I most often use Excel for script writing, but occasionally for other copy and content jobs too.
Allow me to illustrate...
I was once commissioned by an agency to write a script for one of their global clients. The project was for a 2-minute promotional video for a technical product to a non-technical B2B client audience. So far, so straightforward.
But, as the company was capitalising on an unexpected opportunity, they had neither the time nor the departmental budget to commission a new film.
The project relied on being able to use footage from a 9-minute technical staff training video they already had.
I had 24 hours to write a compelling, sales focused, non-technical voice-over script and choose the best clips from a technical internal training film to use alongside it.
A botched together edit is not something I would have been prepared to deliver. So the challenge was to create something every bit as slick and professional as a bespoke film, despite the constraints.
Time to call in Excel
In circumstances like these, Excel looks at Word, snorts in derision and rolls up its sleeves.
Using Excel, I could easily map my outline script plan against film time references to make sure I wasn’t selecting the same footage, or parts of the same clip, more than once.
When I'd finished mapping the outline to suitable footage clips, I could move on to drafting the script properly. At this point, I could have reverted to my trusty old friend, Word, but I continued to use Excel. Why?
How Excel can wipe the floor with Word
With any complex writing project, Excel has a long list of features which can outshine Word all day long. For instance, I can:
All from one document.
For script projects like the one mentioned above, this image gives you an idea of what my working documents look like and how they work:
Formula for success
Using sums, I can calculate the length of each clip using time references from the original film, which I also need to provide clear editing instructions to the production company.
I can also total the scene lengths to help me keep track of the overall running length of the new film while I'm making adjustments.
Another simple sum, to multiply the length of any given scene by X, gives me a rough word count, based on the ideal voice-over pace for this type of production. In this example, 3 words per second.
I can then keep track of the script's word count against this, using this formula:
This calculates the number of words in my script as typed in cell H2.
The benefit of using a word count formula in Excel, rather than writing in Word, is that it keeps a constant display of the word count for individual cells. The problem with the on-screen word count display in Word is that it gives me the total word count for the whole document and I'd have to keep stopping to highlight any specific sections of text to keep track of each scene's length.
A final note in Excel's favour
Just like in Word, you can add notes in Excel documents using the 'Insert Comment' function. But I prefer to see any notes alongside each row, so I create a separate column for them in the worksheet.
I use this to make notes to myself while I'm working on the project. I also use it before sending the file to other stakeholders such as:
The best tool for writing isn't always Word, just as the best tool for pouring water isn't always a watering can. It's just about choosing and using the right tool for the job. And for some writing projects, that's Excel.
That's why I'll never be the dentist whose only tool is a drill.