I was in a used book store the other day, perusing some screenwriting books. In doing so, I noticed that each author had a different idea of proper formatting for a screenplay. These differences were not huge, but they do make me wonder a little. The two books I ended up buying were Elements of Style for Screenwriters by Paul Argentini (1998) and The Art of Screenwriting by William Packard (1997). Here’s an example of what I mean: For title pages, Argentini puts the title and author’s name centered in the upper third of the center of the page with an abbreviated version of the author’s name and contact information in the lower right corner – putting this same contact information after the words “THE END” on the last page. Packard, on the other hand, double-underlines the title and the only other information is the date it was written and the copyright information, located across the bottom of the page. In my old copy of The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier (2005), the example title page shows the title and author’s name slightly closer to the middle of the page and the author’s contact information (without listing the name again or showing the copyright information) in the lower right corner of the page. There are differences other than those for title pages, but I was just using those as an example.
It’s only natural that each writer is going to have a different style, especially because each studio (sometimes even each producer) has their own favorite format they require screenwriters to use when writing for them. My first film teacher required a somewhat odd setting for the margins of my screenplay, so I had to adjust all the little tabs in Final Draft each time I wrote for that class. Writing a stageplay is the same way. When I took a playwriting class last spring, the teacher requested that I use MS Word with the tab set at 3 inches to write all my plays. It’s kind of funny that there isn’t some universal standard for the things, like MLA, APA, etc. for writing essays. Actually, there are a few standards out there, but I guess most people think of them more as beginning guidelines than anything else. Well, whatever works, right? I suppose one day I’ll have some set of parameters that I like to use in my own screenplays. Maybe I’ll even write a silly book trying to make other people adopt my habits. Until then, happy writing!