Multi-Camera Scripts

Most studio programmes involve switching from one camera source to another in real time. So the information on this sort of script has to be much more precise than you’d need for shooting on location.

All the information to make the programme should be on the script. Old-timers used to say, “If you’ve done your homework properly on a script, then if you were knocked down by a bus on the way to the studio, you’d be able to sit up in your hospital bed and watch the programme knowing it would be just what you’d planned.”

Some programmes are fully scripted, like dramas; others not so fully. I mean, you can’t write the script for a football match, can you? Nor can you for interviews, discussions, and some magazine programmes.

But you do as much as you can. You can script the opening sequence of the football match, for example. And by scripting, I don’t just mean writing down the words the commentator will say; television is primarily pictures, and they need writing down as well. Let’s take fully-scripted programmes first. Have a look at a page from a magazine programme script. It should load into a separate page so you can look at it side by side with this text.

  1. Shots are numbered sequentially so they can be referred to easily and quickly.
  2. Each shot has a horizontal line that shows the vision mixer where to make the transition.
  3. Some lines have a little tick to indicate the precise point for the cut.
  4. Some cutting points are left ‘open ended’ for the director and vision mixer to ‘feel’ the best place to cut or mix.
  5. If the transition isn’t a cut, that information will also be shown. Shot sixteen begins with a mix (equivalent to a dissolve on film).
  6. Shot 15a is a superimposition of the output of a Character Generator over the background shot 15 on video tape. Simply put, the person’s name appears in letters. Shot 15 remains though – that’s why the super (usual term) is shot 15a, not 16.
  7. The precise time the interviewee or reporter appears on videotape and the viewer needs to know who’s speaking.
  8. A reminder to ‘lose’ the CG after a few seconds. The rule is; hold it long enough to read slowly three times. That’s longer than you might think, but remember the viewer is taking in information about how the person looks and what he or she says as well.
  9. Shot 16 on 3 begins as a Mid Shot. Camera three is in his ‘B’ position in the studio; the operator looks at the master plan that shows scenery, artist, camera and other information. There will be circles with arrows representing camera positions. One of them will be labelled 3B. The operator looks at the coordinates marked on the plan, finds the corresponding numbers on the studio walls, puts his camera where the two references cross and . . . the shot should be right there in his viewfinder.
  10. The shot holds for the presenter’s remark on the VT story, then tightens to a Medium Close Up. Any instruction for a zoom, track, pan or whatever is written in the left hand column opposite the dialogue that motivates it.
  11. Not a written newspaper caption, but a photograph. There have, presumably, been two captions in the programme before this one.
  12. A/B just means As Before. When shot 16 ended, camera three was showing a Medium Close Up. Shot 18 is simply the same shot.
  13. Who says what! Ben was obviously speaking on the previous page.
  14. SOVT means Sound On Video Tape. Lets the sound supervisor know you want to hear the sound track. (You nearly always want this, of course).
  15. The sound continues until a little after the sound track ends with the dialogue shown; ” . . . Down Under.” If there were some sound effect or music after this that would be indicated. Sometimes the music continues for quite a while after the last picture so the sound mixer can fade it down under the dialogue. To indicate that, the vertical line from ‘SOVT’ would continue on to run parallel with the dialogue for a few lines (maybe becoming a dotted line during the crossover).
  16. Stage instructions are usually in capitals in parentheses. If there’s a paragraph of instructions without dialogue, most people omit the brackets.
  17. The ‘comment’ isn’t written dialogue. It’s for Ben to react to the story. Just a few words like, ‘Gives you a bit of a thirst, doesn’t it?’ would do.
  18. A reminder that the next picture is from videotape, or more likely a server these days. ‘Run’ is the command that the director or PA will give to whoever is operating the machine.

In the same way (not indicated here, because it’s automatic) the director will have to say ‘Cue Ben’ just before he or she calls for the mix to camera 3. Run for videotape, cue for something in the studio. I’ve no idea why it’s ‘Action’ for single camera stuff and ‘Cue’ for multi-camera. Except that when an actor hears ‘Action’ he can pause a second, take a breath and go; if a programme from the studio is live, the performer must react immediately to ‘Cue’. Which is a nice hard sound, unlike ‘Action’ which is soft and smooth!

Nobody’s going to ask you to write a studio script until you’ve been working in television for some time. (And even then you don’t have to worry – your PA should sort out all the formatting for you).