Recently, or maybe it wasn’t – I can’t remember, there was another bun-fight on Shooting People about script format. You know, the usual thing: one side of optimistic dreamers thinks script format should be thrown out and is limiting and restricting. The other side of staunch stick in the muds think format is a rigid, fixed thing which is vitally important to making a living as a writer.
Of course, in the main, neither side has actually made any money or headway in the industry. At least not in the UK, and the reason I can say this with reasonable assurance is because NO ONE FUCKING CARES.
Let me clarify that with the old ‘script format is wearing a suit to a job interview’ analogy. In this analogy, the person is the story and the clothes are the format.
So the opposing positions:
- I should be able to turn up to the interview dressed as Coco the fucking clown if I feel like it because they’re hiring the person, not the clothes.
- Employers expect you to wear a suit, therefore you should wear a suit if you want the job. Further more, the lapels should be exactly 1.7 inches wide. The tie must be a neutral colour tied in a double Windsor falling no higher than the top of your belt. At its widest point it should be 2 inches. The belt should be … blah, blah, blah.
See? Both wrong. The truth, as fucking usual, is in the middle. Wear a suit, yes; but no one fucking cares what the specifics are. As long as it’s got all the essential parts of a suit – no one in the UK cares.
They just don’t.
A script should have sluglines, action, dialogue and characters. Bold them, italic them, put them in capitals – do whatever makes you feel good – just make sure they’re all there and are recognisable.
Okay, some readers do care and you might want to try and please them since they might be your first point of contact; but the thought process goes like this for each opposing point of view:
- Oh fuck, this guy doesn’t know format at all – he’s going to be a God awful writer. I’m not looking forward to this.
- This guy knows how to format a script, let’s see if he’s a good writer.
Both points of view will become equally irrelevant if you’ve written a pile of shit. Granted, a badly formatted pile of shit is a thousand times more painful to read than a well formatted pile of shit – but they are both piles of shit.
If you think format isn’t important, you’re wrong. It’s there for a reason. Lots of reasons. Lots of very good reasons in fact. By saying format is irrelevant, you’re actually saying ‘I have no fucking idea what a script is for’.
If you think format is everything and has to be adhered to, to the millimetre or you’ll be laughed out of town – you’re also fucking wrong. What you’re saying there is ‘I’ve read too many books and believed all of them’.
Group one: read a formatting book so you understand exactly why things are the way they are.
Group two: read more scripts for fuck’s sake. See the variations in produced material – the variations NO ONE FUCKING CARES ABOUT.
Another facet of the Shooting People argument was one side wanted to throw out the current format in favour of one he’d invented. While the other side thought format has evolved to where it is now and is totally and immutably fixed.
Both wrong again.
The reason you can’t just throw away one set of rules and replace them with another is because no one would understand the new rules for quite a long time. In other words, chaos.
And the reason script format isn’t immutably fixed is because it has evolved and is still evolving.
Things go in and out of fashion, just like with suits. If you turned up to a 1970’s job interview in a 1980’s suit – they’d think you were in fancy dress. 70’s suits didn’t become 80’s suits overnight – they changed slowly.
Or at least I think they did, I have no idea. Fashion, as anyone who’s seen me dress, really isn’t my strong point.
I’m all about the style, baby.
Anyway, the point is, script format changes all the time – just slowly. Someone does something, someone else thinks it’s a good idea and copies it. It just takes little steps to change the broad strokes.
Personally, I’m a little fussy about format because I like to be. It’s a choice, not a requirement. If I started putting my sluglines in bold, guess what?
NO ONE WOULD FUCKING CARE.
How do I know? Well, here’s the annoying part for fellow sticklers – on pretty much every production I’ve worked on, someone else has fucked about with the script before it’s been sent out to cast and crew.
Sometimes it’s the director’s copy which he’s scribbled camera directions all over, chucked in loads of ‘we sees’ and ‘we hears’ and generally just moved margins around for the sake of it. Or, on other occasions, some fucking monkey in the production team has retyped the script, used the wrong tense, spelt the words wrong and in extreme cases added random bits of action onto dialogue blocks. This makes for lovely bits of speech which go something like.
God Damn you, I’m not fucking taking this. Drew punches her in the face.
And yet no one complains or apparently even fucking notices.
TV uses a different format for every show. Hell, one show (whose format I was asked to copy) used a slightly different format on every fucking page.
And guess what?
Yep, NO ONE FUCKING CARED.
Make the story entertaining, the characters interesting and the read compelling. The format … just make it readable and then shut the fuck up.