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Archive for the Category "Modern Craft"

Shakes His Head Jun 13


Screenwriting is all about efficiency. Maximum impact with the minimum number of words.

So one of my biggest pet peeves is when I see the following in scripts:

She shakes her head no.

There are two big things wrong with that action line:

  1. Why is the word “no” there?! We already know she’s saying “no” because she’s shaking her head. If the audience can figure out what she’s indicating without her actually saying it, there’s no need to give the reader this extra piece of information.
  2. What’s a “head no”? Even though it’s completely unnecessary, if you’re going to explain what she means by shaking her head, at least put a comma between “head” and “no.” Or better yet, add quotation marks and capitalize the word: She shakes her head, “No.”

But really, this is all you need to write:

She shakes her head.

Similarly, if someone is nodding their agreement, there’s no need to write:

She nods her head, “Yes.”

Just write:

She nods her head.

Or even:

She nods.

Are You Overusing LATER? May 23


- LATERAfter reading a few client scripts recently where LATER is actually used more often than DAY or NIGHT in scene headings, I figured it was time to address this issue.

If you’re fond of using LATER in your scene headings, then what I’m about to tell you might blow your mind…

Unless you’re dealing with a flashback, it’s already understood that EVERY subsequent scene in your script takes place later than the one that preceded it.

So expressly telling the reader that your scene takes place LATER is unnecessary… most of the time.

When should you use LATER?

As far as I’m concerned, there’s really only one legitimate use of LATER:

When you’re indicating that we’ve jumped ahead in time, in the SAME scene location.

Let’s take a look at the standard, recommended usage. Say you’ve established a scene heading with some description. For example:


The Brooksville Killer paces back and forth, eyeing the steel bars. A rabid animal in a cage.

Now, suppose you want to jump to a moment that comes later in that same location. There are two methods you could use. 1) Write a new master scene heading:


Or 2) Simply write a secondary scene heading (preferred)…


… and then write some action lines.

What you do NOT want to do is use LATER if your following scene takes place in a new location. Example:


There’s no reason to write LATER for the scene heading above. It’s not like the reader is going to get confused and think your character is somehow simultaneously in his cell and in the prison yard. Obviously, he’s moved from one location to the next over some unspecified time.

So you would simply use DAY (or NIGHT as the case may be) for the new location scene heading and then add your action lines:


The maniac hammers his fists against the concrete wall, over and over again.

Bits of the aged wall crumble in his hands... and an idea sparks in his eyes.

Who So Serious?Why so serious? What’s the big deal?

There’s technically nothing wrong with writing LATER in subsequent scene headings. The problem is if it goes on for too long, it can confuse your reader.

If you keep writing LATER in your scene headings, eventually I’m going to forget whether it was day or night, or wonder if it has since transitioned from one time to the other. You’ve now made it more difficult for me to visualize the scenes.

When you make your reader struggle, that’s a bad thing.

Take this example:


Josephine and Tommy share a hot dog, each nibbling from opposite sides of the bun.


The lovers share a tropical drink... sipping from straws... gazing into each other’s eyes. If they weren’t so adorable, it would be cringeworthy.

The description is fine, but am I supposed to picture a brightly lit daytime patio or an atmospheric nighttime patio? The LATER throws me off.

One of the key jobs of a screenwriter is to set the scene for the reader. Do yourself a favor and use DAY or NIGHT in your subsequent scene headings to help you with that task.

What about  MOMENTS LATER?

Typically, MOMENTS LATER is used like LATER — when you want to indicate a jump in time within the same scene location. However, in cases where the location has changed, and the context of the scene is such that the reader might incorrectly think the scene takes place long after the previous one (when it really takes place shortly after), it’s just fine to use MOMENTS LATER for clarity.

Here’s an example of it NOT being necessary:


Brandon flexes his muscles in a mirror as Lisa sidles up to him.


My uncle’s on his way. I told him how you cheated on me, and he said he wanted to... uh, talk to you.



Whatever. It’s not like he’s--


He’s the UFC heavyweight champion.


Brandon bursts out the front entrance in a full sprint. Races to his car as fast as his cowardly legs will carry him.

It’s not necessary to use MOMENTS LATER in the above example, because the context of the scene already tells us that it takes place moments after the previous scene.

