Finalists, August/September, 2012
#3linesorless || #august #september || #finalists || #loglines
The top seven prize-winning loglines are listed in order. The rest are listed randomly.
Logline: Sam and Chris are rookie cops with the worst records in their precinct. When the duo lose a drunken bet to a rival pair of cops, Sam and Chris must issue twice their usual number of monthly tickets in only three days by relying on some of the city’s most outrageous and out-of-date laws.
Screenplay title: Dollars to Donuts
Written by: Benjamin Adair Murphy
WGA Registration Number: 1242778
Logline: The true story of Richard Bong, a rookie WWII pilot who makes a brazen bet to beat the kill record of America’s top-scoring ace. But as the deadly competition spirals out of control, he is forced to confront the bitter realities of war and what it means to be a real hero.
Screenplay title: The Ace of Aces
First Place/World Fest
First Place/Indie Gathering Film Festival
First Place/Guild of Italian American Actors
Written by: Geoffrey Breuder
WGA Registration Number: 1138750
Logline: When a will leaves the heirs half of California, a lone wolf San Francisco private investigator finds the heirs are being killed by the same assassin that murdered his girlfriend, and must decide whether to save the remaining heir, or abandon him to hunt down the assassin.
Screenplay title: The Tortoise And The Heir
Winner - best action script - The Chicago Screenwriters Network Screenwriting Contest.
Semi-finalist - Writers On The Storm Contest.
Semi-finalist - The Fade In Awards Contest.
Written by: Russ Meyer
WGA Registration Number: 1450371
Logline: In the near future, a gifted but cold microbiology student begins a dangerous journey when she creates a protein to turn on the conscience gene in psychopaths.
Screenplay title: The Johnson Cure
Written by: Glenn Derrick
WGA Registration Number: 1540637
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Logline: A young woman, dressed as a schoolgirl, baits killers and rapists to avenge their victims, only to become a suspect herself, on the run from a cop with a secret of his own.
Screenplay title: Unikorn
Written by: Mathieu saliva
WGA Registration Number: 1578662
Logline:A female detective with suicidal tendencies must slay her own demons to follow horrific clues that lead to torture, murder and The Catholic Church cover up in a monastic insane asylum.
Screenplay title: The Unspoken
Written by: M.E. Avila
WGA Registration Number: 1570074
Logline: Chuck fears his perfect life might bore him to death, Fred fears his furniture might bludgeon him to death, who’s got it worse? “The Inanimates” is a comedy about perception, reality, and the proper way to interrogate a footstool.
Screenplay title: The Inanimates
Written by: Steven Guggenheimer
WGA Registration Number: 1603187
Logline: The chase is on when a former stuntman turn mover unknowingly has money belonging to the mob and a alien artifact pursued by the military.
Screenplay title: The Mover
Written by: Michael Quintero
WGA Registration Number: 231509
Logline: A dark comedy about the perils of having either too much or too little faith, “Rubrics” follows a deeply religious Catholic woman whose world is turned sideways when her son’s new high school principal becomes enamored by her unique ability to stomach him.
Screenplay title: Rubrics
Written by: Steven Guggenheimer
WGA Registration Number: 1607712
Logline: In the near future a young woman named Evelyn works for a National Committee that forces radical parental exams on couples. After seeing the sinister nature of the committee she aids rebels in sabotaging the committee for good.
Screenplay title: Populous
Top 100/Emerging Screenwriters
Written by: Michael Quintero
WGA Registration Number: R15564
Logline: At the peak of it’s popularity, wanton alcoholic Eddie Valentine was America Online’s most notorious e-mail spammer. But when Eddie befriends a seven-year old boy, a series of comedic failures forces him to reevaluate his own life. Based on a true story.
Screenplay title: The Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine
Winner/Haag International Screenplay Competition
Finalist/Waterfront Film Festival
Second Rounder/Austin Film Festival (for These Freakin’ Robots)
Written by: Suneil Singh
WGA Registration Number:: 1609278
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Logline: A planned hot tub party at an abandoned house by four married former buddies turns into a psychological nightmare when one of then is found murdered.
Screenplay title: The Harte Home
Best Fantasy/GIAA Film Fest 2010
Fantasy-Action-Finalist/The Writer’s Store 2012
Written by: Michael Pallotta
WGA Registration Number: WGC#: S11-03987 (Canada)
Logline: After a microbiologist shares her conscience gene formula with scientists in other countries, she discovers a gene bank that contains the DNA codes of American senators and representatives.
