So I'm going to start regularly tackling the questions from responses to the last post. Feel free to add any more you think of.
Q: Honestly -- are you nearly so hung up on all the formatting specifics as what many newbies suggest in their advice to fellow newbs on websites and chat boards?
The answer to this is... sort of.
The thing with format is this: I think it's clear that there needs to be a standard format that screenplays should be in. Screenplays are essentially a blueprint, and they are an awkward animal, in that they are really just a transitionary form; they aren't really the art itself, but just a stop on the path to the finished movie. They really aren't meant to be read, and anything that makes it easier -- like standardizing as much as possible -- makes it easier.
So it really becomes a question of where to draw the line.
My advice (honed yesterday, after a conversation I had with industry friend Scoopy) is this --
Learn proper format, learn the rules, and try to stick to them where you can. Then, if you want to bend something here or there, it's fine -- if it honestly improves the script.
And that's a key thing. I think too many aspiring screenwriters just rebel for rebellion's sake; they don't want to be told there are rules.
They go, and search out screenplays by bigtime writers, who break rules, and they use that as an example of how they should be allowed to break rules too.
But the problem with this? There is a difference between a spec script you are peddling, and one written by someone who has already shown their chops, and who probably wrote it having already been paid to do so.
You are trying to show that you are a knowledgeable writer, by any means necessary. And one of those means, for better or for worse, is knowing proper format.
Is it something that readers are obsessed about? I don't think that any reader would honestly say that they would reject a script just because of weird format stuff.
But a lot of times it is subtle. For experienced readers, when you read things with format differences that jump out, it is often enough to take you out of the story a little bit, and make you wonder if the writer really knows what they are doing.
Because, again, so much of the format weirdness just feels pointless -- motivated not by the screenwriter doing it because it improves the script, but because they don't know any better.
And you don't want to be seen as not knowing any better.
Recently, I've seen writers doing things like putting the slugline in bold. It doesn't look bad, it certainly makes the sluglines pop. But does it help your script? Maybe if some lazy reader is reading it.
But are you really writing for the lazy readers?
My advice is to just take formatting out of the equation. By the end, you just want to write a gripping, entertaining story, and format stuff generally won't have anything to do with that.
Today's bad analogy? Formatting is like clothing. Sure, you can dress funky, and if you pull it off, it works. But if you are beautiful enough, it doesn't matter what you wear. While if you dress eccentrically, just realize that there are a lot of toothless old homeless people out there who are wearing the same outfit.
Having said that, of course there is flexibility, if there is a reason for it. Just think about whether there is.
I spent yesterday starting to clean up an old screenplay of mine (my legendary frozen-time script) so that I could submit it to the Nicholl. One of my old habits was to capitalize important words in scene descriptions. Again, it makes them pop during the read, but as Scoopy pointed out, it's also lazy; if you need a trick like this to make descriptions work, then maybe you just haven't written them well.
So I'm going to lowercase most of them. But I still might leave a few in, if they work. If they have a point.
Scoopy's latest script uses italics here and there to emphasize words. It's different, but in moderation it's not a big deal. The script I once read, that was entirely in capital letters? Death.
Otherwise, if anyone has some specific examples of weird format stuff that works, feel free to throw them up here for public debate.