Your story is plotted, your characters are developed and your scenes are outlined, you are now ready to write your script in the correct format. Formatting a screenplay can be a bit intimidating and quite tedious. WritingRoom will soon be launching our own screenplay writing application to help you with formatting…it’s going to be very cool! But until then, you can follow a few simple guidelines to format and complete your screenplay in no time.
THE SIX MAIN COMPONENTS: A spec script consists of four main components: (1) Scene Headings, (2) Action, (3) Character Name and (4) Dialogue. A shooting script ads camera angles, technical information, scene numbers and editing directions. Adding these components should be avoided in a spec scripts and only used when absolutely necessary to the story.
(1) SCENE HEADINGS appear the beginning of every scene. They tell us the location of the scene and the time of day it is taking place. It is made up of three main elements.
The Scene Heading should be 1.5 inches (15 spaces) from the left edge of the paper.
* Location of the camera is the first element. Is it inside or outside? If it is indoors, use INT. for INTERIOR. If it is outdoors, use EXT. for EXTERIOR. Occasionally, if the action moves back and forth it is alright to use INT./EXT.
* Location of the scene is the second element of the scene heading. This lets us know where all the action is taking place. The name of the location should be short and specific.
*Time of day is the last part of the scene heading. This describes the time of day the scene is taking place. Most often this will only be DAY or NIGHT. You may use terms such as DUSK, DAWN, MORNING, EVENING and the TIME, if it essential to the story. SAME (indicating the scene takes place at the same time as the previous scene), CONTINUOUS (to show continuity) and LATER (indicating a period of time has passed) may also be used occasionally when important to the story.
Here are some examples of how your scene heading should read….
EXT. BEACH – NIGHT
INT. JOE’S BAR AND GRILLE – NIGHT
*There will be times that a fourth element will be needed to add more clarity. This can be used when your screenplay jumps through time or if it is a dream. You may add this other element after the time. Here is how it should read…
INT. LUKE’S BEDROOM – NIGHT – SUMMER 1995
EXT. PLAYGROUND – DAY – KELLY’S DREAM
(2) ACTION or description, describes what is happening in the scene and who is present. The narrative description is written in present tense. Do not over “fluff” your descriptions; only add the details necessary to move your story forward. However, you still want to add all the important actions and moments. Try to limit your paragraphs to four or five lines, (not sentences but physical lines). Physical descriptions of locations and characters should be sparse and essential to the story. Remember, to capitalize character names at first introduction. DO NOT write anything that can not be shown on screen; thoughts, motives, recollections are a no-no (leave that for the dialogue).
The Action should be 1.5 inches (15 spaces) from the left edge of the paper.
(3) THE CHARACTER NAME, always appears over the dialogue every time the character speaks. Character names are always capitalized. If it is a minor character speaking, that has no name, it is alright to use a descriptive name such as WAITRESS, DOCTOR, GUY. If there are two Doctors use, DOCTOR ONE and DOCTOR TWO.
The Characters Name should be 3.7 inches (37 spaces) from the left edge of the paper.
(4) DIALOGUE is not “real-like” speech; it only sounds like it, without the rambling. It is focused, clear and concise. You should attempt to keep your lines of dialogue short (unless it is a justifiable monologue); people must be able to get what your character is saying.
The dialogue should be 2.5 inches (25 spaces) from the left edge of the paper and end 2.5 inches (25 spaces) from the right edge of the paper.
(5) PARENTHETICALS are used within dialogue or next to the characters name to who the character is speaking to or how they are speaking. Parentheticals are always inside parenthesis an on appear on their own line. If they hit their left margin they wrap around to the next line. Use parentheticals sparingly and for clarification purposes only. Not only do they take up space, slow down the pace but they annoy actors. How would you like to be told how to say every word?
Parentheticals look like this…..
(This is where the parenthetical is placed)
The dialogue follows after the parenthetical. You may also
also place another parenthetical in the middle of dialogue
if needed like this….
More dialogue must follow this.
