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marse View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote marse Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: craptastic formatting
    Posted: 26 Apr 2008 at 3:46pm
I've been called a craptastic writer by one of the forum members. Whatever - who cares what he (or anyone else) thinks about my work? Unless you're hiring me, that is and then I'm all about what you think.

I mention this in introduction because some of the basis of the mini-flame war we had going is about formatting. He's just simply saying the wrong things to people when he's critiquing their work. I won't get into the other stuff beside the formatting stuff he's saying. That's up to you to deal with.

I am a professional writer and I teach screenwriting. Anyone intersted in my craptastic screenwriting class can PM me here. The only reason I'm bringing it up is that I do know formatting. Really. And really, it's not that hard - this guy's has just made it that way.

This text that you're reading and the text in any standard paragraph (like in narrative) is called single-spacing - as odd as it may seem. This is standard in any word processing program on the planet. Or on any typewriter you may still have lurking somewhere.

The space between this sentence and the last is double-spacing and -


The space between this sentence the line above is triple-spacing.

That's how the spacing thing works.

Now, as to the proper amount of spacing between script elements:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

FADE IN:

INT. SLUGLINE - DAY

This is the correct amount of spacing between a line of narrative and a slugline above (which is what those things are called in the real world of filmmaking (not Master Scenes or Master Scene Headings - pu-lease).

                 DIALOGUE
           Blah, blah.
                 (beat)
           Blah.

More narrative.

More narative. CHARACTER INTRO, etc.

INT. NEXT SLUGLINE - NIGHT

Insert even more well-written narrative here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The above spacing for scene elements is industry standard. It is acceptable to triple-space some elements but NOT REQUIRED. Use it if you want to - understand that it is not the standard. No one will take points off if you triple-space. Some prefer it so their work is easier to read - me, for example. But if you want to be absolutely, positively correct on your film, use only double-spacing (as indicated above).

Check ANY formatting example - like the kind that come with Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Celtx, Sophocles or the Word macro that's floating around and you will discover that this is the format they all use.

Here, from the contest's - yes, this contest, FAQ, is yet another example of proper screenplay format - one that I'd trust since it's from the Nichols contest webpage:

    http://www.oscars.org/nicholl/format.html

Most of what I've read here in these forums is correct since you're probably using some sort of scriptwriting prog. Trust that it (not the name that won't be mentioned) is correct

Thanks. Best of luck.

Mark
     
    

Edited by marse - 26 Apr 2008 at 3:48pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote bonnie252 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Apr 2008 at 11:28am

Well, I'm with you, given some rigid advice being thrown around regarding format, so let me add -  "cut to" is used, "fade to black" is used, "dissolve to" is used, etc. These are all valid transitions that may be used, yes, in spec scripts, too. Continued, while perhaps unnecessary, is also used. None of these things will mark you as someone who doesn't know what he's doing.

What will make you seem like you don't know what you're doing is using them improperly or without apparent reason.

I went through seven random scripts in my collection, seriously, just picked seven and didn't put any back and repick. None were shooting scripts, one was an adaptation spec, three original specs, one remake, one rewrite and one was an adaptation, but I don't know whether or not it was on assignment. Two were first sales, the others from pros - the writers, in no particular order - David Koepp, Jay Simpson, Beau Michael Thorne, David Goyer, Diablo Cody, Kurt Wimmer and Chris Gerolmo.

All but one used "cut to" and used it well, a few of them used it a lot. Three used "Fade to Black" (only one for the end, the rest for  transition effect within the screenplay). Two used "dissolve to" and "fade to". Two used "continued" at the bottom and top of each page. Three used ellipsis like mad in some places. David Koepp's had a page between the title page and page one of the script that simply said this:  A word about how people talk in this movie. Realf**kinfast.

Theyíre tools, not no-noís. If they enhance and help the story being told, don't hold back. Use them.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote marse Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 2008 at 7:57am
Originally posted by bonnie252 bonnie252 wrote:


They’re tools, not no-no’s. If they enhance and help the story being told, don't hold back.


Good point(s).

What I tell my students is to be conservative when it comes to transitions, unusual formatting or camera directions. However, there's just too many examples of well-written material that bends or breaks the rules to not allow for variations. But, and this is a big but (not big butt - that's me), know what the hell you're doing first then break the rules once you understand how and why you're doing that.

