Monday, August 24, 2009

Bolding your sluglines

Joshua writes in with a question:

I bold my slugs, it's something I've been doing since I went pro about a two years ago ... I got turned onto by another writer and really like it ...

The thing is, when I bold my slugs, then I only use one space before the slug, not two ... the idea is that two spaces is generally there to let the reader know the following is a slug ... if the slug is bolded, there's no need for a double space, the bold lets the eye know it's a change in scene.

I do that and I really dig how it looks and reads, myself. And the producers who've picked up my work have never complained about it (and they've certainly given me a shitload of notes about other things, so if they didn't like it, they would) ... and I've never heard anything else from anyone, and have also seen a few bolded slugs scripts from other writers.

I just wondered, what's your take? I"m not trying to cheat, my scripts all fall into the respectable parameters ... the thing just looks and reads better, in my view.

For me, bolded slugs are a little bit of an annoyance. It's pretty far down on my list of pet peeves, but I've found them distracting in the few scripts I've read. I suppose a part of that could be that I'm so used to the regular way that anything else "looks wrong." I can't really speak to how other readers might perceive it because this has never really come up in any conversations I've had when I've shared pet peeves with colleagues.

If that's the only formatting liberty you're taking, it's probably not too bad. I can see it tripping a reader's mental red flag because it's a pretty conspicuous deviation, but it's relatively minor compared to not including page numbers, having the wrong font, the wrong spacing, having more than four lines in an action paragraph and giving camera direction.

Still, it could be a calculated risk in terms of earning the reader's skepticism off the bat. No good script will get a pass because of some bolded sluglines - but if the result is that they're too distracting I could see it impacting the read on a subliminal level.

To the best of my memory, I haven't seen too many professional scripts that have bolded sluglines, if that makes a difference to you.

Hope this helps!


  1. Thanks!

    I hope we'll see more scripts bolded ... the extra space before the slug always bothered me ... then again, I've not read near the amount of scripts you have ... but I do feel it moves better.

  2. To me this is proof of just how bitter and frustrated studio readers can actually be. Being pedantic and silly about minor deviations in scripts, calling them "pet-peeves" is ridiculous. I get it that big deviations, incorrect formatting, and such can show an amateur script from a professional one, but really... the execs don't care if you bold your sluglines, the production staff don't care, the actors don't care, no one who is above that level care... the only people who care are the studio readers. This is because many of them are indeed frustrated writers who read really bad scripts all day, with the idea in their head that they can do much better, and MAYBE THEY CAN, but it is a fact that when they bitch and moan and diss a script based on subtle formatting deviations, they are the only people who care. I am a repped writer in the UK, and I can tell you that I haven't met anybody in the upper echelons of the TV or movie business who care about these things other than the readers.

    So guess what writers out there reading this? I suggest you take The Bitter Script Reader's advice, follow it perfectly, because it's guy's/gals like him who are the gate keepers to your script, and they are bitter as hell.


  3. Hey MD... how about you read the whole entry next time before throwing a hissy fit? You seem to have missed the part where I said:

    "If that's the only formatting liberty you're taking, it's probably not too bad. I can see it tripping a reader's mental red flag because it's a pretty conspicuous deviation, but it's relatively minor..."


    "No good script will get a pass because of some bolded sluglines."

    Why did I advise against it? Perception is a large reason. Break one format rule and the reader will be that much more sensitive to any others, and he might find one you REALLY screwed up. And it's not just my perception - if I was giving my script to one of my bosses, the last thing I'd want if for him to notice something out of the ordinary in the format.

    And hey, it's a formatting rule for a reason. When you got an assignment in school and the teacher told you to use in-text citations, but you used footnotes instead, did you moan that it's not fair?

    And it's all about "perception" - sort of like how that pissy tone in your comment might cause some to perceive you to be an ass.

  4. I did fully read your post, I was lamenting the fact that it has got to a stage where such a minor stylistic deviation now deserves to be assessed through the lens of a particular reader/set-of-readers' own personal pet annoyances. I don't question that if one is told to use citations instead of footnotes (using your metaphor) and then does the opposite, one cannot then moan and bitch... the thing is, that's not the correct metaphor. There is no one-person saying unilaterally that this is or isn't correct in the industry, the truth is fads and style choices have come and gone in screenwriting for years, each one becoming in a reader's mind "The Correct" way of doing things. There is no logic in saying that a bold slugline might piss off a reader, because in five years time, when it's all the rage to embolden a slugline, some young upstart is going to be criticising your very own screenplay for not using the true format! I don't argue that there are rules, but those rules you need to abide are logical because they make the page read better, it seems to me that most writers differ on the minor stuff anyway, and once again, the only people who care about this are the readers.

    And that is my final point - if you read a script where everything was correctly formatted, but the sluglines were bold, I put it to you that 99.9% of execs wouldn't give a stuff. Only the reader who gave him/her it would care.

    As for the tone, I can only hope that this comes across as less pissy.

  5. I like using bold sluglines. I think if anything it tells the reader that I mean serious goddamn business with the setting and what, do they think this is a game? It's night, bitch. We're inside. That means darkness and shit.

  6. Thanks for your input. I'm a reader as well and am seeing a lot of bolded sluglines. I find it distracting and mildly annoying. It also makes me wonder how professional a writer is, despite your question writer's success. Why do it if it might irk the gatekeeper?