Monday, October 10, 2005

UK Format

Everyone knows screenplay format and everyone knows how they should lay out their script. Final Draft, Movie Magic, etc - all the available screenplay software is endless. But there are still a few that fall through the cracks. In my experience, these tend to be European scripts, who format their screenplays in any way the writer feels comfortable. And good luck to them. But generally, it's not a good idea to turn your nose up at the basics of what a screenplay should look like.

By and large, spec scripts in the UK are decently formatted and presented. The US are sticklers for format but here in the UK, writers are probably a bit less concerned (and us readers probably a bit bit more lenient) if a script is written Time Roman pt 12 rather than the standard font of Courier pt 12. Of course, there are those who would argue that it doesn't matter what font or margin they use, it's the story that matters, but it would help greatly if the UK spec pile was as efficient and professional as our US counterparts.

I got an email from Lee over at A Screen Near You and he asked me a few q's about script formatting.

What size and weight of paper is preferred? Is A4 80 GSM okay?
Normal A4 paper is fine. I don't know about 80 GSM but there's no need to get thick and fancy with the type of paper you use, just standard photocopying paper is dandy. The script should be printed on individual pages. Some agents send their scripts out doubled-sided, which I don't like, but I can understand them wanting to cut down on their paper use.

Two holes, four holes or three holes?
Two holes seems to be the standard in the UK. The US system seems a bit flawed to me as occasionally, I'll receive a script with four holes but with only two fasteners loosely holding it together. But perhaps this is due to it being photocopied and distributed at the production company who's getting it covered.

What method of binding the pages is preferred? Braids, acco clips, etc?
Ah, thank you. Acco clips. Could never remember the name for those stainless steel binder thingies. They work very well and are standard issue in the UK. I find braids quite annoying and a bound script is a complete no-no. For one thing, a bound script needs to be unbound so it can be photocopied and distributed, and when I had to do this at Channel 4, I got very irritated indeed.

Are there any changes to the typical screenplay formatting (margins,
widths, border, etc) that writers should be aware of?

There are people who could tell you immediately what the left and right margin should be but I'm not that anal. Thankfully, Final Draft does it automatically for me but if you don't have the benefit of screenplay software and are unsure of the margins, just use your common sense. About an inch to two inches either side would probably look okay. Writers occasionally get hung up on screen format issues too, like what to do when characters speak at the same time or how to do a phone call, but for me, as long as I can read it and not be confused, then it works. Use whatever you feel comfortable with in terms of relaying the story and the reader shouldn't have any complaints.

Now I'm contradicting myself with my earlier remark that the UK should be as professional as the US but if looks like a script and reads like a script, hell it's a script. The rest is down to content. What your story is like and how well you tell it. If you're sending your script to the US, and not via an agent, then it's best to make sure that you have all the exact details regarding format and how they like it but while all of this is important, it's just side-salad to what the script actually has to say. I read a script today that was full of spelling mistakes, bad grammar and questionable format but the dialogue was very funny which in turn made the characters more appealing, and the story bobbed along regardless of its format flaws. So yes, get the format right, be as professional as possible, but the story's the thing that will really catch the eye.


Lee said...

Cheers, Danny, some interesting points there and hopefully that'll help some other UK scriptwriters who, like me, could only find information on what to do in the US.


Tony said...

I would seriously appreciate it if someone would tell me how the hell you are supposed to write a full length screenplay in the unutterably rubbish format euphamistically known as 'industry standard'

Let me give an example to point out the obvious shortcomings.

We are currently expected to turn in a full length film script at 130 pages, max.

Withnail and I was written in Traditional British Format, and runs to 128 pages. In the format required now it would run to more than 250 pages, and is an instant rejection, as it would be written in Trad British.

How can that be right?


James said...

I've written a script in BBC sitcom ( format but will also send it to other companies.. should I change the layout? For eg. for C4? WHat layout do they want to see for sitcoms?

Any advice appreciated

Danny Stack said...

Hi James - keep it in BBC format, it should be fine. If you have Final Draft, no harm transferring it into a normal script document, just in case people get fussy.

Anonymous said...

US.....professional? Lol, good one.