Professional Screenplay Formatting Tips

As the number of screenwriters increases around the world, literary agents, screenwriting contests and film and TV productions companies are bombarded with more and more material. To make matters worse, tens of thousands of new media graduates enter the fray every year. The sheer number of specs flying around the industry is simply overwhelming. The Writer’s Guild of America gets 50,000 new registrations a year alone!

Now some of this material is good. Most of it, though, is not. And unfortunately that overwhelming majority of scripts that are poorly formatted, poorly written, way too long or just downright amateur has created a generation of angry and jaded professional readers.

Now you might say, “What do I care what some lowly reader working a desk in the bowels of CAA’s dream-making machine thinks of my masterpiece!? He’s just a reader!”

Well you better care, because that kid is the gatekeeper to your future, and if you don’t make him or her happy – and confident that your are indeed a professional quality screenwriter – the minute they lay eyes on your script, you’ve already lost half the battle.

Don’t believe me? Okay, look at it this way… It is a well known fact that at every agency and production company there are three piles of scripts.

Pile “A”: Screenwriters they personal know and have respectable credits (not some short film or that ‘feature’ you made with your mates). We’re talking ‘Sold’ writers here.

Pile “B”: Screenwriters recommend by other agencies, lawyers or companies.

Pile “C”: General submissions from people they don’t know – AKA YOU!

The A-Pile usually gets read quickly by someone with power and experience. Often the agent / producer herself.

The B-Pile is read by the agent’s top assistant or a junior partner / creative executive at the firm.

The C-Pile is usually read by an intern, office boy, or fresh out of film school, wet behind the ears newbie.

Now don’t despair. That office boy may have no power, but what he does have is a burning desire to find that diamond in the rough (your script!) and thus move his way up.

So what can you do to impress this kid? Good question. Let’s ask one:

I feel the need…. the need for speed!

Damn straight I do. I’m a reader you see. I’m a 22 year-old gal in Hollywood who just got off work on Friday… But before I can let my overworked, underpaid self really cut loose and enjoy the weekend, I’ve got to read freaking 5 scripts AND have coverage of them ready for Monday’s afternoon story meeting!

Yeah, yeah, I can read them by the pool, but when I reach into my beach bag and pull out some yahoo’s 125 page rom-com, my heart sinks. My first instinct is to simply chuck it in the deep end, but since it’s my job, I’ll at least read enough to fake the coverage later with a big ole PASS / PASS on both script and writer.

Now for you boys and girls who don’t know what PASS means… this isn’t high school. PASS is not a good thing. PASS means… FAIL. As in you failed to impress me, I’ve duly logged such in our database (which we share with most of the other agencies in the business), and my company will most likely never read anything from you ever again. Certainly not this script, no matter how many times you tell us you’ve ‘re-worked’ it.

Just remember scripts are like movies. Funny how that works, huh? They should be read in a single sitting. Furthermore, reading them should be fun and entertaining. And there’s nothing entertaining about a 125 page script that takes 3 hours to read!

Ideally your screenplay should have that young gal frantically flipping pages, as she blindly paws for her mohito, she is so engrossed. And what makes readers engrossed? All together now… SPEED. Pure unadulterated speed!