Letting the pictures tell the story

Image of news conference by Bob Eggington released via Creative Commons
Image of news conference by Bob Eggington released via Creative Commons

While delivering a training course at a TV station I noticed that all the packages were made in exactly the same way. The reporters would go out with a camera operator, shoot some footage and get an interview or two. They would come back to the office, decide what interview clips to use in their package and start typing.

The scripts they wrote would have worked fine for radio or newspapers – but they had no connection with the pictures. Apart from the interview clips, all the other pictures they used were just wallpaper behind the reporter’s voice.

This misses the point of television reporting; let the pictures tell the story, wherever possible. Here’s one way of making a TV package by thinking first about the pictures:

Pictures come first

When the pictures have been ingested into the system, make a shot list then show the editor the pictures.

Which are the most interesting shots? What is their optimum lifespan (in seconds)?

What is the right sequence to tell the story? (It is not necessarily the order in which they were recorded)

Do you have a good opening shot? Do you have a good shot for the end?

What is the best place for your stand-up (piece-to-camera) if there is one?

Agree with the editor how the package is to be put together and the key elements of the text

Agree the target length of the package.

Now do your rough cut. Each shot should be as long as it is visually interesting.

Do not use the same shot twice in the package, unless there is a compelling reason to do so (helping with the edit is not a compelling reason).

Does each shot join up smoothly with the next?

The points which attract the eye should ideally be in the same area of the screen at each shot change.

Avoid jump cuts.

If someone is walking, try to end with them walking out of the picture (especially if they are in the next shot in a different place).

With moving shots, only use the moving part, not the static beginning or end.

If you cut away from an interview or a press conference, don’t go back to it unless there is a good reason to do so (helping with the edit is not a good reason).

Don’t use the first question in an interview – start with the first answer.

Watch the finished edit carefully. Does it flow, is there anything that can be cut without damaging the overall package, is there anything missing, is it visually effective?

Now write a shot list with accurate timings.

Now write your script.

You might want to read our training module on ‘How to create a broadcast news package”.