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How to Format a Screenplay: Everything You Need to Know

script formatting

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Writing a screenplay is difficult for many reasons; script formatting shouldn’t be one of those. This blog post will go into detail about all the different technical elements of screenplay formatting.

We’ll discuss why it’s important to ensure that all of your pages are uniform and adhere to industry standards. After following these guidelines, you will have produced a properly formatted script that’s easy for any reader to follow.

What is the standard screenplay format?

The standard screenplay format is a set of guidelines and conventions used in the film and television industry for writing scripts.

The standard format for a screenplay is as follows:

Font:

  • Family: Courier or Courier New font
  • Size: 12 point

Courier Font

The Courier font family is a monospace or fixed-pitch font which means that each character is exactly the same width. This is crucial to provide consistency in the number of characters, words, and lines per page, which allows for the common convention of 1 page per minute of screen time.

General Margins:

  • 1.5 inches on the left
  • 1 inch on the right
  • 1 inch on top of the page
  • 1 inch at the bottom of the page

Character & Dialogue Margins:

  • Character Name: 3.7 inches from the left (in all caps)
  • Dialogue: 2.5 inches from both sides of the page
  • Parentheticals: 3.1 inches from the left (should not be wider than 2 inches)

Page Length:

  • Pages should be no more than 54 – 55 lines
  • The page number is excluded from the line total

Pagination:

  • The page number is placed in the upper right corner
  • Placed at the right side margin (1 inch)
  • Placed above the top margin at 1/2 inch
  • Page numbers are followed by a period
  • No page number on the first page of the script
  • The title page does not count toward the total number of pages

Scene headings:

  • Written in all caps
  • 3 part structure
  1. Begins with a camera location: INT. (interior) or EXT. (exterior)
  2. Followed by a specific location, e.g., KITCHEN or CENTRAL PARK
  3. Ends with the time of day, for example, DAY,- NIGHT
  • Time of day can be replaced with CONTINUOUS or LATER for scenes that are a carryover from the previous scene

Secondary scene headings:

  • Also written in all caps
  • Only provide a specific location
  • Can be used to navigate between rooms in a building, etc.
  • For example, INT. HOUSE – DAY can then be followed by a secondary heading of BEDROOM, KITCHEN, or GARAGE

Action lines:

  • Describe what is occurring in each scene, who’s present, and what they are doing.
  • Should be concise and written in the present tense
  • Sounds and points of emphasis can be written in all caps

Screenwriting Software

All of the above-mentioned script formatting standards, such as margins, font sizes, scene heading capitalization, etc., will be automatically handled by any modern screenwriting software. With free software options such as Arc Studio Pro, these details are of no real concern to the modern screenwriter.

That said, even if you are setting out to write a movie script just for fun, it is still a good idea to understand that standardized formats do exist and how to follow them. Long gone are the days when you had to buy an expensive copy of Final Draft to benefit from the industry-standard formatting.

How to format a screenplay title page

Formatting a screenplay title page is important as it conveys a minimum level of competence to your reader. No one has ever greenlit a project based on the title page, but a poorly formatted title page could give the reader reason to doubt the writer’s ability and/or seriousness.

The title page should include the following:

  • The TITLE, centered in all caps (about 20 spaces from the top of the page)
  • That is followed by the word “by” centered in lowercase
  • Followed by Your Name, centered and spelled out in full
  • Your (or your agent’s) Contact Information (Phone Number or Email Address) placed in the lower right corner
  • Your “WGA Registration Number” (if applicable) is directly underneath your contact information – although this is rare and not at all necessary.

Keep the title page clean and simple. Avoid adding any additional text or graphics to your title page that may distract from the main objective of presenting a professional, clear, and concise script.

Screenplay conventions

These conventions are generally good to follow but are not as strict as the formatting standards above.

How to begin and end a screenplay

Sometimes, the simple act of starting or ending a project can be daunting. Thankfully, when it comes to screenwriting, we have very simple standards that guide the process.

How do I format the beginning of a screenplay?

A screenplay should begin with the words “FADE IN:” left aligned on the page and written in all caps. This signals to the reader that this is the beginning of the script.

FADE IN:

Most screenplays begin with this simple introduction. Unless you have a specific alternate opening, this is the standard way to start a screenplay. This first line is flush to the left and top margins of the page.

How do I format the end of a screenplay?

Most screenplays end with a simple “FADE OUT” aligned to the right. This is the inverse of the FADE IN written at the beginning and signals to the reader that this is the end of the script.

Alternatively, you could finish your movie script with any of the following simple closings.

