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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Formatting Soap Opera Scripts

Formatting Soap Opera Scripts

In style, television and movie script are similar; however, television programs must format around commercials and station identification. While movies contain a full hour of entertainment, broadcast television is broken down into approximately 22 minutes of entertainment and 8 minutes of commercials per half hour.

Most one hour shows have six 2.02 minute breaks with two 1.34, which fall at the top and bottom of the hour. Generally this leaves 22 minutes per half hour for the actual show, which is broken down further into the teaser/open, three acts and bottom of the hour teaser/bridge for the local break. The second half hour also has three acts, but it is ended with a teaser/closing credits and the top of the hour break.

Whether starting at the top or bottom of the hour, the initial segment, contains the show teaser and opening; its run time varies between 2-4 minutes in length. The following three acts divide the remaining entertainment time between them without any set length; however, most stations, especially during ratings, identify themselves within a two minute margin at the quarter hour; therefore, there is usually a break written in to accommodate this standard. The second half hour also begins with a teaser, which identifies the show and the network, and is followed by a local commercial with identification. Most shows end with a 2-4 minute teaser of the next episode and the ending credits with another local break following.

Unless you have a talent that milks their part, usually one page of script equals one minute of air time. This generality helps the writer pace the storyline and time the scenes to maximize the suspense in order to hold the audience’s attention through the commercial breaks. By splitting the action between multiply scenes to create mini cliffhangers, the writer suspends the action in order to height the drama and prevent channel surfing. It is also how a creative writer creates an effective end of an episode cliffhanger to torment the viewers into returning to see what happens to their favorite characters.

Format for one hour television script
2-4 minutes teaser and show open

2.02 minute commercial break

Act 1

2.02 minute commercial break

Act 2

2.02 minute commercial break

Act 3

1:34 minute commercial break

20 second teaser- 10 seconds from each half hour

1:34 bottom of the hour local break

Act 4

2.02 minute commercial break

Act 5

2.02 minute commercial break

Act 6

2.02 minute commercial break

2-4 tag and end credits

1:34 local top of the hour break

No doubt many of you are asking why the script I have been writing for Days doesn’t meet this industry standard. Very simple. There are two reasons. When I started, it was a protest that I never thought would go any where. Originally I was going to write a few scenes to embarrass the writers into their job. However, I received so much positive feedback that I just kept going. Secondly, a major of my script writing experience was for the stage and screen. Even then, it had been a while since I worked on a long project. My information was not only dated, but I had forgotten a few little details. The new scenes will be in the correct format. I’ve also started the process of reformatting and restructuring the rest to not only meet the industry standards but to also put it into episodes. During the process a few scenes will have to be tweaked, but it will give me a chance to improve them as well. Although I knew how I wanted the storylines to unfold, everything that I have posted still qualifies for first draft status. The reality is that I had put little effort into the project yet it was still be better than the so called professionals; hat do you think I could do if I actually put work it to the project?

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