“Writing” for Broadcast

Fluffy must die?

You are shooting a story in a veterinary hospital when suddenly, a small 5-year old girl comes in cradling her puppy.

The dog has been hit by a car, and though barely alive, the little girl has scooped her up in her arms and carried her to the vet’s.

With tears in her eyes and anxiety in her speech she plaintively asks: “mister, can you save fluffy?”

The vet takes the dog, places her on the operating table, and before your eye (and camera!) he proceeds to save the dog’s life.

Great story.

You got it all.

At the end of the day, you go home, exhausted to your wife and kids.

Sitting at the dinner table, you have a great story to tell.

You can’t wait, really.

Once everyone is seated, your wife turns to you and ‘anything interesting happen today’.

The kids lean forward. They can sense you’ve got a great story to tell.

You sit ramrod straight in your seat and with your best ‘Edward R. Murrow’ voice of God, you solemnly state to the table:

“More than 2500 dogs are struck each year in the greater metropolitan area. Fluffy (pause for dramatic effect) was one of the lucky few.”

The room is silent.

Your wife turns to you.

“Honey”, she says, “maybe you should dial back on the xanax a little bit”.

Because no one… no one… talks like that.

If you were in the vet’s office when fluffy came in and when the vet saved the dog’s life, you would say:

“You won’t believe what happened today!”

everyone leans forward.

“I saw this guy save a dog’s life”!

‘You’re kidding”, they say, or think.

“No, seriously. This little girl came in cradling this puppy. It was covered in blood, and I guess it had been hit by a car”

Do we have their attention?

“Then what happened?”

“They the little girl said, ‘mister, can you save my dog?”


THIS is how we tell a story to our family.

Our kids.

Our friends.

A guy in a bar.

Well, guess what? The viewers are our family. Our friends. Our kids. A guy in a bar.

The way you tell a story to them is the way you should ‘write for broadcast’.

It works.

Particularly when you marry it to pictures that tell the story.

Try it.

Or, as someone a bit more uptight might say..



9 responses to ““Writing” for Broadcast

  1. “So how was your day as a VJ dear.”
    “Oh my god what a nightmare!!!”
    “This little girl came in with a dog that had been run over, but I missed that because the Vet nurse had just slapped me and was having a hissy fit about the way I was holding the camera low for an up the nose interview which made it look like I was staring at her breasts… so I ran into the surgery but the camera had gone into sleep mode so I had to get every one to say what was happening again… not that it mattered because all you could hear was the compressor of the fridge.
    Then all the surgery stuff was unusable because the little lens has fogged with the temperature change. By the time that had cleared it was all almost over so I told the vet he had to open up Fluffy again or we wouldn’t use him in the show.
    Fluffy had a hemorrhage and I got some blood on the lens so the auto focus went macro on that so the rest of it was unusable. I think I got the girl in silhouette… bloody auto iris… crying over Fluffy lifeless corpse before I ran out of card space so with a bit of luck it should still work out for our other hyperlocal cable show Pet Funerals. Both of our views will love it.”

  2. Dear Stephen,
    That was very funny!
    (Of course, if you are having so much difficulty with the VJ think, I know a 4-day bootcamp you can take to get your skills up to par). Lemme know.
    best wishes for the Holidays

  3. Have a happy holiday, look after your heart… (A consultant with a heart who knew? 😉 🙂 🙂 🙂 )
    Anyway I’m busy too dancing with myself to teach your boot camp how to shoot.
    best wishes

  4. Hey Stephen
    Many thanks for your kind words, and best wishes for the Holidays to you and your family.
    We will be running an ‘advanced’ bootcamp (10 days filming a 30 min doc on location) in Australia in 2008. Maybe you’ll be able to drop by!

  5. PG, I loved your idea for a video clip, but the thing was 2 minutes too long. I got the idea about pencils, yada, yada…

    However, you did inspire me to do a short introspective piece. I think I covered the idea properly in 1 minute.


    By the way, I think you are not using that steadicam to its full potential for a holiday piece. Not cheery at all, just gray. Take that thing out of the room and have some fun! Gimme a foot to face reveal :), run with Santa or Fluffy!

  6. Jim… mate, I’m hardly likely to take advice from someone who shoots as badly as you do.
    I can’t believe I’m suggesting this but maybe you should take Michaels boot camp, just the 4 day one you’re not ready for the 10 day yet.

  7. Perhaps I will….
    Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

    I don’t do this for a living, but just because I like to have fun. I think people should have fun in life. Don’t you? I like it when people show interest in my profession (laser field engineer), including friendly criticism.

