Script formatting standards
To maximize the chances of your script getting past the reader and impressing the producer, make it look professional like you’re a filmmaking industry insider. Even if you aren’t one yet. How to achieve it? Easily - by formatting your screenplay according to the guild standards.
Formatting is all about fonts, margins, spacing, caps and hyphens.
It might seem daunting, but don’t be afraid - that’s what scriptwriting software exists for. Still, you have to understand why some specific maxims are applied and how to use them to your full advantage.
Remember - even the best software just gives you handy construction blocks, but how to place them is up to you. There are proven ways, though, to make your script most readable and useful.
First of all, the script must be written in the Courier font, size 12. That’s the only one they had in Hollywood when the scripts were written with typewriters. And it remains today, because, combined with a fixed set of formatting rules, it makes one page last approximately one minute of screen time. That’s how you know by a number of pages which size movie you’re going to get.
There are four basic elements to all of the scripts: Sluglines, Action, Character Names, and Dialogue. Master them and you’ll have mastered script formatting as a whole.
These, also known as scene headings, are meant to show where and when the scene is happening - and whether it’s shot inside or outside. Sluglines can be numbered to facilitate pre-production, but it’s not necessary on the script submission stage. A typical slugline is written in caps and looks like this:
EXT. ROADSIDE - DAY
INT. stands for interior, EXT. - for exterior, all the rest is pretty clear. Once you introduced a location, you can use BACK TO before it. When there are several consecutive scenes within the same location add more specific sublocation - as a bonus you don’t have to repeat the time or the “int-ext” part. When we stay in the same place but move through time, put LATER instead of DAY or NIGHT you had before.
EXT. HOTEL COURTYARD - LATER
The slugline always has to be followed by a stage direction, also known as action.
EXT. HOUSE - DAY Agents with weapons drawn charge the house and start breaking down the front door.
To make your script gripping, write in short and simple sentences.
Note that all things the characters do tell us much more about them then what they say. Omit everything that can’t be seen on the screen. Use present tense, and avoid using the word “camera” - go for the “we” instead. Don’t hesitate to capitalize sounds (except the ones made by characters) and everything that stands out, like props that are pertinent to the story.
The doors open and the Bodyguard turns to look. TWO SHOTS from a PISTOL with a SILENCER strike him in the chect and he falls to the floor dead. Tino steps out and drags the body to the stairwell.
Whenever a new character with lines is introduced, his name is spelled in caps.
INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY - DAY Ben rushes upstairs and into his bedroom. His 14-year-old son MICHAEL is in his room putting on a tuxedo.
Use parentheticals after character names to show what they are doing at the same time as talking. Avoid using them unless it’s really important - they irritate and distract both readers and actors.
SCOTT (quietly, to Ben) Nod your head and smile. Now, you listen to me, goombah. I know what your game is, and you'd better call it quits, because if you and your paisans do anything to hurt my little girl, I'll kill you. Understand? Nod and smile.
It’s what a character says - this is quite self-explanatory.
EXT. BACK YARD - LATER Ben comes out the back door of the house carrying a couple of suitcases. Michael follows behind him with his bags. They cross to the car in the driveway. BEN I hope you didn't leave any food in your room. I don't want to come home and find a science fair.
There’s no need for quotes in dialogue, unless a character is actually quoting someone.
And that’s basically it! The rest of the technical part will be done scriptwriting software and the creative one is completely up to you. Just keep in mind, that movies are a visual medium, so try making your script easy-readable and action-packed.
A screenplay is not a book, but a blueprint of your future movie.
And the purpose of proper formatting is to let the reader concentrate on characters and the story and not be annoyed by an unfamiliar look of the script, redundant dialogue and confusing descriptions.