Writer Hat
by James Jaeger

The Writer is responsible for creating or developing a story from nothing or pre-existing material. The story may be in treatment or screenplay form, but ultimately the screenplay becomes the blueprint from which the production will unfold. The writer, works with and cooperates with other writers, and the director in the development of the story and screenplay. Duties and responsibilities include the following:

1. Writing and delivery of written materials on time.

2. Creating rewrites and polish of the script.

3. Not interfering with the Director when he or she deems it necessary to add to, change or delete portions of the script to make it work with the talent, time and materials available.

4. Creating screenplays that fall within the guidelines set by the production, if any.

5. Placing or causing screenplays and treatments to be typed in proper form as follows: Screenplays for feature length motion pictures should be typed in standard format as described herein. Standard feature length is about an hour and a half. This translates to about 90-110 pages. Of course, some features run longer, some shorter. Low budget scripts should be about 90 pages. "Screenplay" and "script" mean basically the same thing although the word "script" is a more general term that can apply to stage plays, teleplays and television commercials as well.

The reason for a standard format is so the First Assistant Director and the Production Manager can break down the elements in the script (characters, locations, props, vehicles, fx, etc.) for scheduling and budgeting purposes, respectively.

Also so the Director can work with a "blueprint" with which he is familiar. The actors can spot their lines more easily in the center of the page.

Pica or Courier type are both acceptable type fonts so long as they produce 10 characters per inch. This is very important because if the type is 12 characters per inch, what is a longer script will be compressed into fewer pages, hence giving the illusion that the picture is lower budget than represented by the screenplay.

Lastly, you should use standard letter size paper (8-1/2" x 11"). It is wisest to write your screenplay with a word processor so subsequent drafts on the way to the final polish can be done more easily. It is not unusual for a screenplay for a major picture to undergo ten or more drafts.

Standard Screenplay Format

The next pages describe how a screenplay should be formatted and how it should look on paper. Please understand that, due to imperfections of transmission over the Internet, some of the spacing may be unaligned. Hopefully you will get the idea however.

       FADE IN

    1  EXT. LOCATION - TIME                                   1

       Description of your action starts here at what should
       be 18 spaces from the left edge of the paper and goes
       to form a right border of about 14 spaces (or where
       your word processor starts its "wrap around").
       Action/description should be single spaced, except to
       separate different ideas or specific blocks of action.

       Colons (:) have been used to emphasize the spacing in
       the first part of this sample screenplay. Obviously
       these are left out when you write the screenplay so
       long as you use the same spacing.
                      Dialogue starts about 32 spaces
                      from the edge of the paper and
                      handles 5-7 words per line, no
                      more.  The Character's name
                      should be tabbed near center
                      above the dialog as shown.
       The story takes us to a new location.
   2   INT. SINZINDORF CASTLE, PRIVY - NIGHT                  2
       A "Reading Script" does not need to have scene number
       designations.  In fact, it is better that it does not as
       the Director will put them in when he creates a detailed
       "Shooting Script" based on the Reading Script.
       In the Shooting Script, the number will progress
       consecutively each time the story takes us to a new
       location, inserted shot, or angle so that each
       photographic subject and scene may be clearly referred to
       by number for scheduling and budgeting.  In this case, we
       are now in scene 2.  "2" is the scene or scene number.
       Sometimes scenes are added between existing ones, thus a
       scene between 165 and 166 would be labeled 165A or A166.
       A "sequence" is a group of scenes.  (CONTINUED) is
       optional and usually a waste of paper.


2. Even if the story goes back to the same location, it gets a new scene number because it occurs at a different time. : The FIRST time we are introduced to each character in the action/description paragraph, use capital letters for his or her name. Hence, our character, GEORGE, is a smart guy who knows what a privy is. : GEORGE Let's get out of this privy! : ACTOR Good idea. : GEORGE And let's hurry too. : : 3 INT. SINZINDORF CASTLE, HALLWAY - NIGHT 3 This new location, in the same castle, gets a new scene number. Location descriptions proceed from the general to the specific then to time of day. The basic descriptions used are DAY, NIGHT, DUSK, MORNING with modifiers such as RAINY or FOGGY, i.e., FOGGY NIGHT. Scene numbers may or may not be used to represent ANGLES designated in the shooting script. It is usually a waste of time to designate ANGLES unless particular ones are VITAL to the story. Angles usually get selected by the Director in the editing of the picture and no one really knows which ones will be the most effective until they are actually seen on the screen. 4 ANGLE - A SPY 4 A spy pokes her head out of the privy. She was hiding there all the time. She watches George and the actor, BILL, go down the hall. When continuing dialog, place the word (more) just under the line of dialog to be continued and place the abreviation (cont'd) just after the characher's name
3. Indent page numbers back a little from scene numbers, if any, so the two are not mixed up. Do not put a period after scene numbers but put a period after page numbers. 5 EXT. RAM'S HEAD PUB, ESTABLISHING SHOT - NIGHT 5 When combining types of shot descriptions ("ESTABLISHING SHOT") with location ("RAM'S HEAD PUB"), place such shot description after the location. Keep the EXT. or INT. designation just before the location as this makes it easier to break down the scenes. INT. means interior and EXT. means exterior. Bill and George sit down at a table. BILL George, do you mind if I light one of these fine candles? I cannot see the script so well. Bill quickly leans forward with a lit match. George's eyes follow the flame and in sudden realization: GEORGE (frantically) Those are NOT cand... 6 EXT. RAM'S HEAD PUB, MINIATURE - RAINY NIGHT 6 The whole pub BLOWS UP with an enormous BLASTING sound. Pieces of CRACKING WOOD fall all over the town in sync with the rain. (Note: the sounds should be capitalized so the sound effects editor and the sound mixer can easily pick them out of the script.) DISSOLVE TO:
4. 7 INT. RAM'S HEAD PUB, TABLE - CANDLE LIGHT 7 George and Bill sit amidst the ruin of the pub while pieces of wood, cloth and pebbles drizzle down from the now exposed night sky. A single lit candle sits between them. George looks at the candle and then up at Bill. BILL (perplexed) Well I guess it WAS a candle. Sorry, George. GEORGE Hey, no problem, Bill. CUT TO: 8 EXT. THE OCEAN - DAY 8 A ship sails into frame.

The Writer's PRODUCT is: Excellent, entertaining and well written treatments and screenplays that sell talent and financiers.

This Movie Memo cancels Matrixx Movie Memo of 15 January 1978 entitled, "Screenplay Format" and its 12 June 1987 revision.

NOTE: Permission is granted by the copyright owner to disseminate this article in whole or in part provided credit is given to the author (with a link to the article's source URL)
and this NOTE is not removed.

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