How to Make Your Script Look Professional
The person most likely to read your script is a Hollywood reader, they are intelligent, often college educated, with extremely good writing skills of their own. They know what a professional script looks like and they can spot an amateur a mile away. Amateurism telegraphs problems and a script rife with problems is not going to make it past them. They are discerning because they have to be, their opinion is listened to and their reputation is at stake. Your script might not get read by anyone else but the reader, so follow these professional pointers because if it looks right, you're half way there.
- Clean copy - don't send a script that someone else's grubby hands have been all over and don't send something that's been copied so many times it suffers from poor print quality and black blotches. Crisp and clean is the only way to go.
- Cover page - the cover page is not an opportunity to make yourself stand out from the crowd. If you want to try a crazy graphic, unusual font and colored paper, forget it, this type of tactic just screams amateur to the reader. The cover page should include the title of the screenplay, bold and caps are allowed if you want to give it extra punch, WGA number (see below), your name and phone number, address if you feel you have to (if you have an agent substitute their phone number for yours), all in 12 point courier. That's it - nothing else needed. See here for a sample cover page (in adobe acrobat format) .
- Margins, font and format - don't mess with any of these to try and make your script look longer or shorter, a reader will spot this tactic a mile away. There are plenty of good screenwriting packages out there, that will put your screenplay into the correct format with all the ease of sliced bread, take advantage of them, they work. They're the industry standard and frankly that's what the industry expects.
- Spelling - check it and then check it again, bad spelling disrupts the flow and breaks the reader's concentration.
- Binding - use two strong brads, top and bottom, with those great little metal circles on the back to keep them in place. I also like good quality white card stock for the front and back, which provides the script with some protection and support. No fancy legal or spiral binding required, it just makes life harder down the line and it looks amateurish.
- US Copyright Office - do register your script with The US Copyright Office, protecting your work is your responsibility, but when you send it out, don't put warning labels all over it promising dire consequences to those who copy it without permission. In order for your script to move up the ladder, it's going to have to pass through a few hands, getting copied and covered along the way, that's how the system works.
- Draft numbers/Dates - resist the temptation to put draft numbers and dates on your script, it subconsciously tells the reader that the story has problems and has been through drafts trying to fix them, or it's been floating around a while - eeeek! That's like the kiss of death in Hollywood, don't forget they want what's hot, new and fresh. If you've ever reached to the back of the bread shelf for the freshest loaf, you'll know what I'm talking about.
- Length - keep your length between 100-120 pages. Yes, I know that three hour films are made, but trust me, it's not going to be yours. Keep to the industry standard, give your script a chance to be accepted and if the Studio or Director wants to add in scenes later on, then that's when it will happen.
- Print - try to use an ink jet or laser printer, a dot matrix is hard on the eyes and you don't need anything that distracts the reader, or worse, gives them a headache.
- Page One - start your script here, no extra info between the cover and the first page is needed. If you want to include an epigraph make it a short quote that's relevant to the script itself, but don't do it just for the sake of it.
- What To Leave Out - Don't include a budget, dream cast list, resume, graphics, or cd of possible score music (yes, I've seen all of this and more). Let your script do the talking, all by itself.
There are some excellent books that you can buy which will tell you all of the above, plus lots more, including pointers on the script itself.
Check out our selections on our Helpful Reads page.