Writing to Pictures – Part 3 – BBC Academy 2015


Here’s another thing that unites the best
writers. They’re not afraid to write. The default BBC script is safe, truth is that
slips over into being a bit boring. Whilst you must always be factually accurate, editorially
sound and properly appropriate, you can be adventurous . It’s always best to keep your sentences
short and simple but if the pictures will carry them, slip in a simile , go mad – use
a metaphor. Let the poet in you blossom. Love whatever language you’re broadcasting in.
Don’t be afraid to try a line that just comes in and lightly kisses the pictures brighter. Fergal Keane: “The burning air yields nothing.
Too many seasons without rain have turned the ground to dust. Like so much of the rest
of the horn of Africa, the lands of the Turkana are in the grip of drought. They are nomadic
pastorals who depend on the rain to provide grazing for their animals. Now they come seeking
relief.” Of course when it comes to writing for pictures,
don’t forget the basics. If you’re just describing what the viewer is seeing, the
chances are you’re getting it wrong. The words want to complement the pictures and
enhance them, not just mimic them. And of course all the other basic rules of packaging
apply. Be clear about what it is you want to say and structure your story. But if you
think you’ve got a good line, try it out on the team. The look on their faces will
generally tell you if it’s a good one. And they may even come up with a suggestion that
makes it better. Andrew Harding: “Like a rocket on the launchpad.
The Phoenix escape capsule. And strapped in like an astronaut, the very first rescuer
– poised to plunge half a mile under a mountain”. Kevin Gearey: “Even on a dank, grey day
the deep gold stonework of Durham cathedral exudes a warmth which matched the affection
of those who flocked to celebrate the life of Sir Bobby Robson. Contemporaries, successors
as England manager and former players all united in their esteem for a remarkable man. Inside, his family found themselves surrounded
by many of the best known figures in the game hearing about his personal compassion and
passion for football”. And here’s another thing that a lot of the
good people I work with, do. They mutter to themselves as they write. They speak the sentences
as they come of the keyboard. It’s not enough that the words look pleasing on the screen,
they have to sound right too. It’s about the rise and fall, the rhythm and flow of
the script. And of course, when you come to lay down the track, the delivery has to be
right. There’s no point having a script that works beautifully with the pictures if
you then deliver it in a deadly monotone. As a producer who’s had nearly 100 heart
attacks caused by late feeds from far flung places, I can’t believe I’m going to say
what I’m about to say. But when you’ve “finished”, go back and polish. Don’t
be silly about it when you’re hard up against the clock but where you can go back, watch
the whole thing through and where you can, make it better. This is something that the
best I’ve worked with do again and again. It’s as if only watching the whole thing
through that they realise what needs changing. Sometimes it’s just a word or two that need
polishing brighter – sometimes it’s a phrase that needs honing to a sharper point.
I suppose the point is for them it’s about making it the as good as it can be, not just
when it’s the lead, but every single time.

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