FADE OUT

FADE TO BLACK

THE END

This closing will be flush with the right margin, one or two lines below the last line of dialogue or action.

Screenplay length

The length of your screenplay is not as important as creating a compelling story, but it’s still something you should think about. Generally speaking, here are the expected page counts for various types of scripts:

  • Feature film scripts 90-120
  • Short film scripts are usually less than 20 pages
  • Television drama (1 hour) is 45-60 pages
  • Television comedy (30 minutes) is 20-30 pages

History of the screenplay formatting standards

The formatting standards for screenplays are not governed by a single entity or organization. Instead, several commonly accepted standards have been developed over time through industry practice and tradition.

One of the most widely accepted standards for screenplay formatting is the one developed by the Writers Guild of America (WGA). The WGA has published a guide to screenplay formatting, which sets out guidelines for things like margins, font size and type, spacing, and character and action descriptions. Many production companies and agents expect screenplays to be formatted according to the WGA standards, so it is often considered a good idea for writers to follow them when submitting their work.

Additionally, there are software applications, such as Arc Studio Pro, that will format as you write a screenplay automatically. These tools are widely used in the industry, which provides writers with an easy way to format their scripts according to industry standards.

In practice, It’s important to remember that there is no one “correct” way to format a screenplay and that many successful writers have deviated from standard formatting in order to tell their stories in the way that they feel is best. However, it’s a good idea to know and follow standards to increase your chances of having it read.

Spec Script vs. Shooting Script

When a writer completes their screenplay, there are two main versions of the script that they may submit: a spec script and a shooting script.

Spec scripts are written for submission to agents or studios with the hopes of getting them bought or produced. They generally follow standard formatting guidelines but do not include any camera directions or technical notes that would be included in a shooting script.

Shooting scripts, on the other hand, are written for use during production and include all of the technical directions and camera angles that will be used during filming. Shooting scripts also often contain more detailed descriptions than spec scripts.

When it comes to submitting work to agents or studios, it is advisable to use a spec script, as it is more likely to be read and accepted. That said, if you are hired to work on an existing project, you may be asked for a shooting script instead.

It’s important to have an understanding of the differences between a spec script and a shooting script in order to choose the proper screenplay format for your project.

Common Screenplay Formatting Conventions

Every day, screenwriters ask themselves (and others), “How do I format ____ situation?” For example, how to format a telephone conversation or text message. As a solution, we’ve put together a number of quick posts that address each of these common questions:

Phone Conversations

Text Messages and Emojis

Voice Over vs. Off Screen

Wrapping up

Crafting a screenplay is never easy, but script formatting need not be an obstacle. In this post, we’ve examined the various technical aspects of screenplay formatting in depth so that you can focus solely on your story!

Just remember to let your creativity stand out in your story and the strength of your writing, not by coloring outside the lines and trying to reinvent the screenplay format.

FAQs

Can I format a screenplay in Google Docs?

Yes, it is possible to format a screenplay in Google Docs. Google Docs has many of the same formatting features as word processing applications like Microsoft Word, which makes it easy to follow the formatting conventions for screenplays.

Can I format a screenplay in Microsoft Word?

Yes, it is possible to format a screenplay in Microsoft Word. Word has all of the necessary formatting features required to write a professional script, such as custom margins, font selection, etc.

That said, writing a script in Word will be a painful experience when compared to using screenwriting software. With free options such as Arc Studio Pro, there’s no reason to write a script in Word, Google Docs, or any other standard word processor.

What font should I use for my screenplay?

Screenplays are written in 12-point Courier font. This is the standard font used for professional scripts because it is monospaced, which allows for many technical benefits relating to predictable timing.

While there are undoubtedly other fonts available on your computer, they should be avoided unless instructed otherwise.

How many pages should a screenplay be?

The length of your screenplay should vary depending on the type of script you are writing. Generally speaking, here are the expected page counts for various types of scripts:

• Feature film scripts 90-120
• Short film scripts are usually less than 20 pages
• Television drama (1 hour) is 45-60 pages
• Television comedy (30 minutes) is 20-30 pages

It is important to note that the length of the script should not be the focus, as a compelling story is more important than page count. That said, sticking to these general guidelines will help ensure your screenplay is properly formatted and ready for submission.

Where can I find script format examples?

The Internet is full of script format examples that can help you get started. The Writers Guild Foundation has a nice collection of script format examples taken from current and classic scripts throughout cinema history.

Additional websites you may want to check out include The Writers Store, Screencraft, and John August.

No matter which resources you use, following script format examples is key when learning how to write a screenplay that meets industry standards for scriptwriting.

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