EducationGetting Your Screenplay Reader-Ready
February 21, 2017
The time has finally come.
You’ve brainstormed. Jotted down notes on whatever scrap of paper is available. Faced the daunting terror of a blank page as you’ve outlined, written, deleted, rewritten, and saved your work.
And now, it’s your moment: your screenplay is ready to leave the nest of your hard drive and fly out into the world. It’s a glorious moment, and you should celebrate. But, before you find yourself hastily attaching your script to a mass email with every film industry contact you’ve ever made, it’s important to take a moment to reflect.
“But, a perfect story will transcend any kind of formatting issues.” True, but a pretty good script with a ton of formatting mistakes might bump you from a “recommend” to a “consider.”
“But, my software does all that for me.” Despite screenwriting programs that make our lives easier, there will ALWAYS be mistakes that only human eyes can catch.
“But, I already spent so much time on this, I just want to get it out there.” If you’ve already invested hours of your life into your script, why not invest a few more?
Before I started working for The Black List as Director of Community, I was a professional screenplay reader. I covered over 500 scripts during that time, and once you’ve covered that volume of material, a pattern of common mistakes emerges.
When you’re presenting your work to a professional reader, mixing up your to/two/too’s on page one is going to be a dead giveaway that you aren’t ready to be presenting your work on a professional level. Some entities in the film industry will even chuck a script into the recycling bin after ten pages if there are pervasive formatting issues.
None of us want your script to end up in the trash can. So, with that in mind, here are some tips that I can recommend to make sure your script is ready for industry readers.
-Proofread, proofread, proofread: It’s the most obvious advice, so why does it bear repeating? Because people STILL don’t proofread their work. Read it thirty times, print it out and mark it up, hire a grad student off of Craigslist, or read it aloud to a friend -- whatever you must do, make sure to get rid of those pesky spelling and grammar issues. They not only make it look like you shouldn’t be writing a script, but shouldn’t be writing, period. A proofread script reflects time and attention from the writer, which is key in showing that you’re ready for the responsibility of pitching, studio assignments, and more.
-Forego formatting fudges: You should be using Celtx (it’s free!), Final Draft, Highland, or another professional screenwriting software for your work. There are TONS of guides online that address all formatting questions, so check ‘em out when you have a question rather than faking it. And: if you’ve cheated the spacing or margins to make your 230 page sci-fi epic fit into 140 pages, readers will know, and they will call you out on it.
-The rules exist for a reason: No, you cannot write it in anything besides 12 pt. Courier. No, you cannot put pictures in it. No, you cannot do that because “Tarantino does it.” The strict formatting guidelines for screenwriting exist for one key reason: filmmaking is a highly collaborative medium, and anyone involved in the production of your script needs to be able to go through line by line and figure out what color your cyborg uniforms should be, or how much it will cost to shoot at the Hollywood Bowl, or what kind of filter is needed for the chase sequence. Help them help you bring your script to life.
Industry professionals are moving through tons of material every day, and when you make formatting mistakes, that gives them an easy reason to disregard your hard work -- don’t let that happen! It is true that if you’ve written a knockout script, readers will be less likely to fixate on small issues, BUT the more professional your work looks, the more professional you look, and that makes industry pros a lot more willing to meet you.
I say all of this because I want you and your script to have the best possible path to success -- it’s an extremely difficult, competitive industry, and you have to put your best foot forward at all times. Don’t let easily avoidable errors be your downfall, and don’t give the industry a reason to shut you out for something that could’ve been fixed during the writing process.
Oh, and one more thing: PROOFREAD IT AGAIN.
Is your script ready to go from script to screen? Submit your project for crowdfunding during #100DaysOfDiversity!