Monday, April 21, 2008

Story Vault: Format

You may have heard that Sofia's Diary has been picked up by Channel 5, which is exciting, and it's great that the show is doing so well (will keep you posted on any developments, natch). Before the show started on Bebo, I wrote the pilot in a Microsoft Word document (don't think the producers had Final Draft) and pretty much made up my own formatting, even doing it in Arial pt 12 instead of Courier. Like, I'm so me, y'know? Despite this, it did actually look like a script (honest), which is obviously the most important.

Anyway, it made me think of this post about formatting from around this time last year. Go direct to the source if you want to check out some of the comments. Below is the post in full. And click here if you'd like to see a follow up post about using and formatting various techniques (freeze frame, voice over etc). See you on the flip flop.


A lot of people get hung up about format. Courier pt12. The right margins. Which screenwriting software to use. And so on. There's no need to get stressed about it. Relax. As long as it looks like a script and smells like a script, it probably is a script. Only the bad ones smell, mind. The point is that only the most pedantic of readers is going to reject your script based on the formatting alone. There may be a few misplaced parenthicals or an action line may find its way into the dialogue space - and just how do you format a montage? - but if the script is 90% okay, then you should be in the all clear.

If you're still unsure about format, don't sweat. Look back at what you've written. Is it easy to follow? Does it all make sense? For the flashbacks/intercuts/montage/telephone call, have you taken the reader 'out of the story' because you've formatted it to death. If the reader can read the script and follow the action, then no problem, job done. A script needs to look like a script but after that, it's going to be something that's riddled with formatting errors to make a reader's blood boil. Lucy has some good thoughts on the matter, here.

Someone emailed me a while ago, asking about format. Here's the skinny:-

I've just bought First Draft and I am a bit confused. If you are au fait with the software could you advise me on the following:

1. What template should I use for a BBC returning drama series?

Normal screenplay format is the best to use, especially for spec scripts, even if they are intended for the Beeb.

2. Should I put 'Scene' and the scene numbers i.e. 1, 2 etc at the end of each scene or should I just indicate a transition by putting int/ext, and time etc followed by action.

The usual scene headings such as INT. OFFICE. DAY will suffice, no need to put Scene or scene numbers.

3. Should I write 'cut to' at the end of each scene/transition?

You can if you want. Up to you (I don't, unless I want to make an emphasis about what I'm cutting to).

4. At the end of each scene/transition should I let the script carry on or should I start a new page after each new scene heading?

In normal screenplay format, let the script carry on, don't start a new page after each scene.

5. OR should I just try and use Script Smart?

I've never used Script Smart (the above link tells you everything you need to know). Final Draft software is widely regarded as the format to use, and the Beeb don't mind. They can reformat scripts into their own templates if necessary (once you're working on an actual series, say). There is lots of good software you can use, some for free, but you can easily set up a screenwriting template on MS Word.



Lucy V said...

Ah yes, that'll be the post I inspired Daniel since I am like, so me, an' all. ; )

Format matters - except when it doesn't. Certain shows have their own format and others don't give a toss how you write. I've met producers who say format matters hugely and others who say they don't care if a script is written on toilet paper as long as it's effing brilliant. I've never met a literary agent who has said format doesn't matter but then I've probably only actually asked about 6 to be fair. Scottish Screen have a whole thing on format their readers have to comment on and so do several other places I've read for.

On this basis then, I reckon you should treat spec format as if it matters - then if it doesn't no one cares, whereas if it does you've jumped through the hoop they want you to. But don't get hung up on it - just don't get busted.

Rachael Howard said...

I've been using the Script Smart templates for about 4yrs. I'd recommend them to anyone starting out because they're free and easy to use.

However I start to find them cumbersome when I do feature length. Shuffling scenes and getting an overview.

I've now saved up birthday money and washed lots of cars so I'm about to get Final Draft. Got to get the rusty padlock off the purse first

Anonymous said...

If you don't have the money to invest in Final Draft, you can always check out Celtx (.com). It's open source screenwriting software, so it has all the possibilities to write and format your script, and is a rather nice writing environment.

Might work a bit better than fiddling with addons to your regular word processor.

Dan said...

So, are you still involved with this Sofia's Diary? If so, congratulations.

Oli said...

I meant to say congrats on Sofia's Diary getting picked up; front page of Broadcast, as well.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, well done Mr Stack. As for format, I use Sophocles - it may not have bells and whistles but it does the job and is easy to use.

BTW, you were spot on with your comments about Tony Jordan, a really, really nice man. He made us all feel so welcome at RP HQ on Monday.

Dan said...

You can get a cracked version of Final Draft 7 absolutely free on t'internet. Not that I'd agree with that sort of thing. Ahem. But I do think relatively simple pieces of software like FD (a specialist Word, if you will) shouldn't be so expensive.

Anonymous said...

Fortuitous find, this blog of yours.

Thanks for all the pointers.

Near by said...


Danny please come and do my scriptwriter blog survey - takes less than a minute. Ta

Danny Stack said...

Buffy: Hello! Great name.

Far Away: Done! Nifty little survey.