Austin Bennett (Level 4) ~ 8/2/2012 9:35 PM
The EXT. LOCATION - DAY is the CAMERA LOCATION. Wherever the slug is is where the camera is.
And TV scripts are not written the same way for movie scripts. Each show has their own rules when it comes to verbiage and formatting.
Travis DeStein (Level 5) ~ 8/2/2012 10:02 PM
The answer is simple: Format nazis.
Scott Merrow (Level 5) ~ 8/2/2012 10:23 PM
I agree, Christina. Many of the reviewers here ARE rigid about formatting and other screenwriting rules-of-thumb. (I'm constantly amazed by how many MoviePoet writer/reviewers are "pulled out of the story" by a little underlining or the occasional use of "we see".) So if you choose to do something within your screenplay that's a little unconventional or out of the ordinary, you have to be prepared to get hammered for it. No big deal. Just shrug it off and focus on the more significant (and hopefully helpful) things the reviewer has to say.
This is a pretty good reason to make sure and get your work in front of other audiences (in addition to MoviePoet), too. Many of the people at MoviePoet have been here a long time, and while that brings a lot of experience to the table, it also means a certain "culture" has developed. The MoviePoet laser-focus on traditional formatting is not universal. Find other audiences, enter other contests, and see how those people react to your non-traditional ideas.
Actually, though, I think the best idea is the one you began with -- read lots of scripts. You know those writers are successful, so why not learn from them?
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/2/2012 11:08 PM
I think a primary reason people on MP are "format Nazi's" (Travis, you dick!) is because, among other things, this is a teaching site. Many of the people coming here are new to writing and need to learn to crawl and walk before they run. Best to learn how to follow basic rules of the road before breaking the speed limit.
I know, I know... all this has been said before. But it's still the truth.
Christina Anderson (Level 4) ~ 8/2/2012 11:24 PM
Great advise Scott-- exactly what I'm doing. But MoviePoet is sort of this problem for me-- I love it here, it's a great format. Except, we don't critic formatting here. At all. If it's mention, it's to point out that it's different (Nazis). I'm hoping that maybe if we get talking about it maybe we might reconsider how we grade it.
"that's TV. not MOVIES" -- B.S. it's visual writing. It's about talking the spirit of the formatting laws and applying them efficiently. Does anybody disagree that in June's contest the EXT/SCENE/DAY usage got in the way? And, now that we've seen it does anyone have any ideas about how they'd do it different?
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/2/2012 11:43 PM
I am a very visual writer... but I stick to the rules pretty closely. I choose to subtly suggest camera angles, "we see's", and all of the other stuff via careful, creative description. It's worked well for me. Even when people aren't necessarily thrilled with my story, they often comment positively on my craft. When story and craft meet, that's the ticket.
Having said that, I think you should write in any way that gets you noticed in a positive manner. Whether it's sticking to the rules or breaking them with abandon, do what works and gets people talking.
I always bring up Tarantino. Read his scripts. He has the spelling skills of a five year old and does whatever the hell he wants. But remember, he's TARANTINO... he's proven able to tell a great story and make money - so the other stuff is ignored.
Whatever you do... make sure you keep writing and tell good stories... and best of luck out there.
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/2/2012 11:56 PM
One last thing... be mindful of the things people are saying about your work which are not format related.
I went through your entry comments and yes, I see a lot of references to formatting. I think many of those comments are valid because you really do your own thing and many of things distract from the story. In my reviews of one of your entries, I comment on them but do not mark down.
However, there are also lots of comments about story, stakes, plot, etc.
If you pay more attention to those issues and improve that side of your writing, I think you will see that people will comment on formatting but probably not mark down for it.
Austin Bennett (Level 4) ~ 8/3/2012 6:40 AM
I don't think I'm a nazi when it comes to format. If something different works for the story, I usually point it and say I like it. Same goes if something doesn't work, I mention it, but I don't harp on it. I admit my reviews can be harsh, but I try to even it out with earned praise. I'm not here to sugarcoat or give you a medal for trying. That doesn't help anyone.
I will say this again. No two TV shows are written the same (well, maybe ER and THIRD WATCH). You cannot write a spec screenplay the way you would write a sit-com or a one hour drama. While they're both visual mediums (duh!), both do different things. TV scripts have commercial breaks, music cues, sometimes the action is in ALL CAPS, there's a cast list, etc. Spec screenplays don't have any of that.
Formatting is the standard way to write. Novelists use paragraphs. Dialogue is in quotation marks (in the US anyway). There are chapters. If a beginning novelist decided not to use paragraphs, or choose not to indent them, or not put quotation marks around his dialogue, what would happen? He'd probably never get published. He may love the way his manuscript looks, but no one else is? Why? Because he didn't use standard format.
Same for screenwriters. This business is turning to the short script market. If you can't write a short, and do it well, then how are you going to write a full length script worth someone's hour or two? You probably won't.
That's the point of MP. I see each month as a new exercise and you've got 5 pages to do it. It's writing on assignment and whomever wins, gets the green light. Of course that isn't true, but that's how I see it. We're all here to learn, so might as well learn the "real way" or not at all. Let yourself take chances here, and if they work, use them in the real world. If you're "I'm going to write my script backwards and upside down" approach doesn't work here, it probably won't work when you send your script off to Paramount.
I'm not here to argue. It's just that I hope my years of going to film school have taught me something. My instructors are all industry pros with a lot of experience between them. I hope I'm getting my monies (money's?) worth.
Kenneth Hurd (Level 4) ~ 8/3/2012 6:45 AM
When reviewing, I typically try to ignore formatting issues in a script unless they are really distracting. However, basic formatting rules for a screenplay should be followed because you're establishing the runtime of the film by how many, correctly formatted, pages there are. If you include a lot of camera angles/direction in the script, you're throwing off the page count.
Another thing about formatting, though, is that if a director is reading your script, he/she will completely ignore every camera direction you placed in there, and just do whatever shot he/she wants to do. There are subtle ways you can direct from the page, by the use of careful wording, but when it's completely obvious, the director may just find it annoying and decide to ignore it. I know that when I've directed other people's screenplays, I pay no attention to camera angles that are in the script; I'm going to do whatever shot I see in my head, because that's a director's job. Of course, if you're planning to direct the script yourself, like Tarantino does, then you can put whatever you want in your screenplay. I think I've heard that Tarantino's scripts are sometimes twice as long as the actual movie, which is fine, he directs his own scripts, so it doesn't matter.
But like Tim said, this is a teaching site, and new screenwriters need to learn the basic rules of screenwriting. I don't think a score should reflect the formatting, in my opinion it should be about the story, but if the formatting is really off, I think the writer would benefit if people point it out in their reviews. We're all here to learn.
Bill Clar (Level 5) ~ 8/3/2012 8:34 AM
Well, when I started at MP, all I knew were formatting rules. I lacked a solid understanding of story, pacing, motivation, and character.
So what's a new writer to focus on when reviewing scripts? Formatting and grammar. It's the only insight I could provide. I felt like a robot. "Book A says to write like this. Danger Will Robinson!"
These days I focus on the story elements, but I'll never be able to overlook grammar and spelling mistakes.
To answer your question, "why we're not more adventurous", I can only answer for myself. Click on the "Search" link. Notice the check boxes for "Contest Winners", "Honorable Mentions", and "Favorites". Any filmmaker would be a fool not to employ this criteria.
