The next step up from a VO in television news is the VOSOT. Some people pronounce it by saying all the letters, “V-O-S-O-T,” and others pronounce the acronym “VOH-sot.” It stands for voice-over sound on tape, meaning the anchor reads a voice-over portion, then stops talking while a sound bite is heard full. After the SOT, it may return to more voice-over (VO-SOT-VO), return to an anchor for a tag, or go directly on to the next story. We use bite, sound bite, and SOT interchangeably.
Here is an example of a VOSOT:
VOSOTs can also be SOT/VOs, where the soundbite comes first, followed by VO:
The VO chapter covered how to write to your video. With a VOSOT, you also need to write to, and in some cases, from your sound bite. It is usually easier to do this if you choose the sound bite first.
Choosing A Soundbite
Sound bites are typically 5-15 seconds long, though the closer you get to 15, the more you must justify the added length. When you are logging your interview, listen for something the person says that can add flavor, personal insight, or emotion to your story. Someone stating facts is not a good bite unless the facts are astounding or in question.
After a fire or car crash, an official from the fire or police department will usually grant an on-camera interview. They will tell the time the call came in, their response, extent of injuries or damage, where the incident happened, who was involved and how it happened. Use all of this information to write your VO; you can probably say it more concisely, faster, and in more conversational language than the official did. The sound bite, however, should not be some of these facts. Perhaps a motorcycle crash story can include a sound bite about the importance of helmets or drivers checking their blind spots if either were a factor. A house fire story could use a plea for smoke detectors or fire escape plans. A robbery might include a SOT about how dangerous the robber is and the urgency of getting her behind bars.
Here is an example of a VOSOT with an official giving a soundbite where they’re not just stating facts:
The only time you should use a fact in a sound bite is when the fact is the story, and even then, consider a reaction:
“This is the tenth fire caused by fireworks this year.”
“A man went skiing on his 100th birthday in June. He can ski at that age and there’s enough snow to do it that late into the season.”
“Even though the crash was minor, it’s tragic that the victim died when a seat belt could’ve easily saved her.”
All of these are stories because of an interesting fact. That fact should go in your lead, and the SOT should be a reaction to it. Getting police and fire officials to give a candid, heartfelt comment is getting harder to do. Often, you can see them carefully choosing their words to not offend or cause any legal issues.
Choose a bite that is representative of your interview. If your advocate for lead paint removal does a 10-minute interview about the dangers of the paint, and takes a quick moment to say asbestos is still a problem, use a lead paint bite. Unless, of course, her acknowledgment of asbestos is dramatic for some reason — perhaps she was an asbestos-denier up until then.
Setting Up The Bite
If you choose your soundbite before you write your VO, you can artfully craft your script to lead right into it. You want the SOT to fit right after the anchor’s last words. You also don’t want to the bite to repeat what the anchor just said.
FARMER BROWN SAYS HE CAN’T BELIEVE HIS COW GOT OUT, followed by “I just can’t believe the cow would get out like this. I thought she was happy. Maybe I need to…”
FARMER BROWN SAYS HE’S SURPRISED HIS COW IS GONE, works better to set up that same bite, as it does not repeat the same words Farmer Brown uses, rather sets up his reaction.
You can set up a bite with a something like, WE ASKED MAYOR HOBBS HOW HE FELT ABOUT IMMIGRANTS IN THE COMMUNITY. Don’t repeat this same setup multiple times in the same newscast. If you were going from the mayor’s soundbite to one of his critics, you wouldn’t want to say; WE ASKED IMMIGRATION ADVOCATE SYLVIA CALVIN HOW SHE FELT ABOUT IMMIGRANTS. You might, instead, say, IMMIGRATION ADVOCATE SYLVIA CALVIN DISAGREES or perhaps, IMMIGRATION ADVOCATE SYLVIA CALVIN SAYS THE MAYOR’S VIEWS ARE DATED before going to her bite, “he has no idea what immigrants can add to our town. They are hard-working people, more so than he is.”
You’re OK with all those pronouns because of the way you set up the SOT.
If you set up a bite with HAD THIS TO SAY, you are doing it wrong. First, it is obvious they had that to say. Second, you are also missing a chance to use better and more interesting words to set things up. Make sure your setups are factual. You only use the CALVIN SAYS THE MAYOR’S VIEWS ARE DATED line if she also spoke about that. It need not be used in the SOT, but if challenged you should be able to play back a section of the raw interview wherein she talks about his views in a way that suggests they are from a past era of thought. It could be Calvin or Hobbs who challenges you on this later.
You can make almost any VO into a VOSOT. If a solar eclipse is coming to your area, you may pull information and animated graphics off the NASA website, but the reaction from a local scientist, merchant who might make money off the crowds or amateur astronomer will humanize it. Of course, rule #1 says you need to get some setup video of the person you choose. No matter the story, there is probably a geek group for it who would love to speak, speak up, or speak out about it.
VOSOTS are a great way to break up the rhythm of a show. You can break up packages and VOs with VOSOTs to change things up. In a fast-paced show, fewer packages can give the anchor a chance to at least clear his/her throat. They can also add color and a human element to your story and newscast.