Again, no two screenplays are exactly the same. Just make choices that make your screenplay readable and professional.
2. The action—also flush left, single-spaced, with a double space between it and the slug—describes what we see after we fade in on Harlan LaRue's mansion.
The action also describes what is happening as it happens, so it's always written in present tense. If your description runs longer than four or five lines, break it into smaller sections. Characters' names appears in ALL CAPS the first time we see them.
PROFESSOR HARLAN LaRUE, an elderly, disheveled man in a white lab coat, hurriedly makes a last minute inspection of a mélange of coiled wires, flashing lights and bubbling beakers.
The one thing that the student has got to do is to learn that there is a rectangle up there—a white rectangle in a theatre—and it has to be filled ... I only consider the screen up there, and the whole film to me should be on paper from beginning to end.6
What you're doing in a vivid, economical, visual way is filling the screen, describing what's in it (mise en scène) and what's going on. Good visual writing is an art and a craft unto itself, creating cinematic tone and mood through language. Bob Gray's opening description of Harlan LaRue's mansion—"the ancient stone building sits dark and lifeless"—is visual and evocative of tone, mood, and genre (and director Matt Stevens underlines and enhances these with the use of a prowling camera—an homage to Citizen Kane—in the opening shot).
Thomas Jackson's evokes an entirely different tone and mood in the opening action description of Slow Dancin':
The parking lot is empty and quiet, except for a green 1979 Toyota pickup, a distant train whistle, and the muffled sound of a guitar coming from the inside of the store.
This simple description creates a mood of disconnection and loneliness.
And look at Lani Sciandra's description of the time and place in Cool Breeze and Buzz:
The year is 1967. Dense woods draped in moss align the river's edge. Nearby is a small dilapidated wooden dock garnished with apple snails. A HERON combs the hyacinths on the bank for a meal.
Lani describes the wooden dock as "garnished with apple snails." Garnished. A lovely choice for a screenplay about a young girl who feels a deep love and connection to her world and chooses, in the end, to remain there. An entirely different mood would have been evoked if she had said the dock was "scarred."
Though we tend to think of action description as neutral, the best screenwriters take great care with the words that they choose and create their own writing style. Barry Jenkins uses a spare simple style to create the lovely and deeply-felt emotion in My Josephine:
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