots of instrumentals)
  • Where key ‘impact’ moments occur, for instance swells in the music, strong chords or beats, etc.

If you’re only using an instrumental, you’ll be focused most on the Impact Moments, but you really do need to plot this out. Seriously. It’ll help you determine where each clip in the video starts and finishes, how long you’ll need for each scene (and by extension each clip), and eventually the shooting schedule RELIES ON this information. YOU NEED TO DO THIS.


I take the idea I like best for the plot, and depending on the style of video, start writing short paragraphs for each character summarizing what happens to them.

Each paragraph is VERY basic and doesn’t include camera angles, movement, etc… I just want to get each summary on paper. I tend to aim for 1/3 of a page per character, or no more than half a page for each 30 seconds in the video. The reason for this is: the more content you have, the longer your filming time, but also the busier your video will be. Can you simplify scenes to get the point across, but minimize the total number of scene / clip changes?

4      SCRIPT – Draft 1

Next, I rough out a complete summary of the video from start to finish. At this point I’m still not concerned with the precise length of each scene, though it is a good idea to start thinking about how much action you can reasonably pack into each “section” of the song based on your timeline.

I generally try to match lyrics with character actions in a semi-structured way. On [S] Kids: Rise Up, this would look something like this:

“I’m waking up, to ash and dust, I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust”

John opens his eyes. We begin pulling back slowly, and see that Vriska is behind him and moving towards him. John’s posture calls back “John: Rise Up”, and he seems uncertain of what’s happened to him.

“I’m breathing in the chemicals… [Instrumental, gasp – beat – release]”

From the side, Vriska approaches John but stops just shy of him. She stretches her hand out to his shoulder, and our viewpoint tracks along with this. She taps him, he looks up while the song suggests an ‘intake of breath’; at the beat, John is fully visible, but Vriska’s hand withdraws. The song releases; John turns around, but as we move back to where Vriska was, we see nothing; she’s vanished.

The quicker tempo’d your song, the more freedom you’ll have to make jump-cuts and quick, flashing images seem fitting. Similarly, if a song feels slower, longer scenes and slow-motion may be used effectively. You’ve got a fair amount of freedom here though!  My advice: let the song guide you.


Share your initial draft with people. Do they like the action? Do they think everything makes sense? Do they have suggestions for specific moments? Take everything into consideration, and don’t be afraid to make changes or take stuff out.

Once you’ve reached a consensus, something tricky:

6      PLOT YOUR SHOTS – Timing and Camerawork

You will, of course, need to help your videographer know what you want for each shot in terms of:

  • Shot sizes
  • Camera angles
  • Camera moves

And to varying extents,

  • Depth of field
  • Transitions between scenes/clips

With some simple searches, you can find excellent glossaries and guides to terminology. I located this one:

With a search “cinematography terminology”

I think this site is VERY comprehensive and nicely organized, but if you’re looking for more information and terms I’d consider also searching for:

  • Filmography terminology
  • Cinematography
  • Basic Camera shots
  • Camera movements

Here’s another site that has photographic demonstrations of what different shots and angles would look like:

Here’s what you need to do:

Make a MASTERLIST of all your scenes. Each scene should have a distinct value (number or letter) associated with it, and each clip within that scene a second value. For instance, Scene 1a, b, c; 2a, b; 3a, b, c, d, e… etc. Alternatively, give each CLIP a distinct value, without tracking the scenes.

  1.  Note where each scene happens
  2.  Within each scene, sort out how many clips you have and number them
  3. For each clip, make a brief note of the following:
  • What your characters do
  • What the camera shot, angle, movement, and (optionally) depth of field.
  • Transitions within the scene, and at what point they occur (for instance, if your camera is still until Character A slaps Character B, at which point it jerks up and away, make a note of that for when you’re filming)
  • How long is each scene in total? How long is each clip within that scene? If there are any slowed-down or sped-up shots, note this because you’ll need to allocate additional or less time during shooting to that clip.

This part also takes a lot of work, but you should be able to make brief notes for what you want. If you have a separate scriptwriter and director, make sure that each knows exactly what each scene should look like since it’ll be the director’s responsibility on film day to direct the videographer.


Go back to that timeline you made of your song, with all the key timing points. Using it, start matching timeline points to your scenes. I find this is easiest to do on a spreadsheet, with headings for each second in the song, the scene/clip number, a basic summary of action, and short notes on cinematography.

For an example (though not a perfect one) of what this would look like, check out both the


And the


For [S] Kids: Rise Up as it looked before filming

The reason I don’t think it’s perfect is because

  • I didn’t separate out the scenes; instead, I numbered each clip as separate
  • The masterlist doesn’t contain information on the locations, as no locations were assigned in advance. This is NOT recommended.

8      Evaluate this timeline

Go through your timeline, again as a group and with the videographer. Are all the scenes a reasonable length? All the clips? Can you fit everything you want to within the time that you have? Is there space for extra footage if you need it? Can anything be simplified?


