If it's crap ... We'll tell you
The height of accomplishment for any fan of cinema is to write a film of their very own. We've seen plenty of movies, and naturally, we think that we could write one ourselves. But then the realization hits us: How? So, the natural thing to do would be to do a Google search, and we'd come across forum after forum telling us this works, and that works. Read this book, and go to this site. And before you know it, your head is spinning out of control, and you're now full of despair because you haven't gotten the same answer twice. Well, fear no more. I'm going to show you.
I've read many scripts in the past. Scripts for some films I'd seen, and wondered just how they wrote a certain scene that came out as good as it did. And in the course of that research, I came to two conclusions: First, no two scripts were identical in wording or formatting. None. And second, anyone who says you have to read a book to learn how to write a script or take a screenwriting course is full of shit. Period. You can absolutely, 100% write a good script with no training whatsoever. Actually, that's a half-truth. Some research on your part is advised. Just to find out the preferred fonts, and the formats they should be in when sent out for submission to literary agents. That said, let's get started.
Step 1: The software. There are many types of software used for writing scripts. Some free, others expensive. But, believe it or not, you can actually write one with your standard word processor software that you have on your computer. You read that correctly! The software I have is Open Office, which is free by the way. Here's the link:http://www.openoffice.org/
Now, the actual screenwriting software allows you to write a script if you've never written one before, in that, it uses a sort of fill-in-the-blanks method (from what I've seen online). One of the big ones that's used all the time in Hollywood is Final Draft, which costs around $100. But let's say you don't have that kind of cash to fork out for a bit of software. Never fear! Celtix is here! Celtix is a free software that has not only a screenwriting function, but a storyboard function as well. (Among other things) Here's the link: http://celtx.com/
But the idea today is to teach you how to format a script in Open Office. Here we go.
Step 2: The setup. Now from what I've gathered, the typical format for a script entails the use of the font Courier New at size 12. Go ahead and set that up. Also, and this is just a pet peeve of mine, take the Arrow in the upper right corner, and drag it to the left so it lines up with the border.
Next, we're going to want to keep track of what page we're on. So what you want to do is go to: Insert > Header > Default. Note that the font reverts to the default Times New Roman. Go ahead and change that to Courier New. Also, change the alignment so that it's aligned Left. Next, go to: Insert > Fields > Page Number. Here's how it should look:
If you read some scripts, you'll find that on some, the writer put a period after the page number. That choice is completely up to you. So now that we have our page ready to go, what's next?
Step 3: Setting up formats. First, hit the F11 key. This will bring up your Styles and Formatting dialogue box. The settings on the box are the defaulted ones. Here's where the fun begins. To me there are four margins that you need to setup, if you're new to the screenwriting process, I'll go over what these are.
Slugline: This is how you set up every scene. You state with that line where you are and what time the scene is taking place at.
Descriptions: These are used to tell all the little details about the scene and the characters. Here is where your talents as a writer shine. You use you knack for details to describe the setup for someone who has no idea what's going on. You can also be very poetic with your descriptions.
Character Name: This is merely where you state which character is talking for when you write dialogue. Pretty straightforward.
Dialogue: What you want your characters to say.
In the next few steps, I'll explain these in more detail, and show you how to set and save your margins.
Step 4: Sluglines. Here's what a typical one would look like:
EXT. SKI LODGE – NIGHT
Now what we've done here is said that we're outside of a building at a certain place and that it's night. Pretty straightforward, right? Now in most scripts, there are scene numbers included in these so you know where you are scene-wise, and also for if a scene carries on to the next page, which I will go over in a bit. Also, I've seen in some scripts (television mostly) the sluglines be in bold. That, again, I'll leave entirely up to you.
The margins for this particular one are actually the default, and it looks like this upon completion:
Here's how you would type out a Slugline with a numbered scene: After you've selected the preset, type the number (with a period, or not is up to you). Then Tab over once, then type the scene setting. Then after that, keep Tabbing over until you have one tab until the right-hand margin. Then type the same number as you did on the left-hand side (including the period if you used on). This way, if you're flipping through your completed masterpiece, you won't have to nearly pull the pages apart to read what scene number it is if you only put the scene number on the left-hand side.
Now, it's time to save this as a preset. Hope you still have the Styles and Formatting dialogue box up. If not, hit F11. You see that icon in the upper right hand edge? It's piece of paper with a little green plus sign. Click it. Select New Style from Selection.
And that's it. That's how you save a margin preset. Pretty cool, huh?
