A Tale Of Two Title Pages
What goes into making a good title page for your screenplay? Well, first let’s clarify the difference between a title page and a cover page.
A title page is the page that contains obviously your screenplay’s title, who the author(s) is/are, also your contact information, and finally your copyright/registration protection notices. However, as we will see, the copyright/registration part can and should be left out under certain circumstances.
The cover page is a the 100 lb mono-colored (usually white) sheet of paper on both the front and back of your screenplay. This is generally to protect it from wear and tear as it gets read by script analysts, agents, or producers.
As you go along in your screenwriting career, you will find that there are certain conventions that you are expected to follow when formatting and submitting your screenplay. Like it or not, failure to adhere to these conventions may get your screenplay tossed out before it is even read. Therefore, after many hours of research, I feel that I’ve finally got somewhat of a handle on what passes these days for acceptable screenplay front matter.
Of course leaving that aside, nothing is more important than writing a compelling, lean, crisp, and a fully proofread story.
But back to the basics here.
So what are the two type of title pages of which this blog entry suggests?
One simply has your copyright/registration protection information on it and the other does not.
The reason why you would have a title page sans the protection notice is simply because when you finally get the chance to submit your full screenplay to the entities I described above, they already know that you’ve probably copyrighted and registered your script. Noting that on the title page looks more amateurish and also the sign of someone who is paranoid of their story idea getting stolen. Plus, if you sell it, then the buyer will own the rights to the screenplay and do with it what they will.
Myth Buster: No Hollywood/Entertainment Industry professional is out to steal your story! Believe me, it would cost them far less to option the story from you rather than go to court and pay for the legal battle that would ensue. This is just not done. Furthermore, you may think that you’ve got the greatest most original story idea on the planet, but in reality probably not. I’m not saying that your story isn’t a good one, just that with hundreds of thousands of scripts out there trying to get noticed, chances are that someone has thought up the same thing. The difference is in how you tell the story, and in your efforts to market your screenplay.
So why would you put your copyright/registration info on the title page then? Well, if you were submitting your story to non-Hollywood/Entertainment Industry professionals like members of your writers group, friends, family members, acquaintances with a passing interest in reading your story; then letting them know that your story is protected — in case of that rare instance that your screenplay falls into dubious hands and someone tries to run off with your story idea — is probably a good idea. Also, if you were submitting your screenplay to contests or to a registration institution (like the United States Library of Congress), or on the Internet, then putting that info on the title page is also wise.
So what is copyright and registration information?
There are two types that you really only need to be concerned with. One is getting your screenplay copyrighted with the United States Library of Congress (US LOC), and the other is with the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW).
Registering with the US LOC has gotten a lot easier and less expensive over the years. You can even register online and submit your work electronically! The current lists of fees and instructions are available on their website. It usually takes a long time to get your registration certificate from them, but keep in mind that really once you write something original it is copyrighted by you—the official protection is just an extra bit of legal insurance.
Registering with the WGAW is similar to the the US LOC. However, with the WGAW you can register a lot more than just a story (technically you can register anything with the US LOC, but it doesn’t get down to the granularity of which the WGAW offers). In other words, you can register your story concept (a few paragraphs of your idea), pitch (what you would say to a exec to get them interested in your story concept), and of course your screenplay to name a few. Go to their website and you’ll see what I mean. Furthermore, you can also submit your work electronically.
How do you format the copyright/registration info on your title page? Simply like this:
© 2009 Nicholas R. Iandolo
[Note: displaying this on a webpage is a bit different then on a printed page. There would be no line space between the above two notices of protection.]
What you have here is pretty self-explanatory. For the US LOC copyright it is simply: © [copyright symbol or (c)], a space, the year, a space, and the full name of the author.
For the WGAW registration you can simply use: WGAW Registered
Do not use the WGAW registration number that you are given for the work. That is not necessary and again amateurish.
Place these notices either on the bottom left or right of your title page. See the example below.
In the above example I have used the simple title page format from Final Draft’s standard screenplay template but with a few modifications. I’ve added (for my own edification) the draft version and put the copyright/registration info on the right-hand bottom of the page. The protection notices are flush right with the right-hand margin of the page and appear on the same lines as my home address.
Also note that I’ve capitalized and underlined the screenplay title. Unlike with a novel, you have a bit of flexibility here as you can use quotation marks to enclose the title or leave out the underlining. The title is centered about a third of the way down on the page. Then there are 3 line spaces (or hard returns) and the words “Written by” are next (you can also simply write “by” — no quotes of course). Then another 2 line spaces down and here’s where the author(s) name(s) appears.
One thing to note is when there are two authors that worked together on the screenplay you use the ampersand symbol “&” between them on the same line. See the following:
Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
[writers of the 2009 movie STAR TREK]
If another writer was brought in after the original screenplay was drafted and submitted (or sold), then you’d see the word “and” between the authors. Now-a-days, if you look closely at the writing credits you can see up to six or more people having contributed to a screenplay. There are a lot of ampersands and ands behind many screenplays. You could see “Story by …” with a few names after it and then “Screenplay by …” with a few more names. So keep in mind that after you’ve sold your screenplay you will face the very real possibility of other writers being brought in to legally and contractually “bastardize” your work! That’s “par for the course.” So I wouldn’t get too hung up on protecting your screenplay from all outside forces.
Here’s an example of the title page without all of the hoopla of protection notices:
So as you can see, it is a nice clean title page that is simple and unobtrusive—just the thing that keeps script readers from getting annoyed, and motivated to go onto the first page.
Finally, a word about the cover page. Cover pages do not have any words on them except for the screenplay title (formatted as in the above example). I personally choose to not have any thing written on my cover pages. Since a lot of people would have the title, why not be different and don’t put it on there? Plus, I think it adds to the mystique of the script.
A mysterious blank cover! What amazing adventures could lie inside!
So there you have it: a tale of two title pages.
Not quite Charles Dickens but who’s counting?