Matthew Fettig (Level 5) ~ 8/3/2012 12:02 PM
Christina - I agree with a lot of what's been said here. Following the rules of formatting doesn't/shouldn't get in the way of telling a good story. i went back and looked at your June entry which mostly confused me like many others stated. It seemed to be a very early effort from a new writer, not an experienced writer trying a new technique. For me, I do score based on the craft. Afterall, this is a screenwriting competition site and the craft is part of that process. More experienced writers may be able to bend the rules more and deliver a great story in a less structured or varied format, but none jump to mind from this site.
Keep in mind that the goals of the writers here are as varied as the stories. Some do it just for the pleasure of writing and others hope to someday sell a feature script. So the focus on format will vary as well.
I've had a few opportunities to meet with working producers and managers in Hollywood and there is a consistent theme in what they look for in unproven (unsold) writers - a great story first and foremost. However, they expect any spec script to pretty tightly follow industry standard in formatting. It makes their job of reading the script much easier. Fight that if you want, but it will be a tough battle.
On the other hand, if you have a personal connection to someone with a producer/director/etc and you know the person will read your entire script regardless of how you choose to format, go for it. Once you're a produced writer, the rules change.
To close, why put so much energy into trying to change the formatting process? Mostly it seems like your talking about slug lines and camera angles. As I said in a different thread here - Write your story and write it well. Make it compelling - through concept, characters, action, etc... Draw us in and make us care. Will it be successful? Who knows. Will you feel satisfied that you've completed the process? You should. In either case, enjoy the journey.
Christina Anderson (Level 4) ~ 8/3/2012 12:28 PM
Thanks everyone for your comments. I really appreciate this open honest dialogue about screen writing.
It was wrong of me to infer that you are format-Nazi Austin, I wrongfully thought it was a funny comment-- trying to lighten the mood, and I see now it was underhanded; I apologize.
Okay, now to me, this is why I write here; FOR formatting-- I want to know when I'm PESTERING YOU with my SHOUTING and my cutesy-- dash, dash stutter. I need, Need, NEED the editing -- unfortunately I seem to make more grammar mistakes than anybody's willing to count. And, well if my story is so far up my @$$ that you can't make sense of it-- let me know, in excruciating detail, because I have a hard time understanding anybody but myself.
On content-- this is the subjective part. I'm going to write what makes me laugh, and what makes me cry. If you're not in the boat this time, that's your opinion and you are entitled to it. (but by all means-- if you have an idea on how to do it better or something to add, let me know, it's energizing when someone out there is into it enough to give suggestions and say more than a generalized statement).
PHEW! I think that might be what therapy is.
Austin Bennett (Level 4) ~ 8/3/2012 1:30 PM
MP has always been a place for open dialogue. We're here to grow and to help each other grow. Without MP, I wouldn't be the writer I am today. I also wouldn't have made the friends I've made.
Anyway, I had just finished working a very busy eight hour shift when I posted my above message. The humor was lost on me.
Write what you want to write and write how you want to write it, but if you're the only one who gets it (either the story or the formatting) then what's the point? Screenplays are read by hundreds of people (producers, directors, actors, DP, lighting, sound, costumes, etc) and they're structured in a way that everyone understands. If you change it because you don't like the rules, then the producers will hire someone to write it the right way. That is, if they like it at all.
Show that you're a competent writer who can play by the rules and you may be able to stay in the game.
Christina Anderson (Level 4) ~ 8/3/2012 1:57 PM
NO. NO. NO. I am not abandoning the standard-- at all. The examples I'm giving are ESTABLISHED methods of writing-- I didn't make them up.
Austin, you said that EXT/LOCATION is the CAMERA LOCATION-- but that's not how it's used. It creates the scene, but it doesn't infer anything about the shot (overhead. close-up. upside-down or whatever.) I do think you've got the right idea. However, I'd argue it's the SLUGLINE that places the camera inside the shot; and the EXT/DAY is a way of conveying information that's become THE LAW.
So, how about a challenge. How can we format a close-up shot without committing the cardinal sin of directing the camera?
My stab at it.
A MALE FACE
Unshaven. Raccoon eyes. JUSTIN(40s) blinks and his eyelids drift shut.
(now I know there's no EXT/DAY, but why should I bother with that when it's a close-up and the shot is too tight (for a visual audience) to tell where he's at?)
So, that's how I'd do it. Anybody have another way to do it?
For the record, I'm not unhappy with the critiques I've been given. A little bit befuddled, and a little lost-- but in no way displeased or less than thankful for the time everyone invested in them. Right now, I'm just floundering-- trying to get my bearings and cut my chops; none too gracefully it seems.
Christina Anderson (Level 4) ~ 8/3/2012 2:01 PM
Hopefully this way will set my writing issues aside, and we can talk about the advantages/disadvantages about our ways of doing things.
Caroline Coxon (Mod Emeritus) ~ 8/3/2012 2:27 PM
Well said, Austin!
Quite honestly, that is all that we who are labelled as 'nazis' are about. Not some sort of ego trip, but a genuine effort to give you the best chance in a world where any excuse NOT to produce your wonderful screenplay can be brought into play - so why risk it?
(An aside: I personally find it quite offensive to be referred to as any sort of Nazi, because of what the Nazi regime did which was a million miles away from correcting grammar/formatting/spelling with the best of intentions...perhaps it's my age and perhaps it's because of one of my jobs - as education consultant for the Commonwealth War Grave Commission!)
Austin Bennett (Level 4) ~ 8/3/2012 2:35 PM
The problem with the above example, and it's something I've used, doesn't tell us where to film it.
You don't shoot in a bubble. The actor, camera, director, DP, script supervisor, makeup, etc are all there on set. Even if this is a student project, the actor and writer/director are somewhere. Where are they? That's the point of a slug.
While you may only see a close up, the other things need to be established. Is he lying down? Is he face down on the pavement? Once we pull back, it may be okay to show where he's at, but that stuff should be done at the beginning of a scene and not at the end.
Baseball bats hit an unknown target. A MAN groans as he falls. Glass breaks. Footsteps run away.
EXT. PARKING LOT - NIGHT
A MAN'S FACE
bloodied and broken lies (lays? I can't ever remember) in the gravel. He winces as he coughs up blood.
His name is DEAN (late 20s). His glasses lay a foot away, shattered. He blinks.
The above isn't perfect, but A MAN'S FACE isn't a slug. It implies a CU, sure, but doesn't tell the rest of the crew what they're doing. I know I added some more stuff, and my snippet is far from perfect but it conveys what you want. Even in this close up, unless the director just focuses on the face and not the ground (I'm not sure how you would without cutting much of his face out) you would have to show the ground.
And now I'll be thinking about Dean all day.
I once opened a script with:
A hand holds a PHOTOGRAPH.
A director liked the story, but had me rewrite the script to standard so he could shoot it. So I had to put in:
INT. JERRY'S BEDROOM - DAY
A hand holds a PHOTOGRAPH.
He needed to know where to set the scene. Now I feel like I'm repeating myself.
I'm also a huge fan of this:
INT. LIVING ROOM - DAY
Jane blah blah blah. Hears the telephone. She walks into -
- where her cell phone rings from the bed. She picks it up.
Where I use dashes to get from one scene to the next, and only the location for the slug, instead of the entire INT. BEDROOM - DAY (CONTINUOUS). The dashes imply that the action shouldn't be disturbed. (Of course editing will make it seamless.)
Margaret Ricke (Level 5) ~ 8/3/2012 3:21 PM
I'm on the formatting side of this discussion.
I love the work of e.e. cummings. Visual tricks on a page can add an interesting dimension to a poem, but not to a movie script. Nobody watching your film (if it ever gets made) will see how interesting and experimental your writing style is.
