By Shore Scripts reader, Lee Hamilton
Congratulations. You’ve written a screenplay. You might not realize it, but you’re already miles ahead of the game. You persevered when many others fell at the first hurdle. But before you begin the next long slog; sending your script out into the big wide world, let’s do one final check just to make sure you’re not jumping the gun prematurely and making some simple but disastrous rookie mistakes that can potentially ruin your chances of getting any further.
- The Title Page: You’ve laboriously slaved through writing 80-120 pages of screenplay but have you forgotten the all-important title page? You’d be surprised how many times a script is submitted to an agent or competition and the title page is missing some basic but hugely important details. As well as the actual title, make sure you’ve included both your name and your contact details. Whether that’s an address, phone number or email address, make sure that if someone wants to buy your screenplay, they at least know who you are and how to get hold of you.
- Page Numbers: This is another basic, which is often forgotten. One of the first things a reader will do is flick to the end of a script in order to look at the page count because they want to know how long it’s going to take to read it. Format page numbers to the top right hand of the page and remember that your title page isn’t page one, the first page of script is, but be mindful that your first number indent actually begins on page two!
- Unnecessary Information: Title page and script. That’s it. You don’t need to include any extras such as loglines, taglines, character lists, images, a one-pager, or a synopsis. Why spoil the story before it’s even been read by revealing all of the exciting plot twists and dramas beforehand? Feel free to include these extras in a covering letter or email by all means but in general it’s safer to omit this information unless it’s been specifically requested. Adding extras can also bump up the file size too. Try not to send out anything that’s over 1Mb wherever possible.
- Formatting: The number one biggest give-away revealing an inexperienced writer is bad formatting and it’s most likely the number one peeve for readers too. Knowing how to professionally lay out a script really is something that every writer is expected to know and common errors include writing camera directions, not capitalizing a character’s name the first time they’re introduced, incorrect formatting of scene headings, naming specific song tracks, and not using the correct margins in dialogue. Please learn formatting. Formatting is your friend.
- Novelistic Writing: Does your script read more like a book than a screenplay? Do you talk in a past tense in your scene description, give information that we cannot see on screen, waffle on about unimportant details that aren’t moving the plot forward, or have huge big blocks of text cluttering up the page? If so, you may need to consider whether a screenplay is the best format for your story. Look to create as much white space on the page as you can by trimming out anything that’s slowing down the plot and use the layout to highlight important actions by spacing out details on the page, which also makes for a faster story pace and read.
- Bad Grammar and Spelling: You may have been rewriting your script for weeks and months and feel like you’ve read it a hundred times but becoming over familiar with your work also means it’s easy to overlook mistakes. Don’t depend solely on spell checker, if you’re unable to get a professional proofreader or a fresh pair of eyes to look over your script, try reading your script backwards, reading it out loud, look for specific common errors, double check facts and figures, or simply taking a break and read it further down the line.
- Not Submitting in .pdf Form: It’s rare for scripts to be printed out on paper these days and with email now being the primary mode of communication, sending your screenplay in a file format that cannot be opened by the recipient is another big no-no. As of yet, I’ve never seen a script written in a .doc or .rtf file format that replicates the correct industry screenplay layout and this almost always means that the page count is inaccurate and will most likely mean a much longer script when converted. Word documents and rich text files can also be easily changed by whoever has them, unlike the more protected .pdf, which cannot be manipulated. There’s no excuse for not using screenwriting software anymore, especially when there are so many cheap or free programs available like Celtx.
Whether you’re a new writer or a novice, these simple necessities can be and often are, easily forgotten, which unfortunately sometimes leads to a great story being passed over unfairly. Be savvy and keep this list in mind when you finish your next script and get caught up in the ensuing enthusiasm to get it out there as quickly as humanly possible. Your script might not be as ready as you think it is.