Fan Film Writer's Primer

Discussion in 'Fan Productions' started by Maurice, May 2, 2011.

  1. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    I'd find links to descriptions of what the standards are for scripts helpful.
     
  2. Potemkin_Prod

    Potemkin_Prod Commodore Commodore

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    From our series submissions guidelines:

    http://www.projectpotemkin.com/assets/components/series_bible.htm

    SCRIPT FORMAT

    Courier or Courier New, 12 pitch.

    The following tab settings are approximate, if you’re off, no one will kill you:

    Left margin -- 15 (1½ inches)

    Character name -- 35 (3½ inches)

    Dialogue -- 25 (ends around 55-60 at most--2½ inches)

    Parentheticals (only if absolutely necessary) -- 30 (2 inches)

    Right margin -- 75 (one inch in from the right edge of page--7½ inches from the left)

    Top/Bottom Margin -- 1 inch

    Page Number -- 70-75, top right, approximately ½ inch from top of paper

    CAPITALIZE the characters’ names in the narrative when they first appear in your script and over their dialogue and in scene headers if used as such. Otherwise, use an initial cap and then small case letters.

    Modern screenplays and teleplays rarely use the famous "CUT TO" (or DISSOLVE TO, etc.). One scene follows another, it is a given that the editor will have to cut to the next scene.

    Do not number your scene headers (aka slug lines).

    Without trying to crimp your style, we ask you to please, PLEASE refrain from writing camera-heavy scripts. Avoid directing on paper. Do not tell our director if we need a close up, a two shot, an over the shoulder shot, or a long shot. Do not tell our director to rack focus, to dolly forward, dolly back or whip pan. Do not use "wrylys" -- parenthetical directions telling the actor how to deliver the line. Let your dialogue speak for itself.

    If your script is less than 15 pages in length, there is no need to break it into acts. Simply write the script using the tried and true Aristotle codified structure (beginning, middle, end). If longer, you should consider opening with a "teaser" and breaking it into definite acts. Teaser, Act One, Act Two, Act Three (and Act Four, if you wish to emulate the typical television commercial breaks, but for heaven's sake, don't assume you must emulate the original series' format!).
     
  3. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    ^ Not that that's not helpful too, but I meant industry standards.
     
  4. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Well, there's no single, blanket industry standard. Final Draft (and I suspect other professional software programs like Movie Magic) come preset with things like margins, headers, and options for leading, alignment, spacing, elements, fonts, sizing, and other formatting bells and whistles that can be tweaked depending on what you require.

    On one show I worked on, there were always flashbacks in every episode. The show's prototocol was that every flashback was always done in italics so everyone knew - this was a flashback. Additionally, it was labeled as such in the scene heading:

    INT. FBI CFO - BULLPEN - NIGHT - FLASHBACK (FBD1)


    The set was the same FBI office we always used as one of our primary sets, but since it was a flashback the header and everything in the scene was italicized, and labeled as a flashback in the header. The "FBD1" was our shorthand so we knew for production purposes (i.e. wardrobe, sets, props, etc.) which scenes were flashbacks; this specific bit of information was also always included on the "Day/Night Breakdown" page at the beginning of our scripts with the cast and set lists as well.

    Meanwhile, on another show I worked on, my boss wanted ALL the scene headings to be in bold, as well as all the lines spoken by the show's narrator. Bolding scene headings was easy to do in "Elements" but I had to manually track the Narrator's lines and bold them individually. There was no rhyme or reason to why my boss wanted it done this way, it was just her preference.

    The other thing Final Draft does --and this is a literal god-send when you have 10-12 writers on staff, all of whom write differently-- is that FD allows you to create script templates.

    Once you have a script set up format-wise that you want to use, rather than having other writers poke and prod and guess, you can give them one of the templates to use and all the formatting stuff is already set up and doesn't need to be fussed over. Additionally, Final Draft typically has a backlog of templates from other professional productions (films, tv dramas, tv comedies, and even graphic novels) that you can choose from to familiarize yourself with before starting or even use as your own template. These can all be found under FILE -> NEW FROM STATIONARY tab on the man toolbar in Final Draft 8.

    I found it extremely helpful when I switched from writing drama (which I'd been doing all along) to working on a spec sitcom pilot with my writing partner this year.

    Finally, I can also vouch for the bullet point above -- never, ever number your scene headings/slugs. That's not for you to do when writing your draft. It's something that is done usually (in tv, anyway) once a script has had its pages "locked" (typically at the production draft revisions are input) and only then are the scene numbered by the script coordinator once they have approval from the showrunner and the 1st A.D. There are a number of reasons for this, chief among them being some shows continuously edit and change and move things around before pages are locked and it can create real hell for the rest of the departments on the show if they are also having to keep track of all the scene number changes throughout. It saves everyone time, money and hassle if "Sc. 33" is always "Sc. 33" and isn't fudged with because of some error or omission or move earlier on in the writing process.
     
  5. Potemkin_Prod

    Potemkin_Prod Commodore Commodore

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  6. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Well, for starters, anyone who uses Final Draft isn't using "Courier New." The font of choice in the industry is "Courier New Final," the default font in Final Draft 8.

    It's a minor clarification/difference, but one that people take very seriously out here because of the sizing of the font, how much space words take up on pages and how that affects how many pages can be broken down into batches of eight to determine how much and what can be completed on a regular shooting/production day.
     
  7. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    In mu experience (and I read a lot of scripts) the for every exception to the rule there are at least 10 rules that don't get exceptions. The main ones are the font and pitch, the margins for the various elements (which determines how many characters per line) and and spacing.