Words make an exciting read. Or not. When you stick fairly closely to standard formatting, the words alone are what keep my attention. When you fill the page with ALL CAPS, BOLD LETTERING, italics, underlining, etc., then those are the things that grab my eye. I won't apologize for seeing it that way. I can't help it.
When I read "we see..." I feel like I'm being given a tour. You're here with me in my reading room explaining the film instead of letting me see it play out in my own head. If you can't find the words to create the visuals, you probably don't have a very clear vision to convey, and I will point that out every time.
When you don't give me consistent (read that as STANDARD) scene headings, I can get more than a little lost in some scripts. Once the locations are established in my head, I don't need to give them more than a glance if they come up again.
Computer's low on juice, no need to thank me for stopping... You're welcome.
Christina Anderson (Level 4) ~ 8/3/2012 4:10 PM
OOH, seamless. yeah, I like that-- dashes!
Okay, back to the CU.
So EXT/LOCATION are for the crew-- for a SHOOTING SCRIPT.
Dean's break-out is flash. Really great, I hope you find Dean and his story.
BUT. For a SPEC SCRIPT, that's 3 lines of technical details a reader can skip over. Also-- there's almost no face time. The emphasis is on how his body lays (lies?-- I'm not judging) and where his glasses are. When he shudders-- I see his whole body spasm. And when he blinks-- in my mind's picture I'm standing over him laying on the ground, with his glasses in the frame, and pulling back ready to cut out.
Dan Delgado (Level 5) ~ 8/3/2012 11:56 PM
The trick is to show a movie with words. As a writer you use all the writing tools available to you to do that. It's hard to do but when it's done right you mesmerize the reader and she wonders how she got through page 110 already.
For some reason many screenwriting gurus invent rules that don't exist and teach them like unshakeable facts. Usually they're impediments to a writing a good screenplay. I'm not saying there's no such thing as screenplay format, but that's learned in a week. What I'm talking about is all the "Never do this or that..." Nonsense, if this or that shows the reader your movie, than do it.
Read scripts from some of the highest paid screenwriters in the business. They break these "rules" all the time and they ALWAYS did! Find their first sold spec scripts, the ones before anyone knew who they were -- over and over again these scripts break the unbreakable rules.
Many of these professional writers go on forums to tell new writers forget most of the "Never do this or that, guru rules". They tell the new writers to live free and more often than not the new writers argue with the professionals: "But so and so, who optioned a script in 1965 and teaches screenwriting at Important Film School says that you're wrong, you have to follow the rules."
When the professional gives them examples of his sold scripts that break the rules the newbie comes back again with" "Well sure, YOU can break the rules -- you're a professional."
When the professional shows them his first sold spec that also ignored the hard-and-fast "rules" the newbie ignores him. It's like that want to be slaves. They want to hobble themselves and cut off some of the most valuable writing tools available to them. It's irrational.
I'm still an idiot who can't write, but I once one of these idiot newbies who liked to argue with professionals. Than I started reading scripts that sold and I finally figured out I was full of it.
Once again, I'm not claiming you can do ANYTHING you want to do, your script still has to be recognizable as a script, but forget all the needless, hobbling rules that if followed to the tee will make your screenplay, boring, unreadable dreck.
Just my 12 cents.
Austin Bennett (Level 4) ~ 8/4/2012 7:16 AM
Out of the 15 entries, you've placed in 3, so how's that working out for you?
Scott Merrow (Level 5) ~ 8/4/2012 10:21 AM
I'm with Dan.
Moderation is the key. As a writer, be creative (that's what it's all about). Use all the tools in the box. But if your creativity means breaking some of the established screenwriting rules-of-thumb, do so in moderation. Otherwise it risks becoming distracting and, ultimately, annoying. (And expect to be hammered for it here on MoviePoet. Just part of the game.)
As a MoviePoet reviewer, a little moderation is also called for. When you come across a screenplay that stretches the rules a bit, give it a chance. The occasional "we see" or a little underlining or boldface (or whatever) here and there for emphasis are not automatically bad things. Specifying a camera angle now and then when it helps paint a complete picture does not automatically constitute "directing" the screenplay, and is not cause for alarm. The writer is just trying to (as Dan said) "show a movie with words". Job #1.
And I also agree with Dan that it's important to read scripts written by successful writers. "Style" is important in writing, and it's a hard thing to teach. The best way to get a feel for it is to read scripts by a variety of writers, and why not focus on the ones you already know are successful?
Matias Caruso (Level 5) ~ 8/4/2012 1:25 PM
There's been a similar discussion at the donedealpro boards recently. This is what working writers had to say about the matter.
"I've read a hundred variations of 'well, Brian Koppelman could write it on a napkin and the studios will buy it... but YOU, a writer trying to break in, can't get away with that in a script. Readers are just looking for reasons to ding you and if you have too many we sees or camera directions then they'll ding you...' This is a myth."
"This **** does not matter! Please hear it from the mouths of people making a living at this. Not readers. Or script analysts. But actual writers and writer/directors. The town does not GIVE A CRAP if you use WE see in a screenplay. Somebody read Michael Clayton. Look at all the rules it broke. And I can already hear someone saying, well Tony Gilroy can get away...No, read it for how good it is. How it sweeps you up into Tony's vision, his voice, his world. That's all anyone in Hollywood wants."
"You've been given not just bad, but damaging advice. Write like the pros if you want your script to compete with the pros."
There were other contributions from writers who don't post under their real name, so I'll have to respect their anonymity, but I know for sure they're for real.
Sold writer with one script in production and another in post: "I am a spec writer. I wrote 16. I just sold my first. It has dozens of WE SEES and CAMERA ANGLES, etc, etc. Read my lips -- THAT SH1T DOES NOT MATTER!!!! They're not passing on your script because of these bullsh1t rules. They're passing on your script because IT IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH."
Nicholl winner: "My Nicholl-winning script -- that got me repped, got me my first job, and continues to be my go-to sample -- includes countless instances of so-called "rule-breaking." Shots specified (CLOSE ON/POV), a slew of parentheses, we sees, songs specified, etc. If you want to worry about something, worry about the important things: Is it good? Is it a movie? Any tool you can use to aid in the pursuit of either of those questions -- and tools is all they are -- you're crazy not to use."
Black List Writer: "No one makes "rules" allowances for pros. NO ONE EVEN NOTICES! That's why I can go 10 years not knowing I'm using EXT. wrong. NO ONE CARES!"
You can check the threads here:
Personally, I think these guys are right. All the feedback I was lucky to get from industry people was about story or budget. I haven't got a single comment about format yet. Nobody seems to care. And I do bend a few "rules". I bold sluglines, just to mention one of my many "transgressions".
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/4/2012 2:17 PM
While I feel certain there is much validity to the above, it cannot be denied that new writers MUST learn basic formatting skills first. I don't know about anyone else, but that's really the message I've been trying to get across.
A new screenwriter could have an awesome story, but if they write it like a novel... I doubt it will get much traction unless the writer has connections.
If they don't know how to show and not tell, if they write what a character is thinking, if they write in gigantic paragraphs which fill the page, if they fail completely to use slug lines, if they CAP EVERYTHING FOR EMPHASIS, all sorts of things that are basic to screenwriting - they'll probably fail.
Bolding sluglines is not coloring outside of the lines very much. And I think that any of the items mentioned in other posts - when used in moderation - would be considered acceptable to just about anyone in a full length screenplay. It's only when writers completely ignore all convention or overdo it that big problems arise.
A great meal can be ruined by too much seasoning. Likewise, no seasoning can lead to a boring meal. A perfectly formatted screenplay without a good story is basically worthless.
