Video Drama For Learning: 1. Making It Work

This Tom Hickmore Nice Mediaarticle was written for and published in the September 2014 issue of e.learning age. It was the first in a three part series (read part two on scriptwriting and part three on production values). It was written by Tom Hickmore, Creative Director and Founder of Nice Media. Learn more about how Nice Media work here.

My mission is to improve the quality of video for learning. It’s in everyone’s interest. And the best way to make it happen is to have informed buyers. Making better video isn’t about the money, it’s about understanding the medium. Commissioning a video production can be a nerve-wracking experience: How can I get the best value? How can I get my supplier to give me their best work?

Over three months and three issues of e.learning age we will be publishing a series of articles to show you to get the most from your video budget and to make your video drama come to life and hit home.

Each of the three articles will be centred on short videos – exemplars of the techniques we will be discussing – to illustrate where your money goes and how to get the best from your investment.

How to spend your money

If you’re thinking of producing video drama with a learning objective what’s the best way to use your budget? Your order or priority for investment should be:

1. script
2. actors
3. director
4. production values

I’ll deal with each one in turn and explain why you need it, how it will make your drama work better and why it can save you money.

Script – invest in thinking

Invest in script because in any human endeavour it pays to invest in thinking before you begin. Script because people think it’s easy and it isn’t. And script because if the script is good you don’t have to make the video look flashy. A good story will hold attention if you film it on a phone and play it through a black and white telly.

A scriptwriter, working with a director can also shape an idea to fit your budget. How can we tell this story most economically? How can we represent a cross-section using just a few actors? Clear thinking saves your money.

Actors – you can’t do it without them

You can’t make drama without actors. Actors bring your story to life. Invest in actors because people think acting is easy – it isn’t and a good cast costs money. Actors because why else are you making a drama? It’s all about people, so invest in the people who represent your people. That means investing in the casting process.

The director

The director comes next, that’s me. Thinking of myself as a chef about to cook you a meal – if I already have a good recipe (script) and the best ingredients (actors) I’m halfway there. As your chef am I going to be better than self-catering? You bet.

Directors understand how video works, how all the elements fit together to bring your vision to life. And of course, in video for learning we have to make an engaging film which also delivers the learning points. Directors realise the vision with command of all the technical elements at their disposal. To some extent, directors are also writers with the script as their libretto.

Production values – does gloss matter?

Did Matisse need oils to create beautiful art? When infirmity forced him to work only in coloured paper – the cut-out pictures that resulted took his art a leap forward.

Production values are the difference between filming on your phone and getting a trained crew in with lights and lenses and costume and makeup and grips and dollies and …all sorts of stuff! Production values can add a lot in terms of gloss and beauty and brand values and make the video more of a pleasure to watch – but the secret is that their contribution to the learner experience is not directly proportional to how much budget they take up.

In summary, make sure the foundations of your video drama are as strong as possible to guarantee that your remaining investment will reap the biggest reward.


Here are two short videos written by Sony award-winning dramatist and instructional designer Anita Sullivan. We have produced a good script and a better script for the same scene. The subject is bullying in the workplace.

The basic script is a text that makes sense on the page to someone who is ticking off a list of learning points. It’s what we’d call an expositionary script – that is to say one that takes all the learning points and puts them clearly into the speech of the characters. The other script only differs subtly: the learning points are less clearly signposted in the text, but they are all there and the writing is more emotionally engaging on a subject that is emotional.

Which of the scripts do you think works better? Comment below or tweet us @nicemediauk.

Click Here to download the scripts

Watch some more examples of video drama here.

Read part two on ‘Video Drama Scriptwriting’ here.
Read part three on ‘Production Values’ here.

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