Screenwriting : Formatting and Content by Essence Laurel Jones

Essence Laurel Jones

Formatting and Content

Should you worry about style or going too far, as in being offensive, when writing?

Stacy Gentile

Tarintino does it all the time but then again he is producing his own stuff. I would think that new writers, who are trying to sell an idea, should be careful of turning anyone off. As with anything, there are exceptions to the rule, however, the goal is to get optioned. In order for that to happen, someone has to say yes. Always tell a good story.

CJ Walley

Tarantino was doing it way before he was producing his own stuff, and he was getting absolutely trashed for it. Trashed to the point he felt he'd have to fund his own movie to ever direct one. We should absolutely get behind our voice and express our passion. Being weak and writing defensively in the futile attempt to please the majority is a surefire way to fail.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

The worst, the better. I think that's how people win contests.

Pierre Langenegger

There will always be someone who will be offended, just try to ensure it is not distasteful.

Bill Costantini

"Offensive" is a bit of a loaded word, and has more degrees than a thermometer. It's also a relative state, since "offensive" is in the eye of the beholder, group and even nation. Pink Flamingos, Borat, The Birth of a Nation, Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, Psycho, The Devils, The Exorcist, Natural Born Killers, and The Passion of the Christ are just a handful of the many films that were offensive to some degree to some people. Glorifying or presenting a controversial or taboo topic in a film is one thing, while presenting a reprehensible topic with a despicable POV that was written contemptuously and has no redeeming social value would likely be a thorough abomination to most people, relatively speaking.

Cherie Grant

Follow your heart. Write how you want to. There is a place for everyone.

Cherie Grant

Maybe she's not trying to sell to people who might be offended by what she's written. If that is the case then she HASN'T gone too far.

CJ Walley

Quite right, Cherie. We just need to know how our passion fits into the marketplace.

Essence Laurel Jones

Thank you all for your comments. I have such a creative mind that sometimes I scare myself. I am just going to write whatever my mind tells me and leave the rest up to the directors and producers.

Dov S-S Simens

No... go for the jugular... If your character is offensive then be offensive...

Cherie Grant

weird, his comment is deleted and now i look like i'm talking to thin air.

Dov S-S Simens

Essence... No. Write a great story, 90-100 pages, 40-50 scenes, 20-25 Scenes for A-Story, 6-9 scenes for each of 3 B-Stories, Make sure that each character has a back story, and have solid structure, with Problem, Action, Crisis 1, Crisis 2, Crisis 3, Crisis 4, Plus, an Oh-My-God and 1 "They Did It - Resolution".... ,

F Wheeler

I think it depends on your 'brand'. If you are pitching yourself as 'raw' then they'll expect a few swear words (which everyone knows will have to be ironed out later). Maybe think about the kind of producer you want to work with, and what they expect from the writers they work with (look at their past projects). If their fav shows are 'Breaking Bad' and 'The Wire'...

Elisabeth Meier

I think it depends on the producer and director. If they think like you about your story they won't care about your formatting and 'being offensive' (which btw is for each of us different). If you want to find out how people react and whether you were going too far or not just post your script here and await the comments.

Dov S-S Simens

ONE: Type the right Format... TWO: Do not worry about being offensive... That means you got a good character.... Now move your fingers... 90-Pages... type-type-type

Dov S-S Simens

If It itches and you want to scratch it. You got my permission. If you have a passion to write a short, and you have your own money to make the short, then absolutely go ahead and do it. You got my permission.. However, if you want to ask my advice about how do I make money at making audiovisual projects I would tell you, and if you didn't listen, and I liked you, I'D YELL AT YOU..... SHORTS DON'T MAKE MONEY... However, if you got your own money... then go ahead... God Bless... But if it itches that much "take your money, go to CVS pharmacy, spend $3 on a bottle of Calamine Lotion, get rid of the itch and take your remaining $9,9997 and make a Movie that has a possibility of making money... God Bless... Dov .

William Martell

You can write whatever you want to write, what you can sell (or even get read) is another story. I write the occasional Mystery screenplay, even though that is a completely dead genre. Though, these days when I want to write a mystery I think I'll write a book... so someone might read it.

Elisabeth Meier

I don't understand John's problem. 21 pages are a short. Go and sell it or win competitions or work it out to a feature and again sell it or win competitions. Did I miss a point or misunderstand anything?

