Substance over form. Many people (especially accountants) will agree with this statement and generally, I would too, however, when it comes to screenwriting, there is a very specific format that we need to use, a format used in the film industry that allows all production departments to understand and use the script for what it is: a tool for making a movie. The screenwriting standard format is not hard to understand or follow and different software options do it all for you
1. Font and Sizes
The standard format calls for the font Courier in 12 points. A page of writing in the proper format will equal about a minute of screen time, so for a 90-minute film, your script should be around 90 pages long.
2. Scene heading
Where and when are we? Comes at the beginning of every scene, and marks the end of the previous one. In the heading we’ll find three key details of the scene:
- Whether it’s an interior or exterior scene (INT. / EXT.).
- The setting (place and time the story takes place in).
- Whether it’s day or night.
It looks like this:
It is very important that every time you name a place or set, you always use the same name to let everyone know that it is, in fact, the same location. In this example, the location is “Paul’s house”, if I was to write “Paul’s summer house” later on in the script, it would look as if these were two separate locations, so be careful!
It’s also worth mentioning that the same applies to the time of day, make sure that day is always day and night is always night instead of using words like “morning” or “evening” which might be confusing.
It’s also worth mentioning that the same applies to the time of day, make sure that day is always day and night is always night instead of using words like “morning” or “evening” which might be confusing. The heading is also where we number the scenes, you can put the scene number at the end of the heading or the beginning. (INT. PAUL’S HOUSE – DAY 1)
The action is what happens in the scene. It’s written in present tense, in continued text. Be descriptive and call things by their name, use adjectives and avoid long paragraphs. It should look like this:
Avoid details such as soundtracks and camera angles. You will be tempted but this is the director’s job, not yours.
The life and soul of your script. Characters are written in capital letters the first time they appear, with a brief description between parentheses. In this description, we need to summarize the most important details of the character, both physically and personality-wise along with their age.
Outside of action paragraphs and before dialogue, characters are written in the center of the page, in uppercase letters, and with no other description.
As with locations, make sure to always write the character’s name in the same way, don’t call him “Paul” once and then “Paul Edwards”, it’s up to you if you put their full name or nickname or who they are (ie Paul’s Mother), but stick to one and use it every time the character appears.
Dialogue goes right below the name of the character, also centered on the page.
When writing dialogue, think about your characters as different people with their own personalities and way of speaking, not everyone speaks the same way or uses the same words. There are people who are less direct and some that are straightforward forward and their dialogue needs to reflect it. Also, prefer subtext and reading between the lines, instead of descriptive and obvious dialogue. In this article, I give you some tips on writing dialogue and developing characters.
Although they are part of the screenwriting format, camera angles and music, transitions are usually part of the director’s input rather than the writer’s. However, some are allowed and sometimes necessary when we have a particular vision.
Transitions are aligned to the right, and written in capital letters.
Now that we’ve seen all parts of the script separately, let’s take a look at what the whole thing should look like.
As you can see, the format itself is not hard and even without specific software you can recreate it in almost any word processor, such as Microsoft Word or Apple Pages and if you’re even a bit tech-savvy, you can create macros or templates to automate the process. If you want to make your life even easier, here are some recommendations on screenwriting software.
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