Lessons from the Screenplay: Evolving Screenplay Format

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about proper screenplay format versus “improper” format that might tell a story more effectively. If you look at produced screenplays, you’ll often see deviations from the norm — a different font here or a bigger font size there. Characters sharing inner thoughts in action lines that aren’t, in the strictest sense, filmable. The writer talking directly to the reader in cheeky asides…

When do we need to be strict about our formatting, and when can we break the rules to better serve our story?

I recently wrote a script where I put all the action lines in the first person — as if the main character were telling us the story as she experienced it. The script was read by a variety of people, and some thought the first person thing was blasphemous. Others got confused and thought a lot of my action lines were misformatted voice over. Other people dug the change of pace and thought it served the story.

Messing with formatting is always a risk, so the question becomes — when is it a risk worth taking?

To look at this question a little more deeply, here is Michael Tucker’s most recent episode of Lessons from the Screenplay. This one is on the recent thriller Searching, which is a movie that takes place entirely on device screens — laptop monitors and phones, primarily. To make this structure work, the writers needed to develop their own unique script format. Check out the episode below to learn how they did it.

Then remember to subscribe to Lessons from the Screenplay on YouTube and to follow the new LFTS blog, Beyond the Screenplay.

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