THE SCREENPLAY REVOLUTION
BY JASON SREBNICK
I have this idea. I call it the screenplay revolution. I can’t say how truly revolutionary it is, or will be, but here goes:
The basic premise is to encourage people to self-publish their screenplays as books; the same way you would self-publish a novel, novella or short story. You would still write it in a screenplay format, but could make several tweaks to make it more “readable”, with the idea that the primary audience is, well, the reader. And by “reader”, I mean a reader in the traditional sense, as in one who reads novels and other types of prose (screenplays, too.) This versus the more standard audience for a screenplay which is Hollywood studios, screenplay agents, directors, studio “gateway” readers, etc.
I’ve read many screenplay books, “scriptbooks”, and have enjoyed the story as much if not more than I might a novel. After all, what really matters is the story. What form it takes, whether it is novel, novella, play or script, is simply the conduit through which the audience receives the story.
What I mean by tweaks: you might do away with some of the expected formatting elements found in a traditional screenplay, such as specific tabs and insets for different elements (character names, dialogue and action.) Perhaps you left-align most of the text. The font wouldn’t have to be standard screenplay 12 point Courier either. You could choose one that is more pleasing to the eye and more readable. You could even use italics, bold and even different kinds of fonts for certain effects. Again, all of this with one person in mind: the reader of your scriptbook. My own cherished script-book version for the screenplay of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY does this nicely. Almost all of the text is right justified in a pleasing-to-the-eye Palatino” font.
Another thought that I had, and this could really make a difference (a game-changer perhaps?), was that the screenplay could be broken into chapters, the way novels and novellas are. In my opinion, this would make it even more reader-friendly. Someone reading your scriptbook might think, I just want to get through two more chapters tonight. We do this all the time when reading novels. With a traditional screenplay, you can’t do this; it’s all one big piece without chapters or even page breaks to break it into sections. Figuring out where to break the chapters might be a bit tricky, but, for the most part, should be quite do-able.
Something else: many of the “rules” of screenwriting could be stretched, even broken. I’ve already mentioned ditching 12 point Courier font, where and how different items are justified on the page (right, center, left, etc.) and the use of more than one font, bold, and italics, but the screenwriter writing in this “screenwriting revolution” style could take it a step further: they could give camera direction, describe how a character feels or what they’re thinking, and describe the setting and other action in more detail than is expected and accepted in a regular screenplay. (These are all big no-no’s if submitting your screenplay to a studio, agent or contest.) Yes, depending how much leeway you take it might stop being a screenplay and become, in reality, a novel, but I believe that with the right approach to the story, formatting and polishing, you can bend, break and stretch the rules while still keeping it a screenplay. The core structure and “essential heartbeat” of a screenplay would still be there. One important point here: don’t add to or embellish the story just for the sake of it. It’s more about a new sense of freedom and less rigidity around screenwriting “rules.” This is especially true for camera and screen direction. You definitely don’t want to describe every shot because it will knock the reader out of the story. Only include them if they’re important for the reader, to add to the storytelling experience.
What I’m stumping for is the idea of publishing a screenplay as a work unto itself, where the published scriptbook is a complete finished work. Which is not to say it can’t be made into a movie at some point. Do not ditch the ultimate dream!
Another idea: included in your scriptbook could be production sketches, concept paintings and photos. This could really open things up for certain genres like sci-fi, fantasy, space opera and super hero (though any genre could use it to their advantage.)
What will happen to your scriptbook? Well, you don’t want to go handing it out to studios, screenplay agents or your everyday director. If you did want to pitch your screenplay to Hollywood studios, directors, and script readers (screeners) you still want to use a more lean and traditional version of your screenplay, that follows the “rules.”
That may seem like a downside, but the harsh reality is that the odds of a “regular” screenplay getting to the decision-makers is rare anyhow. The hope is your vision of what would eventually become the movie reaches a real audience first. In your scriptbook, you are not at the behest of screeners and agents. A director isn’t using it as a blueprint that they will mold to their own liking. Your ultimate, complete, vision is the scriptbook. Really, it’s the same with self-publishing a novel, where you skip the agent or the publishing house and publish it yourself.
As far as I can tell, no one else is doing this. Some may think that’s a reason to also not do it yourself. I say, this is the very reason to do it.
So why not start a revolution?