Screenplay title: The Johnson Cure Part 2: Exposure
Written by: Glenn Derrick
WGA Registration Number: 1609450
Genre: Coming of Age/Memoir
Logline: In 1980, a small farm girl moves to Chicago to jump start her career in animation. After two years studying and working in the city she becomes entrapped by the media and the FBI for having befriended a certain couple with a link to the Tylenol murders. She ultimately finds solace in her true friends and family.
Screenplay title: A Country Mouse
Written by: Wanda L. Brown
WGA Registration Number: 1601430
Logline:A scorned woman is chained to the inside of her house and haunted by an evil entity from another realm that is determined to kill her then destroy all of humanity.
Screenplay title: Angry Slut on a Chain
Writer’s Name: David Santo
WGA Registration Number: 1551608
Logline: After amassive robot invasion decimates humanity, a bumbling manchild must channel his reckless antics to dodge death, outwit killer machines, and win back the love of his life.
Screenplay title: These Freakin’ Robots
Finalist/Omaha Film Festival
Finalist/Gimmie Credit International Screenplay Competition
Finalist/L.A. Comedy Festival
Written by: Suneil Singh
WGA Registration Number: 1479967
Logline: A drugged out, self-proclaimed private investigator is mistaken for a double agent when he inadvertently snaps a Polaroid of a drug lord. Trance State Nation is a druggy, neo-noir comedy combining a Fight club and Fear and Loathing style unreliable narrator with a film-noir, hard-boiled narrator.
Screenplay title: Trance State Nation
Written by: Christian Chalklen
WGA Registration Number: 1604265
Debunking Screenwriting Myths, Part 7: Requesting Feedback
by Geno Scala
Recently, I submitted one of my scripts to a blogger offering his free “ten-page review”… or so I thought. Apparently, I misunderstood the premise of his tweet and blog, and later learned that my submission was open to ALL of the blog followers to comment and critique. One of his more professional followers was chosen to “officially” review the script, which was apparently a new process coincidentally beginning with my first script submission.
After several days, I checked back with the blog with enthusiastic anticipation of reading a number of thoughtful, positive comments and, hopefully, some important, insightful suggestions offered up by writers with seemingly a wide range of professional screenwriting experience.
How wrong I was.
What I received as “feedback” was snarky, irrelevant and hate-filled responses, either borne out of envy or vitriol from possibly a long-past run-in. Hard to say, since all of the commenters were anonymous. While feedback of this nature is not helpful, it did drive home a very important point, one that I had forgotten in my expectation of adulation. After all, this screenplay had won several contests, and is continuing to fare well in several others. The screenplay is generating a lot of interest from producers and managers, and has been requested and reviewed by many of the top mid-level production companies out there, receiving tremendous accolades.
I hadn’t followed my first rule of feedbacks: be clear about what you expect. Usually, when asking for any writing feedbacks, I rely almost entirely on my “cheers”, “peers” and “rocketeers”. In this case, I went outside that sphere of influence; my own “circle of trust”.
This refers to the three groups of emotional and screenwriting support network you should have in place. Your “cheers” are friends and family and those not in the business of screenwriting, who generally will support (and donate to) just about anything you do. They are important for your spiritual well-being and self-esteem, but generally not as helpful to your overall writing goals.
The next group is your “peers”. These, generally, are fellow scribes who have somewhat the same level of writing experience as you. You might find them in writing groups, networking forums, chat rooms, or related alumni groups.
Your “rocketeers” are those handfuls of professionals who can take your writing — and your career — to the next level. This group may consist of professional script readers, producers, agents, managers, optioned or produced screenwriters, and/or screenwriting “gurus”.
When posting this screenplay to an unfamiliar blog, I failed to make my own expectations clear; to myself or to others. I hadn’t researched the purpose of the site, or the quality of the reviewers prior to diving into this literary shark tank with my eyes closed.
With any anonymous review, you are opening yourself up to comments and suggestions from anyone, regardless of their accomplishments or lack thereof. For all I know, the reviews could have come from a bunch of stoned high school kids cutting class that day (they certainly read as such, and made even less sense). Some of the comments ranged from “I don’t like the genre, and will never like a script like this”, to “Oh, no! I’ve read one with a similar opening last month!” neither one refreshingly insightful to the script being reviewed. Of the few “corrective suggestion(s)” the script did received included one that was based on the incorrect assertion that a particular formatting style is no longer “in vogue” (despite Dave Trottier’s assertion to the contrary). One reviewer felt that he/she didn’t like it because they “couldn’t see how it (the plot) could be pulled off.” Mind you, they’ve read only the first ten pages or so.
