Learning how to write a compelling screenplay is the primary goal of all successful screenwriters. But correct screenplay formatting is also key to the profession. It can seem intimidating for those just starting out, but it’s actually simple once you understand how to use formatting standards and avoid common pitfalls.
The following provides an overview of the most important parts of screenplay formatting. They are important to master to demonstrate professionalism and a commitment to doing the job correctly.
Screenplay Formatting Basics
These are all discussed in much greater detail as part of a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Screenwriting degree program.
Screenplays require Courier font at size 12. Over the years, people in the film and TV industry have chosen this size and font for readability. It also gives a reasonable way to guess the length of the movie (at this font and size, about one screenplay page is one minute of screen time).
Page numbers are always placed at the top of the page, flush to the right margin, with a period after the number. Only the title page and first page have no number.
The top margin is set at one inch, as is the right margin. The bottom margin is set at a quarter of an inch and the left margin is set at 1.5 inches.
The first words of any screenplay are “FADE IN,” which indicates the start of the film/TV show. Every scene then gets a new heading. Each one starts with either “EXT” (exterior) or “INT” (interior), the location and the time of day. An example:
INT. THE CASTLE DUNGEON – NIGHT
Action refers to the words that describe what takes place in the scene. Writers describe action in the present tense, including only what is seen or heard. Example:
A woman enters the dungeon carrying a stake and hammer. A coffin sits in the middle of the room. Behind her, a young man carries a vial and frightened look.
Characters and Dialogue
Writers place dialogue in a centered format, with the speaker’s name above it in all caps. The format for dialogue is 1.5 inches from the left and right margins.
Dialogue sometimes has parentheticals to explain how a line is spoken (excited, mocking, pensive, etc.), but writers should use these rarely. If action is interrupted, the dialogue cuts off with “CONT’D.” Also, if dialogue runs from one page to the next, the word “MORE” is centered below the dialogue. Writers designate characters who speak with “OS.”
Now, open the casket and I’ll drive a stake through his heart.
No, you open the casket and I’ll douse him with this Holy Water.
You know I can hear you in here, right?
Title Pages and Binding
Writers should give every script a title page and binding. Rules to keep in mind include:
- The title page is the first page. Write the title in 12-point Courier.
- Do not add images or graphics to the title page
- Write the title in all capital letters
- Place “By (Your Name)” in mixed case below the title
- Place contact information in the bottom right corner, including members in the Writer’s Guild
- The script should be three-hole punched and bound by the top and bottom holes with round-head brass fasteners.
Most film scripts run 90 to 120 pages. Comedies and children’s movies are shorter, while dramas often run longer. Writers also can invest in software programs such as Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter to properly format their screenplays.