Margaret Ricke (Level 5) ~ 8/4/2012 5:41 PM
I comment on formatting, but that doesn't always mean I rate on it. It has to be pretty bad for that to happen... Pushing the spacing and margins to the limit, writing a novel disguised as a script, etc. Page numbering is pretty basic, too. And keeping the title on the title page. And, please, as close to one minute per page as possible.
There are ALWAYS exceptions. I actually don't mind scene headings written in bold. It's a reminder that I've changed location. I've never done it myself because I usually just write and my writing program handles how most of it is presented. I'll ALL CAP significant sounds, and I use ellipses to indicate a slight pause.
When I'm more aware of a writer's style of writing than I am of their story, that's a bad thing. I love it, though, when I get through a script and have no idea if there are formatting, spelling or punctuation problems.
And - one last time - I really don't care to have a story explained to me. I want to be able to see it for myself.
Olga Tremaine (Level 4) ~ 8/4/2012 7:04 PM
Maybe Christina should ignore all the formatting comments here on MP and just go ahead and write whatever she thinks is great and in a way that she thinks is right and appropriate. If you can break into the business with a script like that - good for you! If not, you can always buy a David Trottier book...
Christina, you are the boss of your own writing. Good luck with your craft!:)
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/4/2012 8:45 PM
I think that is her plan.
Reginald McGhee (Level 0) ~ 8/4/2012 9:15 PM
Is formating like the foundation of the screenplay? I don't know if follow the formating rules. I don't even know if I'm following the formating rules, I think? Did I forget to say that I don't know if I follow the rules to formating? I mean, well, I don't know if I follow the rules to formating, I think.
P.S. I don't know if I follow the rules to formating.
Dan Delgado (Level 5) ~ 8/4/2012 11:04 PM
"Out of the 15 entries, you've placed in 3, so how's that working out for you?"
I think it's working out pretty good. I got at least one "Excellent" on each of those entries (82 total, around 5.5 per script average), which means I brought at least one person on board for each one those stories. Although some of them (quite honestly) were stinkers. I also got at least one "Poor" on all but six of my entries (29 total, about 2 per entry). I think the fact that my scores are all over the place is because I like to try to paint outside of the lines. It's hits with some people, it misses with others -- I can live with that.
In fact I have fun with this and experiment. Six entries were straight comedy, which is a hard sell. As a group, it's hard to argue with the fairness of my average MoviePoet reviews. The stinkers were found out and the ones that weren't quite so bad, were a little were more appreciated.
The only one I'd quibble with is "Shake It!" I got a lot of "Poors" on this one, based (at least partially) on fact that it was a one-pager. At that time most scripts on MoviePoet used all of their five allotted pages. But I kept writing shorter scripts and now there's a one-page contest each year and there's a lot more shorter scripts entered throughout the year. So maybe I had a little bit to do with that.
Just out of curiosity I checked my comments on your entries that I reviewed. I only reviewed one (out of the three) you entered, "Agnes" and I was the only one that gave you an "Excellent" that month.
So whatever it you're doing when you write scripts, it works for me.
Olga Tremaine (Level 4) ~ 8/5/2012 12:11 AM
LOL. You are funny. I think you're doing great. Keep in mind it takes years to master skills, sometimes decades.
Reginald McGhee (Level 0) ~ 8/5/2012 12:35 AM
Hehe. Thanks. I just enjoy annoying people sometimes.
Ayal Pinkus (Level 5) ~ 8/5/2012 2:08 AM
I believe part of the problem is spec. The writer ends up second-guessing what "Hollywood" wants. It is different when you write stories with the intent to produce yourself. You can break any rule you think you should break. When working on assignment you can discuss it with the customer and ask him what he wants.
Matthew Fettig (Level 5) ~ 8/5/2012 4:06 PM
While this isn't a formatting question, I think it falls into this discussion of spec writing and what rules should/shouldn't be followed.
I got a lot of critiques early on about verb tense. I was continually told that everything should be in the present tense - walks, not is walking; reads, not was reading; etc..
I saw that frequently in last month's contest, and was surprised it was so prevalent. Has the industry moved away so quickly from that idea? Is this another area where the pro don't bother to worry about the rules as Matias mentioned above?
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/5/2012 4:16 PM
Just a guess, but it may be that the one page contest gets a lot of newbie entries. I don't have any facts to back that up, though.
Dan Delgado (Level 5) ~ 8/5/2012 5:32 PM
That's one of those made up "rules" that the pros don't really pay attention to.
I think about this way. The setting is, it's not moving. When we are introduced to a scene it is, then the movement starts.
It also involves pacing. Things that are always in motion, just for the sake of being in motion, leaves no room for weight or emphasis on any particular thing. It also makes it difficult to build suspense.
Read scripts by professionals. They use "is walking" (or other is's) all the time, when it's needed.
And yes, I know there's a lot of newbies who overuse it, which is probably why the "rule" of "never" using it got invented in the first place. But it's a legitimate writing tool, use it when you need it.
Bill Clar (Level 5) ~ 8/6/2012 12:38 PM
This is confusing. After reading this, I honestly don't know what to critique.
I'm willing to bend the rules to evolve my voice, but if I get reamed for it in the reviews...
Dan Delgado (Level 5) ~ 8/6/2012 1:09 PM
The biggest deal breaker for me is generic, undefined characters. I'm like a broken record on that in my reviews. I want characters that I care about, or there's no reason to keep reading. And then put them in a good story.
As an example, here's my review of your story "Puncher's Chance".
"A different kind of Christmas story with an interesting twist. It was visual and fun to read, with nice dialogue. And you cared about the protagonist. Well done."
I don't really mention much about formatting, grammar, etc., anymore, unless something really stands out that can't be ignored.
Just my 2 cents.
Reginald McGhee (Level 0) ~ 8/6/2012 2:13 PM
"I don't really mention much about formatting, grammar, etc., anymore, unless something really stands out that can't be ignored."
Neither do I. I think grammar is fundemental and that's something people (me included)should learn at the start of writing their story. Why mark down on bad grammar (unless you really can't read the writer's language), when we are aware that writing a story is much harder to learn then grammar?
Reginald McGhee (Level 0) ~ 8/6/2012 2:16 PM
See, I made a few grammatical errors on that post and those errors can easily be fixed than writing a story.
Sean Chipman (Level 4) ~ 8/6/2012 2:55 PM
I would say that that particular argument has problems, Reginald, because as you said, grammar is fundamental. It should be something that's perfect or close enough to right as it could be. It, to me, makes it look like somebody doesn't give a damn about quality if they haven't corrected their grammar (to the best of their ability), least of all on a short as it's obviously not a dealbreaker with a feature. "Pride goeth before a fall." Don't get a reader tripped up on a great story with grammar, spelling or punctuation that might be an eyesore. Take your time, make it beautiful (unless you're directing it yourself. Then, who cares how the fuck it's spelled or how bad the grammar is?) and good things will happen. Maybe.
Matthew Fettig (Level 5) ~ 8/6/2012 4:22 PM
I think I'm in line with Sean on this and I'd add that I get a sense of laziness when I see numerous spelling or grammar mistakes. With the verb tense, I think you get more room, especially for these short scripts, if you keep things in the present tense and spend time trying to get that perfect word.
Everyone talks about reading a story that's so great no one will care about the glaring errors. But how often does that happen?
I'd like the scoring to be more focused on the story/characters/etc..., but sometimes some of these other issues need to be pointed out so the writer can try to elevate their craft.
