Screenplay Don'ts

DO NOT:

  • Exceed 120 pages (fastest way to get your screenplay tossed into File 13)
  • Write less then 85 pages (second fastest way)
  • Cheat the margins to lessen or increase the page count
  • Decrease or increase font size or use a different font to lessen or increase the page count
  • Use any other font other than Courier New or Courier
  • Include artwork ANYWHERE in the screenplay
  • Use an off-white color to appear more professional
  • Number the scenes. This will be done once the screenplay is sold during the pre-production phase
  • Justify the right margin
  • Type CONTINUED at the bottom and top of pages. Again, this is done on sold scripts only
  • Send out a script that hasn't been proofread for formatting, spelling, grammar and punctuation errors
  • Send "extras" with your script, such as cast lists, character lists, character bios, budgetary estimates, or a synopsis (unless an agent or production company specifically requests a synopsis)
  • Put a date anywhere on the script, or designate your script as the "First Draft," "Second Draft," "Final Draft," or any draft. If you are sending it out to sell, it should be the finished draft
  • Bold or italicize for emphasis anywhere in your script. Why? Because if the script is copied multiple times by a production house, the emphasis will eventually be lost. If you need to emphasize something, underline it
  • Include a header or a footer, such as the title and author at the top of each page
  • Use camera, lighting, or effects direction unless absolutely necessary. Even then, use it VERY sparingly

Why so strict?

Because 1 page = 1 minute of screen time (roughly) when a screenplay is properly formatted. Producers like that, as it makes budgets and shooting schedules easier to estimate. Any deviation from proper margins, font, or type size means screen time is impossible to calculate.

I once hosted a seminar for amateur screenplay writers and had as the guest speaker Larry Meistrich, Academy-award winning producer of Slingblade. He talked to the writers about why producers prefer films to be 120 minutes or less. He said basically every theater has only so many hours a day to run a film on a screen. The shorter the film, the more times that film can be played per screen per day. The more times per day a movie runs, the more money a production company stands to make. That is pretty blunt, and easy to understand.

For a WONDERFUL discussion of film and screenplay length, read the "Foreword" written by James F. Boyle in the book The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats by Hillis R. Cole, Jr. and Judith H. Haag.