What is the Difference Between TV Production and Film Production?

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It was pretty easy to differentiate between film production and TV production a few decades ago. Whereas TV was shot electronically, film was shot on film exclusively. Back then, each medium had its own body representing actors’ interests: AFTRA was for television actors while SAG looked after the interests of screen actors. The two unions have since merged. There’s also no much difference in the technologies employed in both mediums. Thanks to the emergence of digital cameras that can now mimic the film look, it’s hard to differentiate between film and video. So what is the real difference between TV production and Film production?


The budget for a film or television production has a significant impact on the entire production process. With a big budget, production will be more technically advanced and extravagant. Although film budgets may vary significantly from small budget, independent films to high budget blockbusters, generally, films have higher budgets compared to TV shows. As a result, TV productions will tend to have smaller crews, less special effects and fewer stars. Producers will often face the challenge of making the small budgets stretch further. However, a programme’s budget can be increased in the future if it can attract a big audience.


It will take longer to make a film than it would to create a TV programme of the same length. For instance, a film will take longer to shoot because its will take more time to set up the elaborate sets and to execute complicated camera movements for visually dynamic results. Similarly, films tend to take longer in the scripting and editing phases. Because of the nature of television, producers in a TV production don’t have the luxury of time like their counterparts in film. TV productions will, therefore, take less time. And since dialogue is relied upon in propelling the story, there is hardly any need for elaborate setups.


Dialogue drives TV. It is what communicates, character, plot and theme. The writer is, therefore, key. He/she is relied upon to write dialogue that creates tension and conflict between characters. Although there are silent moments on TV, it may be quite unusual to find extended periods of silence, where music and score are absent. But because cinema doesn’t solely rely on dialogue, such moments are frequent in film production.

Images in a film carry the same, if not more, weight as dialogue. Plot points can occur in the absence of dialogue. Like in the film Under the Skin, even something as subtle as a sound effect can signal a major turning point. In the film, the sound of a crying baby is what drives Scarlett Johansson’s character to start feeling empathy. Of course, the sound would be very effective in a theatre with 5.1 surround; the same sound could not have had the same effect on TV.

Choice of shots

It easy to distinguish film and TV based on the choice of shots. TV production usually relies on the medium tight-shot format. Wide shots are rarely present on TV since they don’t have the same power on a small screen. Additionally, they also tend to release tension. But apart from this limitation, wide shots are hardly necessary for a medium that relies heavily on dialogue and plot and which may not have much use for the character’surroundings.

In film, the character’s surroundings are also critical. Instead of the usual close-ups, there’s more variation in depth staging and shot size. In some films, locations are treated as characters in and of themselves. Cinema allows the audience to have a sense of the character’s place in the world. The relationship between the character and the surrounding is just as significant as their relationship with other characters.

Time passage

When It comes to creating epics that span many years, TV is the superior medium mainly because of the many viewing hours available at its disposal. It is hard to build such inspiring epic tales with the time limits experienced in film. To achieve the same effect, films usually have to contract time significantly. It is the only way that an epic story spanning multiple years can be reduced to just a few minutes on screen. But even then, some movies result to going beyond the average running time for a film to capture the entire story. The film Santantango was seven and a half hours long for instance. When it becomes harder to compress a story into a single film, sequels come in handy.


A television programme is not a long film. If it were, it would be extremely difficult to maintain interest over multiple episodes. To sustain interest, TV employs a device referred to as the cliffhanger, which is simply a dangling plot point. TV programmes needs to have multiple plot strands to make the audience come back next week. Where plot strands are minimal or absent, producers use reversals instead. A character can come out as gay halfway through a series for instance. A film can get away with minimal plot points. They don’t need steep, dramatic arcs to maintain interest since they can rely on other essential cinematic components.

Active viewing

TV production has to take into account the fact that the viewer can easily change to another channel. Therefore, TV is hardly willing to tackle misleading or unanswered dramatic questions. The audience engages with the content passively; almost everything is handed to them. Although some producers are pushing the envelope by creating sympathetic anti-hero characters, the trend remains virtually the same. Film traditionally demands the viewer’s active participation. The audience is threatened and challenged to create meaning at every turn. Nothing is ever handed to them.

Although the line between film production and TV production has blurred in recent years due to developments in technology, the two mediums remain distinctly different. Each has its strengths and challenges. Many have predicted the death of film due to the developments in TV production, but though the two will always compete, each possesses qualities that are unique enough to guarantee its survival in the future.


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