HOW TO GET A SCREENPLAY OPTIONED for BIG MONEY
NOTE: NO ONE WILL READ your SCRIPT until it's formatted perfectly. SO SAVE THIS DOCUMENT!
AN AGENT WHO IS LOOKING FOR WRITERS TO REPRESENT SENT THIS LETTER TO A FRIEND.
1. ONLY 12-point COURIER -- typewriter type. any Fussy Fonty stuff, ANY italicized type will drive people nuts.
Readers get nauseated realeasily and aim your opus at wastepaper basket!
2. With major shifts in SETTING 'tis best to use right hand margin signal: ====> wait for it... V
CUT-TO requires no punct, but do line-space once between scene-ending and CUT TO . . .
THEN 3 line-spaces b4 you set up next scene w/its SET LINE . . . Slugline/subslugs . . . Dialog. Example:
INT/EXT DORM ROOM / DOORWAY - DAY
SUPERIMPOSE: 1960 -- BOB IS 19
Notice: no punct but the colon on the superimposition. A colon announces the info that follows. SUPER obviously means SUPERIMPOSED on SCREEN.
We like TLC here: tight, lean, & clean of excess punc or style; no overkill; less is more.
Use INSERTS sparingly, which require a BACK TO SCENE (thus you lose several script lines and you may need them).
3. Reset your margins according to directions below. If a buyer sees a misformatted script, into her/his trash it goes.
4. You suffer grossly from a COMMA VIRUS. Get out your old grammar book and STUDY about what they are supposed to do and not do. Study it well. Then, re-execute w/a fine-tooth comb. Especially in direct-address (DA)
5. NEVER put a parentheses w/in dialog. Parens go UNDER character name or WITHIN dialog by 6 character-spaces. . . . NEVER put an ACTOR-DIRECT under another actor's dialog (example p 10). Use a subslug for that purpose.
6. Regarding EXPOS: Exposition is for prose; scripts are not a prose form, scripts are blueprints, so every time you do a TELL, reassess and make it a SHOW.
THERE'S MORE, OH THERE'S MORE, but I won't go on cuz I've pointed out (pencilled-in) just about every execution flaw. Rework this sample and resend it b4 I request a script. I gotta know you got it and got it good, sir, b4 I trudge thru bad copy once more. Took me hours to work on this sample; not willing to suffer thru that again. Ball's in your court now.
Study our guidelines and the whole web site b4 picking up your pen again. If a writer cannot read, I care not to deal w/him. I know you can read, so do it?
by ANNA PIAZAA from
CHADWICK & GROS LITERARY AGENCY
Garden District Branch
Lessman @ Screeenplay Pkwy 671
Baton Rouge LA 70806-5426
225 338 9861 225 338 0279 (fax)
Anna Piazza, Director Tony Seigan, Overseas Officer
Texas Office: JDitt55939 @aol.com
Clerical Service: Ouida2@aol.com (CC: CMyerson@excite.com)
* * *
We do read amateurs if they format right. Take note of what our fiery and controversial director's pet peeves
are by saving this article, printing it out and keeping it at YOUR ELBOW.
Break Em. Once you learn why / how they came to be in the first place.
Once you learn they’re no longer necessary. (Once you come up w/a better
idea, one that casts Clarity & Simplicity in A Grabber of a Storyline & its
sequel Gimme an Easy Read.)
The old timers' rules don't hold any more. They worked w/a different
technology, so the old masters must yield to the new-wave film-making
techno needs. No more hybrid spec-shoots. Spec is story. Period.
No "we see" or "us" in script. Put "us" in your script and you move your
AUD to the screen. Who t'hell is watching this film, anyway? . . .
But (she bows her head humbly, possibly in shame), I just read Francis Ford
Coppola's THE CONVERSATION (1974) in SCENARIO mag (Summer '99) and
he has us all in his script, so go figger, eh?
Formatting serves the singular purpose of serving the pro readers
and techs who’ll need this and that from your script in order to do
their jobs w/it.
Simply go for Easy Read (ER). ER is not only a compelling grab but any
inscription that does not snag your reader. To snag is to force a reader
to reread that word, phrase, sentence, scene, to backtrack in any way
(very annoying for the reader, very sad if your error is one of basic
SNAG: big word. Snag a reader, endanger a sell.
Snags come in many varieties, especially in punctuation. Punc is a
language all its own. Punc is the screenwriter’s most able helper,
for Punc is bent on an economy of words, well-suited to the blueprint
you’re writing, the non-prose you’re going for.
Punc can save not only words, lines, pages but entire scenes if used
properly, if used judiciously. Punc lends tone to your authorial voice
as well as the voices of your characters.
. An “!” can say “excited” “loud” “angry” "urgent" w/out using a
single word, saving a parens line, or even a subslug.
. A “?” can add a lilt at the end of a character’s sentence, be it a
question or not.
. A period after a question rather than a question mark takes the
lilt / lift outta the character's voice and makes it, perhaps, a snide
. An ellipsis allows the voice to trail off . . .
An ellipsis can say . . . I'm listening (on the phone), a break in
the character's lines w/out having to use a (beat) or any other parens
to break up too-thick dialog.
If you use an ellipsis, execute it correctly: A sentence that ends w/an
takes a period also, so you end - - end - - with 4 dots - - and 3 spaces.
. The dash (two hyphens, not one) effectively says this speaker
is being interrupted by an impertinent cli-- “Outta my face, you
pesky agent you!”
. Hyphenate 2 or more words that form one modifier, like a
. Get out your old grammar and figure out what the colon and
semi-colon can do for you as well.
GENERAL SCRIPT EXECUTION: Our agency signature script is
TLC -- tight, lean, & clean (mainly of camera directs). Courier 12-point,
no exceptions, or rarely. Print copy on 20-weight, please do NOT print
your script pp on cardstock; yep, I get a few of those and it's torture
to work with.