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/6/2012 8:41 PM
REg... grammare an speling mattr. Yes you kan reed wut I am writnig now, butt it maks tha reedr half two thingk moar abowt tha speling and gramer than thuh storee.
With the tools available to us today inside of Final Draft, Movie Magic, etc, spelling errors should be a thing of the past. Grammar is a little dicier, but taking the time to read through your work should help to solve that, too.
If you're going to do a thing, you should do it well.
And Yes, I will grade on grammar and spelling. We are WRITERS, after all - of course it matters!
Christina Anderson (Level 4) ~ 8/6/2012 11:42 PM
ACK, ACK, ACK,
Yes, of course, please do comment on the grammar, but please point it out. Quite often there will be this blanket statement on "grammar errors" without ever addressing any one situation. If they're too numerous, then by all means touch on the big issues, but just to say the grammar sucks-- how do we of poor speech learn?
Bill Clar (Level 5) ~ 8/7/2012 8:22 AM
@Matias - Thanks for the links. The pros seem to be of the opinion that there exists different standards for Hollywood and contests. Contests may nitpick formatting while Hollywood does not.
Any pros on MP that can weigh in on this theory?
William Bienes (Mod Emeritus) ~ 8/7/2012 3:10 PM
"(An aside: I personally find it quite offensive to be referred to as any sort of Nazi, because of what the Nazi regime did which was a million miles away from correcting grammar/formatting/spelling with the best of intentions...perhaps it's my age and perhaps it's because of one of my jobs - as education consultant for the Commonwealth War Grave Commission!)"
I am in COMPLETE AGREEMENT with the above statement.
And as far as formatting, since I don't believe there are "rules" you should write it the way you want to write it. Convey your story creatively.
I don't like "WE SEE" but I use and will continue to use POV, CLOSE ON, CUT TO and (parentheticals) as well. I CAPITALIZE certain words in action lines and for varying reasons. Though rare, I will use a camera direction to avoid confusion and to KEEP people in the story rather than the opposite -- PULL BACK, PAN UP (DOWN) or ENTERS THE FRAME.
I don't believe every slug line needs an EXT./INT. if your first shot is A MALE FACE, go with it.
I agree with Tim that you need to learn how to walk before you can run. And once you start running, go wherever it is that suits your fancy.
Dan Delgado (Level 5) ~ 8/7/2012 3:50 PM
"I agree with Tim that you need to learn how to walk before you can run. And once you start running, go wherever it is that suits your fancy."
I agree, my only concern is that some arbitrary "rules" cut the writer's legs off at the knees and makes it hard for them to walk.
Reginald McGhee (Level 0) ~ 8/7/2012 4:14 PM
"I agree, my only concern is that some arbitrary "rules" cut the writer's legs off at the knees and makes it hard for them to walk."
I have to agree with that. I feel that people sometimes stretch the rules so far that it questions the writer's ability to write.
Marnie Mitchell Lister (Level 5) ~ 8/7/2012 7:15 PM
Personally I choose to stick pretty close to standard format because I when I send my screenplays out into the unknown (contests, agents, etc...)I don't know who'll be reading them...maybe someone who doesn't care about format or maybe someone who does. Why chance my work ending up in the garbage?
William Bienes (Mod Emeritus) ~ 8/7/2012 9:58 PM
"Personally I choose to stick pretty close to standard format because I when I send my screenplays out into the unknown (contests)..."
I was going to put the contest angle in my post. Marnie is right on with regards to the contest route. Most have a mark for format and structure and it counts for 20% of your overall score.
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/7/2012 10:49 PM
Picasso was a classically trained artist of amazing skill. Would he have been capable of helping to revolutionize and invent new forms of art if he didn't already understand and have mastery of the underlying styles, techniques and forms?
I'd lay money on No.
Writing is as much an art as painting. Just because you can type into a program that auto-formats and spell checks does not make you a writer worthy of being read. It takes effort, practice, skill, more practice, imagination and then a lot more practice.
Learn how to tell your story visually using accepted standards, perfect your craft, learn what you need to know at the most basic level. Don't use excuses for poor grammar or spelling or plot or theme or characterization. Learn it all. Master it all.
Then you can go crazy, push boundaries, rock our worlds. You will have earned it.
And enter MoviePoet contests and kick our butts... if you think you're man/woman enough! Go on... I dare you!
Honestly... trying to avoid learning the basics (and making excuses for same) is just laziness in my book.
Reginald McGhee (Level 0) ~ 8/7/2012 11:28 PM
"Honestly... trying to avoid learning the basics (and making excuses for same) is just laziness in my book."
I agree, but the thing is with some people, they actually do their best at learning the basics but still fail. Then some people still wonder why screenwriters are lazy.
Dan Delgado (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 2:24 AM
"Learn how to tell your story visually using accepted standards, perfect your craft, learn what you need to know at the most basic level. Don't use excuses for poor grammar or spelling or plot or theme or characterization. Learn it all. Master it all."
Exactly. Use all the tools available to a writer. Learn your craft.
I guess I'm mixing oranges and apples. The mechanics of script formatting aren't that complicated. And obviously you don't want to embarrass yourself with poor spelling and bad grammar. (Or leaving words out, that should be there ;). I always appreciate it when someone lets me know when I make those kinds of errors.
But some of the criticism goes beyond that to comments about the way the screenplay is told. Some people have been taught (for example) that you should never, ever use "is walking", that you should always say "walks" instead. That's just not right. You use the best writing tool for the situation. In scripts that means using words that paint the clearest picture, with the least confusion.
Now obviously, you can use "is walking" wrong and when it's used wrong it's weak writing. But that's true for any writing. Screenplays aren't a special case. But it can also be used right in a screenplay. Read any professional writers screenplay for examples of how it's often used right.
Every scene has a beginning. I imagine it as the moment before the director says action, or right before the curtain rises on an act in a play. Especially at the beginning of a story (screenplay), before we know their world, we have to be told "what is". "What is" it we see? Sometimes the "what is" is very brief and we get right into the action.
I've heard it said a million times that using "is" is passive and it needs to be active. If you have two guys sitting in a living room talking, that's kind of passive no matter how you say it.
Here's a crappy example. (I'm good at crappy examples.) This is near the climax of the story. It's one those B "Swamp Creature" tries to kill the girl and her boyfriend has to rescue her stories.
In earlier scenes we've shown "Jill" stupidly trying to hide in woods from the Swamp Creature. Since the Swamp Creature can only amble about half-a-mile an hour, she should be able to easily escape it, but no matter has fast she runs it is always within a few steps of catching her. And of course she trips and falls. So we cut away too...
"Jack" who is rapidly driving through the night in some kind of black sedan on roads we can't really see because it's an old black and white film with bad lighting. And when we get back to Jill...
EXT. WOODS - NIGHT
The Swamp Creature is strangling Jill.
(That is what is happening when the scene opens. In other words his webby, slimy hands are currently around her throat.)
"The Swamp Creature strangles Jill.", doesn't say the same thing because it can be open to debate what's actually happening. Some people might see his webby, slimy hands around her throat (like above), some might see him reaching out to strangle her and then placing his his webby, slimy hands around her throat. It's less exact.
What comes next? "Jill desperately reaches for a tree limb, small enough to use as a club." The snapshot is over, when the scene opens the Swamp Creature "is" strangling her. Now she reaches for the tree limb, not she "is reaching" for the tree limb.
After that bulky example, here's a much simpler one a professional writer gave me.
The curtain opens...
"Jim is standing on the stage."
"Jim sits down in a chair."
I read the books and followed their advice and lectured people not to use "is" too. Then I started reading sold scripts and listening to professional screenwriters.
