How to Write a Screenplay Format

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At some point, we all had to write a paper of some kind in high school. You had to follow MLA style, use assigned margins and spacing for the text, and develop a specifically formatted work cited section. As a student, it was the height of tedium. When it comes to how to write a screenplay format, it’s not much different.

For a teacher, however, the standardized format made it much easier to go through dozens of papers on, say, the Roman Empire. If everybody turned in papers with different formatting, it would take forever to get through all of those papers! It’s the same concept when it comes to how to write a screenplay format.

The Writer’s Guild of America says they get 50,000 script submissions a year! And we have to assume that not every screenplay gets registered with the WGA (which is a mistake, but more on that later). That’s a lot of screenplays for movie studios to go through, especially if only 100-200 spec scripts make it to the film production stage.

Why Screenplay Formatting is Important

How to write a screenplay formatWith such a massive amount of potential movies to read through, the process needs to be streamlined. By following the industry-standard guidelines for writing a screenplay, script readers and decision-makers are able to get through the materials much faster. Still, it would be near impossible to get through 50,000 submissions!

So they don’t, and screenplays that don’t follow the recognized formatting are the first to be ignored. Studio heads can get some basic information about the screenplay even before reading through the first few pages of a screenplay when these formats are followed.

For starters, a properly formatted screenplay shows a certain amount of professionalism, that you understand how the business works. Why work with an amateur if they don’t have to? They can also tell how long a movie will be just by looking at the number of pages in a screenplay.

With the right formatting, one page of a screenplay roughly translates to one minute of film. So a screenplay with 120 pages is a two-hour feature film more or less. If a producer is looking for a 90-minute film, and a screenplay has 200 pages, they can move on to the next.

That’s all thanks to standard screenplay formatting. Everything down to the font type and size has been used for nearly a century because it works. And when it comes right down to it, how to write a screenplay format is a relatively easy endeavor.

How to Write a Screenplay Format

These are the standard rules you must follow if you want it to be read. And that’s the whole point of writing a screenplay, right? Unless you plan on producing, directing, running the cameras, and almost every other job on the set, the proper screenplay format will make it easier for everyone to follow your vision. Here are the major points to consider:

  • Font Format
  • Title Page
  • Margins
  • Page Numbers
  • Slug Lines
  • Action Lines
  • Dialogue

If you plan on writing a lot of screenplays, you may want to set up a template with preset margins, indents, fonts, and so on. Then you’ll be ready to write when the mood strikes you. There are also many online script format templates and screenwriting software you can use if you prefer.

Font Format
You’ll be using a 12-point courier font throughout your screenplay, from the title page to the final page. Why that style and size? Remember, before there were computers, word processors, and the like, typewriters were the tool of the trade. And most typewriters were 12-point courier, so it became the industry standard that endured the test of time.

Title Page
Keeping it simple here is key. About halfway down the page and centered, you’ll have the title of your work all caps and underlined, followed by your name and the date it was finished. At the bottom of the page to the left your content information will be listed. This could be your name, number, and email or the info for your representation.

Margins (interior pages)
While most margins are pretty standard at one inch, you’ll be using 1.5-inch left margins on all pages except for the title page. This is to allow the screenplay to be bound, usually with two holes and a binder clip of some sort. That extra half-inch or margin will make it easier for everyone to read.

Page Numbers
Placed in the upper right corner of the page, a half-inch from the top of the page. The title page isn’t numbered, and neither is the first page of the actual screenplay. So the first time a page number appears is on the third page (the actual second page of the screenplay) and is numbered “2.”

Slug Lines
Used at the start of every scene, they are written in all caps, bolded, and left justified. They are also known as scene headings and describe a location and time of day: EXT. BASKETBALL COURT – DAY. EXT means exterior, INT means interior, location, and a general time of day, or even an exact time if that’s important for some reason.

Action Lines
Usually, two to three lines are needed to set the scene. All characters are capped in their first mention during a scene, as well as action words. For example, “a basketball is BOUNCES on the court.” These follow sluglines in the script to help develop the scene.

Dialogue
Dialogue is indented another inch on either side so it is clearly distinguishable from the rest of the screenplay. This extra space also allows for notes if needed. It is still left-justified and is preceded by the name of the character speaking (centered and all caps). If the character is speaking, but unseen, an extension may be used with parentheses: (V.O., offscreen, etc.).

These are the main aspects of a script and its formatting. Other features, such as subheaders that explain different parts of the location, intercuts if the location changes during a scene, and shots that explain camera movement (although they are usually reserved for a shooting script).

A Final Thought on Screenplays

Earlier we mentioned how many scripts get registered with the WGA and we recommend you do this once you have a semblance of a screenplay. This helps protect your idea for up to five years in case an unscrupulous producer decides to take it for their own without compensating you.

This needs to be more than “a funny western set in the 1880s.” All you’re doing there is listing a genre or theme. You need to have a fully developed idea that makes your screenplay stand out from the other 50,000 screenplays being submitted.

Write the Killer Script

If you want to get your script made into a movie, there’s more to it than just how to write a screenplay format. Do you have a coherent story or idea, are all three acts present, and do your characters ring true? Have you written The Killer Script?

Having the correct left-hand margins will keep your screenplay out of the recycle bin at the start, but your story is what keeps it on the desk. With the Film Connection Screenwriting Course, you’ll be paired with an industry professional that will meet with you remotely once a week.

You’ll talk about your idea, discuss what makes a script successful, and go over how to get your script sold. How to write a screenplay format will also be covered during the five-month course as you and your mentor develop a finished, polished, and professional screenplay. You may even get the chance to pitch your film to a studio executive!

So much of making a career in the film industry is knowing someone “on the inside.” Our screenwriting mentors have written feature films, TV episodes and pilots, animated shorts, and more. They know what works, what doesn’t, and the tips that get their work sold. Doesn’t that make more sense than learning from someone who may be teaching in a fallback position?

And why waste your time in a four-year university or trade school, taking prerequisite classes you don’t want or need? In the same amount of time it takes you to complete a semester at a “name” school, you could be going through your final draft or script revisions and preparing for a pitch.

Want to learn how to write a screenplay the way professional screenwriters do it? Find out the difference between a spec script, script outline, and shooting script? Understand when to use an agent and how to register your screenplay? The Film Connection Screenwriting Course is for you–Apply Today.

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