The Importance of Screenplay Formatting

by Glenn Benest

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The most fundamental thing you need to master when becoming a screenwriter is formatting. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the basics of this unique way of writing, but it is crucial if you ever want to sell your screenplays.

In the space of about two minutes, this is how I can figure out whether I’m in the hands of a professional screenwriter or not. I look at the formatting. Is the screenwriter making basic errors in writing SLUG LINES (INT. THE FOREST – NIGHT) for example, or using camera directions like CUT TO: after every scene or in the way s/he constructs FLASHBACKS.

But even more pertinent to the discussion of screenplay formatting isn’t these particulars necessarily but how the screenwriter lays out the page.

What do I mean by that? How easy is the screenplay to read? Is the narrative (the description) written horizontally – like the way most beginners format their narrative (like in a novel) – or is written vertically?

When you write your narrative horizontally you have big, thick paragraphs that are hard to read. When you write vertically it looks more like a poem, and it’s easy on the eyes.

How do you accomplish this?

I will have many examples from prominent screenwriters pointing out exactly how this is mastered. The difference between making the read easy on the eyes or conversely, something one has to struggle with, can easily change a positive response into a negative one.

I will also go over all the common mistakes made in formatting.

At the very least, you need to start off with conquering this aspect of the craft. Learn how to do FLASHBACKS, SERIES OF SHOTS, how to get around using CAMERA ANGLES, and how to lay out your page so it’s effortless to read.

Join my on-demand webinar  How To Format Your Screenplay Like A Pro.

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One thought on “The Importance of Screenplay Formatting

  1. Peter_Piper

    I submitted a script without CUT TO after every scene and the producer sent the script back to me with a note saying, “You need to transition every scene with CUT TO, or you’ll appear green.” The gig was for a broadcast network show. Who’s right and who’s wrong and why don’t people get past these issues and get to the structure of the story within the script before passing judgment on writers?

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