The Right Format For Writing a Screenplay

The Right Format For Writing a Screenplay

Every great screenplay writer whose stories have made it successfully to the big screen and earned millions at the box office started with only an idea. Writing, proofreading and formatting did not come naturally to them all; drafting scripts is not an entirely easy feat. Not only does it require knowledge and skills regarding film-making, audience preferences and more, but also immense patience, dedication and faith within oneself. A story written for a movie, traditionally known as a script or a screenplay, must follow certain industry conventions in order for your work to be considered seriously by production companies, film studios or agents. It can be daunting and elusive, with different scriptwriters following their idiosyncratic patterns, making it hard to decipher what needs to be done. But don’t worry; they are easy to follow and can make a massive difference to your writing style! Sit back and let us take you through the various features to keep in mind while considering scriptwriting format for a movie.

Firstly, you must understand the length requirements for your screenplay. The script must at least be 70 – 180 pages, but don’t let this number intimidate you. While the dialogue and narration (description of action) will eat up a significant portion of your page, details like the scene heading, number, transition, extensions, intercuts, and more will also take up space. A typical page of your screenplay (approximately 55 lines) will include the following elements:

  1. Fade In: When your screenplay begins.
  2. Scene Heading: Outlining the location and time of the scene.
  3. Scene Number: Where it falls in the sequence of events.
  4. Action: A brief description of what will occur during the scene. These will be written in the present tense and refer to the characters in the third person.
  5. Transition: Any instructions for how the scene will unfold like “Cut To” or “Fade Out.” However, it is used less frequently in modern screenplay writing.
  6. Character Name: Recognises the character speaking or executing a particular action. Each time a character is introduced, their name must be entirely capitalised, their age must be referenced, and a brief description regarding their traits must be provided.
  7. Extension: Any additional details regarding the character’s speech, especially indicating their presence when they cannot be seen. Examples include off-screen “(O.S.)” or voice-over “(V.O.).”
  8. Dialogue: Who is speaking and what they are saying!
  9. Parenthetical: Certain characters may need to execute actions or emote while expressing dialogue, like “into phone,” which should be in parentheses between dialogues. These add nuance and sensuality to the scene. 
  10. Intercuts: Any instructions that should be provided to the director, actor or crew when cutting to a different location while the scene remains the same.
  11. Shot: Provides details regarding the camera movement and angle within the particular scene. This feature may not be entirely necessary unless you are the director.

Every mentioned element may not be required for each page of the script – it is at your discretion, based on your plan for the scene. Often, there may be no use of intercuts if the whole sequence takes place at a single location. Be mindful of how you use and manipulate these features to suit your unique story; you don’t want to pad your script too much with details the audience can neither see nor hear, as it is the sign of a novice!

Secondly, your script requires consistency in formatting, making it easier to print, peruse and annotate by numerous stakeholders like the actors, director or crew. A good script will have a page to screen ratio of 1:1, which is ensured by employing the Courier font at 12pt – a non-negotiable element, as it is the industry standard. The script will also have to be punch-holed upon printing, which necessitates the left margin to become 1.5” while the rest (top, bottom and right margins) remain at an inch. Each of the character names – written with uppercase letters only – must be positioned 3.7 inches from the page left (or 2.2 inches from the left margin), while their dialogues should be placed a mere 2.5 inches from the page left (or an inch from the left margin). Simultaneously, the page number will be situated at the top right corner, with a 0.5” margin from the top of the page instead of the typical 1 inch. Screenplay writing is a long and arduous process, but having some consistency through those weeks will help you keep track of your progress and encourage you to reach certain milestones. Keeping these minor details in mind while writing will significantly impact how your script is received after you pitch it to industry professionals. You increase your chances of getting an offer by helping the reader smoothly visualize your screenplay with good rhythm, flow, and pace. Follow these simple recommendations to have a polished and comme il faut script!

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