I’m glad you asked. A screenplay is a highly stylized document and formatting is vital since you need to tell an entire story in around 100 pages. Furthermore, producers and development executives read dozens of movie scripts each week and they’re always looking for a reason to toss yours into the PASS pile. If your script format is off, that’s reason enough for them to do it. And don’t think that they won’t.
Movie script readers I spoke to typically read 10-15 scripts a week. I once spoke to a former Paramount exec who read 14 scripts during her weekends. Studio readers toughly read 2 scripts a day. Here are the main script format issues they raise:
- Firstly, overly long scripts end up at the bottom of the pile. So keep them around 90 pages for comedy and horror and up to around 110 for everything else. Don’t widen the margins, reduce the font, kern you letters or in any way attempt to disguise an overly long script. You will be labelled an amateur and it will go to the PASS pile.
- Blank white spaces are good. Less is more. Walls of text are bad. I was once moved to tears reading a script describing a man’s touch on his wife with the softness of a Rembrandt brushstroke. And it went on and on. And on.
- Dialogue should be scaled back to 4-5 lines. This is not Medea reciting a monologue.
Script Formatting Software
All screenwriting software automatically formats your screenplay, so there’s no excuse for a poorly formatted film script. Ever. I’ve used them all, but settled on Final Draft and Writer Duet. The latter has a free version which is more than adequate for screenwriters.
Screenwriting software does not create good scripts. It also does a few nifty things like count the number of times a character speaks, scene numbering and breakdowns, ‘mores and continueds’, split dialogues, scene transitions and index cards so you can see an outline of all your scenes.
You can also find out the longest scene and longest dialogue in your movie script, character interaction statistics, dialogue to action ratio (ideally around 35:65) and profanity count (I like this one). You can save multipole versions of your screenplay and make global changes in case you want to change a character’s name in the entire script.
There are also some screenwriting apps on the market such as Scrivener . Perfect for screenwriters with tablets.
There is book called “The Hollywood Standard” by Christopher Riley which outlines most formatting conventions such as capitalizations, telephone calls, voiceovers, text messages and more. It really is the gold standard
So what are you waiting for?
Go forth and format!
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