Screenplay Format Demystified: How to Format a Screenplay
So you have written a story that you know is really good, but you are having trouble understanding what a proper screenplay format looks like. Why is it really necessary to format your screenplay?
Formatting helps to give credibility. A screenplay format allows the reader to be able to easily follow your story. It allows strips off long, flowery prose that novels usually have and makes the story a fast read. For examples of great scripts, download all of…
- Christopher Nolan’s Screenplays (Download)
- Quentin Tarantino Screenplays (Download)
- Joel and Ethan Coen’s Screenplays (Download)
…and start reading the masters.
Formatting also helps the actors to be able to break down the story into sets and props. So how do you format your screenplay to make sure you get the audience you deserve? The good folks over at Studiobinder produced this video to help you on your screenwriting journey.
How to Format a Screenplay
A film screenplay can look a bit complex and daunting at first, but it is all about getting to know the elements.
Also known as slug lines, scene headings are used to show the camera placement, specific location, and the time. Look at this example:
EXT.WHITE HOUSE – DAY.
This is what a scene heading looks like. The camera placement is usually abbreviated to INT (interior) or EXT (exterior), followed by the location which is separated from the time using a hyphen. You may then press enter once or twice before the next element.
This is basically a narrative description of the scene. When describing the action, be sure to only include the sights and sound that will be heard or seen by the audience.
A character’s name should be capitalized the first time the character is introduced to the screen. Names of characters who have no dialogue in the scene need not be capitalized. For example:
MARY, American lawyer, middle-aged, and drunk, Staggers in.
The sights and sounds that will be heard by the audience should also be capitalized (eg. ROAR, SCREAM).
This is an essential part of your screenplay because it is where characters are expressed. The dialogue is made up of three parts: The character name, parenthetical, and the speech of the character. The parenthetical conveys the manner in which the character presents their speech. For example:
(in a slurred voice)
Can I get another drink, honey?
A transition tells the editing crew how quickly they should move to the next scene. Transitions are right justified on a script. Examples are CUT TO, SMASH TO, DISSOLVE TO, etc.
Subheaders are used to time jump or move in time within the same location. A subheader is usually after an action line and is capitalized.
A montage is a series of scenes strung together, often indicating memories of a person or place. To set a montage enter “BEGIN MONTAGE” at the start of the scenes you want to string together and “END MONTAGE” at the finish.
These are texts that appear on a screen. To add a chyron, start an action line under a screen heading with the text “CHYRON”. For example:
CHYRON: 2:30 PM.
These are the elements you’ll need for a screenplay format. Now that you have understood how to format a screenplay, why not go ahead and finish that script? Good luck and happy writing.
Here are a few more videos to help you with your screenplay format.
Online Screenwriting Courses:
- The Dialogue Series: 38 hours of Lessons from Top Hollywood Screenwriters
- The Script Lab Workshops
- Storytelling Blueprint: Hero’s Two Journeys
- How to Write a FAST Screenplay
- WGA Presents: The Art of Screenwriting
- Screenwriting Masterclass: How to Write Fascinating Characters
- Screenwriting Masterclass: Craft Complex Characters
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