Sunday, September 25, 2011

Screenwriting Bullet #13: Format

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Format is really the number one screenwriting fundamental yet it continuously gets disregarded by new (and occasionally not so new) writers. Essentially, if a script looks and feels like a script, with Courier Pt12 font, suitable left and right margins, appropriate tabs for characters' names and dialogue, then it's job done. If a script is written in Times New Roman in a Word document, with everything centred, or centred and all in capitals, then it just shouts AMATEUR.*

Stick to the basics. Invest in Final Draft software, and let the pre-programmed format do the work for you. Final Draft is widely considered as the industry standard, and many TV programmes will work to existing formats within the specific software (EastEnders included). There is free software available, such as Celtx, and files can easily be transferred into a PDF format, which is now the common document in which to send and receive scripts.

So, no more excuses. Scripts in proper script format. No more coloured fonts, screaming capitals**, or centred action. If you're going to look like a pro, you're going to have to start writing like one.


* Photo from Script Nurse

** The BBC Script Smart format for sitcom scripts do put everything in capitals, with the description on the right hand side of the page. This type of format developed when normal scripts were transferred into production drafts, so that the director and other departments could make notes on the left hand side of the page. It has become an acceptable way to format scripts, mainly in the sitcom genre, and should have a page count of around 50-60 pages.


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Daniel said...

Hey Danny - absolutely agree - if you don't want to the mark of the amateur punched into your skull, you'd better be using proper format.

I took this even a bit further in a post of mine, suggesting that it's not just the right thing to do, it's the glorious thing to do - it's movie history - 12p Courier is the stuff that dreams are made of :-)

Phil Gladwin said...

Hi Danny - and Daniel!

It's funny reading this seconds after looking at the script for an ep of Outnumbered on the BBC Writers Room Blog - which rendered on my screen in some kind of Arial variant.

I think this is what confuses a lot of people - you see actually produced scripts in all sorts of shapes and sizes. That's often down to history. The thing is, when you're submitting a spec, I totally agree - use the bog standard 12 point layout these guys mention.

The more I write, the more I like Courier. It just seems to work.

Oh, heck, I liked Daniel's link so much, can I throw in my own little rant on the matter of Format?

Getting nostalgic for last year's LSF now. You both going, I take it?

Danny Stack said...

Thanks Daniel & Phil - yes, see you at the festival!