Specifications | Types
| Slug line | Scene
Description Lines | Terms | example
Why bother with format? Suppose you were a film executive
and you liked two stories equally well, but had to choose only one. Shooting
a film costs several thousand dollars a minute, sometimes close to a million.
When you looked at one script, you weren't able to tell how long it was,
how many scenes were to be filmed outside at locations requiring expensive
transportation, or how many scenes were to be filmed at night, keeping
expensive actors and film crews up all night. The writer hadn't bothered
to put it in the correct format, and who knows what else he might have
neglected. Which one would you choose? An example
scene from Prom Dateillustrates the
Script Technical Specifications
Typewritten. 1-1/2 inch left margin. 1 inch top,
right, and bottom margins. Type: Monotype font (such as Courier New), 12 point.
Binding: Preferred - Three hole bound with brass
brads. No cover, or plain cover with title and writer's name.
Title page: Title mid-page. Writer's name mid-page.
Name, address and phone at lower left corner.
No cast page, or scene layouts, or other pages.
Dates and draft numbers are not recommended. A WGA
number is common, and is typically used in place of a copyright notice
(which is dated). Scripts must be registered, for a fee, with the Writer's
Guild to obtain a WGA number.
First story page: No title or writer's name on this
or following script pages. A running heading is acceptable but not common.
Dialogue lines: Dialogue lines are limited to 3 inches in length.
Types of scripts
You may hear of several types of scripts. Although
there are representative styles of scripts, there is no standard script
format. The following format information is based on commonly accepted
Masterscene Script: Scene by scene
presentation of the drama. This is the form usually used for initial readings,
and the format used for this guide..
Shooting Script: A very technical script listing
the camera shots to be used during filming. Shooting scripts are prepared
by directors, or other experienced professionals, from masterscene scripts.
form is not used with this guide.
Teleplay Script: Television script. This form
is not used with this guide. But for information, TV shows specify
the type format they use. They often use a format that resembles an audio/visual
script with dialogue on one side of the page and camera and technical directions
on the other. They also often use the scripts typically used by the film
industry. Drama, sitcoms, soaps, and TV movies all use different formats.
A guide such as The Writer's Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats
gives representative samples. Scripts for TV only need to follow a special
format when submitted to a specific show, and it would be necessary to
write the producer for specific instructions.
DON'T SEND SCRIPTS or more than a brief paragraph
of information about a story to the film or TV industry - they will only
Scenes are always preceded by a slug line that tells
whether the scene is inside or outside, the location, and whether it is day
or night. Examine the following slug line and see if you can easily write
INT. JOHNNY'S APARTMENT - DAY
INT. = Interior, EXT. = Exterior
The slug line is followed immediately by scene description
lines. These tell more about the setting, who is in the scene, and sometimes
where they are located and what they are doing. Important instructions
are placed here.
Scene instruction lines occur throughout the scene
as needed. They often instruct about essential character physical actions.
Characters sometimes talk when they aren't within
camera range, or are on the phone, radio, etc. When this happens, you write
the character name and dialogue as usual, but next to the character name
write (O.S.) when they are off screen, or (V.O.) when the voice is dubbed
or reproduced (voice over).
Two other conventions: Everything is written in present
tense - don't put ed on the end of words. Put a character's name
in ALL CAPITALS in the scene description lines the first time the character
appears in the script.
Only one technical term is needed in Masterscene
Scene changes: In modern film, scenes change
abruptly from one to the next. This is termed CUT TO, and is unnecessary
to write in the script unless there is some risk of confusion. To show
that time has elapsed, DISSOLVE is used. This means the ending scene, or
shot, fades out while the next fades in. When needed, DISSOLVE should be
written at the right margin:
FADE IN can be written at the beginning of the script.
FADE OUT at the end. Both terms are unnecessary. If you need to
fade to black, write FADE OUT at the right margin.
Shots tell the director what the camera is
pointed at. Don't use the word camera in a script, always use SHOT. Specifying
shots and other technical things interferes with reading the story. Avoid
using shots if at all possible. The writer's job is to tell the story in
words. The director's job is to tell it cinematically. He will decide what
shots are necessary. For example, if Elizabeth sees a bug inside her milk
glass, just write: "Elizabeth sees a bug inside her milk glass. She makes
a face." The director will decide what shots to use to show that.
The following example
scene from Prom Date illustrates the proper format to use. The names
of the script elements are in bold. Note: It isn't possible to show exact
formatting in HTML.
Example scene illustrating formatting
Note: it is very difficult to display screenplay formatting in HTML. This is an approximation.
EXT. CROWN HILL HIGH SCHOOL - DAY
SHAUN and TIM are walking away from the school carrying books. RYAN is about to leave in a funny car. Shaun is ignoring his sister, ELIZABETH, who is approaching with her boyfriend, JOHN.
(Scene description lines)
(Sound effects line)
All of the students hug the inside edge of the sidewalk or take to the grass. Tim steps on Shaun's sister, Elizabeth, who is walking by. The cars on the street clear a wide path for Ryan.
(Scene instruction lines)
HORNS HONKING, POLICE SIREN
(Dialogue direction line)
Shaun, do you have a date for
Shaun and Tim ignore Elizabeth and walk on. DAVE walks by them toward the parking lot.
King of Geeks.
LAURA exits the parking lot with a CAR LOAD OF GIRLS. Shaun and Tim watch as the car approaches.
What wouldn't I give for a
prom date with Laura?
Give your brain, you won't
At least we're not geeks.
Geeks never get dates.
Laura and Dave the Geek exchange waves. Shaun and Tim stand on the sidewalk with their eyes bulging. Shaun drops his books on the sidewalk and then trudges toward the gym.