sample script 1Today, yes! S-E-X-Y screenplay format! Back in the early days of Script Gods Must Die I wrote about 17 posts on this subject(find them by typing format in the search bar top of page). I will update some of these for folks new to both screenwriting and Script Gods. The rest of you experts got this. No, really, I’m sure you’ve got all these “rules” nailed down, riiiiiight? Many jaded “pro” screenwriters mock any attempt at a set of rules and I get it– the only real rule is your need to FREAKING ENTERTAIN the reader with your story. I get it. But flaunting what’s expected of a “clean” script, no matter how much genius you demonstrate, is a risky proposition. Maybe have a look here…


There are a couple ways to go with Montage format:


–Freddy Mac and Fanny Mae sip Maine lobster bisque with Merrill Lynch bigwigs.

–They munch Free Range Organic Chicken with Bank of American honchos.

–They slurp Nutella crepes with Citibank VP’s.




–Freddy Mac and Fanny Mae sip Maine lobster bisque with Merrill Lynch bigwigs.

–They munch Free Range Organic Chicken with Bank of American honchos.

–They slurp Nutella dessert crepes with Citibank VP’s.


Here’s another basic example, from American Werewolf in London:


– AT A BRASSERIE: Andy is about to escort Serafine

into the trendy eatery, but she stops him at the door

and points to the menu or more specifically the prices.

He makes a horrified face, and they move on.

-IN A BOULANGERIE: Serafine buys cheese, Andy buys

meats – the counterman shows Andy how big a slice off

the pate loaf he’s about to cut. Andy nods “yes”.

The counterman cuts it and offers the slice. Andy

shakes his head “no” and points to the much larger

remainder of the loaf.

-AT AN OUTDOOR MARKET: Detective Marcel, wearing

a lame” disguise” (new wave sunglasses ala “Diva”),

watches Andy and Serafine shop from a distance.

– IN A PATISSERIE: Andy points to a large baguette,

says something suggestive and winks boastfully at

Serafine. She gives him a “yeah, right” look and

points at a small breadstick.

– IN A WINE STORE: Andy looks at each bottle closely,

then “tests” it by shaking vigorously. Serafine’s

amused. The owner’s baffled.

– ON THE RIGHT BANK: Arms full of groceries, Andy

 and Serafine pass the row of outdoor pet stores

near the river. Andy looks longingly at the live

ducks in their cages. Serafine pulls him along.

MUSIC fades out.

Montage is used to condense time for story purposes, to advance story without a single line of expository dialogue. Show, don’t tell is advice given to the point of cliché, but if followed, will remind you to always seek the visual solution.

Montage is used to condense time for story purposes, to advance story without a single line of expository dialogue. Show, don’t tell is advice given to the point of cliché, but if followed, will remind you to always seek the visual solution.



When do you use one vs. the other? This is another stylistic choice. If the passage of time is short, for me, SERIES OF SHOTS works best.


As Professor Pauly teaches, he looks out the window. His car is being towed!

PAULY: Sonofa…!


 –Pauly at the elevator. Nada!

 –Pauly sprints down the stairs.

 –Pauly out the front door, hits the street flying.

 –Pauly to his car, just in time to find it jacked, rolling off on a flatbed tow-truck with Daley’s best.

SERIES OF SHOTS plays out over a short time frame.

The MONTAGE unfolds gentler, over a longer period of time:


 –Pauly in the English wheat, hand in hand with his beloved Keira.

 -Pauly and Keira at the swimming hole in period piece bathing suits, lovely weather!

 —Pauly and Keira lie in soft rippling English wheat and gaze longingly in each other’s eyes.

 –Pauly below Keira’s window as she douses her candle on another hot, wet August night.


Ah, English summer!



The first time a character is seen you should capitalize the name whether they speak or not. If they are important characters give them a description.

Characters do not get names unless they impact story. Limit the number of character names the reader must remember, at the top of movie especially. Only give names to characters that appear in multiple scenes.

Be descriptive with No-Name characters: Creepy Backrub Guy, Sumo Waiter, etc. One of my students recently gave me a memorable one: Potential Skank 1. One imagines the auditions…

The writer Bruce Vilanch once said something in one of my classes that resonated. When you describe your lead character, the star vehicle, you’ve got to imagine someone of star magnitude reading it, and reading the description of their character. Protagonist/antagonist descriptions should be worked. Describe the visible essence of the character.

Here’s a post that speaks to this, from the excellent, one of the best blogs on screenwriting.

Vividly introducing characters will help take your writing to the next level. Anyone can describe a character as in their 30’s, wearing jeans. When reading scripts for my clients, I look for visible essence, as in this example from Bad Santa:

A wiry, hard-bitten, sun-baked saddlebag of a man, GIN SLAGEL sits behind his cluttered desk sucking on a filterless Pall Mall. We can hear his in-taken breath rattling over and around the phlegm, growths, and polyps that line his embattled trachea. His words come out on an exhaled cloud chamber’s worth of smoke:


“Fuck stick”?

