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TV Script – How to Write Like a PRO!

  • August 29, 2018
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
TV Script – How to Write Like a PRO!


TV Script Cinematography filmmaker film movies tv shooting DP lights

TV and online ads are becoming longer, more artistic feats. That said, many new writers make the mistake of handing in script formatted drafts to clients instead of TV formatted scripts. It’s actually an easy fix just by knowing the correct template to work with, but first you need access to a template. We’re going to touch on some of the key differences of narrative-based screenplays and TV ads. (If you’re in a hurry and just need the link to the TV Commercial script template scroll down to the bottom of the article!).

IT’S A WHOLE OTHER GAME!

The format is completely different. When you sit down to write a narrative piece, you know that you have your scene headings, action, transitions, characters, dialogue, etc. Much of the screenwriting technology makes it a cake walk. You simply tab over. That’s it. There’s a designated area for each component. The margins direct everything towards the center of the page.

One issue with this method of layout is that it doesn’t particularly convey time well. I mean, we all say, well, one page usually amounts to a page. Give or take, somewhere around there. But, what if your page is predominantly action? Or, what if it’s just dialogue? I’m sure now you can see where the issue lies with time. A lot of action typically slows down the time, as there is much more to convey visually. But, if there’s a lot of talking, that ramps up the pace. This doesn’t work well for TV or online commercials where TIMING is everything!

Don’t let time get the better of you.

Scripts for commercials look much different than your narrative script. I’m told that they are mostly referred to as the 1/3-2/3 TV script, but I’ll just call it the TV script. To me, they sort of look like a diagram. You have your visuals on the left hand side, and you have your audio on the right. In many ways, it’s looks much simpler than your film screenplays, and that’s on purpose. The more simple and easy to read, the better for clients and crew working on the project. This script format paces itself out in a way that best conveys time, helping clients and crew easily see and hear what’s going on.

Writing in this style is often gratifying because you can use the columns in a duality that best projects your vision — in the very least, the TV script shows pretty accurately how you intend to time out your piece. Let’s be honest, it can be difficult working with clients. It can be especially tough trying to impart on them your vision, so the method for TV scripts makes it a little easier. Just a little.

 

THE LEFT COLUMN OF THE SCRIPT 

Now, this isn’t some sort of left brain, right brain kind of thing. Although, out of the two sides, the left side is the more practical and, in my mind, it’s more practical to see something than to hear something, so you tell me… As far as I know, there’s not a specific reason why the visuals are on the left, but since many of us read from left to right, it kind of makes sense, right?  

TV Script Cinematography filmmaker film movies tv shooting DP lights

A great feature about the left column is how much more descriptive you can be. This is especially the case with action heavy ads. As we touched on before, you can pace yourself much easier, and if you’re going from fast to slow, or visa versa, you will have much more control in this column. Also, from the polar opposite position, let’s say you don’t have much action, or you don’t know the action because you’re Live. Then, you would just write down what you do know will happen on camera, and work it around your unpredictable action.

In the left column, you also want to work in the GFX. Again, if you see it then it’s going to exist in this column. Another thing to note, you will sometimes run into company’s that will provide actual visuals in their columns. This can be a location or an image from a storyboard artist. Again, this is done to avoid confusion with the client and to show them exactly what they’re getting.

 

THE RIGHT COLUMN OF THE SCRIPT

Here’s where it gets META. The audio side, otherwise known as the right side, or elusive side — as it is the most important yet least tangible part of the project. You hear it, you feel it, but you don’t see it. That’s exactly how you should write it. You want to FEEL it even though you don’t SEE it. The right column also houses Dialogue and Voice Over.

TV Script Cinematography filmmaker film movies tv shooting DP lights

You want to use CAPITAL letters to get a rise, and to give emotion to a certain point in your TV script. But, be careful. You don’t want to overdue the CAPS. If everything is capitalized, THE KEY OR EMOTIONAL TERM WON’T BE DISTINGUISHABLE FROM ANYTHING ELSE, AND IT WILL ALL RUN TOGETHER. DO YOU CATCH MY DRIFT?

All CAPS are best suited when dealing with SOUND EFFECTS! Let’s get ‘em locked and loaded! CLK! CLK! Or, sink the shot! SWOOSH!

The right column, especially when using dialogue or voice over, can be particularly useful when estimating time duration. Unless you want a particular word to stand out, you do not need to capitalize dialogue. 

Both narrative and TV scripts possess exclusive differences that are designed for the best results. So, now you know the difference between both scripts. It’s always good to know why the formatting varies, so you can take advantage of those key differences, and stand out from competition. Now, instead of perusing the whole internet for a blank TV script template, we’ve gone through the trouble for you! Click HERE for a free TV commercial script template! This will help you on your next spot. They’re also extremely easy to make in Microsoft Word. We hope this article enlightened you, or at the very least a helpful link. Happy writing!

 

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