Sunday, February 24, 2008

How to use Word X for Mac to format a screenplay

Here's how to use styles and keyboard shortcuts to format a screenplay in Word.

(Note: these instructions are for Microsoft Word X for Mac. For PC users or those with more recent versions of Word, the whatnots may vary slightly. )

1. Open a new document.

2. Go to> Format> Document> set the margins as follows:
  • Top: 1.o"
  • Bottom: 0.5"
  • Left: 0.0"
  • Right: 0.0"
  • Header: 0.5"
  • Footer: 0.5"
Click OK. Word will let you know that you've set margins outside the printable area. Click Ignore. This step is important. The styles you will make are measured from the edge of the page. If you leave margins, they will measure from the edge of the margins. And that's dumb.

3. Make sure you're in Normal Style. (That's the leftmost drop-down menu on the formatting toolbar.)
  • Go to Format> Style...
  • Normal should be highlighted in the Styles box (if you don't see it, choose All Styles under the List drop-down menu)
  • Click Modify...
  • Click the Format drop-down menu in the bottom center of the Modify Style box
  • Choose Font...
  • Change font to Courier [1]
  • Change the font size to 12
  • Click OK
  • Choose Paragraph from the Format drop-down menu
  • Set the Special drop-down menu to (none)
  • Click OK
  • If the Automatically Update box is checked UN-CHECK it! [2]
  • Click OK
  • Click Apply.

4. Now you'll make the title page. It's easiest to just do this manually.
  • Center Justify your TITLE in all caps, three inches from the top edge of the page
  • Skip a line
  • Type, "by" (don't let silly old AutoCorrect capitalize it to "By")
  • Skip a line
  • Type your name
  • Now Type a Left Justified, single spaced, five line block of text with:
Your Name
Your Address
City, ST ZIP
Your phone #

I just use return carriages and tabs to get the block eight inches from the top edge of the page and five inches from the left edge (bottom right corner of the page)

Looky there, you gots a title page...

5. Now you'll format the page numbers.
  • Go to Format> Style...
  • Highlight Header in the Styles box
  • Click Modify...
  • Chose Font from the Format drop-down menu
  • Change font and font size to Courier 12
  • Click OK
  • Chose Paragraph from the Format drop-down menu
  • Change Alignment to Right
  • Set the Right Indentation to 0.75"
  • Click OK, OK, Apply.
6. Now you'll insert page numbers.
  • Go to View> Header and Footer
  • On the Header Footer Toolbox that pops up, click Insert Page Number (it looks like a page with a # sign on it)
  • Click Format Page Number (it looks like a page with a hand pointing at it)
  • Under Page Numbering, click Start at:
  • Enter 0 (zero) in the box
  • Click OK
  • Click Different First Page (it has a page with a 1 on it)
  • Close the Header/Footer toolbox.
You shouldn't have a number on the title page. The numbering should start with a 1 in the upper right hand corner of the first page of your actual script.

7. Here's the fun part. (No. Really this is just more of the same--clicking and choosing and setting, but I like it because what you do here will be used as you write the script.) This is how you'll format the Scene headings or Slugs [3].
  • Make sure Normal is selected in the Style menu on the Formatting Toolbar
  • Go to Format> Style... (again check that Normal is highlighted in the Styles box)
  • Click New...
  • Name it Scene
  • Choose Font from the Format drop-down menu
  • Make sure Courier 12 is the Font/Size
  • Check the All Caps box
  • Click OK
  • Choose Paragraph from the Format drop-down menu
  • Set Left Indentation to 1.0"
  • Set Right Indentation to 0.75"
  • Make sure the Special drop-down menu is set to (none)
  • Click OK
  • Choose Tabs from the Format drop-down menu
  • Type in 1.5", click Set
  • Type in 7.5", click Set
  • Click OK once (stay in the New Style Screen for the next step)
8. To make it easy to switch between styles, assign shortcut keys.
  • Click Shortcut Key... (bottom left corner)
  • Press the ctrl button (not the Apple [command] button, the Control button) then press the letter 's' where it says Press new shortcut key
  • Unless you have used Shortcut keys for other things in Word, it should say Currently Assigned: [unassigned] underneath where you just typed.
  • Click Assign
  • Click OK
  • Make sure the Automatically Update box is NOT checked
  • Click OK (stay in the Style screen for the next steps)
9. You'll use these same basic steps to format for Action [4], Characters [5], Dialogue [6], Parenthetical Direction [7], and Transitions [8].

