Formatting Question

Nature is healing, Constant Reader, or at least submission opportunities are starting to appear after over a year of theatrical inactivity.  My plan for this past weekend – one of the few stretches of free time I’ve had in a while, or will have coming up – was to hit the various websites, see what deadlines are coming up, and email some scripts for consideration.  But this plan hit a snag – nothing catastrophic in the grand, pandemic-ridden gasoline-hoarding scheme of things, but something we need to talk about nonetheless.

Like a lot of writers, I work in Final Draft.  It’s certainly not the only option – there’s a lot of cheaper programs on the market nowadays that accomplish a lot of the same things – but my common consensus it’s an industry standard.  My drafts are therefore formatted in their templates – specifically the New Dramatist format, which, again, is an industry standard.  (Right-formatted stage directions, centered character names appearing above the dialogue – you’d know it if you saw it.) I won’t mention the name of the theater, but the opportunity I was most interested in pursuing required all submissions to be formatted in what they referred to as their standard format.  One with character names at the left, just before the dialogue began on that line, and other specifications for stage directions.

This is not the format my script was written in.  This format is not offered by Final Draft at all.

So, if I want to submit to this company, I’m going to have to re-type the entire script into this format.

And this is but one example, focusing on how the text is formatted.  I haven’t even touched on how some companies require blind submissions, with no contact information, while other companies require detailed contact information on the title page.  Or how some companies require a cast list be included on that title page, while some require it as a separate attachment, and some demand a synopsis or mission statement or astrological horoscope.  All of which wind up requiring a completely separate draft of the script be prepared, at length, each time you’d like it to be considered for something.

Here’s the thing – I’m one of the people doing that considering.  The one regular theatrical position I’ve held through this entire pandemic has been Co-Creative Director for the Tuesdays at Nine reading series here in New York.  I read script submissions on a regular basis, and I can tell you, from personal experience, that none of the above is necessary.  Useful, certainly, but all I actually need is to be able to read the script, and to be able to get in touch with you if I like it.  As far as readability is concerned, a 12 point font and reasonable margins are the essential things – both so I don’t have to decipher a massive blob of text, and so I can gauge how long the piece would run in performance.

That’s it.  Anything else isn’t just unnecessary, it’s gatekeeping.  Because it presupposes that the writer either has enormous amounts of free time at their disposal, or has the money to invest in a never-ending cascade of software hacks, or has somebody – some agent’s beleaguered assistant – to whom these tasks can be delegated.  The percentage of writers for whom any of this is the case is miniscule at best, and has nothing to do with ability.

And if you’re actively looking for new writers – as everybody loudly proclaims that they’re doing – does it make any kind of sense to restrict the submission pool like that?

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