BOOK REVIEW – The Hollywood Standard (2nd Edition) by Christopher Riley

You have a story. It’s compelling. It’s beautiful. It means something. Maybe you wrote it overnight, in a frenzied burst of creativity. Maybe it came to you in a dream. Now, all you need to do is turn it into a legible screenplay – but what does that mean?

The Hollywood Standard’s new foreword by Antwone Fisher expresses exactly what this book covers and why it is so essential: while most writers have the ‘art’ side of a screenplay down, what they tend to struggle with is the ‘science’ of it. ‘Sometimes’, he writes, ‘I would envision a scene in my head and wonder, “How do I explain this? How do I put this scene on the page so other people will see the same scene that I see?”’

Christopher Riley’s textbook takes away the trials and tribulations of formatting. It boils every shot description, every margin, and every capitalised letter down to the industry standard. It ‘frees [the writer] to think about more interesting things. Like their characters and stories’.

Who needs a musty old book? You think to yourself as you read this review, I’m going to download the latest, coolest formatting software and bang this out in three hours.

CUT TO: You, in six hours, browsing online forums to find out which of the latest formatting softwares is actually the coolest. Or watching your 10th tutorial for that one setting in Movie Magic Screenwriter. And dying inside.

‘For the same reasons we need dictionaries and standardized spellings, we need standard formats’, Riley writes, ‘Not because we can’t think of more than one way to lay out our vision on the page, but because we can think of too many.’

Aware of its context in the digital age, The Hollywood Standard asserts itself as a stalwart bible in opposition to the latest editing software, but helps you wrangle with your MacBook at the same time. It answers your questions and tells you what a human being – a big-shot human being – wants to see.

The book also recognises our attention span: in the age of the ‘listicle’, nothing could be more welcome to fast-paced readers than sections entitled ‘Avoiding a Dozen Deadly Formatting Mistakes’ and ‘The Four Building Blocks of Single-Camera Film Format’.

Now in its second edition, The Hollywood Standard comes with a number of tweaks to make it even more accessible. Printed in the exact dimensions of a script, it allows for side-by-side comparison between sample pages and one’s own work. New additions also include FAQs at the end of chapters and proofreading tips. A ‘Quick Start Guide’ has also been added for people who can’t skim read and need to dash out a professional-looking screenplay ASAP.

Riley urges screenwriters towards an ‘extreme economy of language’, and reflects it in his own writing. With minimal musings and only a handful of wisecracks, he wastes no time and gives you what you need, straight up.

This book knows it’s not going to be cradled in an armchair beside a crackling fire. It’s for people on their feet – people with a mission. And it’s going to help you get there as quickly and effectively as possible. The Hollywood Standard grabs you by the hand and briskly turns the slog of formatting into a smooth, clean process. If you want to turn out best script in the stack, find it here on Amazon. 

About 

Sylvie Dumont is not quite Italian and not quite American. And certainly not French.

When she is not in the Raindance office, she is crying about her undergrad dissertation. If you know anything about Sicilian folklore, please contact her.

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