questionmarkI want to know more about proper formatting of the new documentary aesthetic that’s been brought about by shows like The Office and Modern Family. I’m referencing specifically the ironic or conspiratorial glances into camera, the unexplained interview shots. These shows seem to have the assumption that there’s a documentary crew present. I love that! And I love the potential for humor it brings about.

My question is this: how would that be written in a script other than through the use of “into camera”? Is there a way to indicate that an entire film or pilot would be shot in this manner? I’m also interested in your general stylistic take on this and whether or not you think we’ll see this approach used in feature films successfully?

– Ashleigh
Los Angeles CA

The faux-documentary trend has detractors, but I think it works very well in the two shows you mention.

Each show will have its own house style for how they format it in the script,1 but it’s usually handled in the slugline when the whole scene is directed towards the camera:

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY [INTERVIEW]

MARK

No. I’m not disappointed. Not at all. Surprised, sure. Dejected? A little. Angry maybe, but not furious. I guess I’d say I’m “disappointed” and leave it at that.

These shows tend to treat the camera as an unnamed character who either (a) is aware of something other characters in the scene aren’t, or (b) might take something embarrassing out of context unless clarified.

If a character is directing a line or a look to camera, call that out. (If it helps, think of “camera” as a producer standing right next to the lens.)

CANDY KANE

It just seems too big to fit. Maybe if we greased it up or something.

Laura gestures to camera -- see?

Reference the camera sparingly. Unless the point of your script is the documentary itself (c.f. The Comeback), you’re likely to undercut the comedy or drama by acknowledging that characters are aware their actions are being filmed.

  1. As always, if you’re writing a spec episode of a existing show, hunt down one of its scripts and follow its lead exactly.