Brazil Screenplay Composition

Zara Evens's picture

Hi everyone-
I have a project here (I am a student) that I am hoping to get some feedback on.

The assignment (given by Keith Tam) is to take a raw text screenplay and typographically design it so that it would be suitable for publishing in book form. Any and all comments, suggestions, remarks, gripes, moans and even praises are gladly welcomed! I really appreciate it.

Included is one spread (sorry so small) and two details.

brazil spread
----Detail 1 below--------------------

brazil detail one
----Detail 2 below-------------------

brazil detail two

thanks again


hrant's picture

1) An upright snippet in a body of italics is problematic.
I think fake-slanting the smallcaps might be less bad.
2) In all-caps setting Tarzana's "Y" is ruinous. Make a
custom non-descending version.


kakaze's picture

I don't have anything to say on the design, just wanna give props for using an awesome movie as content.

Zara Evens's picture

Thank you both, Hrant and Chris.
I do agree with you Hrant, regarding the smallcaps, it feels quite off to me.
Perhaps I will try just a bold italic?

Chris-I wish I could say the screenplay choice was my idea, but it was not.

keep those comments coming!


cerulean's picture

The sometimes random-seeming allcaps in the stage directions of screenplays is something I would want to downplay as much as possible. On the typed script, the format carries through to the character names preceding each line of dialogue, and generally is meant to help the cast members find every instance of their part. In a book treatment, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

If you must have some indication of which words in the original script were in allcaps, I think smallcaps is the answer. Bold, I think, would be worse, calling too much attention. The thing is, I don't see these as smallcaps. They appear to be the same size as regular caps, or maybe a point smaller. They should be running with the x-height, or at least close to it.

I am curious as to why Mr Helpmann's name is italicized in the interviewer's first line.

William Berkson's picture

Ok, here's some stuff about the logic of the standard screenplay format, which has to be strictly followed by authors to even get read. Then comments on your redesign.

The standard screenplay format is probably one of the most exacting and worked out formats of any medium. There are whole books on it.

Screenplays must be submitted in Courier 12pt on letter size paper and the standard formatting, because when this is done, each page is about one minute of screen time. Thus it is a guide first for the author and then for the prospective buyer, then for the director, etc. Any movie that runs longer than 2 hrs. is not likely to get made. And there are audience expectations, such as how much time you have to set up the plot (10-15 minutes = pages).

A lot of the conventions are production oriented. CAPS are generally directions to the film makers. The first mention of a character is in Caps, so the casting people can go through the script and note everybody easily. The actor can see where he first comes on screen also.

The standard format has four indents: 1. Dialogue, which is set in a narrow column in the center. 2. Character's name, left aligned, roughly centered above the dialogue. 3. Dialogue direction, indented between the dialogue and character indents. 4. Editors directions & 'continued', right aligned. 5. There is also left aligned and full width slug lines, in caps, and the narrative, in regular text.

You would naturally think that the production directed stuff is not important to be distinguished as such for the reader who is not a production person. Wrong.

As a very experienced production person and script editor explained to me, those who read scripts all day don't actually notice the words. THEY SEE THE MOVIE. If something is wrong in the formatting, it is as if the reel 'breaks' and the whole magic for the reader is gone.

This same effect works for any reader in a well written script in the standard format. That is why you mess with it at your peril. And almost all published scripts follow the four indent and caps convention. Keith Tam has actually given you an incredibly tricky assignment. (You devil you - hehe)

The main thing in the movie is what you see and what you hear: the narrative and dialogue. Your redesign puts the slug lines and Characters as the most noticable things - not good, as it distracts from 'seeing' the movie as you read.

The narrow dialogue setting gives you the reader a sense of the time running in the movie, just as it does for a production person. Yours is too wide - near the length of the narrative. Also, your narrative is in the less readable italics. This slows you down. And the dialogue and narrative being the main thing, they I think should be in the same face.

Don't get me wrong, your redesign LOOKS way better than the standard format. But it functions way worse, even for the non-production reader. And by the way, most readers of published screenplays are going to be would-be screenwriters themselves, who have been drilled to the point of being traumatized in the standard form. Thus their expectations are going to be for the standard format.

In sum, I think you can change fonts from the standard format and improve the look that way, but not mess with indents.

