Screenplay formatting changes all the time. What's the current guideline for sounds and props in screenplays? Do you capitalize both, one but not the other, or neither one? Advice appreciated.
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Like many other things, this is one of those rules that isn't really a rule, which is why the trends keep changing. What never changes is this: the most important thing is to make sure your action is clear and easy to read. If you feel you need to call attention to a particular sound effect or object, it makes sense to cap it, but if it reads better without the caps, don't do it. I've tried to get out of the habit of using caps for these things because it often becomes a question of how much is too much, or not enough. If I highlight every single prop and sound, the script would be peppered with them and probably slow down a reader - but if I do some and not others do they seem different in importance? To avoid these questions, I just write normal prose…though I still capitalize sounds that should be loud, like BOOM!! What can I say; I was raised on cartoons... My thinking is this: I'm writing the script to create a compelling story. If and when the project goes into pre-production, the designer will have to break down the script anyway - so while it might be somewhat helpful to have pointed out their particular needs in regards to props, in the overall scope of that department's task it doesn't amount to much. Same thing for sound effects - they have a lot more than just these details to contend with, so there's no reason to clutter the initial script with unnecessary distractions.
For me it depends partly on the tone of the screenplay and partly on what I'm trying to achieve. Any sudden interruptions of noise I'll right as a BANG! or RING! But if a car races by it just roars past. But if I'm writing an action comedy I might WRITE ALL IN BIG WORDS BECAUSE WHAT'S HAPPENING IS AWESOME. I don't do the capitalised props or close up thing unless the mood is appropriate a MONUMENTAL BALL OF BOILING FIRE fits okay, but when the character spots a TINY NOTEBOOK hidden in the corner, it seems just wrong to me.
Thanks CJ and Andy, that's the kind of stuff I'm looking for.
CAPS first time characters only, is the most heard advice from the industry readers. All other variations disturb the read.
When you find the rule book, please let me know. I capitalize SOUNDS but not props or costumes. When tagging, I use colored highlights.
Insert what is essential to the screenwriter telling the story. (E.g. It's always tempting to suggest music - only do it if essential and really works). CAPS can draw attention to things.
The only time I've ever put something in ALL CAP is when a character is introduced for the first time.
Also worth nothing that as times have changed, writing in ALL CAPS is often read in the mind as shouting.
I thought capitalizing sounds and props was only done in the shooting script and not the spec. I am a newbie, so I could be wrong.
Thanks Dan and Cheryl.
According to the Hollywood Standard ver 2 formatting book, you cap only sounds that are outside the scene (not seen) like the engine of a car pulling up. I have never capped props and never seen anyone saying that we should
There is actually a book on standard Hollywood formatting!?
Yes, a big yellow book called The Hollywood STandard 2nd ed by Chris Riley. That was written several years ago, so things might have changed some since. Like the fact that Cut To is seldom used now.
As Andy wrote above, "like many other things, this is one of those rules that isn't really a rule." I'm of the opinion that prop caps should be left 'till the shooting script, which screenwriters usually don't write. However, I read somewhere that only sounds that area "not natural" should be capitalized. For example, a BANG! from a gun. But not a scream from someone... That said, some people get away with over-capitalizing. I think the best idea is to just use caps for characters (when they appear for the first time -but not when someone is referring to them before they appear...). The rest gets capitalized when the script gets to production.
One thing that will likely NEVER change is that ALL sounds are in ALL caps -- it is done so to alert both the sound engineer and the post-prod sound effects person. Not sure what you mean by "props" there are no props in a screenplay -- just a story and the limited nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs needed to tell that story. With regard to Mr. Guardino's comment, even bit players and extras names (or descriptions, i.e. COP, ANGRY CROWD, etc.) are in ALL caps in their first appearance in the script.
On my last script, based on advice from other writers here, I did not capitalize sounds and props. I capitalized only one thing. In the script, a woman meets a man in a bar and they flirt. She has a ROSE TATTOO on her neck. Later, a woman's body is discovered on a subway car. On her neck, is a ROSE TATTOO. It' the one thing I want the reader to remember. The scenes have time between them and the role of the woman is small. In fact, it's not written sequentially. The reader first meets her as a corpse on a train. When she shows up again later, I want the reader to know who she is, and who the man she flirts with is without telling them. Anyway, the point is that other writers here have offered advice that has altered, and I think improved my writing. I now use capitalization for impact, and to draw attention to important details, details that make a difference.