But if you come across a situation that isn’t so clear cut, and it’s important to know that the scene takes place shortly after the previous one, using MOMENTS LATER instead of DAY/NIGHT will help to avoid any confusion. Take the following example:


Little Jimmy sits alone in his room, sulking. He stares at the Einstein poster on his closed door.


I loathe all of you imbeciles. I shall never leave this room! Ever!

A warm voice calls from downstairs:

MOM (V.O.)

Jimmy, the cupcakes are ready.


Jimmy cracks open his door. Peeks into the hallway. Breathes in the intoxicating aroma of chocolate and frosting. Sighs.


The flesh is weak.

He hustles downstairs.

Using MOMENTS LATER in the above example helps to reinforce the timeline. If NIGHT were used instead, the joke of how quickly Jimmy caves may not be as clear.

Are you a LATER overuser?

Insights from the 2013 Black List: Title Pages Feb 04


This series takes a look at current trends in screenwriting and screenplay formatting, by examining the 2013 Black List scripts.

The Black List 2013 – Part 4: Title Page Formatting

Black List 2013 - InsightsSoooo… title pages. The various formatting books I rely on consistently prescribe title pages where the title of the script is:

  • all uppercase
  • underlined
  • written in a standard 12 point Courier / Courier New font (or equivalent — like Courier Final Draft or Courier Prime)

But as anyone who reads professional scripts on a regular basis will tell you, that rule is routinely broken.

You might be inclined to say — “Yeah, but the pros can get away with it, but we can’t.”

And you might be right.

Speaking in generalities and from my experiences, the farther up the chain you are in Hollywood, the less likely anyone is to treat such a thing as a red flag.

So depending on where you’re at, and your level of confidence with the important stuff that comes after your title page, you may want to just stick to the standard formatting so you don’t inadvertently annoy anyone.

Having said that, I almost never use Courier 12 pt for my script titles!

I feel it’s the one part of the script where I can shed the rigid confines of standard script formatting, and add some flavor. After reading the first page of one of my scripts, I doubt that any reviewer is still going to be agitated by my flamboyant font use.

The 2013 Black List Title Page Stats

So where do we stand this year for title page formatting practices? The investigation yielded some surprising results:

  • Of the 72 Black List scripts this year, only 14 used “standard” formatting for their script titles (19.4%)
  • That means 58 used non-standard formatting (a full 80.6%)!

Here’s how it broke down:

  • 20 script titles used a font size that was larger than 12 pt (28%)
  • Of those, 14 used a font other than a Courier variation (19.4%).
    Note: No scripts used a non-standard font while keeping standard point size. If a non-standard font was used, the font size was always greater than 12 pt.
  • Of those, 2 used a graphic image for their script titles (2.8%).
  • 4 of the scripts that used a non-standard font — used the font for more than just the script title (5.6%) .
  • 3 of the 72 scripts used a space between the letters of their titles (e.g. E X T I N C T I O N) (4.2%)
  • 8 scripts used a Mixed Case Title (11%).
  • 17 scripts used bold for their script title (23.6%)
  • 38 scripts did not underline their script title (53%)

… And of course, unless specified above, there’s a lot of overlap (e.g. some scripts used both bold and Mixed Case).

Non-Standard Fonts

For those who are curious, here’s a list of the non-Courier fonts that were used (excluding the two that used graphics in place of their titles), in alphabetical order:

  • American Typewriter (Bold) 56 pt
  • Arial Black (Bold) 14 pt
  • Arial (Bold) 24 pt
  • Arial Unicode MS (Italics) 28 pt (Mixed Case)
  • Bleeding Cowboys 28 pt (Mixed Case)
  • Cooper Black MS (Bold) 18 pt
  • Dense 64 pt
  • Georgia (Bold) 18 pt
  • GillSans 14 pt
  • Oriya Sangam MN 24 pt
  • Times New Roman 32 pt (Mixed Case)
  • Wide Latin 26.04 pt (Mixed Case)

Do you find these types of stats to be helpful?

Insights from the 2013 Black List: Scene Spacing Jan 22


This series takes a look at current trends in screenwriting and screenplay formatting, by examining the 2013 Black List scripts.

The Black List 2013 – Part 3: One or Two Line Spaces before Master Scene Headings?

