If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Sitcoms are great. Who doesn't love a laugh? Sitcoms can range from mediocre to great. I firmly believe that the person who creates the next “Seinfeld” is out there, but what if they have the idea and the story for a show, but don't know how to format it? Well, Earthlings, that's where I come in. I'm here to try and de-mystify the process of formatting for you once again. So, without further ado, let's get into it...
**This tutorial will deal strictly with formatting your script. For tips having to do with getting your script copywritten, I refer you to my tutorial here: LINK.
Step 1: The Software. Again, the software I'm using is Open Office. It is available for free. Check it out if you haven't already. Again, here's the link.
Step 2: The Setup. The font we will be using is Courier New at size 12. Also, we will drag the Right-Hand Margin to the Left so that it is flush with the border of the document. Not required, but it is a pet peeve of mine. It's entirely up to you.
We're also going to want to number the pages, so to do that, we're going to go to: Insert > Header > Default. At this point, the font will default back to Times New Roman. Go ahead and change it to Courier New. Then, make sure that the Header content is aligned to the Right. Then, we're going to add the page number by going to: Insert > Fields > Page Number. This is how your page should be setup so far:
Step 3: Setting Up Formats. Hit the F11 key. It will bring up the Styles and Formatting dialogue box. It will have many default values in it, but fear not. Click the drop down button. It's usually defaulted to Automatic. The next option should be Custom Styles. Select it. It should be blank. This is where all of the margin presets we create will be located, so remember that.
So now that we have that ready to go, it's time to set up our margin presets. For sitcom scripts, there are 5 main margins: Character Name, Scene Headings, Descriptions, Sluglines, and Dialogue. I'll get into a bit more detail on these as we cover them. So let's get to it...
Step 3: Character Name. We'll start with this because the “Character Name,” will be an easy way to transition to “Scene Headings.” From my measurements, I've gathered that this margin is 3 3/4” in. We have to keep in mind that Open Office has a default border of 1/2”, so we need to compensate for that. So first, we're going to take the Left-Hand Margin, and drag it to the Right until we reach the second DOT after the 3” TEE.
Now, we save this as a preset. On the Styles and Formatting box, click the button with the green PLUS SIGN, and select “New Style from Selection.”
Now, we're going to customize this a bit further. To do this, we're going to Right-Click our preset, and select “Modify.”
This will bring up a new dialogue box. We're going to go to the “Indents & Spacing” tab, and go down to the Line Spacing option, and we're going to select “Double.” Then hit “OK.”
**The point of this is that in a lot of the sitcom scripts I read for research, the space between the character's name and the dialogue had a space between them. I hadn't seen this in regular screenplays, and so I thought that having a preset do this automatically would give you a better workflow.
Step 4: Scene Headings. This one is fairly simple. It's the exact same sizing as the “Character Name” preset, but just a little different. All we're going to do, is click on the “Underline” button, then save it as a preset.
Now it's time to do our next preset. So, let's reset our Left-Hand Margin. Drag it back to the Left-Hand border.
Step 5: Sluglines. These are fairly simple. There is some more detail on these a bit later, so just hang in there. All we're going to do, is push the Left-Hand Arrow over until we are squared with the 1” TEE.
No need to change the Right-Hand Margin for this one. Make sure “Underline” is still checked. Then, save it as a preset.
Now, we do need to customize this one a bit as well. Because our previous preset was selected to have double spacing, this one now has double spacing as well. That's not needed here. To render this, simply Right-Click the preset, and select “Modify,” then “Indents & Spacing,” then under “Line Spacing,” select “Double,” and click “OK.”
Step 6: Descriptions. Again, pretty similar to the last preset, there's just a bit of tweaking to be done. First, un-check “Underline,” then we're going to take the Right-Hand Margin, and align it, so that it is at the second DOT after the 5 1/2” TEE.
Once again, we're going to save this. So, go to the Styles and Formatting dialogue box, and select “New from Selection.” Name it, and press “OK.”
Now, go ahead, and once again reset both of your Margins.
Step 7: Dialogue. For this Margin, we're going to take the Left-Hand Margin, and bring it over to the first DOT after the 2” TEE.
Next, we're going to take the Right-Hand Margin, and move it Left until we are at the fourth DOT after the 5” TEE.
Once again, save it as a Margin preset.
This one, we have to modify as well. But it's fairly simple. Once again, Right-Click the Dialogue preset, and select “Modify.”
When the dialogue box pops up, we do the same as last time, we go to the “Indents & Spacing” Tab, and in the option for “Line Spacing,” select “Double,” and hit “OK.”
Now, we're done with saving our Margin Presets. Time to put them into action.
From here, these are tips on how to use and understand the presets we've just made.