Cherie Grant

I'd like to know what competitions accept 21 minute films.

Tshepo David

I think writing what the market needs sometimes should matter a bit unless you write just to improve your writing skills.

CJ Walley

Cherie, there are a few screenplay comps that accept shorts. Page is one of them. Bit of a weird area.

Cherie Grant

I know there are short screenplay contests, but there is always a page limit. As for short film contests there are also minute limits. Usually these are all under ten minutes. That was my point.

CJ Walley

I hear ya. Page and Screencraft have limits around 30 pages. Shorts are an odd one to define. They also don't work so well with the one page a minute rule.

Elisabeth Meier

Oh boy, I wonder why some people make it all more complicated than it is and look for what doesn't work instead of what works. Short Film festivals and competitions are running world wide (like all film festivals of course) and have a duration limit, but all a different limit. Here a couple of examples for short shorts :)) I could continue this list, but hope it already helps. In addition you can always stretch or tighten your short a little while filming. Of course it needs some time to search, but I always say anything is possible and there is a place for all of us... Hence, please stay optimistic, everyone can make it. KAOHSIUNG FILM FESTIVAL 2015, Taiwan INTERFILM INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILM FESTIVAL BERLIN 2015 FESTIVAL CINÉ JUNIOR, FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE CINÉMA JEUNES PUBLICS 2016 LES COURTS LE RETOUR 2015 Then, I guess the next complain about this list will be that these are film festivals and no Special Short Screenplay Contest. Here you have one and can find more via search engines in the internet, but I think the deadline for this is over already (was April, 6): https://screencraft.org/shorts/ and guess what: they accept up to 30 pages. Others have a minimum of 30 pages or minutes and are up to 60 minutes. I really don't understand the problem. Sorry, if this is too harsh for anyone here, but... grrr.

Elisabeth Meier

@Essence After I wrote the comment about competitions above I think best way to find out if your screenplay will be accepted in the style and formatting you wrote it is indeed to submit it to competitions. There are competitions world wide which don't charge or charge no high fees. By this you will see whether it will be accepted or not, plus, some competitions offer you a feedback which will lead to higher fees, I know - but trying it this way leads to feedback from different professional filmmakers all around the world. Just a thought.

Doug Summers

If it's the truth. Write it. It's just that simple.

Dov S-S Simens

Elisabeth... You have as yet enrolled for the Streaming Film School. It has all the info you are alluding to... Best

CaSandra Mathis

Essence, the first 2 things you must do BEFORE you write a single word is determine your audience and who you want to sell your screenplay to. I've seen 30 minute sitcoms and drama series where so much cussing and going against the grain was done you thought you were at a Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Eddie Murphy and the late, great Richard Pryor, stand-up comedy show. At first I was shocked, but later intrigued because I wanted to write a dark comedy, but didn't know if there was a market. Oh yeah! There is a market. I assure you Essence, if you can put together a well written screenplay based on a high concept, there's a market waiting to buy it. The cable networks allow for a lot more than movies or TV. The language or overall style isn't going to make or break your project. It has to fit within the script, of course. But, I say write what your heart says write, let the project breathe, dive back in, rewrite, and take out every damn thing that's going to keep your project from selling to your audience and market. Go for it, lady! I pray you the best.

Dr. Becky Sue Conright Usry

I depends on the offense. If you are trying to make people think, then yes, but if you are just trying to offend everyone, then no. Would you want your children to read what you have written someday?

Dov S-S Simens

Yes people walked out but "Reservoir Dogs" launched an exciting career for someone... plus, it had superb dialogue, like the characters or not, you understood the characters... It was truly what I teach 90-Page Script, Dialogue oriented, 1-Location... God Bless... DOV

William Martell

Where did you see DOGs in a cinema? That was a direct to video movie made by Live Entertainment.

Cherie Grant

William...maybe not in all countries. Dr Becky, why would anyone be worried about their adult kids reading their works that might have swear words peppered through? What is so wrong with that? Do you have the same problem with written violence? I don't know why some people here get so twisted up over swear words.

William Martell

That's true: it was sold to distribs in individual territories outside the USA. Here it played in a couple of cinemas in order to get reviews on the video box, but unless you were in Los Angeles or NYC that week, you saw it on tape.

CJ Walley

When Dogs got it's first screening at Sundance, half the audience walked out. That's laggards for you.

CJ Walley

I suggest you look up laggard in the dictionary.

