O.S., O.C., V.O. – Screenwriting Jargon You Should Know!

Screenwriters Network, May 25, 2021

If you have ever set eyes on a screenplay, chances are you have encountered at least one of the following extensions: O.S., O.C., and V.O.

But what do they mean, and when do you use them?

This article will give you the answers, as well as loads of practical examples of the most common screenwriting jargon you should know.

Joy Screenplay

Excerpt from the Inside Out (2015) screenplay.

 

JUMP TO SECTION

  1. What does O.S. mean?
  2. What does O.C. mean?
  3. What does V.O. mean?
  4. Exceptions to the rules
  5. How to know which one to use

 

What does O.S. mean? (Off Screen)

O.S. is short for “off screen”. This means a character is at the scene location but not in the camera view.

We will hear his/her voice, but we will not see him/her. There are two basic kinds of O.S.

 

Consider the following scene 1:

Mary and Joe are in the forest and play hide and seek. Mary is counting while Joe runs to hide.

When the camera is on Joe while he runs to hide and we only hear Mary’s counting, the latter will be marked as O.S.

 

Consider the following scene 2:

Tom and his mother are at the family house. Tom is in his room listening to music. His mother comes to the door and shouts through it that he should tidy up his room.

If the camera is on Tom and we only hear his mother’s voice, you’ll mark anything that she says as O.S.

Naturally, the opposite is also true. If the camera is showing Tom’s mother, anything that he replies will be O.S.

Screenwriting O.S

Excerpt from La La Land (2016) screenplay.

This example is great because it illustrates how you can use both possible kinds of O.S. in one scene:

Could you guess which is which? Here’s a little help!

Tracy’s O.S. is of the first kind. She and Mia are both in the living room, but at first, we only see Mia and hear Tracy’s voice.

Alexis’ O.S. is of the second kind. She is in another room, from where we hear her voice.

And all girls are at the scene’s primary location, which is their apartment.

 

What does O.C. mean? (Off Camera)

O.C. stands for “off camera” and is pretty much the same as O.S.

Some writers consider it archaic and avoid using it. Others make a clear distinction between the previous two kinds of O.S. and use O.C. in the first case. 

That is, O.C. when there are no physical hindrances such as doors, walls between the characters, and O.S. when there are.

And there is one further differentiation to consider, use O.C. when writing for television and O.S. when writing movie scripts.

Rocket Man Script Example

 

Excerpt from Rocketman (2019) screenplay.

In this example, O.C. is used instead of one of the kinds of O.S. I’m sure you could tell which one by now.

 

What does V.O. mean? (Voice Over)

V.O. means “voice over” and is probably the trickiest of the three. The general rule is to use it when the speaker/voice is not physically at the scene location.

Below are the most common instances:

  • Narration
  • Radio broadcasts and other recordings
  • Phone/Walkie-talkie conversations
  • Recollections
  • Flashbacks
  • Voices from different worlds/dimensions

Think of all the times a film starts, and we hear the character’s voice describing his/her surroundings, telling a story, and so on. Bear in mind that if it’s not a particular character narrating, the script may instead include “Narrator” and normal dialogue.

Into The Woods Script

Excerpt from Into The Woods (2014) screenplay.

 

Voice Over (V.O.) Narration Example – The Shawshank Redemption

 

Radio broadcasts and other recordings

Now You See Me Script

Excerpt from Now You See Me (2013) screenplay.

 

Phone/Walkie-talkie conversations

Use it for the person who is not visible on the screen and whose voice we only hear.

Thelma and Louise Script

Excerpt from Thelma & Louise (1991) screenplay.

 

Recollections

When a character remembers what someone told him/her earlier.

Paddington Script (2017)

Excerpt from Paddington 2 (2017) screenplay.

 

Flashbacks

When we only hear the character’s voice describe a past event.

Paddington 2 Script (2017)

Excerpt from Paddington 2 (2017) screenplay.

 

Voices from different worlds/dimensions

When a character hears someone talk to him/her from another world/dimension.

Donnie Darko Script

Excerpt from Donnie Darko (2001) screenplay.

For a more detailed analysis of voice over, check How to Write a Voice Over in a Script.

 

Exceptions to the rules

As with any art form, in screenwriting, there are no hard and fast rules.

Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for many screenwriters to insist on their interpretation of O.S., O.C., and V.O., using them in a manner different from the advised above.

Things get even hazier when it comes to exceptions. The most controversial ones being those related to marking TV broadcasts, videos, and video conversations via Skype or similar.

Consider the following.

If there is a TV/another device on the scene location and the camera shows the person who speaks on them, you’ll use normal dialogue and NOT V.O. Why? Because via the TV/another device, the speaker becomes technically present on the location. 

Ted Script

Excerpt from Ted (2012) screenplay.

Zootopia Script

Excerpt from Zootopia (2016) screenplay.

If, however, the TV/another device is on the location, but we don’t see them and only hear the person who speaks on them, you should use O.S. (or O.C.) for his/her words. Again, because via the TV/another device, technically, he/she is on the location.

Iron Man Script

Excerpt from Iron Man (2008) screenplay.

 

How to know which one to use

When you are hesitant about which term to use, ask yourself the following two questions:

  • (1) Is the character in question on the scene location (either physically or abstractly via TV/another device)?
  • (2) Is the camera showing the character in question?

 

Possible Answer Combinations

Question 1 Question 2 Extension
Yes Yes Normal dialogue
Yes No O.S. (or O.C.)
No Yes Not plausible
No No V.O.

 

Conclusion 

Understanding jargon could be confusing, especially when it comes to overlapping terms.

Now, not only do you know what O.S., O.C., and V.O. mean, but you can also start using them properly in the next screenplay you write.

Your professionalism or lack of it is shown by whether you are familiar with jargon words or not.

Learn the basics and stand out.

 

Further reading

To learn more tips on how to format your screenplay, consider reading: 

How to: Script Writing – A Guide to Formatting Scripts #1

How to: Script Writing – A Guide to Formatting Scripts #2

Scriptwriting Software, Microsoft Word, Pages, and Google Docs Templates

 

Share

Related