Format: Readability #screenwriting


“Essentials of Screenwriting” By Richard Walter on

Don’t target your features to either theatrical or television release. A feature is a feature.

Titles should be abrupt, quick, and to the point. Try your title out like this: say “Hey, let’s go see (title).” Does that sound good? Would people start saying “Let’s go see that something something-or-other film. The one about those guys who work out all the time. You know, with that huge guy in it?”

No casting suggestions or list of dramatis personae.

Don’t help actors get to know your characters. Don’t get to know your own characters. If your character were a candy bar, what kind of candy bar would she be? Hamlet was: Prince of Denmark. That’s it. His character unfolds through word and action. He has no backstory. Characters become what they do and what they say in that story at that moment.

Master scenes only. HOT DOG STAND. Don’t write or think in specific shots. Don’t try to zoom in on a character’s face, then try to cut to the other character’s face, just describe naturally what they’re doing and saying.

Be careful not to model your scripts after shooting scripts, published versions of scripts, or scripts written by William Goldman. William Goldman gets to write like that because he’s William Goldman. If you want to try to write like that, go for it, but it’s risky. Do what works first, then establish your own style.

Avoid referring to specific shots or camera equipment. Write using normal words. Include objects and scenery but leave out specifics. The sunrise will look like the one that comes up when the camera’s rolling, not like the one painted in your imagination.

Don’t write CUT TO: what else would happen? Are they just going to leave in all the footage of actors standing around?

The editors will figure out when stuff dissolves, fades, jump cuts, etc.

Avoid the POV shot, or any shot, unless it somehow clarifies the story.

We see and we hear. You could write, We hear the SOUND of ENGINES. Or you could write SOUND of ENGINES. Shorter. Who is we, anyway? I imagine siting in the room with the screenwriter and some other people. That’s distracting.

Always use present tense.

It’s not necessary to indicate a flashback. It might make things clearer, but you can just cut to the flashback scene. If your writing is clear, it will be clear what’s happening.

Sometimes you have to cheat though. The screenplay is just words. Don’t make reader work too hard. If it saves a lot if grief, just say the two guys are brothers up front. This is not technically proper writing, but we have no clues like the ones you’d get onscreen from the actors, etc., so always err on the side of readability. Sometimes a reminder helps. He’s the guy we saw at the back of the laundry earlier.

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Format: Words #screenwriting


“Essentials of Screenwriting” By Richard Walter on

When characters are first introduced, say JANET arrives on scene, her name should be in all caps. If Janet says something: JANET Hi. I’m talking now. Her name should be in all caps. After that it’s initial cap only.

Words in ALL CAPS have special meanings and purposes. Readers, crew and talent can spot them at a glance. It’s efficient that way. You know where a character has a first appearance. Do I know this person? No, you don’t, because her name is in all caps.

Important, integrated, character-advancing, plot-advancing SOUND EFFECTS are traditionally in all caps.

There is some leeway within different formatting techniques, so it’s important to read a lot scripts and see what approach would work best for your story.

Always use PDF format to retain your formatting when submitting electronically. Be aware of your possibly incorrect presumption that they want it and are willing to do you the favor of printing it out. Although less eco-friendly, it might be nice to send a hard copy in some instances.

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Format: Pages #screenwriting


“Essentials of Screenwriting” By Richard Walter on

Quentin Tarantino’s films run probably as long as he likes. Yours should run about 100 minutes. At roughly a screenplay page to a minute of screen time, that’s 100 pages. It could vary between about 90 to 110 minutes/pages.

120 pages is too long. If it’s handed in at over 120, it’s certain there are scenes that should have been cut.

What difference does the page count make? A lot. When the reader can go to lunch. How many times it can play in the theater per day. Budget. Crazy page count usually means bad screenplay.

Readers like short scripts. Readers liking your script is good. The screenwriter competes with lunch for attention.

Don’t include draft numbers or dates on your screenplay. Cultivate the impression that you wrote the FADE OUT this morning and this is the first time anyone’s ever touched it.

No scene numbering. Font is Courier New 12 point. No illustrations. If these points seem up for debate, good luck to you.

The screenplay has three holes drilled through the pages to be fastened with brass “brads.” Make sure the brads are big enough to hold the pages together firmly. If a producer has to choose between two scripts – one with two brads, another with three – they’ll pick the one with two brads. That’s the standard. You’ll notice the screenplay that was stapled together with the crazy fonts didn’t make it to the producer.

Spell words correctly. Seriously.

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Format: Sight and Sound #screenwriting


“Essentials of Screenwriting” By Richard Walter on

A screenplay is a description of sight and sound. Format is largely placing these elements in different places.

Sound is primarily dialogue, which occupies the narrow column in center. Sight is assigned the wide column all across the page.

A screenwriter must write what is seen or heard only, never what a character thinks, feels, or knows.

There is no such thing as one official screenplay format. A screenwriter is free to choose any format that makes scripts readable, but must also suffer the swift consequences of those choices.

The cover should have title, and author. If the script is not repped by an agency, it should include postal address, email address, and phone number.

That is all. Do not include fancy covers, illustrations, or colors. Do not include WGA registration info as this translates to “I’m an amateur, don’t read my script” as only amateurs include this.

Don’t use words like original screenplay. What else would it be? You don’t need to write written by or even by.

Cutting such unnecessary elements from the cover signals that you’ve probably removed excess lines and scenes as well.

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