Film Script Formats


There are several types of scripts and differing formats for each type. Obviously no one wants it to be easy. Script formats, as with manuscript formats, have evolved to help with the production of a work. While writers might feel limited by the proper formatting, it helps pace a script and plan how to translate to screen or stage.

Screenplay Formats

We realize most people looking for script formats want screenplay forms. Unlike stage scripts, screenplays need to be perfectly formatted. We believe you should use a good word processor template or specialized software for screenplay formatting. Be careful — readers will reject scripts based on the oddest of formatting errors.

The font used is 12-point Courier. (You can use Courier, Courier New, or the closest typeface on your computer.) The font and formatting enable rough estimates of script lengths. The format also helps actors follow lines.

Some in the film industry adhere to tradition when preparing scripts. With Courier, or any monospaced typeface/font in which the letters are a set width, many screenwriters still use “typewriter” rules for punctuation. If the punctuation has a period at the baseline, follow it with two spaces (except in abbreviations). Otherwise, use a single space. When you use a computer with “proportional” fonts, the rule is always use a single space — so it can be difficult to remember typewriter formats.

The Screenwriter’s Bible, by David Trotter, has the following rules for screenplay formats:

  • Do not include any artwork, even on the cover.
  • Do not include storyboards or illustrations unless requested, in which case they are separate from the script.
  • Do not justify or hyphenate the text.
  • Avoid camera and editing notes — they’re ignored anyway.
  • Do not date, even on the title page.
  • Do not include lists of characters, set, etc., unless requested. (Most software prepares these, which are included with queries in some cases.)

Use U.S. letter-sized paper. Do not use A4 if you plan to submit to an American production company. Make sure the paper is “bright white” (80+) and 20–24 pound stock. We’ve seen recycled beige paper submitted — a serious no-no.


Page Setup
Margins Left Margin: 9 picas, 1.5 inches.
Right Margin: 3–6 picas; 0.5–1 inch.
Page Numbers Number in the upper-right corner, 3–4 picas from the top (0.5 inch), right-aligned with the margin at 6 picas from the right edge (1 inch). Follow numbers with a period: 1., 123.
Title Page
Title and Writer Start 6 picas (1 inch) from the top margin. Text is centered, all caps: title, in all caps, any subtitle on the next line, skip a line, “by” in lowercase, skip a line, and the author’s name in “proper/title” case.
Address and Phone Place in the lower-right so that the last line is one inch from the bottom of the page and the longest line is near the right margin.
EMail and Web If Internet contact information is included, raise the address two lines, leave a blank line and place the email and URL bellow the phone number.
Script Text
General Except for dialogue and few camera directions, text is left-aligned.

Do not use bold, italics, or underlining in a script, use ALL CAPS.

Skip lines between “elements” of the script, but use single-spacing within elements.

First Page Place “FADE IN:” on the first line, left-aligned.
Credits If credits start after a scene, or run over a sequence, use “ROLL CREDITS.” and “END CREDITS.” to indicate when they run. Place each on its own line, with a blank line before and after.
Master & Secondary Scene Headings CAM SET - TIME - EXTRA
  • Camera location: INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior).
  • Setting: one or two word location.
  • Time: DAY, NIGHT, SAME, LATER. Avoid exact times.
  • Extra: details needed to clarify setting.

Left align, with the margin. Use all caps. Headings must never appear at the bottom of a page, apart from the start of action. Leave three lines (36 points) before scene headings.

INT. JIM'S OFFICE - NIGHT

Closing Skip two lines, then center “THE END” or right-align “FADE OUT.”
Dialogue
Character Names 12-13 picas (2.0–2.8 inches) from the left margin; 21-22 picas (3.5–3.8 inches) from the left edge.
  • Do not center the names.
  • Use uppercase letters, no special effects.
  • Skip a line before names.
  • Single space between name and character direction.
Character Direction 9–10 picas (1.5–1.6 inches) from the left margin; 18–19 picas (3.0–3.2 inches) from the left edge. Appears directly under the character name. Some styles use parentheses, others discourage.
Dialogue 6 picas (1 inch) from the left margin; 15 picas (2.5 inches) from the left edge. 9–12 picas (1.5–2.0 inches) from the right margin; 15–18 picas (2.5–3.0 inches) from the right edge.

The dialogue text column is 18–21 picas (3.0–3.5 inches) wide.


Screenwriting Software Options

The easiest way to start formatting a screenplay is to use dedicated software designed for the task. The following list offers some alternatives:

  • Final Draft: The choice of most Hollywood productions and the software recommended by the WGAw.
  • Movie Magic Screenwriter: A great program, popular among East Coast production companies and writers.
  • Scrivener: A personal favorite, Scrivener can export a draft screenplay into Final Draft. While I prefer Scrivener and could use it alone, the Final Draft support is essential for professionals
  • Mariner Montage: Not bad, but also not a standard in the industry. The program has some quirks.
  • Celtx: Free, which is a great price, but also not a standard format.
  • Microsoft Word: I created my own templates to use in Word, which work well enough for small projects and student exercises. Download screenplay.dotm for current versions of Word; screenplay.dot for older Word versions.

Some Specifics

The preceding software helps writers, but there are specific elements of a script that should be explained in detail. Before formatting a script, we suggest purchasing a good book on screenwriting.

Headings

The Screenwriter’s Bible uses the word “heading” to describe script elements that indicate scenes or sets of shots. Think of any major change in setting or focal point as a heading.

