If you haven’t noticed yet, we’re currently in the second Golden Age of Television. In fact, it’s not even fair to label contemporary television as second to anything because it has never been better.
There are more channels — streaming, network, and cable — producing groundbreaking content than there have ever been. It’s quality and quantity these days.
In Hollywood, everyone is going to television. As screenwriters, if you don’t have a pilot sample or you’re not currently developing television concepts, many agents and managers won’t even represent you. They seek out writers that can perform on both platforms — film and television.
Because of this influx of content, screenwriters that do want to play in the television sandbox are slowly learning the differences between the formats of shows.
We’ve previously covered formatting general television pilot scripts in our post The Screenwriter’s Simple Guide to Formatting Television Scripts. We touched on sitcoms and dramas, breaking down the format, acts, and overall structure.
However, there’s one anomaly that was left untouched. And it’s actually a pretty big elephant in the room as we’ve discovered through multiple email queries regarding the difference between the format of a single-camera sitcom and a multi-camera sitcom.
But first, before we jump into the differences, be sure you mark your calendar for ScreenCraft’s Pilot Launch TV Script Contest!
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The “single-camera” sitcom has grown in popularity in the last decade. Shows like Modern Family, Silicon Valley, and The Last Man on Earth are perfect contemporary examples.
While the “single-camera” label is a misnomer — such shows often use more than one single camera — the key element is that the show is shot much more like a film, without a live audience.
Because of this, the humor is often different, playing much more like a feature comedy would.
Single-camera scripts are usually 22 to 32 pages long. Sometimes they go up to 35. Since sitcoms consist of 30-minute episodes, the page-to-minute ratio needs to be close to that mark. Screenwriters need to also take into account commercial breaks. Most sitcom episodes are actually only around 22 minutes long because of them.
Multi-camera sitcoms represent the more traditional approach to television comedy, dating back to shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Three’s Company, Family Ties, Seinfeld, and Friends. The contemporary multi-camera shows like The Big Bang Theory have taken the torch from those classics.
Multi-camera sitcoms are basically everything filmed in front of a live studio audience.
The humor presented in such a show is much different because of that audience factor. While single-camera sitcom filming can be equated to feature film styles, multi-camera sitcoms are similar to live theater. There are stages set before an audience and the “play” is captured on multiple cameras as actors walk from one set into another, often in just one take with multiple cameras capturing the necessary angles to create an otherwise seamless experience for television.
Because of this, multi-camera scripts have a more technical approach in their format, which takes an otherwise 22-32 page television script and turns it into a 52-58 page script (see below).
Single vs. Multi-Camera Format
Single-camera sitcoms are written in a more standard format, much like feature film scripts. The structure is different than features, but the actual format utilized is pretty much the same.
Multi-camera sitcoms are a whole different formatting beast. To truly capture that format, screenwriters should be using screenwriting software that has those pre-set templates.
Compare the above opening page of the single-camera The Last Man on Earth pilot script to the pilot script of the multi-camera The Big Bang Theory below:
You can see that there is a major aesthetic difference.
How Multi-Camera TV Scripts Differ from Everything Else
Multi-camera scripts are the black sheep of format in Hollywood. Most other scripts — single-camera TV, one-hour drama TV, procedural TV, and feature film scripts — generally utilize the same basic format.
Multi-camera sitcom scripts don’t, primarily because they are shot in front of a live audience. They are produced much faster per episode than single-camera shows, with most sitcoms shooting more than one episode per day in front of that live audience. Thus, these types of episodes need a more technical and streamlined format for specific production productivity.
The major differences you’ll see in a multi-camera sitcom script are:
- All of the action and scene description are in CAPS
- CHARACTER NAMES are underlined the first time that they appear.
- Character entrances and exits are often underlined, and there are more stage directions as well, much like a play — i.e. “CHANDLER CROSSES TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COFFEE SHOP.”
- SOUNDS AND SPECIAL EFFECTS are underlined.
- SCENE HEADINGS are usually underlined as well.
- Dialogue is double-spaced.
The double-spacing of the dialogue, as well as the CAPS usage for all scene description, are what really causes multi-camera sitcom scripts to have nearly double the number of pages, despite the fact that both single-camera and multi-camera sitcom episodes are around 22 minutes long.
Thus, again, single-camera scripts are 22-32 pages long while multi-camera scripts are 52-58 pages.
Different Shows Have Their Different Format Anomalies
As is the case with feature film scripts, different networks and shows will have many different format nuances. This goes for both single-camera and multi-camera shows.
One show may insist that this or that element be underlined or in caps, while the other will insist the opposite. These are called anomalies because a majority of the time, the format is pretty universal due to the fact that television writers often jump from one job to the next or transition from one network to another.
When Should Novice Screenwriters Use the Single-Camera and Multi-Camera Format?
There are a couple of different arguments here.
Novice screenwriters are better off utilizing the single-camera format for their spec pilot scripts — regardless if it is a single-camera or multi-camera sitcom — because it best mirrors the standard format that they likely learned in screenwriting books, classes, seminars, etc. Because the multi-camera format is specialized for production purposes, it would be easier to write the sitcoms using the format and structure showcased in our TV formatting post.
