Posted by: michellemuldoon | September 17, 2014

It’s a Formatting Thing

Hey You Production

A month ago my pilot screenplay, Masquerade, received a reading at The Cold Reading Series. I was introduced as the person you should talk to if you don’t understand how to “Format” your screenplay or have questions about specific formatting issues. I was flattered, and saddened, all at the same time.  With all the resources available, it was still a big deal that I place importance on the details of formatting. Why is this sad? Because if you want to be a true screenwriter, you had ALL better be concerned about formatting.

What is formatting and why is it so important?

  • It’s the common language of screenwriters. I know you know how to write, because you know how to format. (That, and you write in an active voice, but that’s another post.)
  • It provides the definition and boundaries for the story and helps it to flow for the reader.
  • It’s the blueprint that the pre-production process works around. It tells the other departments in the production what they need and what to expect. The effective breakdown of the script relies on this, and I mean RELIES.

When people say  that you should read screenplays to understand how to write one, that doesn’t mean you read a twenty-year-old screenplay and format it the same way. You learn about story and dialogue from the classics, but you learn about formatting from the most recent scripts.

Yes, I know formatting is a bit of a floating target. The best example for that is the current changes in capitalizing SOUNDS. But, there are certain constants right now, and the other features are easy to keep up on. You need to invest in resources for that, or keep paying me to make half to a third of your script analysis all about formatting.

Get two books. This is not a suggestion, it’s an imperative. Go out and buy The Screenwriter’s Bible by Dave Trottier, aka Doctor Format, and The Hollywood Standard. Between these two, every formatting question you could possibly have will be answered.

If you want to be taken seriously, then you have no choice but to focus on the details of screenwriting. If you’re applying for grants, or financing awards, who will win out, the person with a great story, or the person with a great story that looks like a screenplay?

If Story is King, then Formatting is the Kingmaker.  Pay attention. It could be the difference between success and the recycling bin.



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