The result was a swift kick to my own butt, by me, reminding never to set myself up for failure so carelessly again in the future. I have certainly developed a thick-skin about my writing long before this posting every saw the light of day. You should ask for and receive any and all feedback; just make sure you know from whom it’s coming and what their personal motivations might be, if any.
When I provide feedback, it is for the purpose of helping the writer improve their writing or their overall project. I provide examples of what I’m talking about, and if they expect corrected examples, I provide those as well. If it’s formatting-related, I realize it may be about preferences or style, and advise the writer what technique or style I prefer, so as not to cloud my own judgment. I also try the “sandwich technique” to critiquing: a negative comment sandwiched between two positive comments.
It makes the criticism a bit easier to swallow that way.
Geno Scala has been writing for over twenty years, and was one of the Executive Directors for the 1999-2000 Academy Awards presentation. He is an optioned screenwriter with nine screenplays to his credit, and is an alumnus of ScreenwritingU. He maintains a business in Hollywood, and resides in beautiful Huntsville, Alabama with his rocket-scientist wife, a daughter in grad school, another daughter in college in CA, and two teen-aged sons.
by David Santo
Join me now as we travel to a bachelor party in a Detroit home that has run off the rails and there are naked people everywhere. I find the sight a bit disturbing; not because of the nudity but to get completely naked you have to take your guns off and there’s loaded weapons lying all over the place. But I know this scene will end up in my current script so I stay put and secretly jot down notes. Later, I transcribe these events (with the obligatory exaggeration) into Final Draft and I’m certain this is the missing penultimate piece of the puzzle for my current low-brow raunch-com.
Flash-forward a few months and my screenplay is complete. My endless rewrites are finally finished. But I’ve been screenwriting for a long time and experience has taught me a few things; I may feel like a great writer but I know my script is a hot mess. I just can’t see it. So I’m faced with sending my intellectually deformed and embarrassingly crude screenplay (or as I like to think of it - pure genius) off to a consultant to get covered.
Now for those of you who don’t know what coverage is - it’s a brief industry report that summarizes your script and you get one of three grades: pass, consider, recommend. It’s done for the benefit of important people with money who don’t have time to read. The report is brutal and you always fail. But as a screenwriter you pay for this information because you want to know how your script is going to be received: good, bad, where the logic gaps are, etc. This way you can fix it prior to submission for the best possible chance of success.
Now the person who reads your script - a professional script reader - will wax poetically about how they long to read a great screenplay if they could just find one. This is a lie.
YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH
A professional reader is convinced the creative cupboards are bare and all the scripts they receive are garbage. It helps them feel superior to the subject matter and the writer so the reward - however meager - is they get to hand down their “tough love” wisdom and guidance. In other words - they get to feel smart. There’s also a huge dis-incentive to give a script high marks. Most movies don’t make money. If you were the reader that recommended a script that just died in development or lost money at the box office you might get fired. It’s easier and safer to fail every script and protect your job.
And readers are a handful when it comes to their personalities, too. Here’s an excerpt from the website of a professional reader who is proud to advertise…
“I’m that guy you need to get past at the agencies and production companies; the first one in the office to read the script. I am the Gatekeeper. But you can call me Zuul, or just ‘The Bitter Script Reader.’ Please NO requests to read your material. All such queries will be ignored and deleted unread. I do NOT have a notes service so please don’t send me an email asking about rates. And in case it wasn’t clear the first time - DO NOT ASK ME TO READ YOUR SCRIPT!”
Now in all fairness readers do get a ton of scripts that are complete crap. Then they get paid worse than crap to put that filth into their dome. Then they must spit out their best interpretation of the miserable dreck they just read and create a cohesive report. And to top it all off they get treated like they’re a nickel whore and everybody they meet has a quarter to spend. So I don’t envy them or their task.
And at this point a few of you might be shaking your head in disagreement at my bleak assessment because you’ve either given positive coverage as a reader or you’ve received positive notes as a writer. Let’s say you’re a writer and you got the all mighty “recommend”. I can explain this discrepancy in five simple words. You write better than me.
