Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Screenwriting Grammar Matters

Somebody wrote me recently that their project got rejected in Hollywood for improper formatting. The writer was irate that such a small thing would be used to reject his script. Here, for the general edification was my response....

I wanted to express a brief defense on behalf of those of us who are sticklers about screenwriting grammar, aka formatting. Considered under a professional lens, formatting is not irrelevant. In the vast majority of projects, a correctly formatted page equals one minute of time on the screen. The margins for dialogue are shorter and allow for the actors to add expression. The longer margins allow the audience to get a good enough look at whatever is being described. Beyond timing, capitalizations are signposts to casting agents, line producers, directors and DP's for all their respective tasks.

The best way to consider a screenplay is like unto an architectural drawing. People outside the profession do not appreciate all the industry standard norms for drawing, and would probably dismiss them. But they have their uses. Essential uses from a professional standpoint.

Considering that these things are essentials, it could be a disservice to discourage your readers from giving them proper attention. Christians already have a bad rap in Hollywood for lack of professionalism. We don't want to add condescension to ignorance.

People who haven't learned the industry standard for formatting are better off writing their story in a straight narrative fashion, as in a treatment. There are some expectations for a treatment, but few people in the business will quibble over them.