In my clumsy way this is the stuff I was trying to refer to, not whether you need to have coherent formatting or good grammar or spell correctly. Yes you need to do all that.
Ayal Pinkus (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 2:26 AM
"Picasso was a classically trained artist of amazing skill. Would he have been capable of helping to revolutionize and invent new forms of art if he didn't already understand and have mastery of the underlying styles, techniques and forms?
I'd lay money on No."
Hear hear! I completely agree.
The way I see it, there is a continuous scale between craft and self-expression. It is my opinion that a work, if it is any good, is a mix of the two. Pure craft is deadly boring, and so is pure self-expression.
You have to be able to say something and you have to have something to say.
I would add that I believe "rules" are usually crystallizations of hard-won discoveries in the past by the masters of your art. To me, learning the "rules" is about not having to reinvent the wheel. Learning them just saves you having to discover them yourself.
It is also important to understand why the rules came about so you know when to break them.
I write scripts with the intent to produce them myself so I have no desire to follow strict formatting rules just to be accepted by a Hollywood reader or to win a contest. I find many of the "rules" are useful any way. Your script is just a design document for a film, meant to convey your vision to others. This is important because it is a collaborative medium. The "rules" often help you to be precise and they help you make the script an easy read for your collaborators.
Caroline Coxon (Mod Emeritus) ~ 8/8/2012 6:33 AM
Kenneth Hurd (Level 4) ~ 8/8/2012 10:38 AM
Caroline, that's an excellent article.
When writing a screenplay, our main concern should be painting the best picture in the reader's mind. The better we paint our picture, the better the chances our vision will be seen on the screen. A director is going to read your screenplay and if you write it right, then your vision will be very similar to the director's, cinematographer's, editor's, etc.
I'm still of the mindset that you must include the scene locations in your script. If you don't, the director will have no clue where you want the scene to take place. If you want the film to open with a certain shot, you will need to express that shot with words rather than tell us what the shot is. If you're directing it, that's a different story, but if you're not, then you have to let the director and actors do their jobs.
From a filming perspective, including the INT./EXT. headings is important. If you don't put them in your script, someone else will have to. When you're making a movie, especially if it's a feature, an organized script will be very beneficial. Movies are typically filmed out of order, and because of this, the production crew will need to know all of the locations. They get these locations by going through the script and pulling out the scene headings. When it comes time to film, usually most of the scenes for a specific location are shot at the same time, and then the crew moves on to another location to shoot those scenes.
So many people are involved with the making of a movie, and most of them will never read your screenplay in its entirety - if they even read any of it - so having it written properly will help everything to go smoother. When a producer has numerous screenplays to go through, chances are that if it's not written properly, it'll get tossed after just a couple of pages - if that. The producer probably doesn't expect a good story out of a poorly written screenplay, and has enough properly written submissions to find a good story in one of those. Unfortunately, while screenwriting is an art form, it's also a business; and, it's those business types that pick the projects.
Kirk White (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 1:07 PM
I heard somewhere that whenever I agree with Delgado, an angel strangles a baby seal in heaven so I was, at first, reluctant to chime in...but this issue is a huge pet peeve of mine and it was the very reason I stopped entering screenplay contests and stopped reading my reviews here (release the H.O.U.N.D.S.!!!!) in the first place. And before you get all smarty-pants on me, I don’t consider MP a “contest” but rather a monthly writing workshop, which is why I wish they would stop DQing people for crimes against the monthly rule but that’s another rant for another day and I digress…
I agree with Delgado. Pretty much with everything he said...his 12 cents.
And I will, for the record, say first that Yes, Virginia, there is importance to GRAMMAR in writing and your verb tenses should agree; although if I may, some of the tense disagreements HERE on MP could be the result of a language barrier: folks writing in a language that is not their first. So perhaps, one could not be so assholio-smug about it all the time and perhaps give a few benefits of the proverbial doubt now and then instead of just saying “WRONG” and marking poor (do you think you’d do as well if you had to write your entry in Japanese?).
But at least I understand the grammar police mentality. After all, grammar has rules and laws and for the most part is not subjective.
This is not true of FORMAT.
There is no such thing as “industry standard format”. Even in the Industry, there is not a standard format (See: Bros, Warner)
Certainly there are basics but any of the multitudes of programs can help with this.
But when we get into “WE SEE” and “CLOSE ON” and “is strangling”/”Strangles” issues we’re talking gymnastics here. And we have a group of people making subjective calls based solely on their interpretations of what they think is the correct way to do things.
Who’s right? Everyone. That’s the beauty of art.
And I’m no industry guru...but I’d be willing to bet you dollars to donuts that no one in the history of the world has ever sold a script or moved someone to tears or inspired joy unabashed or caused another human to throw his hands to the sky and wail, “glorious! Glor. E. US!” because of perfect format.
But I can name, off the top of my head (although probably not BY name) at least ten people who have sold things or had films made without even trying to write in standard format and just telling a killer story with amazing characters and dialogue (seems like they are always just out of prison...).
So I’m going to be even bolder and suggest that Picasso would have “made it” even without mastering the technical stuff first…because Picasso had shit to say.
U2 learned how to play their instruments WHILE writing songs because U2 had shit to say.
And you, yes YOU, will make your sale or find someone to make your movie or get the girl to like you or finally get that honorable mention at MP or whatever it is you have deemed “success” when you stop fretting over format and just say the shit you gotta say.
This, of course, will not stop people from saying that your format is wrong, but by that point you won’t care.
Khamanna Iskandarova (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 1:32 PM
"But I can name, off the top of my head (although probably not BY name)"
Is this happy possible?
Now I have to read Dan's birthday post.
Thanks for the article, Caroline!!!
Ayal Pinkus (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 1:44 PM
'So I’m going to be even bolder and suggest that Picasso would have “made it” even without mastering the technical stuff first…because Picasso had shit to say.'
Ah, my cue ;-)
Picasso didn't exactly throw away all the rules. His compositions are beautiful and that is something you need to learn, that is "technical stuff". Untrained artists don't do that well.
Also in some of his nude models that might seem to deviate from nature he nevertheless puts in all the right bumps where bone comes to the surface or where there is a muscle under the skin, therewith honoring the tradition of bragging about one's knowledge of anatomy by drawing things you would not actually see if the model were standing in front of you.
Also, much of classical training is about learning to see. This is immensely important because it means you are able to really see nature around you but also your own work and work by other artists, and to learn from all that. You just see things laymen don't see. Picasso studied art from other cultures also, he was able to see things the average person is not able to see.
He knew his shit Kirk and it really does show in his work. I'm sorry, but I really do see his classical training shine right through his work... He had skills many modern artists sadly lack. They don't have Picasso's skill and they can't touch Picasso with a hundred-mile pole.
That is not to say I completely disagree with you. It is the individual self-expression that makes the work of art interesting, but I do strongly believe you cannot really produce great work if you don't learn the craft first.
Kirk White (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 2:48 PM
exactly my point by not really being my point, Master Pinkus...but I will certainly defer to your judgment on Picasso as I know nothing about him.
but you have to understand something about art...it COMES from some place...
and I'll take art over craft any day...but do aspire that they not be mutually exclusive.
then again, you proved that they aren’t mutually exclusive by writing Pecking Order: an awesome piece of bold big ass ART. I am humbled to be in the same room with you.
Matthew Fettig (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 2:59 PM
@Matias - I just read through several pages on the message board at donedealpro and I'd suggest everyone else read through the site as well. I think it gets to the heart of what's being discussed here. It doesn't mean that breaking the rules shouldn't count against any script, but that a GREAT script doesn't have to follow the perceived rules of unsold screenwriters.
