Technique of the Week: V.O. vs. O.S.

 

technique of the week

Hey there!

Today, we’re looking at the difference between “V.O.” and “O.S.” in screenplays. They’re commonly misused — especially in the case of phone calls — and the difference is easy to set straight.

 

V.O. is short for VOICEOVER and is used in the following situations:

  • For phone calls, when the person speaking is on the other end of the line
  • To externalize a character’s inner monologue or thoughts
  • Radio broadcasts
  • Unseen narrator

O.S. is short for OFF-SCREEN and is used in the following:

  • A character is in the same scene as we are, and is simply off-camera

 

Here’s an example from ┬ápage two of The Usual Suspects by Christopher McQuarrie. Keyser Soze is off-camera because the screenwriter wanted to hide his identity from the viewer:

usual suspects os vs vo example

Special Notes

Simple, right? There are a few exceptions and uses you might want to take note of:

  • O.S. is sometimes called O.C. (OFF-CAMERA), especially in multi-camera sitcoms.
  • Use (PRE-LAP) or (V.O.) to indicate an overlapping sound or noise that carries over from one scene to the next
  • If we can hear the thoughts of an off-camera character, use voiceover.

 

Being able to tell the difference between voiceover (V.O.) and off-screen (O.S.) is important because it shows you’re a professional writer who takes the craft seriously.

Tune in next week for a new Technique of the Week!

 

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