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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

V.O. versus O.S.

Most of us know what (V.O.) means when it appears after your character's name on your script pages: voiceover. And then there's (O.S.) or (O.C.). Both mean the same thing: offscreen or off-camera. The upshot is that (O.S.) is used when we hear your character's voice but don't see them because they are in another room, behind a plant or other large object or just - and here's the fun part - out of our view for whatever reason. You'll see why that can be fun in a minute.

Voiceover means your character is NOT in the scene whatsoever but they are narrating something - potentially even something from the next scene. Yep - I know that sounds weird but let me give you some examples.


Rows of corn undulate under a blue sky.

I grew up on a farm. And it was on this farm that I learned to be a man. Yes. A man.

A windmill picks up the wind and turns - crick crick crick.

That's right. I was the first gender-awkward man in Tuolumne County.

- So our character is narrating this story over a view of her lovely corn farm in Tuolumne County. And that's a real county and it's pronounced "Twah-luh-me." Just FYI.

But then we might have:


The wind picks up. A storm is approaching. The hat FLIES off the scarecrow.

And the biggest test I had as a man was the day the big storm came.


A fancy high rise in Manhattan. DORIS (32), slender, pre-op, a thin five o'clock shadow, in jeans and a flannel shirt, sits across from a literary editor.

It was an F5 tornado. The only ones who were safe were the ones down in the coal mine.

Doris - I mean, Don - I have to stop you right there. Coal mine?
This is -

He looks down at his paperwork.

...California, right?

So we used V.O. with the images of the cornfield and then as we roll into the next scene, we see that Doris is sitting right there and that's where the V.O. came from. We didn't have to do that; we could have then jumped into the tornado scene and picked up the dialogue as the tornado is actually happening.

Another fun way to use V.O. is to use it for comedic or ironic effect - you can juxtapose the image with the content of the V.O. Right? Does that make sense?


MINERS sweat and toil in the inky darkness.

Daddy worked hard for his money.


An older man with a mane of silver hair winds up a phone call.

I don't care how many particulates they inhale! I need more coal!

He slams down the phone. Presses the button for his secretary.

Get my daughter on the phone, STAT!

So as long as you don't abuse it, there are a lot of fun ways to use V.O. for entertaining and informative purposes.

O.C. or O.S. means, once more, that the person is THERE somewhere, just not visible to us.

So you might have:


I don't care how many particulates they inhale! I need more coal!

He slams down the phone. Presses the button for his secretary.

Get my daughter on the phone, STAT!

You mean your son.

Doris hands her father piping hot coffee. His eyes widen.


It's Don now, Dad. It's Don.

So we used the O.S. just to make that little exchange more fun. It takes a sec to see Doris. It's like he/she is the sidler from Seinfeld.

So (V.O.) and (O.S.) are differentiated because one is literally a voice over a scene with the person being totally absent because this is perhaps a memory, or perhaps the origin of the voice is revealed in the following scene.

(O.S.) means the person is in the scene but they aren't visible for whatever reason - because they are in the bathroom and we hear them but can't see them. Because they are in another room. Because we just aren't showing them for a sec because it's funnier or scarier that way. For example:


A man looks at a creaky, fall-down barn. Bats SWARM out of the rafters.

Let's start the tear-down tomorrow, Shirl!

MAN (O.S.)
I wouldn't do that if I were you.

Ed whirls around. He's face to face with his DEAD FATHER!

So V.O. and O.S. - know the difference and use them well. And before you ask, yes it's okay to use V.O. as long as you don't abuse it by being too expositional or heavy-handed. Use it for good, not evil. Don't be lazy.

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nyc_runnergirl said...

Thanks for the post. Question - how do you differentiate between O.S and O.C. (if indeed you do)? Thanks!

chaia said...

One of the pet peeves I developed as a reader is the egregious misuse of SFX. If it is a sound that can be made by anything in the natural world, it is not "special." e.g. THE PHONE RINGING IS NOT SFX. <----- true example. THE SOUND MADE BY A TELETRANSPORTER TELETRANSPORTING A DOG IS SFX.

OMG. Also, the equally egregious misuse of the word "literally" FIGURATIVELY (NOT LITERALLY) DRIVES ME UP THE WALL. But that's another tale for another time.

Grumpy Cat Is Grumpy

Margaux said...

And then there's the extra element of "Pre-lap" which is dialogue that starts in a scene before we see the actual scene in which the conversation is happening. Unless "pre-lap" is reserved only for TV?'s all too much, Julie. Can't you just be on speedial when these questions come up?

Or maybe make sure to have a huge glossary in the Rouge Wave bible?
Your words continue to be golden nuggets of wisdom along this gnarly road of writing.

James said...

I tend to use O.C. when it's voiceover from another scene. Basically, it'll be shot and on film with the audio associated with it -- somewhere in the script.

The biggest difference, to me, is that V.O. can (and usually is) done 100% in post.

I use O.S. when a character is in a current scene, but for whatever reason is not within the frame.

Subtle differences -- and in all honesty can be used interchangably, but the above is what I use.

Schmetterling said...

Questions for the Rouge Wave that -I hope - aren't too annoying.

Are there ways of terminating the voice over so as to not have it run the course of the whole scene. For example for comedic timing. Or to synch words in the voice-over to specific actions in the scene.

Also, there are sci-fi movies where glowing sensors are used as a representation of the consciousness of a computer. Are the computers, technically, on-screen or off screen. How is this indicated?