Great adjective choices, specificity even on the cigarette he smokes. Totally visual. Let’s try one more, from Assassins:


Tired travelers trudge, clogs the concourse.  But one man moves briskly.  Singular of purpose.  Dressed stylishly, we don’t quite see his face.  He’s BAIN, a presence, and for whatever reason, no one ever seems to be in his way.


Short but sweet. Makes you wonder what his “purpose” is or why “no one ever seems to be in his way.” This is what you want from your own writing. Tease the reader; make them want to turn the page.

You can also introduce characters through their surroundings, as in Croupier:


The untidy evidence. To the accompaniment of the music, a discordant version, three dog-eared copies of ‘The Invention Of The Wheel’, A Novel by JACK MANFRED. Worn furniture. A pile of literary magazines. Two elegantly arranged vases of flowers.  Women’s fashion magazines. Books everywhere, including ‘Scarne on Gambling’, ‘The Education of A Poker Player’, ‘Delta of Venus’ and other books by Anais Nin. A woman’s dress, back from the cleaners. A framed etching of Cape Town, South Africa, in the eighteenth century. Finally…Beneath the iron barred window, with a view of the iron steps down from the street, JACK sits at the dining table. In front of him is a word processor. He toys with a glass of vodka, smoking a Gitane, and leafing through a soccer fan magazine. He starts to touch-type, looking at the screen, not the keyboard. Words appear, letter by letter… THE BALL… A NOVEL… BY JACK MANFRED. He pauses to drink.


The art in character introductions is knowing when you have too much of a good thing. Look at this example from 15 Minutes:


 The place is empty except for one table at the end of the bar.  EDDIE FLEMMING, Manhattan’s most famous detective, and his savvy, black partner, LEON JACKSON are having cocktails. Eddie is smoothly handsome, tough, smart and tired.  Not only is he the best homicide detective Manhattan has ever seen, he’s continually mentioned in New York columns and has been the subject of several magazine articles.  There’s even been a TV movie about one of his biggest cases.  Leon has been with Eddie a long time and was also featured in the TV movie.

Sitting with Eddie and Leon is ROBERT HAWKINS, host and star reporter for the tabloid show, “Top Story.”  Hawkins is also the best in the business and has dealt with them all: Joey Buttafuco and Amy Fisher, Lorena Bobbitt and OJ.

Wait staff bustles in the b.g. doing the morning set up. Hawkins listens as Eddie, cigar in hand, finishes a “war story” and a vodka tonic at the same time.

The camera can see “Eddie is smoothly handsome, tough, smart and tired.” The camera cannot see “continually mentioned in New York columns and has been subject of several magazine articles.” You’re telling me something the camera can’t see. How can I know, visually, that Hawkins “has dealt with them all…”? You can cheat, yes, but there is a fine balance between implied description and telling. For my money, this example goes too far.

One last point on this subject: A pro gets away with murder. You won’t.

It’s frustrating to go to Drew’s Script-O-Rama and read scripts that break every rule in the book. So how far can you push it, yet keep within the bounds of “acceptable” formatting? Let’s look at a character description from Light Sleeper:

JOHN LETOUR, forty, light sleeper. Never meant to be a drug dealer, it just came along. He’s been other things: messenger boy, cab driver, model, postal clerk, doorman, nightclub shill — never meant to be them either. Now he’s a D.D. Drug dealer.

JOHN LETOUR, well-groomed, khaki slacks, leather jacket, tippet-like scarf, belt pouch, “Beatle” boots, a shadow drifting in and out of other shadows, New York, day, night: watching, listening, rarely speaking — nonexistent, seen only by those he sees. His face an affable blank. Make of it what you will. The eyes flicker; the hands shift discreetly. A map of calculation. Once he had a drug problem. Life turned a page. Today he follows instructions: he sleeps light — one eye open, anticipating.

JOHN LETOUR, D.D., loner, voyeur, has been drifting toward an unknown destination. At mid-life the destination draws near. The circle tightens. The dealer is anxious. The destination is love.

The voice is Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), one of the great screenwriters. His character description is poetry. Contrary to the “just tell me who’s in the shot and what’s happening” advocates, I will say there is a place for poetry in screenplays. If you’re writing like this the chances are good you will eventually separate from the crowd. Yet, look at the above example: Half of it, at least, cannot be seen by the camera. One could argue that passages like “drifting toward an unknown destination…” and “The destination is love” don’t belong. Camera can’t see ‘em, so out they come, right?

Descriptions like this are the art of screenwriting. This is what will separate you—knowing when and how to break the rules, and having the writing chops to break them like nobody else.



2 Responses to Format Revisited: V 2.0
  1. Great stuff Pauly, I will work these elements into my screenplay. If only I can convince Keira to be my leading lady.


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