CJ Walley

Cat, I said some people were laggards, you said some people weren't ready for it. Same thing, no?

CJ Walley

Cat, I guess I don't understand your answer. Sorry about that.

CJ Walley

John, just to let you know I'm going to complain to the mods about your behaviour. Your personal view on a movie really has no place in this conversation and I'm tired of you dragging good conversations down.

CaSandra Mathis

@John - Hey, I love the walking dead. LOL You're right, television is predicated on keeping viewers invested in their shows so they run for endless seasons and bring in the big advertising bucks. The Walking Dead has characters that I fell in love with, gore which I truly enjoy, just enough 'scary' for me, and a believable storyline. Well, as believable as zombies can get. It's one of those, "what if" types of deals which makes you wonder what the hell you'd do if that really happened and, therefore, keeps you wanting to see what they're going to do. Well, at least for me. :-)

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

John, what shows do you enjoy? Is Z nation one of them? Cat, you don't go to the movies or buy them, so why are you complaining about quality of movies if you're not supporting them?

CaSandra Mathis

@John - Thanks, John. I don't get to watch TV or do much in regards to entertainment with all of my writing and such, so I tend to grab on to a few choice shows and follow them to the hilt. My favorites are: Empire, Scandal, Once Upon A Time, The Walking Dead (though I haven't watched it much lately), How To Get Away With Murder (season finale was too much! Loved it!), Law & Order SUV, and my favorite NBA team who kicked much butt last night. I love violence and gore as long as it's kept to entertainment. "Dexter" was another of my favorites until the season ended. A discriminating, cutie pie, serial killer with a heart of gold using his character flaw to serve the greater good? Ohhhh yeah! "Chuck" was another favorite. A cutie pie nerd working at the local "Buy More" turned top notch secret agent who gets the girl in the end and kills all the bad guys? I couldn't resist. I'll definitely check out Z-Nation. Maybe it'll be my next favorite thing to watch. Thanks!

CaSandra Mathis

Yeah, Cat. That's what I'm talking about. The "what ifs" are what drives the show as well as drives the viewers to keep watching. They certainly get me going. :-)

CaSandra Mathis

I just IMDb'd Z-Nation and I have to agree with Cat. That show is whack! A&E did a much better job with The Walking Dead. The production, cast, storyline, everything was top of the line. Z-Nation seemed like a poor man's take on The Walking Dead and not even a good one. A bad knockoff which I hated because I loves me some Kellita Smith from the Bernie Mac show and was hoping she landed in a good place. Then again, the show is continuing for 2015 so I guess somebody's enjoying it. Different strokes for different folks. As for Kill Bill (1 & 2, praying they do a 3), Loved it! Love Uma Thurma. Pray I write a screenplay worthy of her in the starring role. Resident Evil? Oh, Milla Johovich is one of my all time favorite "kick ass" women on screen. I have not missed a Resident Evil, I got one of the games. 5th Element was killer as well. Like Uma, Milla's just that lady to do a movie justice.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Getting back to the original poster's question about formatting and writing content, "Should you worry about style or going too far, as in being offensive, when writing?" I totally agree with most. Go for it. Be willing to go down that rabbit hole, wherever your story or characters take you. :) Essense, (cool moniker BTW!) I assume you are coming from the perspective of writing spec scripts, right? So, here's where I may contradict myself -- just a little. "Offensive" is subjective. So, going too far? Who really knows exactly where that line is? But, if you are trying to sell it or get past readers you do need to consider any "offensive" story element in the same way you would for any other element. Is it relevant to the story? Does it engage? Is this content true to the story environment, true to these characters? Does it move the story forward? Is it gratuitous? Am I just going for shock value? Am I overwriting? Do I really need to include these four over descriptive gory paragraphs about how he chops up this person? Does this character really need to say the F-bomb forty times in a row to convey his personality or his world? What reader/audience experience am I creating? When writing a spec (that you are not producing yourself) to me it's focusing on creating an authentic story with authentic characters and honing your own style. If it runs into "offensive" territory, then so be it. Create a damn good story that is well executed. You cannot control what someone else thinks of your work. Only focus on what you can -- your writing. :)