** I want to add that, you don't necessarily have to type each thing that goes in these margins when you save them. I'm merely typing them so that you'll have an idea what each margin is for. When you go to set them, you need only know the margin sizes.
Step 5: Descriptions. For these, we'll have just a bit less horizontal space than we had for the sluglines. For these, you're going to want to move the left margin arrow to the 1/2 inch Tee.
This may just be another example of my slight OCD, but I like that the space between the arrows line up exactly on the point I'm aiming for. Don't ask me why, I have no idea. Just go with it. This is how it should look:
After you've lined that up, you just do what we did for the slugline margin, and save it in the Styles and Formatting box.
Step 6: Character Names. Again, these are fairly straightforward. You're going to take your left-hand margin arrow and drag it to the 2 1/2 inch Tee. Your right-hand margin stays where it's at. Upon completion, it should look like this
And again, we're going to save this to the dialogue box.
Step 7: Dialogue. This took a bit of trial and error on my in the past. When I started out, I thought there were only three horizontal inches for dialogue. Upon closer inspection of scripts I was reading, I found that, surprise, the average was approximately four inches for dialogue. So here's how we'll set that up: Reset your left-hand margin arrow so that it's flush with the left-hand border. Then, take the left-hand arrow, and line it up with the 1 1/2 inch Tee.
Then, take your right-hand margin arrow and slide it to the right until it lines up with the 5 1/2 inch Line. This is how your dialogue should look:
Now, save that in the dialogue box, and there we have it, the four basic margin presets needed to write an attractive screenplay. Not as hard as you thought, right? Well, we're not done yet, so bear with me.
** The following are not necessarily margin-related. Merely just good information that you might find helpful.
Additional Descriptions: What I mean by that is say you want an actor to state a bit of dialogue in a certain manner. IE, frantic, or erratic. How would you go about writing that? Well, simple, really. These directions usually occur after the character's name is written, but before the dialogue. Don't worry, you won't need to save this as a margin. You simply apply the dialogue preset, and Tab over once, and type the direction inside a pair of parentheses. Like so:
Also, if you want the actor to pause for a moment for greater emphasis, this is usually done by use of the same as the example above, with the word “Beat” in the parentheses. Now, I've seen this written all kinds of ways. Some will tell you to write it in all caps, others will have you write it in lower case. I myself prefer the latter, but again, it's ultimately up to you.
Transitions: What these are are the means by with you go into the next scene. IE, Cut to, quick dissolve to, etc. Again, you won't have to save these as margins either. Here's what you do: When you're ready to end the scene, you go down a space, and click the Descriptions preset, and align it to the right. Then simply type in all caps your desired transition. Then you start the next scene as you did with the first: Slugline, descriptions, etc. This is how it will look:
Continuations: These are very important. And, these should be the last thing you do to your script before you print it off. Why, you ask? Well, what if you decide towards the end you want to set up a situation that you're working on, and you want to throw in an allusion to it towards the beginning. So you go to type it, and you've already continued the scene in the next page, and now the slugline is in the middle of the page after you're finished writing. And now you have to re-do each continuation on every page until you're caught up. Not for you? I hear ya.
So what this will do is not only show you how you would continue a scene, but also show you how you would continue dialogue that carries over onto the next page. Let's say this is how the end of your dialogue looks:
Not pretty, right? So here's what you do: You find a nice place to split the dialogue. Preferably, between sentences. And you hit Enter several times, putting a bit of space between them for you to have some room. Now; at the end of your last sentence, you'll want to go down one space, and hit the Character Name margin and in parentheses, type “More” in all caps. Then, go to the last line of the page, and hit the Descriptions margin, and align right. Then, in parentheses, type “Continued” in all caps. Like so:
** If there isn't enough space between the dialogue and end of the page that the “More” in parentheses and the “Continued” at the bottom of the page won't have separate lines, don't worry. You can write them on the same line. Just hit the Character Name margin, put the “More” in parentheses, and then just Tab over a bit, and then type “Continued” in parentheses, then just Space it over until you come to the end of the line.
And then, the next page. On the top of the next page, hit the Sluglines margin, and type in the number for the scene we are on. (See why numbering them is important?) Then Tab over a space, then type “Continued” in all caps, followed by a Colon. (These are used quite a bit in screenplays) If this is your first continued page, after you type the Colon, simply tab all the way to where the right-hand scene number is, and type it in.
