What Format Should You Write In?


Screenwriters often wonder what format best suits their story. Is it a film, TV show or web series? So many questions. Screenwriting is such as versatile writing form, that stories can be told across multiple platforms. The key differential between them is time.

FEATURE FILMS

This is a full-length film typically spanning 90-120 minutes. Generally speaking, they must be 60 minutes in length to qualify as such. They tend to be more cinematic in nature and designed to be enjoyed on the big screen. They are also more expansive in their thematic scope, budgets and visuals. Naturally, modern TV has shattered many of these conventions.

Franchise Films

These are essentially big-budget film series associated with additional revenue streams such as merchandising and theme parks. The number of movies in a franchise series is generally based on underlying properties such as books, comics and graphic novels. Box office is the key determinant of how many films are produced and released.

Once the existing properties are exhausted (such as a book series), film producers often look to sequels, prequels and spin-offs to maintain the financial viability of the franchise.

TELEVISION

In long-gone simpler days, TV was divided into one-hour dramas or half-hour comedies. That’s it. This still remains largely true. Except when it isn’t.

Drama

These tend to run at about 45-minutes on broadcast networks and 60 minutes plus on cable and streaming platforms. They are sub-divided into:

Drama Series

Each episode is a stand-alone TV show and can be watched out of order.

Serialized Drama

These have a stand-alone ‘story of the week’ component as well as a running throughline that extends through the entire season. These include legal, hospital and crime TV shows.

Limited Series

These are short-run test TV series designed to test audience traction. Television producers see them as running over multiple seasons, but they don’t want to risk investing in an entire series too early.

Mini-Series

They must contain two or more parts and be at least six hours long and be closed-ended stories. That’s what the Primetime Emmy club says.

Event Series

These are a hybrid of mini-series and limited series. They are promoted as ‘events’ to imply they are stand-alone. closed-ended TV shows. Watch them now before they go off air.  However, they may be renewed if there is enough audience interest.

Anthology Series

These are TV series linked by certain variables such as theme, location, characters or plot. Examples include ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘Room 104.’

Comedy

These are generally of a 30-minute duration  and sub-divided as follows:

Multi-cam

They have a three or four camera setup in a TV studio. They contain both standing sets; frequently used recurring sets and swing sets; occasional, purpose-built sets. They are often filmed in front of a live audience and contain laugh tracks in the final sound mix.

Single-cam

These are more cinematic and dramatic TV shows in nature. They are less reliant on the use of standing sets and often shoot on location.

Sketch Comedy

These can be a mix of live stand-up comics and pre-recorded material.  They can run anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes long.

Dramedy

These are hybrid drama and comedy TV shows. Typically, they are 30 minutes long. Except when they aren’t. Shows like ‘My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ and ‘Young & Hungry’ run around 40 minutes long.

STREAMING

This can be broken down into two main categories:

SUBSCRIPTION

These relate to Amazon. Netflix, Hulu, Audience Network, YouTube and the cable channels.  Technically these are exhibition platforms rather than formats. However, their relatively commercial-free/ limited commercial break nature allows for less stringent running times for both drama and comedy.

10 x 10

This is a relatively new format found on various streaming services. It refers to series comprising of 10 episodes each 10 minutes long.

NON-SUBSCRIPTION

This refers to anything non-paid. Content ranges in length and quality. It is measured by views and simply designed to allow an artist’s work to be seen to prove their credentials. It could be a short-form viral video under a minute in length, a webisode (frequently 3-10 minutes in length), a TV pilot, or even a low-budget feature.

For comprehensive Film & TV feedback and script analysis visit Script Firm.
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