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

Cat, no I don't see where you're getting at. You said you support good written films. How? You certainly don't put money in their pocket. Do you pay for Netlfix /Hulu/ Amazon Prime, or bum it off of a friend? Or do you simply just download it off of the internet? If you're against cable companies, why not buy the entire season of the shows that you love on google play or itunes? They have them the next day after they air. Ripping music is cheap too. If you like the artist, why would you steal from them?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Guys, let's get back to the thread topic. If you'd rather discuss film and TV then perhaps start a new thread in that section.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

What does rap have to do with anything? Forget that I mentioned music. Movies get rich off of touring? Do you mean box office success or streaming? Because either one, you still wouldn't be contributing. Let's say you write a movie, it's made, put out in theaters, but we all had your mindset. Fine. Then it goes to dvd/streaming services, but again, we all have your values. Do you think you'd still get work? Your train of thought is screwing a lot of people over. There are plenty of people who think like me in our line of work. I'm sure if they knew your opinions, you would lose plenty of money and sleep over it. Best?

Dov S-S Simens

Hey Guys... Go to the "NO-BULL" Film Blog and it will get you back to Produce, Write, Direct & Act... God Bless... DOV www.WebFilmSchool.com

Beth Fox Heisinger

Dov, please refrain from "selling" to members within threads. If they do seek you out, or your school, or your products on their own that's one thing -- we encourage members to always do their own due diligence -- but, any more of this "promotional" behavior we will delete your comments. Thank you.

Phillip 'Le Docteur de Script' Hardy

Offensive may be in the eye of the beholder. I thought HBO’s “Deadwood” was one of the most brilliant television shows ever aired. The writing was insightful, believable and brilliant. My wife thought it was riddled with profane, disgusting behavior and couldn’t believe I watched it. I recently wrote a script with a main character who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. His character portrayal includes some vile racist dialogue. Thinks I would never dream of saying. However, I wrote what I believe was needed to convey his part in an affecting, believable way. Perhaps, offensive, disgusting behavior for the sake of shock value crosses the line; but these days, the lines are fairly blurred.

William Martell

"Offensive may be in the eye of the beholder" Exactly. So what we need to do is not look at what we think is offensive, but some form of "community standards". If a TV show like DEADWOOD is so popular that it runs multiple seasons, that means the majority of viewers found it acceptable. If a movie sells a bunch of tickets, that means the majority of viewers found it acceptable. We are writing for a mass audience, and that mass audience decides what is offensive and what is not. What we think doesn't really matter. Someone may find a glimpse of stocking to be shocking, but they are out of sync with the majority of viewers and ticket buyers. Writing a "hard G" movie might be next to impossible to sell because it doesn't match what the ticket buyers want to see. In a screenplay, dialogue is open to anything the characters would say. You have to use some common sense: if you are writing a Disney type script you can't have the characters speaking like the characters in DEADWOOD. The same holds true for writing a gritty gangster movie and having the characters talk like they're in a Disney movie. Dialogue is wide open. Description/action is different. That's where you may have to tone it down, but there's also room for voice/tone/mood. If you are writing that gritty gangster movie, you may be able to use a little profanity in action/description and get away with it. But this is where you have to be careful. As to what characters do in your script, again it's what makes sense for the character and story. Just be careful with word choice in your description/action. You can always read produced screenplays which do something similar to what you are doing for examples. But it's not what we find offensive, it's "community standards" that matter. None of us is the center of the world.

Cherie Grant

i don't see what the issue here is. We all write what we want to any way.

CJ Walley

Just write with confidence. Check out the pilot for LOST as a great example. Specifically page 8; http://leethomson.myzen.co.uk/Lost/Lost_1x01_-_Pilot.pdf

CaSandra Mathis

CJ - Thanks for the Lost Pilot link. I'm looking to write pilots and this will help tremendously.

David Levy

Hre is a link to 10 popular TV Pilot scripts. http://goodinaroom.com/blog/tv-pilot-scripts/. Do not worry about offending. Write what you are passionate about. Sometimes "straddling a line" is more potent than going over it.

Elisabeth Meier

That's cool. Thanks, David!

Phillip 'Le Docteur de Script' Hardy

William: My point was more philosophical in nature. However, your "community standards" code is certainly a guideline that is workable. I'll continue to use my best judgment in the realm of good taste and judgment and hope the community never rails against me.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

When people curse in their action it always brings a smile to my face...

David Levy

If the curse is used as an adjective (i.e. shitty) in the action, acceptable!

CJ Walley

Tony Gilroy gets some good cursing into his action. He also uses some great terms like "a trailer worthy explosion".

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