A Quick Guide to Screenplay Formatting

 

 

Formatting a screenplay correctly is hugely important. Producers and executives who search through potential scripts no longer consider finding a screenplay laid out correctly as a bonus; it’s an absolute expectation.

 

With free screenwriting software now widely available online, it is so much easier to have a professional-looking script, no matter your writing experience level. So, at a time when writing standards have never been so high, writers need to make sure that their screenplay cannot be faulted. In this quick read, we’ll go through the most important elements of formatting a screenplay, so your story can stand out for all the right reasons.

 

File Types  

 

Nine times out of ten you’re going to be submitting your screenplay to someone in electronic form, either via email or uploading your file when entering a competition online. Most contests offer guidelines on what to send and how, so always read these guides thoroughly, but we’re still surprised at how many people fail at the very first hurdle when putting their script out there.

 

Overall, the most preferred file format to use is PDF. Not only is this the most accessible means of reading a script, but it also offers protection against any content being edited or changed. Give your file a clear name, typically using the script title followed by your name, and keep the file size reasonable, ideally around 200-300KB.

 

Title Page  

 

A proper title page only needs essential information: script title, writer’s name(s), and contact information. Use a professional email address and avoid unnecessary details like home addresses or dates older than your latest work. Register your script with reputable organizations like WGA West or WGA East if desired.

 

 

 

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Page Numbers  

 

Start numbering from page two in the top right corner in Courier 12pt font, followed by a period. Avoid bold, italics, or underlining. The title page and the first script page should not have numbers. As for typical page length, aim for something between 90-120 pages for a standard feature movie and no more than 60 pages for a standard one-hour piece for television.

 

Page Layout

 

Use screenwriting software for automatic formatting, with 1-inch margins all around and Courier 12pt font. Avoid unnecessary elements like loglines, synopses, character lists, or images. Stick to standard screenplay stationary and ensure your script adheres to genre-specific length guidelines.

 

   

 

Slug Lines  

 

Start each scene with a slug line indicating INT. or EXT., the location, and the time of day (DAY or NIGHT). Keep it simple and avoid unnecessary details or descriptions. Use CONTINUOUS and SAME to indicate ongoing action without a time-lapse, and introduce new scenes whenever the location or time changes. Remember: The shorter the slug line, the better.

 

 

 

 

 Scene Description

 

Write scene descriptions in the present tense without using bold, italics, or colored text. Keep paragraphs short, ideally no longer than five lines, and avoid overusing “we see” or “we hear.” Focus on action and avoid unfilmable details or repetitive information. Additionally, use SUPERS for on-screen text and INSERTS for detailed close-ups.   Tell us where we are, evoke atmosphere if necessary, and tell us who is present at the beginning of each scene. Don’t feel the need to list every single item in the room to paint a picture of it.

 

Characters  

 

Introduce characters with their names in capitals the first time, followed by their age and a brief, impactful description. Show personality through actions and dialogue rather than detailed physical descriptions. It helps to use distinct, consistent names and avoid changing names mid-script.

 

    

 

Dialogue  

 

Dialogue should be aligned left, not centered, and should never follow a slug line directly. Use DUAL DIALOGUE for simultaneous speech and OFF SCREEN (O.S.) or OFF CAMERA (O.C.) for characters speaking out of frame. Indicate pauses with (PAUSE) or (BEAT), and specify language spoken in parentheticals if not in English.

 

 

 

Narrative Devices  

 

A MONTAGE is a series of short related scenes that are transitional and used to show the passage of time. They are often silent, with no dialogue, and instead have music playing over them.  

 

A SERIES OF SHOTS is similar but takes place in one location and one piece of time. Both are formatted in the same way. There are several methods to construct a montage or series of shots in a screenplay; the key here is to be consistent. Choose one method and stick to it, especially if you have more than one montage included:  

 

 

 

 

 

And before you go – here are the top 5 things that should never be in a spec script!

 

  • Don’t include camera directions.
  • Don’t include scene numbering.
  • Don’t include draft colored pages.
  • Don’t put a logline on your title page.
  • If you are writing a feature script, try to avoid going over 120 pages.

 

Want the Complete Guide to Formatting PDF?  

 

Whether you read this guide before you start writing your screenplay, or use it as a checklist after you’ve finished your last draft, by ensuring that your script adheres to the expected industry standard, you’ll immediately be creating that professional look that you need, giving your script the best chance it has to create a great first impression.   For even more in-depth screenplay formatting expertise, check out our full guide here!  

 

Submit your feature to Shore Scripts today and take the next step in your screenwriting career!  


Laura Huie is a writer and editor involved in comedy-drama screenwriting, fiction editing, and full-time marketing copy. Laura is also a freelance article writer for Shore Scripts and has worked with Script Pipeline on their live Symposium series. She is one-half of the screenwriting duo, Bloom & Huie. Together, they have written multiple television series and feature-length films. Their mission is to write honest and witty female stories wrapped up in unbelievable worlds.

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