Writing to pictures

By Kevin Bishop

Unlike radio or print where the words are the main conveyors of the story, with television the pictures should dictate what you write. A common mistake is to describe what the pictures are already showing. Instead, the best television scripts enrich the pictures and use them to tell the story in a natural way. Here are a few basic tips to follow when writing to pictures:

  • Look at the pictures before writing
  • Opening shot and closing shot are crucial
  • Pictures inspire the lines. Be selective with your words. Don't describe what you see
  • Use language that would be “understood by a truck driver but not insult the intelligence of a professor” (Ed Murrow)
  • Take time to compose your opening line
  • Your sentences should convey:
  1. Narrative
  2. Atmosphere
  3. Context
  • Make each line hold hands with the next
  • Listen to the sound. Let pictures breathe. 10% should be a natural sound. Close your eyes and listen.
  • Talk to the editor and the cameraman. Try out the lines in the team
  • Talk to yourself. Rise and fall, rhythm
  • Finish. Go back and polish - “there is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing” (Mark Twain)

Media Tips