Welcome back to Common Script Mistakes, our continuing mission to rid the script world of mistakes that hold you back from contest advancement, impressing that potential agent, or maybe even selling your brilliant work.
Last time we covered 7 common formatting mistakes. This time we’re delving deeper into those little things that make contest readers like me give your script a pass rather than an advance.
8. Weird Title Pages or No Title Pages
This is a simple way to make your script look more professional. Have a clean, simple title page. It should be center-justified and contain the script’s title, by, and your name. You can get away with a “Based on a true story” if that’s the case but not much else. If you like, you can add left-justified at the bottom of the page your contact info, your copyright, or your WGA registration. But those aren’t required.
What’s definitely not required are: visuals, log lines, descriptive paragraphs of why I’ll love this script. I should get all that from reading the script. All that stuff is great for a pitch package your script or pitch is part of, but it should not be on your title page.
Do include a title page, though. It always seems a bit weird when I see a script with no title page and instead the title and writer’s name above the FADE IN on page 1. A title page is like a Maître D’ in a jacket. I’ll still trust him to seat me if he’s not wearing one, but he just seems so much more professional if he is. (Note: I cannot remember the last time I ate somewhere that had a Maître D’.)
All caps are for character introductions and occasionally a key prop or key sound you need us to remember. They are not for emphasis like Joe RUNS along the BIG WALL. Or KATHY sits and KATHY stands and then KATHY runs away. We only need her name in all caps the first time we meet her. All caps are definitely not because you got really excited AND THEN THE HELICOPTER EXPLODES ALL OVER THE PLACE WITH LOTS OF FLAMES!!!!! While we’re at it, cut it out with the exclamation points too. If I’m not excited by what I’m reading, throwing a bunch of bangs on the end of a sentence like a tween thrilled to see ZAYNE!!!!!! won’t change that.
10. Specific Songs
Sorry, my fellow world-building control freaks, this is not a choice we get to make. Song syncs can cost from $5-10,000 for an average song and closer to $50,000 for something super famous like a Prince or Beatles song. Tying your budget to songs is a quick way to blow it. But because seasoned writers know this is a no-no, they don’t do it so when you do, it just makes you look like a newbie. Definitely don’t waste page space writing out lyrics unless you are actually writing a musical.
A good fix is to put something like “An 80’s booty shaker like Prince’s 1999 thumps through the party.” That gives us the idea and trust me, if she can, your music supervisor will get 1999. If it’s out of your budget range, she’ll get some awesome band you may never have heard of but that will serve the emotion of the scene perfectly.
11. Scene numbers or Scene notes
I see a lot of scripts with things left in them that are meant to be for your working reference only. Scene numbers are one of those things. Those are a tool for you. Those aren’t for me to see how many scenes you have. When you save your version of your script for contest entry, etc. make sure to turn off scene numbers. Again, they only make you look like a newbie.
Along the same lines, I’ll see phrases (or god help me, paragraphs) of actions that read like script notes to the writer, rather than fleshed out scenes. They might look like “Ash and Matt sit and have a great chat about where they should have dinner and they work out their differences.” OK, where’s that scene? Either write out the actions and dialog showing me that event or cut the action lines saying that, because it just makes it look like you meant to come back to it later but instead forgot to write a scene. What happens exactly? What are the actors saying? What is the director shooting? You’re the writer – don’t ask someone else to write your scene.
12. More and Cont’d
Look, I know this is a feature in some software programs for a reason, but as a reader it’s super annoying. I recommend eliminating “Mores and Continueds.” In Final Draft it’s a simple setting you can turn off. We know from context that a scene or line continues. These extra designations clutter up your page and take away valuable line space. In this visual blueprint that is the script, brevity is king. Or, as Shakespeare once said, brevity…is wit.*
For the love of god, proofread your script. Or get a friend to do it for you. Or just freaking Autocorrect. In today’s advanced typing technology age, there is literally no reason why there should be a single typo in your script. Wrong word choice I can understand; a ‘board’ instead of a ‘bored’ is going to slip by your spell-check, but it should not slip by your eyes because you are a writer who knows how to use words.
Executives and their readers are notoriously finicky and will look for any reason to put a script down. Typos can be enough. Poor formatting will do the trick regardless of how amazing your story may be. Don’t give them a reason like that to stop reading.
Worse than that, such mistakes look like you didn’t care enough to get them right. If you didn’t care enough to spend your time learning your craft to the best of your ability, why should I spend my time reading your work? You’re a writer, and typos make you look like you can’t write.
Now get back to that script and fix all this stuff so I can enjoy your story without distraction and advance your script! Next time: more on character and plot.
* Yes, I know that’s actually a Simpson’s quote purposely bastardizing the Bard. I was just testing you.