Step by Step Guide to Format a Screenplay

There are several elements of screenplay formatting that one should keep in mind while writing a script. There are several ways to go about it and the details vary from movie to movie, but the essential skeletal framework remains the same. The screenplay that you’ve written initially must often be retyped or have to go through a complicated conversion process to get it ready for production. Like most stories, a screenplay too has a beginning, middle, and an end. There are several points to note while writing a screenplay.

Elements of Screenplay Formatting

Here’s an amalgamation of the basic elements of screenplay formatting:

Title Page

The first page of your script is called the Title Page. This page shows the title and the writer’s name in the center of the page. The writer’s contact details are written at the bottom of the page in the lower left-hand corner. Once you’ve registered your screenplay with the Writers Guild, that information can be listed as well.

Page Margin

Here are some guidelines regarding page margins for your screenplay format. The top margin needs to be one inch. The bottom margin, and your right or outer margin can vary from up to a quarter-inch. The left or inner, margin needs to allow space for the three-hole punch binding for when your screenplay is printed, so it’s best to be about one-and-a-half inches.

Font and Page Numbers

The font is an important unsaid rigid element of the screenplay format. It’s best to use the Courier font and 12 points. This font is the industry standard. The reason for this is – it makes it easier to estimate screen time from the number of pages. If you try to be fancy with any other font, it could make your script look amateurish.

The top of the page—or header should also be lean and clean. All you should have there is the page number, flush right, about a half-inch from the top of the page, and followed by a period. The only exception is the first page which shouldn’t have a page number on it.

Scene Headings

Headings are the guiding force in a screenplay format. A screenplay comprises of different scenes, and every scene starts with a heading which is also known as a slug line.

A scene heading contains three elements:

1) Whether the scene takes place inside (INT., short for interior) or outside (EXT., short for exterior);

2) The location where the scene takes place (ex: a house, the beach, a cafe, etc.);

3) What time of day it is (day, night, morning, afternoon, evening, etc.)

Action and Dialogue

These are the most important elements of the screenplay format. A scene in a screenplay is composed of action and dialogue. ‘Action’ tells you what is happening in the scene at present, and ‘dialogue’ indicates what each character is saying verbally. After you write your scene heading, you should always start with a few lines of action to acclimatize your reader to your story.

Read more: Top 5 Screenwriting Books Every Screenwriter Should Read

Using All Caps for Emphasis

While writing a scene in the screenplay format, let it be a dialogue or an action, if you want the character to emphasize a particular action or statement, then feel free to use an ALL-CAPS FONT to let the actor know your intent while reading the script. This technique can be used to highlight important props, sounds, and character actions in your scenes. However, this technique should be used sparingly as too much capitalization means aspects of the script you want to highlight for importance may be lost.

Now on how to write the dialogue – the dialogue is indented and is close to the center of the page. A rough estimate is – the left indent is between an inch and one-and-a-half inches from the left margin, and a right indent of about an inch and a half.

Above the block of dialogue is the name of the character speaking the dialogue. This is called a Character Cue – it is indented approximately an inch more than the dialogue.

There is also a third dialogue element in a screenplay format that you should use sparingly. It’s called PARENTHETICAL Direction. It is used to mark the character cue. It is used to tell the actor how to deliver the dialogue. A parenthetical should be used when the dialogue doesn’t exactly convey the entire information on how the actor might deliver the dialogue, or for emphasis. It can also illustrate who the character is talking to if this is unclear due to multiple characters being present in the scene.

A parenthetical can also be used beside the character cue: if your character is speaking Off Screen (O.S.) or as a Voice Over (V.O.).

Learning the Craft

There are several other important elements of the screenplay format, but these are basic ones you will need to keep in mind. After all that’s said and done, there is no better way to learn how to write screenplays than to read actual scripts. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, you’ll find it very easy to find scripts online for all of your favorite movies. You’ll only need to read a few pages of a screenplay for the formatting rules to become clear. By reading great screenplays you can learn tips and tricks from Hollywood’s most successful writers. Once you become more comfortable with writing within the screenplay format you can start experimenting with your writing to make your screenplay a more unique experience for the reader. But remember this wise dictum: you need to know the rules before you break them.

Unluclasses have long strived to achieve perfection in whatever our subscribers set out to do. This is why we have the very best teachers available to show you the ropes of your field of choice. To learn how to write better screenplays and to improve your writing skills, it’s important to learn only from the very best. Who better than the famed screenwriter Prashant Pandey to guide into the path of scriptwriting? Learn the nuances of the art of writing from Prashant Pandey and let the world of screenplay writing open its doors to you.

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