10. Action
  • Click New...
  • Name it Action
  • Choose Font from Format drop-down menu
  • Make sure the Font is Courier, the size is 12, and none of the Effects boxes are checked
  • Click OK
  • Choose Paragraph from Format drop-down menu
  • Set Left Indentation to 1.5"
  • Set Right Indentation 1.0"
  • Click OK
  • Click Shortcut Key...
  • Set the shortcut key to ctrl 'a'
  • Click OK, OK
11. Character
  • Make a new style
  • Name it Character
  • In Font, make sure it's Courier 12
  • Select the All Caps box
  • OK
  • Choose Paragraph
  • Set the Left Indent to 4.o" (unless you have some long-ass character names--His Royal Highness Sir Prissy Von Bitcherstein the Third of Asschester Manor comes to mind--You probably won't need to set a Right Indent. But if you must, set it to 1.0")
  • OK
  • Shortcut Key...
  • Set it to ctrl 'c'
  • OK, OK
12. Dialogue
  • Make a New Style
  • Name it Dialogue
  • Check that the Font and Size are courier 12, and no Effects boxes are selected
  • OK
  • Choose Paragraph
  • Set the Left Indent to 3.0"
  • Set the Right Indent to 2.0"
  • OK
  • Shortcut Key...
  • Set it to ctrl 'd'
  • OK, OK
13. Parenthetical Direction
  • Make a New Style
  • Name it Parentheses
  • Check the font, size, and no effects
  • OK
  • Choose Paragraph
  • Set Left Indent to 3.5"
  • Set Right Indent to 3.0"
  • OK
  • Shortcut Key...
  • Set it to ctrl 'p'
  • OK, OK
14. Transitions
  • Make a New Style
  • Name it Transitions
  • Make font Courier 12
  • Select the All Caps box
  • OK
  • Choose Paragraph
  • Set Left Indent to 6.0"
  • Set Right Indent to 0.5"
  • Click OK
  • Set shortcut Key... to ctrl 't'
  • OK, OK
  • Click Close
15. Now save this Document as My Super Awesome Script Template.doc or something. Keep it on your desktop. Every time you write a new script, open this document and Save As. Of course you could save this document AS a template. Or you could check the Apply to template box in the Style screen. Long and varied are the possibilities in Word. I like doing it this way.

There you go. Now you have all the parts you need to make a properly formatted script. Try it out. The best thing to do is compare what comes out on your page with this awesome page. If you followed all instructions, it should come out the same.


I didn't apply line spacing to the styles. It works better for me to manually use the return key. Here's how to space lines:
  • Skip a line after the Scene Heading.
  • Skip line after a block of Action.
  • Skip a line after a block of dialogue.
  • Don't skip a line after the Character names.
  • Don't skip a line after Parenthetical Direction.
  • Blocks of Action, Dialogue, and Parenthetical Direction are all single spaced.

[1] Use Courier. Not Courier New. Courier is Monospaced. Meaning the skinny little 'i' takes up as much space as a wide-load 'w'. This is important when you consider that a rough estimate for the running time of a film is taken from the number of pages in a script. (One page equals about a minute of screen time.) This is also why the formatting is important. Say your dialogue was only indented two inches instead of three. Fewer pages, but the actors are still saying the same number of words, taking up the same amount of screen time. (back)

[2] The evil and vile Automatic Update is not your friend. It has been the cause of much pain and anger in my experience. Uncheck it and live in better harmony with Word. (back)

[3] The formatting here is intended to be used to include scene numbers. On a writer's draft scene numbers are not used. But as my screenplay will also be the shooting script, I'm including scene numbers. (back)

A new scene begins any time the setting or time changes. The fifth scene that takes place at night in front of a bar would look sorta like this (with no dots) :

5 EXT. JOE'S BAR - NIGHT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

The scene number is on either side of the description. (That's why you made all those tab stops) If you're not using scene numbers, just set the Paragraph Formating for the Scene Style to Left Indent 1.5" and forget about the tab stops.

[4] Action! Wonderful action! This tells who's in the scene and what they're doing in the scene. Just put in the necessary stuff. DON'T put in camera angles and such. That's for the Director (and DP) to decide. Directors get all touchy if you try and direct them. I know. I live with one.

The first time you introduce a Character in the Action of the script, put their name in ALL CAPS. Just the first time they appear in the script. This helps to point out when a new character is added to the story. Directors and Costumers and Casting Directors and pretty much all people working on a film like this type of heads up. (back)

[5] Characters. Always in caps. Usually the only things that will appear next to a character's name are:
  • (V.O.) -- Voice Over
  • (O.S.) -- Off Screen
  • (CONT'D) -- When a character's speech continues after an interruption by a line of action. (back)
[6] Dialogue. It has produced such greats as "Forget about the fuckin' toe!" Good stuff. (back)

[7] Parenthetical Direction. This is mostly used to indicate something a character does while speaking. Things like: (handing her the note) or (pointing out the window). When this comes in the middle of a line of dialogue, you don't have to put (CONT'D) or retype the character's name--it's formatted to stand apart from the dialogue.