NO STAPLES on any hcc sent to an agency or other pro reader-editor.
PAPER CLIPS work just fine.
Mail scripts in BUBBLE BAGS or a PRIORITY envelope. Plain yellow envelopes
often tear apart and arrive trashed or not at all.
COVER: PBW -- plain brown wrapper. A blank piece of cardstock.
Not in hot pink, please (unless your story's sleeze), but white to
beige to black as understated as possible. The author must be
invisible if his/her work is to speak for itself.
TITLE PAGE, the 1st page inside the cardstock cover:
. No illustrations, no bold, no italics, no underlines
nor quote marks around title.
. Title in all 12-pt CAPS.
Title and author appear once and only once in a script
-- on title page only.
. Guild registration number, copyright, agency contact info-only,
not the author’s contact info. . . . This goes for your final draft, not
the first draft you submit to us. Till your scripts fly, we'll need your
contact info on them, thereafter you'll need ours.
. Number of pages at top right: 101 pp / 101 pages. This is a
personal affectation, a hangover from my book-market days; pro readers
dig it--saves em from having to go to all that trouble to flip to the end
of your script to see (yawn) what they’re up against.
. Script header: Don't. Page number only, upper right corner,
no punc around number is necessary, like hypens b4 - aft, like a period.
Seems the number can stand on its own for pure-D clarity, and pure-D
clarity is all we're going for.
Headers are more important in book mss than screenplays because
book mss are not bound therefore vulnerable to being jumbled.
. Your script body / top of page begins 2 line-spaces below p#
. Line-space 3 times between scenes for ER but for several other, more
First off, when you separate scenes w/a break of 3 lines rather
than the old amateur squeeze-cheat of 2--or even one!--you
accentuate the power of your cliffhanger, provide a rest for the
reader’s eye and also a long deep breath in the dark space of
anticiptation -- that old feeling of coming to the end of a chapter
and all that that promises -- before reader leaps into the next
tension / new scene. A springboard, not a blur a blah a yawn.
Oh please, not again, her tirade about those script software
programs, which clutter a script w/camera directs, such old-hat stuff.
These days, your specs are so much more “story” than shoot-tool;
shooting scripts LATER will take care of all the CloseUps, CONTINUEDS, scene numbers,
DISSOLVES, CUT TOs, etc, so why muddy up your pure-D story with
them unless you wish to present yourself as a director? (Mea culpa, Coppola.)
Anyway, even if you use the software programs, learn to set your own
margins and learn why they’re required: for clarity’s sake, for chrissake.
OVERALL PAGE: Copy begins at LEFT MARGIN 1.5 inches. Very wide,
in order to accommodate your brads / binders. Run your slugs no wider
than up to one full inch at RIGHT MARGIN of page.
CHARACTER NAME: Center it if you wish, but auto-centered CNs
aren’t necessarily accurate. Auto centering hits the center of the page,
not the center of the dialog lines / blocks: 5 tab hits (5 x 5 = 25 typed-
characters/spaces) accurately centers the name over the dialog.
Looks real pretty.
SET LINE: Here, I set forth a new-wave trend (thanks to a California
producer who privileges me w/the reading of his fine work--oh yeah, how
could I forget; he's asked us to rep him, Lance Dow of Trauma Films has):
My pref is for little or no punctuation in a set line, rather use 3
character- spaces between the 3 parts of a set line: (1) In and/or out, (2) place,
(3) time: E.g.
INT BEDROOM NIGHT
EXT HALLWAY DAY
EXT/INT DOORWAY/BEDROOM NIGHT
That’s as complicated as a set line ever needs to be.
SLUGS are flush LEFT 1.5 inches to one inch short of
RIGHT edge of paper. In other words, sluglines run
the full width of your marginated page.
Indent 2.5 inches LEFT to begin DIALOG BLOCK, which is
never wider than 3.5 inches L to R,
2.5 to 3 inches is preferred.
Keep the other half inch as a spare in emergencies,
to avoid the eschewed hyphenated words that aren’t
naturally hyphenated, in dialog execution. Avoid adverbs.
Use a colorful VERB instead. "She downs the whisky in a flash"
is better than "She drinks it quickly."
PARENS are indented 6 character-spaces (one tab-hit + one
character-space) into / past the L margin of dialog block.
Parens must be consistently correct.
Parens cannot be auto-centered.
Parens cannot run past the Right margin of dialog block; if they do,
they’re probably subslugs; if they do and are not slugs, then
break parens into two lines rather than one overlong / overwide one.
Don’t waste script lines w/parens when the actor-direct can go
into its preceding slugline.
Use parens to break up overly thick dialog, but watch out for
overkill; these ploys can grow boring.
CUT TO: Rarely used nowadays in specs except when your storyline
shifts from one major setting--place / time--to another, like another era,
another country, a flashback or daydream or . . . but not from one scene
to another in the general setting of your play.
. Forget most inside FADE INs / FADE OUTs / DISSOLVEs, et cet.
Today's industry readers want STORY, not directs.
Do feel free to break these “rules,” but in the breaking be prepared to
rationalize your decision / choice / pref. To yourself. Not neccessarily
to your picky agent; however, be prepared for her/his . . .
OK, a last word: If you're filled with the spirit of writing a flick that
sets fire to celluloid, you'll get the P's and Q's right. The need to cover
a subject, give coverage to some element of the HORROR America is going
thru should supercede all discussion of the format, the ink, the paper, the gratuitous ADVERB!
Inspired by reading what really happens in Washington, give POLITICAL
screenwriting a shot ...http://www.masterjules.net/polyfilm.htm
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