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Screenplay formatting advice from Robert McKee - pg 1

 
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formatting
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Robert McKee
on Screenplay Formatting
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Dont Tell
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THE STORY IMPERATIVE
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FORMATING IS THE LEAST OF YOUR WORRIES.

Many writers expend far too much energy focusing on the nuts & bolts of screenplay format.

Formatting is important, but as this excerpt illustrates, it's definitely not as important as creating a compelling story.

Excerpt from Robert McKee's renowned book, STORY.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I did what many do to keep eating and writing--I read. I worked for UA and NBC, analyzing screen and teleplay submissions. After the first couple hundred analyses, I felt I could write up in advance an all-purpose Hollywood story analyst's coverage and just fill in title and writer. The report I wrote over and over again went like this:

Nice description, actable dialogue. Some amusing moments, some sensitive moments. All in all, a script of well-chosen words. The story, however, sucks. The first thirty pages crawl on a fat belly of exposition, the rest never get to their feet. The main plot, what there is of it, is riddled with convenient coincidence and weak motivation. No discernible protagonist. Unrelated tensions that could shape into subplots never do. Characters are never revealed to be more than they seem. Not a moment's insight into the inner lives of these people or their society. It's a lifeless collection of predictable, ill-told, and cliched episodes that wander off into a pointless haze. PASS ON IT.

But I never wrote this report:

Great story! Grabbed me on page one and held me in its embrace. The first act builds to a sudden climax that spins off into a superb weave of plot and subplot. Sublime revelations of deep character. Amazing insight into this society. Made me laugh, made me cry. Drove to an Act Two climax so moving that I thought the story was over. And yet, out of the ashes of the second act, this writer created a third act of such power, such beauty, such magnificence I'm writing this report from the floor. However, this script is a 270-page grammatical nightmare with every fifth word misspelled. Dialogue's so tangled Olivier couldn't get his tongue around it. Descriptions are stuffed with camera directions, sub textural explanations, and philosophical commentary. It's not even typed in the proper format. Obviously not a professional writer. PASS ON IT.

If I'd written this report, I'd have lost my job.

The sign on the door doesn't read "Dialogue Department" or "Description Department." It reads "Story Department." A good story makes a good film possible, while failure to make the story work virtually guarantees disaster. A reader who can't grasp this fundamental deserves to be fired. It's surprisingly rare, in fact, to find a beautifully crafted story with bad dialogue or dull description. More often than not, the better the storytelling, the more vivid the images, the sharper the dialogue. But lark of progression, false motivation, redundant characters, empty subtext, holes, and other such story problems are the root causes of a bland, boring text.

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