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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:

Available now!


How To Write a Play


How To Format a Play
How To Format a Novel

 

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clemenson
Just last week he had a guest appearance in the wildly popular “Manhattan” (Manhattan Project was the code word for the development of the A-bomb)  In 1999, He appeared in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Bad Girls” as a morbidly obese demon named Balthazar. He wore a large padded suit and extensive make-up for the role, and the character’s repulsive, villainous nature contradicted many of his earlier roles.  Recently, He has become known for his role as Jerry “Hands” Espenson on the television series Boston Legal. For playing Espenson, he won an Emmy Award for Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2006 and was nominated for the same award in 2007. He remained with the series through to its finale in 2008.  In 2009, He joined CSI: Miami as the new medical examiner, Dr. Tom Loman. He appeared throughout the show’s eighth, ninth and tenth seasons as a recurring character. 2013, also he appeared as guest star in Harry’s Law.  Answer: (nosnemelC, naitsirhC) more »

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RobinWhat’s with you middle-aged men who give up?  Just when the door of freedom is opening.  Free to do what you want and ignore the rest, freedom from putting up with a–holes, freedom to NOT set the alarm clock.  Freedom to start on your bucket list.

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And I earned the right  to be angry with him….being a survivor of suicide and the horror and  confusion that follows.  This man was an inspiration to all artists, actors, directors, writers, painters, dancers….he made us want to be better at our chosen craft …to aspire to his brilliance.   And now he’s gone.
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What Inspires You? Michael Douglas as Liberace? No Way!

Michael Douglas, Liberace, movies, great talent            I’m a Michael Douglas fan and also loved his father, actor Kirk Douglas. Going back too far for you?   Liberace on our old black and white TV so many years ago.  So naturally I had to see how Mike Douglas would play Liberace.  Yep!  You heard me right !

MIchael Douglas, Liberace, great movies, great actors

The Great, the One and Only Liberace

…..testosterone laden, sexy, smoldering all-man Michael Douglas playing the incredibly talented, prissy, outrageously gay Liberace in the movie, “Behind the Candelabra”  with Matt Damon as his long time partner/lover, Scott.

I’m writing this pseudo-review because the movie inspired me TO WRITE.  It’s another way to sharpen your writing claws on a daily basis.   Write about things that move you, makes you happy (which this film did on so many levels) makes you sad, angry, passionate.  Keep writing!

ichael Douglas, Liberace, great talent

Michael Douglas as Liberace

 

 

 

 

But let’s go back, for a moment, to ‘matinée idol’ time…….when men were men and women were glad!     When Kirk Douglas was every young woman’s heart throb and Michael Douglas was not even a twinkle in Kirk’s eye.

Kurt Douglas, Spartacus, great actors, Michael DouglasMy God, he was sex on two legs.  He was a real film hero.  But he wasn’t alone…..Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Kirk, Randolph Scott…the list went on and on.

Kirk Douglas, great actors

Kirk Douglas as Spartacus

  His movies included:  In Harm’s Way, Two Weeks in Another Town, Lonely Are the Brave,  Spartacus,

Paths of Glory, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, kurt.westernLust for Life (Vincent Van Gogh), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Vikings, Man Without a Star, The Indian Fighter, Ulysses, just to name a few.

In those days it would have been the kiss of death to their career if a man  played the role of a ‘faggot or queer or pansy’ which is what gay men were called in those days.  Very offensive words these days.  Actors like Rock Hudson and Montgomery Cliff spent their careers and lives going to great lengths to hide their life style.  Liberace promoted the false rumor that he and Sonja Henie (famous ice skater/movie star)  had a long-standing love affaire to cover his gay life style.

So now let’s look at Michael Douglas’ work…. Wall Street,  Fatal Attraction, (one of my favorites)
MIchael Douglas, Sharon Stone, Basic InstinctBasic Instinct, The Jewel of the Nile, A Chorus Line,

 

great movies, great actors, MIchael Douglas

Romancing the Stone,  The China Syndrome, Coma, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Again, just picking a few from what  comprised his career.

And now after a stellar career as a leading man, Michael Douglas had the vision, los cajones, the guts, the talent to portray Liberace in this very fine film.

Growing up, wgreat entertainers, Liberace, great movies e watched Liberace every week on TV, at our house,  much to the disgust of my Dad. (a raging homophobe) and when I watched “Behind the Candelabra” I felt that the great entertainer and pianist, Liberace had returned!  Thank you, Michael!

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I have had a wonderful response from other authors and will feature an interview once a month . These authors have already responded and you can read their interviews by clicking on their name:: Ann Purser, Susan Elia MacNealMark Childress, Rhys Bowen, Dean Koontz, Sheryl Woods, Jo-Ann Mapson, Jeffrey Deaver, Elizabeth Gilbert, Amber Winckler, Karen Robards, Robert McCammon, Sue Grafton, Caroline Leavitt, Cathy Lamb, Heidi Jon Schmidt, Walter Mosley, Loretta Chase, Nora Roberts, Raymond Benson and many others.

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