In this continual learning process of screenwriting, I'll endeavor to attack the new voting month from the perspective of the pros. I've always desired to be constructive in my critiques, and I hope the new approach will be more beneficial to the writers.
Ayal Pinkus (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 3:15 PM
@Kirk, that was funny :-) I know my writing is not at the level it has to be yet, but your comments made me laugh :-) I think you are right, we agree. I'll take art over craft any day too and believe they are not mutually exclusive.
@Matthew, you should try finding the positive things in a script, really! It is a very interesting exercise. I found that when you focus on what works you see the things the artist does well and should perhaps do more of, the things that make the script sing. It is funny but it felt like every time I looked at the negatives they were about craft and when I looked at positives they were about the art of it. At least that is what it felt like to me...
I'm not contradicting myself, I still think craft is important, but it is the art you usually get enthusiastic about.
Matthew Fettig (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 3:25 PM
@Ayal - I always look for the positives. At least I try to point out what I do like when I see it.
My goal, however, is to try to focus, from the constructive viewpoint, on the more substantive concepts - story, structure, character, emotion, what world have we been taken to, etc...
I think grammar will always be a sticking point for me though. Misplaced or missing commas, for example, change the meanings of sentences.
Ayal Pinkus (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 4:08 PM
Craft supports the art.
I'm not a good enough writer to illustrate what I mean through a writing sample but I think I can show in drawings.
For example, look at the pastel drawings by by Mary Cassatt on this page: user.chol.com/~simjy49/picture/art/p227.htm .
What you see is that the faces have been rendered really carefully and precisely whereas the surroundings have been drawn much more loosely. She showed the beauty of the face through precise rendering, and then proceeded to cleverly suggest the texture of other materials through loose lines. This also had the effect of making the face the focal point of the work of art; your eyes are drawn to it.
Now, that there, being able to play with quality of line on demand: that is craft. Her effectively expressing what she felt about the subject was the art part, but she couldn't have done that without the craft.
Now, an unskilled person will not be able to control the line so well. The drawing will be naive, unprecise and drawn with the same loose line (expressing nothing more than the unrest in their head).
There are many many examples of skilled artists varying their quality of line to better express themselves. Here's a seventeenth-century example from Frans Hals: www.loustrzyki.edu.pl/przedmioty/sztuka/album/13_barok/slides/frans_hals_czarownica.html . See how precise the face is rendered, see how the hair is suggested, see how her blouse is effectively suggested with broad rough strokes. See how he shows us a woman who loves to party, how well he expresses that through his craft.
Now here's a contemporary example by artist Jan van der Kooi: www.janvanderkooi.nl/nl/werken/.php?rubriek=5&werk=90 . Notice the preciseness of the rendering of the head, notice the loose lines with which he rendered the body, they suggest the dynamic movement of the animal. That was an artistic choice made possible through his skill and craft. He could have rendered a static image, rendering the fur precisely like he rendered the head but he chose not to. He's moving, and he has us in his sight. Tell me that is not an arresting image :-)
I don't know enough to back up my claim when it comes to writing but I am very sure that when it comes to visual art, craft doesn't get in the way but rather it supports art.
The art is what you get enthusiastic about but you cannot do it without the craft.
Ayal Pinkus (Level 5) ~ 8/8/2012 5:35 PM
Hum, I guess that was a roundabout way of saying I agree with Dan and Kirk :-)
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/8/2012 10:57 PM
Dan and Kirk - you guys crack me up. So funny!
Ayal - it is a joy to read your replies. Your extensive knowledge of art coupled with your ability to clearly illustrate your point through it is amazing.
I did say earlier that, "A perfectly formatted screenplay without a good story is basically worthless." Of course there are people with raw talent who can write amazing stories right out of the gate. But most of us are not that person. The exceptions prove the rule.
Matt... there is a difference between "missing some punctuation here and there" to "not using punctuation". Everyone misses a word or screws up royally (see my one page entry this year for a good example). Those don't make you a bad writer. You're too hard on yourself, man.
It is VERY easy to see when someone hasn't made an effort to learn much (or anything) about the craft of screenwriting. It is also easy to see when someone is new, but trying their hardest. It is also easy to tell when English is not a writer's first language. Our job when critiquing should include trying to detect all that and then provide appropriate comments.
Keep writing everyone. Do your best always.
Fred Koszewnik (Level 5) ~ 8/9/2012 7:38 AM
Add this article from the Story Pros site to the mix of opinions expressed here:
THE IMPORTANCE OF FORMATTING
As a nascent screenwriter, there are many reason for you to format your script cleanly, in the classic mode.
Formatting is, by and large, not an absolute science. Variation is allowed. Most readers don't care how you format, as long as it doesn't obscure the flow of things. Some readers have their pet peeves, and you'll lose points for this or that formatting irregularity. But, there's nothing you can do about that...
What you can do, though, is play the averages. Over the years, screenplays have settled into a common format which, though befuddling to a newcomer, reads invisible to an experienced reader. This formatting doesn't interfere with the uptake of the script, ensures that the reader's eye won't stumble, and avoids the dreaded involuntary jerk of the hand that hurls the script toward the shredding basket.
You may want to use quirky, individualistic formatting like you've seen on famous scripts on the Internet. But be forewarned: loose, creative formatting is a privilege reserved for working screenwriters who command big fees. It shall not be usurped by neophyte writers. The Hollywood apparatus is a jealous apparatus, and doesn't look kindly on those who exceed themselves -- it expects writers of spec scripts without track records to format cleanly and consistently.
So avoid those problems altogether by ensuring your script is formatted as cleanly and minimally as possible. And that means stick with the basics:
* Use full scene headings at all times. So-called "subheadings" can be cool, but are rarely used correctly.
* Stick to DAY, NIGHT and LATER. If more specific times of day are important to the plot, put them in description.
* Avoid transitions. "CUT TO:", "SMASH CUT TO:", and such. Transitions are implied by scene headings, and the form they take will be the director's job.
* Don't bother capitalizing SFX. This is a technical instruction inappropriate at the spec script stage. In fact, leave out capitals altogether, except for character names, scene headings and names on first introduction.
* Get lots of white space onto a page. White space is more than just a good idea -- it's a way of life. Concise description, punchy dialogue, direct presentation...white space tells readers they're working with someone who's got professional chops.
* While technically not formatting, this is important: do not use 120 pages. Don't even use 110. Use 105.
Caroline Coxon (Mod Emeritus) ~ 8/9/2012 9:46 AM
"reads invisible to an experienced reader" - I think that's the crux of the whole thing. You want people to read YOUR STORY. If you do wild and innovative things with formatting that's fab, well done for being creative, BUT that means the reader will be noticing FORMATTING TRICKS not your STORY.
I know Scott (in a much earlier post) said he was amazed that people claimed to be 'taken out of the story' by underlinings and use of caps and so on. One of those people is me. I AM taken out of the story. I don't want to be bothered by unnecessary things that jump out of the page, or formatting innovations that make me have to think about them so I can work out what's meant to be happening.
I want to read YOUR STORY. Nothing else.
N.B. I know I use caps in posts, before anyone points it out. Different ball game...
I look at formatting in the same way as when you go out for a meal in a restaurant. The very best service from a waiter is one that you don't notice because it's so perfect it doesn't impinge on your consciousness. That's a brilliant waiter. One who deserves a massive tip!
If I don't notice formatting or grammar or typos or spelling then HOORAH - I can concentrate on the story.