    You can use Word templates, and the like, but just try to OMIT a scene and then unOMIT it, or search and replace words only in dialog and not in any other format type, etc., and you'll find out why people use software specifically designed for the task.
     
  8. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Been a long time since anyone posted here, but I have something to share, so here goes:

    THE BEAT SHEET

    In interviews, TV and film writers often mention "beat sheets"—aka "step outline"—but when the topic comes up with writers not familiar with the biz, they often don't grok what one is and what it's for.

    In essence, a beat sheet is a numbered outline of the main "beats" in a script which steps through the story in linear sequence. It calls out plot points, setups and payoffs, character beats, and action beats. The level of specificity is typically low, as the point is the broad sense of what happens in the story rather than the particulars. For instance "A mostly-comedic sequence, but someone tries to drown a too-nosy Bosley in the mud bath. Alex rescues him just in time," tells what happens in the sequence and the tone, but that's about it.

    The beat sheet is designed to help break down the story to make sure all the necessary parts are there. Are character arcs set up and paid off? Are plot points both set up and paid off? Where are the action moments? Where are the comedic moments? The dramatic ones? And are all these things sprinkled throughout the story in a way which will engage and hold viewer interest? Such sheets are a good way to get a birds eye view of the overall story without getting lost in the minutia.

    As an example, here's a fairly straightforward beat sheet to the first Charlie's Angels feature film:

     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2015
  9. Karzak

    Karzak Commodore Commodore

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    Forgive the bump, but with the recently really lackluster scripts from various fan films (Axanar, Phase II, Continues, Dominion, and Equinox come immediately to mind) I thought this little satirical article was scathing but also probably pretty spot on. :lol:

    Sad Sack Purchases Screenwriting Software.
     
  10. BigJake

    BigJake Vice Admiral Admiral

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    So... Axanar (Prelude, presumably) and Continues "come immediately to mind" for you in the same breath as Equinox? No accounting for taste, I suppose...
     
  11. Karzak

    Karzak Commodore Commodore

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    Forgive me BigJake, but I do not see the need for such a backhanded and personal attack.
     
  12. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Even the high-standard productions — PII/NV, Continues, etc. — suffer from the same story problems. That's not to say they haven't produced good work, but that there's still room for improvement.

    There can be less reliance on melodrama and more active than reactive characters. Tighter stories where there isn't wasted time spent on tin-ear dialogue in scenes that are inert. Less usage of the fan film tropes that plague all these productions, even the high-quality ones — senseless battles, phone an admiral, too many ancillary characters.
     
  13. Karzak

    Karzak Commodore Commodore

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  14. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Always start your story at the highest point of conflict for the characters. That's my golden rule.

    That article is great for pointing out the major problem with the modern long-form TV format and with pilots in general.
     
  15. BigJake

    BigJake Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Dude, it's not a "personal attack" to wonder what you're basing a comparison like that on. What a bizarre thing to say. I'm just not seeing where you would get that comparison, that's all. (And I'm being quite forehanded about it, I think. I could switch up to a lob if you prefer, I have a pretty solid baseline game.)

    I'm not saying anyone is flawless -- Continues is about as close to the writing standards of the original show as has been managed so far, I think, but even that wasn't flawless -- it's just an incredibly far cry from that to comparing Continues to Equinox. That's almost like comparing the script "problems" of Farscape with those of Lexx, you're not even talking about similar leagues at a certain point.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2015
  16. Karzak

    Karzak Commodore Commodore

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    I see. I guess my reasoning was that the scripts/stories for the projects I mentioned have all been mostly disappointing for me. I was unmoved by Equinox and Dreadnaught, and was similarly unimpressed with the majority of the writing for Axanar and "The White Iris," hence my comment. It's perfectly fine to agree to disagree in my book, I just felt the implication of your "there's no accounting for taste" was somewhat snarky and directed solely at me.

    :lol: No need, friend. No need. I'm happy to leave it be as a simple misunderstanding.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2015
  17. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    It's apparent that few fan filmmakers are interested in doing the legwork it takes to get a decent script, and the typically defensive or dismissive reaction to even the mildest criticism indicates the makers are largely satisfied with what they do.

    Frankly, I've given up on trying to help fanfilm makers at this point. Both this and the Fan Filmmakers Primer thread don't seem to have made a lick of difference to any of these productions. It's probably time to stop shouting into the wind.
     
  18. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Two thoughts here: trying to get amateurs (no better word for it in this context that I can think of) to take a professional approach is not something that will happen all at once. The old cliche of turning around a battleship comes to mind. I'm sure you've made an impact, even if the results aren't immediately apparent. Given the long lead time everyone is working with it's hard to think that any big change would be evident between when the threads were started and now.

    The second is that rewriting seems to me like an art in itself and often best accomplished by someone other than the orginal author. Irving Thalberg was an amazing script doctor,but couldn't write a good orginal script to save his life. Yes, rewriting is good, no matter who does it. However, having a writer or team of writers to dissect and reassemble a thread seems to be one of the huge differences between an "amateur" production and a "professional" one.

    YMMV (and probably will)
     
  19. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    To be fair to Axanar, Prelude isn't really trying to tell a story, it's faux documentary, so I'm not sure the usual standards of story-telling apply. I think it did what it was trying to do pretty well. :)

    Hey *I* listen to you, even if I don't do a great job of implementing your advice. :)
     
  20. Karzak

    Karzak Commodore Commodore

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    I completely understand. We each have our own tastes and perspectives. I just did not find Axanar to be written well. I do not think the film is bad, I just think the script could have been written better and did not appreciate the suggestion from someone that because I thought that, my own personal taste was suddenly in question.
     

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