But the vast majority of screenplays and screenwriters receive a “pass” and some pretty nasty comments to go with it. So you must find a reader independent of the studio system that can, and will, say something nice if they feel like it, with no other consequence to their actions. And you want to spend the least amount of money possible to get this information because failure is guaranteed.
WHO YOU GONNA CALL
And I quote from their home page…
“Broken Light Entertainment is a screenplay and production consulting service offered by Steve Emmerson. At its heart, it is a service to provide filmmakers and other media professionals with creative guidance in the execution of their stories.”
I recently chitchatted with Steve via email…
Your services are the cheapest I’ve ever seen. How can you read scripts for such a low low price?
You could ask the same of a business who offers discounts through Groupon. We’ve done very well accumulating a healthy volume of business from repeat customers. Writers who appreciate the quality of our service submit new drafts of work they’ve had me read before as well as new work. Our overhead is not as high as other script services, so we can afford to charge less. Most services charge high fees based on the resumes of people featured on their website, and then farm the work out to outside readers, paying those readers about what we’re charging. All of our reading is done internally so what we’re doing is cutting out the middleman. Also, we charge on an a la carte basis. A writer can purchase only analytical notes on their screenplay or only a breakdown of their characters detailing ways they could be stronger. To round things out, we even offer to craft budgets and profit projection for your screenplay that helps when pitching it to a producer.
How do you think your low cost coverage compares to higher cost services?
I would say that my services are superior for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you know exactly who is reading your script. If a producer with a few credits is running a script consultation service, you can bet that your script will be farmed out to a freelance reader, intern, USC film student, or whatever, who will write the analysis for a small fraction of whatever you paid as a fee. And lots of other services only provide lists of production companies for which they have read, without actually providing their names of their readers or their specific backgrounds. With Broken Light, what you see is literally what you get. I do all of the reading, and if I bring in another reader or readers, those individuals’ names and qualifications will be on the website for customers to evaluate.
Broken Light Entertainment operates with the philosophy that any screenplay can be turned into a successful story on screen if sufficiently polished and taken to a high enough level. On this basis, I provide constructive analysis of your script, focused on how I would execute certain elements if it were my name on the title page.
How did you get started as a script reader?
Anyone trying to build a career in script development in Los Angeles ends up reading hundreds if not thousands of scripts for various producers and agents who don’t have the time or inclination to do the reading themselves. In my case, I’ve done this and also read for foreign film distributors in countries such as Germany and Japan. I would evaluate screenplays of projects in various stages of development in terms of how successful these projects would be based on each country’s cultural sensibilities. It becomes an issue when you get into territories like the Middle East where they have censorship boards. Having read scripts for services that charge hundreds of dollars, it seemed like someone should be providing writers with analysis at a price they could afford.
What’s the first thing that tips you off a script is going to be good?
Lots of readers have their own “hook” for what starts a script. For me, it’s a combination of many factors. Is the very first image engaging when visualized? Is there an excess of dialogue that is either overly expository, tries too hard to be clever, or is just unnecessary? Do the descriptions contain more of the writer’s attitude than the actual story?
The thing to remember is that a screenplay is a description of what an audience is seeing and hearing. When a writer gets too far away from that, the story gets lost. A screenplay is a tool to be used and interpreted by a director, actors, a cinematographer, and various other technical professionals to create a visual narrative. So professionalism itself is key.
What’s the first thing that tips you off a script is going to be bad?
I once read a script that was written as an epic poem, two-hundred-and-fifty pages long. Another script opened with a character monologue that ran one-and-a-half pages without any description of the scene or what was going. And another one used began with a letter from the writer to potential producers about all the money this script could make.
Extraneous elements that have little to nothing to do with the story tell the reader and the audience that you have no value for their time. When you’re dealing with a reader who skims—not reads, skims—a dozen or more scripts a day, you have to stick to what is critical.
Do you believe the first 10 pages are the most important?
Absolutely. Those are the pages that establish your main characters and their overall circumstances, even if you don’t get to the first major turning point of the story until page 25 or 30. You want to hook the audience in the theater. From the perspective of the readers, it’s the chance to introduce your quality and style of writing, and determines the amount of concentration they will give to the rest of your script.
Does a writer need to live in Hollywood to succeed?