An accompanying issue is that many novice screenwriters often aren’t qualified or educated enough — in regards to television development and production — to decide whether their pilot script should be single or multi-camera.
Single-camera sitcoms are more expensive and laborious to produce while multi-camera sitcoms are cheaper and faster. However, multi-camera shows require additional variables like live audience coordination and more specific rehearsal for the actors to prepare their live performances.
Some actors may prefer the single camera approach because it mirrors their feature filmmaking process while other actors prefer to have a live audience to play off.
So, in this argument, perhaps novice screenwriters should avoid the multi-camera format and just focus on using regular screenwriting format to tell their funny story — especially when submitting to contests, competitions, and fellowships.
If novice screenwriters want to be television writers, they need to know the ins and outs of the specific formats that they’ll be writing in. Knowing the specialized multi-camera format will then be necessary. Why not learn it now and be ready?
It’s best to at least be aware of the differences between single-camera sitcoms and multi-camera sitcoms.
Overall, novice screenwriters looking to get into the television writing business should read as many contemporary television scripts as they can to stay in touch with what the general guidelines and expectations are today.
As an educational treat, we offer a collection of iconic and successful single-camera and multi-camera pilot scripts for you to read and study. Enjoy!
These scripts are meant for the “fair use” practice of educating screenwriters on the format and aesthetics of television industry scripts.
Single-Camera Sitcom Pilots
Multi-Camera Sitcom Pilots
Do you have an amazing pilot script of your own? Enter it into ScreenCraft’s Pilot Launch TV Script Contest!
Transcript of Single Camera Techniques
By Emma Butcher
Single Camera Techniques
What is a single camera technique?
a single camera technique is when a production such as documentaries, dramas and comedies use just one camera for filming; every shot and angle is used with the same camera.
Examples of single camera techniques
Examples of multi-camera techniques
a multi-camera technique is when there is a camera for every shot and angle that is needed in a certain scene, they are then switched to show the different perspectives that the people one the screen have.
-this is when there are a certain amount of episodes shown during a certain time of the year, even if the series has an end to it the storyline may continue on to a second series. An example of a programme that does this is Skins
- this is what a soap would come under because the story lines are continuous and it runs for the whole year not just a certain time in the year, Hollyoaks is an example of a soap that does this.
- these are productions that run for one time, this type of drama has a start, middle and ending they don't run through to another episode, Dirty War is an example of this which was about a terrorist attack on London.
- there are many different genres for the formats for example:
- Downton Abbey as it is set in post Edwardian Yorkshire Estate and shows the lives of high class family and their servants.
- Broadchurch it's a crime drama because it is about a detective trying to find out who killed the young boy in his hometown.
- Hollyoaks because as said above about the serials it is shown all year round and contains story lines that can relate to the audience but also seem realistic.
- this is when the narrative flows in chronological order, so there is a beginning, middle and an end an example of this is Hollyoaks as the story lines all follow the chronological order.
Non - linear
- this is when the narrative doesn't follow a chronological order, things that can be part of this are flashbacks and flash forwards, an example of this is Inception as it uses lots of flashbacks and dream sequences to make the film
- this is when there is only one main narrative that is focused on
- this is when there are several characters shown to create a narrative, but it is shown from different points of view an example of this would be Broadchurch because all of the main characters living in the village have different parts to play in making up the narrative.
- this is when something in the past is shown because it is important to the storyline, it is also helps the audience understand the storyline more as well.
- this is when dramas use either true stories or narratives that are believable to the audience an example of this would be Eastenders as they base their narratives on real life situations or things that the audience can relate to
- this is when the audience can obviously tell that what is happening isn't real as a lot of CGI is used to create the product
- this is when the drama finishes and leaves the audience guessing what will happen next so that the drama can come back for another series
- this is when the drama finishes and uses Torodov's narrative theory of an equilibrium to show the full story.
He was a structural linguistic who came up with the theory which defined narratives and stories, he believed that all stories follow the same narrative pattern. There were five stages that narratives can go through:
1. Equilibrium - everything is as it should be
2. Disequilibrium - something bad happens
3. There is recognition that something bad has happened
4. Someone/something repairs the damage that the bad thing has made
5. A new equilibrium is made
An example of this is the film 'Hot Fuzz'
At the start of the film Sargent Angel is happy with his work life in the police force in London but gets moved to Sanford an old country village to be a Sargent there.
A disruption happens when the people of the old, quiet village aren't all that they seem such as underage boys are drinking in the pub and the pub owners aren't bothered by it.
