I can tell you right off that I was pre-disposed to love this book. If the only constant I've had to deal with year-in/year-out with screenwriters it is about format: What is right, what is wrong? (CONT'D) or no (CONT'D)? What about (beats) and actions within dialogue, etc.? So when this book landed on my desk I dove in like a child in front of a gift laden Christmas Tree on Christmas morning.
Now, to call your work a "COMPLETE & AUTHORITATIVE GUIDE" is a bit of a risk one may (or may not) want to take. What, exactly, does that mean. IS it "Complete and Authoritative?"
Frankly? No. I still had questions afterward that the book did not answer. I also feared that the book could, possibly, do more harm than good.
Now, before I sound like the kid who only got socks on Christmas morning, let me tell you about the good. The good is that the book is VERY thorough in its subject matter and it runs the gamut of both screenplays and teleplays. It's a fast read and clear and concise. Mr. Riley does create a text book/reference book for the masses that answers most of your questions. It IS a book that one may need to pull off a shelf for a quick answer to a question.
What the book also does very well is give you many examples of both good and bad formatting. Do this - don't do that. Write this - don't write that. There are a number of areas where a person should not have to question which is the right way or wrong way to do something - and this book is clear on many points and, perhaps, TOO clear.
Now, for the socks under the Christmas tree. What do I mean by TOO clear? Well - Mr. Riley does a credible job of differentiating between a Spec Script and a Production Script - but he starts the book dealing with camera angles. I had issues with this. Why? Everything I have always heard, and read, (and Mr. Riley confirms) is that most spec scripts are to NOT HAVE many camera angles - to leave that up to the director. But when chapter two is devoted to: `Tracking shot, hand held shot, med. shot, insert, wide, two and three shot, etc.' I was suddenly questioning my own way of writing: "Holy sh** have I been doing this wrong all this time?" After 17 screenplays and 10 years of teaching? Am I supposed to be including these? Again, later, in two sentences Mr. Riley states: "But when there is no compelling reason to specify a particular type of shot, don't. Leave it to the director." (This was in a large paragraph but in defense of Mr. Riley - he DID put it in bold.) This is important, though and should have been highlighted more - or I fear there are going to be a number of spec scripts cluttered with MED. SHOT HUEY AND LOUIE.
Here is an example of the above: I gave the book to a screenwriter I know to look at something and she turned to me a little while later and exclaimed: "WOW! THIS BOOK IS FANTASTIC!" About a half-hour after that she was in my face going: "What does this mean? I don't understand? Am I SUPPOSED to be doing this? What about this? I'm really confused." Granted, she went out that night and bought the book but, still I think it could have been handled better. How? By doing a quick break down of what is expected out of a "Spec Script" for a first time writer and a "Produced Script."
Another sock under the tree was the point that Mr. Riley made about (CONT'D) following dialogue that is broken by an action. As Mr. Riley states, this has not been a common practice in Hollywood for "TWENTY YEARS." I'll admit I use "Final Draft" and I have the option of doing the (CONT'D) or not and have leaned towards using it as in: no harm, no foul - as long as I am consistent. If "Final Draft" is industry standard (as explained by a Producer I know in the thick of all that is Hollywood) - why would they include the option?
So I went online to [...] to investigate how "Hollywood Standard" this is. And here is what I found: I searched out "Walk The Line" a 2003 Production Draft written by Gill Dennis and James Mangold. The script used the (CONT'D) after action breaks in dialogue it also was rife with: "WE MOVE TO" and "WE SEE" and "AS WE MOVE TOWARD" now, again, these may be proper format in a pre-production script but Mr. Riley does not touch on the "WE" issue that I see in screenplays that I critique or scripts that I write myself. He touches on tracking shots and hand-held shots and close-ups but he never actually touches on writing "WE PAN UP TO SEE..." Is this correct or not? My thinking is that it would be better to just write: PAN UP TO SEE but...
Another thing that is not touched on is the use of (ON RADIO) or (ON TELEVISION). Mr. Riley says that the proper format for something that is being heard from a speaker or radio or television is to use:
But... What if the person is on the television and you can see them? Would you use: (ON TELEVISION) or (ON MONITOR)? It does not make sense to me to use (V.O.) if you can see them. And, again, in "Walk The Line" they use (ON RADIO). Mr. Riley does not touch on this.
(IMPORTANT NOTE: James Mangold Directed "Walk The Line" and Gill Dennis has written a handful of screenplays so they may have been able to "fudge" the rules a bit.)
For the sake of argument I searched out the Best Picture Winner "Crash" on line to take a look at that screenplay. Once again, it used the (CONT'D) after breaks in the dialogue. It, too, was a production script and it, too, was written by the director/producer of the film - so maybe the rules don't apply as clearly in that situation.
I then finally took a look at David Koepp and Josh Friedman's version of "War of the Worlds" - 2005. They did NOT use (CONT'D).
And one other point I felt that Mr. Riley could have touched on but did not: CREDITS - Is it okay to say: Begin Opening Credits and then end with End Opening Credits a few pages later?
This book has far more positives than it does negatives and it IS very thorough. The break-down of what should be capitalized and what shouldn't is INVALUABLE. The examples are excellent and he covers most everything anyone would be looking for.
Still, I don't know if "Complete and Authoritative" is as accurate as he would like it to be as I still had a few questions that didn't get answered.
Bottom line: If you are set on doing something such as the (CONT'D) or (V.O.) instead of (ON RADIO) - just be consistent. Inconsistency is the quickest red flag that you are an amateur and don't know what you are doing.