PIECES TO CAMERA
A Piece to Camera (PTC), also known as a Stand-Up, is one of the most important parts of a news story. Ideally, it’s a compelling mix of well-chosen words and strong visuals from a relevant location. The best PTCs are conversational yet authoritative, leading the viewer through the essential information of a news story. It shows the reporter in the middle of the story, at the heart of the action, and a TV audience connects with this personal touch.
TEN TIPS ON PIECES TO CAMERA
1) ANCHOR YOUR FEET
For most Pieces to Camera you will stand still, so take a moment to anchor your feet to the ground which will stop you swaying from side to side or drifting backwards and forwards. Both these random movements happen when someone is nervous and they look irritating to the viewer. Hand movements are fine and encouraged to engage the audience. You may want to point to something behind you or even just out of shot. A twist of the body works well too if referring to something in the background. But for this kind of PTC, keep the feet still.
You should think carefully about what you will do with your hands. Do you want them to be expressive – but not too expressive – or do you want them clasped together throughout. Whatever feels most natural to you within the requirements of that particular PTC will probably be the right answer. As you develop your own style, watch back previous PTCs to help decide what works best for you.
2) MAKE A CONSCIOUS DECISION TO MOVE
If you want to move as part of your PTC, walk and talk for instance, then plan this movement carefully: where your start point and your end point will be, etc. These PTCs can be visually strong and grab the attention of the viewer, but let there be a reason for the movement. Introduce the viewer to another layer of your story, images that build on your script. And rehearse it thoroughly in advance, especially if you’re operating as a self-shooting reporter.
3) SHOW AND TELL
For a ‘show and tell’ PTC, the reporter interacts with an object or their surroundings, revealing how they are central to the news story and adding a strong visual element to the PTC. This is a powerful way to introduce movement to your PTC. For example, if the story is about a new interactive service offered by the local council, the PTC could show this interactive service in operation. Or if it’s at the scene of a news incident, the PTC could take the viewer from one important part of the scene to another, adding visually to the words of the reporter.
A script in this instance doesn’t have to be a locked-off 45 words for 15 seconds of PTC (3 words per sec). A lot of reporters would rather have three or four bullet points they craft into a conversational PTC, which they deliver without a written script. This helps them make it sound more natural and less stilted. But they still ensure it fits into their wider news story script and flows with what comes both before and after the PTC.
4) BACKGROUND IS IMPORTANT
Make your background relevant to the story, and perhaps refer to it. Whilst no-one likes random movements in PTCs, a conscious turn and reference to something behind or beside the reporter will work very well. It will visually engage the viewer. Please don’t shoot in front of a brick wall, as this could be anywhere in the world.
5) EYES ON THE LENS
Keep your eyes focused on the camera lens, as if you’re talking to one person at the other end. Don’t let your eyes wander as this gives the impression that something else is happening just out of shot that the viewer’s missing out on. It can also look shifty. The eye-line of the camera should be equal with the reporter’s.
If you’re self-shooting your PTC, take two steps backwards away from the lens and put down a maker as a guide. This is where you will stand to perform your PTC.
Use relevant props which will add a visual dimension to your story. You may have a document from an important meeting or a new exciting product on the market. Show these to the viewer during your PTC. This is a great way to ‘show and tell’.
7) WHERE SHOULD YOUR PTC APPEAR?
There are three good places for a PTC. Firstly and traditionally, it appears at the end of the story, to sum up the main points before the reporter’s sign-off. But increasingly reporters introduce PTCs about a third of the way through, to reveal an essential element to the story after introducing the news angle. Or also as a bridge between the second and final thirds of the news story. This bridge will reveal important information before the conclusion to the story begins. Remember that your PTC is part of your whole script and shouldn’t be separate from it. It’s seen within one unfolding narrative, with a clear beginning, middle and end.
8) WHY IS THIS IN VISION?
A PTC should contain an important piece of information central to the story. There should be a clear reason why this part of the script is chosen to be in vision and not voiceover. Make the style conversational, and let it flow from what was said just before, either in voiceover or interview. If a good phrase comes to mind while researching or filming the story, note it down. It could become the focus of your PTC.
Your PTC will feel like it’s the middle part of a wider thought, which will have started somewhere else. So your first words could be conjunctives like ‘but’, ‘because’, ‘and’ or ‘so’. And unless it’s a sum-up PTC at the end, it won’t feel like a finished thought either. It will imply there’s still more information to come. Finally, it’s important you come across with authority. The viewer will trust you to be accurate and objective, telling them what they need to know. You must ensure you meet these expectations of the audience.
9) HOW LONG SHOULD IT BE?
The duration of your PTC should be no longer than 20 seconds, about 60 words. Keep the script simple and easy to understand. Make sure you write it as you say it.
10) WHAT CAN A PTC SAY?
A PTC can illustrate emotions and feelings, and capture the excitement or tragedy of a news event. It can also include non-visual information like council statements or a ‘right to reply’ from an organisation being criticised. Important elements of your story which are visually uninteresting can be dealt with well in a strong PTC. But it has to sound natural and spontaneous.
Remember, you are performing your PTC to a TV audience. You want them to care about your story, so make sure you convey the importance of what you’re saying in both your choice of words and how they’re delivered. As a final point, think about the energy and tone of your voice, and how you emphasise your words.