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Archive for the Category "Modern Craft"

Insights from the 2013 Black List: Title Pages Feb 04

Recap

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

Recap

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

Recap

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:

https://twitter.com/richardcordiner/statuses/422957492843204608

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.

Insights from the 2013 Black List: Page Count Jan 07

The Black List 2013 – Part 1: Average Page Count

Black List 2013 - InsightsIf you’re reading this blog, then odds are you already know that at the end of every year, the Black List gets published.

While it claims to not be a “best scripts” list, it certainly receives more industry attention than any other. As such, the scripts on this list set the standard for what Hollywood is looking at, and looking for. That makes it perfect for learning about the current trends in screenwriting at the highest level.

Therefore, I’ve decided to do a series of posts, using the Black List as a guide, that will answer peculiar questions that many screenwriters find themselves asking. Things like… What’s a typical page count? Is it safe to use bold or underline headings? What about non-standard fonts on my title page? How many lines per paragraph should I use for scene description?

Obviously, using acceptable benchmarks and conventions in your script come a distant second to a compelling concept and stellar writing, but if you’re as obsessive as I am over these details, hopefully you’ll find these posts to be insightful.

Now that that’s out of the way… On to today’s question!

What’s the average page count?

In the past, writers would aim to bring scripts in at 120 pages or less. These days, the conventional wisdom is that a spec script should clock in at no more that 115 pages, and ideally, it should be 110 pages max. Aiming for 100 pages, for some genres, is even better.

So how does the 2013 Black List stack up to conventional wisdom?

The median script length was 110 pages (111 pages average).

110 pages!

When I provide script notes or proofread scripts, I’m constantly amazed by how many of them are 120 pages or more. The first thing an overworked script reader does is look at the page count. If you’re submitting a script that is upwards of 120 pages or more, you’re starting from a position of disadvantage.

Rewriting is hard. No one likes to do it. But your script needs to be tight — especially if you’re an unrepresented writer. Aim for 110 pages or less.

Breakdown

Here’s the 2013 Black List breakdown by page count:

2013 Black List - Page Count Breakdown

Note: For page count, I used the last numbered page in the script. So the number of pages does not include the title page, agency page, or any other extra pages that may have been included in the PDF file.

Do you find this type of stuff to be helpful? Have you read any of the 2013 Black List scripts? I’m currently compiling a breakdown by genre, so if you know the genre of any of the scripts (after having read them — not by guessing from the logline provided), I’d love to hear from you. Thanks!

Modern Craft: The Voices Aug 30

Intro

Screenwriting: Modern Craft

Every few weeks I’ll showcase a modern script that does something really well. The discussion will center on a specific facet of “screenwriting craft.” It won’t be a critique of the full script.

Today’s script is…

The Voices

Genre: Black Comedy / Horror
Premise: A disturbed but well-meaning man attempts to walk the straight-and-narrow while receiving advice from his “talking” pets.
Writer: Michael R. Perry
Details: 111 pages / January 28, 2009 draft
Status: In Development / Black List 2009

Screenwriting craft — What sets this script apart?

SENSORY IMAGERY

What is Sensory Imagery? Here’s a pretty good definition:

Sensory Imagery is a writing technique based on the five senses. Using [words] to describe what is seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted draws the reader into the story… [T]his technique helps the reader to feel transported into the place where the story takes place by helping the reader to feel, hear, see, smell what the main character [experiences].1

Basically, the more you can evoke a reader’s five senses, the more immersive and vivid your script will feel.

Sights and sounds are obviously script mainstays (“Only what you can see and hear”). But what about the other three senses? If you’re a skilled writer like Michael R. Perry, you can also strategically evoke (or suggest) touch, taste and smell.

In this example, the protagonist Jerry, returns to the spot where a woman (Katie) has been killed. (WARNING: Graphic imagery):

EXT. WOODS – TWILIGHT

Long shadows and a light rain makes the woods look radically different from the last time Jerry was here. He carefully makes his way down the edge of the ravine, and then stumbles on something.  He looks down.

Katie’s hand sticks out from under a pile of leaves.  It’s discolored and swollen except her manicure, which is perfect.

He brushes leaves off of her; she’s been outside nearly three days and is swollen, gooey and stinky.  Further, some woods animal has started eating her stomach, none too neatly.  Jerry tries to lift up her body but gets slimed with bowel oozing, is repulsed, and drops her.

Keep In Mind

  • Enhanced sensory details like taste and smell in a script are used primarily to indicate a character’s reaction to something — hence, to show what’s happening. For example, you wouldn’t describe the aroma of a hot cup of coffee if a character isn’t savoring the experience.
  • Don’t get carried away with your scene descriptions. A little goes a long way. Only utilize sensory imagery that’s essential to a reader’s comprehension of what’s going on, or to reinforce tone. You’re writing a script, not a novel, after all.

Do you utilize all five senses in your screenwriting when appropriate?

Further Reading


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  1. Original Sensory Imagery definition found here.
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