Scenes

As indicated in the table, a scene element has up to four parts: camera perspective, location, time, and extra details. Most major scene headings only consist of the first three.

In place of DAY or NIGHT, you can use SAME, CONTINUOUS, LATER to indicate tha passage of time within the setting from a previous scene. If the scene has not changed, then simpy use LATER on its own line.

(CONTINUED) was included at the bottom of any page within a scene. Of course, most pages include a portion of a scene that is continued so many writers put (CONTINUED) at the bottom of every page except the last. The top of every page included CONTINUED:, unless a scene started at the top of the page.

Secondary

In the “old days” the dramatic movements within a scene were labeled with SHOT. Do not use SHOT anymore; indicate changes with simple one or two word focal points. A focal point is where the camera might zoom or even cut. Secondary scene headings have replaced camera direction in spec and draft scripts. The rooms of a house might be secondary shots, as we follow a character.

John rushes down the hall, dodging flames. He crashes through a door into

MOLLY'S BEDROOM

where he searches for MOLLY.

The scene has not changed, but John is in a new part of the house, where the camera must follow. Notice “Molly” is capitalized. From this we can assume it is the first mention of Molly in the script.

Inserts

Use INSERT - {description} to indicate a zoom to a letter, article, headline, or other material the audience should realize is important. After the insert, indicate BACK TO SCENE. If the insert is of a letter or other printed matter, indent the contents as you would dialogue. Some writers indicate the insert is printed with quote marks.

INSERT - NEWSPAPER CLIPPING

“The badly-burned body of divorce
attorney John Smith was found in
the remains of his 1968 Porsche.”

BACK TO SCENE

Montages

Use MONTAGE - {description} when a series of scenes and shots is too long or does not reflect the screen time desired. A montage can indicate passing time or how simultaneous events relate. Indicating BACK TO SCENE is optional by style, as a montage usually transitions to new scene. Use BACK if the montage ends at the setting where a scene starts.

MONTAGE - JOHN AGING

-- Birth of baby. John's father passing out cigars.

-- Kindergarten classroom. Young John painting.

-- Art gallery. John's first solo show.

-- John in senior center, struggling to hold a paintbrush.

BACK TO SCENE

Series

A SERIES OF SHOTS is a way to speed-up or slow down a scene. A series ends on a dramatic note, while a montage usually transitions into the drama. A series transitions to a scene, so close with BACK TO SCENE.

SERIES OF SHOTS

A) John drops his paintbrush, slumps.

B) Nursing assistant enters, to see John.

C) Ambulance leaves Happy Meadows.

D) Mary sits, crying while looking at the half-finished
canvas. The paint is running.

BACK TO SCENE

Flashbacks

You can indicate flashbacks as either a heading element or as part of a scene. If the flashback is an action narrative, use the element form FLASHBACK - {description}. If the flashback is a scene, use the scene heading style, with the fourth part being FLASHBACK. After a flashback, indicate BACK TO PRESENT DAY.

FLASHBACK - JOHN PAINTING IN PARIS

John, in his mid-30s, is painting scenes in Paris. He
notices a young woman cross his view of the scenes. It
is MARY, his future wife.

BACK TO PRESENT DAY

Dreams

Indicate DREAM and DAYDREAM as you do a flashback. Avoid VISION; DREAM is used for those psychedelic moments… unless it’s a flashback. (That’s a joke.) Seriously, try to avoid using too many artistic techniques in the script. Let the story suggest what a director needs.

Description

Description is important, since film is a visual medium, but let the director and cinematographer make the detail decisions. Keep narrative concise, using only what is necessary to tell the story.

Characters

On first reference in narration, a CHARACTER NAME is in all caps. You should do this for all major and minor characters, but not nessarily incidental characters. If a character speaks, use caps. After the first mention, use normal proper case.

Keep character descriptions short and generalized. Do not try to imply a specific person, a common mistake.

JOHN DAVIES sits in the activities room of the HAPPY 
MEADOWS assisted-living facility. John is trying to
paint a tree outside the window. He was a famous
painter, but now struggles to hold a paintbrush. He
is frustrated, mumbling insults at himself.

Do not describe clothing, precise characteristics, or other details unless they are important to the story. A script needs to be “flexible” because it might sit for a long time before being produced.

“Visible Text”

Use uppercase for signs and other text you want the audience to see.

There is a poster on the bulletin board announcing
GALLERY TOUR SATURDAY.

Sounds

Put sounds in uppercase, instead of using SFX:.

The phone RINGS and a KNOCK sounds at the door.

Camera/Editing

Do not include obvious camera angles in a spec or draft script. Do not play director unless you are an established filmwriter with a precise vision. When necessary, MATCH CUT: and DISSOLVE TO: are right-aligned.

Dialogue

Never allow less than two lines of dialogue to appear at the bottom of a page. Try not to break any sentence. If dialogue must continue, use (MORE) at the bottom of the page and (cont'd) to the right of the character’s name on the next page.

 MARY 
I was only 19 when we met, and
there was much I didn’t know about
art or artists.
(MORE)

MARY (cont'd)
John promised to teach me about
art. He taught me more about
artists.

VO and OS

For voice overs (VO) and off-screen (OS) dialogue, place the indicators to the right of the character’s name.

 JOHN (VO)
It was an exciting time to be in
Paris. Everyone seemed to be
there.


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Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 27-May-2014
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach