Friday, April 20, 2012

TV Careers: Scriptwriting and Audio Visual (A/V)

It is unlikely you will begin your career in film, television and video as a scriptwriter. The business has become so institutionalized, rarely are there opportunities to walk up to a producer, strike up a conversation, and pitch him or her your fabulous idea. Consider yourself lucky if you can get an appointment with one face to face.
I was once an aspiring musician and I can tell you, the music industry is just about the same. This is not being negative, but we must always remember that these industries are just that, industries. Try getting an appointment with the CEO of General Motors or Wal-Mart. Even so, if you keep plugging away at it, there are opportunities out there for scriptwriters, although you probably will not be working on a concept that you created. Another thing I hear from new aspiring writers is, "I have this great idea for a show. How can I get a network producer to make it?" I am sure that it is a fabulous idea, but the reality is that even if you do manage to get an appointment and sell the idea, you probably will not be hired on as a writer. They will pay you some money, and send you on your way. It was only an idea. They will hire trusted and experienced professionals to efficiently develop it into a series or screenplay. Remember, this is an industry.

Looking on the brighter side, there are still opportunities out there for a writer, and you do not have to know much about scriptwriting. There are a wide variety of scripts that are used in television and video. In film, there are writing formalities and procedures that must be met before anyone will even look at your script. There are software packages, how-to guides, DVD's and a whole host of things you can purchase to help make your script or screenplay look polished and acceptable to someone in the film industry. Just keep in mind that it can still be done with just a plain old typewriter or word processor. Unless you are pitching to a network producer, through an agent of course, it is not so formal with television scripts. In television there are several varieties of scripts depending on the application. As an aspiring writer, some of the first scripts you will come across in television will be as a production assistant on a newscast. Let us quickly examine these first. The main script in news is the anchor script. The anchors, producer, director and technical director will receive copies of these. This anchor script will have every story that will be read, who will read it, and notations about which camera, time length, whether the story is on-camera, a VO (voice over) or SOT (sound on tape), and other information. How much of the dialogue is actually written by staff members, and how much of it is just copied, will vary from station to station. Some of it may be written or ad-libbed by the anchors themselves. The other script is called a rundown, which is a script for the crew. The senior news staff will also receive copies of the rundowns. It contains the same information and notations as in the anchor script, only without the dialogue.

Television productions do use script treatments like they do in film. Script treatments are sometimes used to pitch ideas, but in most cases the idea often comes from a staff producer or writer, and the treatment is more of a verbal one. The thing to remember about treatments is that it should interest the reader without using too many words. Think of it like the promo text on the back cover of a novel. It is short, concise and honed down to only essential descriptions, however many pages are required by the recipient. A treatment should leave them wanting for more. Getting back to television scripts. Much of this industry overlaps in many ways, and have seen TV and video scripts that look very similar to film screenplays, I have even written a few myself.

Screenplays, or adaptations of previously written research, information or literature, are useful in many ways on longer projects. In reality, most video productions are ten to thirty minutes long, occasionally reaching sixty minutes. While a screenplay is very useful, there are other ways to write a video script, but we will get to that later. First a written draft containing all the spoken dialogue and scene descriptions is developed. This will resemble a very lengthy and detailed treatment, if you will. If the piece is ten or more minutes long, an informal screenplay is then developed. This will look similar to a film screenplay with scene number, description, direction, any dialogue, etc. for each scene. Another way to write a script for TV and video also serves as a useful guide to use when actually taping the project. It is known as an audio-visual (A/V) script, and is sometimes used for short subject videos.

Affectionately nicknamed a T-script, or a split script, it is a convenient way to help visualize your written project on paper. A T-script gets its name by how it is structured. You can use a 'T" to separate everything as in the example, but it is not really necessary. In fact, you can take any of what I am about to say and write it however way you wish, these examples are just guidelines. Usually a T-script is divided into two columns. The left side is for any visuals to be seen, and the right side for any audio that will be heard. This is an important thing to remember about a T-script. Let us say the actor (talent) is supposed to say, "Good taste!" while a title is keyed on the screen reading the same thing. In a T-script, not only what the talent says is written on the audio side, but since what he says is being seen, it must also be noted verbatim on the video side. Anyway, there are various abbreviations and terminology used to make things easier when writing scripts. Most of this terminology is common in both television and film. Memorize these abbreviations, and get into the habit of using them when writing any script. Abbreviations are important in a script because it alleviates having to repeatedly type out long phrases. Another benefit is that abbreviations help to give the script a visually polished, organized and professional appearance.

There are table-driven software packages available you can buy that will make A/V scriptwriting easy and convenient. You can spend your money on such programs if you like, but I have seen people write T-scripts with spreadsheets, tables, columns and just plain old word processors, which is my preference. It really does not matter how you go about it, because writing a T-script is pretty simple and easy to do. You just have to remember the concept behind a T-script. One way to put it is that a T-script is built in sections. You write the visual components of a given scene, and write whatever audio or dialogue will be heard during that scene in the audio column. Then you move on down to the next scene. This is why people prefer using tables when writing a T-script. Whatever is written in the video cell, will take up as much space as the audio cell next to it, no matter how much text is written in either cell. This is the best way to describe how a T-script is structured.

However way you write one, it is a very versatile and handy tool for short subject videos. When you are in production and taping a scene, it is a quick way to see how you originally envisioned it. An A/V script is useful for corporate, informational, and promotional videos, commercials, music videos and even comedy skits. As opposed to a screenplay, an A/V script is more of a visually detailed reference in words. Ultimately, that is what you are trying to do when writing any script. You are trying to put into words what you envision visually in your mind, so that whoever reads it will take from the words a recreation of that vision in their minds. That's the way I see it anyway. Good luck with all of your writing endeavors.

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