Black List 2013 - InsightsI was originally going to look at the prevalence of using non-standard fonts and font-sizes on title pages, but I’ll do that next time. Since I looked at the incidence of bold, underlined and bold and underlined scene headings last time, I thought it would be better to look at something somewhat related — the spacing that comes before master scene headings.

Why is the discussion somewhat related? Because I found a not-so-surprising correlation between using only one blank line space and using bold scene headings.

First, let’s look at the numbers:

2013 Black List - Blank Lines Before Scene Headings

  • Of the 72 scripts, 59 used two blank lines before master scene headings (81.9%).
  • That means 13 — used one blank line (18.1%)
  • Of the 13 scripts that used one blank line space, a full 8 of them used bold scene headings (61.54%).
  • That’s almost double the overall percentage of scripts that used bold scene headings this year (33.33%)! [See previous article]

So why are scripts that use a single line space almost twice as likely to use bold scene headings?

It’s simple — the whole point of having two blank line spaces is to break up the pages, inject some white space and make the script feel less dense. If you use a single line space, then adding bold to the scene heading helps to do the same thing. It visually “chunks” up the page and makes it easier for the reader to see when a new scene starts.

Page Count and Spacing for Scene Headings

If you  look at the median page count of those 13 scripts that used one blank line and compare it to the median page count of all the scripts in the 2013 Black List — the number is the same: 110 pages.

In a typical script if you change from triple-spacing (two blank lines between scenes) to double-spacing (one blank line between scenes) you can actually cut your page count by two or sometimes three pages. I may be wrong, but I suspect that at least a few of the writers opted for double spacing and bold scene headings, versus triple spacing and no bold, to lower their page count.

Final Thoughts

No readers really care if you double or triple-space your scripts (i.e. use one blank line or two before scene headings). They might not even notice. What they do notice is the amount of white space in your scripts.

If you’re consistently using 5 to 8 line paragraphs in your scene descriptions, you run the risk of irritating a reader. It won’t matter if you’ve left two blank lines between your scene headings because the script will just feel dense. Try to limit your paragraphs to 3 or 4 lines.

It’s worth pointing out that the script that topped the 2013 Black List — Holland, Michigan by Andrew Sodroski — used the bold scene headings and single blank lines approach. I have no idea as to Andrew’s thought processes, but the script clocked in at 117 pages. And 117 pages has a whole lot nicer ring to it than 120 pages — which it might have been if he had used triple-spacing (two blank lines).

Then again, he might have just liked the way it looked.

Insights from the 2013 Black List: Bold Scene Headings Jan 14


This series takes a look at current trends in screenwriting and screenplay formatting, by examining the Black List scripts.

The Black List 2013 – Part 2: Bold and Underlined Scene Headings

Black List 2013 - InsightsToday, I’m going to look at the practice of using bold and underlined scene headings.

As trivial as this issue is (especially compared to the importance of quality writing), I do often get asked about the prevalence of such formatting in modern scripts. Screenwriters want to know if the practice is common enough to not get flagged as an annoyance by purists who might be reading their screenplay.

While it’s plain to see that using bold, underlined (or both bold and underlined) scene headings are definitely gaining in popularity, I was curious to see how common these formatting devices were in the 2013 Black List scripts.

Here’s how it broke down:

One third of all the Black List scripts used bold scene headings!

That was surprising. Things have really changed. I’d say that if a third of any community engages in a practice, then it can safely be described as mainstream.

  • Of the 72 scripts, 24 of them used bold (33.33%)
  • 19 used bold exclusively (26.39%)
  • 5 used both bold and underlining together (6.94%)
  • 1 used underlining alone (1.39%)

Final Note

I have two versions of Richard Cordiner’s terrific script, The Shark Is Not Working. The earlier version of his script used bold. The later version, with the cover page changed to show his agent and manager, did not. I was curious about the change… Was he given some sage advice to remove the bold?

Nope. Richard kindly responded to a tweet I sent him explaining that it was simply a stylistic choice: “Hi Trevor, no reason, just prefer the old school look I guess.”

He then went on to provide a great reminder about the importance of such matters in the grander scheme of things:

Do you obsess over these kinds of details, or do you always stay focused on the bigger picture? Or both? Let me know.

In the next issue I’ll look at irregular fonts and font sizes on the title page.

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