Parentheticals are also used to let use know the location of the character that is speaking. This direction appears next to the Character’s Name. There are two cases where this is found: VOICE OVER (VO) AND OFF SCREEN (OS).
VOICE OVER (VO) is typically used when a character or narrator’s voice can be heard talking from some unknown place. Occasionally, the character is on screen and we are hearing his thoughts as he narrates his own story through a voice over.
OFF SCREEN (OS) is used when a character is speaking in a scene but does not actually appear on the screen.
Parantheticals should be 3.1 (31 spaces) from the left edge of the paper and end 2.9 inches (29 spaces) from the right edge of the paper.
(6) TRANSITIONS are used to indicate a change from one scene to the next. In a spec script, they should be used sparingly. Typical transitions are: FADE IN, FADE OUT, CUT TO, MATCH CUT, MONTAGE, INSERT, INTERCUT, SERIES OF SHOTS, DISSOLVE TO and BACK TO SCENE.
Transitions should be right justified, one inch from the right edge of the paper OR 1.5 inches from the left edge of the paper
LENGTH: Your script should be anywhere from 90-120 pages. Comedies rarely exceed 100 pages while dramas tend to be a little longer. The latest trend in Hollywood has shortened the desired maximum length from 120 pages to 110. DO NOT cheat by using thinner margins or smaller font.
FONT: Always use, Courier New-12 point-10 pitch. It is important not to cheat on this, both for the eyes of industry professionals who read dozens of scripts a day, but also because this font style and size keeps to the standard one page is one minute of screen time.
TITLE PAGE: The title of your script should be centered on the page both vertically and horizontally. It should appear in all capital letters. There should be a double space and the word “by” should be typed you then double space again and type your name.
In the lower right hand corner, right justified should be: Your name, mailing address, phone number and email. If you have decided to register your script with the Writers Guild or ProtectRite (which you can do on WritingRoom.com, under Create Writing) you may enter your registration number.
MARGINS and SPACING. This is where a screenplay formatting software really does come in handy, but once you get the hang of setting margins, it really isn’t too bad. And get this--WritingRoom’s future screenplay writing application that will set margins and spacing for you…it will make life much easier. Until then, here are the basic margin and spacing rules:
-Left: 1.5 inches
-Right: 1 inch
-Top: 1 inch
-Bottom: 1 inch
-The Scene Heading should be 1.5 inches (15 spaces) from the left edge of the page.
-The Action should be 1.5 inches (15 spaces) from the left edge of the page.
-The Characters Name should be 3.7 inches (37 spaces) from the left edge of the page.
-The dialogue should be 2.5 inches (25 spaces) from the left edge of the paper and end 2.5 inches (25 spaces) from the right edge of the paper.
-Parenthetical should be 3.1 (31 spaces) from the left edge of the paper and end 2.9 inches (29 spaces) from the right edge of the paper.
-Transitions should be 1 inch (10 spaces) from the right of the page.
-Page numbers should be 1 inch from the edge of the right page.
DOUBLE SPACE between the SCENE HEADING and ACTION.
DOUBLE SPACE between ACTION PARAGRAPHS.
DOUBLE SPACE between ACTION and CHARACTER NAME.
SINGLE SPACE between CHARACTER NAME and DIALOUGE.
DOUBLE SPACE between DIALOGUE and the next CHARACTER NAME
SINGLE SPACE between CHARACTER NAME and PARENTHETICALS
SINGLE SPACE between PARENTHETICAL and DIALOGUE
PHYSICAL ELEMENTS: There are some basic physical elements of script that must be followed before turning over to a producer:
-A front and back cover, 110 lb solid white paper
-3 whole punched
-Held together by 1 ¼ inch #5 brad
DO NOT: There are things that people just seem to want to do but DON’T!!!
-Do not use any fancy covers, they will not help your script to be noticed.
-Do not write first draft, final draft
-Do not date your scripts
-Do not include a budget
-Do not number scenes, add camera or editing direction
-Do not suggested a talent list
-Do not include a list of characters or sets
-Do not include a synopsis, unless you are asked to do so