Friday, August 7, 2009

How to prepare a screenplay for submission

Packaging a script for submission requires an understanding of the film industry's standards. Many writers assume that because they write a powerful story, readers and producers will forgive them for improperly structuring and binding a script together. Don’t be one of those writers that think their writing is good enough, making it acceptable to ignore the formatting and binding standards. Making a script ready for submission – the first time around – can make a difference between optioning a screenplay or being constantly rejected for failing to follow the industry standards. What are the industry standards for submitting a screenplay?

Save yourself the stress; purchase Final Draft screenwriting software. There are other companies that produce knockoff screenwriting software, claiming that they have the best software available. None of these companies don’t compare to Final Draft. Would you rather drive a Saturn or a BMW? Writers that try to format screenplays on Microsoft Word and other text writing programs will waste too much time trying to set tabs, count spaces, and all the other processes that are involved with formatting a screenplay. Let Final Draft do all the formatting for you and focus your concentration on writing a salable and award winning screenplay.

If for some reason that you are financially strapped and can’t afford Final Draft, then purchase David Trottier’s Screenwriting Bible at Barnes & Nobles. The book has everything you need to know about the right screenplay formatting specifications. Trottier’s advice for formatting a script is as follows: The font and character should be 12 Courier. The left margin is to be 1.5 inches from the left side, the dialogue is 2.5 inches from the left side, parenthetical for character direction center underneath the name and about 3.1 inches from the left, and lastly, the character name should be 3.7 inches away from the left side.

When I first started writing screenplays more than a decade ago, I spent too much time formatting screenplays using MS Word, constructing the story was essentially a secondary effort. Try downloading a trial version of Final Draft. Though the company places water marking in the background, you will be able to gain practical experience with the screenwriting software. Also, consider downloading sample studio screenplays at either or Google the keyword “feature screenplays.” Many college libraries and some county libraries have copies of screenplays in their inventory. Reading professional work will help you understand what is expected of a writer, in terms of carving out a strong screenplay and in formatting it.

After you finish writing and formatting a great screenplay, now it is time to bind the script together. What are the industry standards for binding a screenplay? Go to an office supply store and purchase a package of 60lb card stock, preferably black or ivory color. You will need two sheets for your screenplay, one as a front cover and the other as a back cover. Print out your script on white paper. Your screenplay needs to be 3-hole punched, including the front and back cover. Sandwich the screenplay together using ACCO #5- 1 ¼” brass fasteners, filling in the 1st and 3rd holes and leaving middle one empty. Screenplays that are 70 pages or less will use shorter length brads – 1” or less.

In Hollywood, the brass fasteners are known as “standard brads”. Brass fasteners are sometimes hard to find because many of the supply stores only sell the small round heads or paper fasteners. Last month, I spent an entire day trying to look for brass fasteners in 13 different stores. While a college film undergraduate, I purchased the standard brads from UCSB’s college bookstore. They no longer sell the brass fasteners there anymore, maybe because there is no demand for them.

The best place to find standard brads, writing supplies, software, and equipment is at the The website will ship to any domestic or international location. If you have the luxury of living or visiting Southern California, go into the physical store location, which is located at 2040 Westwood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025. The phone number is 1-866-229-7483. ACCO #5 brads cost $7.99 for 100.

Make sure that you register your screenplay with the WGA. Don’t let all that hard work go to waste. If you share your idea with other people and send outs screenplays without properly registering it, then there is a strong chance that someone may steal your idea. Failing to register the screenplay will void out any legal protection. Essentially, you will not be able to prove that the idea was yours. Also, make sure to mail a copy of the script to your home; keep the envelope sealed.

After all the steps are taken, be sure to have an agent. Studios don’t like to accept screenplays from a private party because there is fear of lawsuits for plagiarism and idea thefts. They prefer to go through agents and literary agencies. Look for a book that has a list of agents that are willing to take on new talents. Be ready to compile a portfolio, highlighting your written work. Lastly, write with confidence, follow the right format guidelines, and submit your screenplays to the right people.

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