How to Write an Audio-Video Script

Although writing audio-visual scripts is a creative undertaking, some technical aspects must be considered. Just like business letters, college reports and essays, guidelines and rules govern the writing process.

Free-form documents look amateurish and can be difficult for audio-visual professionals to understand. Professional writers follow simple layout guidelines to get their ideas across to readers efficiently. Here are the basic scriptwriting formats that screenwriters and news producers use for entertainment productions and news programming.

Movies and Television Shows

Identify the backdrop of the scene. Begin by telling the reader if the action happens indoors or outside by using the abbreviations "INT." for interior or "EXT." for exterior. Follow this up with a succinct description of the location followed by a dash and a time reference. This section should be bold face and written in all capitals. For example: INT. RESTAURANT -- NIGHT.

Insert dialogue. To signal that a character is talking, center-align his or her name and write the dialogue left-aligned below. Write character names with capital letters but write dialogue text normally.

Describe action happening in the scene. Signal when characters enter or exit the scene and describe any important action with detailed passages. Italicize and left-align these descriptions.

Television News

Write the slug, or name of your story, at the top of the page.

Format the rest of the page so you have two columns. The left side is primarily for the technical staff. The right side of the page is primarily for the on-air talent.

Write the name of the person you want to read the story on the top of both columns. Use capital letters.

Next make note of the video format you want to use in both columns using capital letters. Use "ON CAM" if you want your talent on screen and nothing else. "VO" means video only. Use this when you have video footage that you want your anchor to talk over. "SOT" stands for sound on tape or sound bites. "PKG" stands for package, a complete stand-alone video story with its own voice-over track and cuts of video. Make sure these video format commands line up on both sides of the page.

On the left column write down any additional information about the video that would be useful for the staff. You may want to include tape numbers and the title of the video you're using. For packages, include the "TRT" or total running time and an out cue, the final words of voice track.

Write the script on the right column. Use capital letters for anything your talent is going to read on-air. Use lower and uppercase lettering for scripts that are recorded and will be played back--packages and SOTs for example.

Write down any CGs or computer graphics you want on the left. Common CGs include names and locations.

  • There are several news writing programs like iNews and NewsMaker, that will format scripts and estimate reading times for you.
  • If someone is going to be reading your script from a prompter, consider making things easier for them by spelling out numbers and providing pronunciation guides for difficult words. If you don't, be prepared for on-air gaffs.
About the Author

Erica Tambien began writing professionally in 1999. She is a freelance writer and communications consultant living in Reno, Nev. Her work has since appeared on various websites and for KOLO-TV. She holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration with an emphasis in marketing from the University of Nevada-Reno.

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