Mark
    
    
    

Edited by marse - 28 Apr 2008 at 8:05am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote bonnie252 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 2008 at 8:39am
Absolutely, know what you're doing and why.    
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mugatu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Apr 2008 at 8:18pm
marse:

I've been getting royally fanged for preaching formatting when the basic idea is just what you said. Know what you're doing, then break the rules.

I've worked my ass off trying to know the rules on formatting and still don't feel I know them well enough to break them.

I've read too many scripts on here where the formatting was the least of their problems. I focused on the "rules" because usually getting through the script was a chore and the writing didn't overshadow the errors in formatting, it made them stand out.

Maybe it's just me, and maybe I'm too harsh, but that's what I got when reading them.

My 2 cents.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote bonnie252 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Apr 2008 at 6:31am
I think weíre lumping some things together that should really be separated for clarity.

Using transitions doesn't break formatting rules. Whether itís fade to black, white, purple or green, smash cut to, as we smash cut to, smoke screen to, et cetera. As long as your transition is right justified on the page, your transition formatting is golden.

Using unusual or made up transitions, plugging in reader asides, bending what can be seen with our eyes into what can be seen with our mindís eyes are all outside of what is considered standard for screenplay content. Itís also completely acceptable to do these things, if you have the talent, confidence and know-how to pull them off.

Originally posted by Mugatu Mugatu wrote:


I've read too many scripts on here where the formatting was the least of their problems. I focused on the "rules" because usually getting through the script was a chore and the writing didn't overshadow the errors in formatting, it made them stand out.

That's completely understandable, especially with scripts written in seven days. I'm also with you on still being a little timid about when I should color outside of the standards.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote marse Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Apr 2008 at 6:38am
Originally posted by Mugatu Mugatu wrote:

marse:

I've been getting royally fanged for preaching formatting when the basic idea is just what you said. Know what you're doing, then break the rules.

I've worked my ass off trying to know the rules on formatting and still don't feel I know them well enough to break them.

I've read too many scripts on here where the formatting was the least of their problems. I focused on the "rules" because usually getting through the script was a chore and the writing didn't overshadow the errors in formatting, it made them stand out.


I can't think of any long-form writing situations where this issue comes up. You don't see novelists getting into a pissing-match regarding formatting. Only us geniuses who write for the screen.

I agree with you that sometimes it's impossible to put aside formatting issues and look into the heart of the writing. This is what I know/think about this:

1) There actually have been times been a reader has tossed scripts aside because of formatting. When I read for an agent I did. I know a lot of readers who do. I also know readers who will toss your sh*t on the pile if you bore them within the first few pages. It's not a benign environment to begin with - why give anyone a reason to reject your work?

2) Too often, quirky formatting hides a lack of understanding of how a film actually works. Writers read a few scripts and think they understand the ins and outs of what a professional writer is doing. It's a long journey to that understanding as you've said. Just be conservative while you're getting there.

3) These "reading scripts" that people always quote are at times anything but. You can't always know where in the process of production a script you're reading is from. When you're in rewrites, a lot of things go by the wayside and formatting can get all mucked up. You may be reading a 1st draft or a 10th. Don't quote a script you've read unless you know where in the process that script was taken. Even then it's impossible to know how that script was altered before you read it.

4) Some writers do use a highly-stylized approach to writing and formatting; Shane Black, James Elroy, etc. Black has admitted he doesn't like to write and Elroy is a novelist. Most of these highly-stylized people are exceptions, not the rule. And their style works for them, not necessarily for you.

5) Trying to help someone out on formatting is certainly a good thing. I think where we get all jacked up is when it becomes a dogmatic rule - you CAN'T do this, you CAN'T do that. Unless it's hurting the understanding of the script perhaps we should all just ease up a little. Let people explore their inner visions.

I'm very conservative when it comes to formatting and I preach that gospel to my students. But I also allow for variations and try to help them understand what the dangers can be. Sometimes, once explained, my students understand that what they were saying/doing was wrong and they change it. Sometimes, they just adjust accordingly and continue to use whatever they think their script needs (and then they get their a** kicked on other things - kidding)

If you're a software programmer, you format your code as a courtesy and to make it easier to read and understand. That's two good reasons for us all to use the proper formatting in our screenwriting.

