How to Format a Screenplay

The format of a screenplay is very important whether it be for a feature length film, short film, or for the theatre.

This article will point out the different elements of the screenplay and how you should adhere to the rules of a film script.

A film script can look pretty complicated at first but I’ll try to explain each element for you.

A very important rule of screenplay formatting is that at the beginning each scene you should always define who the characters are, what the situation is, what time of day it is, and the purpose of the action.

The very first item on the first page of your script should always be a FADE IN. It’s as simple as that, but it’s something you should remember.

When writing your screenplay you should always remember that you’ll be handing it to someone else to read so your script will look pretty unprofessional from the start if you don’t even have a FADE IN.

Scene Heading

Scene headings are an integral part of your screenplay therefore these need to be formatted in the correct way. Scene headings must be arranged in a certain order I’ll try and make this as clear as possible for you.

The headings on your script should be written on one line with some words abbreviated and all words are always capitalized. Let’s take an example heading:-

EXT. WRITERS STORE – DAY

This is the standard layout of the heading so let me explain the order.

The location of the scene should always be before the time of your scene. Looking at the above example you can see the location is “outside the writers store”, and this comes before the time, “day”

It’s also important to remember that when you’re writing headings in your screenplay Interior and Exterior should always be abbreviated (INT and EXT respectively). A hyphen should then separate the location and the time.

Some people then like to leave a two space gap after the scene heading but this isn’t required. Your script won’t be frowned upon should you wish to just leave a one space gap.

The next element of a screenplay that we’ll talk about is the action….

ACTION

The action is just basically your description of your scene that provides some sort of narrative to the setting.

It is important to remember that the first time a character is mentioned within a description that their names should be written in upper case. Let’s look at another example:-

ANTHONY, Canadian-Italian Story Specialist extraordinaire, 30’s and not getting any younger, ambles over.

This is the first time Anthony has been mentioned therefore his name is in upper case.

The names of characters that have no dialogue within the scene are not capitalized when you mention them in your description. See example below:-

Writers browse the many scripts in the screenplay section

One more thing you need to remember when writing your description is that the sounds your audience will hear should also be capitalized (e.g. SCREAM or WHISTLE).

That pretty much sums up the actions or descriptions within your screenplay so let’s move on to the Script Dialogue.

DIALOGUE

Dialogue is obviously one of the most important elements of your script. If you get the format of this right then you should have no problem screenwriting.

Your dialogue is always centered on the page and the name of the character that will speak the dialogue always appears above it. For example:-

ANTHONY

Hey, how’s everyone doin’ here?

It is really that simple! You can then further this by going on to explain how the character actually speaks the dialogue. This should shown by indicating how the dialogue is spoke below the characters name within brackets. This is known as Parenthetical.

ANTHONY

(apologetically)

I’m sorry, are you ok?

The above are the most important parts of a screenplay and you will want to concentrate on getting the format of these absolutely right. However, there are just a few more elements that you may want to include on your script which aren’t quite as important as the three above so I’ll mention these more briefly.

Transition – These are instructions within scripts for the film editing. These aren’t necessary to include and if were you I would avoid using them unless you know exactly what you want to do. If your lucky enough to get your screenplay turned into a blockbuster film then I’m sure the editor of the film will add their own notes for editing purposes.

Sub Header – Sub headers are used in a script when a full scene heading isn’t really necessary. So for example if in our scene we are in a shop and the scene then moves to a shop counter we don’t really need a full scene description as we are in the same shop. We know the description of the shop already and have just moved to a different area of that shop so don’t need a full scene heading. This helps to keep things simple within your script and makes sure you don’t overcomplicate the description of the scene. We want the screenplay to be descriptive but we also want to keep it simple.

Mores and Continueds – These are pretty self descriptive. A (MORE) and (CONT’D) within your screenplay just indicate a character is still speaking when you have to go onto the next page. A MORE at the end of the page and a CONT’D at the beginning of the page.

Page Number – Page numbers should be located 0.5″ from the top of the page and should always be flush right of the script.

And that completes my script formatting walkthrough. I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible rather than rambling on into fine detail about every aspect of a screenplay as a lot of the material online and in text books seems to do these days.

I hope you find this article useful.

Source by Adam C Sanders

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