Chapter Four

Writing for a Visual Medium

In its finest form, television is about telling a story using visual text. It took a while, but early television pioneers eventually realized that the television medium was not simply "a radio with pictures" (Barnouw, p. 12). It is a unique medium with its own nuances, strengths, and short-comings. If anything, a primary premise for this course is to teach that a television segment is only as good as its plan, its vision (no pun intended), and its script. Producers who can bring all the technological enhancements in the world to bear on their productions simply cannot mitigate the basic need for an underpinning of a strong story line. The temptation is to give in to the desire to fluff up the story with special effects. Sufficient to remind you of the several old expressions that speak to this: like: all fluff and no stuff…. all sizzle and no steak (and so forth).
For the purposes of this chapter, the term script actually refers to three things: the dialogue, the video devices used by the scriptwriter (and interpreted by the director), and any supplemental audio that is used to tell the story. A television script, then, not only tells the talent what to say, but also what they do. The script also introduces the director to the over-riding mood or feeling of the segment. In other words, the script is the written plan or blueprint for the entire production as visualized by a storyboard. This course makes a distinction between two kinds of script formats. A script written for a teleplay is much more detailed and tells a story. On the other hand, a news script does not require as much detail as it tells a story of much a shorter length, and has its own requirements as to writing style. The newscast also has its own form of notation and punctuation to indicate what to say and how to say it. A storyboard is the scaffolding, or schematic, that supports both script formats.

The primary goal of the lessons in this chapter is to introduce students to these two script formats, the importance of storyboards, and to dispel any preconceived notions that scripting, video, and supplemental audio are three separate functions, when, in fact, they all are inter-dependent. They are all job responsibilities of the scriptwriter.

The lessons in this chapter are: