Following on from the last insanely long post I thought I’d go through the hows and whys of script format in more detail, starting with the title page.
By the way, if you already know all of this then congratulations! You’ve done the absolute minimum research necessary to write your first script. Now all you’ve got to do is learn how to write, simple.
If, on the other hand, you’re learning this for the first time — congratulations! You’re doing the absolute minimum research necessary to … and so on.
So, the title page. What goes on a title page? What doesn’t? Why? And who cares?
Let’s start with:
WHO CARES AND WHY?
Well, hopefully, you. This is your fucking career, show some interest in it. Let your script show you’re interested in your career before the first page.
So here’s the thing – your title page has no bearing on the rest of the script, it will never be seen by an audience and will barely be glanced at by anyone reading the script. A lot of people don’t even care what’s on there – they know it’s irrelevant, so why bother about formatting it?
Because there are a lot of formatting books out there and they all say it has to be done a certain way.
Worse than that, lots of readers and producers/agents/directors have read the same books and they believe it too. When you send a script out, you have no idea which camp the person reading it belongs to – do they care or don’t they?
The don’t cares will read your script anyway.
The do cares will probably still read your script, but they’ve already decided your script is rubbish and will be looking for the earliest opportunity to give up. So play it safe, do it properly and keep everyone happy.
Don’t believe real people care about this? Read this post by Doug Richardson: http://dougrichardson.com/2012/dead-on-arrival
THE TITLE PAGE
You need one. Please put a title page on, don’t shove all this information on page one. The title goes on the title page – that’s why it’s called the title page. Page one is where the script starts.
If it’s a spec script, all that goes on a title page is:
- THE TITLE
- by (or written by if you really feel the need)
- Your Name
- Contact details
And that’s it.
THE TITLE should be just that: the title. In a twelve-point courier font, centred. You can underline it, if you want. You can bold it if you really feel the need (although I do neither of these things – who knows what people get pissed off about?), but for fuck’s sake don’t use a fancy font or some custom artwork.
Because … were you in a band at school? Or did you know anyone in a band at school? Did you (or they) spend more time designing album covers, or logos, or planning funny stage performances than actually learning to play your/their fucking instruments?
I auditioned for a band which showed me all this artwork, down to the matching tattoos they were all going to get … but the lead guitarist didn’t actually have a fucking guitar! He couldn’t play! But he’d spent days and days designing his fifth album cover.
That’s what a logo, custom artwork or fancy font says about your script – you’re a teenager designing album covers instead of learning how to write. Is that the first impression you want to make?
The other thing is, designing the font/logo isn’t your job. It’s not going to end up on the poster or the publicity because people cleverer than you (or stupider – could go either way) are paid to do that in the event the script is good enough to make into a film. Whether the (spec) script is good or bad – a custom font/logo smacks of a desperate someone with too much time on their hands who doesn’t know where their job ends.
Some readers even get bent out of shape about any font bigger than 12 … so just don’t do it. It’s not worth pissing someone off over your need to draw attention to something everyone’s looking for anyway.
BY or WRITTEN BY? I prefer ‘by’ (in lower case) because ‘written by’ sometimes ends up longer than the title and just doesn’t separate it enough. Plus, the art of scriptwriting is saying the most with the least amount of words – using two instead of one on the front cover feels like you’re missing the point already.
YOUR NAME – no nicknames, no bold, no italics, no ‘THE GREAT’ in front of it. Just write your fucking name in Title Case – not UPPER CASE. Try not to look wacky (or fucking mental) or massively egotistic – the title goes in upper case, because that’s what they want to read at a glance. After they’ve read it, and hopefully enjoyed it, they’ll go back and look for your name.
Simple, clean, elegant.
Although you’re centring all this, the margins should be an inch from the right and an inch and a half from the left. Why larger on the left? Because if the company stick a cover on, it tends to hide the first character on anything written on the left hand side. Not so important on the title page, but why alter the margins for one page?
At the bottom of the script, an inch from the bottom, to be exact, go your contact details. I’ve no idea whether these are supposed to go on the left or the right. I’ve seen both done and I’ve read formatting books which insist both are correct. Left seems more prevalent. Right looks nicer. Do whatever the hell you like.
Just make sure it’s in courier, twelve-point with no bold or italics or fancy curly bits.
I used to put my postal address on scripts … but now I don’t bother. I mean, why? Who’s going to write me a letter? Plus, some people are biased against working with anyone they can’t meet with face to face. A lot of people in London don’t really believe there’s a world beyond the M25, at least one not inhabited by freaks and monsters – so just leave your address off. Phone number, email address – that’s enough. If they’re desperate to write you a cheque, they’ll ask for your address.
Actually, a quick aside about email addresses: for fuck’s sake use one which makes you look professional. Buy a domain in your proper name and use that. If you can’t afford that few pounds a year, get one which is email@example.com or hotmail.com or something recognisable.
For fuck’s sake don’t use an email address which is firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Apart from looking stupid, they’re hard to find.
“I’ll just email Dave Dibble about a script I want him to write. What was his address again? I’ll just start typing his name and auto-complete will find it … D.A.V.E. … no, nothing. Okay, I’ll try D.A.V.I.D. … no, nothing there. Fuck it, I’ll give the job to someone else.”
Make life easy for everyone, get a sensible email address with your name in it. John August had similar things to say about this here: http://johnaugust.com/2010/why-email-addresses-matter
Copyright symbols. Don’t put them on. Ever. You know why? Do you know what the copyright symbol means?
It means “I’M FUCKING MENTAL”.
It suggests you’re the kind of writer who’s going to sue anyone who reads your zombie script and makes a different zombie film in the future. Seriously, don’t do it, you look crazy.
And that’s just the symbol. If you write anything like:
This script is copyrighted by me and registered with lots of lawyers and if you use even one word of this in any other production then I’ll sue you. And it’s confidential! Don’t go telling anyone or you’re in breach of the agreement you agreed to merely by looking at this page.
You might as well just write:
Please put this in the bin, I’m a litigious fucking loon.
Don’t include a list of people who read the script. Or liked the script. Or ‘helped out’ with the script. What the fuck does ‘helped out’ mean? Is there a law suit in that future?
If it’s a spec script, don’t put a draft number or a date on the front. The spec script is draft one. Even if it’s draft fifty. Label your own versions however you like, but the draft you send out – no draft numbers.
If it says (Draft 1) you’re saying you haven’t put enough effort in to writing it.
If it says (Draft 50) then you’re saying you’ve spent waaaay too much time fiddling with this and are probably incapable of making changes quickly and to order.
No draft numbers.
Dates tell people how old a script is. They want to think it’s brand new, they’re the first person you thought of and they’re about to discover something/someone wonderful.
If the date says 12/4/2008 then it tells them the script is out of date, not good enough to be snapped up straight away and has probably already been rejected by everyone in the industry … before being sent to them, the last resort.
If the date is today’s date, it looks like you’ve finished the script and sent it without polishing it.
Leave them off, leave the title page looking clean, crisp and inviting.
In fact, put nothing on the title page beyond:
It’s really not that difficult.
Okay, so you can put on ‘based on’ credits if you’ve based it on something real; but not ‘based on an idea by my mate’ because … who fucking cares? You’re better off crediting that person as ‘Story by …’; but in general try to keep it all as empty as you can.
This is all for film specs, by the way. If it’s a commission or a TV script then the rules are all different. Not that they’re really rules, just reasons why title pages can cause a bad impression and make people assume the script is shit. Personally, I’d rather people found that out by reading the script, not pre-judging it on the title page alone … but hey, that’s probably just me.
Next time (if there is a next time, because my initial righteous rage is running on fumes and I’m already boring myself) SLUG LINES.