Guest blog by produced screenwriter Rick Hansberry. [Get your script into the hands of the decision-makers.]
DOES IT MATTER?
Absolutely. The way the words are presented on the page are every bit as important as the economy of words used. This isn’t about format – it’s about creating an engaging read for the audience and that audience, until the film is made, is your reader.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
One page = one minute of screen time. Nothing new there. Dinner conversation or car chase, it applies. Why? Writing within industry format and writing 'down the page' rather than across it. Here is where you add your ‘secret sauce:’
Imagine your scene between two long-separated people culminates in an unexpected rebuff of getting back together. Maybe the close of the scene involves one character backing away and leaving. Use subtext and page architecture to maximize the impact of the character suddenly ending the relationship.
Jamie steps back, locks eyes with Brett then shuts the door.
Absolutely no reason that solitary word cannot be included in the continuous stage direction – except it stands alone for emphasis AND it adds to the message: This relationship is at a hard stop. The door is being closed on this chapter of us.
DOES IT WORK?
No rule exists, and I certainly can’t profess that it’s either right or wrong, but format aside – I’ve received notes from producers and industry readers that indicate: “Impactful.” And “Felt that.”
JUST STAGE DIRECTION?
No. Little things disrupt page architecture. Look at your dialogue blocks. If three lines of dialogue bleed into four because of one word, it may seem like no big deal.
When that happens over 90 pages? Much bigger deal.
Look at every block of dialogue in your script and highlight any ending with only one word on one line.
For each block that ends with the one word dangling from the block, go back through and try to find a more concise way of phrasing the message so that those four lines become three lines. Using an economy of words is what makes us wordsmiths. [Also check out: WHY WHITE SPACE MATTERS IN SCREENPLAYS]
BUT IT’S A SPEC
It’s also an enticement. Every spec script is a sales pitch for you, the writer. Don't waste an opportunity to show your abilities by creating an engaging read. Ultimately, the story or project may be shelved, but your writing may shine through to the reader and be exactly what they need for a different project. [Sell your spec script; search our SCREENPLAY REQUESTS]
Make your screenplay a page turner. Entertain and make each page an easy read for your reader. Keep a 'Wow Factor' or key line for the bottom of a page or the start of the next – Why?
Readers 'skim.' Don’t kid yourself or be hurt that you’ve put in months of work and suffered through countless rewrites.
Bottom line -- there's simply too much volume out there to NOT skim, so make sure you're placed your word magic in the right places.
I get it. When dealing with the placement of words on the page, here’s the difference:
A smile grows on Ganz’ face. Almost as if he’s enjoying the moment.
Absolutely nothing wrong with it. Except, for me I want a dozen of those one-word lines back to make a critical reveal in the story later, so I’ll go back and edit myself:
A smile on Ganz’ face. As if he’s enjoying the moment.
Boom. No big deal. I gained a whole line of page architecture back. It’s only a big deal when I’ve done that twelve more times over several pages, and I now have room for a whole new scene.
BUT MINE IS A SHORT.
Even more important. White space on an 8-10 page short is just as engaging as on a 90-page feature. In fact, if you’re writing for other producers, your short film scripts should be under 7 pages.
Shorts with a length approaching ten minutes are virtually disqualifying themselves from a number of film festivals due to length.[Check out: WHY SHORT SCRIPTS MATTER]
In summary, cut your story to the bone – then make sure you are creating the maximum impact for the words on the page. After talent or a producer/director are attached, THEN the enhancement and nuances can be added. Then, the material is getting ready to be seen, and the placement on the page will quickly become less important because the people making the film are already invested in its contents. Utilizing page architecture as a short filmmaker will serve you well to develop it as a habit when you transition to making features. Sharpen the saw and make it a practice. Even world-class musicians still conduct scales in practice and warm-ups. [Need a second pair of eyes on your script? GET COVERAGE]
CREATORS CREATE, NOT EDIT.
There are countless books on screenwriting that will tell you NOT to edit yourself creatively. That’s for AFTER a script is sold and is being packaged or developed into a shooting script.
My advice is to edit the presentation of your script BEFORE that to entice a sale or option.
In order to make that sale or option, someone needs to gets completely lost in the script. Caught up in action and invested in the story so much that they not only ‘recommend’ it but fight for it to be bought or optioned. Granted, that enthusiasm will come from the story and characters, but a thoughtful and calculated presentation of the narrative and dialogue will greatly enhance the enjoyment of any reader.
BUT I HAVE MY OWN VOICE AND STYLE.
And you should. Never confuse a suggestion for gospel. Be a trailblazer. Use your own unique presentation. Develop your own voice on the page. What I’m proposing is a suggestion based on what has worked for me. Results may vary. However, if you haven’t received the feedback you like or haven’t received notes on how your scripts read, why not try to change and adapt something new?
The adage is true: If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. If you want to get past where you’ve been, you’ll have to try new things and go to new places.
At least then, you’ll be able to safely say – I gave it my best shot. Sign up to read more screenwriting blogs like this: www.screenwritingstaffing.com/sign-up-free-membership
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Blog written by Rick Hansberry:
Rick Hansberry is an award-winning screenwriter with more than 25 years of industry experience. With several produced credits on his IMDb page, Rick has written, produced and directed several short films. 2017 saw the release of two feature-length movies, "Alienate" and "Evil In Her." 2018 brought the release of another award-winning short, "My Two O'Clock". In 2019, Rick wrote, produced and directed his first web series pilot, "Clean Slate" and delivered creative and narrative material to an Emmy-winning documentary, "This Is My Home". Watch out for new productions from Rick later in 2022, including the feature roadtrip dramedy "Baggage Claim" (with Nikki Neurohr); a short romantic comedy, "Impression" (with Brooke Vanderdonck) and a horror feature, "Crimson Shadows" (with Chloe Carroll).
Rick is presently working on new shorts and features. He has dozens of scripts available for production and is also interested in spec writing, collaborating and adapting stories for the screen. Many of his scripts can be found on Script Revolution: https://www.scriptrevolution.com/profiles/rick-hansberry
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