But let's say this is a particularly long scene, and you want to keep track of just how long it is. Here's what you do: Type it just like the above, only this time after you type the Colon, you'll Space over once, and in parentheses write down how many pages you're continuing. IE, if you're still continuing the same scene a page after the initial continuation page, you would type “2” in parentheses. Like so:
Basically, the first page of continuation doesn't get a number, just a Colon. Any page that follows, gets a number in parentheses.
Okay, after that continued Slugline, it's time to fix our hanging dialogue. All we do, is after the Slugline, we move down a space, and hit the Character Name margin, and type in the same character's name, but now we'll add the abbreviation “Cont'd” in parentheses after the Name so that we know that this is the same character talking. (I've seen these written several different ways, but I tend to write it in all caps) Then, we simply go down to the dialogue that was hanging, and Backspace until the continuing bit of dialogue is directly under the Character Name. Like so:
That wasn't too hard, was it? Well, that about does it for the content of the script itself. What now?
Copyrighting: Here's where you print out your masterpiece, and protect it.
** I will add that I'm not an attorney. I don't know how well this holds up in court. This is just how I do it. I highly advise you do do your own research into this process.
My Modus Operandi is printing off a copy of my script with a cover page that includes the title of my work, my name, address, contact information, and the date. Then, I three hole-punch each page (including the cover page) and secure the pages together with a Brass Fastener at each end. Then, I put it in a large manilla envelope, and address it to myself, and then go to my local post office.
When I arrive, I request that the envelope be sent as Certified Mail. This way, there are several things in your favor: First, a Serial Number. The sticker for Certified Mail is a two-parter. On one end, there's a sticker that goes on your envelope, the second end gets torn off, and is given to you as your receipt when you get your package. These two pieces share a Serial Number. Second, on the receipt, there is a postmark stamped on it that includes the date you sent it. Third, try to pay for this transaction with a Credit or Debit Card. That way there's yet another record of this transaction. If you pay cash, make sure to ask for a receipt. Even if they're busy.
** For the love of God, keep your receipts and records. And keep them safe. If for some reason you lose them, and your copy gets opened up, the copyright has been voided, and you're screwed. Then you have to repeat the process.
I try to go to the Post Office late in the afternoon when they're not busy. And the past few times, they've offered to process my packages right then and there so all they have to do is hand it back to me after I sign for it. How kind. That usually gives me another receipt. Hold on to all of them.
After you've gotten your package back, the first thing I recommend is to take a bit of thick packaging tape, and tape the envelope lip shut. This way, it won't open up and void the copyright. (I know I'm sounding cautious as Hell, but, really, can you blame me? You just worked long and hard to write this, and I imagine you'd probably want to protect your ideas, am I right?) Then, put your package in a safe place, and never open it. Seriously. You want to read it? Print out another copy. I like having another copy for myself in case I want someone to read it and give me feedback. And speaking of printing off another copy...
Copies: Now that your work is copywritten, you can now print out as many copies as you want to show it off. But, it's a good idea to put a Copyright notice on your Cover Page. I had done several versions, but I recently saw an example on a script online that I absolutely fell in love with, and I'm going to share it with you.
It was for a script Kevin Smith wrote for Warner Brothers, and I immediately decided to use the style. It just looked so nice and professional. Here's how his looked:
So now, let's do ours. Open up a new document and change the font to Courier New, and center it. Space down a bit and then type in your Title and your name under it. Then, space down a bit more, then align left when you are near the bottom of the page. Type out your name, (All caps are up to you, I just think it looks more important) mailing address, city, state, zip code, phone number, and email address. After that, Tab each of them over once so that no information is lost when you use the Brass Fasteners.
Then, after each line, you're going to Tab over until you get to the 4 1/2 inch Tee, and then on each line, you will write the following information:
The exact date of the copyright. A copyright symbol, followed by the year of the copyright. (The symbol is achieved by going to: Insert > Special Character, and selecting the “C” inside the circle, and clicking “OK.”) Then your name again. And finally, “All rights reserved.” Then, simply save and print. And that's it! Congratulations, you are now a screenwriter with a professional-grade script ready to put out into the world.
Now, because I'm such a nice guy, I'm including a couple things in this post. First, I'm including a Template with the four margins included. All you do is click F11, and write your words. To re-use, all you have to do after you download it, is to copy the file, then start on your script. And, you can always come back to this post if you need another one. Also, I'm including a Cover Page template. All you do is put your information in the right place, and voila!
I hope I could shed some light on how the process works. And be sure to let me know if this explains easily enough. And as always, if you have any additional questions or comments, be sure to leave them. I look forward to your feedback. Until next time!