This is actually a great assignment as it really dramatizes (!) the tension between looking great on the page and functionality for the reader. It also highlights how strongly reader expectations affect what will fly - although you probably wouldn't know that if you haven't spent time with scripts.

Good Luck!

keith_tam's picture

Just to clarify, I gave them the script in the standard format that you described. But the point of the project is to abandon that (we're not concerned with the actual production of the film here) and take that to another level

hrant's picture

So this seems like a great exercise in fighting design fascism.


Zara Evens's picture

Thanks so much for your advice and comments, all.

In regards to the narrative and the use of italics and smallcaps, I am really beginning to see that it might be a good idea to try another face; I agree with you Kevin that the small caps are awkward. Perhaps I might set the narrative text in something other than italics.

I am curious as to why Mr Helpmann's name is italicized in the interviewer's first line.

This, I find curious as well. It is set in caps in the original screenplay (if I remember correctly), and since I really know nothing about how screenplays are read, I didn't want to remove this emhasis, though I did not want to use the caps in the dialogue, therefore I replaced it with the italic.

After today, I can safely say that I have learned a great deal about the functions of each element in a screenplay or script, thanks again all.

It is quite valuable for me to have this feedback and I appreciate it a lot. I will be taking your advice into consideration as I make adjustments over the next couple of days, then I will post another version to see what you all think.


glutton's picture

From what I understand, within dialogue scriptwriters rarely use emphasis. It sounds like it might have been a suggestion to the actor. You can probably ditch it.

William Berkson's picture

The capitalization of 'Helpman' was probably because it was the first time his name was used in the script, and the standard format requires you to do it in all caps. It is not for emphasis.

I agree that in this case you could just do it in lower case in a book, as it is not for use by film makers. However, then you would need to be consistent and also not cap the other characters when introduced. You shouldn't italicize it in place of caps because then it is just puzzling. You see the problems in departing from the conventions - they are worked out in such detail.

William Berkson's picture

Oh, and suggestions to actors are in the dialogue directions line. Using a lot of dialogue direction is frowned on, but sometimes it is necessary - for example to indicate that the actor is being sarcastic, when this isn't obvious from context, or to say which other character the dialogue is being directed to etc.

I would think that your script will have some dialogue direction lines, and you will have to decide on a format for them that works with the rest.

Zara Evens's picture

After a bit of procrastination, I have re-worked this screenplay, and have new samples to show for more feedback. I didn't change the structure entirely, though I tried to choose more suitable typefaces and arrange things with a bit more organization.

------sample spread------


------sample detail--------


I love and need the feedback, don't be shy!


Zara Evens's picture

I may have posted a little early, I have just marked up this draft and will be making some much needed adjustments which I am sure you will find.

More to come

Dan Weaver's picture

Zara, InDesign?

Zara Evens's picture


Dan Weaver's picture

I could tell: ligatures, even rag on line spacing, good overall color. Quark is so dead. I love the separation preview and the support for Open Type.

Zara Evens's picture

Oh, I totally agree with you. I am really happy I made the switch to InDesign. I rarely find myself having to make adjustm5{ Quark sometimes it was a nightmare. It will be nice to see the Open Type support in the new AI as well, have you used it?
The ligatures, I love, (of course, how could you not?) but I am going to get rid of them for this particular piece.

Zara Evens's picture

can you tell I don't pay much attention to my typing (see last post)?

Dan Weaver's picture

Zara, AI does indeed support Open Type and alot of the niceties of InDesigns type engine. InDesign is still better because of "story" they haven't included that with AI. The biggest improvement with AI is the speed the applications does things like redraw. AI 10 was a dog

William Berkson's picture

Zara, in your new version you narrow the dialogue column, which I think is better.

But the other problems I had before still remain or are exacerbated.

Having the narrative now smaller than the dialogue, and still in italics, makes it worse. Because narrative describes the visual aspect of the movie, which is often more important than the dialogue, it should be just as prominant and readable as the dialogue. Also the ligatures seem to me inappropriate for this material, as they also slow down the reader.

The slug lines are still way too prominant relative to their importance.

Again, it looks very good, but I really don't think serves the material well. And serving the material well is to me the fundamental rule in typography.

You are a talented designer, but for me you need to rethink this to get the heirarchy right for this material.

Zara Evens's picture

You all must be getting sick of this project, as am I

Zara Evens's picture

ooh, I am missing a couple of spaces.

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