How to Write a Movie Script with Screenplay Formats

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Understanding how to write a movie script, also known as a screenplay, may appear daunting at first, but once you understand the format and structure of the script, you can focus on your creativity.

We'll walk you through the steps of writing a screenplay so you can turn your great movie idea into a professional script.


What exactly constitutes a screenplay?

A movie script, also known as a screenplay, is a document that can range from 70 to 180 pages in length. Most movie scripts are around 110 pages long, but this depends on a variety of factors.

Before we get too far into page count, let's talk about what you really need to know so you can get started on your script as soon as possible.


What is most accepted standard for screenplay format?

Screenplay format is relatively simple, but it can appear intimidating until you've actually learned how to do it.

The following are the fundamentals of script formatting:

1. Courier font size of 12 points

2. 1.5 inch margin on the page's left

3. A one-inch margin on the right side of the page

4. one inch at the top and bottom of the page

5. Each page should have about 55 lines.

6. The dialogue block begins 2.5 inches from the page's left edge.

7. Character names must be in uppercase letters and begin 3.7 inches from the left side of the page.

8. Page numbers are placed in the top right corner, 0.5 inch from the top of the page. The first page should not be numbered, and each number should be separated by a period.

Screenwriting software handles all of the formatting for you, allowing you to concentrate on the creative. Here's an example of a formatted script:




Many scripts start with a transition, such as FADE IN: or BLACK SCREEN. Some people put this at the top left of the page, while others put it at the top right, where many transitions are. Other scripts will start with scene headings or even subheadings of imagery they want to emphasize.

 

SCENE HEADING

The scene heading helps to break up physical spaces and gives the reader and production team an idea of the story's geography.

You will select either INT. or EXT. for interior or exterior spaces. Then comes a description of the setting, followed by the time of day.

In rare cases, the scene begins inside and moves outside, or vice versa; in these cases, write INT/EXT. or EXT/INT.

Because some scripts take place all over the world, screenwriters will frequently use multiple hyphens to give the scene headings even more detail:




This allows the screenwriter to avoid mentioning the geographical location in the action lines, freeing up space to write more about the actual story and keep readers engaged in the story... not the formatting.

 

SUBHEADING

Subheadings are frequently used by writers to show a change in location without breaking the scene, even if the scene has shifted from INT. to EXT.

It is assumed that readers will comprehend the change in space while maintaining the belief that the time of day remains constant - even continuous.

Many writers do this to avoid the appearance of entering an entirely new scene, though you could always include CONTINUOUS in place of DAY or NIGHT by creating an entirely new scene heading.

Personal preference and rhythm trump production considerations.

 

TRANSITIONS

Transitions are placed at the bottom right of the page, but they appear to be used less and less in modern screenwriting. CUT TO: and FADE OUT are two transitions that appear to have stood the test of time.

You could also include DISSOLVE TO:, but these are becoming less common, probably for the same reason you avoid camera shots.

 

CHARACTER INTRODUCTIONS

When introducing a character in a screenplay, use all-capital letters for the character's name, followed by a reference to their age, and finally some information about their traits and personality.

Again, screenwriters have devised alternate methods, but this is the most common and cost-effective way to introduce a character.

I highly recommend you read our post on how to introduce characters in a screenplay after this one to learn more.

 

ACTION

Action lines are used to describe the visual and audible actions that occur on the screen. You should write in the third person, in the present tense.

You can often improve the readability of your script by removing redundant pronouns and conjunctions. To emphasize their importance in the story, big sounds and important objects can be written in ALL CAPS.

 

DIALOGUE

Your lines of dialogue will be placed beneath the character to whom they have been assigned. Dialogue is the most difficult part of screenwriting because it is the most difficult to format.

If you want to learn more, read our post on 22 Screenwriting Tips for Writing Better Dialogue, in which I go over a number of ways to audit your screenplay for good... and bad... dialogue.

 

EXTENSIONS

These happen when a character says something off-screen (O.S.) or when the dialogue is voiced-over (V.O.). When a character finishes a block of dialogue, performs an action, or speaks more, you will notice extensions.

This is expressed as continued (CONT'D). Professional script writing software can assist you with this, but it cannot predict when you want something said off-screen or in voice-over.

 

PARENTHETICAL

You can use a parenthetical within your dialogue to show small actions or even a mood change without having to jump to an action line.

