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Writing for cameras vs. Writing for the page

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by BobSacamano, Jan 21, 2013.

  1. BobSacamano

    BobSacamano Member

    Can we all agree that some word arrangements flow better when read on the page than they do when recited for camera? Any extensive experience here with adjusting a writing style for the medium?

    I'm dabbling with work outside of typical sports journalism and writing marketing copy, but finding my edit suggestions often cater a little too heavily to print standards. I'm sure this applies to guys who have a television affiliate, too. I saw a news clip the other day with the on-air anchors introducing a story with the same lead on the website's write-up. It sounded awful on television, but it was a wordy lead, regardless.

    But, then again, shouldn't good words be good words everywhere?
  2. No, as there are different formats to TV news. Are you writing a VO, VO-SOT, or a package?
  3. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member


    Writing for TV and writing for print are two entirely different animals.

    Writing for TV should be far more conversational, with shorter and simpler sentences. Complex sentences that are fine when you read them on the page become nearly incomprehensible when read aloud.

    Good TV writing is also written to the video, which is obviously a non-issue in print.
  4. In my new job, in addition to writing press releases I'm also asked to write speeches for our college president. I quickly learned there are some phrases and words that are hard for him to say, and while I always want to make him sound intelligent with large words, it's very easy to go overboard -- what sounds well-written in print sounds like marbles when the guy is trying to give a speech in an auditorium.
  5. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Two good rules I picked up from vets about writing for broadcast (and by no means do I have much experience with it, so take my advice with a grain of salt):

    1. Use active verbs. Be descriptive. (Of course, you should use active, descriptive verbs in all writing. But particularly for broadcast.)

    2. A general guideline for sentence construction: Subject -> Verb -> Object -> Miscellaneous. Viewers/listeners need to know who you're talking about and what's going on, from the very beginning. No fancy clauses. Get to the point, short and sweet. You're not writing a suspense novel.
  6. BobSacamano

    BobSacamano Member

    It's an entire package. We're syncing up voice overs with relevant b-roll footage and blending in straight dialogue.
  7. Lugnuts

    Lugnuts Well-Known Member

    You're talking about an art and a craft that takes people years to learn to do well....

    But if you're putting together a package... a few starter tips....

    The 'dialogue' you're talking about is SOT (sound on tape), also called 'sound.' Start there. Log all your sound. Pick the very best stuff. Whatever's interesting, emotional, and/or best conveyed by the person speaking. Try to keep your sound bites short, crisp and tight. A :30 sound bite does not work in this day and age. Edit out ums and uhs and cover with video.

    Next write "tracks" or "voice overs" that tee up the good sound you picked. Tracks should be 1-2 sentences max and do not necessarily need to be complete sentences. Keep it informative, colorful and tight.

    It's also good to include pops of "natural sound"-- a scream, the crack of a bat, a whistle-- anything.

    If you're using music, you can have moments of "music full." My biggest pet peeve, tho, is just taking a cut of music and wallpapering your entire piece with it. Don't to that. Use music thoughtfully. Also make sure the music is cleared legally. ;)

    Watch the piece again and again. Be brutal. If at any point you're bored, tighten.

    Once you learn all the rules, work on breaking them.
  8. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    All good advice from Lugs, but I would add this: you almost assuredly do not have the rights to the music, so don't go there. It can end up being very, very expensive.
  9. BobSacamano

    BobSacamano Member

    We have composer agreements and such, so music is okay for the end product. That's not my area right now, though. We're using the iTunes generics for rough versions. Thanks for the advice guys, and I really appreciate the insight, Lugnuts. I keep trying to convert phrases to the way they should sound in normal speech -- it's a skill I developed in a screenwriting course by eavesdropping on conversations and transcribing them verbatim. I have to scratch a lot of the formality.
  10. Norrin Radd

    Norrin Radd New Member

    Everything about broadcast is really easy.


    Print Jockeys
  11. Glenn Stout

    Glenn Stout Member

    One of the most enlightening experiences I ever had was consulting on a biographical video documentary for public broadcasting - the subject was a well-known figure and his story contained significant and serious political and cultural issues. Near the end of the process I was asked to fact-check the script - both VO and all spoken interview dialogue. If I recall correctly, for the 42 or 44 minute production, the entire script was only about 1500 words. I wasn't naive - my wife used to write for TV news, so I wasn't expecting Shakespeare - but I read it and was mortified. It read as if written by and for a ten-year old - no serious content whatsoever, completely simplistic, essentially a kids book, and not a very good one. I was certain the project was going to be a massive failure.

    Several months later, it aired. When paired with image and music, it was another animal altogether. Widely praised by critics, it later won a local Emmy and was aired many, many times.

    Taught me this - virtually any documentary video or film script, standing by itself, is almost entirely without serious content. For most subjects, the 1200-1500 words that will be used in a film designed for an hour-long broadcast goes no deeper into a subject than a basic news a feature of the same length, and usually far, far less.

    But speak those words, pair it with video, and add music, and the IQ level goes up a hundred points. The banal becomes brilliant - there's a reason they don't print the scripts afterwards.
  12. Norrin Radd

    Norrin Radd New Member

    Great illustration of what a unique animal the Tv script can be.

    A truly underrated skill for today's young journalists to have is the ability to rewrite TV copy into print-esque stories for TV station Web sites.
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