The short answer is: “So that it will be read.”
By using the correct format for your screenplay, you put yourself in the best position to have your script read by the “right” people. If you don’t… the chances of a decision maker reading past page ten drops below 10 percent. Keeping in mind that the chances of it actually reaching a decision maker in the first place are not very high. These are not the kind of odds you want to lessen when we’re talking about a document which is the result of hours, weeks and months of hard work, all of which will be for nought if no-one reads your screenplay.
Make your Screenplay Stand Out
Skilled writers are a form of currency in the entertainment industry, and much in demand. This despite the relatively small amount of screenwriting jobs available to people who seek work in this field. Top screenwriters can earn a lot of money, but many wanna-be screenwriters at best eke out a living. At worst, they end up with day jobs and have to write in their free time at night. They, (together with the many freelancers trying to climb the ladder to economic freedom,) depend on their ability to not only write great stories, but to get them read.
But (Big Name Writer) doesn’t format his work like that!
There are of course instances of writers who do not use standard screenplay formatting. Mostly they are either very lucky amateurs or well established professionals who can afford to ignore the norms. Usually in these cases, somewhere down the production line, a team of assistants bring the screenplay into line by formatting it so that everyone can understand it and execute their vision. Most of us however, if we want to find success, need to follow the rules of the game.
The Creative Blueprint
A screenplay for a film can be compared to a music score for a symphony. Both lay out in detail the roles of each contributor to the final product. Strict formats and conventions are used to convey information to the teams that will execute the creative blueprint, and eventually translate the ideas that have been committed to paper, into their envisaged form.
Time has proven that the easiest way for composers and screenwriters to communicate ideas to people and preserve information, is in a form of a written language. Importantly, one that has been adapted to cater for their specific profession. This specialised layout has been developed to help communicate ideas clearly and concisely, and includes conventions that allow the reader to quickly and easily understand and visualize what the writer had in mind.
Amateur vs Professional
Using the accepted format helps the writer to not automatically be tagged as an amateur, and silently communicates a basic level of professionalism, allowing the reader to concentrate on the story and merits of the screenplay.
And that was the long answer… but either way I suggest that you go to great lengths to make certain that formatting of your screenplay is correct.
“There is no screenplay writing recipe that guarantees your cake will rise” – Robert McKee