Step 8: Headers. What these do, is tell you the act number and the scene you're on. The Act structure, based on my observations, are as follows: Cold Open, Act One, Act Two, and Tag. These are pretty straight-forward. But, for those that don't know, the Cold Open is what happens usually right before the credit sequence. And the Tag is what is playing while the end credits are playing. I did note that neither of these had scene numbers, so for these purposes, ours won't either. Act One and Act Two are just basically the acts of the story. Pretty simple.
**All of these presets should be aligned Left, unless otherwise stated.
Step 9: Sluglines. These are interesting. The Sluglines are always underlined. And, with sitcoms especially, they indicate which day it is, as well as the usual indicators of location and time of day. Following the Sluglines, there are the names of the characters who appear in each scene, in parentheses. Following that, we get the scene descriptions written in all caps. Whenever there is an appearance of a character in any scene, their name is always underlined. Let's see how it will look...
**For my example, I'm going to directly copy the text of a “3rd Rock from the Sun” script.
**I wrote the description in all lower caps so that Open Office could tell me if I made any spelling errors, and then I simply highlighted all the desired text, went to: Format > Change Case > UPPERCASE. This is due to the fact that Open Office (possibly other software as well) doesn't recognize spelling errors in words in all caps.
And just to re-cap: Scene Headers, Sluglines, and Transitions are all underlined. And all the descriptions are in all caps. And with the first appearance of a character in a scene, their name gets underlined. Savvy? Moving on.
Step 10: Dialogue 2. This is pretty basic. Just space down twice from the Description, and hit the “Character Name/Heading” preset, and enter their name(s). Space down once, and you'll see it looks like two. (Remember we made the “Character Name” preset be Double-Spaced?) Hit the “Dialogue” preset, and type away. This is how it should look:
Easy enough. But let's say you want to add in some directions for how the actors should say a piece of dialogue. It's a bit different from a screenplay. In a screenplay, you would have a separate line for the directions. For a sitcom, you simply put the direction in the dialogue in all caps, and in parentheses. Here's how that would look:
**This taken from a little later in the same script.
**Also in parentheses would be things like sneezing, coughing, etc.
Step 11: Putting It Into Practice. With all that we've talked about, let's put it into practice. But first, a quick note: When it comes to the pages for Act One, and Act Two, there is a subheading. It's the Scene Letter. Others may have a Scene Number, this is okay as well. Just, try to stick to one or the other, and don't interchange them throughout your project. In the case of this script, they are Scene Letters. (A,B, C, etc.) They don't stop in between Acts One and Two, they simply continue. (Except for the Tag)
Now then, here's how a typical page will look:
Pretty cool, huh? Moving right along...
Step 12: Extra Effort. Let's say that your script includes some sound or lighting effects? Nice thought, but how do you write them out? For anything Sound Effects, (Car horn, telephone, etc) it's abbreviated SFX. It's aligned the same as our “Descriptions” Margin, and it's underlined. The same goes for any lighting effects, with the only difference being, there were no abbreviations that I found. That said, let's take a look at how a scene with effects would be written out:
**Once again, same script, different part.
Pretty interesting, huh? Not really, but you get the gist. And, we also got an example of how to differentiate singing from regular dialogue (italics).
Step 13: Transitions. This is a quick one. Imagine you've gone through all your scenes for your first Act, and how do you end it? Simple.
Okay, so a couple things: First, we should make a “Note” Margin preset. You never know when you'll need to stress something extra important in your script. So, to do that, we need to select the note we've typed, and hit the “Description” Margin, then drag the Right-Hand Margin to the Right until we hit the 6 1/2” LINE.
Then we simply save this as our “Note” Margin preset.
Step 14: Background. Let's say that your characters are at an event, like, say a fair, or something. Maybe they converse with a worker, and you have a character name for that person. How do you describe everything going on in the background? Simple. In the description, where it lists the names of people in the scene, simple add the word “Atmosphere.” This lets people know that there are others in the scene, but they don't have line.
Step 15: More Transitions. Basically, these have to do with your cuts and fades. Essentially, how you go to the next scene. Again, a little different than writing a screenplay. These are aligned the same as the “Description” Margin. They are underlined as well.
Step 16: Scene Footers. These are what lets you tell people the Act or show is over. Here's an example of how this is used to end the First Act:
And here's how it's used to end the show:
These are very simple. All we do is select the “Description” preset, and align it Center, making sure “Underline” is selected. Then, all we do is save this as a preset.
And that's about it for this tutorial. I won't go into how to copyright your scripts, as I've already gone over that aspect. I hope that this allows all you funny folks out there to be better able to make your dreams a reality. But, I'm not done yet. Also included in this tutorial, is a Template for you to use for your needs. Simply download, and open it in Open Office. Don't forget to press F11!
I hope you all found this somewhat informative and helpful. Again, if you have any questions, let me know, and I'll try to answer them as soon as possible. Until next time, Later Days!