    One doesn’t have to be a genius to see when something has moved on into the yawn phase. Just friendly perspective. I thought that the point of Rosenblum’s post was that people would rather be watching things that don’t talk down to them, but tell a real story.

    The FCC just ruled that media conglomerates could have more freedom to glomerate and one of the biggest reasons given was that cable and the internet were causing the traditional media serious financial harm. My mother-in-law can’t use a computer, and the boomers may never “get” the internet. But it is foolish to deny, given empirical evidence like bottom lines, that the ad market is switching to internet and one must only follow the money.

    All of AOL Time-Warner’s income for Q2 2007 was a little under 11 billion. Google was right around 4 billion. Google gives everything away free, does not have filmed entertainment, cable companies (usually in a monopolistic position), or publishing as does AOL TW.

    The point being that, though my mother-in-law will in fact be watching the local news, reading the local paper, and watching network TV, the world is moving away from those things. With 500 cable channels, traditional media will not be able to fill the demand. I watched Nova with the kids last night, then spent much more time using some of the myriad new web services (30boxes.com, google docs).

    I wish the blood didn’t make the focus go macro. Maybe that is covered in the TC Academy. But with youtube alone pulling in so much ad revenue from which the majority is crap, (youtube is projected to pull in from 200 million to 13 billion in the next 5 years) we have the story of the 19th century wheelwright faced with the Ford model A. People will be filling in those 495 other slots. Competition will bring the quality up as competition always does.

    Of course, I thought that the idea of dancing with a steadicam was brilliant for a fun video. Though it didn’t follow the original post, it was a whimsical way to end a post including heart jokes. I like whimsical.

    My point with my video is that you can take anything and point a camera at it for too long at something inane and it will stop being interesting, or you can point a camera at something inane for a short time and it could be fun.

    Siskel and Ebert didn’t make movies, they just commented on the merits. My shooting is mediocre, but that wasn’t the point.

    I really do hope that you have a wonderful holiday season.

    Your mate,

    P.S. Should I come to town, will you have a pint and show me that steadycam? It looks cool.

  8. Jim sorry it I was a bit snappy but if I turned up to your work and said helpful stuff like “Have you though of using red lasers.” Trust me it gets old.

    One of the things about TV is the idea that just because people watch it they think that gives them a perspective on how it is made. That’s BS. I’m not saying don’t have an opinion but when it comes without knowledge…
    “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like.” It’s a special kind of creeping ignorance that only an idiot can be proud of.

    I don’t want to end the year on a negative but one of Michael methods is to show an example of TV at it’s very worst and then say VJ’s can do the job just as badly but cheaper… and he is right.

    For all the bad TV out there it is still a lot of good, Michael won’t show you that.

    Personally I would prefer it if only good TV was made. As much as I hate the commissioning system as it is I wish they would set the bar higher.
    If TV is to compete with the internet why not make it so good the internet is not in the running?

    Shows everyone wants to watch and then stroll off to the net to find out more and discuss with their friends online. Why do TV bosses miss this? Why are they dumbing down content and quality to a point where the net can compete? I suspect they are people who watch rather than do… or maybe never having done their job I’m just another armchair quarterback?

    Sure have fun on the net, that’s what I did, “Perhaps” would have gone on air over my dead body, technically there is just too much wrong with it… not the stuff you thought though, I bet you would buy the colorized version of Casablanca… but on the net I can ignore the flaws and share a moment of whimsy.

    I’m always available for a beer and I don’t mind giving anyone who is interested shooting tips.

    Happy holidays


  9. Brilliant points yet again. It is like that scary moment when you are at a party and talking to a big bunch of people and then you dive in and start telling a story that you have never told before.

    All eyes are on you and you are starting to sweat a bit, will it be funny, will I bore them, can I deliver, do justice to this tale, is it even interesting?

    But you just barrel on forward and trust your instincts, trust that you will find commonality and entertain. Trust that they will not all look away in boredom or disgust.

    And when it WORKS and people connect to your tale and smile or share a similar story you feel SO GOOD!

    This is what it feels like when you do a vlog about someone and they tell you later, “YOU GOT IT, you captured the feeling of my 3 hour show in your 4 minute video. You got the essence perfectly.”

    That is better than sex, coffee, drugs, money – anything.

    Sometimes I wonder if we are in the business of soul stealing. My goal is to understand and then capture this organic tale and whittle it into a structure without making it feel stale.

    When it works, it is better than anything. When it fails, it hurts so bad. But I continue trying because the pay off feels so damn good.

    Still, I worry my thirst for the perfectly told story makes me a bit if a story vulture. Sometimes I run into people I have covered in the past and after we had this deep, intimate connection, we realize the moment is past and it is like seeing someone you had a one night stand with. A bit awkward! Ah well.

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