How to Format Your Screenplay Professionally
In the previous lesson, we finished looking at the components of a screenplay. The unique format of screenplays combines all the elements you’ve read about in the lessons so far, as you’ll discover in this lesson.
How Long Should Your Script Be and What Are the Elements in It?
Comedy feature scripts are usually from 95 to 115 pages long, and dramatic scripts are from 105 to 125 pages long. On average, one page equals approximately one minute of screen time.
Pages are usually numbered at the top right.
As you’ve seen, scripts are made up of the following:
• scene headings
• a description of the action
If you happen to read an older script, you might notice a lot of camera angles and camera movement indicated. Modern scripts do not concern themselves with these; they just describe what’s happening and leave it to the director whether they want to show it in a long shot or medium shot, for example.
As you’ll remember, a new scene begins every time there is a change of location or a change of time. If a couple is talking in the kitchen and then they move into the living room, the latter would signal the beginning of a new scene. Also, if we see them talking in the kitchen in the morning and then still there talking that night, the latter would also be a new scene.
If you look at older scripts, you might see that the writer wrote “CUT TO:” at the end of each scene as a transition to the next one, but generally, that’s not done anymore; you just write the next scene heading.
Often, scenes are not numbered in scripts in the early stages; it’s only when the movie is going to be shot and a production script is prepared that the scene numbers are added.
The Basics of Script Format
The first main script element is your scene heading. It looks like this:
INT. (OR EXT.) LOCATION — DAY (OR NIGHT)
The INT. or EXT. tells us whether the scene plays indoors or outdoors. The LOCATION tells us exactly where the action happens. This could be LEO’S KITCHEN or MARTHA’S COFFEE SHOP or MARK’S CAR.
The DAY or NIGHT tells us whether the action is during the day or at night.
The next element is the description of the action. This is always written in the present tense. So, for a scene that takes place in George and Martha’s bedroom, we could have this:
INT. GEORGE AND MARTHA’S BEDROOM — NIGHT
George and Martha are in bed. He’s reading a business magazine, she’s trying to sleep.
The third main element is the dialogue, which appears beneath the name of the character. The name of the character is in the middle of the page, and the dialogue appears with reduced margins below it, like this:
Would you turn out the light, please?
I’m reading about how to make money in the stock market.
Yeah, like how you made money on real estate?
You can also use parentheticals but do it sparingly. For example, if you’re worried that the reader might not pick up on Martha’s sarcastic tone, you could write:
Like how you made money on real estate?
But if what the character is saying (like “Shut up, you idiot!”) makes it clear what the character’s mood is, then you don’t need any parentheticals.
Software Makes It Easy
Rather than trying to copy screenplay formats with a normal text software program, make your life easier by getting screenwriting software.
The best-known one is Final Draft. However, that’s rather expensive, and there are free and low-cost alternatives. Check out Celtx.com for an excellent free program. You can google “screenplay format software” to find others.
Now that you know how to format your script, you may be wondering what to do with your script when you’re ready to try to sell it. That’s the topic of our next lesson.
One great source of free movie scripts is simplyscripts.com. Be sure to look at actual scripts (not transcripts), and use more recent ones as your models.
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