Note: Publishing screenplays

Note

I think screenplays are the literature of the future.

I don’t think they’re just the spark that starts the film. No, I don’t believe they solely exist in order to attract a budget and be translated into pictures. They’re more than technical documents for cast and crew.

I believe screenplays are their own art. (You have an imagination, right. You can make pictures in your head. Music too.)

Don’t believe me? Read “Alien” by Walter Hill and tell me it’s not poetry.

We all live our lives increasingly through screens. So why don’t we write for the screen.

Screenplays are typically written on American quarto in 12pt courier to pretty exacting industry standards. Yes, everyone cheats with the width of dialogue to fit more in and keep the page count down. No, not everyone agrees on the use of CONT’S. You can get your hands on pretty much every screenplay of every film ever made. They generally run between 90 and 120 pages, printed single-sided.

It’s when publishers decide to publish them that things get weird. Sometimes they’ll leave well enough alone and reduce and reprint each page and bind accordingly. Like say “Five Screenplays by Preston Sturges.” Other times they’ll mess it up like say “Ethan Coen and Joel Coen: Collected Screenplays.” They’ll use bold, they’ll use italics, they’ll use INDISCRIMINATE CAPITAL LETTERS and colons; lots of colons: plus those long dashes -- that are downright annoying. And all in a very tiny point size to fit in a paperback.

Hard to read? More like impossible to read. Even the usual 12pt courier screenplay format is a bitch to read for most people. (Even people like me who love reading screenplays. Particularly Warner Bros. studio style with that little breath between scenes.)

What most screenwriters think is the usual screenplay format is actually the American standardized (bastardized) template that evolved over the past 80 years. It’s not the only way.

Stanley Kubrick always complained the American screenplay format had it all wrong. The narrow center column emphasizing the dialogue should be used for the shots and action because that’s more important in a film.

Look at silent film scripts (like the thoroughly excellent “Scarlet Letter” by Frances Marion) and you’ll see the shots and action and descriptions and dialogue and titles all run in the same paragraph across the page. The only inset is a close up of words in a book.

I love screenplays. I love books. So I’ve developed a screenplay style beyond the current American model. It’s a bit English (which oddly enough is less formal), Italian, and Japanese. It’s got a touch of the early silents and newsreels.

It simplifies the technical parameters so it’s easier for you to read. A lot easier.

The margins are wider with more room top and bottom so the words sit better on the page. Whether on screen or on paper. Slugline and action and description run full width. Character name and dialogue and narration and bracketed parenthetical inset seven spaces. No italics on parenthetical. Transition set left.

Dialogue and action flow better. Dialogue and narration have room to breath. Your eyes cascade down the page rather than swerve left and right.

You go into the story.


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