Parentheticals are great for directing actors and adding sarcasm and nuance to performances on the page, but be careful not to overuse them. Actors are professionals, and if Al Pacino discovers parentheticals in a script, he may be offended.

 

CAMERA SHOTS

The best professional screenwriters know how to suggest shots without actually writing them in, but if you must describe a specific shot in your screenplay, format it as a subheading.

This indicates that the shot is supposed to be set up so that we see things through Filbert's eyes. Writing out shots is often frowned upon, but if you're directing the film, use caution.


Using Proper Script Margins and Fonts

Courier 12pt is the screenplay font used to write movie scripts.

Courier is the most commonly used screenplay font because it produces a page-to-screen ratio of 1:1. Because one page of a script corresponds to one minute of screen time, this is one area that should not be changed.

The top, bottom, and right side margins of a professional movie script are 1". For punch hole space, the left margin is 1.5" wide.

Though technology exists to make our lives easier, I applaud you for your interest in learning about professional screenplay font.

If screenwriting software is ever completely eliminated due to some sort of cataclysmic event, I believe we'll all have more pressing concerns than learning how to write a movie screenplay.


How long should your screenplay be?

It's a difficult question because comedy scripts typically run around 90 pages (1 hour + 30 minutes), whereas action and drama scripts typically run around 110 pages (1 hour + 50 minutes).

Worrying about this too much is counterproductive because what you really need is a script that is lean, mean, and compelling at every turn.

If you believe your script is too thin, you may need to add a few pages, but each page added means more money needed to produce the film.

If you write a great 80-page script, you might end up with a screenplay that will excite both production teams and viewers with small bladders.


Planning out your script beats and story structure

When compared to formatting, story structure is a much more difficult topic to master, so buckle up. Many screenwriters, directors, and moviegoers believe that traditional story structure leads to formulaic filmmaking.

It absolutely does... which is why so many movies are copies of copies.

So, why is this still the best way to have your screenplay produced while also being a very useful tool for writing screenplays?

Production companies, studios, producers, and executives have spent years, if not decades, learning the business of feature films, and the vast majority of them have used traditional story structure.

Do all screenwriters and directors adhere to it exactly? No, they do not.

” Yes, all screenwriters and directors understand structure.

You have the Save The Cat Beat Sheet, Three Act Structure, The Hero's Journey, and The Story Circle to help you turn that great idea into a coherent story that emulates the human experience.

We all experience highs and lows.

The true benefit of story structure is that it provides you with a framework to work from so that when you sit down to write, you don't just stare at a blank page.

It's just a road map for your big journey... one that producers and studios will want you to have so they can rely on your screenplay.

A screenplay outline is one of the non-negotiable support documents you should create. This is where you can create your own roadmap for your script, including all of the factors that are important to you.

Script outlines frequently present the scene page count, overall story beats, and the relationship of each scene in your script to the other scenes. If you're struggling with writer's block, a script outline will help you stay focused and write your story.


How long does it take to write a good screenplay?

Many people wonder how long it should take a screenwriter to write a movie script, and while this will always depend on your personal schedule, you will be best served by establishing a strict, professional writing schedule.

When professional screenwriters are given time to write a screenplay, it usually ranges from 1-3 months (30-90 days).

In the past, I've set my personal writing pace at 6-7 pages per 8-hour day, which equates to about 15 days of writing.

Planning out the structure, theme, characters, setting, and plot of your script may take a couple of weeks if you're really focused on it.

The short answer is that it should take approximately one month.

Some of my screenplays took six months to complete, while others took only two weeks.

The time passes faster with each screenplay because, like any other craft or job, you become more familiar with the overall process.

When you work on your projects and scripts, your inspiration and creative energy will grow, and when you don't, it will shrink.


Make a good screenplay title page

The next step is to create your screenplay's title page. This is an interesting, if brief, topic of discussion. Part of this is due to the fact that the screenwriter used to include personal information on the page.

This is still perfectly acceptable, but there are far better ways to ensure that potentially interested parties can contact you about your story that do not require you to include your home address.

You shouldn't be afraid to put yourself and your work out there, but you should use technology to make the process easier for yourself, such as creating a separate email address for your writing so that personal emails don't get mixed up with important screenwriting emails.

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