Subscribe RSS

Archive for the Category "Formatting"

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.

William Akers – Only one line space after FADE IN: ? Aug 27

Screenwriting: Modern CraftWhat the eff?

So I was happily writing an article about common mistakes people make on the first page of their script, when I recalled a suggestion by William M. Akers, that I’d previously written about.

In his great book, “Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 ways to make it great,” he advises the following (on page 203):

… take a gander at the fact that FADE IN: has one space underneath it. If you’re like me and you have two spaces above every slugline (or “Scene Heading” in Final Draft) then you’ll need to adjust the very first slugline so FADE IN: only has one space below it.

Good advice right? Ever since reading his book, it’s bothered me whenever I’ve seen the double line spacing after FADE IN:

But here’s the problem… I can’t find any real world examples of this rule having been implemented! NOT A SINGLE ONE. At least not from professional or production scripts, or spec scripts that later sold.

Instead what I found after going through my script library was:

  • When scripts have two line spaces above the scene headings, there are two line spaces after FADE IN:
  • When scripts have one line space above scene headings, there is one line space after FADE IN:

Sorta logical really. Hmm…

What do the screenplay formatting guides say?

Here’s what I checked:

The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier

The Hollywood Standard by Christopher Riley

Curiously, neither formatting guide offers any insight into the line spacing that should come after a TRANSITION. And definitely nothing prescriptive of a single line space after FADE IN: (At least nothing I could find.)

To top it off

You’d think if there were an industry standard for such a thing, the screenwriting program, Final Draft, would automatically correct the error for all of the transitions. But alas it does not.

What do you do?

I want to hear from you. Do you follow William Akers’ rule (i.e. one line space after FADE IN: even though you have two line spaces above your scene headings)? Can you cite a non-amateur script example of Akers’ rule being followed?

Mr. Akers — if you happen by this site, I’d love it if you could send me an email to discuss, or post a comment below, to explain the discrepancy.

Does anyone else obsess over these kinds of details like I do?… On a Friday night… [cough]

How do you spell iPod? Jul 26

Hermione-iPodTypoSpellOne of My Pet Peeves

I don’t know why, but I’d say over 75% of the amateur scripts I read spell iPod in some bizarre way.

Some examples:

  • I-Pod
  • I Pod
  • IPOD
  • ipod
  • Ipod
  • I-pod

I’d be curious to hear from other readers about their experiences. But for me, this mistake pops up with alarming regularity. And whenever I see it, it yanks me out of the script.

My mind starts to wander…

I bet they don’t have an iPod themselves…

What else are they simply winging?

Is this symptomatic of other sloppy errors I’m going to find?

Mind wandering = bad

It’s definitely not the end of the road for a positive review, but it is a bump in the road. The more bumps you have, the less enjoyable the journey.

So please, no more crazy spellings of iPod or iPad!

The one possible exception is inside of dialogue — where you need to spell out odd terms or acronyms to ensure they’re read correctly by those who may not be familiar with the term. Even though I still don’t think it’s necessary, you could make a case for the following use:


Where’s that rectangular thingy? I need to shove it under this table leg.


You mean, a newspaper?


No! It’s small and shiny... well not so shiny any more. I always use it to balance the table. Where did it go?


Wait, are you talking about my I-Pod?!

Perhaps when the iPod was first introduced, it could have been worth it to clarify the pronunciation by capitalizing the first letter, etc.  But these day, I don’t think it’s necessary.

And it’s absolutely not necessary in your action lines. So I’m officially banishing all future iPod misspellings with a Harry Potter spell — Typo-iPodio!

What are some of your pet peeves when reading a script?

Want me to read your screenplay? Please take a look at my script services.

Do you double or triple-space scene headings? May 05

Rabbit Hole - First PageTriple or Double-Spacing?

I recently found myself in a bit of a quandary. After countless hours cutting and tweaking, my finished script weighed in at 111 pages. I had really wanted to come in under 110 pages (as spec script lengths are trending shorter and shorter these days).

As a big fan of whitespace, I always triple-space my master scene headings (i.e. I leave two blank spaces above them). But what if I simply double-spaced them (i.e. leave just one blank space above)? How many pages could I save?

The answer: 2

After switching from triple-spacing to double-spacing I was at 109 pages. Woohoo! But not so fast. The new spacing made me feel a little claustrophobic. Was it simply because I was so used to triple-spacing?

What do most scripts use?

I decided to spend a couple hours going through 171 spec scripts, and pre-shooting drafts, in my collection to get a sense of what was considered “standard.” It’s by no means exhaustive, but I’d say the sample is large enough to provide a fairly accurate assessment.

Here are the results:

Triple Spaced: 86 (50%)

Double Spaced: 72 (42%)

Other (used transitions between scenes): 13 (8%)

Somewhat surprising results! Nearly half of the scripts I went through were double-spaced.

Perhaps even more surprising is that nearly 10% of the scripts used CUT TO: (or other transitions) to separate each scene.

All of these scripts were what I would consider “professional.” That is, they were either written by pros, or were on the Black List, etc. No production or shooting scripts were reviewed.

Some Notes

  • I definitely noticed a trend towards triple-spacing in recent years
  • It got to the point where I could fairly accurately predict whether or not a script was double or triple-spaced, based on the page count. For example, if the script was over 115 pages, odds are it used double-spacing (to cut down on the number of pages).
  • Many scripts that felt light and breezy while I was reading them, actually used double-spacing. So it seems the spacing between the shot headings didn’t matter to me (or make an impression) as much as the overall whitespace.
  • More bold and underlined scene headings popped up in recent years. Of the scripts reviewed, 11 used bold for headings, and 5 used underlines.
  • The most attractive script to look at was RABBIT HOLE (see above image). It used underlines for scene headings and bold for character introductions. I think we’ll start to see more scripts utilize this approach in the future. It looks great, and made the script easier to read and process. (The spacing between shot headings was inconsistent, however.)

In the end, I decided to leave the triple-spacing in my script and hold fast at 111 pages. But it was nice to see that double-spacing was a very viable option (especially if you’ve been diligent about limiting the number of action lines per paragraph to provide ample whitespace).

Is this kinda stuff interesting to you guys?

What’s your take? Slightly longer, yet more whitespace? Or are certain page counts psychologically more important? Let me know!

Want me to read your screenplay? Please take a look at my script services.

Category: Formatting, Writing  | 6 Comments