I'm writing a 24-26 minute TV show about our library's historical database. What word length should it be?
August 4, 2004 12:05 PM   Subscribe

How many words are in a 30 minute teevee show? I am writing the text to a half hour "How to use our library's historical database" show. I am doing it for public access with the local historical society. I have about 24-26 minutes to work with and I'm wondering what word length I should aim for? It will be a pretty low tech affair -- screen shots and pointers -- but if anyone can give me some advice as far as length [or anything else honestly] I'd sure appreciate it.
posted by jessamyn to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
The standard script length is about a page a minute.
posted by swift at 12:09 PM on August 4, 2004

This is correct -- assuming you're writing the script in a single-camera format. A multi-camera script is formatted differently (you double-space between the dialouge), and in that format, it's roughly 1/2 a minute a page (48-50 pgs to get you 22-24 minutes of screentime).

This may be of little use if you've never seen a screenplay format before. If written like a like play, one page will be longer than one minute of screentime.
posted by herc at 12:32 PM on August 4, 2004

How are you editing it? It sounds to me like it's a pretty simple affair. I'd worry about your time in post more than when you're writing your script. I doubt you'll write 30-minutes of conversation.

Just be sure to go slowly w/ the information. Break concepts down so they're easy to follow and easily remembered. Plan on lots of edits, though. Long scenes and shots will slow your pacing -- this can work for dramatic tension, but it sounds as if your material will be somewhat dry. Fast cuts and short takes will give the show velocity and keep the viewer engaged.

Pay close attention to your lighting and audio -- these are the building blocks of televison & film. You almost never notice them when their done well -- but if they're done poorly the whole project will lose credibility. This is where most beginners get tripped up.
posted by herc at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2004

In j-school radio class the equation we used was 70 characters equals 4 seconds at a comfortable, news-ish reading speed. Therefore 15 lines at 70 characters wide equals one minute. 15 lines times 25 minutes equals 375 lines, or 26250 characters.

I would leave a lot of breathing room for pauses, though, as it should probably be read slower than news copy. And since there will be accompanying visuals, you may want to pause for the important ones so viewers can focus their attention.

on preview: herc says much of this better than I have. But I would add that audio can be edited almost as easily as video if the sound quality is good. You may be able to cut some if you go over the allotted time.
posted by whatnot at 12:49 PM on August 4, 2004

If you really insist on finding an accurate script length for half hour tv shows, pick a show that you think approximates the pace you want, preferably one with a rabid geek fanbase (seinfeld, simpsons, etc.) and search the internet for fansites with scripts or detailed episode transcripts.
posted by rorycberger at 2:29 PM on August 4, 2004

In the general pointer category, i'd show more than i told. Or do it simultaneously, with voiceovers. Say, have a 5-minute segment on searching for the Civil War, with a very brief and general and simple intro ("Lots of people are Civil War buffs. How would they find information about it?" "Why, my uncle is one! Let's show you how.") and then cut to the screens and show how to search for stuff about it, what kind of stuff is there, search tips and tricks, accessing the stuff itself, getting help while using it, printing it out or other reproduction options, etc. etc. If you can afford to blow up or project some of the search screens behind you they can serve as backdrop too if they look ok. (I'm assuming you're aiming at the general library population, which goes from kids to seniors.)
posted by amberglow at 4:04 PM on August 4, 2004

I don't know if it's an option for you jess, but some software used for scriptwriting has formatting built-in, including ways to approximate timing. If this is something you're going to do more in the future, maybe the investment in a word processor specifically designed for the task might be a good investment?
posted by JollyWanker at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2004

On JollyWanker's comment, my screenwriter friend uses and loves Final Draft (and it looks like there's a version that may be particularly designed for Jessamyn's task but I can't tell if it has any timing-approximation features.

There are probably other products out there, maybe cheaper. I note that there is an educational discount, but I have no idea what your budget is.
posted by BT at 7:02 PM on August 4, 2004

I totally agree with Amberglow: Show, don't tell. (Actually, it's show and tell, but in a creative way.) This seems to be the number-one flaw with educational/instructional/industrial productions that I see...they're excessively wordy and consequently dry as sawdust.
posted by Vidiot at 11:07 PM on August 4, 2004

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