Spec/production script; There is custom, tradition and generally accepted conventions but there are no hard and fast rules regarding use of capitalization. In the production process, the scenes are numbered and the script is ‘tagged’. This process generates reports that are forwarded to various departments – audio, props, costume… They list what’s required for every scene. It’s embarrassing to be shooting on the library set and nobody remembered to bring the lead pipe (costly too.) As an appreciated practical matter in spec scripts – capitalize sounds, props and unique/significant costumes, of course you all know about character names. It makes life so much easier.
Proper script format is not optional, it's mandatory. And, unless your last name is Goldman and your friends call you Bill, you can't revise accepted format to suit your own taste. Proper format is proper format. There are those who will tell you that if the script is well-written, if the story is compelling, if the characters are dimensional, if your take on the concept is fresh that no matter how you format the work it will be read, it will be bought, it will be made. I can tell you from both sides of the selling and the buying divide those people are misguided at best. Those 20-something BA's which are the gatekeepers who separate you and your script from anyone with the power to option/to buy/to make your film are paid for one reason -- to see that your script never gets beyond the gate they guard. In a word, they are paid to say NO. When they say no, when the coverage of your script is poor, they rarely suffer adverse consequences. On the otherhand, when they pass your work up the chain of power with a recommend, when it makes the Executive weekend read list. they have just put their vocational lives on the line. Don't give those who separate you from success an easy reason to say no. Improperly formatted screenplays mark you as non-professional and odds are good no matter how good the work the coverage will be poor and the gate will never open. My business partner, a noted Hollywood writer for about three decades has the perfect analogy, "It's no harder to build a window than to build a toilet seat but the view is better." Don't let poor formatting turn your window into a toilet seat. With all that said, I will go read a few poorly formatted scripts...
I can’t agree more. Although no one has shown me a definitive “rule book”, it behooves the aspiring screenwriter to at least follow the commonly accepted format. You want your script read – or not?
Reading is an experience unlike seeing the film and you are trying to give the reader an enjoyable experience. If you want to cap, cap. But try to be as consistent as possible. I've found that it really lends to my enjoyment of reading scripts especially if I don't realize I'm reading a script. Then I don't care.
Chris - you may not care, but let me assure you that there are folk out there in reader land that do.
Doug, the point many writers on this thread made was that caps for sounds and props was the traditional way to write screenplays, but that caps used throughout can clutter a screenplay and pull the reader out of the story. A screenwriter wants the readers eyes to flow down the page uninterrupted. The reality of screenwriting is that if you sell your project, it will be converted into a shooting script. Sounds and props can be capitalized at that time. If the story truly engages the reader, I don't think anyone is going to miss the CAPS.
To echo Mr. Nelson's comment, folks in reader land do indeed care. More importantly you should care -- poor formatting is a dead sure giveaway to a reader that they are wasting 120 minutes of their life on the work of a non-professional. For anyone wanting to break into screenwiting the easiest part of the quest is to learn, and to use, proper formatting. Writing is the hard part -- or at least writing something worthy the two hours of the reader's life they will invest to read, to judge and to determine the value of the work.
I'm amazed by how many people have such strong opinions on capitalisation, and just how much those opinions vary. I could easily pull up purchased spec scripts that support and disprove every view put forward. And no, I don't believe pros are allowed to get away with breaking any rules before someone says it :) I do agree that basic formatting is essential though. But I'd be very surprised if I learned a reader cared a great deal about sounds all being capitalised. And frankly I'd be glad to get a pass and put as much distance between them and me as possible.
There is a great book called Hollywood STandard Version 2 which deals with all the format questions and issues. I use that as my guide. It is published by Michael Wiese Productions.
@Doug, unfortunately, I agree. Many readers are interns or junior assistants who don't really have the experience or knowledge necessary for the position. They are extensions of their bosses who are looking for something specific. Because conventions are made by self-proclaimed gurus who say this or that is a rule, a young intern is probably going to be like most of the screenwriters out there who don't really know...they just know what the conventional wisdom is. Up until I read the script "Gravity," I thought Sluglines were a must, but there's not one Slugline in the entire script. Everything up until this point said, you MUST have sluglines and this is the way the have to be formatted, or else. Now it's up for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and a dozen other awards. But as Mark said, if someone is engaged in the story, they won't really care about the caps.
Well said Chris.