Unanswered Technical Questions

I suppose if I were to take an academic course on screenwriting, I might know the answers to these. Or, if I had read hundreds not dozens of scripts, I may, as well.

I thought on #scriptchat Sunday it might be fun to post these here and see if I can draw on the expertise of others to help the community with these questions on technical issues with the formatted script.

– Some scripts – as on the first page of the Ocean’s Eleven script – start with a single sentence in the middle of the page (“In any other town, they’d be bad guys.”)  Why is this here? It sets the tone, I suppose, but just for the script reader. Maybe it is just there for fun?

– I thought I had noted from reading scripts that the introduction of a character is done in all-caps in the scene description. That is not the case in this script. Perhaps it’s only important to be consistent?

– There also seems to be inconsistency, to me anyway, about when props or small part characters are in ALL CAPS or not. What is the guideline?

– There seem to be many parentheticals in some scripts I read – this was something I tried but got dinged for in coverage. I don’t seem to know the rule of thumb here.

– Changing locations within a room or building – what is the best way to communicate this? I assume it’s not through continued formal INTs. Can this be done informally with left justified text?

– Similarly when action moves from inside the building to outside – how to write and format this transition.

– How about if one character is in the building and the other is outside, or each are in different rooms while speaking to each other – how do you communicate this? Or is this the director’s job to figure out who should be where?

– When do you write simply that a character is doing something and when do you include that the shot is focused on that action – say, checking a wallet and finding a slip of paper with key information

– What is the right way to communicate passage of time? I mean days, weeks, years, holidays, etc.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

April

3 comments

  1. – Some scripts – as on the first page of the Ocean’s Eleven script – start with a single sentence in the middle of the page (“In any other town, they’d be bad guys.”) Why is this here? It sets the tone, I suppose, but just for the script reader. Maybe it is just there for fun?
    >>>You’re right about this, it does just set the tone and it’s a flourish. Not necessarily recommended for a spec script but each to his/her own. May turn off some readers / directors.

    – I thought I had noted from reading scripts that the introduction of a character is done in all-caps in the scene description. That is not the case in this script. Perhaps it’s only important to be consistent?
    >>>Caps are a funny thing and there are a lot of different ways that people like to use them, you’re right. The rule of thumb is to use caps when you intro a character (and maybe the brief description, not the long form–ie JAMES (35, WHITE, STOUT), or any object like a KNIFE, WATCH or whatever is necessary to the script. This all comes from the old days with typewriters so that the prop master and wardrobe dept wouldn’t miss something. It’s a good idea to just intro it, then go smaller caps the rest of the way and leave the capping to the shooting script.

    – There seem to be many parentheticals in some scripts I read – this was something I tried but got dinged for in coverage. I don’t seem to know the rule of thumb here.
    >>>Use as few as possible. It should be pretty obvious if someone is being sarcastic or snarky or to whom someone is speaking.

    – Changing locations within a room or building – what is the best way to communicate this? I assume it’s not through continued formal INTs. Can this be done informally with left justified text?
    >>>Absolutely, all those scene breaks would be crazy to read through. Just write it as general prose. There are time where, it there’s a lot of back and forth, you can jump by putting an all caps heading of which room you’re in.

    – Similarly when action moves from inside the building to outside – how to write and format this transition.
    >>>As above. Just put the main scene as INT or EXT and then get on with it. During the shooting script rewrite, this may change, but it’s better to let the director decide.

    – How about if one character is in the building and the other is outside, or each are in different rooms while speaking to each other – how do you communicate this? Or is this the director’s job to figure out who should be where?
    >>>As above.

    – When do you write simply that a character is doing something and when do you include that the shot is focused on that action – say, checking a wallet and finding a slip of paper with key information.
    >>>You never have to include the shot. Sometimes seasoned screenwriters will put CLOSE on CIGAR, or CU on FINGER, but there’s no need for it. It’s just something they can get away with. Just like when you’re reading a novel, the words will tell your reader where to focus attention. ie Jimmy waves his CIGAR in front of him as he speaks. Or Sarah points at something and the others follow her hand.

    – What is the right way to communicate passage of time? I mean days, weeks, years, holidays, etc.
    >>>This is a tough one. Do you mean in the screenplay, on screen, or in general?

    Rarely would you have a day appear on screen unless it’s part of a flashback or countdown—DAY 2; 30 YEARS AGO, etc.

    As for the passage of time, cue the weather or things indicative of the season. If it was summer in the last scene, and now it’s snowing, we realize some time has passed. Otherwise, you can just say so in a scene and then describe the things in the room that may explain it to the audience.

    ie
    It’s Christmas Eve. Catherine sifts some ICING SUGAR onto a YULE LOG at the kitchen table. Behind her, the only light from the living room twinkles from a CHEAP FAKE TREE.

    Now, the passage of time and skipping back and forth through time within the story, you’ll have to turn to the masters. Watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Pulp Fiction, 21 Grams and see the way they tease information into the scene so that it’s obvious to the audience when that scene takes place in the larger story.

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