How To Format A Screenplay

TS.  ‘ACTION drives a screenplay, that and plot.  DIALOGUE drives a stage play so it better be damn good. In my opinion, if your action is good in a screenplay, the dialogue can be mediocre and often is in blockbusters. If your dialogue is crisp and interesting and helps drive the story, you’ve done a better job than most in Hollywood.’ 

While you can buy books and software to do the job for you it’s always good to have a grasp of the general spacing standards. The top, bottom and right margins of a screenplay are 1″. The left margin is 1.5″. The extra half-inch of white space to the left of a script page allows for binding with brads, yet still imparts a feeling of vertical balance of the text on the page. The entire document should be single-spaced.

The very first item on the first page should be the words FADE IN:. Note: the first page is never numbered. Subsequent page numbers appear in the upper right hand corner, 0.5″ from the top of the page, flush right to the margin.

Screenplay Elements

Below is a list of items (with definitions) that make up the screenplay format, along with indenting information. Again, screenplay software will automatically format all these elements, but a screenwriter must have a working knowledge of the definitions to know when to use each one.

Scene Heading
Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″

A scene heading is a one-line description of the location and time of day of a scene, also known as a “slugline.” It should always be in CAPS.

Example: EXT. WRITERS STORE – DAY reveals that the action takes place outside The Writers Store during the daytime.

Subheader
Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″

When a new scene heading is not necessary, but some distinction needs to be made in the action, you can use a subheader. But be sure to use these sparingly, as a script full of subheaders is generally frowned upon. A good example is when there are a series of quick cuts between two locations, you would use the term INTERCUT and the scene locations.

Action
Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″

The narrative description of the events of a scene, written in the present tense. Also less commonly known as direction, visual exposition, blackstuff, description or scene direction.

Remember – only things that can be seen and heard should be included in the action.

Character
Indent: Left: 2.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 4.0″

When a character is introduced, his name should be capitalized within the action. For example: The door opens and in walks LIAM, a thirty-something hipster with attitude to spare.

A character’s name is CAPPED and always listed above his lines of dialogue. Minor characters may be listed without names, for example “TAXI DRIVER” or “CUSTOMER.”

Dialogue
Indent: Left: 1.0″ Right: 1.5″ Width: 3.5″

Lines of speech for each character. Dialogue format is used anytime a character is heard speaking, even for off-screen and voice-overs. Normal upper and lower case is used.

Parenthetical
Indent: Left: 1.5″ Right: 2.0″ Width: 2.5″

A parenthetical is direction for the character, that is either attitude or action-oriented. With roots in the playwriting genre, today, parentheticals are used very rarely, and only if absolutely necessary. Why? Two reasons. First, if you need to use a parenthetical to convey what’s going on with your dialogue, then it probably just needs a good re-write. Second, it’s the director’s job to instruct an actor on how to deliver a line, and everyone knows not to encroach on the director’s turf!

Extension
Placed after the character’s name, in parentheses

An abbreviated technical note placed after the character’s name to indicate how the voice will be heard onscreen, for example, if the character is speaking as a voice-over, it would appear as LIAM (V.O.).

Transition
Indent: Left: 4.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 2.0″

Transitions are film editing instructions, and generally only appear in a shooting script. Transition verbiage includes:

  • CUT TO:
  • DISSOLVE TO:
  • SMASH CUT:
  • QUICK CUT:
  • FADE TO:

As a spec script writer, you should avoid using a transition unless there is no other way to indicate a story element. For example, you might need to use DISSOLVE TO: to indicate that a large amount of time has passed.

Shot
Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″

A shot tells the reader the focal point within a scene has changed. Like a transition, there’s rarely a time when a spec screenwriter should insert shot directions. Once again, that’s the director’s job. 

Sample of what your page should look like:  [Source: The Writer’s Digest]

 

 

 

other related posts by this blogger:
How To Write a Play
How To Format a Play
How To Format a Novel

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?    January: Sue Grafton ~ In Memory
March: Mystery (and Western) writer, Larry D. Sweazy.  April: in60Learning ~ A unique, non-fiction mini-book read in 60 minutes.
                                                                                   
                                         Check out more Motivational Moments…for Writers!

To receive my posts sign up for my blog, blogs, blogger, writer, author, playwright, books, plays,fiction  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks! 

To Purchase

 

 

 

 

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

I love to hear from my readers! Tell me what you think of the web site and the content.