No. Writers outside of Los Angeles break in every year. And it’s important to realize that the entertainment industry is becoming more and more decentralized all the time. This is the age of email, instant messaging, and Skype. There are social networking sites devoted specifically to the entertainment industry. You can pitch to a producer or agent from across a table at Starbucks or across a few time zones. If your idea is strong and you push it enough, you will inevitably meet the right people face-to-face. Writers who are also lawyers, accountants, and teachers are selling their script or find independent producers more local to them. Writers can shoot their ideas with a camera from Best Buy on a shoestring budget and submit it to a festival where it could win a few awards and get them noticed. With a lot of drive and a little luck, a writer can succeed no matter where they are from.
Your website is clean and easy to navigate. Did you make that yourself?
I conceived the layout of the sight and the overall page design, the order of the pages, and details like that. A friend of mine designed the light-bulb logo. A web designer named Katherine King refined the aesthetics and provided the automated email form in the Contact section. Katherine operates a media design company called Hidden Design (http://www.hiddendesign.com) and I highly recommend her services.
What are 3 things you wish writers would do before they send in their scripts? And you can’t say “use spell check”.
1. Outline your script before and after each draft is written, going scene-by-scene, determining what each scene accomplishes, if and how it could be tighter, and whether it is necessary.
2. Watch or read the scripts of 3-5 of the movies that inspired your concept or are at least similar in theme. Then, ask yourself what makes these movies work, what are their shortcomings, and determine if your script has any of the same elements working for and against it.
3. Take the time to really play the script as a movie in your head. Use your imagination as the forty-foot high screen where you want your story to eventually be projected. And scrutinize it for faults the same way as you do when you’re watching a movie at the cineplex.
LOUIE, I THINK THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP
As the curtain closes a few final words from Steve Emmerson…
Read lots and lots of scripts of multiple genres, both of produced movies and spec scripts to hone your understanding of what works and what does not.
Outlining and planning your story before you actually write the script is every bit as important as the writing itself. You wouldn’t drive from New York to Los Angeles without mapping your route, and crafting a screenplay is every bit as perilous a journey.
Organize all of your drafts, outlines, and various notes to make them easy to find as you’re writing each draft. Use features like the Scriptnotes feature in Final Draft that lets you put little digital Post-Its at various points in your script.
Catch up with David Santo || www.ScreenwriterDave.com
June/July Contest Finalist
#3linesorless || #june #july || #finalists || #loglines
The top seven prize-winning loglines are listed in order. The rest are listed randomly.
Logline: Can a Broadway diva find a cure for the hot flashes that are ruining her life? Sure, but first she has to convince the hormonally-crazed women of Dr. Zelnik-Chan’s menopause support group to crash the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and save a sexy Mauritian botanist — without getting herself killed.
Screenplay title: Hot Flash
Winner, Best Comedy category, 2011 Just Effing Entertain Me screenplay competition
Written by: Su Hoyle and Nina Wishengrad
WGA Registration Number: 1226078
Genre: Contained Thriller
Logline: A billionaire rare book merchant uses the premature reading of his will to seal the heirs into an airtight room, and only by solving a thousand year old mystery can they escape.
Screenplay title: Settling The Books
Quarter-finalist/Chicago Screenwriters Network
Winner/Contest Of Contest Winners for the feature Jenna’s Gone
Written by: Russ Meyer
WGA Registration Number: I233686
Logline: A nerdophobic writer infiltrates the world of pocket protectors, bad haircuts, and ill-fitting polyester clothing to rescue the woman he loves, find inner peace, and defeat an alphanerd with delusions of grandeur.
Screenplay title: Nerds Among Us
Author of a dozen books, including:
-Fun With Phone Solicitors (Warner Books)
-When Good People Write Bad Sentences (St. Martin’s)
-101 Things NOT to Do Before You Die (Thomas Dunne)
Written by: Robert W. Harris
WGA Registration Number: 935539
Logline: Russian mercenaries take over an Iowa farm with plans to use a crop duster to spray weaponized smallpox on an air show in Des Moines. Only a small town sheriff and an ex-Mossad agent out for revenge stand in their way.
Screenplay title: HeartLand
Winner/Amazon Studios (for the feature Devil’s Pass).
Seven scripts optioned
Three-time Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist.
Written by: Michael Coady
WGA Registration Number: 1195988
Logline: A serial killer from an alternate universe searches for his specialized prey to boost his business while satisfying his burning passion to find the perfect woman. It will depend on his latest victim’s ability to recognize the impossible in order to save herself.
