Script Guidelines for a Speedy Edit

by Suzanne Marmion

An editor from the BBC/PRI/WGBH show The World has shared these tips to help make editing easier for all of us. A sample script is attached to use as a template for your own.

  • MIXING INSTRUCTIONS can never be too detailed. If you want the piece to sound the way you imagined it in your head, let everybody know what you were thinking in the mix directions.
  • TRY TO AVOID OPENING WITH SOUND simply because it has become a public radio cliché. Sometimes this can't or shouldn't be avoided.
  • TIME all actualities, and ideally, each of your voice tracks in between. You should know how long your script is before we start editing, too, so that you know if we need to trim or pad.
  • TRANSCRIBE YOUR ACTUALITIES. Otherwise you may need to RE-play them for the edit. Also, how clear is the speaker's English? It's easy to get used to local accents, which listeners may have more difficulty understanding than you do.
  • INTROS/CUES. Always write an intro. Doing so will most likely help you focus your story, too.
  • IDENTIFY YOUR ACTUALITIES with a name and ideally a number (e.g. PINOCHET2 Ð this helps if they end up out order). TELL US WHETHER THEY ARE PHONE TAPE ACTUALITIES. At The World this matters if we want to use one of your actualities in a billboard in the show (we prefer them to be in quality). And in general we want to avoid using too many phoners.
  • TRANSLATIONS, or voiceovers, sound best when a native speaker does the translating on site, or at least later in the country you are reporting from. Having somebody in the US with an American accent, who doesn't speak the language, clearly reading the translation, is the last option you want to exercise. You must supply well-written, accurate English language voiceovers when appropriate. The English translation should closely match the original language at the top Ð that's the part of the native language that the listener will hear in the clear before the voiceover begins. If they don't match, we lose credibility with listeners that speak both languages. And we have many of those.
  • VOICEOVERS can break up a script if there are too many of them. Try alternating translations with paraphrasing (especially of officials, who can usually benefit from your shorter, more direct paraphrase!). When your non-English-speaking source is more of a character in your story, it's better to leave them as a voiceover. (E.g. "Sunyi Kim says her husband spent her money and kicked the cat, that's why she wound up in this bar, drinking vodka and mulling a divorce. VO: "If only I had listened to my mother....")
  • WRITE OUT THE IN WORDS AND OUT WORDS for your foreign language actuality. This matters because we can mix them up, especially if the poor producer doesn't happen to be fluent in Tagolog. If you can do it phonetically, all the better.

This is a sample script, mercilessly doctored to provide examples of how to handle everything from sound effect mixing instructions, to foreign language voiceovers.

A SUPERMARKET!?! Beard 3 / 11 / 00


This year's winner of Britain's most prestigious prize for architecture - the Stirling Prize - will be announced this weekend. Named after one of Britain's most important architects of the last century - Sir James Stirling - the prize is awarded for beauty and practicality in building design. But traditionalists may be alarmed to learn that among the seven structures shortlisted to win are a subway station.......and a supermarket. From London, Stephen Beard reports. 30"

BEARD: At the Sainsbury's supermarket at Greenwich in South-east London the manager Paul Crisp is not peddling his latest special offer - buy two and get one free! He's pointing out the finer architectural details of his store: 13"

SFX MANAGER:...."...all the louvers adjust to let in the light........(fade actuality under trax - fade out completely during first sentence)

BEARD: The supermarket has won the distinction of being nominated for the Stirling Prize for Architecture. It's not the Taj Mahal. Pilgrims are unlikely to flock here in centuries to come. But it is very light and airy. And - extremely rare in a British supermarket - the shoppers actually seem pleased to be here: 18"

TAPE VOX1: (mask with sfx market2 -mix as collage)
Oh the building is wonderful. The layout is fantastic, very good indeed. Beautiful. It's big. I never see a big one like this before. It's friendly and light. It's one of the best Sainsbury's . Very nice to shop in. I enjoy shopping here. It's a great place to shop. DUR: 27"

SFX MARKET2: Supermarket atmos.....(up for 03", fade out at "Architectural connoisseurs.")

BEARD: In a television poll this supermarket was voted Britain's best modern building. Architectural connoisseurs in Waizikiland...known for its striking adobe produce markets...find that result bizarre.

Phonetic in and out: "Zoog deev waggle...ik pop dingo relish." "Zug div wagle miv cook danje sniffke wassup. Dujk miffle slushy poodle zargle whizz. Ic pup zjdingo khrelish." DUR: 13"

But environmentalists are certainly happy with this store. It's been described as the most energy efficient structure in the world......using both wind and solar power. Manager Paul Crisp says the chain has not lost sight of the bottom line: it pays to be eco-friendly: 24"

TAPE CRISP3: [Please note this is PHONE TAPE, not in quality]
"It helps that our customers are much more focussed on the environment, about how buildings are designed and made...and how they are run. From that point of view our customers realize what we have done and realize it as well." DUR: 12"

SFX: 3: Atmos from underground station..."This train terminates at Willesden Green..."..(train announcement in the clear, then fade under all of next track.)

BEARD: Here's another building on the Stirling shortlist. In fact, it's the favorite to win the prize. It's a subway Canary Wharf in the London Docklands. It's vast and airy. Some call it a "cathedral of space". Architecture critic Paul Finch says both the supermarket and the subway station are good functional buildings ...with an additional quality that isn't easy to describe: 33"

Phonetic in and out: "Eesha nageesha kookulan...muirthemne dierdre kloddah."

BEARD PARAPHRASE: All these buildings have function of course, he says, but what successful architecture usually does is combine functional efficiency with something extra, with a wow factor. Finch says it's really this extra factor which is not really definable but it translates something from being a mere building into something that is an all round experience and functional as well." DUR: 37" 3'00"

BEARD: This definition of architectural excellence may help explain one glaring omission from the shortlist for the Stirling Prize. Un-nominated and largely unloved is arguably one of London's best-looking modern structures - the Dome. Built on the south bank of the Thames to mark the millenium, the Dome is mired in debt and scandal. The dome may be eye-catching - but unlike a supermarket or a subway station - the point of it is far from clear. For the World I'm Stephen Beard in London.

TOTAL TIME: 3' 30" on tape.