A recognition that the disruption has happened is that Sargent Angel starts to see for himself that people aren't all that they seem in the village but also murders are now happening in the village
The attempt to repair the damage of the disruption is that Angel does all he can to try and find out who the person is that is responsible for murdering people in the village
The film ends with the people responsible for the murders being arrested and so a new equilibrium is made
He was known for his 8 character role theory, he looked at a lot of folk tales and saw that there were a familiar set of characters in them. He believed that narrative structure was determined by character roles, the 8 roles he found were:
3. Donors - a person that helps the hero
4. Helper - a person that aids the hero
5. Princess (reward for the hero)
6. Father Figure
7. Dispatcher - someone who sends the hero on their way
8. False Hero
He looked at how stories reflect values, beliefs and myths of a culture. They are normally shown as binary oppositions, his research has revealed underlying themes in stories.
Examples of the binary oppositions can be:
Good vs. Evil
Rich vs. Poor
Life vs. Death
Uses and Gratifications
This theory says that are 5 main reasons why audience consume the media:
1.To learn or be educated about the world
2. They can identify themselves with the characters
3. Social interactions with other people
4. To be entertained
5. To escape from their daily lives
- this refers to the whole sound of the environment of the scene
- this is the sound of the characters in the reality of the drama that the audience can hear
- this is sound that's been imported such as a voiced over
- this is the sound that you can see on the screen
- this is the sound that you can hear coming from outside of the shot
- this is what logically links you to the visual you see on the screen
- this is sound that indicates something sinister is going to happen it works against the visuals examples of this would be in horror films
- no sound in the scene
- this is when there is an exaggeration of a certain sound such as a tap dripping
- this is when the sound is clearly linked to the visuals
- this is when there isn't a clear link between what is being shown to what is being heard
- this is when a certain mood is created with music
- this is when the voice has to match what you are showing
Rhythm/link to edit and pace
- this goes along with visuals, everything has to match each other
- there can be rich sounds, shallow sounds but it focuses on the certain character
- this is the natural sounds in the environment around you such as birds in the woods
- this is busy place sounds such as a city or town center
- this links to or more scenes together such as soundtracks
Editing is the process of selecting and putting together a number of shots to create a meaning and relationship between the shots
There are different forms of editing such as:
cutting, dissolving, fading, wiping and cutting
which is the most important.
4 Dimensions of Editing
. Graphic relations between shots
- continuity. It lets film makers achieve the continuity, the shots are linked together by graphic similarities such as colours, shape, movement and overall composition
- pace. The editor can change the length of shots they create dynamic pace, which shows the changing of pace
Spatial relations between shots
- the space that's used. This helps determine film space and time used and minimise the audiences awareness of the texts construction, in a normal continuity editing the audience is normally orientated in the film space by an establishing shot, medium shot and a close up.
Temporal relations between shots
- time used. this lets the film maker edit with the reference of the order of the events, duration of events and the frequency of events.
Order of events
- most TV dramas progress which is showing a linear narrative flashbacks and flash forwards can also be used
Duration of events
- elliptical editing shows ways of the film makers being able to change the duration of the story events as they can cut moments of time an example of this is the directors cut
Frequency of events
- a film makers chooses to 'replay' an event several times rather than just once, it would be rare to have this in a TV drama other than CSI as it is showing the murder happening, it can also show an event from a lot of different people's perceptive's.
My Name Is Earl
- it's the life through the perspective of Earl's eyes and how he copes with the problems that are brought up, he won $100,000 in the lottery and nearly lost it all by being hit by a car, after this accident he goes to put right all of the wrong things that he has done in his life so that he can get good karma
- the audience for the programme is 16+ to young adults as it's a comedy that older viewers may not understand
- in this drama they use point of view shots as it's from Earl's perspective of his life
Mise en scene
- the costumes, hair and make up used are to make the characters look like they belong from the location they are from, there is sometimes natural light when there are scenes outside but mostly man made lighting because of being inside rooms
- when the characters are having a conversation with each other this is diegetic sound
- it's set in the company Wernham Hogg in the Slough trading estate in England, most of the episodes involve the character David Brent trying to win the favour of his employees and peers which normally don't end well for him.
- 25+ as this audience can relate with the office job role but also find the jokes and comedy in the programme funny
- the director has used a cinematic single camera stye they use freehand camera work which gives the effect that we are in the room with the actors this is also shown by the shaking and moving of the camera.
- The lighting used in the scenes is from office lights and some light through the blinds to give the office lightng effect
- the sound when the characters are talking to each other is diegetic sound
- the characters step out of Charles Addams cartoons, they are all wealthy as a family and live with the trappings of macabre, there is also an accountant who is up to no good with a loan shark and want to pass the loan shark's son into the family as their long lost uncle Fester.
- young children to adults as it's a PG 13 film although children under the age of 13 should have parental guidance
- when the characters are talking to each other the sound is diegetic
- points of view shots have been used for each of the character's so that the audience can relate or be the people in the programme
- artificial light is used in this as the scene s that are inside the house need to be made bright enough for certain scenes so that the audience can see what is going on
In Hollyoaks you can see this being used with the story lines of most of the characters as they all have something they are up against such as Dr Browning's guilty mind vs. the truth, because he has murdered someone but keeps having flashbacks to it and doesn't know whether to say anything to anyone or not.
You can find these characters in Hollyoaks because on the story lines you will always have a string of people involved that make up the character role theories.