Article by Clark Ransom

What is Proper Screenplay Formatting?

So, Just How Do You Format a Telephone Conversation? What About Camera Angles and Voice Overs? when Do I Use Them? and Don’t Get Me Started on Wrylies!

I know, you may read screenplays all the time that don’t follow the normal conventions of screenwriting, but those guys are usually produced writers or they work in-house for that particular production company and they have their own rules.

Follow the formatting rules and focus on the story. Some people get obsessed with formatting so much that they lose their voice in the story. If you have a great story, many readers will overlook little formatting errors. Not big ones mind you, but little ones. Most of the popular software out there will keep your screenplay properly formatted, but you still have to understand the basics.

There are some basic rules for SPEC writing as of the posting of this blog, but they tend to change every year or so. These all come from Dave Trottier’s book.

1. A Spec Screenplay is 90-100 pages. (I know, 120 pages is what you may see, but 90-100 is the current trend in Hollywood).2. Use the Three-Act Structure.3. The Title page should have the Title, “written by” your name, your contact info.4. Don’t put the WGA or Copyright info on the title page. Readers assume you have protected your work and it says “amateur” if you you do.5. Spell check, spell check and spell check. Then read your script backwards to catch what it misses.6. Avoid Flashbacks and Dream Sequences if you can. Only use them if they ADVANCE the story in some important manner.

So my advice is to stick with known authors and industry pros like Dave Trottier, Christopher Riley and John August to name a few. Dave is the KING of formatting and he has THE BOOK on the subject entitled “The Screenwriter’s Bible.” The fifth edition came out recently, and you can find it on Amazon, bn.com or at the Writer’s Store.

Dave also publishes a secondary book called “Dr. Format Answers your Questions.” This book is a compilation of his online columns over the years that drill down even further in detailed formatting of very difficult scenes. It’s also available at Dave’s website. Those are just some of the rules and tips you will find as your progress, and every script you write will teach you something new about formatting. Just keep writing, keep getting better at it.

Clark is an optioned and produced screenwriter with a Feature Supernatural Comedy in development with Parallel 33 Pictures. He also offers script coverage and writing services via his website at http://www.clarkransom.com










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