Screenplay title: Deadly Dimensions
Finalist/Shriekfest Screenwriting Contest
Top 20% out of 3,000/L.A. Expo Competition
Top 25% out of 5200 (still live)/Page Contest
Written by: Sandra Mytys
WGA Registration Number: 1566696
Logline: Investigating an attack that left her teen sister in a coma, Laura Evans explores a dilapidated old house in the woods haunted by the vengeful spirit of a Gypsy witch and her clowder of mangy, demonic cats.
Screenplay title: The House That Evil Built
Finalist/Amazon Studios (The House That Evil Built)
Winner/Amazon Studios (for the feature Devil’s Pass)
Three-time Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist.
Written by: Michael Coady
WGA Registration Number: 1592027
Genre: Family Drama/Biography
Logline: The true story of a noted, terminally ill Boston journalist who embarks on an extraordinary journey that alters her fate, and ultimately, leaves an indelible mark on humanity.
Screenplay title: Pippa’s Song
Winner /Creative World Awards
Written by: Diana Mitchell
WGA Registration Number: 1569486
Logline: A rogue war correspondent follows his conscience and dodges military censors to score the great scoop of World War II. Based on a true story.
Screenplay title: Operation Jackplane
Written by: Joe Livernois
WGA Registration Number: 1542195
Logline: After humanity hits bottom, government and media conspirators stage the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in an attempt to herd billions of people into a death trap.
Screenplay title: Peak Jesus:Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Their God(s)
Written by: Jason Calabro
WGA Registration Number: 1588120
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Logline: A prized medical student tries to reanimate a cadaver who he’s fallen in love with.
Screenplay title: Anatomy Fellow
Written by: Robert E Hoxie
WGA Registration Number: 1589676
Logline: A timid high school student in Phoenix recruits a brave female classmate to help him save his mother from a hit man in Los Angeles.
Screenplay title: The XY Factor
Written by: Glenn Derrick
WGA Registration Number: 1590047
Logline:Based on true events, this is the story of the psychic CIA spy Lieutenant Mary Quinn who can locate remote targets, interrogate people from miles away, but has a hard time balancing work and family, especially when the Pentagon decides to get rid of her.
Screenplay title: The Zone
Written by: Mathieu Saliva
WGA Registration Number: 1585644
Logline: Married six times with a stint as a hooker Kitty goes to law school at 41. By 45 she has become the go-to defense attorney for La Familia drug cartel in Atlanta learning more than she ever bargained for about the intricate workings of drug trafficking. Based on real life practicing attorney
Screenplay title: Nassau Street
Written by: Cathy Alterman and Neli Soto
WGA Registration Number: 1420036
Logline: A haunted ex-pilot and his nihilistic cousin must contend with a crime boss and each other as they try to free their family from a life of suffering.
Screenplay title: Purgatory
Written by: Jason Ardolino
WGA Registration Number: 1541150
Logline: An ancient alliance between aliens, ninja, and demons crumbles leaving the only ninja left in the bloodline to go on an intergalactic killing spree bring all those responsible before the mighty demon council to be judged and tried for their betrayal.
Screenplay title: Demon Ninja
Written by: Max Teasdale
WGA Registration Number: 1440567
Creating An Unforgettable Screenplay, Part 4: Formatting Basics
by Christine Autrand Mitchell
I’m running into a lot of basic formatting confusion by mostly beginning writers, so I’d like to address the obvious for a change. You’re not allowed to reinvent script formatting. Yes, it’s evolved from silent to sound, and television, single to multiple camera, but there are rules, people! Within them you can reveal your I’ll be talking about a basic, unrepresented spec script.
Whether you use a script writing software or not, there are some basic things you need to know, like:
Print on a single side of the page
Use 2 brads even though you 3-hole punch
Don’t use fancy covers
The magic number of pages fall between 90 and 120 (though it can go over but that’s another article)
Be succinct (see Action below)
EDIT and PROOF your work - spelling and grammar matter! (A great number of scripts get rejected during the first 10 pages of a read because of spelling and grammar errors, as well as formatting mistakes - I kid you not!)
There are two spaces after a period but only one after an ellipsis…
and below there are more important bits.