Olga Tremaine (Level 4) ~ 8/9/2012 4:47 PM
I completely agree with this article. It feels like I wrote it :) Or my clone.
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/9/2012 7:32 PM
I might alter the last line on Fred's post to...
1st Draft - write it as long as it needs to be. 140 pages is fine. Just get it written.
2nd - 4th drafts - edit it down down down.
5th draft (or whatever) - it should be as tight as the story allows.
105 pages is a great goal. I wouldn't sacrifice my story quality to meet an absolute page length, though. If it's 115 but it's great, they probably won't care.
Austin Bennett (Level 4) ~ 8/15/2012 1:56 PM
While my coworker and I were bored at work, we started coming up with funny haikus that were about the movies we sell. I can't get into specifics, as I work in an adult novelty store.
My main point is this. In order for a haiku to be a haiku, it has to have three lines. Five syllables in the first and last, and seven in the middle. If it doesn't have those specific things, then it's something else.
Same with a screenplay. If it doesn't have a FADE IN:, or slugs, or whatever, then it isn't a screenplay. It's something else. And we're here to write screenplays, aren't we?
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 8/26/2012 10:37 PM
10 pages today, folks! I should have been getting caught up with actual work work, but screw that. I needed to write.
I'm on page 85 after 4 weeks. I think I still have about 30 pages or so to go on the first draft. Maybe 40.
Then I will put it aside for a short while and come back and edit. I'll see which scenes can be deleted or moved, which can be tightened up, how I can add depth to scenes, etc.
But that's 30 or 40 pages in my future, so I won't worry about it. I figure with my short trip to the UK coming up and a vacation (finally!) not long after that, I have another month before the first draft is done.
Richard Martz (Level 3) ~ 8/26/2012 10:46 PM
What is the current formatting protocol regarding the following: Is the word "CONTINUOUS" in a slug line now frowned upon? For example:
INT. RESTAURANT - EVENING
....[omitted scene for purposes of this example]
KITCHEN - CONTINUOUS
In other words, should we stop using "CONTINUOUS" in any slug line?
Reginald McGhee (Level 0) ~ 8/27/2012 12:14 AM
I think it depends. Say if we are in a room, and two actions are taking place at the same time but in a different location. I think it is safe to use Continuous to let the readers know that two different timelines are taking place at the same time.
INT. LIVING ROOM - DAY
SUSIN (40s) sits on the couch. She hugs a MAN then kisses her.
INT. WORK - CONTINUOUS
SUSAN'S wife, RICHARD (40s), seated behind his office desk, files papers.
INT. LIVING ROOM - CONTINOUS
Susan and the man kisses passionately. She stares up at the clock. She's nervous.
Don't worry. We still got all the time in the world.
Reginald McGhee (Level 0) ~ 8/27/2012 12:16 AM
And I mean, "kisses him."
Margaret Ricke (Level 5) ~ 8/27/2012 12:12 PM
I love you, Reg.
Reginald McGhee (Level 0) ~ 8/27/2012 4:11 PM
I love you too, Margaret.
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 1/8/2013 11:23 PM
After reading a few scripts for current movies lately, I've decided to start bolding my scene headings.
I found it easier to visually discern one scene from another when bolded.
Matthew Fettig (Level 5) ~ 1/8/2013 11:40 PM
Tim - I think it makes tremendous sense from a visual standpoint. It won't slow the reading, and it won't seem like some random word has been plucked out of thin air by the writer for emphasis.
I can't wait for the day someone reads a script of mine and decides to change the way they do something based on what I've done...
Scott Merrow (Level 5) ~ 1/8/2013 11:55 PM
I always boldface my slug lines -- except scripts that I submit to MoviePoet. Everyone else seems to like them; not so here on MoviePoet.
Tim Westland (Moderator) ~ 1/9/2013 12:21 AM
@Matt - how do you know that hasn't already happened?
@Scott - looks like I'm a late bloomer on this one.
JeanPierre Chapoteau (Moderator) ~ 1/10/2013 5:45 PM
I used bold headings on my undead entry. People commented but didn't seem to mind. I think I'll start doing the same. Me, Tim and Scott ... against THE WORLD! Moo-hoo-hahahaha!
Binky Fonblanque (Level 4) ~ 1/13/2013 1:21 AM
I say just "relax, do do it" ;)
I've read a few screenplays where the sluglines were boldface. I was reminded of this just now reading Looper, as released by Rian Johnson:
Margaret Ricke (Level 5) ~ 1/13/2013 11:07 AM
I've never been crazy about bold face type in a script because I think it's distracting to the read. The dark letters pull at my peripheral vision while I'm reading.
On the other hand, there have been some scripts where bold face headings would have helped me figure out where the hell I was in the story.
On the other other hand, a good story could be written in crayon and I'd keep reading it.
That about sums up my position, I guess. I might have something to add later...
When I'm writing I go with the format Final Draft has built in. I always turn off the MOREs & CONT feature when I start a new script, but that's the only change I make. I don't see where I can change the font for scene headings to bold faced, but I haven't looked all that hard. I also make a list of character names I can pull from so that each character's name starts with a different letter of the alphabet. I try to organize the locations ahead of time, too.
The reasoning behind all of that is that I just want to write when I write. I don't want to be thinking about changing fonts or going through a smart-type list of "J" names for dialogue blocks or trying to figure out whether I used a different heading for the same place earlier in the story. I just want to get the story down on paper.
A final note on the character name thing: I ended up with four females with plant names (Willow, Heather, Rose and Jasmine) and a bunch of names that ended up with a "dee" sound at the end (Cody, Kenny, Rosie, etc) when I wrote the first draft of Shingobe Creek. You can change names later, but I always thought of these people with these names. I won't do that again.
Matthew Fettig (Level 5) ~ 1/15/2013 12:06 PM
Maggie - If you want to set your scene headings to bold, it's easy:
These instructions are for a Mac so on a PC they may be slightly different.
From your top menu, choose Format - Elements
Click on Scene Heading in the left menu box; then select the Font button on the right side
Click the button Set Font then check the box next to Bold
Choose OK, choose OK again.
If you do this to a new, blank script, you can also save the file as the template and not have to make these same changes for each new script. You can also make your changes to the Mores & Continueds prior to saving the file as a template and avoid having to make those changes to every new script as well.
To save the new file as a template, again for Mac:
Go to File - Save As and give the file a different name, just to be on the safe side. I use Screenplay1 to be safe.
Change the Format dropdown menu to Final Draft Template (.fdxt). That's the dropdown menu near the bottom center of the dialogue box.
v.188.8.131.52 (retail version, not the Mac App Store version):
Save the template to your Desktop and quit Final Draft (Command + Q);
Go to Finder - Applications - Final Draft 8;
CTRL + Click - Show Package Contents;
Go to Contents - Mac OS - Data - Stationary
Drag the template into the appropriate folder (Scripts or TV Templates)
When you reopen FD, choose File - New From Stationary and then navigate to the template name you created. Make sure everything works as you want it to. Then, if you want, delete the existing Screenplay template (or simply rename it something like ScreenplayOld) and rename your new template Screenplay.
One thing I've noticed is that the Bold characteristic won't apply to a scene heading if that heading is the first line on the page. If you use FADE IN as the first line, all other Scene Headings will appear bold by default.
To see the process for saving the template on a PC, go here .... support.finaldraft.com/article.aspx?cid=1001&aid=46
Matthew Fettig (Level 5) ~ 1/15/2013 12:07 PM
whoops...forgot my backslash on the ending url bracket and used the x instead...
Margaret Ricke (Level 5) ~ 1/15/2013 8:08 PM