Formatting: Isolating Visual Moments of Action

Jacob Krueger • October 21, 2015

Often times we think of formatting as the grammar of screenwriting. We think of it as this very simple, basic, elemental set of rules that you go and look up in The Hollywood Standard in order to do properly.

But the truth of the matter is formatting is much more than grammar. It's a way of speaking to your audience, thinking about your movie like a filmmaker, and capturing the visual eye of your reader.

Thinking about formatting like it's simply grammar cuts you off from all this. And ignores the way grammar actually works outside of middle school.

Because the truth is, nobody speaks proper grammar, and nobody speaks proper formatting. If you actually spoke proper grammar you’d most likely have no friends. “To whom should I direct this email?” You’d just sound too darn formal. And the same is true for “proper” formatting. It’s just not going to work for you.

And, at the same time, we all know bad grammar when we hear it! And just like bad grammar, when we see bad formatting in a screenplay, we make instant judgements that can really end up leaving your script at the bottom of the pile.

So today I want to talk about formatting. But I want to talk about formatting in a creative way. Because I feel like a lot of writers at all different levels are stuck on this idea of formatting. And instead of looking at it as a creative tool of their craft they’re looking at it as something that gets in the way of their creativity.

I want you to understand that formatting only exists for one purpose. The whole purpose of formatting is to isolate visual moments of action. 

When you learn to isolate the visual moments of action in your script, you'll be doing four very important things for your art, your craft, and your career as a writer:

  1. You're going to be writing even better than most professionals—allowing your work to get noticed and stand out from the crowd.
  2. You're going to have a lot more fun writing, because writing is going to be more creative for you.
  3. You're more likely to sell your script because the people reading it are going to be able to visualize each thing as if they were watching a movie in their heads.
  4. You’re going to save tons of money when it comes to production. And be a lot more likely to actually like the movie that you end up with.

So let's talk about what each of the those four words mean: "isolate," "visual," "moments," and "action…"