You can also use parenthetical direction to say how a character says a certain line. For instance: (sobbing) or (hesitantly). But use this sparingly. How an actor delivers his or her line is up to the actor. They should be able to tell from the action and the dialogue itself how a line should read. (back)

[8] Transitions. This is used in one place in particular--the end of the movie. FADE OUT. And also when you want to indicate a complicated sort of cut, different from a normal scene change. Like INTERCUT WITH: It would be used to indicate two scenes are happening at the same time. I haven't found much use for it yet. But better to have it and not need it...(back)


Yeehaw bitches, you got yerself a screenplay template, complete with little shortcuts so your fast little fingers never have to leave the keyboard. You can type riveting dialogue and compelling action and create scenes all goddamned day long. Typing a line of dialogue and want to switch to the next character? Hit "ctrl+c "and boom sha-lock-lock --that cursor is four inches in from the edge of the page and ready to type in all caps. Magical. And better than a punch to the jaw.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The ghost of Christmas of fifteen years ago

This is the boring part of the process. But this is a record of "the movie" and the script is part of the movie. So here's what I've been up to:

I've been using note cards to map out the story. Syd Field says note cards are the way to go. I like the idea of following a how-to book's instructions--something I've never done. I've had this particular how-to since I was fourteen. My grandma gave it to me after I said I wanted to write movies when I grew up. It's finally fulfilling its intended purpose. Fifteen years later.

Writing the script has produced something useful. I've cracked the enigma of formatting. You can buy software for 15o dollars and it will format your script for you. But 150 dollars on this project is ten boxes of cupcake bribes. And actors won't work for nothing. So with trusty/infuriating Word, lots of searching and searching for decent formatting information online, and an hour of futzing with Word's Styles function, I made my own damn template. I think it works real good. And since no one should go through that process alone, here's step by step what I did.

As far as the screenplay itself, I'm on page three. At one point I was on page eleven. But I had to scrap that entire idea and start over. So technically I'm fourteen pages behind. But it wasn't working. There comes a point when you have to cut your losses and move on.

Of course doing this too many times is a sign of procrastination. Syd calls it "resistance," something he says comes in many forms--from sitting down to write then realizing you should clean out the fridge or scrub the toilet or, my favorite, eat. It also comes in the form of abandoning one story for another. He says when you encounter resistance, it's okay. Understand that's what it is, understand what you're doing. Don't get mad. Don't get down on yourself. Just let it go. Let go of the resistance and get to work. Very Zen.

Despite the bouts of resistance, the script soldiers on. My eyes are getting sandpapery and raw from looking at a computer screen to write scripts at work (the kind that I'm paid to write) then coming home and looking at a computer screen to write another script. And I'm sure staring at the computer to write this mishmash is not helping my eyesight any. But what can I say, I can't resist.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thank you, AMEX

The equipment is here. Yesterday the UPS man delivered many, many boxes. In these boxes were components for a super-fast computer, Adobe's Creative Suite 3 Production Premium software, and a Canon XL2 digital camcorder. This is an upgrade from what we used to make Cupcake Confidential. Unlike that venture, "The Movie" will not be shot on a borrowed camera. iMovie will not be our editing software. And we will not have to store half the footage on the iPod while the eMac processes the edits. How did people of modest means acquire such shiny new things? I asked American Express to give me eight thousand dollars. Thirty seconds later they said, "Okay, here's $8,000." I got the willies. Then I got to spending.

So there it is, strewn across the living room, in boxes and in various states of construction. The monitor is wide and stately. The tower housing all the little computer parts is black and imposing. The box that holds the Adobe software and manuals weighs around 15 pounds. The camera looks like it means business. The tools are here. All that remains is putting them to use. After they're put together of course. Thankfully this is Brandon's job. So far, power cables have not connected properly, the video card wouldn't communicate readily, and Vista refused to install smoothly. (Big surprise. [My instinctive opposition to owning a PC has not fully faded.]) Brandon has gone nuts a total of five times thus far. It's good training for him. Things will be going much wrong-er as this project progresses and he will no doubt be driven far nuts-er.

I'd like to say that I'm excited. All this great new stuff. And I can. I am. I'm excited. There's tangible proof all over my living room floor and on my dining room table, physical objects that stand as testament to this being not just some sure, sure someday pile of maybe. It's real and touchable and expensive. I am excited.

