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Friday, June 10, 2005

Craig at The Artful Writer blogs late last night about preferred script format. Seems like a dry issue, but using the wrong script format marks you as an amateur, and it changes. For example, you used to use a (CONT.) or (CONT'D) when the same character speaks after an action line. Otherwise you tend to assume it's the other character speaking. However, this has gone out of style. Likewise, people aren't using CUT TO: much any more. On the other hand the guy he's writing with likes to bold his sluglines.

I'm a huge fan of Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, classic design books that are of no direct use to me because I don't design charts or anything else (you can tell from my site, eh?), because they talk sense. Tufte likes graphic design that simply supports the information it's supposed to present. In other words the design shouldn't make you work for the info. It should smooth the path the info takes going into your brain. (He's also got a neat diatribe called The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint that explains how Powerpoint strips your presentation of information.)

So when it comes to script format, I like a clean format so long as it conveys all the information it should. I liked CUT TO:'s because they neatly separate scenes. I'd even developed a style where I used a CUT TO: when cutting from one locale and characters to another -- i.e. separating sequences -- while eliding it between scenes that flow from one to the next in the same setting. In other words when he goes from INT. to EXT. THE HOUSE, no CUT TO:, but when he goes from EXT. THE HOUSE to INT. THE WHITE HOUSE, a CUT TO:.

I don't do that any more because CUT TO:'s are deprecated these days, and it adds a page or two to your page count. (This last is irrelevant these days. I used to write longer. Now my scripts just naturally seem to come in around 100 pages.) And I don't use character continueds for the same reason, though I think they're helpful. People don't read scripts very carefully, and coming back to the same character without a warning is, I think, jarring. It requires more work from the reader, and one of the two points of format is to communicate what's going on clearly. (The other is to help production managers estimate scene length easily when they board the show. It helps to know that you're only shooting 5 7/8 pages on Wednesday but 8 1/8 pages on Friday.)

I like bolding sluglines, but I've only seen it on scripts that otherwise look amateurish, so I've been reluctant to go there. However, if it takes off, I'm happy, because it accomplishes the separation that a CUT TO: does without taking up an extra line as a CUT TO: does. And I think we can now all get away from the idea that scripts have to look like they could have been done on a typewriter. No one's used a typewriter in what, 20 years? (Except for Joe Esterhazs, I guess. He bought something like 20 Olivettis in case they stopped making them.)

Now if we can just come up with a nice visual substitute for the character continued.

I don't use MORE's and scene continueds. They don't make the script easier to read. They're for production managers and their team, but it's easy enough to develop a habit of checking the next page to see if there's any more scene to shoot. I've never heard of anyone forgetting to do that.

So them's my two bits, Craig.

5 Comments:

It's interesting...

I've been a professional reader for over 5 years, and NEVER paid much attention to either of these issues. I don't know if I'm in the minority of readers or not, but there are so many other issues that will much more clearly indicate a script is amateurish.

Perhaps I should throw my $.02 out on my blog as well, but I'll get to that later. But just to give my preference on one of these issues here, I always use the Cont'd for split dialogue for the reasons you suggest. I'd rather the reader be able to understand what I'm writing, and trust that he won't look at that and toss my script, assuming I'm an amateur for that reason alone.

By Blogger Fun Joel, at 10:31 AM  

When it comes to most of the things you mentioned, Alex, none of them bother me as a development director who reads many scripts every week. Those seem to be minor format issues -- essentially, the personality quirks of the writer. It's when the writer jumps outside of the rules altogether that I peg them as an amatuer.

Oddly, one of those things happens to be font. If it's not a typewriter-based font (any variation of courier or any of the professional typewriter fonts), then I don't want to read it. Don't know why. I realize it has nothing to do with the content of the script, but I just hate it when I get a script in something like 14pt Helevetica. Yuck.

By Anonymous Brandon, at 12:24 PM  

Well, good to read Brandon's comment, since they pretty much line up exaclty with my own, in my just-posted blog on this subject. In there I expressed minor doubt if I was in the mainstream, but here we now have two opinions on the same side of the issue! And I too mentioned the font thing!

Thanks for your comments over there Alex!

By Blogger Fun Joel, at 1:14 PM  

I bold my sluglines. Just seems to help break up the visual flow of the script, and helps the read.

By Blogger Rogers, at 4:06 PM  

How does a one hour script breakdown into pages? Would you say that each act should be 12 pages with a 5 page teaser?

I just ordered your book and am really looking forward to it.

By Anonymous John Donald Carlucci, at 8:15 PM  

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