Font & Margins
Courier 12 - whether it’s Courier, Courier New, Courier + Software Name, doesn’t matter. It is a fixed-pitch font. Margins vary depending upon which “authority” you are referencing. I could write this entire article on margins - but I won’t. Remember that there are right margins as well as left margins. I suggest you use the default of your software or use a reference like Christopher Riley’s “The Hollywood Standard” among others. Font and margins set your maximum number of lines per page at 57.
Begin with your title in ALL CAPS about 4” down, 4 lines down put “written by” then skip a line for your name & the other guy’s name. Your contact information, as in address, phone and email, (and optional WGA/Copyright number) go bottom left. If you have representation, that person’s information would appear instead of the writer’s.
TITLE OF SCRIPT can go top center and then FADE IN: follows left margin, alone on a line.
Scene Heading (or Shot Heading)
It’s the when and where of each scene, always ALL CAPS. Try to stick to Master Shots and away from specific type of shots because you’re the screenwriter, not the director (unless there is a damn good reason).
INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior) - where the camera is set up
LOCATION - where is this scene taking place?
(SHOT - i.e. wide, tracking, POV)
(SUBJECT OF SHOT - i.e. car, President)
TIME OF DAY - i.e. Sunrise, Day, Continuous, or specific date
Flashbacks and Dream Sequences can precede INT/EXT but can also be put in as a shot. Denote their end with END FLASHBACK/DREAM as a transition or with a (BACK TO PRESENT) on the next Scene Heading.
Novelists beware: no articles are to be used here!
Action (or Direction)
After Scene Heading, tell us what’s happening. This narrative section allows you to play journalist, providing the what, who, where, when, maybe how, but probably not why. Give us mood and you’ll create lighting and filters,atmosphere and emotion. You don’t need to describe each piece of furniture, but let us get a true feel for the place and for the people being introduced.
Be succinct and give just enough to provide a clear picture. The better you are at waxing poetic here, the more engaged your reader becomes.
Write in present active tense, keep away from adverbs and make your adjectives count - i.e. the paint chipped door CREAKS open
Keep the reader engaged by describing what we see on the screen - never what anyone is feeling or sensing!
The first time a character is introduced, he/she is in ALL CAPS. If he doesn’t ever talk, don’t CAP - unless he is a major character.
In our attention-deficit world, keep action paragraphs to five lines.
Keep CAMERA DIRECTIONS (ALL CAPS) out (or to a minimum), as a rule for selling a spec script. You can allude to things - trust me, it can be done!
SOUND EFFECTS and ON-SCREEN MESSAGES (like texts) are capitalized.
Finally, the dialog! The CHARACTER (CAPS) is always first, so we know who’s talking. (If it’s BLOND GIRL and then she gets a name, her NAME is introduced in the Action paragraph and then always use the CHARACTER NAME.) Caution: Name is not in the center of the page - starts at roughly a 4.1” margin.
If the character is a voice over put (V.O.) next to the name, same goes for off-screen (O.S.), meaning the character is in the scene but we don’t see them on camera, like through a door or from another room. If a page break occurs during the dialog, (MORE) should be at the bottom of the page and CHARACTER (CONT’D) on the top of the next page, followed by dialog.
The (parenthetical) is brief and starts at roughly 3.4” margin, has parenthesis around it, doesn’t start with caps, follows the character name and cannot end the dialog, but can be sandwiched between. It is a description about that character’s line delivery or physical action only. Use it sparingly! It’s a short incomplete sentence; separating actions with semicolons. You can use passive verbs and adverbs - yeay! You cannot, however, describe another character’s actions or lines. Here are some examples: (beat), (sotto voce), (in German).
The actual dialog, the lines the characters speak, start at roughly the 2.7” margin. Important: make this sound like a real person is actually talking - read it out loud, record it, have your actor friends read it for you.
If more than one person is speaking simultaneously, you can put them in separate columns (check your margins). Underline emphasis in dialog, no italics, and be economical with it. If someone gets cut off or stops suddenly, denote it with—
Your last words should be FADE OUT as a transition (about 6” margin), but many do like to put THE END centered 4 lines below the previous line.
Make certain you are backing up your files regularly. As you edit, make sure you’re descriptions are succinct and your dialog is well structured.
Happy writing and edit well! Remember, too, this is a visual medium.
Christine Autrand Mitchell was raised across four countries and splits her time between writing and filmmaking. She writes screenplays, fiction, non-fiction and plays, and is an editor and script analyst. She has credits as a Producer, Director and Casting Director, and heads Entandem Productions.