I started this thread to mitigate what another user was saying about spacing - he had a terribly imperfect understanding of it (that's being kind). Bottom line: no one is an authority. We just all think we are.

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Edited by marse - 29 Apr 2008 at 7:08am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mugatu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Apr 2008 at 7:12am
marse:

I agree with you 99.99%. The other .01% is that I think you're being diplomatic about how we look at the "rules" of formatting.

I have never laid it out as a dogmatic rule, the caveat being that when I read a script and it is obvious to me that the person is a novice or just not very developed in the art of telling a [screenplay> story, who's script I have trouble reading AND I see formatting errors, I will concentrate on formatting because as you say, "why give anyone a reason to reject your work?"

If a person can't understand that basic principal, why should I try to tell them about their story? You can tell me anything about my script and I will ultimately use what I agree with, right or wrong, but I will always take in what you have to say and mull it over... and thank you for the input.

Trust me, I actually had someone tell me that using "wife beater" to describe a tank top T-shirt was sexist. Not that is was a poor description, which it was, but that is was sexist... for a screenplay for God's sake

I may debate it with you also and state why I did what I did, but in the end, I am always appreciative. I think that I, like you, tend to jump on someone's hind end when we get fanged for simply trying to help somebody be a better writer when we should be writing ourselves.

My sole motivation is to help, no matter how it comes out and I do try to be respectful unless, as I stated before, I feel someone's being an ass to me; an aspect of my personality that I tend to not like much, but it is there nonetheless.

What other motivation do we have if not for respect of the craft? It is against our best interest to help in such a competitive business if that were not the case. But you, like me, don't look at it that way. We simply try to help. No good deed goes unpunished I guess.

Also, I think that you, like I, really do understand that the more we learn, the less we know.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mugatu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Apr 2008 at 7:27am
bonnie252:

Trust me, I'm not a Kool-Aid drinker at all, but when everything I've ever read says, FADE TO BLACK is never used anymore and archaic, dating back to the days of T.V., I'll take their advise.

Now, if I want to have a screen go to black and I need it to go to black, and it is absolutely essential to my story that it goes to black, then I will write it in the action.

"Out of nowhere an extremely large candlestick smacks Mugatu over the head. He turns and stumbles; reeling from the blow. Collapsing to the floor, everything fades to black."

Like Marse has said, if it is 100% essential to move the story forward, I don't care what transition is used or how it is used as long as it works. I usually only use FADE TO:, DISSOLVE TO:, and CUT TO: [for emphasis>. They take up space and I usually don't need them that much to tell my story... but that's me.

While I respect your opinion we will, for now at least, have to agree to disagree about transitions.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote bonnie252 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Apr 2008 at 9:12am
Originally posted by marse marse wrote:


3) These "reading scripts" that people always quote are at times anything but. You can't always know where in the process of production a script you're reading is from. When you're in rewrites, a lot of things go by the wayside and formatting can get all mucked up. You may be reading a 1st draft or a 10th. Don't quote a script you've read unless you know where in the process that script was taken. Even then it's impossible to know how that script was altered before you read it.

Yes, but you've already acknowledged that these things we've discussed are regularly used in scripts around town, so I don't see the reason for practically discrediting examples given. I have other examples where intimate details are known, but I'd be dead if I used them, here, so I can't.

I don't pretend to be an authority. I'm just pointing and saying, "Look! Here it is, alive and well."

Originally posted by marse marse wrote:

4) Some writers do use a highly-stylized approach to writing and formatting; Shane Black, James Elroy, etc. Black has admitted he doesn't like to write and Elroy is a novelist. Most of these highly-stylized people are exceptions, not the rule. And their style works for them, not necessarily for you.

Yeah, emulating another writer is really selling yourself short, imo.

Originally posted by marse marse wrote:

5) Trying to help someone out on formatting is certainly a good thing. I think where we get all jacked up is when it becomes a dogmatic rule - you CAN'T do this, you CAN'T do that. Unless it's hurting the understanding of the script perhaps we should all just ease up a little. Let people explore their inner visions.

Really well put, Mark.

Originally posted by Mugatu Mugatu wrote:

While I respect your opinion we will, for now at least, have to agree to disagree about transitions.

That's cool, Mu. No worries.

Edited by bonnie252 - 29 Apr 2008 at 9:14am
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