View Full Version : Not just a formatting question but ...

04-21-2005, 05:51 PM
I'm sure someone will tell me this is misposted (apologies if it is). I know how to format a screenplay, having written several. What I want to know is, could incorporating "creative formatting choices" into a script damage its chances of selling, placing in Nicholl, etc?

By creative formatting, I'm referring to tricks I don't see in the formatting books, etc., but which are widely used in very successful scripts by very successful writers to very powerful effect, IMHO. Here's a couple of examples, the first from "Collateral" (the Korean club scene), the second from "Bourne Identity" (the scene where Jason, described here as the MAN, teaches the Swiss cops a lesson for disturbing his sleep on the park bench):


enter. They hang at the rear. Wait. Their job is to take out
"Vincent" if it looks like there's trouble, a double-takeout,
because "Vincent" must not fall into the hands of the FBI. He
knows too much.

ZURICH COP #2 has heard enough -- giving a sharp poke with
the nightstick -- into THE MAN's back -- and that's the last thing he'll remember because --

THE MAN is in motion.

A single turn -- spinning -- catching COP #2 completely off
guard -- the heel of his hand driving up into the guy's throat and --

COP #1 -- behind him -- trying to reach for his pistol, but THE MAN -- still turning -- all his weight moving in a single fluid attack -- a sweeping kick and --

COP #1 -- he's falling -- catching the bench -- trying to fight back but -- THE MAN -- like a machine -- just unbelievably fast -- three jackhammer punches -- down-down-down and -- COP #1 -- head slammed into the bench -- he's out cold and --

See what I mean? The first example uses scene headings in a way that does not slow the pacing at all (including the plus sign). And in the second example, the use of double dashes works great for me in terms of immediacy. Granted, these are both SHOOTING SCRIPTS, and I know things are done differently there, and they're both by established writers who don't need to play by the same rules as unknown scribes, but any thoughts (preferably from someone with expereince as a reader, etc.) as to the pros and cons of using this type of formatting in my own scripts? I'm about to ramp up marketing of a script and enter it into Nicholl in a few days and would like to get this clear. Thanks.

04-21-2005, 10:34 PM

I think you can be pretty flexible and innovative with the formatting as long as it helps create a good, cinematic reading experience...

I think you're doing exactly the right thing in moving beyond the strict limitations of the formatting books and actively looking to improve your scripts by borrowing techniques from great scripts and great writers.

I'm working on my fourth script right now and approaching it with a much freer sense of what's acceptable in terms of formatting--all in the service of making it a more fluid, less-stilted read than my first script.

The trick, I think, is to stay close enough to the prevailing format so that the novelty of your technique doesn't itself become a distraction to the reader. That probably wouldn't be good. Then again, you can probably get away with anything if at the end of the day everybody's talking about what a hot spec you've got.

Like this bit posted on ScriptShark's success pages:

"Bob Sobhani of Magnet Management signed Geoffrey O'Brien and Dustin Catleberry - writers of the drama "Infinity". The screenplay's intense non-traditional structure has garnered them a number of meetings with major production companies and studios."

Sounds like these writers did something experimental and apparently impressive with their spec.

And I read an interview years back with Mike Rich after he sold FINDING FORRESTER where he said his script, a Nicholl winner, was formatted all wrong and probably would have been way too long in terms of page count if he had done it right. Didn't hurt him any. He's one of--if not the--most successful writers to come out of that contest.

04-22-2005, 01:04 AM
Thanks, boski --

Good comment. Will look into that ScriptShark ref too. Best with your own writing.

04-22-2005, 05:37 PM
there's exceptions to every rule, it's important to format correctly. I've never seen sluglines like that. Maybe others can chime in. Who knows how this script transformed from sale to shooting, etc. You're better off keeping slugs safe/basic when you're starting out. But what the hay, if you want your slug to read:


then go right ahead!

04-23-2005, 12:56 AM
Thanks, writerly. My gut says you're right as regards slugs.