You’re almost there! Finalize:

  • Your timeline, which the editor will need to use so they can drop clips in the appropriate places for the song
  • Your masterlist of clips
  • A complete list of props
  • A list of costumes (if costume changes are applicable)
  • A list of locations


For locations, there’s something really important to keep in mind: is the land you’re using public or private? For private spaces, you’ll often need to get permission to film on-location. Many, but not all, outdoor spaces and parks tend to be public land. Private land includes businesses, houses, some monuments, some government buildings, etc. Check your municipal / regional laws regarding filming, and if you need to call or email anyone regarding private land, do so. Be aware that if you are caught filming on private land, there will be consequences; these could range from having to delete your footage all the way up to a hefty fine or other legal action.

Once you’ve accomplished that, it’s time for the last thing you need prior to filming:


This should include travel times, breaks, costume-changing time (if applicable) and shooting time.

As a rule of thumb, you should expect that 1 HOUR SHOOTING = 30 SECONDS of video. This is because you’ll likely have to reshoot clips multiple times, and you’ll want at least 3 takes of each clip in case one isn’t workable in terms of lighting, focus, acting, etc.

As a side note: you as a director will want to keep in mind that in between clips, people are likely to lose focus for any number of seconds or minutes. If you can estimate 5 minutes of setup before each clip shooting, that might be beneficial; more time if you need to reset props or special effects. Lots of math, I know, but at every shoot I’ve been at we usually get a LITTLE off topic and need some time to refocus ourselves and get back on track.

You’ll also want to take that masterlist of clips and SORT IT BY LOCATION; what order is most convenient for getting from one place to the next? If you’re filming all in one area, you’ll still want to map this out in advance because not knowing where you’ll be filming next takes up valuable time.

Other considerations to take into account include member availability and costume changes. I’d highly recommend having all cast on “set” at all points in shooting, even if they aren’t in a specific scene. Otherwise, their appointments or commitments run the risk of delaying shooting time, and setting the project back. If the project itself is treated as a no-holds-barred commitment, chances are shooting will go more smoothly. Something else that’s crucial: Ensure that every single person on cast and crew has arranged transportation in advance, from pickups all the way through the shoot to dropoffs.

If you’ve been working with your videographer throughout all this, you should be good to go! : D

As for directing, I’ve only got a few pointers;

  1. The director MUST BE ON SET FOR THE ENTIRE DURATION OF SHOOTING, or else things start going wrong.
  2. Do your best to respectfully and courteously keep people on track and focused. I don’t mean  you should be SUPER ANGRY when people giggle or start goofing around, because this should be fun. But you should have established in advance that people need to show respect for the time and effort of everyone involved, including the director. If you treat it as a theatrical production would be – which is professionally, though not always with a serious attitude- chances are you’ll have a better overall experience.
  3. Don’t be afraid to act and direct in the video; just be aware that this may complicate shooting.
  4. If you don’t have your locations or shooting schedule worked out in advance, you risk wasting your time and the time of your videographer and cast, so please take that into consideration BEFORE the film day.
  5. Always plan at LEAST one more hour than you think you’ll need. Chances are you’ll go overtime despite best intentions. If possible, schedule more than one filming day in case you can’t finish in one.
  6. Film your scenes in the order you determined. Check them off as you go. While beginning each take, call out the scene number, the clip number if applicable, and the number of the take. (IE: Scene 1a, take 2)
  7. When you think you’ve wrapped shooting, double check your shooting schedule against your masterlist of clips! Are all the clips you’ve shot and checked off present on the masterlist? Are there any that you accidentally overlooked?
  8. Plan at least 3 extra clips of varied length which can be used as filler in the event that you miscalculate clip length
  9. Only shoot extra or filler scenes at each location AFTER all the vital scenes have been covered… and even then, put them off if you find yourself running late. You can always get filler scenes later. Try to avoid being distracted by “new locations” that you see during filming unless the shoot is casual; if you let your attention drift and try to cram scene-shooting in outside of what’s already been planned, you again run the risk of going over time or neglecting necessary scenes.
  10. Be aware that your finished product may not match the script exactly. Andalantie, when I’ve worked with him, has always informed us when the scripted material wouldn’t work and proposed alternatives for us to select from.
  11. Related to the above: if a clip take just isn’t working – people can’t get their cues, or the lip synching proves too difficult, or you run into other pitfalls related to the acting – simplify it on set. Don’t adjust the timing points or cues, but simplify or modify actions. It’s easier to admit something needs to be easier than it is to frustrate your entire cast and crew by insisting on absolute perfection.
  12. Request a group viewing of the video before it goes live, in case anyone feels something isn’t working.
  13. HAVE FUN.

Thanks for reading my portion! You can continue on to part three, guest written by Andalantie who I’ve worked with on CMVs before 🙂  He’s written on the actual editing process. If you’re interested, he also has a FAQ written up that can answer other questions.

    • Recruitment after you’ve already got a story and song picked can be really annoying in my opinion.
    • I recommend working on one of these projects with your friends 🙂
    • All cast members should be allowed to critique the script and have input into the concept, if not directly assist with writing it.
    • Smaller casts tend to work better for conceptual and story-based videos; I’ve noticed large casts are most effective for lipdubs and showcases.
    • You NEED to have committed cast members; availability on the day of shooting is CRITICAL.