But I'm also going crazy myself. Can we talk about the screenplay? Specifically, can we discuss the ways (so many, many ways) it is devouring my soul and my brain and my will to get out of bed? That's what we're here for, I suppose. It's not that I'm thinking it can't be done. It can. And it's not that I'm throwing my arms up in the air and saying I can't do this. Not yet, anyway. But lordy, I am flailing. I'm thinking about storylines in the shower. People at work talk to me and I stare at their lips and try to pay attention to what they're saying but really I'm thinking about the story. Always the story. The story the story the story. When the company got together to decide what "The Movie" would be about, we came up with a fairly complicated structure--a framework, really-- and a few guidelines, a few interesting elements to incorporate and so on. Details are up to me. I agreed to write this thing and I'm not complaining. But there are a lot of details in the world. There are a lot of stories to be told. I'm not interested in most of them. The one I'm interested in is out there. I can feel it dancing around the room, playing with me, just out of reach. It brushes against my skin then runs away. I'm hunting it down with an ax and a big jar of peanut butter, but it's a nimble little fucker and I think it prefers jelly.

Well, time to do it to it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

No Country for Big Macs

The "company" (the three brave kids with whom I'm making "the movie") and I tried to see a film offered by the Portland International Film Festival, namely, Tyua's Marriage. We got there a whole half hour early. Turns out more people than we thought were interested in seeing a film about a reserved Mongolian bride diagnosed with a debilitating back injury. It was sold out. While I was bummed to not participate in one of the more interesting cultural events of my adopted city, I was also comforted by the fact that enough people were interested in seeing
something not produced by Judd Apatow that it sold out a theater.

So with heavy but mildly encouraged hearts we walked up the street to another movie house and saw No Country for Old Men. Again. Do I really, really like this film? Yes I do. Am I perhaps hard-wired to like Coen Brother's films? They had me at Blood Simple. Do I promise never to reference Jerry Maguire again? I do. Aside from the one-two punch of terribleness that was Intolerable Cruelty and Ladykillers (and my third least favorite short of Paris, je t'aime [after the one about the mimes and the one about the vampires {does Elijah Wood have expressions in his facial-expression arsenal aside from the bug-eyed-pinched-eyebrow thing?}]) I must say that the Coen Brothers generally know what they're doing when they try their hand at the filmic art.

Andrew O'Hehir quoted someone as saying the film was like the Hollywood equivalent of a burger and fries, in that it was a complete and satisfying, yet very consciously packaged experience. He admits that likening a Coen film to a fast food experience is a bit much (with an
aside about Javier Bardem's hair--and I have a whole essay of thoughts on that topic alone) but goes on to say that No Country doesn't challenge the idea of movie going as a consumer driven experience. That may be. I don't get to go to Sundance and watch little gems of films with other finely schooled film buffs. I sit in the theater next to my friend Ariana who sits next to a woman who, throughout the screening of this film, tried to tell her boyfriend funny jokes about the on-screen action which the boyfriend invariably failed to hear, forcing her to repeat herself, and who at the close of the film proclaimed, (thankfully loud enough for her companion to hear the first time) "That is the stupidest movie ever!" It is not the stupidest movie ever. (Coincidentally, Art School Confidential is the stupidest movie ever, for those who are keeping score).

No Country is darn near flawless as far as I'm concerned. It opens on vistas of harsh but beautiful landscapes, then proceeds to tell you a harsh but fantastically compelling story. Yes it's satisfying. Yes its satisfaction is very gut-level. It trusts its audience, knowing that what we imagine, once we have the basic gist of characters' proclivities, is far more effective than a series of graphic close ups of bullet wounds and splatter shots (but it gives a few of those just for good measure). It offers one of the most satisfying types of characters, murderers who also have "principles," like the killer in Seven or Hannibal Lecter or Léon from Léon or Ghost Dog from Ghost Dog. And its ambiguity and use of off-screen violence (one of Jeffrey's personal favorite devices) is satisfying in the way it makes you feel you're in some really cool club, understanding the winks and nods and handshakes to mean, yup, just what you think they mean, if you've been paying attention--letting you glean what other movies hold your hand and tell you in color glossy pictures with circles and arrows.

So yes I was satisfied. But like I had just experienced an expertly prepared home cooked meal, not a Big Mac. I felt the story-hole that all humans possess (not unlike the stomach) was filled well and good and I felt lucky to be looped into the grand story-telling perpetuation one more time. I felt good, not greasy.

All this is of course of course not to say I don't think Andrew O'Hehir is the awesomest. Because I do. Whenever I start to fret about the making of "the movie" I read him and I am instantly galvanized by his zest and verve and lust for film. I am inspired all over again and I am reminded of why movies are the coolest thing man has managed to do with light and sound. I also must say that I agree with the rest of what he was saying about No Country, that its prepackaged goodness may let people off easy; they see it and say, "Check 'see a Film' (with a capital F) off the list of things to do this month," without bothering to look further, to perhaps find the small things that people put out there, movies that do more with far fewer resources, movies that dare and try. But like I said, that film was sold out.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Posting the First

A couple of my friends and I are making a movie. I'll be relating the interesting parts of that process here. When I have nothing to say on that particular topic, I'll talk about other movies and what I think about them. Well, then...