TLLjournal is proud to announce that The Writers Store is now an official sponsor of our logline contest! They’ve kindly offered up their Hollywood Screenwriting Directory to one of our finalist each contest. “With over 1,500 listings for Industry insiders from studios to independent financiers, the Hollywood Screenwriting Directory is the specialized resource you need for discovering where and how to sell your screenplay. Plus, it includes how-to instructions on script format, query letters, treatments, and log lines, so you can produce a professional submission.” Thanks guys!
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.
#screenwriting #television #writing
A script doctor is like a baseball player who comes in at the last minute and saves the game. If a movie’s in trouble, a really talented writer can spot what’s wrong with the script, rewrite it, and make the film a winner instead of a loser.
There have been many script doctors in Hollywood history, and Tom Mankiewicz did major rewrites on a number of films. His work on Superman I and II was substantial, and he also wrote the 70’s James Bond films Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun - and worked on both The Spy Who Loved Me as well as Moonraker.
He also created the hit TV show Hart to Hart, and did uncredited re-write work on The Deep, WarGames, Gremlins, among many other films. Plus, Mankiewicz wrote the first script for the 80’s big screen Batman, which was a obviously far different movie than the one that finally hit theaters in 1989.
Tom came from a long respected Hollywood dynasty - his father wrote and directed All About Eve, while his Uncle Herman penned Citizen Kane. Knowing this was quite a lot to live up to, Tom went his own way as a scribe, writing big budget Hollywood entertainment, and like his relatives, was very successful at it. Sadly, Tom passed away in 2010, but his autobiography is slated to hit store shelves on May 28 via The University Press of Kentucky.
As the Amazon entry for the book tells us, My Life as a Mankiewicz recounts Tom’s life and career, where he would spend his summers on his father’s film sets, how he had his first drink with Bogart, ate dinner with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, and of course became a successful Hollywood scribe and one of a long line of talented Mankiewicz men.
If you love comic book films, you definitely owe a debt to Tom, whose writing on the Superman films treated the characters with realism, wit and respect. Mankiewicz told me he didn’t do the campy approach of the Batman TV show because you couldn’t keep camp up in the air for two hours, and the first two Superman films set a benchmark that stood for many years.
Having met and interviewed Tom back in my days as a contributor for Creative Screenwriting, I’m really looking forward to reading his life story, and his behind the scenes memories of writing for Superman, Batman and Bond.”
#screenwriting #screenplay #awards
Congrats to Beverly Gandara (a former TLL finalist several times over) for her Golden Palm Screenplay Competition win at the Beverly Hills Film Festival!
GOLDEN PALM SCREENPLAY COMPETITION
The Golden Palm Screenplay Competition Award went to Beverly Gandara for “Rent Money.” The first runner-up award went to Michael Buchanan for “Confederate Son.” The second runner-up award went to “Rockin’ Reverend Script,”written by Scot Michael Walker.
Source: @ozzywood @storydepth
#screenwriting #film #story
““Should I try to write something personal, do you think, or should I go after a commercial, thing-that’s-gonna-sell kind of screenplay?”
It’s a question I often hear from pre-pros of all kinds, and my immediate response comes in the form of a counter-query: When someone reads the first page of a screenplay, what is the last thing this reader wants to see?
As a professional reader and a writer, nothing deadens my soul, puts my hope and imagination to sleep faster, than the sense that I’m being told One of Those Stories in the Same Old Way. People think that studios are looking for “commercial” projects, i.e. stories deemed to be familiar, acessible, sellable. But in truth, the studio ideal is a story that’s the same, only different.
As a professional reader and a writer, nothing puts my hope and imagination to sleep faster than the sense that I’m being told One of Those Stories in the Same Old Way
So what makes the difference?
Here’s the thing about a conventional script that’s meant to be commercial (i.e. a workman-like version of what’s already been done and what’s done all the time to fill programmer slots on a studio slate). There are tons of established pros doing exactly that, and chances are, they’re already better at it than you are.
Sure, if you’re an aspiring screenwriter, you ought to know and understand how such standard genre fare is done. But while writing a formulaic, by-the-books script might give you a grip on what works and what doesn’t, that one doesn’t have to be the spec script you go out with. In fact, that’s not a script the industry needs.
What makes a script stand out from the crowd is the difference.
What makes the difference? You.
You and only you can write the story that only you know how to write, and this is where “personal” becomes key, in terms of creating a career.
What’s the difference between personal and who cares? Personal doesn’t mean “autobiographical.” The nightmare version of “a personal project” is the script written by a struggling widget salesman from Akron that’s all about a struggling ……….”